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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: July 29, 2005 Archive

Music@Menlo 2

Posted at 6:10 AM on July 29, 2005 by Lauren Rico

Let me take you back to my first night here for just a second. When Michael Steinberg stood on stage before his wonderful Beethoven presentation he took a moment to thank some folks. One of them was Patrick Castillo, the festival's Artistic Administrator. Michael went on to say "I don't know how anyone in the country can run a music festival without Patrick!" That's some pretty high praise—especially considering the source. It got me thinking, "What a perfect person to talk to about the making of Music@Menlo. He's been with Wu Han and David Finckel from the beginning and keeps the festival moving like a well-oiled machine!"
Yesterday morning I convinced Patrick to tell me some of the history and how the program has evolved so much in its 3 short seasons. I never made it to the coaching session I'd planned to attend—I pulled out a microphone and recorded his very unique perspective on the festival, its past and its future.

Later in the day I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the most amazing musicians I've ever come across. Anthony McGill is the Principal Clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Before that he was Associate Principal Clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony. He tours extensively as a chamber musician and has been on board with Music@Menlo since its pilot—a sort of day-long mini festival a few years back. Did I mention he's 25 years-old? Considering everything he's accomplished, I tend to believe this man when he tells me that chamber music performance is vital for a young musician.

And then there was music...
I arrived at the Stent Family Hall on the Menlo School campus a half-hour before the concert was set to begin. There was already a line that wrapped around the building and a "SOLD OUT" sign at the ticket table. People were being turned away! Inside the Spieker Ballroom every seat was filled. I had to sit in the very back. Now, when I attend a concert, I often close my eyes. It helps me to concentrate on what I'm hearing—and, especially in the case of chamber music, it allows me to pretend. I can imagine I'm in some cozy 18th-century salon experiencing music as someone of that time would have. Last night I didn't need to close my eyes. This elegant hall includes a huge hearth and gold-gilded ceilings and walls. The track lighting isn't exactly candelabras, but I'm willing overlook that small point.

When the audience finally stopped applauding the musicians' entrance, we were treated to a program including Haydn's Piano Trio in E Mozart's Quintet for Horn and Strings and Septet for Winds and Strings by the star of this years festival: Beethoven. Just as we broke for intermission I heard a woman in front of me say to no one in particular "Well, THAT was impressive." Understated, but true.

Today I'm off for more interviews. With a little luck I'll be speaking with festival newcomer William "Bill" VerMeulen. He's a French horn player (not that I have a bias towards them, or anything!). Also hoping to catch Geraldine Walther. I'm told that after serving as principal violist with the San Francisco Symphony for nearly 30(!) years, the musical community here is heartbroken that she's stepping down. She has a good reason, though. Ms. Walther has recently been appointed violist of the Takacs String Quartet.

Tonight I'll catch an encore of last night's concert, this time at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. I'm anxious to hear how different the program sounds in this venue. I've been invited to hobnob at post-concert party, so don't expect a report TOO early tomorrow!

Day 3 in Kyoto

Posted at 9:41 AM on July 29, 2005 by Brian Newhouse

There've been a couple of knockout choirs so far at the Symposium, and they're both from Norway. For their performance yesterday afternoon, the Oslo Chamber Choir stood in the auditorium aisles right next to the audience. Their conductor, Grete Pedersen, has made an intense study of Norwegian folksong and years ago began teaching it to her choir, encouraging them in rehearsal to make up their own harmonies and counter-melodies. During the concert she made the oddest hand gestures to her singers, but what music came out! Afterward I learned that Pedersen has developed a kind of private language of the hands that lets her "call out" a tune on the spur of the moment: if she makes the shape of a fish in the air in front of her, her singers know it's that old tune about catching cod or some such and someone will start singing it; once the tune is laid down each singer riffs on it until the hall is filled with most haunting sounds, and if you closed your eyes you were half a world away by some blue-green fjord.

Later, the Oslo sextet known as Nordic Voices worked against expectation. I mean, you think a Norwegian choir is going to do Norwegian music, but they did Renaissance motets and bawdy old French chanson with such crystal purity that you could've heard a pin drop. Their last number was little more than a collection of amorous birdcalls from 16th-century France, but they had such fun with it that the audience began laughing. When was the last time you heard that at an early music concert?

So, score two points for Norway!

Minnesota-Norway PS: I was walking with one of the basses from the Oslo Chamber Choir when he ran across a Norwegian soprano outside the Kyoto Conference Center, a woman he hadn't seen in years since they both sang in the St. Olaf College Choir.

Here's some photos I shot today:

The Guangdon Experimental Middle School Choir from China Coro Victoria from Guatemala Parahyangan Catholic University Choir from Indonesia

1. The Guangdon Experimental Middle School Choir from China
2. Coro Victoria from Guatemala
3. Parahyangan Catholic University Choir from Indonesia

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