Meredith Storer

I had the most wonderful experience of celebrating my birthday, February 25th, this year in Manhattan with my dear friend and organist Meredith Storer.

I traveled to her Uptown West Side apartment in the evening. A doorman warmly welcomed me to the beautiful 100-year-old apartment building. I walked through the decorative hallway and took the old-fashioned elevator to the 8th floor.

Meredith hugged me when I entered her apartment and she rushed back to the kitchen. When she returned, Meredith was holding a cake and singing “Happy Birthday”, accompanied by her curious cat, Amun. It was adorable.

The cake was perfect. She asked me the day before what I’d like and I said something not too sweet, something simple. Maybe my answer was not too exciting. However, Meredith revealed a genuine cheesecake covered with chocolate powder and topped with berries. She said she went to three different French bakeries, through the rain, until she found it. Her clothes were still soaking wet, she said. I was touched by her kindness and thoughtfulness. Not to mention, the cake was beautiful and very tasty!

I asked Meredith if she could play music for me as a special birthday gift. She thought for a moment and took me to the music room on the other side of the apartment. A grand piano, an organ, and a harpsichord were sitting in the room along with many music notes and stands.

First, Meredith sat down at the organ. I’ve enjoyed organ music for years, especially when visiting churches, but I barely knew much about playing it at all! At least, I knew playing the organ required both fingers on the keys and feet on the pedals below. I learned that the notes for organ music feature the treble clef and bass, the same as piano music, plus another bass clef to denote what the feet should do on the pedals.

I was amazed to see Meredith’s hands and feet coordinate such beautiful music. It was like magic to me! Her performance made me want to learn more about its history and how the organ has brought people together.

Then Meredith moved to the harpsichord and shared more history with me. She showed me musical scores by the late 1600s French composer Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre. I had no idea a female composer was born 20 years earlier than Johann Sebastian Bach!

Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre was very successful in her era. She played for King Louis XIV and gave concerts at home and throughout Paris.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lisabeth_Jacquet_de_La_Guerre

While Meredith was playing Jacquet de La Guerre's pieces on her harpsichord, I felt like I was transported back to the late 1600’s Paris. It was a strong sensation; I was simply listening to each note and feeling the emotion through the keyboard.

Suddenly, I snapped back to the present, back in New York 2017. It was surreal. What a special birthday I had and what a sweet friend Meredith is for giving me such a beautiful musical evening!

 

Nahuel Bronzini

On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I was invited to a cozy apartment in the NOPA district of San Francisco, nearby The Panhandle Park. Sun poured in through large windows, as the host made me and the small audience there feel right at home, offering hors d'oeuvres and drinks spread out over a solid wood table.

I often know what type of music to expect before I attend most home concerts but I didn’t have a clue walking into this one. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the performance would be classical guitar! I’ve always loved the sound of classical guitar. It has the ability to express the human voice and an emotional range through six simple strings.

Nahuel Bronzini was the featured artist, an Argentinean classical guitarist with a strong passion for his home country. I heard it clearly in his music; he painted a picture of the peaceful yet nostalgic Argentinian landscape.

While he was playing the first piece “Septiembre”, composed by Máximo D. Pujol., he displayed a slideshow of the landscape. Nahuel revealed the piece was extra special to him because Septiembre (September) is spring in Argentina, and it's also his birth month.

 

Nahuel shared his childhood memories of Argentinian spring with the small audience and, even though it's on the other side of the globe, Nahuel and his guitar made me nostalgic about my own childhood growing up in Japan.

He continued his performance with some dance (Baila) and waltz (valses) music, proving that Nahuel is no average classical guitarist. There was something about him, or perhaps the way he spoke about his home country, that was mellow and gentle. I felt the kindness and beauty of human beings through his music.

 

Nahuel plans to expand his skills to jazz ensemble, new music, and chamber music, collaborating with other artists. He is also organizing music projects in Argentina.

For more information about Nahuel, visit his website at www.nahuelbronzini.com.

 

Friedrich Edelmann and Rebecca Rust at Toshi Image Studio

Stepping into Toshi Image Studio, I was greeted by floor to ceiling windows looking out on the harbor, and a unique décor which melded traditional and modern Japanese design to create an atmosphere both elegant and quirky. Toshi, our equally stylish host and the owner of this hair salon, had set up a miniature concert hall for about twenty people to enjoy an intimate performance.

I have had my hair cut several times by Toshi, and recently he told me about the monthly concerts and other events which he hosts in his studio on the yacht harbor of Point Richmond. This month, he had invited a bassoon and cello duet, and my curiosity was immediately drawn to this unusual combination.

German bassoonist Friedrich Edelmann and American cellist Rebecca Rust have been going strong as an international duo for over forty years. Both coming from prestigious musical backgrounds, (Edelmann was principal bassoonist for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra for 27 years and Rust has studied with renowned cellists such as Mstislav Rostropovich) this duo has concertized extensively in Germany, Italy, the U.S.A and Japan. Edelmann and Rust have even had the honor of performing for the Emperor and Empress of Japan in the imperial palace in Tokyo.

Edelmann talking about their 40+-year musical journey.

Edelmann talking about their 40+-year musical journey.

But this musical success has not eroded their approachability. Edelmann's introduction to each piece was imbued with enthusiasm and curiosity, a testament to their genuine and humble passion for music.

It was charming to watch Edelmann and Rust perform classics-pieces by Mozart, Bach and Haydn-which had been a part of their repertoire for over forty years. I could sense the intimacy and familiarity that they felt towards these pieces that had traveled with them across the globe and had touched many different audiences. Despite having played this repertoire countless times, they emphasized that each performance was a unique adventure. Their approach to these pieces has not been dulled by repetition. Rather, I felt that they had a profound respect and camaraderie with these compositions and their creators.

Toshi presenting his salon concert series.

Toshi presenting his salon concert series.

As well as having these ripened relationships with certain pieces, Edelmann and Rust demonstrated an openness and curiosity towards music of different cultures and modern composers. Their performance of a series of short Japanese songs reflected the melding of Japanese and western cultures, embodying the venue as well as the diversity of the audience. In addition, Edelmann gave a world début of — newest composition by George Tingley (Edelmann told us that — had been making changes on the composition by email shortly before the concert). Each movement was extremely short, so short that “if you don’t pay attention, it will already be over.” The piece was like a taste-test of a range of emotions, it’s theatrical melodrama making the audience-and Edelmann- laugh.

 

To learn more about Friedrich Edelmann and Rebecca Rust, visit their website: http://edelmann-rust.com/

Owen Dalby, Meena Bhasin, and Robert Howard

My latest concert experience was hosted by cellist and founder of Concerts by the Square, Robert Howard. With a nod to 19th-century European salon music, Concerts by the Square offers evenings of intimate chamber music complimented by enticing hors d’oeuvres and wine. These events provide the perfect setting for audience members and musicians to share their passion for musical exploration.

In 2015, Concerts by the Square traveled to Kenya to perform and teach at Mt. Kenya Academy in Nyeri. It was fascinating to learn about this project and exciting to see the photos of children smiling and playing their instruments.

This concert was held at a gorgeous Victorian house built in 1890 and located one block from Alamo Square Park (Alamo Square Park, famous for its colorful Victorian houses, is one of the most photographed neighborhoods in San Francisco). The elegant, welcoming atmosphere was perfect for an intimate salon-music experience.

Preceding the performance, I enjoyed a glass of wine and delicious hors d’oeuvres in the dining room while chatting with other guests. This home complements 19th century art, architecture and furnishings with sophisticated modernity. It is open and luminous, an invitation to musical discovery.

This night’s theme, Vienna to Potsdam, was a program of string trios performed by violinist Owen Dalby, violist Meena Bhasin, and Robert Howard himself on cello. Owen Dalby, second violinist with the St. Lawrence String Quartet, is also artist-in-residence at Stanford University. Meena Bhasin has been artist-in-residence in numerous locations worldwide in partner with Carnegie Hall. Owen and Meena are co-founders of Decoda, New York City’s trailblazing society of virtuoso chamber musicians, arts advocates, and educators. Robert Howard is also an educator and performs “everywhere from Costa Rican swamps, to the Paris metro, to Venetian gondolas.”

The program featured works by Gideon Klein and Ernst Von Dohnányi.

Before playing, Robert gave a short explanation about the first string trio by Czech pianist and composer Gideon Klein. Klein composed this piece when he was 26 years old and completed it nine days before he was sent to Auschwitz. String Trio was his last composition.

Klein was forced to discontinue his studies in March of 1939 when the Nazis closed all institutions of higher learning following their occupation of Czechoslovakia. In 1940, he was offered a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Unfortunately, anti-Jewish legislation prevented his emigration. During this period, all compositions and performances by Jewish musicians were banned. Klein’s own work could not be performed, however he began to perform widely as a concert pianist.

The first movement, Allegro, is frenzied and mischievous, interrupted with sudden bursts of melody thick with vibrato. I imagined someone busy running around the kitchen, simply running around with lots of energy and excitement. Perhaps Klein’s head was filled with thoughts of adventure and moving to London.

Lento, the second movement, changes the mood dramatically. This movement, composed of variations on a Moravian theme, is mournful and reflective, with brief moments of light glistening through the darkness. Was Klein affronted with the impossibility of moving to London? Predicting the course of his imminent future?

Brought to life again, Molto Vivace, the third movement, is like a kid who is about to do something that she knows she shouldn’t do. Throwing off the forlorn mood of the previous movement, the maniacal melody is thrown about and augmented between all three instruments.

This piece was a total of about fourteen minutes, however, the richness of the musical journey made me feel as if I had watched a three-hour opera. From my seat, I had a clear view of Meena Bhasin. It was fascinating to watch her animate each note, playing simply beautifully.

The next piece was the Serenade for String Trio, composed by Ernst von Dohnányi, a Hungarian pre-Bartok composer, pianist, and conductor.

The first movement, Marcia; Allegro, opens with a proud and noble mood. Following is a sudden change of melody, dark and insidious, led by the cello and joined in alternately with violin and viola. Like a battle between a knight and a dragon, the knight prevails as the mood shifts back to the original melody, ending the movement victoriously.

Following is Romanz; Adagio Non Troppo, a movement that opens, dream-like, with dewy pizzicato and a soft violin solo; I imagined the state of someone stupidly in love. Following is an interjected change of melody, righteous and valiant, led by cello and violin. Here, I saw another character playing suitor, trying to impress and win over. Then, quieting, the melody returns to pizzicato and violin, finishing soundlessly.

The third movement, Scherzo; Vivace, opens mischievously with violin playing pizzicato, joined slyly by the velvety sound of the viola, then the robust voice of the cello, augmenting the energy to a sudden explosion, then disintegrating back to a sneaky atmosphere. The villainous mood is broken by a softly singing melody, and the two contrasting melodies battle to take presence. Here, I imagined an evil witch thwarted by the hero.

Following is the Tema con Variasiono: Andante con moto. Opening with a complete contrast to the Scherzo, the slow, romantic melody is woven together by all three instruments. Suddenly, lanced by the cello’s solitary pizzicato, the melody changes to an aggravated, stormy mood. Returning briefly to the opening melody, the tranquility is broken again by a flurry of aggravated tremolo. After this outburst of energy, the movement ends, once again peaceful.

The Finale is a race of cello, viola, and violin bouncing off of and echoing one another, fragmented by chords joined in by all and pedal notes held by the cello. The mood is disrupted with a return to the dragon’s melody of the first movement. Slowly disintegrating, the dragon disappears like the reminisces of a bad dream, and the movement ends with an explosive chord.

I have been to many chamber music concerts, and this evening’s performance made me wonder how musicians learn to create and tell stories through their instruments.

It is mysterious to me how the musicians were able to transpose this range of emotions so accurately into the music. Each note was cherished and respectful to life. I felt that they were transmitting these sentiments not only as musicians, but as intellectuals with the respect and desire to tell the stories of these composers. This performance was an affirmation of the richness that Concerts by the Square brings to the community.

To learn more about performances hosted by Concerts by the Square, visit their website: http://concertsbythesquare.org/#

Masha Campagne

My latest performance experience was held at Doc’s Lab in North Beach, a lively Italian district in San Francisco. The featured artist was musician, jazz-educator, songwriter, and producer Masha Campagne, who I met some years ago at her Cafe Royal show in downtown San Francisco. It was my first experience of live bossa nova, and I was fascinated by her performance; bossa nova has been one of my favorite music genres since I was a child, and I’ve always dreamed of going to Brazil to experience the music live. I was with a Brazilian friend the first time I heard Masha. Later on, we learned that she was not Brazilian, but a Moscow-born Russian! Even my friend had been fooled; Masha’s Portuguese is flawless.

Masha studied cello and piano at Gnessin State Music College, an elite music school in Moscow. Her grandfather, an accomplished multi-reed player, introduced her to jazz and bossa nova. She landed in San Francisco in 1991, and is now known as a leading bossa nova and jazz musician in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Doc’s Lab is located below an Italian restaurant on the busy Columbus Avenue. Upon arrival, I settled in with the “Paper Plane” bourbon cocktail to start with - its beautiful orange color and aroma of anise, saffron, and lemon are as cozy and alluring as the space itself.

Masha arrived on stage in a beautiful red dress and her gorgeous smile. Because it was the night before Valentine’s day, the theme, “Love & Bossa with Masha Campagne & Voz da Lapa,” was focused on love songs. The group was composed of Masha Campagne as vocalist, Rob Reich on accordion, Ian Faquini on guitar, Sam Bevan on bass, and Phil Thompson on drums.

Masha kicked off the performance with April Child, a master piece by well-respected Brazilian composer and musician Moacir Santos, who was active in the 1960s and 1970s. As soon as Masha began singing, I was transported to a beach in Rio, feeling a warm breeze washing over me.  Masha's voice melded into the instrumentation with ease and grace, creating a tasteful and unique harmonies and textures. The bass was highlighted with an important solo in this piece.  I was inspired by the sensibility and intensity with which Sam performed, as if playing was the most natural thing for him.

Next, Masha sang two bossa nova classics, Corcovado and The Girl From Ipanema. The Girl From Ipanema is one of the most famous Brazilian songs. It became a world-wide hit in the mid-1960s and won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965. The story behind this song takes place in a small bar located on the beach of Ipanema, where Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, the artists behind this piece, used to spend their afternoons with a drink, musing about their latest song collaboration. In the winter of 1962, a tall, beautiful girl named Heloisa, an 18-year-old Rio native, caught their attention and inspired them to write the lyrics of this song.

Masha presented these classics with her own interpretation and jazz-influenced voice. Then she moved onto an upbeat song, Rio, that inspired some of the audience to spontaneously begin dancing samba. Ian Faquini and Rob Reich's guitar and accordion solos added even more spice to the atmosphere.

It was my first time hearing the accordion play bossa nova. Rob’s fingers were dancing on the keyboard, the delicacy of the accordion matching perfectly the robustness of Masha’s voice. This performance made me want to learn more about the accordion. I recently learned that the accordion is commonly used in popular Brazilian music. I was also surprised to discover that the piano accordion is the official instrument of San Francisco.

This was followed by another one of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s love songs, Double Rainbow. This song had a modern feeling, with the tambourine adding an interesting texture to the mood. Aqui, Oh! has a refreshing feeling with lots of emphasis on the “beijo” (kiss in Portuguese). Masha played the tambourine while singing, adding more sun to the melody. Next was Brigas Nunca Mais, an uplifting dance song, followed by Caminhos Cruzados, transitioning with a calm and tranquil guitar solo that imitated the sound of a harp.

During the performance, Masha used all kinds of small instruments such as the rattle, the tambourine and the triangle. Her voice and the effects of these instruments complement each other naturally. Masha presented an array of different styles, from slow to upbeat, classic to modern, displaying a rich variety of well arranged tempos and moods while always presenting herself with sophistication and honesty. She sang mostly in Portuguese, but even when singing in English, her heart was always in Brazil.

“Love & Bossa with Masha Campagne & Voz da Lapa” was a perfect experience for the night before Valentine's day, sharing love songs that touched so many people. Masha's artistry and each player's unique character created an unforgettable evening.

To learn more about Masha Campagne, visit her website: Masha Campagne | Vocalist, Songwriter, Producer | Home

Great Highway

Recently I went to listen to the San Francisco-based electro-pop group, Great Highway, at Neck of the Woods in the Inner Richmond district of San Francisco.

Great Highway’s music caught my attention some months ago with their original songs, unique sound and beautiful vocal harmonies. Their sound is most likened to The XX, The Stars, and The Naked & Famous. Their music is a refreshing antidote to more common pop music, backed by the keen musical intuition of the artists in the ensemble. Their interpretation of indie electro pop is a welcome addition to the scene. 

This group is composed of five musicians; Jason Hunter (lead vocals, bass guitar), Sarah Morgan (lead vocals, synthesizer), Sean McAllister (lead guitar, backing vocals), Meredith Whelan (DJ table, percussion, backing vocals), and Makiko Harris (violin, backing vocals).

After showing my ID at the entrance, I was stamped and officially admitted onto the premises. While waiting for the show to start, I treated myself to a gin-cucumber cocktail. It was a Saturday night, and the bar was crowded with young people looking to have a good time.

They kicked off the show with their song “Little Black Book,” an upbeat dance tune with a colorful harmonic richness filled with Sarah’s lush and sophisticated voice.

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The next song, “Venom In Me,” is a classic love song with a strong male presence and unique instrumentation. The harmony, carried by Jason and Sarah, reaches into the raw, heartbroken emotions of the protagonist.

“Winter Snow,” a new song, is also a story of heartbreak set against the bleak scenery of January, likening the changes of the heart to the changes of the seasons.

"Moving Target,” from their 2015 album "Industrial Love Scene," is a song that embodies the essence of what makes Great Highway strong: the moody, poetic lyrics are haunted by airy harmonies and backed by a deep synth bass. The song is a story unfolding, and Sarah’s voice brings to life the dynamic crumbling of a relationship.

Another one of Great Highway’s new songs, “The Chase,” is a unique spin on their usual brand of electropop - infused with 1920s jazz age influences, it opens with a crackle in the synth mimicking “putting on a record” in a jazz salon. It keeps the dark lyrics that are a hallmark of Great Highway’s work - and starts with an angry acclamation: “You don’t fool me pleading on your knees. You’re full of lies...” A violin solo played by Makiko, who is classically trained, adds a gypsy-like texture to the song, weaving furtively and snake-like in and out of the harmony.

They closed with the song “Singe,” a popular track from their most recent album “Industrial Love Scene.” It is a song filled with anger, sarcasm and dark humor, backed by equally aggressive instrumentation. The raw honesty of this piece is impossible to resist, reflecting the confusion and pain of a breakup.

Great Highway is currently working on recording new singles to be released in 2016, and also do production work to remix music from other local bands. They are based in San Francisco and write, arrange, and produce all their own music.

Their music is addictive and reaches into the primal essence of liberation that music can give us. I found myself dancing unconsciously to their music.

To learn more about Great Highway, visit their website: Great Highway | SF Electro Pop

 

Keisuke Nakagoshi

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I recently attended a concert hosted by Michael and Ellen Milenski at 405 Shrader in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco. The space was originally a storefront before it became a practice space for Mrs. Milenski, who is a pianist. Now, Mr. and Mrs. Milenski host Fall and Spring seasons of concerts in this intimate concert room.

The performer was San Francisco’s acclaimed pianist, Keisuke Nakagoshi, whom I have known now for some years since hosting a home concert with ZOFO, the Grammy-nominated piano duo featuring Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmermann.

Michael Milenski let us know before the concert that Nakagoshi’s program was unusual in that it featured pieces of extreme technical difficulty that are rarely performed in concert.

Nakagoshi began the program with Ravel’s string quartet in F major transcribed for solo piano by Lucien Garban, who was a close friend of Ravel’s.

I have always been a fan of Ravel’s music. The wide experimentation of textures and harmony create colors that are surprising but capture perfectly the organized-disorderliness of life that marks Ravel’s work.

The first movement, allegro moderato, is constructed on a fairly traditional sonata form, taking us through opposing moments of tranquility and tension. Assez vif (rather fast) is a lively scherzo famous for its opening of frenzied pizzicatos. After a fully active journey, the third movement, trés lent (very slow) brings us into a serene atmosphere, beginning a new, beautiful story. The fourth movement, vif et agité (lively and agitated), is a chaotic dance crashing into an uproarious ending.

Nakagoshi expressed each movement distinctly like an actor making a costume change, taking me through each scene on an imaginative adventure.

Nakagoshi playing the keys, strings, and hammers.

Nakagoshi playing the keys, strings, and hammers.

Next, Nakagoshi played “A Little Suite for Christmas” by George Crumb. This piece utilizes not only the keys, but also the strings inside the piano. During the seven-movement piece, Nakagoshi was busy standing up and down, controlling the keys, strings and hammers. The resulting sounds ranged from chamberlin, xylophone, drum, and an ancient Asian stringed instrument.

This piece was like a talent show for the piano, showing that instruments are objects for making sound and that we don’t always have to be constrained by traditional notions of performance. I was very impressed and fascinated by this creative approach to the piano.

The last piece was the sonata for piano by Samuel Barber. It was interesting to compare Nakagoshi’s interpretation of each movement with my own:

First movement (allegro energico)

Nakagoshi - slimy, gross, dripping, yet beautiful;  Keiko - fairy gets trapped by a witch and struggles to escape

Second movement (allegro vivave e leggero)

Nakagoshi - light, like a feather;  Keiko - busy daily life

Third movement (adagio mesto)

Nakagoshi - creepy, smashing climax in the middle;  Keiko - fear of being terminally ill

Fourth movement (fuga: allegro con spirito)

Nakagoshi - layers of voices,  getting wild;  Keiko - the first few measures reminded me of Bach’s Inventions - yes, layers of voices!  And Nakagoshi made it much wilder!

It was my first experience hearing this type of piano, a Grotrian, made by the prestigious German firm founded in 1835. It has a warm, intimate sound that ports well the unique sonority of the pieces performed.

After the concert, I chatted with Nakagoshi and he shared with me his excitement when he discovered the Ravel String Quartet transcribed by Garban, Crumb's musical sound journey, and the voices of Barber's Sonata for Piano. I sincerely appreciated his passion for these pieces and his excitement in sharing them with us.

He told me that during the first movement of Ravel, a moth began flying over the keyboard. After a while, it went away, but came back again for the last movement. He admitted that it was difficult to concentrate because he wasn’t sure what to do about the moth. All that I can say is that Nakagoshi is indeed a professional: none of his moth-confusion was evident during the performance.

I was amazed to see how Nakagoshi became part of the music when he played, completely forgetting himself and turning himself over to the personality of each piece. Like a magician, he transformed himself into the music, drawing us with him into another world.

John Santos Septet

Following the day of Thanksgiving, the John Santos Septet celebrated the closing of the 2015 Friday Nights at the de Young Museum in San Francisco by performing a wide variety of original Danzón and traditional Cuban dance music.

Cuban music originates in Europe and Africa. The danzón evolved from the Cuban habanera, or contradanza, which has English and French roots and was most likely introduced in Cuba by the Spanish.

The group was led by John Santos, a five-time Grammy-nominated percussionist and one of the most influential Afro-Latin musicians in the world today. He is known for his innovative way of mixing traditional and contemporary styles and is widely respected for his devotion to Afro-Latin music.

Not only is Santos a percussionist, he is also a composer, educator, writer, record and event producer, radio programmer, the list goes on!

The septet is composed of Santos (handling a variety of percussion instruments), bassist Saul Sierra, pianist Marco Diaz, percussionist David Flores, flutist John Calloway, saxophonist Melecio Magdaluyo, and violinist Anthony Blea.

The entire museum was filled with people sharing the festive mood of the holiday season. While their music added to the festivity, I also felt transported to Cuba. Their music was smooth and airy, but powerfully rhythmic at its base. Each instrument was like a different spice, weaving in and out of harmony, tempo, and mood. The audience, inspired by the vivacity of the music, spontaneously began dancing.

The musicians, the people, and the vibrant culture of the music were alive, reminding me of the pure joy of experiencing music together.

Ann Hampton Callaway

One of the most exceptional concert experiences I have ever had took place in July at the SF Jazz Center, presenting the Tony Award-nominated vocalist and composer Ann Hampton Callaway.

The performance was a tribute to one of Callaway’s greatest inspirations, the iconic jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, and featured music from her aptly named The Sarah Vaughan Project. While sharing her interpretation of Sarah Vaughan’s signature pieces (Misty, I'm Gonna Live 'Till I Die, Someone to Watch Over Me, A Night in Tunisia, I Can't Give You Anything But Love/That's All, Poor Butterfly, and more), Callaway also explained the singer’s history (I learned the story behind Sarah Vaughan’s nickname, Sassy). The rich, smoky timber of Callaway’s voice alone was enough to captivate and draw me into her music from the first note.

Callaway singing her impromptu Las Vegas love song.

Callaway singing her impromptu Las Vegas love song.

What also amazed me that night was the impromptu song which Callaway created on the spot with the aide of the audience. Callaway asked the audience for words to describe San Francisco (Golden Gate Bridge, cable car, Ghirardelli Chocolate, high tech, marijuana, gay...) which she then wrote down on a piece of paper. Her ex-husband happened to be sitting in the 3rd row. She asked him, “Honey, what key do you like?” He said he liked B-flat major.

Taking the collective input of the audience, Callaway began creating a piece with her “magical tune.” After a few minutes of fiddling, she walked to the piano ready to sing a song freshly composed. Just when she was just about to take a seat, Callaway said to her ex, “Honey, I always liked B major,” which was followed by the audience’s hearty laughter. Her timing and presentation were perfect; Callaway is a true entertainer.

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Since that night, I had been longing to attend one of Callaway's concerts again. I happened to be in Las Vegas for work in October when I heard that she would be in town, so I grabbed a Lyft car and dashed to the newly opened The Smith Center.

This time, the venue was a cabaret-themed performance hall. I sat at the cabaret floor table #45 and enjoyed taking in the scene with a glass of wine and some hors-d’oeuvres while waiting for Callaway to come on stage.

This Las Vegas performance was also part of The Sarah Vaughan project. It was so thrilling to hear her voice again after my exceptional experience in July. This time, Callaway wanted to compose a love song for Barbara Streisand (Callaway’s songs are featured on seven of Streisand’s recent discs).

Callaway and the audience began weaving a scenario:

Callaway: Name?                                                                                                                                                                                                           Audience: Clint! Sarah!                                                                                                                                                                                                Callaway: Where did they meet?                                                                                                                                                                                Audience: Caesars Palace!                                                                                                                                                                                            Callaway: How they met?                                                                                                                                                                                           Audience: Sarah bought a drink at the bar for Clint!

And the story continued; one of the audience members declared that Clint was a married man. The resulting piece of this collaboration was a beautiful love-of-passion song.

After the performance, I had the opportunity to meet with Callaway in person. I introduced myself and told her how much her music inspired me. She explained to me the theme of her performance, “Music is the bridge between heaven and earth.”

Callaway’s voice is an animated being in itself. It has a character at the same time nostalgic, seductive, longing and joyful. With its smoky, sonorous timber, her voice puts muscle onto the bones of any song. During her performance, the exchange was never one-directional. Her music is fed by her listeners while the listeners are also nourished by her music. Her facility with music gives the impression that it is simply an extension of her person; between herself, the audience, and the music, there is no separation. Callaway has indeed succeeded in embodying her theme, forging the bridge between heaven and earth with the power of her music.

Emma Steele and Ian Scarfe

The concert I attended this past week was presented by the California Music Center in San Francisco and took place in a beautiful Victorian house built in 1887 on the Alamo Square. Featured artist, violinist Emma Steele, who performs as Concertmaster of the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen, appeared with pianist and founder of the Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival, Ian Scarfe.

The concert program interwove cross-cultural works by Sarasate, Debussy, Fauré, Ravel and Saint-Saëns.

From the first note of Sarasate’s Malagueña, I felt as though Steele and Scarfe had transported me to Spain.

Contrastingly, the violin sonata in G minor by Debussy is a piece with more structure, contradictory to the composer’s usual style. Scarfe explained to us that sections of this piece are devolved to an almost Mozartian style. His explanation brought to my attention the difference between the colorful and structured sections during the performance.

The following piece, Fauré's Berceuse, is a composition inspired by a traditional lullaby.

It was fascinating to see Steele’s transition from the soft lullaby to the next piece, Tzigane, by Ravel. Steele adeptly embodied the character of Tzigane, which means gypsy, in her fiery playing. Steele is capable of convincing us in one moment with her gentle, sweet tone, then suddenly transforming into a passionate gypsy woman! This piece commences unassumingly with a long violin solo. Then gradually, the tension begins to ascend, arching in one drawn-out crescendo to a bombastic ending.

The Cuban influence of the next piece, Saint-Saëns Havanaise, was evident in the rich melody and rhythmic sections, pushing and pulling the tempo and utilizing the warmth of the base notes.

Steele and Scarfe ended the performance with the Caprice Basque by Sarasate, a composition influenced by traditional folk music of the Basque region.

This performance was like taking a trip through Spain, France and Cuba. Steele’s warm tone, especially in the base notes, was very prominent. I was surprised to learn that her violin was a 2000 Bronek Cison from Chicago, and not a 300-year-old Italian violin!

A delicious dinner, dessert and drinks were served before the performance. San Francisco’s Laughing Monk Brewery was there to pour beer for the guests. It was a special evening to enjoy delicious food and excellent music. How happy I was with a glass of wine in hand, listening to these amazing artists!

Hannah Addario-Berry

Hannah explaining Kodály's work.

Hannah explaining Kodály's work.

The performance by cellist Hannah Addario-Berry that I recently attended was part of the cellist’s US and Canadian tour, focusing on the music from her new solo album, Scordatura, with works by the Hungarian composer, Zoltán Kodály, as well as young composers Lisa Renée Coons, Brent Miller, Alisa Rose, and Jerry Liu.

Hannah played Kodály’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello, composed in 1915, during the first half of her performance. At the time of its creation, Hannah explained, this piece was the most significant work for solo cello since Bach’s cello suites, written about 200 years before. Kodály’s sonata employs an altered tuning style (scordatura) that allows richer harmonic possibilities in the lower range of the cello. In this sonata, the C and G strings are lowered by a semitone to B and F#, allowing for a combination of open strings and chords that would otherwise be impossible. Hannah’s demonstration of the tuning gave us the opportunity to understand the physical aspects of this technique. This method demands extreme technical and musical finesse from the performer, opening the melodic possibilities of the cello.

The second half of her performance was a showcase of commissioned pieces by young composers. Myths Daughter, composed by Lisa Renée in 2015, is a piece reminiscent of child- hood fairy tales. This work incorporates video images, casting the audience into a remembered past and then gradually bringing them back to the present as the images of childhood fade away. Lands End, composed by Alisa Rose in 2015, is a fiddle tune inspired by the Lands End Trail along the picturesque water line of San Francisco. Miniatures, Book 3: Koans, inspired by Hannah and composed by Brent Miller in 2015, consists of several short movements which reflects Miller’s intuitive approach to the composition, abandoning the constraints of reason and connecting seemingly unrelated qualities from the styles of different composers. Lastly, Hannah performed Jerry Liu's Calor, composed in 2015. "Calor is the Latin word for "heat." Like heat of a flame, the music flickers between smoldering drowsiness and fiery momentum. Stemless noteheads and meterless measures give the performer freedom to linger or intensify as they see fit, with spacings between noteheads guiding the musician toward the composer's intent."  

The performance was held at the Forte House in the Sunset district of San Francisco; the perfect environment for an intimate home concert. The host of the event, JJ, was very welcoming and elegantly prepared drinks and tasty hors-d’oeuvres. I was very happy to see Hannah, who I had met several years ago while hosting her group, the Del Sol String Quartet, for a home concert. It was inspiring to see her exploring the possibilities of the cello and sharing with her audience her enthusiasm for these more obscure musical treasures.

The Saint Michael Trio

Left to right: Robin Sharp, Julie Kim, Russell Hancock, Daniel Cher, Michel Flexer

Left to right: Robin Sharp, Julie Kim, Russell Hancock, Daniel Cher, Michel Flexer

I had a pleasant evening last Wednesday attending a performance by The Saint Michael Trio at the Golden Gate Club in the beautiful Presidio of San Francisco.

Members of The Saint Michael Trio (Daniel Cher on violin, Michel Flexer on cello, and Russell Hancock on piano) are world class performers who are artists-in-residence at Stanford University. The surprising twist? All three performers have a double identity - Cher as a medical doctor, Flexer as a software engineer, and Hancock as a member of the public policy faculty at Stanford as well as the president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley. It is just an interesting tidbit to show that world-class musicians come from all walks of life - and can have many talents!

Hancock explaining about Schumann's life and works.

Hancock explaining about Schumann's life and works.

Joined by guest artists Julie Kim and Robin Sharp, who are both violinists, The Saint Michael Trio brought the stories behind their exclusively-Schumann program to life.

Titled Diagnosing Schumann, the concert program explains that “he had it all: a brilliant performing career, renown as a composer, and a high society marriage to a spectacular woman considered the belle of Europe.” Yet, as we know from history and from the often sinister mood of his compositions, Schumann suffered internally despite his outward success, ending his life “in an insane asylum, his career in ruins.”

The Saint Michael Trio did an excellent job of answering the question “What happened?” After each movement, Hancock explained how the music was relevant to what was happening to Schumann at the time of its creation. As the narration continued, the music became a direct connection to the circumstances and emotions of Schumann’s life.

This performance was a luxurious way to spend a weekday evening listening to live chamber music while at the same time getting an education in music history. The Saint Michael Trio reminded me why music is relevant to the human experience, and sometimes the most accurate way to document its more elusive facets.

Chico Pinheiro

Left to right: Rafael Barata, Scott Thompson, Chico Pinheiro

Left to right: Rafael Barata, Scott Thompson, Chico Pinheiro

I recently met the Brazilian musician, Chico Pinheiro, after his performance with his trio at the de Young Museum in San Francisco with Chico Pinheiro on guitar and voice, Rafael Barata on drums, and Scott Thompson on bass. Pinheiro is a composer as well as guitarist and singer, and he is considered one of the best artists in his generation of contemporary Brazilian music. I have always liked Brazilian music (especially Bossa Nova), and Pinheiro’s new-wave Brazilian music is a unique mélange of freshness and tradition. When hearing his voice and watching his concentration in performance, I had a sense that music was not just his profession, but also a defining part of his essence. After the performance, he was kind enough to spend some time chatting with me. Not only is he a fantastic guitarist with an amazing voice, he is also a very sweet guy!

The Grand Debut

Makiko Harris performing "Ashokan Farewell"

Makiko Harris performing "Ashokan Farewell"

Last week we had our grand debut!  After weeks of hard work and dedication, I was finally able to present The Concert Company at Shine, an event organized by The Passion Co.  Shine is always a sold out event and there were over 200 artists and makers who came to find more passion in their lives.  There were also other artists, makers, and company founders there who presented their projects and gave speeches about personal growth goals and art making.  

It was exhilarating sharing my story about where The Concert Company came from and where I see it going.  I even had company on stage as violinist Makiko Harris performed the beautiful piece “Ashokan Farewell” after my speech.  Her music was gorgeous and helped verbalize my intentions with The Concert Company.  The whole evening was so much fun and definitely an appropriate introduction to The Concert Company! 

Photos: Zachary Domes

Welcome!

Hello and welcome to the Concert Company Blog!  Here we will post about cool things related to the website and things that generally inspire us.  Since this is the first post, we thought we would talk about how the company got started.

It goes back to when I, Keiko Shimizu, the founder of the Concert Company, was living in Sonoma, California.  I had just moved to the area from Tokyo and was still learning English.  On top of that my kids were still young so it was hard to get around and go do stuff.  It got pretty lonely.  

One day, when I took my daughter, who was 6 at the time, to her music class everything changed.  I was listening to her play Vivaldi on her violin and the music completely transported me.  I felt so at peace and happy listening to her play.  And when I got home after her music class I began looking up local concerts in my area.  

I listened to recorded classical music from some of the greatest artists in the world but, really, the local concerts were what gave me that same feeling I had listening to my daughter play.  When it comes to live music there is this instant connection between the audience and the musicians.  It's wonderful.  

And I wanted to share that feeling with others.  I talked about my idea to my friend, Regina, and we began inviting local musicians to play in my house for my friends and family.  I asked my friends to pay a small ticket price, which I gave to the musicians after their performance.  It was so much fun and everyone had such a great time that I began to do it over and over again.  Everyone started calling it the 'Home Concert Series.’  

It was not until my friends started asking for recommendations for things like their father's birthday party or their child's graduation that I actually began to consider the potential of my project – everyone loves live music and live music has the power to connect people.  If I could figure out a way to give everyone access to all the musicians in their area, they could enjoy music the way I do!

And that is how the Concert Company began.  Right now it is full of my favorite musicians from the San Francisco Bay area but I hope eventually it will include musicians from the world over!  I am really excited to see where it goes and for all the beautiful music it will make.

Those photos are from our recent home concert performed by a jazz pianist, Steve Rubardt. It was an honor to have Steve perform for us. We had a great time! If you would like Steve to perform at your private event, please fill out the booking form or send an inquiry to info@theconcert.co.