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!