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Jonathan Salzedo in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: This Saturday and Sunday (June 11 and 12, 2022), I will have the pleasure of collaborating with the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento conducting two unusual works: Frank Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante, featuring Jonathan Salzedo (harpsichord), Kerstin Allvin (harp) and Dmitriy Cogan (piano) as our three soloists, plus a string orchestra led by legendary violinist Bill Barbini (one of the youngest members ever of the New York Philharmonic, and longtime concertmaster of the former Sacramento Symphony). The other work on the program that I will be conducting is Claude Debussy’s Danses (Danse Sacrée, and Danse Profane), for harp and string orchestra, also with Kerstin Allvin as our soloist.

I had the pleasure of asking each of our soloists a few questions about this performance and about the Frank Martin. Below are the answers by Jonathan Salzedo regarding his own impressions about the piece. I asked him to include anything including those things he enjoys, and also what he finds surprising, its context, the end of World War II, and his thoughts about Frank Martin himself.

Jonathan Salzedo: I have known about Frank Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante for as long as I have been interested in the harpsichord, at least 55 years. Being somewhat rooted in the 17th and 18th centuries, I never expected that I would get to play it, so this engagement came as an unexpected pleasant surprise.

The harpsichord disappeared from fashion around 1800 and only returned to the concert stage after 1900 with a resurgence of interest in ancient music. While mainstream orchestral instruments evolved, the harpsichord had completed its development by 1800, and the piano took over the role of the keyboard of choice. When the harpsichord was revived by Arnold Dolmetsch, the initial intention was not that it should evolve or that new music should be written for it – keeping the ancient music in museum mode was all that was needed. But by 1945, the harpsichord had not gone unnoticed, and already there were new concertos by Manuel de Falla, Bohuslav Martinu and Francis Poulenc, and it was finding its way into film scores.

The harpsichord Frank Martin had in mind for his 1945 Petite Symphonie Concertante was not the equipment of the 18th century. Between pioneering harpsichordist Wanda Landowska and the Paris piano maker Pleyel, a far more robust harpsichord emerged, able to withstand the demands of the modern concert hall. Martin’s score is marked with specific instructions for effects only possible on that instrument. Pleyel’s robust model did not stand the test of time, and by the 1960’s makers were following Dolmetsch’s lead and basing instruments on 17th and 18th century models. While the “revival” harpsichord still has a few champions, the harpsichord and early music community is almost exclusively using traditional types of harpsichords again. So the first dilemma for the harpsichordist is whether to try to rouse a Pleyel for this piece, or to use today’s equipment, ironically the same equipment that the 18th century player would have used. Pleyels are not so common today, and my choice is to use what I own, built in 1974 by Ted McKnight and styled on a Pascal Taskin instrument from 1769. While I can’t follow all of Martin’s registration recommendations (the equivalent of an organist having different stops available), I have all the tonal variety I need to make the music work.

Did Martin consider the problem of balance with a harpsichord of any kind in an ensemble? Back in the heyday of the harpsichord, its role was to play solos or to have a background role in ensembles. Only a few experimentalists dared to bring the harpsichord into the foreground with a chamber group or orchestra, notably Johann Sebastian Bach and Jean-Philippe Rameau. Even with Pleyel’s robustifications, the harpsichord is not able to come over the top of orchestral sound like a piano. It is an open question whether the harpsichord needs amplification for this work. Had Martin been thoughtful about balance, I would expect to find the harpsichord always accompanied by light instrumentation, and the piano and harp soloists to have soft effects in the trio work. This is not the case. I will be using discreet amplification.

When I tell people I am playing this piece, I am often asked whether I like atonal music. I find myself considering whether this work is atonal. The first twelve notes of the piece form a tone row, rather a communist concept, each of the twelve notes appearing just once. The early sections of the piece fall under the spell of this idea, and one might expect the piece to have the angular qualities we associate with Arnold Schoenberg, the creator of the tone row composition. While this was not an easy piece to get to know, once I became accustomed to its musical ideas, I did not find it atonal. There are always tonal centers to be found. Martin does not necessarily like to stay for long in one key – the music is restless, always moving somewhere. And at times, it is dissonant too, and keys co-exist in a disturbing way. But it never loses the sense of going somewhere, and when it arrives, even fleetingly, one does enjoy the moment. My 50-year career has had a lot to do with exploring the rhetoric of the 17th and 18th centuries, and new music for the harpsichord that I encounter does not always follow those old rhetorical guidelines. But here I find a surprising amount of that kind of rhetoric that references the former age. Among his accomplishments, Frank Martin was a harpsichordist, and it is clear that he knew the idioms of the 18th century.

What else is there in this music? As well as finding a warm version of Schoenberg and fragments that resonate from the 18th century, there is more. The piece can be read as a survey of all that was happening, both in music and in the world outside, at the end of World War II. The world order was in flux, so the piece is restless. The chordal clusters and rhythms of jazz were finding their way into art music, and they too are here. And while the music reflects the ideas of predecessors, it also foreshadows what will come. The March that opens the final section anticipates Henri Mancini’s Pink Panther, and later I hear in embryo Edwin Ashley’s Danger Man theme. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that the last page of my part is entirely pentatonic (just using five notes that are pleasant sounding in any combination) and ends with a brisk G major scale. When we reach that point, I am reminded that the first part I play ends in an F minor scale. So there appears to be an over-arching trajectory from the darkness of F minor through many musical trials to the simplicity of a pentatonic mode and finally the brightness of G major; perhaps a reminder that bleak times always contain a seed of hope for a less confused and better future.

Christian Baldini: Why is music is important to you? Is there any advice you want to share with young musicians?

Jonathan Salzedo: What to say to a young musician? It’s not an easy career, many frustrations, a lot of self-doubt, terrible comparisons – but also great joy and the best community you could imagine, because musicians are the only people who will really understand you. When I moved to the USA from England at age 31, I was ready to give up music – I thought I had played out that youthful dream. But if music wants you and you have a bit of willingness, you and music will somehow find each other and have to put up with each other. Now that I am 71, I can’t imagine a life better than the one I have had, mixing music with a whole lot of other interesting stuff, including technology. Having an artistic outlet really does make you a better person, less likely to buy guns and shoot people, more likely to be intrigued by the world and its infinite possibilities. Follow your nose; don’t let anyone else suggest that you should grow up.

Jonathan Salzedo (courtesy photo)

British born harpsichordist Jonathan Salzedo is a frequent Freeway Philharmonic contributor in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was an active and occasionally prizewinning pianist in his youth, then planned to study harpsichord with someone famous, but ended up learning what he knows from working with fine musicians with good ideas. With his wife Marion Rubinstein and daughter Laura Jeannin he runs The Albany Consort, a group with a long and impressive track record, though only one (accidental) recording. Jonathan also plays new music with violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, including compositions written for the duo. He actually likes moving and tuning instruments, and considers these to be an important part of the whole harpsichord experience. When not on the road doing gigs, he sings at Congregation Etz Chayim, Palo Alto, and runs a software consulting business.

Beauty, Christian Baldini, composer, Concerto, Conductor, piano, Soloist, Uncategorized

Oscar Strasnoy in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On April 21, 2022, I will have the pleasure of conducting the US Première of Oscar Strasnoy’s Piano Concerto Kuleshov with Ryan McCullough as our soloist, together with the phenomenal UC Davis Symphony Orchestra at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis, California. Below is a brief interview with Oscar talking about his music:

Christian Baldini: Dear Oscar, it will be so wonderful to conduct the US Premiere of your Piano Concerto Kuleshov with the excellent pianist Ryan McCullough as our soloist. Tell me, how did the genesis of this piece start? And how did you come up with the concept of Kuleshov as a source of inspiration?

Oscar Strasnoy: As is almost always the case, the piece was born out of a soloist’s desire to receive a piece by a specific composer. In this case, Alexandre Tharaud was the generator of the project. Mauricio Kagel had promised him a piano concerto, but he died before finishing it. So Alexandre asked me. I am a sort of post-mortem-ghost-writer for Kagel, a position I enjoy very much assuming.

The idea of relating the work to the first film editing techniques of the Soviet cinema of the 1920s-1930s comes from further back, it is something that has always interested me. The name Lev Kuleshov came up at the end of the composition, when it occurred to me to close a very heterogeneous form, made mostly of fragments, using his concept of alternating still and moving images, a kind of big rondo around a more abstract central movement.

CB: Your music is surprising, refreshing, it probably cannot be easily labeled or contained. What is your goal with each new piece? What do you try to “communicate”, and/or what are some priorities to you in your music?

OS: For years, my activity as a composer was principally around opera and musical theater. And the fact of frequently working with texts created in me a quasi Pavlovian reflex for generating musical images, something like ideograms that could be associated to concepts. A kind of program music without a program. I feel very close, not necessarily in style, but in the way of approaching the heterogeneous formal assembly of the works, to the thought of Eisenstein or to Liszt, Wagner, Pierre Schaeffer and Messiaen. My interest is not focused on the so called “musical material” (new sounds) but on how acoustic ideas are associated with each other and form a kind of story board or, perhaps better, a Japanese kind of emakimono scrolls. That Japanese art is the one that fascinates me the most among all types of art. A kind of cinematography avant la lettre, still cinema, frozen time.

CB: You have worked with many of the world’s greatest artists. You’ve written concertos for Isabelle Faust and Alexander Tharaud. Does this make your life easier when writing a concerto with a performer in mind? How do you approach the process, is it very collaborative or do you deliver the piece once it’s done?

OS: I like working with friends, first of all, spending time with them exchanging food, jokes and ideas. That’s how I learned the most. I send them my ideas in sketch form, sometimes I tell them over the phone, and I complete them with their technical advice.

CB: What would you recommend to someone who has never heard your music before? What should they listen for?

OS: I would recommend looking at emakimonos in a museum or on the internet. I would also recommend to look at a wonderful eighty-meters long work that David Hockney painted with an iPad during the pandemic, “A Year in Normandy” is its title. And I would recommend watching Soviet cinema from the 1920s.

CB: Kuleshov seems to make some references to piano music of the past. I hear a lot of (even possible quotations) Rachmaninov, Debussy and Ravel. How did you approach these connections or recollections? How do you manage to make all these voices fit into your own language?

OS: My main source for this work was silent film accompaniment music from the 1920s. Surely those musics were influenced by certain features of those composers, so my references are surely second hand.  

CB: Do you have any advice for young composers?

OS: Forget about the so called “musical material”. Music is immaterial, it consists of heterogeneous sounds disposed on a given time. Any sonorous thing can fill that time with whatever you can think of. I would recommend them also to forget the obligation of artistic homogeneity that we inherited from the Enlightenment. The world we live in is heterogeneous and the art of our time has to reflect the world we live in. I would also recommend them to avoid as much as possible emulating the contemporary musical currents taught in universities, which turn almost all students into epigones. Being an artist means being free to do whatever you want with whatever ideas, material or media you want. If you don’t achieve that degree of independence, you will not be an artist, you will be a craftsman, which is not bad in itself but was probably not your initial plan. But one has to be patient, it’s a process that can take some time, probably the whole life.

CB: Thank you very much for your time, I very much look forward to once more conducting your beautiful music.

OS: Thank you, dear Christian. It’s a big pleasure and an honor for me to be here in Davis.

Oscar Strasnoy, Photo by Heidi Specker

Biography

Oscar Strasnoy was born in Buenos Aires and studied piano, conducting and composition there at the Conservatorio Nacional Superior de Música (with Aldo Antognazzi and Guillermo Scarabino), at the Conservatoire de Paris (with Guy Reibel, Michaël Levinas and Gérard Grisey), where he won in 1996 a Premier Prix à l’Unanimité (first prize) and the Hochschule für Musik, Frankfurt (with Hans Zender). He was the Music Director of the Orchestre du Crous de Paris (1996–1998). He was one of the founding recipients of the Grüneisen Foundation (Mozarteum Argentino) conducting scholarship, and of the French Government Scholarship. In 1999 he was invited by Peter Eötvös to Herrenhaus-Edenkoben in Germany.

Luciano Berio awarded him the 2000 Orpheus Prize for his chamber opera Midea produced at the Teatro Caio Melisso in Spoleto in 2000 and at the Rome Opera in 2001.He was also artist in residence at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, in 2003 at the Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto (Institut français), and in 2006 at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy. In 2007 he received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for Music Composition. Radio France, in association with the Parisian Théâtre du Châtelet, featured Strasnoy as the main composer of the Festival Présences 2012, a retrospective of most of his works in 14 concerts in January 2012.

Compositions

Oscar Strasnoy has composed twelve stage works, including operas performed at Spoleto, Rome, Paris (Opéra Comique, Théâtre du Châtelet), Hamburg, Bordeaux, Aix-en-Provence Festival, Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires), Berlin State Opera; a live-accompanied silent film score for Anthony Asquith’s Underground which premiered at the Louvre in 2004 and was subsequently played at the Cine Doré in Madrid, the Mozarteum Argentino, Kyoto, and Tokyo) and a secular cantata, Hochzeitsvorbereitungen (mit B und K). He also composed several pieces of chamber, vocal and orchestral music, including his song cycle Six Songs for the Unquiet Traveller which premiered in 2004 performed by the Nash Ensemble and Ann Murray in a concert to inaugurate the newly refurbished Wigmore Hall in London.

In January 2012 a retrospective of his work in 14 concerts has been presented at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris as part of the Festival Présences of Radio France. Strasnoy’s works are primarily published by Universal Edition (Vienna) Chant du Monde (Paris) and Billaudot (Paris). His opera Midea is published by Ricordi (Milan).

Beauty, California, Christian Baldini, composer, Experimental, Soloist, Uncategorized

Rachel Lee Priday in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: On March 5 I will have the pleasure of collaborating with the wonderful violinist Rachel Lee Priday on the world premiere of the Violin Concerto “Kuyén” by Chilean composer Miguel Farías at UC Davis. This piece was commissioned by our orchestra, with funds from Ibermúsicas. Rachel, welcome, and let’s start by sharing your thoughts about this piece by Miguel. What should people listen for? What is unique about it? [NB: at the time of this interview, we have not had a rehearsal with the orchestra yet, only zoom meetings between the composer, the soloist and the conductor, so Rachel has not heard how the concerto sounds with the orchestra yet]

Rachel Lee Priday: Kuyén is a continuous drama that unfolds over the course of twenty minutes between the orchestra and solo violin. My role as the violinist is to symbolize and give voice to the Moon in this personification of the ancient Mapuche tale of Kuyén‘s marriage to the deity Antu (the Sun), revolt among the jealous stars, and their punishment, leaving Kuyén the brightest light in the sky.

Miguel brilliantly creates a sense of light and shadow in the way he colors the violin line through various harmonics and oscillating rhythms. There is also a rhetorical quality to the music, and a glowing energy. Knowing the story this piece depicts, it will be fun for listeners to imagine and follow along with the action in the music. I am very curious and excited to hear and create the full drama with you and the UC Davis Symphony.

CB: You are a wonderfully eclectic performer, with a lot of experience under your belt. You have performed as a soloist with several major orchestras around the world, including the National Symphony, as well as the Chicago and Seattle symphonies and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Tell me about your beginnings with music. How did it all start for you? When did you realize music was going to be your life?

RLP: I started playing the violin soon after I turned four years old. I had asked my mother for a violin for my fourth birthday, but there was a delay in getting the violin. So when my birthday came and there was no violin, I threw a tantrum. My mom got the message, and I started Suzuki lessons in Chicago a few months later.

I was very serious about music from the beginning, and I wanted to be a violinist, considering it my life, from the start. After I began playing the violin, I almost don’t remember a time I didn’t think of myself as a musician. It’s now a little strange to think about.

CB: Let’s talk about programming. How do you choose the works that you perform? Do you see a responsibility or a role in society for those of us who are making decisions about which composers and/or which works to promote and perform?

RLP: There is definitely a great responsibility that organizations and performers carry in deciding which works to promote and perform. We have an active role in giving exposure to new music especially, and in building together an inclusive musical world. Whenever I decide what to play, whether it’s a new commission or a warhorse standard, I think about whether I will love it, whether I feel I can do justice to it, and whether there is something intriguing about it that will expand me and audiences artistically. 

CB: What (or who) are some unforgettable experiences and/or people in your life, and why?

RLP: My teachers, including Itzhak Perlman, Dorothy DeLay and Miriam Fried, have been huge influences in my life. It can’t be overstated how they have shaped me as a violinist, musician, person, and now as a teacher.

CB: Which advice would you give to young musicians? We know it is sometimes hard to be constant, to continue growing, improving and not losing focus or getting distracted or deflated by failure, by an audition that doesn’t go well, or by a harsh teacher that might seem discouraging. How have you dealt with adversity in the past?

RLP: Over the years and especially during the pandemic, I have come to realize that the more I fill my cup with gratitude and connection to others in doing the work, the more freedom I experience from self-doubt and other discouraging feelings. It is relieving to remember that it’s not about me, it’s about the music and being of service. I have always lived by the motto of simply “do your best,” and have added in a lot lately, “it will be okay.” Just showing up and doing things consistently can be the most important part. If you can be curious about something in the midst of a challenge, it can stop negative thoughts in their tracks and redirect you to a positive, creative and engaged mode of thought.

CB: Thank you very much for your time dear Rachel, we very much look forward to showcasing your wonderful musicianship with our audiences!

RLP: I’m so grateful to work with you and for this exciting premiere! Thank you, Christian!

Rachel Lee Priday (Courtesy Photo)

About Rachel Lee Priday

A consistently exciting artist, renowned globally for her spectacular technique, sumptuous sound, deeply probing musicianship, and “irresistible panache” (Chicago Tribune), violinist RACHEL LEE PRIDAY has appeared as soloist with major international orchestras, among them the Chicago, Houston, National, Pacific, St. Louis and Seattle Symphony Orchestras, Boston Pops Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Germany’s Staatskapelle Berlin. Her distinguished recital appearances have brought her to eminent venues, including Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Mostly Mozart Festival, Chicago’s Ravinia Festival and Dame Myra Hess Memorial Series, Paris’s Musée du Louvre, Germany’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival and Switzerland’s Verbier Festival.

Passionately committed to new music and creating enriching community and global connections, Rachel Lee Priday’s wide-ranging repertoire and multidisciplinary collaborations reflect a deep fascination with literary and cultural narratives. Recent seasons have seen a new Violin Sonata commissioned from Pulitzer Prize Finalist Christopher Cerrone and the world premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s The Orphic Moment in an innovative staging that mixed poetry, drama, visuals and music. She has collaborated often with Ballet San Jose, and was lead performer in “Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart”, theatrical concerts with the Ensemble for the Romantic Century at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Her work as soloist with the Asia America New Music Institute promoted cultural exchange between Asia and the Americas, combining premiere performances with educational outreach in the US, China, Korea and Vietnam.

This season Rachel performs in duo recital with composer/pianist Timo Andres in Seattle and Washington, DC at the Phillips Collection. Upcoming concerto engagements include the Portland Symphony, Roanoke Symphony and UC Davis Symphony at the Mondavi Center, while recent engagements have included the Pacific Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Johannesburg Philharmonic, Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic, Stamford Symphony, and Bangor Symphony.

Since making her orchestral debut at the Aspen Music Festival in 1997, Rachel has performed with numerous orchestras across the United States, including those of Colorado, Alabama, Knoxville, Rockford, and Springfield (MA), as well as the New York Youth Symphony. Her In Europe and in Asia, she has appeared at the Moritzburg Festival in Germany and with orchestras in Graz, Austria, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea, where she performed with the KBS Symphony, Seoul Philharmonic and Russian State Symphony Orchestra on tour. She has also toured South Africa and the United Kingdom, appearing in recital at the Universities of Birmingham and Cambridge.

Rachel Lee Priday began her violin studies at the age of four in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, she moved to New York City to study with the iconic pedagogue Dorothy DeLay; she continued her studies at The Juilliard School Pre-College Division with Itzhak Perlman. She holds a B.A. degree in English from Harvard University and an M.M. from the New England Conservatory, where she worked with Miriam Fried. In the fall of 2019, she joined the faculty of the University of Washington School of Music as Assistant Professor of Violin.

Rachel Lee Priday has been profiled in The New YorkerThe StradLos Angeles Times and Family Circle. Her performance have been broadcast on major media outlets in the United States, Germany, Korea, South Africa and Brazil, including a televised concert in Rio de Janeiro, numerous appearances on Chicago’s WFMT and American Public Media’s “Performance Today.” She has also been featured on BBC Radio 3, the Disney Channel, “Fiddling for the Future” and “American Masters” on PBS, and the Grammy Awards.

She performs on a Nicolo Gagliano violin (Naples, 1760), double-purfled with fleurs-de-lis, named Alejandro.

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Jennifer Reason in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 20, 2021, we are featuring the very unusual work “Tabuh-Tabuhan” by Colin McPhee (subtitled as Toccata for Orchestra and 2 Pianos). For it, we will present two outstanding pianists that are in different stages of their lives. Jennifer Reason is much beloved in our region as a pianist, cultural leader,  artistic director, and also much admired classical music host at CapRadio (the local NPR Station). She is an incredibly versatile, all-round artist. She directs RSVP, a choir with a very important social justice mission, she plays lots of new music, lots of old music, she collaborates with the Rogue Music Project as Music Director, presenting new and/or unusual operas to local audiences. She’s a complete omnivore (I feel very identified with this!) and she comes with a lot of experience working with different kinds of orchestras, ensembles, and as a solo artist with recordings under her belt. For the McPhee we also feature an extremely talented Davis High School student, Adrián Zaragoza, as our second piano soloist. I have known Adrian’s family for a number of years and I’ve followed with great pleasure his ascending trajectory and growth as a musician. I am very glad that we can create these opportunities to foster our extraordinary, and very talented youngsters. They deserve these opportunities and we are here to help them.

In preparation for our performance I had the opportunity to ask Jen a few questions, and below are her answers:

Christian Baldini: Jen, first of all, what a pleasure it will be to feature you as our soloist at the Mondavi Center. This is a brilliant piece by a visionary composer. Without his music, it would have probably taken a lot longer for the music by John Adams, Steve Reich or Phillip Glass to come into existence. The clear inspiration he received during his time in Bali is what marked his path and musical development. What can you share with people who know nothing about this music? What can they expect from your performance of Tabuh-Tabuhan? What is very special about this piece?

Jennifer Reason: They can expect to get a bit of EVERYTHING. You will get the virtuosic fireworks you already expect from a piano concerto, only times two with the double grand pianos on stage! You will also get to have an out of the box experience, with churning rhythms and the glorious harmonic flavors of Bali, some deliciously subtle and some ferocious. This piece is a fascinating tour de force and an absolute joy to play. 

CB: Tell me about your musical upbringing. How did you start? What were your first steps?

JR: Well my mother was a piano teacher, so I was always clambering up onto her piano bench pretty much as soon as I could walk! She noticed how much I loved to move my fingers on the keys even as that tiny toddler, so she had me in formal lessons by the time I turned four. I will be forever grateful for that. 

CB: Who have been some of the most inspiring people in your life? And experiences? What are some of those essential before and after moments that made you realize you needed to change course?

JR: Oh, I could write a novel here. Life has such a way of bringing you just what you need, and it hardly is ever what you expect, right? My teacher Richard Cionco certainly ranks among the very top most inspiring people in my life. I started studying with him in high school, when I was on the fence about whether I loved music enough to devote myself to it or not. (Sports and a potential career in science among two of the things calling my attention away..) It was through him that I found my Yes: my own musical voice and my own passion for this special art form. If I hadn’t found him when I did, I wonder if I would have made a career in this business. I’ve gone with him now many times to festivals in Europe, but that first time he took me to Italy as a young college student changed my life forever. There was no turning back from a life in music, and music combined with travel, after that.

CB: You do a lot of social justice work through your RSVP Choir. Could you explain how you started with this wonderful project, what it means to you, and what you hope to accomplish in the coming years with them?

JR: Yes, I went to hear RSVP in a concert many years ago and was so blown away by their blend, versatility and musicality that I decided on the spot I had to sing with them. I auditioned and was lucky enough to be accepted by Julie Adams, the founder and former Artistic Director (and also my mentor) back in 2008. When it was Julie’s decision to retire, I was offered the directorship, which I have held now for coming up on 8 years. This project means the world to me: it is how I give back to our community, and how I use music to make a difference for the less fortunate among us. We have supported over 35 amazing local charities through our concert programs so far, and I hope to add as many groups to that number as possible! 

CB: You are an incredibly versatile musician. You are Music Director of the Rogue Music Project with other beloved musicians in our community (Carrie Hennessey, Kevin Doherty, Omari Tau and Sarah Fitch). How does this fit within all your other work? What are some of the exciting things coming up with this remarkable group?

JR: It fits like a glove! One of my primary goals in all my musical endeavors is to expand the canon, to create diverse and culturally relevant space for art making. (Much like the concerto we are performing together!) RMP does just that in its adventurous and boundary pushing theater experiences. Upcoming we are prepping “small bites” of collaborative works that include the music of Darius Milhaud, Boris Vian, William Mayer and more with dance! Some live and some via short film format!

CB: On top of all those hats you wear, you are also a much admired classical music host at CapRadio in Sacramento. Can you tell me what you like the most about this position? How does it fit within your life as a busy musician that performs in so many places and in so many capacities?

JR: I couldn’t ask for a more ideal position than hosting classical music for CapRadio. Most shows and rehearsals take place in the evening, so on air hosting during the midday is just perfect. But past that, and so much more importantly, I get to talk about music, hopefully in a way that educates, inspires and uplifts this community. It’s also a singular opportunity for connecting the greater community with local artists, as well as introducing people to neglected/ under-represented voices and music makers. 

CB: Imagine you have unlimited funds to put together a week-long festival. You could invite any orchestras, soloists, directors that you like. You can program any music that you’d like. What would you do? (if possible give 2 or 3 sample programs)

JR: What a fabulous question. I think I would combine everything I love: new music, education, and FOOD. We would invite all sorts of living modern classical composers and ensembles, with as great a focus as possible on diversity. In addition to multiple formal concerts a day, we’d have jam sessions or sightreading parties where people could sit around and make music together in casual spaces, (with free flowing drink of course!) the way it used to be done. We’d incorporate a mentorship component where young and particularly economically disadvantaged players could sit in with the pros. And then of course we would have all sorts of fine dining experiences incorporated as well! Perhaps every night a wonderful dinner show, or perhaps guest chefs or mixologists to create food/cocktails inspired by the music being performed! 

Jennifer Reason

Hailed as a pianist “in the league of Carnegie Hall,” a “rising star” whose playing is “lush, sensual and colorful: like a painting” (Sulzbach-Rosenberger, Germany), a “powerhouse” (Victor Forman, CPR), and one who possesses an “extraordinary skill” (D. Frantztreb, SCC), Jennifer Reason is a vibrant young performer in consistent demand, and the recipient of Sacramento Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 Award for 2016. She gave her first solo recital at the age of 5, and had acquired her first Staff Pianist position by the age of 12. She has since gone on to appear in solo and ensemble performances across 15 states and 11 countries, including such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, the Vatican, and the Liszt Academy in Prague. Festival appearances include the Festival of Peace and Brotherhood in Italy, the Interharmony International festival in Germany, the Schlern International Festival in Italy, and the Orfeo International Festival in Italy.
Dearest to Ms. Reason’s heart is collaborative work, and as such she is the Artistic Director of the Emmy-nominated ensemble RSVP, an acapella group that sings to raise money for local charities (www.rsvpchoir.org). She is also a founding member of the 15 year old contemporary sextet Citywater, currently Ensemble-in-Residence at CSU Sacramento (www.citywatermusic.com). Finally, she is the recently appointed Music Director of the Rogue Music Project, a music collective formed to challenge current perceptions of opera through unpredictable, adventurous, and socially conscious performances. (www.roguemusicproject.com).

She has shared the stage with such noteworthy artists/personalities as John Rutter, members of Journey, Tower of Power, Santana, and Sly and the Family Stone, Governor Jerry Brown and Billy Bob Thornton. When not personally performing, Ms. Reason enjoys working as Music Director for staged productions-including the world premiere of Max Understood in San Francisco and the Bay Area premiere/adaption of Shakespeare In Love-as well as maintaining a private piano studio. Her students have been accepted on scholarship to collegiate music programs such as the Hartt School of Music, University of North Texas, CSU Long Beach, CSU – Sacramento, William Jessup University and Cosumnes River College. Away from the concert hall, Ms. Reason is the Midday Classical Host for Capital Public Radio (www.capradio.org/music) and a Voting Member of the Recording Academy for the Grammys.


www.jennifer-reason.com

California, Christian Baldini, Concerto, Experimental, Judy Kang, Korea, Uncategorized, violin

Judy Kang in Conversation with Christian Baldini

After a long pandemic pause, the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra will finally return to Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center in Davis California on October 15, 2021. Our opening program will be a short noon concert featuring a new work by Iranian composer Aida Shirazi, as well as Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with the extraordinary Judy Kang. I had the pleasure of asking Judy some questions, and below are her very thoughtful answers:

Christian Baldini: Judy, welcome, I am so excited to be performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto with you as our wonderful soloist. You and I have known each other virtually for a long time, we have connected, interviewed, even performed remotely, but this is our first “in person” performance. Are you excited about this? What are some of the things you look forward to the most?

Judy Kang: Thanks so much for inviting me to perform this masterpiece. I’m so excited about it and working/meeting in person with you as well!
I look forward to getting back to the stage after the long “break”, getting back into the groove and having the privilege to play one of my all time favourites, I’m very grateful.
It’s exciting to play for a live audience again, “getting lost” and being in the moment, letting go, and embracing the unknown. The exchange of energy in the room and inspiration  pulled from the audience will be magical and something I realize that I miss deeply. One thing during the pandemic that really struck me was the realization and challenge to feel those things alone in a room recording in front of a camera even if there is an audience on the other side. The collaborations werent the same either though absolutely grateful it was possible to have. It will be wonderful to collaborate in the same room!

CB: What are some of the aspects of the Sibelius Violin Concerto that you like the most? What is so special about it in your view? What would you recommend to people who don’t know the piece, what should they listen for?

JK: I love the overall vibe of the work; the emotion that it provokes and displays. I love how it’s orchestrated and the way it’s structured. The virtuosity and passion the composer has allowed for both the soloist and orchestra. It’s so fun to play. What I find special about this work is that it has such richness and depth to it but it really penetrates to our emotion which doesnt necessarily require a type of intellectual understanding. The piece has a lot of tension underneath the surface. It’s cool and icy but hot and intense below. Listen for the way it builds to climax and how it moves away from the tension to warmer and more passionate places.
Listen to how the rhythm of the orchestra in the last movement is foundational to keeping up a consistency of excitement and intensity and how the violin plays and reacts to it and also in a way is improvisatory in essence over that rhythmic base. Let the music take you to where ever your mind and spirit wants.

CB: Tell me about your training as a violinist. You have been mentored by some of the foremost violinists of our time, and you’ve also developed a remarkable career as a soloist. What are some aspects of different “schools” of violin playing that you have incorporated and/or rejected? How did it all come into place for you?

JK: I was mostly exposed to a lot of the old Russian school of playing. I had very interesting training growing up. My professors from childhood gave me much freedom to express and allowed me to express myself. I felt free to do so. It felt very natural and organic. My first professor when I was at The Curtis Institute was extremely strict in contrast and I felt for the first time a loss of that freedom. The silver lining is that I adapted to learning things very quickly.

CB: You have also played the violin with Lady Gaga all over the world. You are allegedly the only living musician (according to the New York Times) to have played under both Pierre Boulez and Lady Gaga. How does this type of flexibility, desire and willingness to participate in crossover classical/pop music performances come into being?

JK: I’ve always felt a sense of fun and creativity in making up melodies as a kid. Instead of playing scales I would make up random tunes or would imitate a song or piece I heard that I wanted to learn eventually. I grew up listening to pop and top40. It was a type of therapeutic “easy” listening for me. My love for improv and collaborations opened opportunities to jam and work with all types of artists. I never thought or had planned to make a “career” outside of classical to be honest. It was more so an outlet for me to be spontaneous, and for self creativity and expression. Again, a form of therapy perhaps.

CB: If you had to name four or five of your favorite violinists (from any era), who would they be?

JK: I grew up listening to Heifetz Milstein Elman  Rabin Kreisler… they were and are a huge influence.

CB: Are there any dream/impossible performances you’d like to be a part of? (this could be playing in a string quartet with Mozart, or in a jazz combo with Miles Davis)

JK: any of the above mentioned violinists, Jacqueline dupre, Glenn Gould, Eddie hazel, Paganini, Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Mozart, Schostakovich, Debussy, Gershwin, Kurt Cobain, Bob Marley, Elliott Smith, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Thom Yorke, Sarah Mclachlan.

CB: If you had an unlimited budget to put together a summer festival, what would you do? You could invite artists, orchestras, chamber music groups, dancers, from all over the world. A whole month of events all curated by you. What would this look like?

Jk: the possibilities are endless. When you get artists together it becomes a conglomerate of unknown possibilities. And without a budget, it’s about utilizing the means to re-create and build from authenticity and from what’s within. Somehow I feel that the lack of creates more a sense of raw creativity and I find beauty in it. It’s about balancing the two things I suppose. I would love an environment that allows for freedom without rules within boundaries. For collaborations and a space to freely express and another space that challenges one another to expand and go to the unknown places without judgement or a sense of pressure. An atmosphere where we are allowed and inspired to discover and embrace the deep parts of ourselves and where vulnerability is a warm and welcoming thing. A space to be unsafe. It would be a world, if you will, for us, as individuals, creators, and a community via relationships, to create and utilize art as a means of understanding ourselves, one another, allowing growth and ultimately, healing.

Judy Kang, courtesy photo

The New York Times hailed, “Judy Kang, a Canadian violinist and most likely the only musician to have worked with both Pierre Boulez and Lady Gaga, was featured in Brahms’s Violin Concerto. Ms. Kang, who drew whoops from the audience before playing a single note, offered a lean, focused sound, pinpoint intonation and expressively molded phrasing. Every line seemed to mean something personal in what amounted to an amorous serenade.” 

Judy Kang is not your quintessential artist. She has established herself internationally as a solo violinist and chamber musician in the classical world as well as featured guest artist and prominent collaborator in the world of pop, indie, jazz, and hip hop. A multi faceted artist evolving outside of her formal classical training, Judy has set herself apart from others through her work as a singer/songwriter, producer, composer, and arranger. Born a rebel to tradition, rules, and conformity, she discovered an artistic freedom and a sense of individuality through creation and improv at about the age of 7. Judy continues to defy and break the constraints of boundaries improvising, jamming, co-writing, producing, and performing with bands and artists from Alaskan prog rock band Portugal.The Man to such powerhouses as Lady Gaga. 
 
Born and raised in Canada to a single mother, her career in violin began at the age of four, winning competitions and performing publicly in recitals. Judy’s unusual gift was recognized immediately having instantly learned and memorized a piece at her first lesson. By age six, she made her solo orchestral debut and at age ten, she burst onto the classical music scene in a nationally acclaimed televised performance as soloist with the National Arts Center Orchestra. The Ottawa Citizen proclaimed, “If there was a star tonight, it was Judy Kang. Blessed with a gift for the violin that is exceptional, she moves about the instrument at her disposal with an ease that is awe-inspiring.” A year later and with a fractured wrist at the time (from a volleyball game), Judy auditioned and subsequently accepted a full scholarship to attend the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. At 17, she graduated with a bachelor in music as the youngest graduate in Curtis’ history. Shortly after graduation, she captured the grand prize as well as the “Best Interpretation” award at the CBC Competition for Young Performers, Canada’s most esteemed competition. At the age of 19, Judy was granted the Lily Foldes Scholarship from the Juilliard School where she earned her master’s degree with high honors. Additionally, she was the first recipient on full scholarship of the Artist Diploma from the Manhattan School of Music, which holds the distinction as the highest level of education, above all other programs.

Since her first solo appearance at age four in her native Edmonton, Canada, Judy has toured six continents across North and South America, Europe, the Soviet Union, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and the Caribbean Islands. She has performed with all the major orchestras and ensembles of Canada and those of US, Europe and Asia. Further, she performed in recital and chamber music to diverse audiences in prestigious venues including Tokyo Suntory Hall, Lincoln Center, Royal Festival Hall, Schubert Hall in Vienna as well as at the Metropolitan and Guggenheim Museums in New York, to name a few. Judy made her critically acclaimed debut to a sold out audience in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall.

Having achieved a level of pop culture status as “Lady Gaga’s violinist/nurse Judy,” she was personally selected by the iconic sensation as her solo violinist on the “MonsterBall” world tour in 2010-11, the biggest selling debut tour in history. Judy performed in sold out venues for millions worldwide. In the midst of touring Europe, she flew to NYC for less than 30 hours to perform as soloist of Brahms’ Violin Concerto at Stern Hall at Carnegie Hall, garnering rave reviews from the New York Times as well as other publications. She appeared on the Emmy award winning HBO special “Lady Gaga Presents: The MonsterBall World Tour Live from Madison Square Garden.” Judy was also featured alongside Lady Gaga on American Idol playing the violin solo of her hit single, “Alejandro.” 

A member of the acoustic trio of Academy award winning film composer and groundbreaker of electronic music, Ryuichi Sakamoto, they have toured Europe and Asia in sold out shows and have released two albums on the Decca label to much celebration. As a producer and writer for diverse artists, she co-wrote, produced, and arranged a song for singer Antoniette Costa whose music video garnered over 65,000 views in the first 48 hours following its premiere. She has also toured in collaboration with pianist Chad Lawson for a project entitled “Chopin Variations” which consists of revisiting his piano masterpieces in modern trio form.

Judy frequently collaborates with esteemed composers and has worked closely with Leon Kirchner, Richard Danielpour, Alexander Goehr, and Pierre Boulez. In response to her well-received performance and collaboration with Pierre Boulez and IRCAM, The New York times wrote, “violinist Judy Kang, who played with assurance and imagination, became the wizardly master of an entire sound environment.

Young people whose only experience of electronic music comes from deafening rock clubs should have heard this performance.” As a student at Juilliard, Judy became well versed in the New York club scene having played to sold out audiences in venues such as Le Poisson Rouge, The Bitter End, Irving Plaza, Mercury Lounge, Pianos, The Living Room, and Bowery Ballroom, among others.

She has performed in front of numerous diplomats and leaders including U.S. President Bill Clinton. Her extensive collaborations include distinguished members of the Guarneri and Emerson Quartets, Beaux Arts Trio, Olafur Arnalds, Lenny Kravitz, Richard Goode, Lynn Harrell, Andre Previn, Claude Frank, Miriam Fried, Emmanuel Ax, and David Geringas, among many others. Her mentors include Sylvia Rosenberg, Robert Mann, Aaron Rosand, Felix Galimir, Lorand Fenyves, James Keene, and Yoko Wong.

Judy has performed at major festivals such as Marlboro, Ravinia, Banff, Orford, Bargemusic, Manchester, Aspen, the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival, Lenaudiere, and the Pablo Casals Festival, as well as at various jazz and pop festivals like Lollapalooza and the Festival Internacional Jazz Barcelona, to name a few. She was also featured in one of three chamber groups selected for the 60th Anniversary Disc from a live performance on Musicians from Marlboro. She is an original founding member of piano quartet “Made in Canada” having toured throughout Canada and was concertmaster and a frequent featured soloist with string ensemble “Sejong”.

Judy’s achievements have garnered her much media attention, frequently appearing on CNN and MTV as well as in myriad print publications including being featured in Chatelaine magazine’s 80 women to watch. Her release of two critically acclaimed CDs have been nominated for the Opus award and the Gemini award in her native Canada. She has won top prizes at prestigious international competitions such as Kreisler, Naumburg, Dong-A, and Carl Nielsen, as well as grand prize several years in a row at the Canadian Music Competition. Having graduated high school at age 15, she was selected as an All American Scholar, honouring the top academically talented students in America as well as being nominated for the United States National Mathematics Award (USNMA).

Judy is frequently heard live and through broadcasts on national and international radio stations such as CBC (Canada), BBC (London) and on WQXR (New York).

Humbled and thankful to have received numerous and continuous support through scholarships and grants from numerous foundations, Judy won the ‘Sylva Gelber’ prize given to the most talented musician under 30. Further, and in recognition of her outstanding achievement and contribution to the arts, she is featured as an accomplished artist and inspiration in a book entitled “Korea and Canada: A Shared History.” The sole artist to be awarded the longest use of an instrument from the Canada Council Instrument Bank, Judy won the use the 1689 “Baumgartner” Stradivarius, through a generous donor.

She frequently donates her time and talents towards charity, benefits, nursing/retirement homes, hospitals, schools, arts education, ministry, and missions. Judy is artistic director for EnoB, a community based nonprofit organization that reaches out to people who are disabled, hospitalized, or suffer from socio-economic disadvantages. She is also an artist ambassador for WorldVision.

Inspired by a deep yearning to delve within and to express pure and raw emotion on her own terms, Judy released a self-titled debut record of original songs on March 5, 2013, fully self written, produced, and recorded. The album takes the listener on her evolving personal journey as an artist, from past to present, through an exploration and experiment of sound, featuring the violin primarily, as well as vocals, and other instruments. The first of many more to come, her record garnered much praise and accolades from the press and artists alike, including MidWest Record saying, “Moving from Juilliard to Lady Gaga as easily as she moves from ambient to a Stradivarius, Kang blows open the stereotypical tiger mom progeny being a hot chick that masters classical violin before puberty. For all the pop chops she has under her young belt, this is a shining example of a wonderful record that many will not know what to make of.” Bob Boilen, host and creator of NPR’s online music show All Songs Considered, describes it as “diverse, unbelievably beautiful, and eclectic.” 

She continues to stretch her artistic boundaries through various projects of her own as well as with her collaborations with other artists.