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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