Weekly Update

New 2014-15 concert seasons announced, Monterey County piano students compete, and PAMB posts new dance, theater and music reviews.  Scroll down for details.


Notes on the Page: Notable Books on Music

By Susan Meister

PLAY IT AGAIN: AN AMATEUR AGAINST THE IMPOSSIBLE  by Alan Rusbridger (403 pp, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, $28)

What can the Wikileaks cable releases and the 2011 hacking scandals in the UK have to do with one of the most difficult piano pieces in the classical repertoire, Chopin’s Ballade No 1, Op 23, in G Minor? Everything, if you are the editor of the Guardian newspaper in London, and a dedicated amateur pianist obsessed with, at age 56, not just learning, but also performing, the composition that inspires humility even in the world’s most illustrious pianists.

Play It AgainThis book is the illuminating diary of Rusbridger’s winding road to master the G Minor Ballade. When he heard it played by a fellow amateur like “an orgiastic burst of blurred, finger-flying magic,” he felt impelled to devote a year to learning it. Against the background of the fast moving, chaotic world of international journalism where he participates on a high level, the daily account of his effort to find enough time to devote to it provides pleasing counterpoint.

Rusbridger is no ordinary amateur. Because of a job that appears to occupy 20 hours a day, his travels around the world to attend meetings, give speeches, and on one occasion, a risky trip to rescue one of his reporters from kidnappers in Libya, he often manages only ten minutes of practice each day to focus on his project. Occasionally he takes quick early-morning lessons with his scold of a teacher who does not seem to be helping him much. When he is not working, he is setting up evenings to play with other amateur musicians whose careers are equally consuming. Over and over he reminds us that music making is a powerful antidote to the anxieties of daily life.

The motivation for tackling the Chopin is an annual piano camp from which not even an all-out world crisis could keep Rusbridger, and for which he is preparing his performance. He is in need of constant advice, and is unabashed about cold-calling and interviewing a string of star pianists (to which he appears to have unlimited access), in order to invite their own musings on the piece. If the name dropping in the book becomes a bit tedious, the comments these luminaries offer will not be. Only occasionally does one have the opportunity to read the uncensored thoughts of those who devote their lives to performing on the concert stage, and better, to understand their attraction to the all-enveloping mystique of music. 

As if learning the piece at the same time as confronting Wikileaks’ mastermind, Julian Assange, were not torture enough, Rusbridger is building a music room at his country cottage, and selecting for it a used Steinway, while fretting about the expense of it all. This room is a subtheme throughout the book, and includes interesting detail about the construction and restoration of Steinways.

Perhaps most interesting to the technocrats among his readers will be the descriptions of fingerings (continually changing, depending upon the advisor the author consults), hand positions, pedaling, and an early explication of the various parts of the Ballade complete with notation. These are all details that occasionally distract from the narrative but provide important insight into the process by which amateurs and professionals alike approach a challenging assignment. In the end (spoiler alert), Rusbridger achieves his goal, triumphant and definitely wiser, and we, the witnesses to his journey, emerge with the feeling that the sense of community conferred by music making is the journey’s most valuable reward.

                                         Susan Meister is a Monterey Bay area journalist, a dedicated choral singer and a former theater critic for The Monterey Herald. She is also the impresario of the quarterly concert series at the Monterey Museum of Art.

SC Symphony announces 2014-15 season

Maestro Daniel Stewart has posted details of his second full season at the helm of the Santa Cruz Symphony, with performances paired between SC Civic Auditorium and Watsonville’s Mello Center.

The season opener, Oct 4/5, with music by Bernstein and Mozart, will feature pianist Nicolas Hodges in the Northern California premiere of In Seven Days by Thomas Adès, composed for piano, video-installation and orchestra. The Genesis-inspired set of variations was a Los Angeles Philharmonic commission and US-premiered there in 2008 with Hodges at the keyboard. The original video-installation will be seen only in the Civic Auditorium performance, but the music holds up perfectly well on its own.

Other season highlights include rising Metropolitan opera soprano Ying Fang singing Bach and Villa Lobos, plus the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz in November, an all-strings program in January, Stewart’s own Sinfonia and Lou Harrison’s Pacifika Rondo in March, and Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus in May.

Carmel Music Society 2014-15 season posted

The series of six concerts begins October 5 with the Romeros Guitar Quartet—members of the famed “Royal Family of the Guitar.” The Hagen String Quartet follows in November, and, in turn, Elizabeth Blumenstock and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Opera San Jose’s “Afternoon of Mozart”, the brothers Parker (Jon Kimura & Jamie) on two pianos and, lastly, the winner of this year’s instrumental competition to be held on May 31.

Monterey County piano students compete

The Monterey County branch of Music Teachers Association of California will host its 35th annual piano competition on Sunday, March 6, starting at 8 a.m., with an awards ceremony at 11:30 a.m., in the Music Recital Hall (Bldg 30) on the campus of CSU Monterey Bay. Twenty-two students, ages 7 to 15, will compete for cash scholarships, to be adjudged by John Orlando and Heather J Morris (both contributing music critics for PAMB.) For more information, contact Lyn Bronson, chair of the Piano Scholarship Auditions, at 625-0797.

Performing Arts People

This week it’s Bob Phillips, the first-choice jazz pianist on the Monterey Peninsula. Find out where you can hear him here or on our Performing Arts People page.

Fresh Reviews posted

Go to them directly by clicking on ‘here’, after each.

·       PacRep’s Dr. Dolittle Jr. at the Golden Bough here.

·       Perhaps Love vocal recital here.   

·       Smuin Ballet’s XXTREMES here

Scott MacClelland, editor