Weekly Update, Oct 29, 2013

Marin Alsop concert on Radio 3; Juilliard String Quartet master class

If you’re a fan of  Marin Alsop—Cabrillo Festival music directoryou have an opportunity through this week only to hear her conduct the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra on your computer by way of BBC Radio 3. Click the link here, then click on the Listen Now tab. (If you haven’t listened this way before, you may need to make a simple set up to hear the music through your computer speakers.) This was the last stop, at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, on the orchestra’s tour of Europe. The program includes Clarice Assad’s witty Fantasia on the Brazilian National Anthem, Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.   

It has been well and long argued that classical music is generally in dire straights if not outright decline. Some music pundits, like blogger Greg Sandow, have made entire careers with predictions of imminent demise. Alarmingly, the Monterey Symphony’s season-opener week before last saw only 50 percent of seats filled at Sherwood Hall in Salinas and, on a Saturday night, at Sunset Center in Carmel. (The Sunday matinee fared better.) Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz Symphony, with a significantly smaller budget, opened its season to a robust audience in Santa Cruz and a sellout in Watsonville.

What can be, even must be, learned from this is the range of variables behind the music. (The Monterey and Santa Cruz programs both offered tried and true concert fare.) For one thing, the marketing strategies between the orchestras are quite different. Santa Cruz has cultivated a broadly based media partnership and enjoys many high-profile benefactors. From appearance, Monterey takes a more circumspect view and depends more heavily on existing subscribers.

When Chamber Music Monterey Bay brings in talent from out of the area, as they did over the weekend with the Juilliard String Quartet, the presentation style is usually formal; the musicians assemble on stage, take a bow then play their program. Typically, interaction with the audience is conveyed across the proscenium on purely musical terms. The musicians play and the audience responds, politely though often with enthusiasm. But there is scant opportunity for the audience to gain more personal contact.

Juilliard MCThat lack of personal contact should not be taken for a lack of desire, witness a Juilliard master class with local music students that drew an audience of nearly 200 to Carmel High School last Thursday. For the first time ever, those in attendance lapped up the verbal, and demonstrative, interactions between members of the famed quartet and seven students from Carmel High, Carmel Middle School and York School. (Many other area music students were in the audience.) This event was organized by Chamber Music Monterey Bay (which has long promoted youth attendance to its concerts), Youth Music Monterey County and the Carmel Unified School District.     

To whet the appetite the Juilliard rehearsed the highly complex first movement of Franz Schubert’s last string quartet, a piece not included in its Carmel program on Saturday. On conclusion, the four musicians engaged in a substantial conversation of ideas among themselves aimed at coming to a more unified vision. Second violinist Ronald Copes complained that some aspect of the second theme sounded “indulgent” to him. They hashed the matter out for a few minutes (alas, too quietly for some in the audience to hear adequately) then played through that section again. But, right away, the audience gained a new insight into the thinking behind what it takes for top professionals to divine an interpretive idea.

Then, two young cellists, Caleb Kim and Ari Freedman, took the stage to play movements from a suite by cellist/composer David Popper. Juilliard cellist Joel Krosnick then stepped from the audience down to the edge of the stage and began making suggestions, as well as generous compliments to both boys. Almost immediately, Krosnick’s ideas materialized in their playing. Copes then joined Krosnick and added some thoughts of his own, including the suggestion that if they should happen to play a note slightly out of tune, do it with gusto, the better to stay on target than get caught up in a technical distraction. No doubt their teachers were scandalized, but the audience loved it.  

Vu quartetViolinist Jonathan Vu, from York School, then led a quartet of Carmel High students (Steve Yoo, Edie Ellison and Ari Freedman) in a tango by Stravinsky, who were coached into playing it better by the Juilliardians. Peter Mellinger of Carmel High then took over first violin for the challenging first movement from Brahms’ Quartet in B-flat, and more Juilliard input. Joseph Lin used his young players’ violins to illustrate his points.

This event taught a valuable lesson concerning the future of classical music: presentation is no less important than the music itself. This audience got to know the Juilliard quartet members: Lin, the young hotshot, and veterans Copes, Roger Tapping and Krosnick. For all this, the memory of the evening will be recalled and talked about longer locally than their formal concert on Saturday.

Ensemble Monterey, which also performs in Santa Cruz, has changed its Monterey venue to St. Philip’s Lutheran Church in Carmel Valley, which boasts superior acoustics according to conductor/director John Anderson. See our Calendar page for details.

Top photo: Left to right, Joel Krosnick, Ronald Copes, Caleb Kim, Ari Freedman; Quartet photo, Jonathan Vu, Steve Yoo, Edie Ellison, Ari Freedman.

Scott MacClelland, editor.