Weekly Update, Sep 24, 2013


PAMB needs critics for our coverage of music, dance and theater. We are fortunate to have talented contributors on board, but their likes are in short supply. Monterey Bay media have for the most part turned against critics in favor of reviewers who, sadly, are discouraged from taking a critical point of view. The result is reviews that flatter the presenters but deny their readers a critical evaluation. This approach trivializes the performing arts and lowers audience expectations.

This is unacceptable to us at PAMB where our readers come first. We know they want informed critical evaluation, not least because they don’t want to be deluded into paying good money for inferior goods promoted by ‘everything-is-always-wonderful’ columns that appear in local media. No, we are not yet able to compensate our critics as they should be, but that day is coming. What we do offer them now is publication with their byline and professional guidance if they are new to the game. Local reviewers need not apply unless they choose to aim higher, as some have done and are already contributing. Otherwise contact us at editor@performingartsmontereybay.com

Since gospel music has been a part of American life for centuriJ_Nash_Small_2012es, it’s hard to believe that the annual Gospel Music Heritage Month celebrations are now only four years old. You can expect to find these exhilarating events throughout the nation, and probably elsewhere, following the congressional passage in 2008 of a resolution designating September as National Gospel Music Heritage Month. For the Monterey Bay Area those celebrations will climax this Saturday at First Presbyterian Church (the 1044 South Main Street location) in Salinas when John Nash (right) leads the 50-plus voices of the Monterey Peninsula Gospel Community Choir. Each of these September ‘summits’ over the choir’s last five years has been held in different venues and every time the choir has hosted big name guests from the national gospel community. Acclaimed gospel artist and Grammy winner Richard Smallwood came to participate with the choir in 2011.

For this Saturday’s celebration, returning guests Edwin Hawkins and his Community in Praise will be joined by Terrance Kelly’s Oakland Interfaith Choir. Widely known composer John Wineglass, who serves First Presbyterian as music consultant, will provide instrumental music and the church’s own choral resources. Any gospel singer will explain that gospel is an oral-tradition art form; instead of reading from sheet music their hands are clapping.

Nash has been a gospel artist since he was nine years old, conducting the youth choir at his family church in Seaside. “Knowing I had a gift,” he says, “my mom insisted I attend gospel workshops with the best teachers.” That would lead him to Andraé Crouch and the Clark Sisters and their late mother, Mattie Moss Clark, creator of the now widespread three-part harmony popular with gospel choir directors. He also studied with Hezekiah Walker, Donald Lawrence and James Cleveland. And he came under the direct influence of the Hawkins family gospel dynasty including the Northern California State Youth Choir co-founded by Edwin Hawkins at the Church of God in Christ in Oakland. Nash continues to meet major figures in the field, flying thousands of miles to learn what they can teach him. By sheer appetite and energy, John Nash is known in virtually every state of the union and, dare I say, has influential friends in high gospel places.

The Big Gospel Concert, as it’s being billed, is open free of charge, with tax-deductible donations accepted. Expect to be rocked back on your heels. Look under POP on our Calendar page for details.

Daniel Stewart, new music director of the Santa Cruz County Symphony, can hardly wait to start his first full season. On Oct 5 and 6, respectively at Santa Cruz Civic Daniel StewartAuditorium and the Mello Center in Watsonville, Stewart will conduct his new orchestra—the first such full time engagement for the young Bay Area viola player. “Imagine how excited I am,” he gushes with boyish charm.

Stewart was taken to a performance of Peter and the Wolf at age five. Instantly, he was “mesmerized.” He started Suzuki violin, then “I got my hands on a viola. I love its timbre. It chose me.” He played in the youth orchestras in Santa Rosa and Marin County, then the SF Symphony youth orchestra and the SF Conservatory of Music. But something was missing. He found he couldn’t sing through pieces he had played in their entirety from memory, or, as he put it, “review the entire concert after the fact. It drove me crazy.” At around age 14, and now a new member of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, he play Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in Davies Symphony Hall. Lightning struck. He found himself “marinating” in orchestral repertoire. “I was insatiable to learn more about what I was doing.” Today he is apprentice to James Levine, legendary conductor of the Metropolitan Opera.

Stewart programmed his first Santa Cruz season “around several limiting factors,” but, starting his second, and in the spirit of the Cabrillo Festival which he attended in August, he expects to include at least one new work on each program. “It’s a dream come true to program for such an enthusiastic community,” he says.

Music directors, unlike guest conductors, have an opportunity to mold the sound of their orchestras. Stewart sees both potential and opportunity to build on the foundation laid down by his predecessor, Larry Granger. “As a string player I find the potential in string sections often underrealized,” he says, adding that the repertoire itself dictates how to adapt. “You can’t expect to play Monteverdi the way you play Elliott Carter,” he adds. But just as the venues themselves pose particular challenges he believes “we can turn the air within any four walls into something magical.” 

Highlights of Stewart’s opening program are Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, with soloist Jeffrey Kahane, and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Details and contact information on our Calendar page.

Even though Jewel Theatre’s Arcadia has closed, our intrepid Philip Pearce pounced on it, and on The Importance of Being Earnest at The Western Stage. See his updates on our Theater Reviews page. Sometimes I think his contributions are the best we at PAMB have to offer. The regional theater community seems to agree; we get regular requests for his attendance and commentary. 

Scott MacClelland, editor