November 29, 2010

Mozartian Humor

Mozart had a wicked sense of humor.  Today, we hold his musical genius in such high esteem that it's hard to imagine him as the off-color joke teller he was with his friends.  How else do you explain the double entendre of his canon Difficile lectu (read more on this), for example?  And his friends and colleagues were often the unwitting targets of his jokes.  A frequent mark was famous horn soloist Joseph Leutgeb, for whom Mozart originally wrote all of his horn repertory.  A good friend of Mozart's, Leutgeb often opened his part to find insulting notes left for him.  In fact, Concerto No. 1 contains risqué references and disparaging comments on Leutgeb's playing throughout the solo part.  The dedication for the second concerto, that you'll hear this weekend, is signed: "Wolfgang Amadé Mozart takes pity on Leutgeb, ass, ox, and simpleton, at Vienna, March 27, 1783."  In the score itself he marks the orchestra part "Allegro" (fast, lively) while the same section of the solo part is marked "Adagio" (easy, slow)--a tongue-in-cheek reference to the tendency of the horn to come in late, dragging the tempo.

That levity suits Symphony Silicon Valley Principal Horn Meredith Brown just fine.  Asked what she thought would be most fun for the audience to know when listening to her perform Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 2 this weekend, she had one word "humor"--pointing to the close, joking relationship between Mozart and Leutgeb.  Here's the rest of our mini-interview with Ms. Brown.

Symphony Silicon Valley (SSV): How did you choose this particular piece for December's concert?
Meredith Brown (MB):  I love all of Mozart's writing for horn, but this concerto is my (current) favorite--I think it's just perfectly constructed.

SSVWhat attracted you to the horn?
MB:  My older sister played flute, and I was dragged along to see her middle school band concerts… I always thought the horn looked the coolest.

SSVWhat were some of your favorite concerts?
MB:  That's a really tough one...  I got to do Bruckner's 8th and 9th symphonies with Kurt Masur and I feel REALLY lucky for that, for example.

SSVBesides symphony, you also have played for a large number of theatrical productions.  What were your favorites?
MB:  My absolute favorite show is Ragtime!  The music and the story are pretty amazing, and it doesn't get done that often.  I also enjoyed Baz Luhrman's production of La bohème.  He made it even larger-than-life than the typical opera, but kept the integrity of the music tantamount.

SSVAny interesting anecdotes or stories you'd like to share with our readers?
MB:  It's hard to know what to do about the "water problem" (breath condensation) for brass players when we're the soloists.  Who wants to see someone in an evening gown or tuxedo dealing with the plumbing? A very nice friend of mine rigged my horn up so that if I pull one string, I can empty both water keys at the same time!

Mozart & Schubert: Saturday & Sunday, December 4 & 5

November 19, 2010

"Random Acts of Culture" Storms San Jose

Have you experienced a Random Act of Culture? Think ballet on the street corner. A little tango in the airport terminal. Poetry at the supermarket. Or perhaps Amazing Grace at the mall.

Last weekend, Random Acts of Culture arrived in San Jose as the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale sprang live choral music on surprised shoppers at the busy Westfield Valley Fair mall and startled attendees at a busy national conference by breaking into song during a reception.  These were the first of some 30 impromptu events a year coming to San Jose through an initiative funded by the Knight FoundationSymphony Silicon Valley will be producing these events throughout Santa Clara County as part of the 1000 Random Acts of Culture being staged nation-wide by the Foundation.  And judging from Saturday's reactions, fun will be had by all!

As shoppers bustled about the mall, several began to hum the same tune.  Other "shoppers" joined in and soon a chorus, really the Symphony's Chorale incognito, joined together in full voice, seemingly at random, and gave a full rendition of Amazing Grace while surprised shoppers stopped and stared and others peered over railings from above to see what was happening.  And when the song was over, the chorus melted back into the crowd as suddenly as it had formed while two of the spectators held up signs reading "You've just experienced a Random Act of Culture."  A little later, the chorus rematerialized in another corner of the mall to similar pleasantly surprised reactions.

Across town, a packed national conference was taking place at the Fairmont Hotel.  During an afternoon reception, conference attendees heard a faint humming.  Soon "attendees"--conference lanyards and all--joined in and the noisy crowd suddenly froze, realizing that something unusual was taking place.  Absolutely silent during the performance, the crowd of some three hundred stunned attendees broke into wild applause and whistles of approval as the "Random Act" sign was displayed, for this was a conference of arts marketing professionals from across the country who had just witnessed their first Random Act of Culture.

As Sal Pizarro wrote in his Mercury News column Monday, "Stay alert. You never know when some of this culture stuff might sneak up on you."  And while we won't give away the events or their exact locations and times, we might occasionally give you a heads up on our Facebook page and Twitter feed, so sign up for those to be sure you have a chance to experience a Random Act Of Culture in person.  But you'll always be able to watch the ones you missed via our YouTube channel and our own website.

Watch last weekend's Random Acts of Culture:
Random Acts of Culture: Valley Fair Mall 11/13/10
Random Acts of Culture: National Conference 11/13/10

6th Annual "Carols" Concert to feature Leigh Weimers

The Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale and conductor Elena Sharkova will bring the 6th annual holiday concert Carols In The California to the California Theatre concert hall December 11.   A fun and festive family-friendly holiday blend of music and story-telling, this annual treat brings together the Symphony's 90-voice Chorale, the Cantabile Youth Singers, the Symphony Silicon Valley Brass and features noted organist Walt Strony on the theater's Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ.  The evening is hosted by everyone's favorite San Jose commentator, Mercury News columnist Leigh Weimers.  “Leigh has a vast array of stories to tell that touch old San Jose” says Andrew Bales, president of Symphony Silicon Valley. “With more than 50 years in local journalism who could be better suited to entertain the audience with stories that uniquely reflect the holidays in San Jose?”

The concert features John Rutter’s Gloria, a radiant piece of 20th century music performed by the Chorale accompanied by organ and brass.  Symphony Silicon Valley Singers, a chamber group of 24 singers from the Chorale, and the critically acclaimed children's choir Cantabile Youth Singers will add a more intimate feeling with compositions from Handel to Renee Clausen as well as carols and spirituals rooted in folk tradition. Organ and brass holiday numbers along with choral arrangements of holiday favorites such as I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and Twelve Days of Christmas.  A highlight of the program are the audience sing-alongs.  "We want the audience to be more than spectators, to participate by singing with the chorus "says Elena Sharkova, the Chorale's conductor and musical director.

Ms. Sharkova is also delighted to be featuring her other musical ensemble, Cantabile Youth Singers, in the program for the third year. "With their sweet voices soaring high in the glorious acoustics of the California Theatre, the children bring freshness, warmth and excitement to the evening" she says.  Though she and the Chorale love to perform with the Symphony, this holiday concert is a special opportunity they look forward to each year.  "For my singers this is the time to be closer to our audience.  With no orchestra between us and the people in the hall, and with music that is both familiar and light, we are able to build a more intimate relationship with our listeners."

Plan to join Ms. Sharkova, the Chorale and musicians from the Symphony for this sparkling holiday treat.  Carols in the California takes place Saturday December 11 at 7:00pm and is always a popular concert.  Reserved seats are only $36 adults, $26 for anyone under 26 and are going fast.

November 8, 2010

A Season of Premieres for the Symphony's Chorale

Symphony Silicon Valley's Chorale announced a marvelous season of three major concerts and a trip to New York City's Lincoln Center to reprise last year's performance of Will Todd's jazzy Mass In Blue.

First on the calendar is the Chorale's annual holiday delight, Carols In The California--this year hosted by San Jose's historian and columnist Leigh Weimers.  Carols and familiar holiday fare combine with great story-telling of San Jose's holidays of yore as the Chorale is joined by the Cantabile Youth Singers, the Symphony's brass section and the theater's mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ for this December 11 concert.

In March, the Chorale joins the full Symphony on stage for the orchestra's main stage concert series in Brahms' German Requiem, a visionary masterpiece and one of the most powerful choral pieces ever written.  Brahms wrote the piece over a decade, following the death of Schumann (his mentor) and then his own mother.  Unlike most, German Requiem does not follow the standard Latin requiem, but rather is set to lyrics written by Brahms himself from passages of the Lutheran Bible.  It is a unique, moving and challenging piece that our Chorale members have been eager to tackle.

June brings two performances of Romantically Russian--an evening of Russian choral works from the Romantic and post-Romantic era.  The evening will be sung fully in Russian and Old Church Slavonic and features the North American premiere of Ippolitov-Ivanov's All-Night Vigil.  In fact, music publisher Musica Russica is editing and publishing the piece especially for this occasion.  The program also features music by Rachmaninoff, Chesnokov, Taneev, Kalinnikov, Rimski-Korsakov and of course Tchaikovski.  Chorale conductor and music director Elena Sharkova, when asked how the idea of this program came about, said that "most conductors shy away from Russian music because of the language--the sound of it, the look of the Cyrillic alphabet, the scores calling for very low basses and high soaring tenors."  So when the group had a chance to perform excerpts from All-Night Vigil in 2007 the members were really excited and asked for more Russian music in the group's future repertoire.  A native of St. Petersburg, Ms. Sharkova is an expert on Russian choral music and has lectured extensively on its repertoire and performance practices, conducting several U.S. premiers of Russian contemporary compositions.  She says most choral conductors would "much rather sing in Swahili than in Russian" but she hopes that after attending this program they will have an opportunity to hear romantic Russian music rarely heard in this country and decide to program more Russian music for their own choirs in the future.

In April, the Chorale heads-cross country for their premiere at the famous Avery Fisher Hall in New York City's Lincoln Center.  Last march, only 3 days before the Chorale's California Theatre performance of British composer Will Todd's jazz choir interpretation of the Latin mass, Ms. Sharkova was asked to conduct a concert this spring at Lincoln Center.  She and the Chorale had fallen in love with the composers jazz/blues Mass In Blue and were looking for other opportunities to perform it.  And the idea was born--a New York City premiere of Mass In Blue by the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale, joined by the composer himself, a Canadian choir from Ottawa and singers from Virginia and New York.

Join the Chorale for the 2010-2011 season.  Tickets are available at the Symphony Box Office.  And if you'll be in New York on April 18, be sure to cheer our home team on at Avery Fisher--tickets available here.

December 11, Carols In The CaliforniaInfo  Tickets
March 24-27, Brahms' German RequiemInfo  Tickets
April 18, Mass In Blue at Lincoln Center:  Info  Tickets
June 3-5, Romantically RussianInfo  Tickets