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This year’s San Francisco Conservatory ‘exports’ to the Kennedy Center


April 20, 2011

5:11 PM MST

Millennium Stage is a series of free concerts offered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, which take place every day at 6 PM (local time). Not only is admission free but also the performances are offered through live webcasts. The captured video is then archived for viewing at the convenience of any would-be audience. The San Francisco Conservatory has been participating in this series since 2004 through the Conservatory Project, which features the best talent from our country's best venues for advanced music education; and all seven of their past performances have been archived. The next one is scheduled for April 26.

This year the Conservatory students selected to perform and the Kennedy Center are the members of the Mobius Trio, guitarists Mason Fish, Matthew Holmes-Linder, and Robert Nance, piano soloist Jeffrey LaDeur, and violist Hannah Nicholas, who will be accompanied by LaDeur. Today at noon these students presented a Kennedy Center Preview Concert in the Conservatory Recital Hall. As usual the selections for the program have been imaginative, and they will serve as yet another celebration of this season’s recognition of the 25th anniversary of the chamber music degree program.

What may be most imaginative is the decision of the Mobius Trio to perform three works by composers, all of whom were born in either 1980 or 1981. Furthermore, none of these composers write in a style that even hints at the usual Hispanic guitar repertoire. To the contrary, the first offering is a setting of three Persian dances by Sahba Aminikia, born in Tehran, Iran and currently a composition student of David Conte and David Garner at the Conservatory. This will be followed by “The Transition” by Garrett Shatzer, currently a third-year doctoral candidate in Composition and Theory at the University of California at Davis. The final guitar trio offering will be “Needle-Play,” which may be described as a provocative tone poem about addiction to hard drugs, by Anthony Porter, whose “not quite what i was planning” was performed at this year’s Hot Air Music Festival. Each of these compositions explores unique approaches to melody, harmony, and rhetoric, often invoking sonorities not usually associated with the guitar. At today’s performance Mobius was clearly comfortable with the striking novelty of these offerings, giving each the confident interpretation it deserved.

For his portion of the program, LaDeur has selected three compositions by Franz Liszt. The first two are transcriptions of songs by Franz Schubert, “Liebesbotschaft,” the first song in the D. 957 Schwanengesang collection, and “Die Forelle” (D. 550), also well known as the theme for the set of variations in the fourth movement of the D. 667 A major quintet for piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. The final selection was the second of Liszt’s two sacred “legends,” “St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots.” These are all works of ostentatious virtuosity. However, Liszt is particularly ingenious in his approaches to keeping Schubert’s vocal line in the foreground (often through some deft changes in register), never allowing it to succumb to that ostentation. Similarly, his image of St. Francis walking on the waves involves a gradual crescendo of a simple melody line, which maintains its serenity within the “turbulent” embellishments that represent those waves. LaDeur performed all three of these compositions today with a well-controlled sense of composure, never letting Liszt’s hyperbole interfere with his concentration on getting all the notes and phrases in their proper places.

That composure also served him well in accompanying Nicholas. Together they performed Vadim Borisovsky’s arrangements of five excepts from Sergei Prokofiev’s score for his Romeo and Juliet ballet (Opus 64). These accompaniments often involved accounting for some of Prokofiev’s richest orchestral sounds, and Borisovsky’s distillations of all that complexity is impressive. Equally impressive are the ways in which he always seems to find the right melodic line to assign to the viola, making for a duo performance sure to evoke memories in those who know the ballet. Needless to say, much of the effectiveness of today’s execution can be attributed to the acute sense of balance maintained by both performers.

The Millennium Stage performance of this recital will take place at the Kennedy Center on April 26. Admission is free, and those unable to attend will be able to watch the live webcast. Following the performance, the video of the concert will be added to the archive of past events. This promises to be a listening experience that should not be missed, even if it can only be experienced through cyberspace.

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