Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Violinist Er-Gene Kahng in Conversation with Christian Baldini

In preparation for our performance of Florence Price's Violin Concerto No. 2 in Sacramento with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, I had the pleasure of interviewing Er-Gene Kahng, concertmaster of the Arkansas Philharmonic and Fort Smith Symphony, and Professor at the University of Arkansas, who will be our soloist for our performances.

Christian Baldini: Er-Gene, it is a real pleasure to have you with us for this beautiful work by Florence Price. You were instrumental in the rediscovery and recording of this piece. Can you tell us how this project came into being? How did you first become acquainted with the compositions by Florence Price?

Er-Gene Kahng: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that it has been the collective work of our librarians who rescued the manuscripts, our historians and musicologists who have been researching, writing and thinking about Price's life and work since at least the 1970s, the archivists who continue the work to bring her legacy to the fore, and also the many performers before me who were already performing her compositions before we came to discover the lost manuscript of her violin concertos. It has been the combined efforts of a strong community over the course of many decades. 

I first performed Florence Price's String Quartet in G major (1929) at the Florence Price symposium at the University of Arkansas in 2015. After that introduction, my initial curiosity manifested into increasing levels of passion and commitment. One day, while at our special collections library, I found myself looking at Price's violin concerto manuscripts thinking, "this would be really great if someday, somebody recorded these works. Could that person be me... maybe?"

CB: What is so special about Florence Price's music? You bring a very beautiful sound and shape to every phrase in this concerto. Why is this music so special to you?

EGK: Thank you! It *is* beautiful music. And by that, I don't simply mean that it is pretty or pleasing, but that it holds a truth that is deep, layered and impactful. I hear the homage to the classical tradition in which she was trained (and a mastery its language), but also an homage to her Southern roots (even as she came to live the majority of her adult life in Chicago). The very tradition she honored and mastered was also the tradition that limited her opportunities. She questions this tradition without destroying its basic framework. Her answers to these artistic polarities (innovation vs. preservation of tradition) are manifested in the rich world she creates for her listeners, and the language she confidently develops and owns. She holds a space that generously houses classicism and modernist instability in a manner that is searching and assertive, all the while inviting us to respond to these polarities and clashes in our own way. I deeply admire her artistic vision.

CB: In this concert you are also playing the world premiere of Chris Castro's work "Sing High". I know Chris is very excited to have written this piece for you. What can you tell us about this piece?

EGK: I am very excited to share Chris's piece! It is an evocative work with a cornucopia of musical allusions and references, past and current. Despite it being a short, single movement work, it deals with big ideas which always circle around - it seems to me - the question of defining, elaborating and questing the very essence of 'music'. I find that so much of music is actually philosophy. Chris's piece really reminded me of this.

CB: How do you feel about having been so important in this great revival and interest in the music by Florence Price? Did you imagine it was going to have such a positive impact when you started your project?

EGK: I am genuinely surprised, elated and humbled. I had no predictions to its reception; in the beginning, I was simply consumed with the fear and anxiety that the project - for a number of reasons - would fail to finish. When we finally finished, I was overcome with a feeling of relief and gratitude, possibly even a moment of disbelief. As you know, any kind of recording project of this scope is dependent on many, many elements to come together at the right time, not to mention the strong faith, morale and dedication of each team member. Even the most carefully constructed plans cannot guarantee successful completion. I feel lucky and fortunate to have had the right elements in place at the right time with the right people.

CB: You are also a Professor, and have surely had many wonderful students over the years. Are there any tips you would give to aspiring musicians?

EGK: I really like and appreciate my students, not only as artists, but as people; and yes, I've had wonderful students over the years! The tips I would offer aspiring musicians are the same ones I aspire myself: actively creating an environment and attitude of learning; additionally, strengthening and utilizing all available resources for critical self-reflection.
Creating an environment for optimal learning might be something as literal as creating a good practice schedule, or making sure one gets enough sleep so that one isn't tired the next morning. Or, it might mean attending as many live concert performances as one's schedule might allow, or finding time in the day to discuss musical ideas with friends. At the core, it hinges on the idea that successful results require successful processes and that certain environments are more conducive to encouraging that success to surface than others; therefore, we should strive to set the stage for success, whatever this stage might look for you, whatever success means for you.
Bringing an attitude of learning means setting one's ego aside so that the challenges to artistic mastery aren't driven by our ego's need to personalize everything or preserve itself at the cost of truth-seeking or objective/unbiased observation.
Finally, over the years, I have found that keeping in touch with my mentors and role models, and allocating time to write regularly in my practice journal has vastly aided in clarifying my musical values and thinking process. I constantly work toward expanding my musical conceptions, keeping an open mind, and developing my musical empathy. I understand I still have a long way to go, and many, many more things to learn.

CB: As a performer, which answer would you give to folks that normally don't go to the concert hall and that might wonder: why is music still relevant or important in society nowadays?

EGK: I would encourage people to take a chance and enter that special space of live music-making. I more than understand that classical music and traditional concert hall culture may not be for everyone, and that sometimes it may only be successful in capturing the imagination and attention of a few. I also understand its challenges to aural accessibility. However, I do believe that the world of classical music, despite its cultural specificity, represents a very profound world, and creates/maintains a compelling connection to our shared history. It is a powerful anchor in affirming our humanity.

CB: Er-Gene, thank you very much for your time, and for sharing your immense talent with us. We can't wait to share your beautiful playing with our audiences in Sacramento!

EGK: Thank you so much for the invitation and the opportunity!

Er-Gene Kahng

Er-Gene Kahng’s performances have been described as possessing a “caressing sense of phrase” and “an honest musicianship[which] translates the music into a meaningful discourse few virtuosi accomplish”; her recording of Florence Price’s Violin Concertos (Albany Records, 2018) has been cited and praised by The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and The New York Timesas an important contribution to American classical music, and has aired on programs like NPR’s Songs we Love, and APM’s Performance Today.  Alex Ross described the recording as “Price’s best outing on disk to date… Kahng plays the solo parts with lustrous tone and glistening facility.”

Er-Gene currently serves as Concertmaster with the Fort Smith Symphony, who has also completed a Florence Price preservation project by recording her symphonies no. 1 and no. 4 (a world premiere). Er-Gene also serves as Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra’s concertmaster, where she premiered Florence Price’s Violin Concerto no. 2.  Previously, Er-Gene has held title positions with the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, SoNA (Symphony of Northwest Arkansas), Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, as well as section positions with the Lancaster Symphony, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Connecticut Symphony and the Artosphere Festival Orchestra.

Er-Gene co-curated a new music series “Fuse” (2015-16), at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art featuring the works of American minimalism, indeterminacy, and postmodernism. Her A/V collaborations include working with animator Wilson Borja, whose work, “Cheré” explores themes of forced and voluntary migration of the African diaspora. Other collaborations include those with the Texas Ballet Theater, and the Hong Kong Arts Academy, performing an original score “Crash” by choreographer Jonathan Watkins.  

Er-Gene was a Visiting Wolfson Fellow at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, UK in 2016-2017. She received degrees from UCLA, Yale and Northwestern.  Her primary teachers include Mark Kaplan, Erick Friedman, Syoko Aki, the Tokyo String Quartet and Almita and Roland Vamos. She isProfessor of Violin and the Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.  Her students have gained admission to some of the top music schools in the country, including New England Conservatory, University of Southern California, Peabody Conservatory/Johns Hopkins University, University of Minnesota, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, as well as being prizewinners of the MTNA regional and national level competitions.  

Friday, January 25, 2019

Composer Profile: Chris Castro in conversation with Christian Baldini

In preparation for the world premiere performance of his new work "Sing High", written for violinist Er-Gene Kahng and the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, I had the opportunity of asking composer Chris Castro a few questions about his music, the relationship of "concert" music with other genres, and more.

Christian Baldini: Chris, it is such a pleasure to be bringing to life your new piece, especially written for our soloist and our orchestra. You were a member (principal bass) of this orchestra for two seasons. Did that inform the way you would write this piece for them?

Chris Castro: Yes, of course. I was able to play standard repertoire, 20th, and 21st century music with this group. After playing with a group for a few seasons you get an idea for what they like in sound and how much enthusiasm they bring to their performances. A highlight during my tenure with the CSO was Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. This orchestra, under your baton, has an affinity for dark hued, burnished sounds, which I kept in mind. I am also friends with many of the musicians, and included a brief melody written by the daughter of one of the horn and oboe players in the score. I thought about the orchestra throughout.

CB: You mention that much of your music is informed by other music. Can you develop some more on this concept?

CC: A lot of contemporary music I feel is often written with not necessarily a program, but with extra-musical ideas. A piece could be about climate change, or social justice, etc. While I do not think this is a bad thing I often feel like one of the last composers to hold a torch for 'abstract' music: music dealing with itself. I often think of Gérard Grisey's quote:

"We are musicians and our model is sound not literature, sound not mathematics, sound not theatre, visual arts, quantum physics, geology, astrology or acupuncture."

My friends tease me by calling me a 'repertoire hound' because I love and think about the canon of classical music often and it comes out in my music. In Sing High for example, after the opening chord in the orchestra, four percussive attacks are heard in the woodblock and clave. While I use this motive differently, it is a direct allusion to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Just one detail of many veiled references to a wealth of classical and jazz repertoire that I feel I must come to terms with in my own way. My music is 'about' music.

CB: And specifically about this new piece, "Sing High", what would you say to anyone coming to the concert? What can they expect? What would you like them to take away from this performance?

CC: I can only say how I hear the piece; I do not like to tell anyone how to listen to my or any music. It has a Baroque sound to me, as the violin soloist is playing constantly, decorating the orchestral texture. The orchestra plays dark, rich, blurred sonorities mostly out of the way of the soloist. I hear it as a stoic piece, with moments of bizarre humor. It has a large narrative and arc. My music is obsessed with being transitory. A climax may be reached but the energy and momentum will be blurred to push the music forward until its final moments.

CB: Who are some musicians from the past that you wish you had worked with?

CC: What a question! For conductors, I have always admired the recordings of both Pierre Monteux and Otto Klemperer and would have loved to have played under their batons. My old bass teacher, Homer Mensch, said that of all the conductors he played under that Klemperer was the most sensitive to a soloist.

For a teacher, either the famed Nadia Boulanger or her (in my view) jazz counterpart, the great pianist Lennie Tristano. Singing and listening was everything to both of them and I would have loved the first hand experience of being taught how to listen by them.

For performers, I have always loved singers. I would have loved to play bass behind Sarah Vaughan - no one quite like her. I also fantasize about an opportunity for bass players in New York in 1978. After Eddie Gomez left Bill Evans trio Evans held auditions with the drummer Philly Joe Jones. The audition was to go to the Village Vanguard and sit in with those two. Can you imagine? The most coveted bass player seat in the history of jazz, open for all who dared. People like George Mraz and Rufus Reid tried out etc. I would have loved to have played just a single root for the greatest pianist ever.

CB: Your background as a performer is vast. You've played in orchestra for many years, including concerts with some wonderful conductors while at Juilliard or Tanglewood. Can you tell us some of the most memorable experiences you've had?

CC: I am very fortunate to have worked with some great conductors. A lot of the concerts stick out (like Das Lied von der Erde with Michael Tilson Thomas, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Gregory Kunde) but there are two rehearsals that still resonate with me. I'll never forget having Yannick Nézet-Séguin stop a rehearsal of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe and grab the meaty part of his forearm and whisper to the orchestra "This is music of the flesh...." That gesture changed the entire string sound. I couldn't believe the color change. 

All conductors have heard the Richard Strauss quote "Never look encouragingly at the brass...." The late great James DePreist was leading us in a rehearsal of Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, specifically the brass heavy "Battle Scene." He stopped us, asked the brass not to play but to listen to the intense string passages underneath them. Afterwards he rhetorically asked "Did you know all of that was going on?" DePreist was all about respect for everyone, such an egoless man, and he wanted the brass to be aware that we were all sweating, trying to keep up with their tremendous sound. Every string player was thrilled. 

CB: And how about your background playing jazz or other kinds of music? When did you become interested in this, and how has it affected your compositions?

CC: The unfortunate thing about being a classically trained double bassist is the lack of chamber music repertoire one gets to take part in. Maybe you get called to play the “Trout” Quintet every few years but that is about it. I love playing with orchestras, but I really wanted to play chamber music, to have an equal say in a group, not just have conductors mold our sound. I came to jazz late, after hearing the Miles Davis and Gil Evans "Porgy and Bess" album. After that I needed to play it, and it really filled the void of chamber music for me. I was an equal member of a small group, able to voice my opinions, either through rehearsals or the way I was playing. 

Jazz has a subtle effect on my compositions in terms of the sound, but the structure can be deliberately similar. I have a series of pieces (Choruses I - IV) that are based heavily on the formal structures of specific jazz standards. They do not, however, sound jazzy or jazz influenced. I would not consider them genre-bending or hybrids, it is simply my music being "about" other music. That being said, I do believe that jazz and jazz standards have given the 20th century a new lease on harmony, which forever obsesses me. I consider myself a harmonic composer. If I am stuck in a composition of my own I do one of two things: play a Bach chorale or a song by Rodgers & Hart.

CB: Tell us about your background and growing up in New York. How did you start learning the bass, and when did you realize it would be your career?

CC: Both of my parents were born and still live in Brooklyn, New York. It seems like a dying thing now but my elementary school had a strings program. In the 2nd grade every student started the violin. In the 3rd grade you were allowed to choose among the  violin, mandolin, cello, xylophone, and double bass. Everyone gravitated towards the mandolin and xylophone, and to be honest I felt very sad that the bass was being ignored, so I decided to try it out. My parents pushed and pushed me to practice against my will for years, driving me to rehearsals and lessons. When I was 14, after playing bass for 6 years, an orchestra I was in began rehearsing Prokofiev's 5th Symphony. That's all it took. I had no idea music could sound like that. With that piece I was either fighting back tears or trying not to drop my bass from laughter. I still am. After that I was sold on music. I have to give full credit to my parents for driving me all around New York against my will. I love them deeply.

CB: Wow. That is such a powerful and beautiful way to have realized how important music was to you! Are there any tips, or any advice you'd like to give to any aspiring young musician starting off, or considering taking music seriously?

CC: You have to love to listen. Listening is hard. You have to practice how to listen. I mean that. It is not a natural trait. Listen deeply. Listen often. Listen to something new once a week. I have often heard writers say if you want to be a better writer you just have to read. Same thing applies. Learn to listen to the way you play. Practicing means nothing if you are not listening to yourself. Practice slowly. Listen slowly. Listen, listen, listen.

CB: Thank you very much for your time, and for sharing your incredible talent with us. We very much look forward to sharing your beautiful music with our audience here in Sacramento!

CC: Thank you so much for great questions, and for leading such a great group. It has been my pleasure.

Composer Chris Castro - Photo by Justin Han, Copyright UC Regents

Chris Castro is a composer and double bassist. He has a Ph.D. in Composition and Theory from UC Davis and a Bachelor's in Music from The Juilliard School in both double bass and composition. His compositions include a work for the St. Louis Symphony and David Robertson, a piano duo for the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and a love song to drunkenness, Brooklyn Narcissus, a song cycle for soprano and chamber orchestra. He currently lectures at UC Davis and Sacramento State University. He is also head brewer at Pals Brewin'.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Christian Baldini in Conversation with Marta Lambertini

While I am getting ready to conduct the world premiere of Marta Lambertini's Angel apasionado II in Sacramento, California, I have the pleasure of asking Marta some important questions about her music. Here is the transcript from our interview (in English first, and then the original, in Spanish.) [para la entrevista original, completa, en castellano, vea más abajo]

Christian Baldini: Your music always has some kind of mystery around it. It is really like poetry painted somewhere in the music. The Angel apasionado II has much of this mystery, with sections seeming to be building into a climax, to suddenly turn a corner and go somewhere else. What can you tell us about that?

Marta Lambertini: I think you are right. In the case of Angel apasionado II I try to represent Mozart's mystery, and that is why these depths that stem from his string quartet "The Hunt" are always latent, but they never quite become evident fully. I try to show them, and to "unbury" these depths from the quartet, which in its surface shows a kind and gentle character. Measure 45 represents the 2nd part of the theme, revealed in all its dramatic strength. That is why this section must be performed in the softest possible way, as if it was coming from a different place, in which more than hearing it, you must guess it! So I wrote ppp (triple pianissimo), and I thought it would be too exaggerated to use more then 3 ppp, but if it was up to me, it could have thousands. I like for music to be guessed more then listened to.

CB: You have written many operas, and one could say you are a composer with a great dramatic streak, but also with a kind of sense of humor very few times seen in the musical environment. How would you describe your relationship with humor in your own works?

ML: Well, this is a difficult question. I consider myself a person with a good sense of humor. It is a feature that all of us in my family share: cousins, uncles, nephews, etc. It is kind of a defensive sensitivity, if you will. I think that it undoubtedly translates into music. But hold on, it is not the kind of humor that makes fun of just anything, sometimes in order to keep your sense of humor you must have a very serious face. I would define it with a more just word: absurdity. That is why I love Lewis Carroll, and my Alicias (Alices). The fact of maintaining a serious discussion on linguistics with an egg that seems to know a lot on the subject, or with a very philosophical caterpillar, completely exceeds every expectation about the absurd. In this place I choose to live.

CB: What is more important to you, opera or symphonic music? It is a difficult question. Perhaps there is no order of preference, but rather possibly priorities, or desires at different times in life.

ML: It is exactly like you say, just a matter of priorities. Or opportunities. There are themes or topics that lend themselves to a lyrical development, to a theatrical representation. There are also steps in-between, like musical theatre, which is very suitable to the chamber music genre. I name my works. There are other composers who are more austere or which have a narrower reach than me, and they call their works sonata, symphony, prelude. Instead, I like to give them an original name: it is a gift that I give the listeners, to give them a slight inkling, an idea about the content of what they are about to listen to. When you don't have a libretto, but just an idea, you write symphonic music. In my case, works like "Galileo descubre las cuatro lunas de Júpiter" (Galileo discovers Jupiter's four moons) or "Antígona", represent more than just an idea about the character. There is no narrative, but just ideas. I don't have preferences, but needs.

CB: Which are your favorite composers? And what would you recommend to people who might say that they don't like contemporary music (and who possibly have not listened to much of it)?

ML: Obviously Mozart. He is at the top of the peak. But he's not the only one. From past centuries I could mention so many composers that they would not fit here. And from this century I am still filtering. Nonetheless, the most contemporary one remains Mozart. With regards to the second question, I would tell people to try to come closer slowly, to assimilate gradually the multiple languages that we are using. I always say that one is what one eats, and if they eat a little bit more contemporary dessert, they will look a bit chubbier and prettier. Obviously, people prefer music that is well known, they always want the same tale, like children that go to sleep and ask their mom or dad to read them for the 11th time "Cinderella", and if daddy says that he would like to read a new tale that he just bought, the child will still want "Cinderella." That is the moment when the father needs to seduce the child to incorporate in their imagination a brand new tale. Old shoes are always more comfortable even if the newer ones are catchier to the eye.

CB: I thank you so very much for your time and for sharing your knowledge and so many experiences with is. I am very excited to present your beautiful music in Sacramento, and to share it with our audiences!

ML: And I am very proud that it will be you who will be conducting it for the first time.

Marta Lambertini
Marta Lambertini was born in San Isidro (Buenos Aires, Argentina). She studied composition in the School of Music of the Catholic University of Argentina with Luis Gianneo, Roberto Caamaño and Gerardo Gandini.She taught at the National University of La Plata, National Conservatory of Argentina, School of Fine Arts in Quilmes, and the School of Music of the Catholic University of Argentina, where she also served as Dean and Full Professor.She is a member of the National Academy of Fine Arts. She has received multiple prizes, including the 1st Prize in the National Music Award, the City of Buenos Aires Music Prize, Career Prize APA in 1972 and 1975, and the Konex Award (1999).She has been a jury member in international composition competitions in Brazil and Argentina.She is the author of the book "Gerardo Gandini, music fiction". She was nominated for Opera Theatres of the World for her opera "Cinderella", and for the Clarín Award as the most important figure in classical music.Her output includes diverse instrumental and vocal genres. Her operas "Alice in Wonderland" (1989), "S.M.R. Bach" (1990), "Hildegard" (2002), "Cinderella" (2006) and multiple symphonic and chamber works are worth mentioning. 

[the original interview in Spanish follows]


Christian Baldini: Tu música siempre tiene algo de misterio. Es realmente como poesía pintada en la música. El Angel apasionado II tiene mucho de este misterio, de secciones que parecen construir un climax y luego van hacia otro lado. Que nos podes decir al respecto? 

Marta Lambertini: Creo que tenés razón. En el caso de Ángel apasionado II  trato de representar el misterio Mozart, por eso surgen esas profundidades que están latentes en el cuarteto La caza, pero que no se manifiestan. Trato de mostrarlas, de desenterrarlas de las profundidades del cuarteto, que en su superficie muestra un carácter amable. El compás 45 representa la 2ª parte del tema, revelada en todo su dramatismo. Por eso debe tocarse todo ese segmento de la forma más piano posible, casi como si fuera algo que viene de otro lugar, remoto, que más que oírse se adivina¡ppppp! ahí puse ppp, me pareció una exageración gráfica ponerle más de tres, pero por mí podría tener miles. Me encanta la idea de que la música se adivine, más que escucharse.

CB: Has escrito varias operas, uno podría decir que sos una compositora con una gran veta dramática, pero también con un sentido del humor poca veces visto en el ambiente musical. Como describirías tu relación con la humorada dentro de tus obras?

ML: Bueno, difícil pregunta. Me considero una persona con sentido del humor. Es un rasgo que tenemos todos sin excepción en mi familia: primos, tíos, sobrinos etc. Es un tipo de sensibilidad defensiva, si se quiere. Creo que inevitablemente se traslada a la música. Pero ojo, no es un humor que se ríe de cualquier cosa, a veces para conservar el sentido del humor hay que poner la cara muy seria. Yo te lo definiría con otra palabra más justa: absurdo. De ahí mi amor por Lewis Carroll, mis Alicias. El hecho de poder mantener una seria discusión sobre lingüística con un huevo que parece saber mucho del tema, o con una muy filosófica oruga, rebasa toda expectativa sobre el absurdo. En ese lugar elijo vivir.

CB: Que te resulta mas importante, la opera o la música sinfónica? Es una pregunta difícil. Tal vez no haya un orden de preferencia, pero posiblemente prioridades, o deseos en distintos momentos de la vida.

ML: Tal como decís, a veces es cuestión de prioridades. O de oportunidades. Hay temas que se prestan a un desarrollo lírico, a una representación teatral. Hay también pasos intermedios, como el teatro musical, que se presta más bien al género de cámara. Yo le pongo nombre a las obras. Hay otros compositores más sobrios y menos desparramados que yo, que llaman a sus obras sonata, sinfonía, preludio. a mí en cambio me gusta ponerles nombre: es un regalo que se le hace al oyente para darle un atisbo mínimo, una orientación sobre el contenido de lo que van a escuchar. Cuando no tenés un libreto, sino solamente una idea, hacés música sinfónica. En mi caso, obras como Galileo Descubre las cuatro lunas de Júpiter o Antígona, representan más que nada una idea sobre el personaje, no hay ningún relato, solo ideas. No tengo preferencias, sino necesidades.

CB: Cuales son tus compositores preferidos? Y que le recomenderías a la gente que dice que no le gusta la música contemporánea (y que posiblemente no ha escuchado mucha)?

ML: Obviamente, Mozart. Está en la cima. Pero no es el único, de los de siglos pasados puedo mencionar tantos que no cabrían aquí. Y de este siglo estoy filtrando todavía. Igual el más contemporáneo sigue siendo Mozart. Con respecto a la segunda pregunta, le diría a la gente que trate de acercarse lentamente para asimilar poco a poco los múltiples lenguajes que estamos usando. Siempre les digo que uno es lo que come, y si comen un poquito más de postre contemporáneo, van a estar más gorditos y más lindos. Claro, la gente prefiere la música más conocida, quiere siempre el mismo cuento, como los chicos que se van a dormir y le piden al papá o a la mamá que le lean por enésima vez La Cenicienta, y si el papá le dice que tiene uno nuevo que le acaba de comprar, el chico sigue prefiriendo La Cenicienta. Ahí es donde papá necesita seducir al chico para que incorpore en su imaginario un cuentito nuevo. Siempre son más cómodos los zapatos viejos aunque los nuevos sean más vistosos.

CB: Te agradezco muchísimo por tu tiempo y por compartir tu sabiduría y tantas experiencias con nosotros. Estoy ansioso por presentar tu hermosa música en Sacramento y compartirla con nuestro publico.

ML: Y yo muy orgullosa de que seas vos quien por primera vez la dirige.

Christian Baldini conducting the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra
Christian Baldini has conducted opera for English National Opera, Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Aldeburgh Festival, and as Music Director of the Mondavi Center's Rising Stars of Opera, in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera. He has been a guest conductor of important orchestras such as the San Francisco Symphony, Munich Radio Orchestra, Orchestra Sinfónica do Porto (Casa de Música), Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Chilean Chamber Orchestra, among others. His CD recording "Mozart: Arias and Overtures" conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and soprano Elizabeth Watts gathered multiple accolades such as the BBC Classical Music Magazine Recording of the Month, Classic FM CD of the Week, and 5- and 4-star reviews from the specialized media including Gramophone, Sinfini, The Guardian, etc. He's the Barbara K. Jackson Professor of Orchestral Conducting at the University of California, Davis, and the Music Director of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra. He is also a published composer, and his works have been performed all over the world by the Daegu Chamber Orchestra (South Korea), Memphis Syphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lorraine (France), New York New Music Ensemble, Munich Radio Orchestra, etc. He is fortunate to count Marta Lambertini as one of his main composition teachers. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Christian Baldini in Conversation with Eric Zivian

In preparation for our performance of Ginastera's Piano Concerto No. 1, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Zivian, who will be our soloist for this wonderful tour the force.

Christian Baldini: What are some of the features of this concerto (Ginastera's Piano Concerto No. 1) that you find particularly interesting or attractive?

Eric Zivian: The piece has a propulsive energy that is very exciting! But some of my favorite passages are the contemplative ones like the beginning of the variation movement and the piano solo in the slow movement.

CB: Many people have pointed out an affinity or similarity between Ginastera and other composers, such as Bartok, or even Ligeti. How would you compare Ginastera to other composers?

EZ: The Scherzo movement has something in common with Bartok’s “night music”. In this piece Ginastera writes in a very modernist harmonic language, with tone clusters and other dissonances. But to my ear, the piece is quite Romantic in its expression.

CB: The last movement of the Concerto (Toccata concertata) is almost like a corrupted malambo, a staple Ginastera sound, but perhaps one could argue that it morphes into something else. How do you see this movement?

EZ: The movement has great rhythmic variety and a very infectious melody. The malambo (a gaucho dance) accompanied Ginastera since his early ballets, like Panambí or Estancia. This is about two decades later, and he's still using this same dance but presenting it under a different language. So I find it remarkable that in the Piano Concerto he is pushing the limits of what a malambo can be.... with lots of affectations and abstraction. I love it!

CB: How were your beginnings with music? What inspired you to become a professional musician?

EZ: I loved music from an early age, starting piano when I was 4 and composition when I was 6. With a few exceptions, it has been difficult for me to imagine doing anything else with my life.

CB: You are also a marvelous composer, and I had the pleasure of conducting your music (the world premiere of your Harpsichord Concerto). Tell me, how do you see this symbiotic relationship flourish between your two worlds, that of the performer and that of the composer? 

EZ: As a composer, I like knowing how it feels to perform, because it helps me with the theatrical element in music. And as a performer, I feel that I am able to get closer to the mindset of composers, because I can at least begin to imagine how they felt while they were writing. 

CB: What is the role of a composer nowadays? (this is a very big question, so please elaborate as much or as little as you'd like)

EZ: It varies a lot, depending on the individual composer. Some composers are very interested in contributing in some way to society, others more in communicating their ideas and feelings. As long as a composer is able to connect with an audience, however large or small, it seems to me that he or she is doing a good job. 

CB: Are there any other piano concertos that you would love to play after this one? Which ones?

EZ: The Ligeti piano concerto seems like a great piece, and I would be interested in learning that if I have time and opportunity. In a more traditional vein, I’ve never played the Brahms concerti with orchestra, and that would be great fun. These days I do a lot of my playing on fortepiano (historical piano). In that capacity, I will be playing Mozart's C minor concerto with the Portland Baroque Orchestra next spring, and hope to play many Mozart and Beethoven concerti on fortepiano in the coming years.

CB: Do you find comfort in art? What is the role of art in society nowadays? 

EZ: I do find comfort in practicing and performing music. It makes my body and mind feel at one with each other, in a way that nothing else can. Just as with composition, I don’t think there is any specific role of art in society. It depends on the artist, and not insignificantly to the audience or public as well. Art can and does enrich people’s lives in many different ways, and for that we can all be grateful.

Eric Zivian

Eric Zivian is a fortepianist, modern pianist and composer. He has performed with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Portland Baroque Orchestra, the Santa Rosa Symphony and the Toronto Symphony, among others. He will be performing Mozart’s C minor Concerto with Portland Baroque Orchestra in April 2019. He is a founder and Music Director of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival, a festival in Sonoma specializing in Classical and Romantic music on period instruments.
Eric is a member of the Zivian-Tomkins Duo, the Benvenue Fortepiano Trio, and the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble. As a composer, he was awarded an ASCAP Jacob Druckman Memorial Commission to compose an orchestral work, Three Character Pieces, which was premiered by the Seattle Symphony in March 1998.
Eric studied piano with Gary Graffman and Peter Serkin and composition with Ned Rorem, Jacob Druckman, and Martin Bresnick. He attended the Tanglewood Music Center both as a performer and as a composer.

Christian Baldini (Photo: Justin Han © UC Regents)

Christian Baldini came to international attention when he conducted in Salzburg as a finalist for the Nestlé/Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award. He served as assistant conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. He has conducted opera for English National Opera, Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Aldeburgh Festival, and as Music Director of the Mondavi Center Rising Stars of Opera (San Francisco Opera). He has guest conducted the Munich Radio Orchestra, Florida Orchestra, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, National Symphony (of Argentina & Portugal), Orquesta de Cámara de Chile, Noord Nederlands Orkest. His Mozart CD recording (Linn Records) conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with soprano Elizabeth Watts received 5-star reviews and was chosen as Recording of the Month by the BBC Music Magazine. Baldini’s compositions have been performed by the Memphis Symphony, Orchestre National de Lorraine, Southbank Sinfonia, New York New Music Ensemble, and are published by Babel Scores in Paris. Since 2009 he has been the Music Director of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra (and the Barbara K. Jackson Professor of Orchestral Conducting), and since 2012 he has been the Music Director of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento, California's capital city.