Monday, October 30, 2023

Eric Zivian in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 4, I will have the pleasure of collaborating with pianist Eric Zivian as our soloist in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento. Also on the program (aptly titled "Revolutionary Spirits") will be Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, as well as Ruth Crawford Seeger's Andante for Strings. Below is a conversation with Eric.


Christian Baldini: Eric, once more it will be a pleasure to work with you and to make music together. What are some of the things you like the most about this Beethoven Concerto? And what should people listen for in it?

Eric Zivian: It’s wonderful to be back working with you again! The Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto is a very special piece in the repertoire. It is not stormy or extroverted like Beethoven’s other concertos, but predominantly gentle and lyrical. The slow movement, a dramatic dialogue between the orchestra and piano, is absolutely stunning. In the first movement, Beethoven breaks the usual pattern of concerto first movements and opens with a rhapsodic piano solo before the standard orchestral introduction. I find the ornaments in the piano part toward the end of the movement, after the cadenza, to be some of the most delightful ever written.


CB: Does your interpretation change much as rehearsals go forward? Aside from practicalities, do you feel that rehearsing with others and in different spaces affect your performance or your understanding of a piece? 

EZ: Absolutely. There is nothing like rehearsing with a full orchestra under the direction of an intelligent and sensitive musician like you to give me a fresh perspective. Plus, during practice I always think of new things!


CB: Well thank you, it is truly a wonderful collaboration working with you and receiving so much feedback from you in rehearsals! You also play a lot on the fortepiano. Has this informed how you approach a Beethoven or Mozart Concerto when performing on a modern instrument?

EZ: Very much so. I have a fortepiano modeled on the kind of instrument Mozart and Beethoven would have known. It has a totally different touch and sound, very articulate in all registers with deep bass notes, bringing out the clarity of the counterpoint. With that sound in my ear, I have learned to emphasize those qualities on the modern piano when playing 18th and 19th-century music.


CB: You also love the music of Brahms, and of Ligeti. What attracts you so much to their music, and why?

EZ: Although Brahms and Ligeti were very different composers, I love their music for much the same reason: they use complex rhythms that appeal to my sensibility, while at the same emphasizing clarity and directness of expression.


CB: As a composer, what are some of your priorities, and/or what do you try to achieve with your own music?

EZ: To be fully transparent, I haven’t written music in some years. But in my composing days, I also aimed to write music that reflected a combination of rhythmic intricacy and straightforward expression. Decades of composing music also helps me, as a performer, to gain insight into the composer’s perspective.


CB: What would be your advice for young pianists and for young composers? What is your advice when people lose hope or get frustrated with themselves?

EZ: My advice is: always remember what drew you to performing or composing. By all means listen to the valuable advice of your teachers and mentors, but stay true to your own vision of what music is all about. During performance, or the creative process, relax and let the music flow through you.


CB: Thank you Eric, I am very much looking forward to our performance together!

EZ: Thanks Christian, I can’t wait!


 Eric Zivian received music degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music, the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music. He studied piano with Gary Graffman and Peter Serkin and composition with Ned Rorem, Jacob Druckman, and Martin Bresnick.

Eric is equally at home on modern and period instruments. He is Music Director of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival, a festival in Sonoma specializing in Classical and Romantic chamber music played on period instruments, and a longtime member of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in San Francisco.

Eric recently performed the Mozart C minor Concerto with the Portland Baroque Orchestra and the Beethoven Choral Fantasy with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. At the height of the pandemic, Eric livestreamed all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas on period pianos.


Monday, September 18, 2023

Parker van Ostrand in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On September 23, I will have the pleasure of conducting Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the wonderful young pianist Parker van Ostrand. This will be in Sacramento (California) with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, in a program that will also feature Brahms' Second Symphony, as well as Midnight Stirring by Nancy Galbraith. Below is an interview with Parker.
Christian Baldini: Dear Parker, it is a pleasure to welcome you again in your native Sacramento to feature you as our soloist in Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra. Tell us, how does it feel to come back home and be featured as our soloist?

Parker van Ostrand: I’m really excited. Playing with orchestra is one of my favorite things as a musician, and getting to do it with a great orchestra and conductor makes it even better. And this will be the first time I play Prokofiev 3 with orchestra. It's also nostalgic since I’m performing again at my old high school. The first rehearsal was the first time I went back there since graduating more than two years ago!

CB: The first (and last) time we featured you as our soloist it was within our Rising Stars series, and you played Beethoven's 2nd Piano Concerto. This was four years ago, and you have amassed a number of successes since then, including winning prizes at major international competitions, performing together with Yuja Wang in San Francisco, being named a 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts. How do you feel? What has changed for you?

PvO: I feel really grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had in the last couple years. Playing with Yuja was definitely a highlight because I’ve looked up to her more than almost any other pianist ever since I was a kid. One thing that’s changed with all this experience is I feel more open to being spontaneous on stage. I’m more confident in my musical decisions and style of playing, so I’m able to take more risks and see what ideas I can come up with on the spot. When you let loose and don’t worry so much about being perfect or how other people might judge your playing, performing becomes a lot more fun.

CB: Tell us about Prokofiev, and his Third Piano Concerto. What are some of the things you like the most about this piece, and what should people listen for when you perform it?

PvO: Prokofiev 3 is one of my favorite concertos to play- it’s naughty, sarcastic, even grotesque at times. I love playing this piece because it’s really fun to go all out with making the piece as “rude” and brash as possible. The writing is very virtuosic and even acrobatic at times, so it’s pretty cool to watch from the audience standpoint. Prokofiev himself was rebellious and cocky during his time at conservatory, and this piece perfectly encapsulates that. There’s a lot of conflict between the piano and orchestra parts, and it’s pretty cool to be one person fighting against 100 other people on stage. There’s also moments in the concerto that are nostalgic, smoky, elegant, beautiful–and the fact that these moments are so rare make them even more memorable. Part of the second movement is a variation that has the sounds of a dark, icy Siberian winter. It will give one chills.

CB: When I interviewed you back in 2019, we talked a lot about your practice routine, the meaning of music to you, and also about your goals in life. Have your goals changed? Do you see anything very differently?

PvO: Because so much has happened in the last couple years I could never have expected or planned (musically related), I actually haven’t been one to set specific goals recently. With a career path in music, so much is out of your control except your ability as a musician. So my goal these days is just to be as good as I can be at the piano, and see what happens from there.

CB: Tell us about your education and your main mentors since you finished high school.

PvO: I’ve been at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music since January of 2022, and I’m now working with Garrick Ohlsson and Yoshikazu Nagai. I’ve studied with Garrick since I was 16, and just recently started studying with Yoshikazu Nagai. Knowing Garrick for this long, he’s had a huge impact on me and just been an amazing teacher, mentor, and someone I look up to. I can also say the same about my previous teacher here at the conservatory, Jon Nakamatsu, who I studied with during my first three semesters at SFCM.

CB: Lastly: what are some of the things (anything) that interest you the most outside music?

PvO: I like going to the gym a lot. It’s fun to keep pushing yourself and setting new goals all the time. When I have more time, I love adrenaline activities like riding rollercoasters or jetskis, and also doing challenging hikes. Nowadays, I am also pretty into watching movies, thrillers in particular.

CB: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to sharing your wonderful artistry with our audience members.

PvO: Thank you! Looking forward.

Parker Van Ostrand currently studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with Garrick Ohlsson and Yoshikazu Nagai.

He recently won the 2023 PianoTexas Academy Concerto Competition and performed with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra this past June. In 2022, he won the Gold Medal in the 71st Wideman International Piano Competition and in November, collaborated with Yuja Wang for a two-piano performance at the SFCM Gala. Last summer, he was selected to play in the inaugural G. Henle Verlag Murray Perahia Masterclass in Munich. He also toured with the California Youth Symphony to Eastern Europe last summer with Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety.” In 2020, Parker won Third Prize and the Best Sonata Award in the 10th National Chopin Piano Competition, and was one of 20 high school students nationwide named a 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.

This season, Parker will be performing with the Camellia Symphony, Symphony Parnassus, the South Arkansas Symphony, the Shreveport Symphony, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music orchestra as winner of their 2023 Concerto Competition. He will also give recitals at the Tutunov Series in Ashland, the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, the Washington International Piano Festival, and Gretna Music with violinist Amaryn Olmeda.

Parker is from Sacramento, CA, and previously studied with Linda Nakagawa, Natsuki Fukasawa, Sarah Chan, and Jon Nakamatsu. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Composer Profile: Nancy Galbraith in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On September 23, I will have the pleasure of conducting the symphonic work "Midnight Stirring" by composer Nancy Galbraith. This will be in Sacramento with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in a program that also includes Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto and Brahms' 2nd Symphony. Below is a Q&A with the composer:


Christian Baldini: Nancy, it is a pleasure to welcome you and to conduct your music in Sacramento. Tell us, what are some of your priorities and main interests as a composer?


Nancy Galbraith: I am naturally compelled to continuously expand and grow and explore new pathways of expression. Fortunately for me, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area is home to a wealth of talented musicians who are always happy to perform outside of their classical music comfort zones. One prominent example is my colleague at Carnegie Mellon, Stephan Schultz, who is a world class Baroque flutist who truly enjoys all the electroacoustic challenges I send his way. He is one of many among the soloists, instrumental ensembles and conductors from this area, who are eager and delighted to perform music on the cutting edge.


I am also deeply immersed in the world of choral music. Much of that is sacred music, which is born out of my lifelong involvement as a church organist and music director. And again, the Pittsburgh area has an ample pool of talented conductors and ensembles who welcome the kind of new music I have to offer.


As you might surmise, I love writing for specific artists and ensembles, both instrumental and choral.


CB: You are also a renowned educator, as Professor and Chair of Composition at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University School of Music in Pittsburgh. What are some of the values and life-long lessons that you try to instill in your students during your lessons?


NG: First I should mention that I especially enjoy teaching undergrads, as they are mostly very open to learning and growing. They each arrive with their own special musical interests, and I let them know I’m happy to honor and nurture those throughout their time with me, but only if they trust me to help them explore a full array of other musical avenues. As first-year students, I provide them with an extensive listening list of mostly current composers from a wide range of genres, along with selected works from earlier composers. I encourage—insist, I should say—that they continuously listen to what is happening in the present, and thus my list is dynamic and ever changing. Most importantly, I steer them toward the goal of finding their own true artistic voices, no matter what they may be. Their senior year concludes in a public concert of their own symphonic works performed by the superb Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic Orchestra. The energy, artistry and eclecticism of those programs are prominent annual highlights of the music scene in Pittsburgh. My graduated students from the past four decades operate in an extremely wide spectrum of musical fields.


CB: Let’s talk about your own mentors. Who were some of the most influential and important ones to you, and why?


NG: Many of my chief mentors have been dead composers (lol), including J. S. Bach, Stravinsky, and Copland, to name a few. I have mostly learned from studying scores and performing their works; and I should mention that John Adams was a strong early influence as well. In my childhood, teen and college years, I studied piano and clarinet; and during those years, I was fortunate to perform a wide ranging repertoire of classical and contemporary music.


CB: How did you start composing “Midnight Stirring”? What came to you first? How was the process?


NG: This work was originally composed for flutes. In 2009, I was commissioned to write a work for flute choir for the 37th Annual National Flute Convention. This was one of the few musical genres I hadn’t yet visited, and all of a sudden, I was initiated into the flute world! The music director of the distinguished Columbia Flute Choir, the late Sharyn Byer, commissioned me to write “Midnight Stirring” for the 43rd annual convention. Then, at the request of a conductor friend, I adapted it as a light, easy-to-program work for chamber orchestras. It is scored senza percussion, which is a rarity for me.


CB: What is the relevance of music in today’s life? Why is it important?


NG: Music is no more relevant today than it has been in any time in human history. It is an esoteric and universal language that reaches one’s inner being in ways that words cannot.


CB: Lastly, what would be your advice for young composers, starting out in this profession?


NG: Without any cues from me, most of my students follow their own hearts and instincts, and they somehow find pathways to many and various careers in music. Some of them dwell in a state of uncertainty for a while, and I advise them to consider music education or arts management to carry them through that period of their lives. But many of them just hit the ground running. I’m always sceptical when, once in a while, one says to me, “I’m moving to New York!”—but quite a few of those have actually succeeded tremendously! I am shocked at how they make important connections so quickly, in ways that have always escaped me. So I’ve learned to simply encourage them to pursue their dreams.


CB: Thank you very much for your time, I look forward to conducting your beautiful music and sharing it with our audiences!


NG: Thank you, and best of luck with your performance.

Nancy Galbraith (b.1951) resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, where she is Chair of Composition at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, and holds the Vira I Heinz Professorship of Music endowed chair at the College of Fine Arts.

In a career that spans four decades, her music has earned praise for its rich harmonic texture, rhythmic vitality, emotional and spiritual depth, and wide range of expression. Her works have been directed by some of the world's finest conductors, including Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Mariss Jansons, Keith Lockhart, Donald Runnicles and Robert Page. Her compositions are featured on numerous recordings, including nine anthologies.

With major contributions to the repertoires of symphony orchestras, concert choirs, wind ensembles, chamber ensembles, electroacoustic ensembles, and soloists, Galbraith plays a leading role in defining the sound of contemporary classical music.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Flipped Interview: Chase Spruill Interviews Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: Chase Spruill is the concertmaster of the Camellia Symphony since 2019. He's also a widely sought-after soloist, educator, and a wonderful person that I have had the pleasure to work with and to call a friend for many years now. Instead of the usual interview in which I interview our guest artists, I accepted Chase's proposal to flip the interview, and to have him interview me this time. Chase will perform as our soloist twice in the coming two weeks. On June 3, he will perform Philip Glass' Violin Concerto No. 1 with the UC Davis Symphony, at the Mondavi Center. On June 10, he will perform Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending, with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento. Below is the record of what happened:

Chase Spruill: The Maestro and I met for coffee back in the Summer of 2018, and I believe that was our first chance to meet face-to-face.  I'd seen him on the podium as an audience member, or occasionally came across videos of some of his performances with various orchestras, and we had similar connections through cross sections of artists we both knew and loved.  This particular conversation was going to be about working with him in the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, but I don't think I knew he was interested in me for the position of Concertmaster at the time.  A lot of the conversation was about life, interests, bonding over being a Dad, and then we came around to music.  I think we were a few weeks into our first rehearsals, and somewhere online appeared a video of him surfing, and I immediately felt underqualified at any attempt to try and be cool in this life.

Working near Christian on the podium is a unique experience to watch him quickly jot down notes in his score, or sing a phrase under his breath, or ask himself or someone nearby a question in multiple languages.  If you're not sitting there, or standing there talking with him at break time, there are some things you might be fascinated to know.  We couldn't nearly cover all of them today, but for the longest time, I've been curious to hijack his interviews and flip the script to ask him some questions I've been curious to know in general.

Chase Spruill: Maestro, thank you for taking part in this flipped interview...

Christian Baldini: Well dear Chase, thank you, the pleasure is mine, and what a treat it is to have a good conversation with you, always, whether it is about music or anything else!

CS: This is a big year for CSO celebrating its 60th Season.  In my own estimation, the programming was particularly huge and diverse.  How do you begin to think ahead of your seasons in order to program, and what are some of the factors you take into account while you're brainstorming?

CB: Most people may imagine that programming is one of the most fascinating and most active parts of being a music director.  I really try to think of many aspects in a natural, holistic way. I take into account factors that are important for the orchestra, and also for the audience members. An orchestra's history, its relationship with the community, whatever may be happening at the moment in public life, in politics, a particularly important event, an anniversary, a discovery. The inspiration by a poet or a painter, or a collaboration with a ballet company or a choral organization. All of this falls into place when planning a season with integrity, beyond thinking "I'll choose a nice overture, a fun concerto with a great soloist, and some random symphony that I feel like doing". It is very easy to fall in that trap. It is lazy to think that way, it is simplistic and it undermines the value of what we do. Music is not mere entertainment. It is part of our shared culture. It adds something to people's lives. It enriches us, it inspires us, it makes us curious. So when we promote the work of a composer that was at some point (or even now) forgotten or denied access to the concert hall, we are creating a space for healing, for uniting us, for inspiring our future generations to think more inclusively, more generously, more globally. And yes, finding music that I strongly believe in is very important. My word is my bond with our audience members. So yes, I enjoy finding concepts, connecting threads, and ideas that will make a program more powerful, and an entire season more coherent. 

CS: Have you ever had an experience mid-season where you're working on a particular piece with the orchestra, and somehow the accomplishment of the group strikes a new idea inside of you for a future program?  What are some instances you can remember where that might have happened?

CB: Definitely! I remember many instances, for example when we performed the Sacramento premiére of Amériques, by Edgard Varèse. This was a massive work, written for a humongous orchestra including 14 percussionists, quintuple woodwinds, etc. Our orchestra played exceptionally well, and the audience (who had come to the performance to listen to the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto with a wonderful Russian soloist) gave Amériques a very long standing ovation. I was blown away by the extremely positive response this music got, both from the musicians and from the orchestra. This experience very much motivated me and inspired me to keep looking for challenges and very ambitious projects for our orchestra. It was very clear from this that our musicians are eager to learn new things, they are always open to absorb new languages, new paths, and to navigate them together, with trust and love for what we do. And the same was clear for our audience members. Many people talked to me after the performance, telling me they had never heard of Varèse, and had only come because of Tchaikovsky, but they were now going to go and look for more works by this French master. A truly beautiful thing!

CS: The season finale of the 60th season is called LIGHT OF THE WORLD.  In addition to the expansive and emotional Faure Requiem and a deeply touching Elegy for Strings from Elliott Carter, you chose to program The Lark Ascending, a romance for violin and orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  Vaughan Williams was one of many composers drawn to nature and landscape as inspiration.  It was much later in our working relationship when I started seeing photos of you during treks through forests, or out on choppy ocean waves.  I'm curious, what role does being out in the world's natural landscape play for you in your life?  What does it do for you personally?  Does it inspire you musically?

CB: What an excellent question! Many of the composers that I love have been inspired by nature, from Sibelius to Brahms and Schumann, going through John Luther Adams and Kaija Saariaho. I must say I never realized how important nature was to me until I moved to Buenos Aires. I grew up in a smaller coastal city called Mar del Plata about 250 miles south of Buenos Aires. This is right by the Atlantic coast. My parents' house was only 6 blocks away from the beach. I took the beach for granted. It was gorgeous, incredibly beautiful, and always there for me. When I moved to Buenos Aires I really missed the ocean, going to the beach to do body boarding and being able to walk or run along the coast. I remember going back home to visit my parents and taking a stroll to the beach with my manuscript paper, a pencil and an eraser. I would stay hours in front of the ocean, just by myself, drinking mate (my favorite infusion, pretty much like an espresso green tea), and composing. Only then I realized the level of influence that nature, and the ocean in particular had had on me since I was a child.
With regards to our upcoming program, "Light of the World", I think it is going to be a very beautiful and invigorating program. The music in it is varied, and simultaneously also quite related. The atmosphere of this program is about healing, about acceptance, about sharing the beauty of life with other humans. Post-pandemic, this is one of the most comforting programs I could possibly think of. I sense it almost like a representation of generosity of spirit, all done through the gestures and means of expressions of these three master composers: Carter, Vaughan Williams and Fauré. I keep reminding myself about how fortunate we artists are to be able to share and express these emotions with other human beings.

CS: What are some of your first memories of natural habitats you loved visiting at a young age or otherwise?  Do you remember the impression it left on you, and if it did, why so?

CB: I remember vividly our family holidays when I was a child, going to Patagonia with my parents and my sister. Spending the day by the various lakes, surrounded by beautiful mountains with snowy tops. Seeing wild animals, kayaking in the lake, bathing in the icy cold water. All of this is incredibly invigorating to me. I love camping, making a fire, cooking with fire. Still to this day, this is one of my favorite things to do. It is almost like a primal instinct. I will also bring my guitar and enjoy a bit of music around the campfire. What a treat!

CS: In addition to conducting and composing, you're also a devoted educator.  So much of your time is spent pouring into people as they strive to know themselves and challenge themselves musically and academically.  Have you ever had to challenge a collaborator-learner in your classroom or rehearsal hall to think outside of the notes on the page or in the score?  Where do you point them in order to encourage them to think about intention and drama beyond the manuscript and the textbook?

CB: As a student I really thrived when my mentors challenged me and pushed me. I grew leaps and bounds whenever someone encouraged me to think outside the box, and to experiment and go well beyond my comfort zone. This is not always the case. But to me, I was very grateful to those mentors that were not afraid to speak and share with me their brutal honesty. I am not saying it is good to be mean, or that I am a masochist. Not at all. But I think that sugarcoating critique and feedback hinders growth. We absolutely need honest feedback. We also need to point them in any kind of direction that will help them open their curiosity and awaken interests in different things that they may not be considering. A book, a movie, a song, an experience, whatever helped us grow or have that "eureka" moment, we must share with our students. We need to respect our students as we would like to be respected. We need to treat them with compassion, but also with honesty, admiration and respect. Our students are really our younger colleagues. It is a wonderful thing when you see one of those former students grow and develop into masters, and to one day share the stage with them, and/or to première one of their compositions. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to see someone I helped from the beginning thrive and achieve greatness. It essentially has nothing to do with me. I am there just to support them and help them discover how wonderful they already are.

CS: We're coming up on the Summer.  How do you typically spend your time before the seasons begin in the Fall?

CB: Summer is usually a time when I love finding moments to connect with nature again. To recharge. To go on hikes, to explore lakes and mountains, and to spend as much time as possible enjoying the ocean with my board. Summer is -paradoxically- also a time when I get to experience winter in the Southern hemisphere. So indeed this summer I will spend some time with my sons enjoying nature, and I will also spend some time conducting the National Symphony Orchestra in Buenos Aires, in the middle of their winter. This is an orchestra which I have been conducting for many years, and I admire and respect them very much because it is one of the orchestras that nourished me as a young aspiring musician. I would go to see their concerts every week. I studied with some of the maestros in the orchestra. And as a young professional when I first conducted this orchestra they were very welcoming to me, and since then we have done many concerts together, even national tours and recordings. It is always good re-connecting with our origins. This for me is literally going back home, to my family, to my home country, and to one of the orchestras that taught me so much as a young musician.

CS: I've really enjoyed this opportunity to get to know more about you, and I know there are a few people reading this who know things about you now that they didn't know before, so I really appreciate you taking the time and for letting me take over your interviews and ask you some questions.  I'm looking forward to being near you on the podium again in these next few weeks!

CB: What a pleasure dear Chase, thank you for your insightful conversation, and for being such a dedicated, inspiring and wonderful leader. I very much look forward to making music with you this week, next, and for many years to come!

Charles “Chase” Spruill, IV is forging a unique path connecting the fields of contemporary chamber music, music education and public service. He was an artist-in-residence and founding violinist of Sacramento State University’s resident contemporary ensemble before accepting a permanent residency as a core faculty member at the Nationally celebrated Community MusicWorks in Providence, Rhode Island which The New Yorker hails as “…a revolutionary organization in which the distinction between performing and teaching disappears.” He’s collaborated with and performed alongside notable artists in the field such as composer/electric guitarist Steven Mackey, composer Alexandra Gardner, violinist Johnny Gandelsman of Brooklyn Rider and the Silk Road Project with Yo-Yo Ma, British composer and pianist Michael Nyman, and most recently, Kronos Quartet. In 2014, Chase began touring as a duo with pianist and longtime director of the Philip Glass Ensemble Michael Riesman. Together, they are premiering new concert works for violin and piano arranged from film scores by Philip Glass housing iconic monsters of cinema. The pair made their debut at the 2014 Festival of New American Music and are continuing throughout North America and Europe. The performance of “Glass & Blood” at (le) Poisson Rouge with Michael Riesman marks his New York City recital debut. Future plans include premieres and performances of a newly commissioned concert work for violin and piano by Michael Nyman and the premiere of collaborative string quartet arrangements with composer Nico Muhly.

Chase Spruill and Christian Baldini after rehearsal at the Mondavi Center

Chase Spruill and Christian Baldini in rehearsal at the Mondavi Center

Monday, April 24, 2023

Anyssa Neumann in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On April 29, 2023, Anyssa Neumann will perform the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Franz Liszt with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento. I will have the honor of conducting this beautiful program, which also includes Florence Price's Andante moderato, and Lutoslawski's Symphony No. 4. Below is an interview with Anyssa, who is visiting from the United Kingdom.

Christian Baldini: Anyssa, please tell us what is so special to you about this particular concerto? What should people listen for in it?

Anyssa Neumann: My favourite pieces seem to be the ones I've heard great performances of, and this is no different. I vividly remember hearing a friend perform the Liszt E-flat concerto with orchestra when I was 18, and it was love at first listen. It's such a fun concertoserious music that doesn't take itself too seriously, full of spark and fire and shimmering magical fairylands. And it moves between sections so rapidly that you can't get bored. This concerto sometimes gets a bad rappeople think it's too flashy and shallow, not substantial enough. I disagree. Liszt as composer (rather than pianist) often took a beating from the critics, and he agonized over finalizing his written works before subjecting them to public scrutiny. This concerto, on which he worked for 25 years, starts with a stentorian theme in the strings and winds, a nine-note phrase to which he (and possibly his son-in-law Hans von Bülow) later attached the words, “Das versteht Ihr alle nicht, haha!” (“None of you understand this, haha!”) in rebuttal to those critics. A musical cocking-a-snook, as the Brits say!



CB: How were your beginnings with music? I know you also played the trumpet when you were growing up. Was there a time when you played both instruments with equal emphasis? When/how/why did you decide to quit the trumpet in favor of the piano?


AN: I hated the piano for most of my childhood. I wanted to play the violin, but my parents wouldn't let me (to be fair, beginner violin isn't the most melodious of sounds). When I was 9, I decided to play trumpet in the school band (thrilling my parents, no doubt). I liked trumpet much more than piano, but I was quite happy playing second (or third) chair. To be a professional brass player, you have to really want to be in the spotlight, to play all those high notes. I didn't. But trumpet allowed me to be part of a musical community in a way that solitary piano never did. I played trumpet in the Sacramento Youth Symphony from ages 11-16, and that, more than anything else, kept me interested in and engaged with classical music during my piano-hating years.



CB: What does music mean to you? How does music (and more specifically classical music such as the Liszt Concerto) fit into today's society?


AN: Good grief, where to start?! I think I'll paraphrase what an old teacher of mine once said: "a life with music is better than a life without." I have thought about changing careers many times, doing something that actually pays well, something I can leave at the office. (Fact: musicians don't get weekends.) But the thrill of making music, the portals that these sounds open up to other times and places, that feeling of emotional and physical aliveness, and that communal experience with other musicians and audienceswell, you can't beat that.



CB: You grew up in Sacramento, played trumpet in the Sacramento Youth Symphony while growing up here, and you have now been based in the UK for a while. What are some of the things you miss (if any) about living in the US?


AN: Old-fashioned donuts. Deli sandwiches. Mexican food. In that order. I also miss the wonderfully varied landscape and the smell of summer. And, of course, my friends and family.



CB: Besides being a wonderful concert pianist you are also a musicologist, and an Ingmar Bergman scholar.  You are currently completing a Postdoc at Uppsala university in Sweden. How do you manage it all? Would you mind sharing some thoughts about your Ingmar Bergman work?


AN: Most of the time it feels like I'm not managing any of it! Once the pandemic hit, I was very glad that I hadn't put all my eggs in the performing basket—I actually had an academic job during many of those fallow months when musicians suffered the most. Becoming a musicologist was sort of accidental. I was interested in academiaand being a student was the only way I could get visas to live in other countries. So I just kept climbing the degree ladder until I finished a PhD. I fell into Bergman by way of Bach's Goldberg Variations, which Bergman uses in his film The Silence (1963). I wrote a paper on it, discovered that nobody else (at the time) had written much about Bergman's use of music, and that if I ever did a PhD, that would be my topic. I love cinema, I love storytelling—stories are how I make sense of the world. So studying the interaction of film and music was a natural fit for me.



CB: Do you have any advice for young musicians? At certain times in life we all face challenges, competition, and many musicians have thought of quitting more than once. What has helped you in your trajectory, and inspired you to keep going forward?


AN: It's a tricky one, giving advice. I'm not sure I have anyonly a few statements I find to be true. The classical music industry can be absolutely brutal. The pay is crap, the work is relentless, your dreams of soloist stardom will probably come to naught, and you will struggle with feelings of inferiority and failure throughout your entire career. If you don't want to do it anymore, then don't—it's ok to do something else. In fact, if doing something else makes you happier, do that instead! I'm selling it well, aren't I? The important part is this: you don't have to be a full-time professional musician to play or enjoy music. Music is for everyone. It's part of our legacy on this planet. It's the best of humanity. So take it seriously, learn it, listen to it, play it, understand it, make it part of you, pursue a career in it if that's what calls to you. I think we sometimes get so caught up in the competitive culture of classical music—the commercialism, the perfectionism, the comparisons, the number of likes and listens—that we forget what music actually is: a way of communicating something about the beauty and urgency of life. I love what Donna Tartt writes in her novel The Goldfinch about the lasting qualities of art: “And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn't touch. For if disaster and oblivion have followed this [art] down through time—so too has love. (...) It exists; and it keeps on existing.” A glory and a privilege—gets me every time. 


CB: Lastly, what are some of the most inspiring experiences (or people) in your life, and why?

AN: My most inspiring experiences have come from artist residencies, particularly those at the Banff Centre in CanadaGetting to know other musicians (or artists more generally), working and living alongside them—with the right people and the right surroundings, an alchemical transformation occurs, of excitement, solidarity, support, understanding, openness, inspiration, collaboration, realness. I'm inspired by people who are real, who don't hide behind a facade of perfection or control (even as I type this I feel the need to maintain my own facade!). Obviously, vulnerability can be uncomfortable, so there's a time and a place, and trust is essential, but...we're all human. We all make mistakes, in music, in life. We all feel, at various times, that we have no idea what we're doing. Can't we just be honest about that? We're all in the same boat. It's better to journey together than not.



CB: Thank you very much Anyssa, we very much look forward to featuring you as our soloist!

AN: Thanks for having me!

Raised in Sacramento and based in the UK / Sweden, pianist Anyssa Neumann has been praised for the “clarity, charm, and equipoise” of her performances, which span solo and collaborative repertoire from the Baroque to the 21st century. Recent highlights include concerto performances with the NYKO Sinfonietta (Sweden) and the Lompoc Pops Orchestra (USA); Bach’s Goldberg Variations in Sweden and Norway; solo recitals in Rome, London, Uppsala, the Pacific Northwest, and throughout California; and artist residencies at the Banff Centre (Canada), Avaloch Farm (USA), and the Bergman Estate (Sweden). During the Covid-19 pandemic, she video-recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations at home, calling the project #IsolationVariations; the playlist of all 32 videos, accompanied by short essays, can be found on YouTube.


Recent projects include a Don Quixote-inspired song program with British bass-baritone Timothy Dickinson and a concert tour of New Mexico and California with American soprano Rena Harms. Other collaborative partners include soprano Emma Tring (BBC Singers), mezzo-soprano Katherine Nicholson (BBC Singers), violinist Yolanda Bruno (Toronto Symphony), cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio (Eroica Trio), and the London Chamber Collective. She has also performed as guest pianist with the Sheba Ensemble and appeared on NPR’s Performance Today, Sirius Satellite Radio, Swedish Radio P1 Kultur, Estonia National Radio, and David Dubal’s radio program The Piano Matters, which featured her solo debut album of works by Bach, Beethoven, Messiaen, and Prokofiev.

After studying with Natsuki Fukasawa and Richard Cionco in Sacramento, Anyssa attended the Manhattan School of Music (BM) and University of Oxford (MSt) before continuing further studies with Fabio Bidini in Berlin and Paul Stewart at Université de Montréal. She has additionally worked with Thomas Adès, Rita Wagner, and András Keller at IMS Prussia Cove, and with Mitsuko Uchida, Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg, Marc Durand, Julian Martin, Ronan O’Hora, Anton Kuerti, Andre-Michel Schub, Joseph Kalichstein, and Russell Sherman in master classes.


She earned her PhD in musicology from King’s College London in 2017, focusing on pre-existing music in the films of Ingmar Bergman, which she then developed into a lecture-recital and presented in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Madrid, Helsingborg, Lund, Uppsala, and Fårö, culminating in a live broadcast from the Arvo Pärt Centre in Laulasmaa as part of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in 2021. She currently holds a postdoctoral position in the Engaging Vulnerability Research Program at Uppsala University. For more information, please visit




Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Alexandra Simpson in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On Sunday, March 19, 2023, I will have to pleasure of conducting a program featuring two wonderful Rising Stars on works for violin and orchestra (with Ani Bukujian), and viola and orchestra (with Alexandra Simpson), to crown the program with both of them together in Mozart's beloved Sinfonia Concertante. This will be with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento. I had the chance of asking Allie a few questions, and below are her answers:

Christian Baldini: Allie, what a pleasure it is to be making music with you again! And I am also excited about the wonderful work that you have chosen: the Rhapsody Concerto by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů. Please tell me, how did you choose this work? What are some of the things you like the most about it? There is an interesting connection between this work and the San Francisco Symphony, and our region. Please tell us, what will people love about this work?
Alexandra Simpson: Such a pleasure to be back!! I have always wanted to perform this piece- it has such soaring, gorgeous melodies but also a lot of emotional depth a virtuosity. There are also some really intense moments that are almost like heavy metal rock! It does have a very interesting connection to SFS- it was commissioned by the Principal Violist at the time, Jascha Veissi. He was from Ukraine originally and his beautiful deSalo viola inspired Martinu with its sound like a human voice!

CB: In addition, we will also get to perform the beautiful Sinfonia Concertante by Mozart with you and Ani as our soloists. What are some of the things you like the most about this piece?
AS: Mozart never wrote a concerto just for viola, so it’s such a thrill to play a Mozart concerto- and this one is just one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. I’ve always loved it- it has such playfulness and joy, like two puppies chasing each other. It shows off the virtuosity of both instruments without being too over- the-top, and the slow movement is just divine. 

CB: How is it to collaborate with another soloist on a concertante piece? What qualities do you look for in such a partner? What can you tell us about Ani and her role in this piece?
AS: As a violist, I’m often serving as a mediator of sound between violin and cello, so it’s so fun to be in a collaborative solo position. Ani is so incredibly inspiring to work with- just hearing her and trying to blend to her sound makes me a better player. She has that rare combination of world-class technical ability and soulful playing that I always love to hear and play with. 

CB: What would be your advice to young musicians who are starting off with a professional career in music? What are some of the challenges we face, and how do we deal with them?
AS: I would tell young musicians that everyone fails, but the people who achieve great things know how to recover from failure and keep trying! So many things can happen thanks to luck, so your odds are better if you’re willing to learn from mistakes and keep working. 

CB: Thank you very much for your time, I look forward to this new collaboration with you!
AS: so excited to work with you and this beautiful orchestra!


Alexandra Simpson has traveled the world as a performer and educator: from Bucaramanga, Colombia to Cornwall, England. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, freelancing as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral player- primarily as the Assistant Principal Violist of the California Symphony.

Alexandra has appeared as a soloist with Camellia Symphony Orchestra, Marin Symphony, SFCM New Music Ensemble, and Classical Music Institute Chamber Orchestra. As a chamber musician, Alexandra travels frequently to festivals to perform, learn, and teach. Alexandra has participated in the Prussia Cove International Musicians’ Seminar, Kneisel Hall, Glenn Douglas Memorial Chamber Festival, Bard Music Colombia, Musikiwest Chamberfest in Pebble Beach, and Classical Music Institute in San Antonio, Texas. As an orchestra musician, she has played with San Francisco Symphony and SFOpera, and served as Principal Violist for OPERA San Antonio Fresno Symphony, Stockton Symphony, One Found Sound, and Merced Symphony.

Alexandra performs regularly in the Bay Area, and has given chamber music concerts at Herbst Theater, Old North Church, Berkeley Piano Club, Piedmont Center for the Arts, and with Benicia Chamber Players. She accompanied international superstar DJ Kygo at the closing act of Outside Lands in 2019, and in 2022 at BottleRock in Napa. She has appeared in music videos for Chuck Prophet and Mercury Soul, and appeared in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's keynote for the 2020 Build Conference, as well as advertisements for Microsoft Teams. Alexandra also joined the string sections for Michael Buble, Josh Groban and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and performed at The Queen's Ball: A Bridgerton Experience.

Alexandra earned her Bachelor of Music studying with renowned and Grammy-winning violist Kim Kashkashian at New England Conservatory, with the Donald Green and Lotta Crabtree Scholarships. She received both a Master of Music and Master of Musical Arts from Yale School of Music. While at Yale, Alexandra taught New Haven schoolchildren through the Yale Music in Schools initiative and developed a passion for teaching in underserved communities. Festivals such as Classical Music Institute and Bard Music Colombia have allowed her to develop this passion all over the world. In addition to teaching privately, she also teaches in underserved schools of Daly City through the Harmony Project.

While studying chamber music at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she received coachings and lessons from world-class musicians, including Dimitri Murrath, Ian Swensen, Bonnie Hampton and the Telegraph Quartet. She had the opportunity to receive masterclasses from Kim Kashkashian, Hsin-Yun Huang, and Milena Pajaro-van-de-Stadt, and participate in residency performances with Tessa Lark, Owen Dalby, Norman Fisher, and Itamar Zorman.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Kinga Augustyn in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: Dear Kinga, it will be a pleasure to feature you as our soloist with the Camellia Symphony in Sacramento in Korngold's beautiful and unusual Violin Concerto, in a program that includes Shostakovich's Symphony No. 6 and the world première of a work by composer Trey Makler. What does this concerto mean to you, and what would you recommend for people to listen for?

Kinga Augustyn: It is a gorgeous work with lots of singing lines, oftentimes derived from Korngold’s film music, and with some violinistic acrobatics that are super fun to hear and watch! I would encourage people to check out some films such as “Another Dawn” or “The Prince and the Pauper” where we can hear the themes that Korngold later used in his awesome Violin Concerto. Then I would listen for them during the concert. 

Korngold was an immigrant, like myself, and that automatically makes me understand many of the feelings and emotions in his music. Also, the concerto was composed after some initial persuasion of a great Polish violinist Bronisław Hubermann, who was also an immigrant. In fact there are quite a few connections here that make me feel very close to the piece. Above all, however, I just love it, and I cannot wait to perform it in a few days! 

CB: You are an extraordinary violinist, with an international career, multiple recordings, and a true status as a virtuoso on your instrument. How did you get there? Who have been your most important mentors?

KA: Everything is always a build-up and a combination of choices and events in one’s life, not necessarily only music related. Consistency is important, as well as prioritizing things in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed and to actually get something accomplished. Constant growth is a must and is certainly possible. 

My Juilliard teachers Mr. Cho-Liang Lin and Ms. Naoko Tanaka have definitely been among some very important figures in my life. Not only did I learn a lot from both of them that has benefited my violin playing and music learning, but they have also shaped some of my life journey. 

CB: How was your childhood, growing up in Poland? You came to the US when you were 18 to study at the prestigious Juilliard School. How did your life change then? Was it difficult to adapt to a different culture?

KA: my childhood was great, although my father died when I was 6 and that complicated a couple things including that I could not start learning the violin till almost 8 years old. My mom, nevertheless, a strong and independent woman, made sure that I had all I needed to be content and to follow my dreams. I was always surrounded by music, art and books. I had the best violin that was available in my city (although, frankly, in the US it would be considered a low standard, but hey, a $500 fiddle that was the love of my life at that time and got me to Juilliard, got me scholarships and, indirectly, took care of me? Can’t go wrong with that! As a child I often attended master classes abroad and they were also very helpful to my musical growth. When I moved to the US I did face quite a lot of difficulties to adopt to a completely new life. Having been babysat by my mom for a long time, suddenly I was on my own, swimming in a big ocean and having to fight for myself! As they say “what doesn’t break you, will make you” so what did in fact break me first also helped me grow more than I would have grown otherwise. In New York there are many different cultures, and there is “everything”, meaning both good and bad, and one just really has to search for and find what one is looking for. Juilliard has a large community of international students, so I was not lonely or special in that regard. Without a doubt, however, it took quite some time to feel like I truly belonged somewhere, and I think it was only when I became American, fairly recently, that I, deep down, didn’t feel like an outsider any more. Now, a dual citizen, I feel good both in the US and anywhere in Europe. I belong where the music takes me. 

CB: Thank you for sharing that. What are some works you have not performed yet, but that you would love to perform?

KA: There are many and the list is actually growing, as more music is constantly being composed, and many composers and great works are being rediscovered. Of the standard repertoire one of the great pieces I hope to perform in the upcoming years is the beautiful Samuel Barber Violin Concerto, and of the lesser known pieces are the seven Violin Concertos by Polish female composer Grazyna Bacewicz. 

CB: What is some advice you would give to young musicians who are starting off on the violin? What would you say people can do when they feel frustrated or are on the verge of quitting?

KA: Well, if you absolutely hate it then quit! But there is a 99.9% chance that you will regret such a decision, as most people who quit do, so don’t quit just because it got hard. The truth is that it will always be “hard” in some ways, so get over it and accept the challenge. Studying violin or any other instrument will certainly always keep you occupied and on your toes, and will never be boring, if you really get into it. Realize how blessed you are to play music! And by the way, any other profession is also going to be difficult in one way or the other. The most important thing is to do what you love, so if you do love music, turn any frustration into motivation and go practice, go to a concert, if you need inspiration, and be happy. If you radiate happiness, you are making the world a better place, and what’s more important than people’s happiness? 

CB: Thank you for your time. We look forward to featuring your remarkable talent with our audience in Sacramento!

KA: thank you Christian. I could not be more excited to make music with you and the Camellia Symphony Orchestra! See you soon!

Polish-American Kinga Augustyn is a versatile New York City-based virtuoso concert violinist and recording artist. “Stylish and vibrant” (The Strad Magazine), and “beyond amazing, one hell of a violinist!” (The Fanfare Magazine), Ms. Augustyn has performed as a soloist with orchestras in the United States, Europe and Asia, and they include the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, Queens Symphony Orchestra, Catskill Symphony Orchestra, Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin, Magdeburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra Leopoldinum, and the Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra. She has toured China and performed at China’s most prestigious venues such as Beijing Poly Theater and Shanghai Oriental Art Center. As a recitalist and chamber musician Kinga has appeared at the Stern Auditorium and the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Aspen Music Festival, the Chicago Cultural Center, Teatro Ristori and Gran Teatro La Fenice. In addition to concerti with orchestras and recitals with piano, Ms. Augustyn frequently performs unaccompanied solo violin recitals and is also a member of the Baroque Virtuosity trio with lutist Christopher Morrongiello and harpsichordist Rebecca Pechefsky.

Kinga Augustyn is often praised for her musical interpretations, profundity, deft phrasing, beautiful tone, mastery of the bow, perfect intonation, and for unique programming ideas. “With completely secure technical control, she couples a tapestry of tone color to her innate musicality” (The Fanfare Magazine). Music Web International describes her recording of the Bruch Violin Concerto with Janacek Philharmonic as “extremely moving and expressive,” characterized by “beauty, richness and smoothness of her tone,” and as “music she responds to on a deeply personal and emotional level.”

Ms. Augustyn’s repertoire includes music both standard and lesser–known, stylistically varied and ranging from early baroque to contemporary. Kinga is an advocate of new music and has performed and recorded multiple world premieres of works written especially for her. She also researches and brings awareness to lesser-known composers, including those of her native Poland. Up to date, Augustyn has recorded three albums of Polish music. Grażyna Bacewicz: A Portrait was released in 2022 on Centaur Records. The other two albums, released on Naxos, are world premieres by the contemporary Polish composer Romuald Twardowski (b. 1930), recorded with the Torun Symphony Orchestra and Mariusz Smolij, and the Polish Violin Music, a highly praised, “fascinating” (The Strad) album of lesser-known Polish works.

In 2021 Augustyn released on Centaur Records Turning in Time, a critically acclaimed album featuring 20th and 21st Century unaccompanied solo violin works by Krzysztof Penderecki (world premiere of Capriccio), Debra Kaye (world premiere of Turning in Time), as well as other works, significant in the violin repertoire, by Elliott Carter, Luciano Berio, Isang Yun and Grażyna Bacewicz. Gramophone calls the album “remarkable” and praises Augustyn for “vibrant intensity, caressing the phrases and bringing bold focus to the electric unfolding of creativity”.

Augustyn’s expanding discography also includes the Paganini Caprices, which music critics consider as convincing as Perlman’s or Midori’s, and an “an enduring benchmark” (Classical Net); La Pasión, featuring 6 Tango-Etudes for Solo Violin by Astor Piazzolla; Telemann 12 Fantasias for Solo Violin (Centaur Records), in which “her interpretations are convincing in every piece here, and the Baroque spirit of the violin and Telemann’s mastery abiding throughout” (Music Web International); and Glen Roven’s Runaway Bunny Concerto performed with Catherine Zeta-Jones as a narrator and featuring Kinga Augustyn’s Solo Violin Cadenza (GPR Records).

Ms. Augustyn has won international awards, including First Prizes at the Alexander & Buono International String Competition (USA), Artist International Presentations (USA), and the J. S. Bach String Competition (Poland), as well as other top honors that include prizes at the Johannes Brahms International Competition (Austria), the Kloster Schoental International Young Artist Competition (Germany), Michael Hill International Violin Competition (New Zealand), and the Kosciuszko Foundation Wieniawski Violin Competition (USA).

Ms. Augustyn studied at The Juilliard School with Dorothy DeLay, Cho-Liang Lin, and Naoko Tanaka, and earned there both the Bachelor and the Master degrees as a full tuition scholarship recipient. She holds a doctorate from the Stony Brook University, where she was also awarded a full-tuition scholarship and assistantship and worked with Phil Setzer and Pamela Frank.

On a regular basis Kinga Augustyn plays a violin made by Joseph Gagliano in 1774, generously on loan to her from a private collector. When playing early music in a historically informed style, she plays Lukas Wroński’s uniquely designed violin inspired by the famed statue Venus de Milo.