Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - May 13, 2011

New music, new musicians

Choral premieres and concerto-competition winners featured at Palo Alto concerts this weekend

by Rebecca Wallace

A chamber-music work inspired by the world of Beat poetry. Three poems offering unusual insight into the book of Genesis. Seven soloists ages 11 to 17.

These are some of the many ingredients being mixed into choral and classical concerts in Palo Alto this Saturday and Sunday. It's a weekend of new music and new musicians for the Volti choral group, San Francisco Choral Artists, the Alexander String Quartet and the Palo Alto Philharmonic.

On Saturday, May 14, the 20-member San Francisco group Volti comes down the Peninsula to unveil two world-premiere compositions. The chorus often debuts new American contemporary music, commissioning many works from composers under 35.

One such composer is Matthew Barnson, whose work "Genesis" is being premiered in Volti's current concert series. Born in Utah in 1979, Barnson has written many orchestral and percussion works. On his website, he writes that he "uses the challenging language of the European avant-garde as an expressive one, borrowing the dramatic structures, the pulsing rhythmic energy, and at times the tonal references of stateside composers."

Volti is premiering Barnson's work "Genesis," which makes use of poems by English poet laureate Ted Hughes, contemporary American poet Richard Siken and Australian poet Alec Derwent Hope. Each has its own interpretation of the book of Genesis, with vivid images of Adam and Eve, an apple sliced into pieces, a newly born bird screaming for food.

The other world premiere on Volti's program is "voice (and nothing more)" by Elliott Gyger. The Australian composer is a performer, writer on music, and lecturer at the University of Melbourne. His new piece was inspired by a text about the fleeting nature of the voice, written by Baroque literary theorist and rhetorician Emanuele Tesauro.

Gyger calls his Italian-language piece "elaborately layered in purely musical terms," with a solo quartet surrounded by two choirs of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.

Also on the Volti program are two works commissioned in recent years. Ruby Fulton's "the ballad of james parry" is about an unusual Internet celebrity who communicates through posts but has a neurological disorder that keeps him from being able to recognize faces. Yu-Hui Chang's "Being: Two Billy Collins Songs" is based on texts by the former U.S. poet laureate.

Rounding out the program is Mountain View composer Frank Ferko's 1992-93 piece "O ignis Spiritus Paracliti," from a text by the medieval abbess Hildegard von Bingen.

The Volti concert is set for 8 p.m. at the First Lutheran Church, 600 Homer Ave., Palo Alto. Tickets are $10-$30; go to voltisf.org for more information.

On Sunday, May 15, San Francisco Choral Artists, which often premieres works by young composers and those from the Bay Area, teams up with the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet for a concert.

One featured piece is the new commission "language of the birds" by Veronika Krausas. The Canadian composer tips her hat to San Francisco with what is billed as a "slightly demented" take on Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "San Francisco Poems." Sounds include "atmospheric evocations of nature" and "whimsical depictions of birds."

Another new commissioned work is a setting of poet Paul Verlaine's "Clair de Lune." Composer Paul Seiko Chihara is a composition professor in the Music for Film department at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Composer Michael Gandolfi, who chairs the composition department at the New England Conservatory of Music, also contributes the new commissioned work "Winter Light," from poems by Amy Lowell.

Music by Beethoven and Brahms will also be featured at the concert, scheduled for 4 p.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto. A "meet the composers" panel begins 45 minutes before the concert. Tickets are $15-$30 in advance and $20-$35 at the door. Go to sfca.org or call 415-494-8149.

The new music in Palo Alto this weekend is also being complemented by new faces. Seven young soloists are scheduled to perform with the Palo Alto Philharmonic at a Sunday-afternoon family concert on May 15.

The soloists, ages 11 to 17, are all winners of the orchestra's annual Concerto Movement Competition. The competition, open to musicians no older than 18, attracted 72 applicants this year, according to an orchestra press release. Nineteen finalists then auditioned before a panel of judges.

The youngest winner, 11-year-old pianist Anna Boonyanit, also attends school locally; she's a sixth-grader at Menlo School. She'll be playing the third movement of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3. in C minor.

The other winners, who come from other parts of the Bay Area, are: pianists Rachel Breen, Lei Huang, Theodora Martin; violinists Sunli Kim and Mizuki Takagi; and cellist Michael Minku Lee.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students for the 3 p.m. concert, which is at Cubberley Theatre, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Go to http://paphil.org .

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