Worth A Look

Short play series, concert celebrates Asian American culture, a modern magician, and 'Keyboard Conversations'

Music: 'Keyboard Conversations'

While pop music has a low barrier of entry by design, other genres of music can be harder to break into.

It was with this in mind that Jeffrey Siegel developed "Keyboard Conversations," the pianist's long-running concert series that aims introduce audiences to classical music through a combination of light conversation and performance.

"I make the listening experience an enriching one for the avid music lover, and perhaps even more important, the remarks provide an accessible introduction to people who may not yet be avid music lovers, but who would like to be," Siegel said of his series, which is coming to the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto on May 15.

Siegel said he believes there are many younger people who are interested in classical music, but who know very little about the genre. In the upcoming performance, titled "Mistresses and Masterpieces," he will play a number of pieces by Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, Chopin and Debussy -- all of them written for or about a significant romantic interest in the composers' lives.

He will preface each piece with "brief and nontechnical" remarks, that he said are designed to help the audience better connect with each composition.

"The audience therefore feels they are listening on the inside track," Siegel explained.

"Keyboard Conversations: Mistresses and Masterpieces" is scheduled for May 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall at the Oshman Family JCC, located at 3921 Fabian Way, in Palo Alto. Tickets range from $25 to $35. For more information call (650)223-8609 or go to paloaltojcc.org/events, or keyboardconversations.com.

--Nick Veronin

Stage: 'Pear Slices'

Spring has sprung, and that means The Pear Avenue Theatre's annual Pear Slices series is back in its 11th season. The series, which kicked off last weekend at the Mountain View theater, includes nine different plays that range in tone and subject matter.

One of the feature plays is "Time For A Fix," in which the audience follows a man who is trying to save his marriage with a self-made time machine. Another, entitled "What Doesn't Kill You," focuses on two young characters who discuss suicide while standing on the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn.

Since it began in the spring of 2004, the "Pear Slices" series has been the impetus for the creation of many plays. This year, 30 scripts were submitted, though only 9 were chosen. For those whose productions are selected, the series gives the gift of exposure, according to co-director Troy Johnson, who has been involved in seven iterations of the Pear Slices.

"We offer local playwrights the opportunity to get their short plays off the page and onto the stage," Johnson said.

All plays in the series are original pieces and brand new; the Pear Avenue Theater does not include any plays that have already been viewed. Each play is 10 minutes in length, which helps the content to be clear and concise.

"The 10-minute play format allows us to include more playwrights each season and allows the actors to stretch their acting muscles," Johnson said.

The Pear Slices series runs through May 25. Showings are Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $30. For more information, go to thepear.org/slices14.htm or call 650-254-1148.

--Melissa Landeros

Magic: Modern mind reader

Although local magician David Gerard will perform in his largest space yet this Saturday in Mountain View, he doesn't think he'll be quitting his day job as a Google marketer anytime soon.

"A big part of being good at magic is being good with people," Gerard said. His work in the tech industry also has the added benefit of keeping him in touch with his core audience, the Bay Area tech wizards, who work to create a different kind of magic.

The show's props will include little more than a deck of cards, paper, markers and duct tape. With magic that relies on intimate insight into the human psyche, Gerard moves away from"rabbit in a hat" illusions, buoyed by trickery and sleight-of-hand. Gerard wants an audience that lingers on the blurred line between perception and reality.

"It becomes gray, and I think that's a good thing," he said. "The show exists not in fancy props but in people's heads."

Gerard doesn't like the term "trick," because it implies a flatness and predictability, uncolored by a technique's textural nuances. Though he's been called a mentalist, Gerard doesn't like that either. In today's information age, a simple Internet search of the term would shatter its entertainment value.

"If you give people an out, you're doing them a disservice," Gerard said.

Ultimately, Gerard wants to entertain, so he steers clear of easily-dismissible puff-of-smoke illusions in lieu of a mind-bending show that demonstrates his very real abilities.

Gerard performed May 10 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. For more information, visit gerardmagic.com or call 650-903-6000.

--Lena Pressesky

Music: Concert celebrates Asian culture with music

The cultural melting pot that is the United States will be on full display at Stanford tomorrow evening, May 9, as performers with foreign roots belt out American style pop and folk music on stage.

The event, Music in Conversation, organized by two university clubs -- the Asian American Student Association and the Muslim Student Awareness Network -- was put together to commemorate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and will feature a Malaysian Muslim singer/songwriter, a Chinese-born American singer and actress, and a folk band composed entirely of Asian-Americans.

There's Yuna, an observant Muslim from Malaysia, who pens low-key, indie pop with world music flourishes. Baiyu is a singer and actress who emigrated from China to Maryland as a girl and now sings R&B and hip-hop tinged pop songs. And finally, there is Run River North, who play stomping alternative Americana tunes, replete with twangy fiddle and dusty acoustic chords.

The unifying thread tying all three artists together is the fact that they sound just like any other band or artist you might find scanning the radio dial.

And that's as it should be, according to Alex Hwang, the lead singer and songwriter for Run River North.

According to Hwang, he and his band mates have never thought of themselves as anything other than another American band trying to make it in the music business. While the stereotypical folk band might be composed of white, bearded Pacific Northwesterners, Hwang said it is only fitting that he and his band play folk as well.

"We can only be as American as everyone else," Hwang said. "We were born here. It seems natural that we would play this kind of music."

Run River North are certainly naturals at what they do. The band displays a highly tuned ear for sweet, plaintive harmonies and subtle production, as well as a knack for storytelling -- all of which comes together to make for a strong set of tunes on the group's debut, self-titled, full-length album.

Stanford junior and co-chair of the Asian American Student Association Kevin Sunga said this year's event was aimed at highlighting Asian American's in popular media -- specifically music.

"I think there's a perception that Asians and Asian Americans are not present in popular media and art," Sunga, himself of Asian descent, said. "This is one of the ways in which we try to show that that stereotype is not at all true."

Sunga said that Hwang's perspective of being an American definitely "resonated" with him, though he said he also feels pulled toward his Asian heritage. "It's kind of complex," he said.

--Nick Veronin


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