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Star Chamber

Big classical acts hit the small stages

By Greg Cahill

Pop, jazz and country music fans often must wait decades for their favorite--and by then washed-up--acts to headline a small, intimate room in the 'burbs. It's not everyday that someone of Bruce Springsteen's stature rewards longtime fans by playing a benefit concert at a 500-seat Asbury Park nightclub, as the Boss did a couple of weeks ago. Just imagine hearing Bob Dylan at Sweetwater Saloon. Or country hunk Tim McGraw at Tradewinds. Or jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas at Zebulon's Lounge.

But things are different in the classical music world.

Classical record sales are relatively slight, even for the biggest acts, so most artists must rely on constant touring, teaching and paid residencies. There are few large venues, so a performer that might headline Carnegie Hall one week will grace a small stage at a junior college the next. Thanks to the small regional orchestras, chamber-music festivals and a vibrant circuit of chamber-music societies--including the Redwood Arts Council and the Russian River and Mill Valley chamber-music societies--it's not unusual to hear world-class classical players at a small local church for just $15 to $20 a pop--with free and plentiful parking. The 2004-2005 season is no exception.

The jaw-dropping schedule for the Chamber Music in Napa Valley subscription series alone includes the acclaimed Tokyo String Quartet (Jan. 31); the Takacs String Quartet (Feb. 7), who are Visiting Fellows at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music in London; celebrated pianists Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman (March 25); the venerable Borodin String Quartet (April 6), now celebrating their 60th anniversary; and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (May 5), featuring superstar violinist Joshua Bell playing Saint-Saëns' Violin Concerto no. 3.

Under the auspices of the Redwood Arts Council, the acclaimed Arcangel Baroque Strings, under the direction of violinist Michael Sand and harpsichordist Phebe Craig, perform an all-Bach program on Saturday, Jan. 8, at the Sebastopol United Methodist Church. The concert is underwritten in part by Jack Stuppin, the philanthropist and Sonoma County landscape painter, and his wife, Jane.

On Sunday, Jan. 9, and Tuesday, Jan. 11, virtuoso violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg-- the subject of the probing 1999 documentary Speaking in Strings--performs an evening of romantic music, including Rossini's Overture to "La Gazza Ladra," with the Napa Valley Symphony. The concert will be held at the Napa Valley Opera House.

The Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet team up with the Sonos Handbell Ensemble, whom Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor once applauded for "raising the level of our little family radio show from the comic to the cosmic to the something beyond." This unusual concert brings the avant-garde string ensemble to the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center on Saturday, Jan. 15, as part of the venue's Strings Attached series.

On Feb. 6, the New Century Chamber Orchestra return to the JCC for an evening of music by the late Argentine composer and bandoneon master Astor Piazzolla, as well as late-20th-century and contemporary works by Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison and Aaron Jay Kernis.

The brilliant Amadeus Trio, one of the world's foremost piano trios, come to the Healdsburg Community Church on Feb. 11 for an enticing program of Cassadò, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn. The concert is presented by Russian River Chamber Music, which on April 15 brings the spectacular Trio Mediaeval to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Windsor--possibly the most anticipated North Bay classical event of the season. The chart-busting trio of female sopranos from Scandinavia will perform Medieval ballads and songs, polyphonic Medieval music from England and France, and contemporary works commissioned for them.

On March 15, British violinist Daniel Hope--recently nominated for a Grammy for his recording of Berg and Britten's violin concertos--performs a program of Alfred Schnittke, Brahms and Beethoven at the Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church. The concert is presented by the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society as part of its exceptional chamber music series. The talented Hope, who literally studied at the feet of violin great Yehudi Menuhin (Hope's mother was Menuhin's personal assistant), has considerable insight into Schnittke, the subject of growing interest among young players studying post-Shostakovich Russian composers.

Hope lived right around the corner from Schnittke in London and made frequent visits to the composer's flat for long chats.


The concerts collected under the Chamber Music in Napa Valley series are sold as seasonal subscriptions for $120. Rush tickets are available on the night of the performance for $10. Concerts are held at the Napa Valley Opera House. For details, go to www.chambermusicnapa.org or call 707.963.1391. The Redwood Arts Council's concerts are held at the Occidental Community Church. Tickets are $10-$20. For details, go to www.redwoodarts.org or call 707.874.1124 during ordinary business hours. The Osher Marin Jewish Community Center is in San Rafael. Kronos tickets are $20-$40. For details, go to www.marinjcc.org or call 415.444.8000. The Russian River Chamber Music association generally offers postconcert receptions and preconcert discussions. Tickets are $10-$20. For details, go to www.russianrivermusic.org or call 707.524.8700. Mill Valley Chamber Music Society performances are Sundays at 5pm at the Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church. Tickets are $10-$20. For details, go to www.chambermusicmillvalley.org or leave a message at 415.381.44531.

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From the December 29, 2004-January 4, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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