Monday, November 28, 2011

Old First Concerts Sounds Like Fun!

On Sunday afternoon, November 20th, an annual fundraiser for Old First Concerts called "SOUNDS Like Fun!" was held at Old First Church on Van Ness and Sacramento with the jazz pianist Mike Greensill above acting as a lively, witty emcee. At one point he also pulled out a ukelele and sang, in an unexpectedly beautiful rendition, "I'm Through With Love."

Over a dozen musicians who regularly perform at Old First Church were asked to come up with something silly and fun, although about half of them played more serious offerings, including the opening Trio 180 with Ann Miller, violin, Sonia Leong, piano, and Nina Flyher, cello (above). They started the concert off with a pair of Trios on Irish Themes by the Swiss Frank Martin, whose music is always surprisingly enchanting, and followed it with "La Muerte del Angel" from Piazzolla.

The silliness came with Ann Miller above playing "Souvenir d'Amerique," an over-the-top Henri Vieuxtemps set of violin variations on "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

The Conservatory of Music's first guitar major graduate, Lawrence Ferrara, above, played minuets by Rameau and songs by Lennon-McCartney...

...and was followed by composer Elinor Armer (above left, with Caitlin Keen, viola, and Wendy Hillhouse, mezzo-soprano, on the right) performing Armer's "Eine Kleine Snailmusick," which was very funny.

After an intermission of wine and rich chocolates, there was a performance of the PDQ Bach Sonata Piccola with a rubberfaced Esther Landau above and a deadpan Sarah Cahill below, in an amusing parody of every Baroque concerto for a silly instrument that you have ever heard.

Cahill also paired up with cellist Victoria Ehrlich below for a too short excerpt from a Lou Harrison Suite for Cello and Piano. Sarah will be performing Harrison's piano concerto with the Berkeley Symphony on December 8th, so be there or be square.

Victoria echoed many of the other performers, who had all been asked by Greensill what the Old First Concerts meant to them. The consensus seemed to be, "Unless you're world-famous and have Management, there are sites to perform all over the Bay Area but not in San Francisco other than Old First Church. The place is irreplaceable."

The wonderful and ubiquitous Keisuke Nakagoshi, above right, played a Terry Riley four-handed piano piece, one of a set that Sarah Cahill recently commissioned, called "Cinco de Mayo" with Eva-Maria Zimmermann.

They were followed by violinist Victor Romasevich above, a San Francisco Symphony member who played some deliciously schmaltzy pieces by Tchaikovsky with his dear old mum, Lena Lubotsky, on piano.

The concert ended with a pair of songs by cabaret star Wesla Whitfield above, who is married to emcee Greensill. She sang "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf" and then a plaintive version of "It's Not Easy Being Green," which was fairly amusing.

For a schedule of Old First Concerts, which has been presenting music since 1969, click here. They are a low-cost, local treasure often taken for granted when they should not be. Some of the greatest performers and composers from the Bay Area and beyond use the venue as an incubator, its acoustics and intimacy are perfect for a wide range of music, and the ticket prices are under $20.

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