Sunday, May 07, 2006

La Divina Sarah

Old First Church on the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Sacramento Streets has been the host to a series of chamber music concerts featuring classical, jazz, "world" and choral music for the last 35 years.

I've been meaning to attend a concert there for at least 30 years but somehow never got around to it until last Friday, May 5th, when the pianist Sarah Cahill performed a short program of works by modern (in other words, living) Italian composers.

The loss was mine as the 1911 church is a perfect place for concerts, and their pricing policy is beyond admirable.

As their website says (click here), "Old First Concerts is an important venue for performers, composers, and audiences who wish to experience music seldom offered by others, at prices which are affordable to all."

In other words, all seats for the mostly Friday evening and Sunday afternoon concerts are $15, and even less expensive if you buy a 10-ticket book.

Though I don't normally go to piano recitals, I trust Sarah Cahill's taste and enthusiasms completely, so this seemed like a good time to check the place out. (I wrote about her previously here, here, and here when she performed the "Seance" concerts for Other Minds Music.)

Cahill is a local legend who is intensely caught up in the music of her own time, evangelizing on a weekly Sunday radio show on KALW 91.7 from 8 to 10 PM, along with premiering and commissioning the scores of living composers. Click here to get to her website.

In fact, this concert, which was partly sponsored by the local Istituto Italiano di Cultura, featured one West Coast Premiere, three US Premieres, and two World Premieres. The eight pieces on the concert were all over the map stylistically, but they were each interesting, and by the time the concert was over it felt was if one's ears and brain had been cleared.

The first piece, "Madrileno" by Riccardo Piacentini was mostly very, very soft and delicate with Sarah occasionally standing up and strumming the piano strings a la Henry Cowell, and it also demonstrated the one shortcoming of the church as a concert venue. Though the acoustics were great, the traffic noise from the busy streets surrounding leaked through when the music was so quiet.

The wildly virtuosic second piece by Ada Gentile is "part of a project that, in the near future, will see the realization of a concerto for piano and orchestra," and if it's anything like this excerpt, it should be a corker. The composer Luciano Chessa, pictured above, has written a theatrical five-moment work for piano, three turntables and a chalkboard (!) about Virginina City, Nevada, and Sarah played the third solo piano movement, "Le miniere." It was interesting enough that I'd love to hear the entire piece. Check it out, Charles Amirkhanian.

Sarah introduced most of the pieces, and before Fabrizio de Rossi Re's "Hurucane ("Demon-Spirit of the Wind"), she mentioned that there was a character in the movie "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" who stated that one should do something that was scary once a day. "Well, this is the scary one because I have to improvise along with the composer's tape, plus I have to sing," as she put on a headset.

The concert ended with an encore where Sarah pulled out two score pages and said Andrea Morricone (son of Ennio) had just written them for her. "It's a short Ballade, I think from a film score he was working on, and well, this is the world premiere." The whole evening was very cool.


cookiecrumb said...

I used to be a calendar editor for a local paper, and I would always list Old First concerts, including Cahill's.
Such a nice story.

Anonymous said...

great dress, sf mike, you missed a great show, a lot of good young promissing artists..and yes, artists need to be supported and nurtered as their work doen't pop out off their steroids either....xau

Trevor Murphy said...

Luciano! I was at the UC Davis music department as an undergrad when he was a grad student! I completely agree about that guy's music- both very listenable but also conceptually interesting, like the music version of early Calvino or something.

Very good post, Mike- makes me want to get up to SF concerts more.

Civic Center said...

Dear Trevor: You're welcome to come and join me in any concerts at any time. My name is Michael Strickland and I'm in the San Francisco phone book.