Friday, February 08, 2013

The Weilersteins at the Conservatory

Donald and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, the violin and piano duo above, were in town this week offering master classes at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, which was capped by a chamber music concert Thursday evening. The evening started with a bit of unintentional humor as Donald attempted to explain the ten-movement Impressions d'enfance by the Romanian-French composer George Enescu, complete with musical examples. Unfortunately, he was a terrible lecturer, speaking softly into a microphone in a droning voice that eventually gave both me and a nearby audience member a fit of hysterical giggles that we did our best to repress, without much success.

Once the duo started playing the music, though, all was forgiven and the laughing was replaced by wonder. The 1940 piece for violin and piano invokes insects, storms, a sunrise, and both the lightness and darkness of a childhood in Romania in a dense twenty minutes of music that is eccentric, bracing and beautiful. It was a real discovery from an underplayed composer, and the Weilersteins gave it an exciting performance.

This was followed by three students/recent graduates of the Conservatory playing an early (1911) Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano by Charles Ives. The sensationally good performers were (above, left to right) Noemy Gagnon-Lefrenais on violin, Allegra Chapman on piano, and Emanuel Evans on cello. The second movement depicting "games and antics by the Students on the Campus [of Yale] on a Holiday afternoon" was wild, with different fragments of popular songs being played simultaneously by the three soloists at seeming cross purposes.

After intermission, the Weilersteins were joined by students for Elgar's 1918 piano quintet. The performers were (above, left to right) the Weilersteins, Kristen Zimmerman on viola, Emanuel Evans on cello, and Douglas Kwon on violin. The performance was passionate and pretty, but after listening to the astringency of Enescu and Ives for the first hour, Elgar sounded a bit like too much sugar and cream in context. Check out the SF Conservatory calendar here for more concerts, most of which are superb and free.

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