Thursday, January 23, 2014
A Parisian Evening with Ensemble San Francisco
Last Saturday evening at the SF Conservatory of Music, a new chamber music group called Ensemble San Francisco performed A Parisian Evening of music by French composers that was marvelous. The nine young virtuoso instrumentalists were formed last year by pianist Christine McLeavey Payne and clarinetist Roman Fukshansky with the goal of maximum flexibility, since most of the musicians already have full-time gigs with the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and various other performing ensembles around the world. They started Saturday's program with Darius Milhaud's 1923 La Creation du monde, a five-movement piece suffused in the sounds of jazz Milhaud had just discovered in New York's Harlem. Why this music is not performed more often is a mystery because it's beautiful, distinctive and accessible. The composer's own reduction of the orchestral score for a piano quintet is masterful and so was the energetic performance by (left to right) Moni Simeonov on violin, Payne on piano, Rebecca Jackson on violin, Jonah Kim on cello, and Matthew Young on viola.
This was followed by a delightful account of an early (1922) Poulenc sonata for clarinet and bassoon, performed by Roman Fukshansky and Rufus Olivier, whose father has been the principal bassoon for the San Francisco Opera and Ballet orchestras for decades.
Then it was time for Ravel's 1924 violin and piano gypsy romance, Tzigane, played by the Bulgarian Moni Simeonov in a performance that grew more virtuosic as the piece went along, without ever descending into schmaltz.
After intermission, they played Gabriel Faure's 1883 Piano Quartet No. 1, with an interesting mixture of sensitivity and rollicking energy. In particular, Kim on cello and Young on viola looked like they were having such a good time that they might just stand up and dance during the performance.
The concert ended with Piaf Pot-pourri, a short bon-bon of two Edith Piaf songs arranged by cellist Kim for the whole ensemble.
The concert was held in the small recital hall downstairs at the Conservatory, and not only was it sold out, but in fact oversold to an unusually young and enthusiastic crowd.
The audience was invited upstairs afterwards for a reception involving delicious French wines and mingling. The entire event was so enjoyable that I can't wait to see what they do next.