Monday, October 20, 2014
Sarah Cahill and Stuart Canin Make Music Together
The Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill specializes in contemporary music, but local groups such as San Francisco Performances and the Berkeley Symphony have started asking her to play classical chamber music, from Mozart to Schubert. The Berkeley Symphony started a chamber music series last year and asked Cahill to play piano with the legendary local violinist Stuart Canin, a first for both of them. She confessed to being nervous at first, but the two musicians got along splendidly, and it resulted in one of the best chamber music concerts I have heard in my life.
The 88-year-old Stuart Canin has had one of the most interesting careers as a violinist in history. (For a great online bio, click here for the American Federation of Musicians union website.) A New York City native, he studied at Juilliard with an interruption for World War Two as a violin playing soldier, followed by jobs with radio orchestras, as an orchestral soloist, stints in academia at the University of Iowa and Oberlin, and finally back to performing with the Chamber Symphony of Philadelphia.
The word got back to Seiji Ozawa at the San Francisco Symphony in 1970 that he needed to hear this amazing violinist, and Ozawa hired Canin as concertmaster on the spot after an audition in a hotel. In the 1980s Canin went Hollywood, becoming the go-to concertmaster for movie studio orchestras in over 650 films, then he yo-yo'd back to San Francisco and founded the New Century Chamber Orchestra. He semi-retired in 1996 and then was lured down to LA again to be the concertmaster of the LA Opera Orchestra for the next decade. In 2010 he finally retired and moved back to Berkeley to be close to children and grandchildren.
Last Wednesday at the San Francisco Conservatory as part of a free Faculty Artist Series, Sarah Cahill was to give a solo recital of contemporary music, but she decided to reprise the program she had been playing with Canin over the last month in Berkeley and Point Reyes. She started with a pair of Couperin keyboard pieces, followed by the sad, moody Violin Sonata No. 21 in E Minor by Mozart, and the uncharacteristically cheerful Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Minor by Beethoven. This is music that can be deadly dull when played with mechanistic precision, but startlingly moving and poetic when played as it was here by Canin and Cahill as if they were having a fascinating, passionate conversation which the audience was allowed to overhear.
After intermission, they were joined by the cellist Gianna Abondolo, a former colleague of Canin's at the New Century Chamber Orchestra, and they played the monumental, 40-minute Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert that was surpassingly beautiful. It was obvious they and the audience were completely invigorated by the performance in the tiny Sol Joseph Recital Hall, a perfect space for this music. Cahill told me later, "It's really long, but by the time the piece is over, I felt ready to play it all over again."