Noe Valley Voice October 1997

Music for the Soul

By Robert Moon

Are you looking for a place to go on Sunday afternoons that will rest your soul, revitalize your spirit, and rejuvenate your senses? Try the Noe Valley Chamber Music Series, dubbed Sunday Afternoons at the Ministry.

Forget all the stereotypes you've heard about chamber music. The reality of the experience is that it involves live human beings communicating their passion and love for music in a setting that's informal, intimate, and acoustically superb. The Bay Area is teeming with excellent musicians who love to perform in small groups, and the Noe Valley Ministry is one of their favorite places to play.

The chamber music series was started in 1992 by Karen Heather, then administrator for the Ministry, located at 1021 Sanchez St. Her inspiration was the Noe Valley Music Series, the successful Saturday night concerts that showcase folk, jazz, and world music. The Noe Valley Music Series has been enthralling audiences in the cavernous upstairs sanctuary of the church for 16 years.

Being a classical pianist, Heather wanted to offer classical musicians and the Noe Valley public the opportunity to hear chamber music in the space as well. Musicians were ecstatic about the wonderful acoustics, and audiences discovered that chamber music played in an unpretentious setting was fun.

The classical series was expanded to 10 concerts in 1993 and has remained at that level ever since. Last year the Noe Valley Ministry and the Artaria Quartet received a grant from Chamber Music America and the National Endowment for the Arts for a residency that included 40 concerts in schools, senior centers, and hospitals throughout the city. The highlight of the residency was a series of informal presentations called "From the Inside Out." Each event focused on the relationship between a non-stringed instrument and the various string instruments played by members of the quartet. The experiment recreated the salon-like environment that chamber music was written for, with verbal interaction between performers and audience. This year the Artaria's residency will be continued at St. Gregory's Church on Potrero Hill.

While the Noe Valley Chamber Music Series has been successful, Heather wants to attract a younger audience to the Sunday afternoon events. Last year she provided free babysitters for parents during the concerts. This year she plans to form a youth advisory committee, as a step toward designing a time and format that will appeal to the 25 to 40 age group. She feels that the chamber music format, along with the fabulous sound of the Ministry building, offers a unique chance for families to connect verbally and emotionally with musicians in a down-to-earth way.

The 1996 ­ 97 series opens with a gala benefit concert on Sunday, Oct. 19, at 5 p.m. The featured artist will be soprano Alison Buchanan, the wonderful San Francisco Opera 1996 Adler fellow who originally hails from Bedford, England. She sang Micaella for a performance of Carmen that I heard this winter and brought down the house with her sweet but powerful performance.

Buchanan will be joined by pianist Steven Prutsman, whose playing was heard on the feature-length film about Beethoven titled Immortal Beloved. Also performing will be clarinetist Joanne Eisler, a founding member of the group San Francisco Pro Musica; and Noe Valley's own Emil Miland, a cellist with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. The program will feature music by Rachmaninov, Schubert, and Ned Rorem, plus a selection of spirituals, followed by a champagne reception. (For ticket reservations, which are $25 for this special benefit, call 333-9444.)

Other concerts this season will include a Brahms' string sextet performed by the Chamber Ensemble of the Pacific on Sunday, Nov. 9; Voci, a women's chamber choir on Dec. 14; a woodwind concert featuring San Francisco Symphony musician Steven Dibner; the Cypress String Quartet in March; the Adessa Ensemble in April; and the renaissance group Whole Noyse in May. Concerts are normally at 2 p.m. and cost $10 ($5 students and seniors).

Why not try something different and go to one of the best and most exciting classical music concerts right in your neighborhood? See you there.

Robert Moon is the author of Full Frequency Sound, a discography of London/ Decca early stereo classical recordings. He also writes for Classical CD Digest.