Noe Valley Voice October 1999

Classical Music Series Opens with Champagne Gala

By Jeff Kaliss

The Noe Valley Chamber Music Series, the classical concert series held in the upstairs sanctuary at the Noe Valley Ministry, often has the quiet serenity of a European music salon of the 19th century.

But this year's season opener -- on Oct. 10, at 5 p.m. -- will have all the buzz and excitement of Davies Symphony Hall.

The Gala Benefit Concert, the first of seven concerts lined up for the 1999 ­ 2000 season, "includes an auction, buffet, and champagne -- the whole enchilada," says Artistic Director Karen Heather. "There'll be a silent auction first. Then we'll have a live auction for a few of the hot items, like a string quartet to come play at your house, or somebody to come cook dinner for you."

And there's the music, of course, to remind attendees what their ticket money --$50 for this special event only -- and their auction bids are helping to support. (All proceeds benefit the concert series.) The trio of performers includes soprano Nicolle Foland, cellist Emil Miland, and composer and pianist Jake Heggie.

First they will do a Heggie song cycle based on poems by Gini Savage (the wife of Michael Savage, managing director of the San Francisco Opera). "And Jake has also written some pieces for cello and piano called Coward/Cabaret, which he and Emil will play," Heather says. "Then there'll be a Dvorak aria, and The Shepherd on the Rock by Schubert, with cello instead of clarinet. Emil will also play the Tchaikovsky Rococo."

That amounts to a good hour of music by three up-and-coming young talents. Foland is one of the San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellows and has performed with Placido Domingo and with opera companies in Chicago, Houston, Boston, Minnesota, and Bilbao, Spain. She also has sung La Traviata and Wagner's Ring for her home company.

Miland is principal cellist with the New Century Chamber Orchestra and a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and several other groups. He also has recorded, with singer/songwriter Candy Forest and the Singing Rainbow Youth Ensemble, an album of children's lullabies, Speeney, Spawney, Go to the Moon.

In his role as composer-in-residence for the San Francisco Opera, Heggie has emerged as a favorite songwriter for a bevy of opera singers, most notably Frederica von Stade. He's currently finishing a commission for a setting of Dead Man Walking (with lyrics by Terrence McNally), due to debut in the fall of 2000.

Heather points out that Faces of Love, a new CD featuring all three artists, will be available at the Oct. 10 concert.

Meanwhile, she assures audiences that the quality of performer and repertoire will continue throughout the season. "All of the concerts this year are going to be outstanding."

Next up after the opener will be a Nov. 14 appearance by the Empyrean Ensemble, performing Ravel's Piano Trio and a West Coast premiere by Hayes Biggs.

Then on Dec. 12, the group El Mundo, on baroque guitar and violins, will present "Villancicos de Navidad," Christmas music from Spain and South America.

Heather also highlights two spring concerts. "In March, the Artaria Quartet is coming back to do Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ, and the Very Reverend Alan Jones from Grace Cathedral will narrate. Robin Sutherland will do Bach's Goldberg Variations in May. That's his signature piece, but he's not played it live in the Bay Area since 1983. Robin's concert is actually going to be the launching of our piano campaign," she adds. "We really need to get a good piano in the Ministry, so we're going to try for it."

The series is starting its eighth season with "a definite core audience," Heather says. "This is the first year we've had a lot of advance subscriptions, and if we can get to a place where we sell a lot before the season opens, we'll be set. Also, we're crossing our fingers for Grants for the Arts this year. That would give us a real shot in the arm."

All concerts take place at the Ministry, located at 1021 Sanchez St., and begin at 4 p.m. (except for the opening gala).

Regular tickets are $10; $5 for students and seniors.

Heather notes that three concerts have been funded by the Bernard Osher Foundation and will include informal conversations with the artists. "But we encourage all the musicians to talk about the music and to take questions from the audience."

If you have questions about the series or about tickets, call 333-9444.