Interviewing the talent

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

The stories behind the stories: I won’t assert that they are more interesting than the stories themselves, but they’re not without interest. I’ve learned a lot about classical musicians, both individually and as a group, interviewing them through the years. Composers, to my mind, are the best interviewees. They’re smart, they work alone and they seem to enjoy the opportunity to talk about their craft. Singers tend to live up to their reputation for shallowness and flightiness, I’m not sure why.

You never know what you’re going to get, phoning up or sitting down with a classical musician for the first time. It can be nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what to expect when I phoned the great pianist, intellect, essayist and poet Alfred Brendel. He was one of the all-time best scowlers on stage, glaring at coughers, barely breaking a smile in response to thunderous applause. I was intimidated. It turned out he was an absolute delight, funny, easy to laugh, spilling his tea (and laughing at that), willing and interested to talk and reflect about everything, even his inner self. “Well, I don’t think I’m really driven,” he said. “I’m not a fanatic, I dread fanatics. Fanaticism is something that frightens me. So I have given myself the appearance, or the idea, that I do what I do out of my own free will.” And then he laughed.

Pianist Ivo Pogorelich didn’t laugh at all. He was difficult. I sat down with him for a radio interview once and he didn’t like the microphone the engineer gave him. It fit on his head; he apparently didn’t want to muss his hair. Pogorelich told us that unless he got another microphone, one that sat on the table, he was going to walk, quite the diva. We found a table microphone for him and I proceeded with the interview, delicately.

Oh, I’m sure, dear reader, you want to know what they’re all like. Cecilia Bartoli? Adorable. Riccardo Muti? Exceedingly charming, humble, a gentleman. Philip Glass? Friendly, bright, a real talker, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind having a beer with. Pierre Boulez? Gracious, and so intelligent in response to my questions I felt brilliant for asking them. Daniel Barenboim? Gritty, philosophical, committed.

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Pacific Overtures: September

Here’s the latest edition of my newsletter.

Contents:

  1. September Concerts Roundup
  2. Interview: Dennis Kim
  3. Interview: Meredith Crawford
  4. Listen to This: Boléro
  5. Single Tickets
  6. Connections Series Renamed
  7. Video: Festive Overture
  8. Essential Books (4)
  9. Miscellany

Pacific Overtures. September, 2018.

Interview: Dennis Kim, concertmaster

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Dennis Kim is the new concertmaster of Pacific Symphony, named in April to the position after a long search, replacing Raymond Kobler, who retired in 2016 after 17 years with the orchestra. Kim just moved to Irvine the other day, but already looked like a local as he waited for a reporter to arrive: athletic shorts, a logo T-shirt and neon-colored running shoes. Sitting on a bench outside a coffee and bagels place, he was checking his cell phone, just like natives everywhere. The only thing that gave him away as a foreigner was the logo on the shirt. It belonged to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Born in Korea, Kim moved to Toronto when he was three months old, grew up and learned to play the violin there. He’s moved here from Buffalo, where he served as concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic for the last three years and drove regularly to Toronto (90 minutes away) to teach there at the Royal Conservatory of Music, his alma mater. He starts his new job in September. You’ll see him in the first chair for the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular on Sept. 8, at Pacific Amphitheatre, and then at the opening concerts of the indoor season Sept. 27-29, at Segerstrom Concert Hall. In the latter concerts, the audience will get to hear Kim as a soloist in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364.

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Anne Akiko Meyers brings old (expensive) violin and modern attitude to Pacific Symphony

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Anne Akiko Meyers is bringing the world’s most expensive violin to town to play with Pacific Symphony this week. It has been loaned to her for life by the owner, who bought it in late 2012 for more than $16 million, still the highest price ever paid for a violin. The instrument, made in 1741, is known as the “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri “del Gesù,” named for one of its former owners, the Belgian violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881). He loved the instrument so much that he wanted to be buried with it.

“Its health and security are always the utmost important factors when traveling,” Meyers said of the instrument recently in a phone interview. Nevertheless, she doesn’t seem particularly intimidated by the prospect. She’s had to care for expensive violins, on loan, for most of her career.

“Well, I’ve been really fortunate my whole life,” she said. “I’ve had to rely on the generosity of donors, patrons, foundations and have played on a number of Guarneri “del Jesu”’s and Stradivari violins my entire life. It is totally like you’re walking around with a Matisse or a Picasso or a Monet on your back. It’s our equipment but yet it’s an antique piece of history that can never be repeated again.”

She wants to pass it on to the next player in the same condition is it now, which she characterizes as near perfect, clean and crack-free and without so much as a sound post patch (common in most violins).

She describes its tone quality this way: “It’s like it has dark and milk chocolate and white chocolate all wrapped into one, and it has super deep resonance on the G string — it sounds like a cello — but yet it just has a brilliant E string and it projects like none other because it’s so healthy.”

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Miscellany

Tim Page reviews — or ponders — the largest boxed set of CDs ever produced (all conducted by Herbert von Karajan)….

Soprano Nina Stemme is awarded the Birgit Nilsson Prize and lots of money….

Anne Akiko Meyers, who visits Pacific Symphony in June, talks about playing the world’s most expensive violin….

Acclaimed composer Charles Wuorinen gives a really cranky interview to The New York Times….

Police were called in Ohio after a man playing bassoon was thought to have a gun….

A celebrated American film director will make his debut directing opera at La Scala next season….

A new classical music talent show may be on television soon and Plácido Domingo might be a judge….

Jeanne Skrocki: A violinist flying high

By ERICA SHARP

Jeanne Skrocki remembers a time when she had given up the violin and might not ever play again.

Twenty-five years later, she is the now assistant concertmaster of Pacific Symphony, a spot that seems like it was reserved especially for her, empty for five years before she filled it in 1993. This week, she will be returning home with her daughter, who is also a professional violinist, and the rest of the Symphony from their recent five city tour in China.

Before jetting to China, Skrocki learned that she would lead Pacific Symphony as concertmaster for its first international tour since going to Europe in 2006. Originally, when auditioning for the orchestra in 1992, she placed fourteenth violin.

Before that audition, Skrocki had not practiced the violin for ten years while she was exploring other interests as a college student and after graduation.

“I got the violin out, dusted it off and I started practicing. It was horrible, it was really awful. I couldn’t do anything. It was a solid six months before it even was enjoyable again,” she said. “I just worked really hard, got back into shape, took the audition and here I am now leading the orchestra on tour.”

Skrocki began playing the violin at age five with her mother, renowned violinist and teacher Bonnie Bell. Later, when she turned ten, she began studying with her stepfather, Manuel Compinsky of the famed Compinsky Trio.

When she was eight years old Skrocki remembers other famous musicians coming over to her Los Angeles home to play chamber music with her father almost every week. With this musical upbringing, Skrocki went on to play chamber and then orchestral music as a teenager with various youth orchestras and ensembles.

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Pacific Symphony names new concertmaster

After more than a yearlong search, Pacific Symphony music director Carl St.Clair named violinist Dennis Kim as the orchestra’s new concertmaster today. He replaces concertmaster Raymond Kobler, who retired in the summer of 2016 after 17 years in the position.

“In Dennis Kim, I welcome a brilliant violinist, consummate musician and a dedicated musical partner,” St.Clair said. “As one who has been concertmaster of leading international orchestras, he is just the right artist to lead Pacific Symphony and its wonderful musicians toward all our musical aspirations.”

“I am excited and honored to take this important position with Pacific Symphony,” Kim said. “When Carl and I first worked together, there was an instant spark and both of us knew there was a special chemistry in our music making.”

Kim, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Yale School of Music, will assume the Eleanor and Michael Gordon Concertmaster Chair in September, at the beginning of Pacific Symphony’s 40th anniversary. He has already been playing with the orchestra, however, appearing as concertmaster in its three performances at Soka Performing Arts Center this season. 

In concerts June 14-17, Kim will perform as concertmaster-designate in a program that features Richard Strauss’s “Ein Heldenleben,” a work with extensive violin solos.

Born in 1975 in Korea, Kim is currently concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic under music director JoAnn Falletta. He has also served as concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Seoul Philharmonic and the Tampere Philharmonic (in Finland). Additionally, Kim has performed as a guest concertmaster with a number of orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and Helsinki Philharmonic among others.

“Dennis is such a great match for Carl’s passionate approach to music making,” Pacific Symphony president John Forsyte said. “He possesses experience with such a wide range of orchestral, solo and chamber repertoire. We welcome him and his family to Orange County and wish him a long and artistically rewarding tenure.”

Kim’s teachers have included Jaime Laredo, Aaron Rosand and Peter Oundjian. He plays a violin with a distinguished pedigree, the 1701 “ex-Dushkin” Stradivarius, once owned by the violinist and Stravinsky collaborator Samuel Dushkin.