Maria Kochetkova and Jaime Garcia Castilla in McGregor's Chroma. Â© Erik Tomasson
While Programs 6 and 7 were playing at the San Francisco Ballet, I was away traipsing through Italy, eating as much gelato as I can. It’s unfortunate that my travels this year have coincided with so many SFB programs, but I hope y’all have been enjoying what I’ve been missing out on. Apparently I have – word on the street is that I missed two great programs, especially at the moment that I really felt like SFB was starting to come into its own for the season with the last program I saw. Feel free to post your comments here, and if I get a chance, I’ll post a few words on the one ballet program that I saw in Italy with the school at the Balletto di Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma in Rome.
San Francisco Ballet’s last program this season is John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid. Click here for more info; performances start on April 30. During this run, two live performances will be filmed for international broadcast on PBS’ Great Performances as well as distribution for DVD and Blu-Ray. Click here for more info.
Takacs Quartet, image provided by the Mondavi Center
The Takacs Quartet graced the stage of the Mondavi Center in a warmly nuanced performance. I was struck by the transparency of the genre of string quartets, where balance and technique is magnified to the utmost, and even the smallest tilt in one direction is glaringly obvious. The Takacs Quartet however are proven experts, and their unity was in moments, breathtaking. In Haydn’s String Quartet in g Minor, “The Rider”, the quartet began with a few technical difficulties but melted comfortingly in the slow second movement, where the harmonies and beautiful melodies were savored to the last moment. The program took a different turn with Bartok’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7, ruled atonal meanderings with a touch of fantasy and a lot of heart. The quartet personified music that was felt, not studied or analyzed.
Van Cliburn gold medalist Nobuyuki Tsujii joined the quartet for their final piece, Schumann’s Quintet for Piano and String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 44. I previously wrote about Tsujii and followed him closely throughout the Van Cliburn competition back in 2009, where Tsujii won the gold medal (along with pianist Haochen Zhang), being the first blind pianist to win the Van Cliburn competition. It was a thrilling experience to be able to see him live, playing the same piece that he played in one of the final rounds of the Van Cliburn competition.
Aside from the sheer impossibility of a blind pianist playing Â chamber music (cueing through breaths and carefully memorized rests and perfect timing and lots of rehearsal no doubt), Tsujii plays with a heightened sensitivity and a keen intuition, a complete lack of self consciousness and courage but intelligence and heart. He began with brisk, bold strokes that quickly mellows into bittersweet wistful tones, catching you off guard with his phrasing that is simultaneously sudden and fearless. Tsujii’s playing is not perhaps as finessed as other pianists (including co-winner Haochen Zhang who excelled in this arena), but there is something so unique about his playing that is spectacular, heartbreaking, and so moving.
Tsujii’s playing matches well with the style of the Takacs Quartet, playing with a lot of heart and soul, and the collaboration brought out the best in both parties. Listening to this piece, it was difficult to remember the last time I heard Schumann so full of life, and so vibrant.