In a birthday celebration for longtime patron Barbara K. Jackson, Christine Brewer along with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra performed pieces from Wesendonck Lieder, Cantata and New Moon – operas renowned for their prodigious level of difficulty. It is safe to say that Sunday’s performance left a profound musical impression on the audience and a curiosity to venture into other genres.
There has never been a performance quite like this to celebrate Jackson’s 91st birthday and the arrival of new conductor Christian Baldini. With the new school year starting off with jazz performer Wynton Marsalis and now the Grammy award-winning Brewer, a tremendous amount of talent has already been showcased in the acoustics of Jackson Hall – a hall specifically named after Barbara Jackson herself.
The performance started off with Brewer, accompanied by pianist Craig Rutenberg, performing Wesensdonck Lieder. Though Brewer and Rutenberg were alone on stage, the simplicity of piano and voice was not to be mistaken for paucity, but rather a refined, pared-down complexity that exhibits both performers‘ caliber. Brewer’s performance epitomized charisma and at the same time showcased the technique of Rutenberg.
Rutenberg, who has collaborated with world-renowned vocalists, is the head of Music Administration at the Metropolitan Opera and regularly teaches at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Pittsburgh Opera Center. His performance with Brewer displayed his depth of talent in only a mere hour.
With only three rehearsals, the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra performed impeccably. The symphony orchestra’s opening piece “Oblivion” was performed without the accompaniment of Brewer. Composed by Astor Piazzolla, an Argentinian composer from the same hometown as Baldini himself, the piece is reminiscent of Argentinian tango. The selection brought alive a dance between the strings and woodwinds on stage – transitioning the symphony orchestra into the second half of the performance in which each song varied from traditional opera to more spiritual pieces.
Many students stray away from opera simply because the genre itself is intimidating. However, the preconceived esoteric notions of opera are far from the truth. Opera showcases the voice in a way that is different from any other genre out there. The range, the spectacular control and the ability to fill an entire hall without a microphone gives live performance a new meaning.
“We are from a generation [of] digital recordings – [with] equipment and an iPod, you can put anything in your car,” Baldini said. “Music is everywhere. You can go to a hotel and there’s always music playing in the elevator and even in a restroom. So many people of our generation have completely lost the sense of what is truly special about the live performance … this sense of real people breathing with you, with a real heartbeat.“
Put another way, opera is for anyone who can appreciate music for what it is. The voice is one of the most natural instruments that the human body is able to produce. No matter what language you speak or what your musical tastes are, everyone has access to this instrument. Opera is an unappreciated art form that should be explored at least once in one’s life. The Mondavi Center allows for students to attend performances in convenience and affordability.
“When I look back to my college days, I think it’s important [to try] something unfamiliar,” said Don Roth, executive director of the Mondavi Center. “Everybody likes to go to something they know. I think it is particularly good for students to go and see these performances because you’re at a learning point in your life. Pick something out that is offbeat.“
In what may have sounded like the end of the concert, Brewer surprised the audience by joining the symphony orchestra in singing “happy birthday” to Jackson.
“It was a really nice way of finishing this performance because it was a celebration of Barbara Jackson’s birthday,” Baldini said. “She is so full of energy and an angel for music here. She has really helped a lot and the UC Davis orchestra has a lot to thank her for, the Mondavi Center as well.“
For more information on performances and up coming events this year, check out mondaviarts.org
KAREN SONG can be reached at email@example.com.