A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mozart for Majors and Minors

(Above: Audrey playing at the Crowden School in Berkeley, where she is in the 8th grade. Photo by David Weiland.)

Last spring, Maestro George Cleve, founder and musical director of the annual Midsummer Mozart Festival, got a brilliant idea.
"I was coaching some very young musicians, and it reminded me how much I enjoy working with young people. But I don't get a chance to do it often enough."
So he decided to create the Mozart Youth Camerata, a chamber orchestra that pairs professional musicians from the Midsummer Mozart Festival orchestra with some amazingly talented teenagers, playing side-by-side.
The youth camerata will premiere May 9 at the El Cerrito Community Center, performing a concert titled "Mozart for Minors and Majors."
The concert includes selections from the sparkling "Eine Kleine Nachtmusic" and the gorgeous Symfonia Concertante in E flat, featuring soloits Robin Hansen, first violin with the Midsummer Mozart Festival, and Victor Romasevich, first violin with the San Francisco Symphony.
But the highlight will be the Piano Concerto #21 in C, starring an astounding 13-year-old prodigy, Audrey Vardanega of Oakland, an 8th grader at the Crowden School in Berkeley.
"It's hard to believe she's so young because she plays with an astonishing beauty and maturity beyond her years," Cleve raves. "She's really an extraordinary talent and a genuinely nice kid, absolutely unspoiled."
The occasion calls for a really first-rate piano; so Cleve turned to Jim Callahan, owner of the Piedmont Piano Company in north Oakland, thinking to rent a Steinway or maybe a Bechstein or Bosendorfer.
He was floored by Callahan's reply: "How about a Fazioli?"
Faziolis are known as the Ferraris of the piano world. Concert pianists get misty-eyed talking about them, like middle-aged baseball buffs talking about Willie Mays.
Faziolis are handmade in a factory near Venice, Italy, and only a half-dozen are turned out each year. The Piedmont Piano Company is the only place in this country west of the Mississippi where you can get one.
No stone is unturned to make each piano as close to perfect as humanly possible, including making the sounding boards with wood from the same trees that Antonio Stradivari used to make the sounding boards for his violins.
Cleve immediately called Audrey and told her the good news. Within 15 minutes, she and her mom were at the Piedmont Piano Company, and Audrey sat down to play.
"You should have seen the look on her face," says Cleve. "She was in ecstasy, and so were we, listening to her."
Everyone in the store, sales clerks and customers alike, stopped dead in their tracks and stood, open-mouthed, for the next hour and a half as melody after exquisite melody poured from Audrey's fingertips.
"I was only going to play for a couple of minutes, but I just couldn't stop," she says. "All the subtleties I practice every day, every scale, every note, came out pristine and clear and exactly how I imagined them in my mind."
But Faziolis don't come cheap. The piano Audrey will be playing on May 9 sells for $129,000. But Callahan isn't even charging her rent; he's generously letting her use it for free.
You can hear her playing this amazing instrument from 11 a.m. to noon. The El Cerrito Community Center is at 7007 Moeser Lane. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children. All proceeds will go to the El Cerrito Recreation Program's scholarship fund and the Midsummer Mozart Festival.
(You can see Audrey playing Bach's F minor concerto at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgXjDUgpBJM)