Sunday, March 1, 2020

concert review: Bay Area Rainbow Symphony

I'd never even heard of this group ("dedicated to promoting and supporting LGBTQ musicians and composers" - program book), despite its having been around for a dozen years and having as music director Dawn Harms, well-known to me as associate concertmaster of New Century and for various chamber music performances. I've also seen her standing around odd corners of the Stanford music building teaching violin students.

I found out about this group and this concert because they were listed among the events of the Violins of Hope residency. I wanted to get to as many of these performances as I conveniently could, whether or not I was reviewing them. As I explained to both the music director of the residency and its publicity manager, both of whom were in the audience and came up with surprise to see me there, I don't go to concerts just to review them: I'm there because I like the music.

A number of the Violins of Hope were in the body of the orchestra, but to give them a special display, the concert featured a brief and informal three-violin concerto, titled Interplay, by Chris Brubeck. He'd written this for the Boston Pops to play with three women who specialized in different styles of violin: classical, jazz, and Celtic folk. Here the violinists were Harms and two of her colleagues from other groups, Kay Stern and Robin Mayforth. I thought Brubeck could have exploited the variety of techniques more, but it was a pleasant piece.

Also pleasant was a hearty overture by Ethel Smyth, whose work you don't get to hear much. The leading suffragist among composers, she was on the program to honor the centenary of the success of that movement (which hit the US and UK at about the same time). The overture was to her opera The Boatswain's Mate, a comedy featuring "a feisty and resourceful heroine" (it says here), based on a story by W.W. Jacobs. Yes, the horror writer. You knew he was better-known in his own day for humorous sea stories, right?

And the concert concluded with a hefty and expansive rendition of the Scottish Symphony by Mendelssohn, included on a Violins of Hope program because his work was banned by the Nazis. The orchestra was quite up to this work as to the others.

The concert was held in the main hall of the SF Conservatory of Music. After a typical Conservatory-entrance gauntlet of mass confusion over how the tickets were supposed to work, I got in and had a pleasant time. Bus service being spotty on weekends, I drove in and parked in the City Hall garage, which meant a long walk through blustery urban streets, but at least I was able to depart with efficiency.

1 comment:

  1. BARS plays an interesting assortment of music, with an emphasis on GLBTetc composers and performers - I have not yet managed to get to one of their concerts myself.

    Dawn is a section violinist in the SF Opera orchestra, in addition to the posts you list. Kay Stern is SFO concertmaster and a wonderful player.