Season Kicks Off With a Breadth of Inspiration from the Great Outdoors

Nicole Paiement conducting the New Music Ensemble during Kick-off Weekend

SFCM officially launched its 2019-20 Music and Nature season with the Conservatory's annual Kick-off Weekend festivities Friday, September 27–Sunday, September 29. Featuring a buffet of diverse but complementary programs by the Conservatory’s core departments, Kick-off Weekend honored nature as one of music's greatest inspirations while showcasing the incredible breadth of talent at SFCM.

The guitar department opened the weekend on Friday night in a packed Sol Joseph Recital Hall with a concert of works highlighting the meditative beauty of nature. The program featured the San Francisco based Del Sol Quartet and department chair David Tanenbaum in the world premiere of Ronald Bruce Smith's Tomb(er), a piece Tanenbaum said was inspired by "the Elizabethan obsession with melancholy." After the performance, Smith commented that it was "terrific working with the musicians" and said of SFCM: "It's an honor to have a piece performed here."

Another highlight of the concert was the performance of SFCM sophomore Sebastian Robles' Garden, which exhibited Robles’ talents as both a guitarist and a composer. The evening also featured superb performances of works by Osvaldo Golijov, Sérgio Assad, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and Claude Debussy, given by student, faculty, and alumni musicians.

Saturday brought a trio of diverse concerts. First up, around the corner at SFJAZZ Center's Miner Auditorium, the Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM) department—now in its third year—gave a spirited side-by-side concert featuring RJAM students alongside SFCM faculty and SFJAZZ Collective members performing original compositions and jazz standards. Lola Miller-Henline '23, a freshman studying jazz voice, said: "The performance last Saturday was a wonderful initial performance for me as a first-year RJAM student! It was fantastic to be given a platform to share new compositions right off the bat at the start of the year and to work side-by-side with the sensational faculty. As a vocalist, I am mentored by the outstanding singers Clairdee and Carmen Bradford. During [the side-by-side] performance, I had the opportunity to sing Just in Time as a duet with Clairdee—one of the most thrilling and energetic performance opportunities I've had."

Simon Rowe, RJAM's executive director, commented: "I felt that the concert went beautifully, from soundcheck through to the final note! Our preparation process, including the two-day residency, is key to the success of the RJAM Side-By-Side performance. The generosity of our artist-level faculty, coupled with the enthusiasm and talent of our RJAM students, many of whom have only been on campus for a few weeks, creates a wonderful synergy. We are also most grateful to our partners at SFJAZZ for facilitating a friendly and professional environment for our students who are performing in the Miner Auditorium—a world-class venue."

Early on Saturday evening, some of SFCM's young Pre-College musicians, ages 9-17, gave a recital of works by Haydn, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Mozart, Beethoven, and Máximo Diego Pujol. Throughout the year, Pre-College students work one-on-one with teachers in private lessons, perform in large and small ensembles, take musicianship courses, participate in master classes, and more, making music a central part of their overall development. Justin Sun, assistant director of the Pre-College Division, remarked that "the students performed beautifully."

Saturday came to a close with an auspicious performance by SFCM's New Music Ensemble, conducted by Nicole Paiement, featuring four contemporary works inspired by nature's majesty: Messiaen's Le merle noir, Takemitsu's Tree Line, Laura Schwendinger's Constellations, and John Luther Adams' In a Treeless Place, Only Snow.

The San Francisco Classical Voice reviewed the concert and urged readers of their October 1 edition to come see the ensemble. "The handful of spectators, including friends and family, that turned out to see Nicole Paiement lead the New Music Ensemble on Saturday, during the S.F. Conservatory of Music's Kickoff Weekend, were treated to a short, but well-played and beautifully curated concert that seduced the listener while stretching the student musicians' muscles," wrote editor Michael Zwiebach. "Paiement is at the top of her game, and if you're missing opportunities to see her concerts out of some misplaced fear that the music will be uncongenial, well, you should reconsider."

On Sunday at noon, the voice department celebrated "The Music of Nature" in songs and arias by Schubert, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Copland, Purcell, and more in Sol Joseph Recital Hall. The program, which featured music spanning four centuries, showcased 14 of SFCM's talented voice students accompanied by pianists Steven Bailey and Mai-Linh Pham. Later in the day, some of the same singers were seen in Osher Salon for the Historical Performances concert. Titled The Fragrant Flower, sophomore to post-graduate voice students performed music from the Baroque period that department chair Corey Jamason described as "domestic music": music that was, at the time, typically performed in the home. The students—who performed songs of composers Thomas Morley, John Dowland, John Bartlet, Thomas Campion, among others—were beautifully accompanied throughout the afternoon by SFCM alumni Jon Mendle on the lute.

Alissa Goretsky '21, a junior who sang songs by Henry Purcell, Jonathan Battishill, and John Bartlet, described the process of preparing for the concert. "Our first week of school, we got these big packets from Corey Jameson, who runs the Baroque program here, and he was like 'guys, we have a performance September 29, and you are all singing these,'" she said. "It's been a good process. We have a coaching a week with Corey, and then we set it all up in class, we listen to each other and give feedback, so it's good."

On Sunday afternoon, SFCM string players and pianists performed a rewarding chamber music concert in Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall. The program included Haydn’s Piano Trio in C Major, Hob. XV:27; Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in G-Sharp Minor, Op. 19 “Sonata-Fantasy,” performed by master’s student Heemin Park; and Edvard Grieg’s String Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 27. Dimitri Murrath, co-director of the string and piano chamber program, said of Sunday’s program: “Our Chamber Music majors started the year with an intensive month of getting to know each other and preparing for Sunday afternoon's concert. Their energies came together in the works by Haydn and Grieg. It made us feel excited about their future performances this year!”

The Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) department closed Kick-off Weekend with a memorable evening of music that audibly examined the detrimental effects of climate change, performed in partnership with The ClimateMusic Project. Working closely with scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SFCM student, faculty, and alumni musicians wrote custom software to translate historical climate data and predictive data models into electronic instruments and musical parameters.

The program featured a range of compositions inspired by numerous environmental changes caused by climate change: TAC student Molly Monahan's Breaking used "breaking news" footage alongside snare drum rolls to represent the increasing number of deaths in fatal weather events across America since 1970; Seira McCarthy used a game controller for Kikai to demonstrate how humans drive climate change; and TAC Studio Director Taurin Barrera's Climate Momentum explored the sound of glaciers melting. The second half of the program was dedicated to a performance of SFCM alum Erik Ian Walker's haunting Climate, accompanied by video. The performance was simultaneously moving and difficult to watch, and it gave a palpable sense of urgency to the issue of climate change.

"The evening was a thought-provoking demonstration of the power of collective action and the potential of creativity when coupled with inventive uses of technology," said TAC Executive Director MaryClare Brzytwa. "Most of all, we saw the timeless power of music to tell stories and connect us to nature and each other."

Kick-off Weekend offered audiences just a taste of what's to come during the 2019-20 "Music and Nature" season, which brings with it many more inspiring concerts and classes throughout the school year.

For the complete calendar of this season’s concerts and events, please visit the Performance Calendar.

  • TAC ClimateMusic Project

  • RJAM side by side with SFJazz

  • New Music Ensemble

  • SFCM Guitars with Del Sol Quartet

  • RJAM side by side with SFJazz