Shining the Spotlight on Opus 3 and SFCM’s Ongoing Duet
More than a year after SFCM’s groundbreaking acquisition of Opus 3, here are some of the triumphs the Conservatory and management company achieved together.
By Alex Heigl
In October 2020, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music announced that it had acquired Opus 3 Artists in a first-of-its-kind partnership. “This ambitious model will support a mutual amplification of mission and provide a platform for limitless artistic collaboration and project development,” SFCM President David H. Stull said at the time.
Since then, SFCM and Opus 3 have made good on that promise, uniting Opus 3’s world-class roster of musicians with the Conservatory’s faculty and students in an ongoing series of workshops, masterclasses and residencies.
As the relationship continues to develop and more projects come to life, here are some of the early highlights.
Shai Wosner’s residency and masterclass
Pianist Wosner, an Avery Fisher Career Grant winner and Opus 3 artist, gave a masterclass at SFCM in October 2021, giving advice both specific—”If you try to include the release of the note itself as you approach the note, it will make a difference in how you play”— to general— “Listen while playing in an orchestra. If it’s in your ears … it's easier already, and that’s the key to success.”
‘The Great Gatsby’ is reimagined by SFCM’s TAC and RJAM programs
In February, students from across SFCM collaborated with Aquila Theatre Artistic Director Desiree Sanchez on a re-imagining of the iconic American novel The Great Gatsby. With music composed by Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) students and recorded by those studying Chamber Music and Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM), the event was a true cross-department collaboration and was accompanied by workshops with Aquila cast members. “I really enjoyed working with the students. They all came at it with their own take and really listened to the needs of the piece and the performers,” Sanchez said.
Stefan Jackiw’s masterclass
Acclaimed violinist and Opus 3 artist Jackiw, who has appeared as a soloist with the Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco symphony orchestras, came to SFCM in April 2021 for an inspiring masterclass. Just one of the many takeaways from his class—which is archived on the SFCM YouTube channel—is to “Give yourself permission to be free, and to be adventurous, and give yourself license to think outside the box.”
Yo-Yo Ma and Garrick Ohlsson inaugurate the Bowes Center
Undoubtedly one of the most exciting developments at SFCM in recent memory is the Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts. The $200 million center—which counts among its many features acoustically-tuned spaces designed by Kirkegaard Associates and a 200-seat penthouse recital hall offering breathtaking views of San Francisco—provides housing for not just 400-some SFCM students but students at the San Francisco Ballet School and visiting faculty and guest performers.
Naturally, to commemorate its opening in November 2021, SFCM went big: internationally known cellist Yo-Yo Ma was on hand to perform and lead a masterclass, along with Opus 3 pianist and SFCM piano faculty member Garrick Ohlsson. San Francisco Mayor London Breed even made an appearance at the event, having helped break ground for the Bowes Center when construction began in October 2018.
Stage and screen unite in an innovative production of 'La Clemenza di Tito'
Los Angeles-based director, creative producer, and Opus 3 artist James Darrah reimagined the centuries-old opera La Clemenza di Tito at SFCM in March in a performance that included live cameras and projection technology that blurred the line between filmed and live performances. “It has been a rewarding process with a great group of young talent examining how a Mozart opera, especially this piece that straddles fiction and reality constantly, is brought to life today and illuminated in new ways,” Darrah said.
SFCM hosts the Taipei Music Academy Festival
Taiwan had often been held up as an example of sterling COVID-19 response management, but a change in its regulations following an outbreak in 2021 threw the future of the Taipei Music Academy and Festival (TMAF) into jeopardy.
The festival’s founder, Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, grappled with canceling the proceedings entirely, only two months before the festival’s projected start. But a series of connections—guest conductor Leonard Slatkin and SFCM President David Stull—made possible through SFCM’s partnership with Opus 3, allowed the show to go on. “I was actually passing through [San Francisco International Airport] on a transfer,” Lin said, “so I picked up the phone and called David Stull and within five minutes we had a basic agreement to potentially host TMAF at the Conservatory this summer. Suddenly, there was a ray of hope.”
SFCM students get audition advice from recent grads
Recent SFCM Voice graduates Esther Tonea, Christian Pursell, and Efraín Solís returned to their alma mater in December 2021 to share their professional wisdom with current SFCM students. (Pursell is an Opus 3 artist.)
“When you are auditioning, sing what you love because if you’re doing something someone else told you to do, or you hate a piece, it comes across,” Tonea cautioned. “If you love a piece that comes across, if you hate it, that comes across too.”
Meanwhile, Pursell explained the aspect of his career that surprised him: “I did not really know how nomadic the lifestyle of an opera singer would be. It's not for everyone, you are moving around from gig to gig, it takes a certain type of person to do that.”
Solís, for his part, tasked students with thinking of their practice holistically: “Don’t think of yourself as just a singer, think of yourself as an artist. Figure out what your voice is, what you want to say and get out there and say it.”
SFCM’s guitar faculty—and Yo-Yo Ma—feature in Sérgio Assad’s “The Walls”
SFCM guitar faculty member Sérgio Assad’s piece “The Walls” was originally written for solo guitar and “guitar orchestra,” but his friend and fellow Opus 3 artist Ma asked him to adapt the piece for solo cello. The piece received its world premiere digitally in October 2021, with Ma accompanied by SFCM faculty members Meng Su, Marc Teicholz, Richard Savino and David Tanenbaum. “I hope listeners notice how carefully choreographed everything is,” Tanenbaum said. “For instance, the first movement which references the great wall of China has an equal number of Chinese guitarists and other Asian guitarists from other countries.”
“The fourth movement that I play in has four guitarists with Jewish heritage and four, including the Assad brothers, with Arab roots,” Tanenbaum continued, “There is really good gender and cultural balance among the players, so it is ultimately a video of our time.”
A ‘Death of Classical’ performance with Opus 3 artists takes donors to church
In April, SFCM donors, trustees, and staff were treated to a special performance from Opus 3 Artists violinist Alexi Kenney—an SFCM Pre-College graduate—and harpist Bridget Kibbey. The intimate performance was held inside the crypt of The Church of the Intercession in New York City for about 40 people.
Kenney has earned widespread acclaim for his insightful and artistic interpretations, as well as his inspired programming, often melding the new with the old and the familiar with the obscure. Kenney and Kibbey performed both together and as soloists. The two musicians also dined with donors and trustees after the exceptional concert. The “Death of Classical” series presents intimate, emotional, and wildly unique classical music and opera experiences in unusual and clandestine spaces.