All in at the Academy

By Richard Mineards   |   July 11, 2023
Osmo Vänskä gave a powerful display of Holst’s The Planets (photo by Zach Mendez)

It is hard to believe the Music Academy’s annual festival Summer of the Artist is almost halfway through.

The third week of the highly entertaining program kicked off at Hahn Hall on the Miraflores campus with Avery Fisher Prize winning pianist Jeremy Denk playing an all-Bach program of five partitas.

The New York City resident, who studied at Juilliard and is about to embark on a U.S. tour with the popular Takács Quartet, has appeared with myriad orchestras, including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, as well as touring with London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and appearing at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms.

Just 24 hours later, the more intimate Lehmann Hall was the venue for Chamber Night featuring the music of Mozart, Brahms, and Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony.

The latter’s “Street Song for Brass Quintet” featured trumpeters Davan Sagara and Paul Armitage, Alessandra Marie Liebmann on horn, Alex Ertl on tenor trombone, and Chandler Currier on tuba, while Mozart’s “Per questa bella mano” showcased the talents of bass baritone Peter Barber with pianist Julian Garvue, and Lon Fon Law on double bass.

Jeremy Denk dancing along the ivories (photo by Zach Mendez)

The concert wrapped with Brahms’ “String Quartet No. 2 in G major” with violinists Jason Moon and Brian Zhan, violists Daniel Miles and Nicolas Valencia, and cellist Joseph Mostwin.

It was back to Hahn Hall the next night for the X2 series featuring works by Joan Tower, Debussy, and Crespo, culminating magnificently with Brahms’ “Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor” with former Camerata Pacifica violist Richard O’Neill, cellist Patrick Baek, violinist Alena Hove, and Jeremy Denk on piano.

O’Neill, now a member of the Takács Quartet, described the piece as “a real barn burner.” And it lived up to every expectation.

The week wrapped at the Granada with the Academy Festival Orchestra under Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä leading the accomplished young musicians in Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide,” the West Coast premiere of Jessie Montgomery’s “Hymn for Everyone,” and Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

When I toiled as a district chief reporter on the Cambridge Evening News in the ‘70s I lived in a charming farmhouse in the village of Great Sampford on the Essex-Suffolk borders, and a short drive from Thaxted where Holst wrote his popular work between 1914 and 1916. His home is now marked by an historic blue plaque.

Vänskä, conductor laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra where he was music director for 19 years, was at the top of his form. He also held the same position with the Seoul Philharmonic from 2020 to this year.


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