The title of the next concert to be given by Ensemble San Francisco (ESF) is Celebrating the New Year. This group was founded in early 2013 by pianist Christine McLeavey Payne and clarinetist Roman Fukshansky, making their debut at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) in October of that year. They also seem to have a productive working relationship with composer Mark Ackerley, whose Transcendent Pathways effort is concerned with bringing live music performances into healthcare institutions on a broad scale. This past June ESF performed one of Ackerley’s compositions at the Center for New Music. In addition, however, in the Transcendent Pathways spirit, ESF has been providing community service through performances at schools, prisons, and hospitals throughout the Bay Area.
ESF has described their New Year’s offering as “a program full of glorious melodies, as well as more than a bit of silliness.” The “crown prince” of that silliness will be Paul Schoenfield with a performance of his “Café Music,” a composition that has been given generous exposure to San Francisco audiences, always with delightful results. Schoenfield wrote this piece for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. However, he subsequently arranged it for piano trio; and this is the version that is more likely to be familiar for San Francisco listeners.
Schoenfield has described this piece as a memoir of the days when he played with a jazz trio in the cocktail lounge at Murphy’s steakhouse in Minneapolis. His subsequent description of the piece as “high-class dinner music” seems to overlook the fact that his combo may well have put as much time into sampling offerings from the bar as they devoted to playing for the diners and drinkers at Murphy’s. The result is very much in the spirit of much of the free-association music that Carl Stalling composed for cartoons in the Looney Tunes series, although, considering that the piece was first performed in 1987, it is just as likely, if not more so, that Schoenfield was inspired by the band of Muppets playing at the Mos Eisely Cantina in the very first Star Wars film (making this performance a timely one). Schoenfield’s romp will conclude the program, complementing the much more sophisticated silliness that can be found in Camille Saint-Saëns’ bassoon sonata, which will be the opening selection.
On the more glorious side, ESF will offer a rather unique approach to one of Chopin’s most expressive compositions, the second movement (Romance) of his Opus 11 (first) piano concerto in E minor. This will be performed in an arrangement for piano and string quartet. Regular readers of this site may recall that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart considered taking this approach with at least one of his piano concertos. It makes for a more intimate relationship between soloist and ensemble, and that intimacy is well suited to the second movement of Chopin’s concerto. Similar intimacy will also be found in mezzo Betany Coffland’s performance of Ottorino Respighi’s “It Tramonto” (the sunset) with the ESF string musicians.
The San Francisco performance of this program by ESF will take place on Saturday, January 9, at 5 p.m. The venue will be St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. Tickets are $25 with a $15 rate for seniors and students with proper identification. Tickets may be purchased in advance through a Brown Paper Tickets event page or by calling 415-758-0373.