Correspondent of the Daily Journal
Music at Kohl Mansion has been hosting chamber music concerts in the impressive and sonically vibrant Great Hall of this Burlingame Hills mansion for 40 years. To commemorate this, the organization held a celebratory 40th anniversary concert on Sunday, November 13.
To mark the occasion, he commissioned a new work from local composer Shinji Eshima. The title of his 15-minute piece was ‘Hymn for Her’. This is both a play on words (anthem/him) and a tribute to the women who founded Music at the Kohl Mansion, Liz Dossa and Sister Amy Bayley. Bayley was then the principal of Mercy High School which occupies the mansion.
Eshima chose to write his piece for an unusual quintet of instruments.
First, a double bass, for melodic purposes as well as harmonic backing. This is Eshima’s own instrument, so he is partial to it. It was played by Charles Chandler, a bassist with the San Francisco Symphony who is a former student of Eshima’s.
Second, a cello. This goes well with a double bass in chamber music, but the main reason for its inclusion was the realization that San Francisco Opera Orchestra cellist Emil Miland had played in all three of the previous original Kohl commissions. Why not make it four by four?
Then a marimba, another favorite instrument of Eshima’s. This was played by percussion virtuoso Haruka Fujii.
Fourth, a piano, played by Karen Hutchinson, a frequent Kohl’s performer and one of the first members of his Board of Directors.
And lastly, a clarinet, played as a last-minute replacement by Jeannie Psomas, who was also a substitute in the San Francisco Symphony.
This combination of instruments could make for a chaotic mess, but Eshima has a knack for writing light, clean chamber music. It began with various pairs of instruments, one playing a soft melody and the other providing rhythmic support. Gradually he made all five. This featured a wonderful mix of timbres, with the marimba adding an exotic touch of rhythmic punctuation as the long-winded melody morphed into a hymn. The music was diligently tonal, airy and not egotistical, well-crafted and cohesive in structure. If the players decided to do it all over again, the delighted audience would be just as satisfied the second time around.
As this was a historical celebration, Eshima’s piece was accompanied by revivals of abridged versions of the first two orders, with Miland repeating his original cello part.
One and a half movements of Ernst Bacon’s Trio No. 2 for violin, cello and piano, the first commission since 1987, was performed with the young but fully professional violinist Shaleah Feinstein joining Miland and Hutchinson. This was a tougher work than Eshima’s work, but generally tonal, with long string melodies over fast piano chords, building to a striking conclusion.
Miland and Hutchinson also played half of David Carlson’s Sonata for Cello and Piano from 1993. This is a complex and difficult work that includes long glissandos for the cello and dissonant but quiet, indistinct passages for both instruments. The final pages become clearer, stronger and unexpectedly moving.
The concert was packed with Feinstein, Miland and Hutchinson playing a classical repertoire for violin, cello and piano, Trio No. 1 by Felix Mendelssohn, Op. 49. This also created tension as it progressed but less dramatically than the other pieces. Its main feature was the audible as well as visible enjoyment with which all three did it.
The next concert at the Kohl Mansion will feature the Miró Quartet on Sunday, December 4th. This group will play Op Beethoven. String Quartet 131, one of his last masterpieces, along with music by Beethoven’s teacher Joseph Haydn and contemporary composer Kevin Putz. The quartet will give a pre-concert talk that Saturday afternoon at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City.