Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dylana Jenson

Dylana Jenson's new release of the Shostakovich and Barber Violin Concertos has been entered for a Grammy nomination. I've been inspired by Dylana Jenson's violin playing since the early 70's, as a child growing up in the suburbs of Boston, where I first began music studies. Dylana had such reknown as a child prodigy, that sometimes after my own concerts, audience members would rush to congratulate me, and say how much they enjoyed my appearances on "The Tonight Show". Finally, it became so awkward and uncomfortable for me to clarify that a). The young violinist was not me but another child violinist, Dylana Jenson, and b). Her career had sky-rocketed, and I was still working my way up. I left well enough alone. We were both young female violinists with dark hair and brown eyes. I accepted any praise and acknowledgement meant for her.

Our paths crossed briefly in the mid-70's, when I relocated for studies with Jascha Heifetz in Los Angeles. My parents, determined to have me meet this young lady at last, telephoned her family in Sherman Oaks, and they invited us for a visit. What a warm reception we were granted by the entire family, I'll never forget. But, as I was urged to take out my violin, and prove my worth, I was gripped by stage fright. I cannot recall what I served up that evening. I do remember that Dylana opened her violin case and nonchalantly played for us, unaware of the pressure cooker scenario. The music seemed to pour from her soul right into her fingers. I was envious, but at the same time, inspired.

Years later our paths met again. But this time, I was a newly elected section player of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and she was the star soloist performing Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto. The orchestra  admired her playing, so expressive and masterful. In those days I had been borrowing a Carl Becker violin, but was ordered to return the loaned instrument after being hired by LACO. Fair enough. But it never occurred to me that Dylana Jenson had to return the 1743 Guarnerius del Gesu (that was on loan to her by the same collector) for the reason that she got married, at age twenty-one to conductor, David Lockington.  Dylana tells her story here in a captivating interview on violinist.com with Laurie Niles.

I love this recent release of the Shostakovich and Barber Violin Concertos. Jenson displays her keen sense of dramatic intensity and fiery command in both concertos with London Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Lockington. She is an impassioned violinist who displays rich, tonal beauty and shows remarkable instinct for stylistic nuance. The haunting, pervasive anguish in Shostakovich's music paired with the lyrical and velvety Barber (with its hair-raising finale) demonstrate the triumph of a one-of-a-kind violinist, the owner of a  signature sound and breathtakingly flawless technique. Dylana Jenson has my vote.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Celebration of Life for George Shangrow

Today I attended the Celebration of Life service for George Shangrow, Seattle's musical dynamo, killed in a car accident on July, 31, 2010 at the age of 59. The turnout at University Christian Church was staggering. The church was filled to capacity. An over flow of mourners crowded all the way upstairs to the balcony—some were left to stand for the duration. With his immense talent, love and enthusiasm for music, the ability to communicate with audiences of all ages from diverse backgrounds, George Shangrow brought light to the hearts of many.

Now, at the age of 51, I have become increasingly aware of the finiteness of life. Every day is precious, for we never know when it will be our last. With each death or parting, a deeper meaning attaches itself to life; a new revelation comes into focus. What struck me about George, as I listened to the shared musical experiences and remembrances, was how steadfast and loyal he was as a friend and colleague.

I'll always remember him as a most gracious host on his radio show, KING-FM's Live By George. Lou Magor, a pianist and friend, shared that with his wealth of knowledge, expertise, and quick intellect, George could easily have upstaged, or stolen the spotlight from any guest on his show. But he never did. I remember feeling jittery for my first appearances with him on the radio. As a young performer, I had been encouraged to do less talking and more playing. One of my teachers, Heifetz in particular, would become impatient with any explanation that resembled a dissertation, so I hesitated to speak about music in public. But with George, my fears were groundless. I merely had to give him that certain look in the studio, a look which signaled, let's not go there—and he deftly switched the topic with just the right dose of humor.

He had an almost childlike, naive trust in others. Betrayal from a colleague hit him hard and was unfathomable. While former KING-FM radio host, Tom Dahlstrom, shared reflections about the sixteen years he enjoyed as a co-worker with George at the station, he mentioned the two times that he had detected a quiver in George Shangrow's voice. Fearless in front of the microphone, and also in front of audiences in the concert hall, his was the voice of calm. There was a quiver, though, as George recounted the horrors at Mauthausen, the notorious Nazi punishment camp, which he visited on more than one occasion. He sought to find answers to the atrocities, the senseless deaths, but found there were no answers, only more questions. George Shangrow, a man who lived and breathed joy in music, could not wrap his head around mankind's destructive urge and capacity to wipe away countless, innocent lives. It was inconceivable that prisoners at Mauthausen Concentration Camp had been exterminated with Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" playing in the background.

There was a quiver in George's voice when he received messages at KING-FM, through various e-mails, that his job was being terminated; he warned his friend and colleague Tom Dahlstrom of an impending, similar fate. As I listened to flautist Jeff Cohan, pianists Robert Kechley, Mark Salmon, and George Fiore perform at the memorial service, I realized that George valued his friendships and the people he worked with above all else; he wouldn't betray a colleague, although another person with the same initials might have no problem doing so.

The proof of George Shangrow's legacy was there today at the memorial service, and is all around us. George Shangrow's devotion to music lives on, through Orchestra Seattle and Orchestra Seattle Chamber Singers,  through the many live interviews and programs that he hosted, through his beautiful and talented daughter, cellist Daisy Shangrow, and the many inspired students from his classes at Seattle Conservatory. He enriched countless others by sharing classical music so freely with all, while making it accessible, and with the talent for inclusion rather than exclusion.

His friends quipped that George Shangrow loathed deadlines. Punctuality was not, well, his strong point even for a show live on the air. But with a trace of humor that echoed George, to the point that I could almost hear his voice:
He was early for once—but to his own funeral.

Monday, August 2, 2010

George Shangrow

Like many others, I learned of the tragic death of Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers music director, George Shangrow, through an internet discussion on Facebook. Reading the horrible news about one of Seattle's most gifted, but least valued artists, killed at the age of 59 is shocking and saddening, to say the least. Shangrow, former host of "Live by George" for KING-FM, was en route to deliver a pre-concert lecture on American classical music for the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, when a teenager lost control of his vehicle on Highway 20, due to a thundering rainstorm, and swerved across the center line which resulted in a head-on collision. The teen driver received injuries to his ankle and collar-bone; Shangrow was pronounced dead on the scene. His family was notified after the news hit the media.

I had the pleasure of working with George Shangrow on many occasions, both as a frequent guest on "Live by George," and as soloist and chamber music partner with Northwest Chamber Orchestra and Orchestra Seattle. George was such a great musician and intuitive accompanist that when I performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Orchestra Seattle in 2003, I sensed that we were on the same wave-length. And I had drawn a similar conclusion when we performed J.S.Bach's "Concerto in d minor" with the now defunct Northwest Chamber Orchestra, as well as a complete program devoted to the Bach family at Volunteer Park.

George Shangrow loved, and deserved to work with professional orchestras in this community, but he was given precious few opportunities around here for some dubious reason. I remember George telling me, after directing NWCO, that to conduct a professional ensemble was like driving a fine automobile. Indeed, I knew what he meant.

About a month ago, I was returning home from a day in Portland with my daughters Anna and Sarah. We were desperate for music, as my Eurovan is lacking a CD player, and the antennae is broken, which means, no radio either. Anna reached into a long forgotten pile of cassettes, and fed a mystery tape into the player. The charismatic and gracious voice of George Shangrow introducing pianist Dianne Chilgren and me as guests on his show to perform "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso" brought back a host of memories. I was introduced as concertmaster for this and that, which I am no longer, and as artistic director for a series which has been long gone as the orchestra is now dead, by a multi-talented, extraordinary radio host that was shamelessly ousted by KING-FM. I switched off the radio station from that day on. The arts community had, once again, tried to silence a Seattle musical treasure who had brought classical music into so many households, and made it accessible for all.

George, you will be forever missed. Thank you for sharing your love and immense musical talent with all of us.