January 5, 2009


Pictured: Amanda King sings Gershwin


Happy New Year! And it got off to a great start at the Herbst Theatre with a concert by the exciting and innovative San Francisco Chamber Orchestra with Vocalist/Chanteuse Amanda King. The evening started out with an exquisite rendition of Handel’s ‘Water Music Suite No. 2. In D Major, which was written in 1717. It was a very good year – I remember it well. What I liked about the ‘Water Suite’ is that it actually has a melody. It was very Royal sounding. You could call it Music for a King. Aided, of course by talented strings.

Then it was Mozart’s time in the spotlight with his Violin concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major. Robin Sharp, the violinist is just terrific, and she actually didn’t need any conducting. The wonderful melody just wrapped around us all.

Then there was a new piece (1970) by Valerie Coleman, which is billed as a Concertino for Piano and Chamber Music (2007). It was a confusing mess. The music is abrasive – but would make good background music for a horror movie. You might even call it ‘Psycho’ music'. Coleman has thrown everything into the pot. There is a little bit of Porgy and Bess, with a little ‘Home on the Range’ music and then there were even some strains of Broadway Music. I’m sure that even John Wayne would have been confused. However, the Orchestra did a marvelous job. They did take a chance though, that this confusing mix might endanger their instruments.

Just before Amanda King came out to sing “Gershwin” the Chamber Orchestra gave us some Haydn. It was the Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor. There are four elements to this – Allegro assai, Adagio, Minuet & Trio and Presto; Adagio. Forget the first two, they are aptly named – they are described “sharp and minor.” However, the Minuet & Trio and the finale were fun and delightful.

The evening was topped off by the ‘Jewell of the Nile’ – Amanda King, who treated us to five wonderful Gershwin songs. King was of course, backed by the fantastic Chamber Orchestra. She came out on the stage dressed in a classic black gown. The only glitter was a stunning brooch that sent shafts of light around the room. King started off with “Our love is here to stay.” The lyrics came out like butter: “the rockets may tumble, but our love is here to stay.” – King’s performance was flawless. It was glorious!

She got huge applause from “Can’t take that away from me” and she Zoomed, Zoomed her way through “Slap that Bass” and garnered huge applause. “Someone to watch over me” was stunning and tender. King left us with the upbeat “S’Wonderful” – it was Sassy!
What I like about King, and there are many, many things to like -- is that she sings the verse to the songs. It’s not just a good idea -- it’s a great idea. By the way, the terrific arrangements were by Jeff Neighbor. During the Gershwin set – he played the double bass.

The evening ended with a fun auction. Whoever in the audience bid the highest amount of money to help keep the Chamber’s free concerts going, would be able to direct the Orchestra for the last number (Auld Lang Syne). The music Director Benjamin Simon, cajoled the audience to get the amount as high as he could. “Come on, he said. "Don’t be afraid. It’s easy to conduct. They don’t pay attention to the conductor anyway. They won’t even look at you. Just wave the baton around. No one will care." With that, he was able to raise $300. The winner, and guest conductor from the audience with the $300 bucks turned out to be Noah Griffin – who at one time was a regular talk show host on KGO. Before conducting the song, Griffin huddled with the Music Director – and then he began to conduct the Orchestra. He was wonderful. Griffin had all the moves down. Conducting is really show biz in my opinion, and Griffin pulled out all the stops. He seemed to know all the flourishes. Looks to me like he might have a career as a Conductor – assuming he wants one.

This was a Concert to remember. For more about the Chamber Orchestra. How to become a member and a schedule of “Free Concerts” check out: www.sfchamberorchestra.org. or call: 415-248-1640. To listen to Amanda King sing: Check out her web page on ‘you tube’.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

Lee can also be seen at: www.beyondchron.org

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