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April 17, 2007 > Four Hands in Concert

Four Hands in Concert

By Janet Grant

With magic as with music, hands are essential tools of the trade. The magician uses sleight of hand, quickness of hand, and an even, light hand. On Saturday, April 21, the old Mission San Jose will vibrate with hands of magic as Music at the Mission in partnership with Music@Market presents its final concert of the season _ Four Hands in Concert - from Amadeus to Zeppelin. In magic, the hand may deceive the eye, but with Saturday's music concert, hands will defy the senses.

Music at the Mission has consistently brought innovative and emotionally charged music throughout three full seasons of its leading-edge classical chamber series. Saturday's concert promises more of that vitality but with a personal twist. The season finale will be a reunion of sorts as the four hands belong to long-time friends and gifted pianists, Aileen Chanco and Raja Rahman.

"Raja and I first met in college (the Juilliard School)," explained Ms. Chanco, whose future husband and Raja were roommates. "We both ended up auditioning to be part of a summer music festival in Germany. We were two of the three pianists that were chosen to be sent to Germany so we were able to spend the entire summer playing four-hand/two-piano repertoire and touring Europe with the orchestra. We always vowed that we would perform together someday, and here we are."

The road to the reunion took almost 17 years as Ms. Chanco and Mr. Rahman pursued their separate musical careers after college. For Mr. Rahman, it meant postgraduate full scholarship studies at Indiana University with the famous Russian pianist, Lev Vlassenko and successful solo appearances in concerts in his native Canada, throughout Europe and the United States.

Today, Mr. Rahman lives in Las Vegas, where he tours extensively with his ground breaking show, Jarrett & Raja, with Jarrett Parker. The show is really an elaborate theatre production where a magician and a concert pianist share the same stage with a colorful cast of 20. Jarrett & Raja has played the Edinburgh Festival (UK), China, London, New York and has upcoming performances in India, the US, Australia and Malaysia.

Ms. Chanco went on to receive both her Bachelors and Masters degrees in music from The Juilliard School and since then, has appeared as soloist, recitalist and chamber musician throughout the US, Canada, Europe and Asia. Concerts have included performances in New York's Alice Tully Hall, Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Cultural Center for the Performing Arts in the Philippines. Ms. Chanco lives in the Bay Area where she teaches piano and continues her brilliant solo career. She is also the founder and director of Music at the Mission.

It took a friend from their college days to pave the way for Saturday's concert. Another of Mr. Rahman's roommates from Juilliard was Ralph Farris - violist, songwriter, and co-founder of the New York group, ETHEL. When ETHEL performed at Music at the Mission last year, Ms. Chanco had a chance to reminisce with him. He asked why she and Raja weren't playing together, Ms. Chanco began to think seriously as an artistic director as well as a pianist. From that inspired conversation, Four Hands in Concert was born.

Ms. Chanco and Mr. Rahman will be joined on Saturday by San Francisco Symphony percussionists David Herbert and James Lee (Trey) Wyatt III. Mr. Herbert and Ms. Chanco go back many years as the two of them have known each other from college and summer music festival days. Ms. Chanco described Mr. Herbert as a world-renowned timpanist and regards him as phenomenal. "He is the principal timpanist of the San Francisco Symphony and I am honored that both he and Trey are able to find the time to perform with us the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. As students, Raja and David had vowed to perform the Bartok together someday and I had made the exact vow with another pianist friend earlier."

Saturday's concert includes Variations on a Theme by Paganini for Two Pianos by Witold Lutoslawski, Theme and Variations in G Major for Piano Four Hands, K. 501 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Suite no. 2, op. 17 for Two Pianos by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion by Bla Bartok, and Led Astray (after Led Zeppelin) by Ralph Farris.

"Musically speaking, they are a good representation of two-piano/four-hand works I think," Ms. Chanco said about the selections. "The Mozart Four Hands Variations, K. 501, and the Lutoslawsky Paganini Variations are both short pieces that make use of the variation form in music, and give the full breath of emotion within their respective periods in music. The Rachmaninoff Suite no. 2 is a personal favorite of mine and of Raja's."

Of the Ralph Farris piece, Led Astray, Ms. Chanco explained that it was born from their desire to program a new piece that represented their likes outside of classical music.
Commissioning a piece from their old friend turned out to be a natural step. According to Ms. Chanco, "We wanted to program an edgy new piece which included some sort of Led Zeppelin theme. Since Ralph was the instrument to the formation of our duo and he has written many pieces in that style for his own group, ETHEL, it seemed a no-brainer."

Far from being an arrangement of Zeppelin, Led Astray is a unique and original composition that makes use of aspects and motifs of certain Zeppelin songs such as Evermore, The Ocean, Four Sticks, That's the Way, and Bonzo's Montreaux.

For Mr. Farris, Led Astray was based in part on their college days together fueled with fond memories of "lots of practicing, lots of NOT practicing, lots of coffee drinking, lots of video games, lots of listening to Zeppelin..." As it was a special time for him, he hoped to capture some of the magic of those glory days with his piece, which is premiering at the Music at the Mission concert. For Mr. Farris, it was a treat to work again with what he described as "those two dear crazy keyboarders."

As for the future of Music at the Mission, Ms. Chanco hopes "that our audience will continue to grow and that more and more of Fremont will see the benefits of having a cutting edge classical chamber music series in their home town. If the citizens of Fremont can continue to increase their support for the Fremont Symphony, and now an innovative and progressive classical chamber music series, I think that Fremont has an opportunity to help create an art scene that may rival that of San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland someday. As the fourth largest city in the Bay Area, it deserves to have that kind of reputation but that cannot be achieved unless citizens and businesses can understand and support the creation of a strong classical art scene."

To that end Ms. Chanco promises an even more lively and innovative upcoming new season. With Music at the Mission's signature style of uniquely presenting classical music, audiences can be sure of that. Giving us a glimpse into the fourth season, Ms. Chanco added, "Our Valentines weekend special program will feature the colliding worlds of classical music and tango. And who would guess that music of the double bass could be so romantic?"

On Saturday, an informative, half-hour talk by musician Bill Everett will precede the concert at 7:15 p.m. with the concert beginning at 8:00 p.m. A complimentary dessert and champagne reception will immediately follow the concert where you will be able to meet the artists.

For more information, call (510) 656-2364 or visit www.musicatmsj.org.

Music at the Mission presents Four Hands in Concert - from Amadeus to Zeppelin
Saturday, April 21
7:15 p.m.
Old Mission San Jose
43300 Mission Blvd., Fremont
General Admission, $25, Students and seniors, $20

Tickets by mail (checks only):
Music at the Mission San Jose
P. O. Box 3276
Fremont, CA 94539
E-mail (checks only): tickets@musicatmsj.org
Online (credit card): www.ticketweb.com

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