Arts Listings

Baroque & Beyond: Sheli Nan at the Giorgi Gallery

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday June 12, 2008 - 10:55:00 AM

My goal is to reach the audience, to evoke and provoke,” said Berkeley composer Sheli Nan of the multi-faceted program, for both modern and Baroque instruments and voice, of her music, “The Berkeley Baroque & Beyond Experience,” Friday at Giorgi Gallery. There will be a possible second performance on Saturday. 

The program will include new arias from Saga—Portrait of a 21st Century Child, Nan’s “opera for our time,” as she calls it: “Absinthe Avec Mes Amis,” a violin and harpsichord sonata (with Nan accompanying American Bach Soloists first place winner violinist Andrew Fouts, for whom she composed the piece); “Journey,” a song cycle for baritone and piano; and “The Mad Dance of Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” for solo flute and voice. 

Other performers include Jonathan Davis, Zachary Gordin, Ayelet Cohen, Meghan Dibble, Jo Vincent Parks and Marvin Sanders. Nan will play harpsichord and piano. 

Nan, who refers to herself as “a contemporary Baroque composer,” said her music “draws a great deal from Baroque form, but with 21st Century harmonies—neo-melodic harmonies.”  

With over 16 editions of her music published by East Bay publishers (Peter Ballinger of PRB Productions and Glen Shannon of Screaming Mary Music), Nan’s career as a composer took off when “I was discovered by Charles Amirkhanian [then of KPFA].” Nan declares, “I’m very much a Berkeley phenomenon!” 

Discussing her opera, from which other selections have been presented by San Francisco Cabaret Opera earlier this spring, Nan compared it to work by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht: “an awful theme couched by beautiful music. I often wonder about this as a composer, offering the music to listeners in order to digest hard truths. There’ll be three arias from the second act. The singers are really aligned to the characters, pouring themselves into it. The story’s important to tell; the opera has such immediacy to it. Now, in the third act, I have to decide who lives and who dies. These are my characters! But the old have to make way for the new. Can that be rendered symbolically? Is redemption really a necessity?” 

Nan, who has three CDs and two books (The Essential Piano Teacher’s Guide and the forthcoming Bach the Teacher), as well as many articles on music to her credit, played with a Nigerian band and an Afro-Cuban group and was invited by the Cuban government to play in Cuba in 2003, for which she received special permission from the State Department. 

Her symphony, Signatures in Time and Place, will be performed by the San Francisco Composers Orchestra this fall. 


The Berkeley Baroque & Beyond Experience 

8 p.m. Friday at the Giorgi Gallery, 2911 Claremont Blvd., with possible second performance on Saturday. $35 general, $25 musicians and students (CD and glass of wine included). More info at  

Reservations: 919-4493.