Arts Listings

Two East Bay Youth Art Events

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday February 25, 2009 - 08:01:00 PM

Two very different events this weekend feature—and celebrate—the musical talents of East Bay young people.  

On Friday night at 8 p.m., the Oakland East Bay Symphony presents “Celebrating Youth” with the Oakland Youth Orchestra at the Paramount Theatre in Uptown Oakland, and on Saturday at 7 p.m., in coordination with the Berkeley Art Center’s annual Youth Arts Festival, Rhythm & Muse Young Musicians’ night will showcase a wide range of styles and performers, including an open mic and combined music and poetry, performed amidst the exhibited visual art at the center, 1275 Walnut St., behind Live Oak Park. 

The Oakland Youth Orchestra will play side-by-side with the Symphony in a double orchestra performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. 

“It’s always great to watch the interaction,” said Michael Morgan, musical director of both the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Oakland Youth Orchestra. “And it’s a boost to both orchestras. For the older musicians, it reminds them of what they were like, starting out. For the younger, they can watch how professionals do the job—and how quickly. It’s a lesson in real life for musicians—and it inspires them.” 

Of the 1812 Overture, Morgan commented, “When you get this many players together, you may as well do something big and noisy—and the 1812 is a little more difficult than what the Youth Orchestra would do on its own. But the professional players put it over the top.” 

Featured in a performance of Samuel Barber’s “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra” will be the Symphony’s Young Artist Competition winner for 2008, Jeremiah Campbell, 19, who studied for 10 years at Berkeley’s Crowden School and is currently Principal Cellist with the Juilliard Orchestra at the Juilliard School in New York. Campbell also attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and served as principal cellist of the San Francisco Youth Orchestra, 2007-08.  

“The Youth Symphony is the top of our music education pyramid,” Morgan commented. “And the annual competition, which comes up in June, yielding some great young players, is limited to Alameda and Contra Costa Counties—which just goes to show the level of musical education around here, what we try to make available.”  

The Youth Orchestra, with almost 70 members, hails from East Bay counties, excepting a half dozen from San Francisco and the North Bay, including 10 players from Oakland, six from Albany, four from Berkeley, three from Piedmont and two each from Kensington and Richmond.  

Rounding out the program will be Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, the “Scottish.” All the composers on the program were regarded as young prodigies—and 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth. 

Morgan has been musical director of the Youth Symphony for more than 10 years. Brian Nies, assistant conductor for OEBS, will conduct the Youth Symphony.  

“As principal conductor, Brian does most of the conducting and preparation,” Morgan said. “It’s a great training resource for young conductors—and not just our assistant conductors, but guest conductors, too.” 

“Rhythm & Muse is the daughter series of Rhyme & Reason,” said Eliza Shefler, producer and co-host. “It was started in 1999 at the Berkeley Art Museum by Joan Gatten, who left the series due to family concerns in January, 2001. Valentine Price and I took over—then went looking for a new home in April, when the museum closed for retrofitting. I remembered an open mic series at the Art Center, and that a piano was there.”  

The event has been held there annually ever since.  

“I loved the setting, the fact that art was always there, and no coffee machines or mindless chatter to drown out poetry.” 

Shifler is herself a singer-songwriter, pianist and poet. Her co-hosts include singer-songwriter and storyteller Boundless Gratitude, as well as Soul of Sparrow—collaborative singer-songwriters Chie and Steve Treagus, who play guitar and piano, respectively. Singer-songwriter and artist Anthony Smith serves as support staff member. There are also monthly open mics, usually the fourth Saturday night at 7 p.m., with sign-up at 6:30. Shifler also serves as piano accompanist for any participant with clearly written charts. 

“A lot of participants say they’ve never performed at open mics before,” Shifler commented, “And many have never improvised before. They can be nervous at first, but they calm down and they’re really good. We do our best to make everybody feel comfortable. Everyone seems inspired by the artwork, and everyone always listens. Some young performers have gone on to become quite well-known. A group of Molly Axton’s students that were featured one year went on to the Monterey Jazz Festival a couple of years later, for instance.” 

Besides open mic, the program will include Crowden school piano student (and John Adams Young Composers Program participant) Dmitri Gaskin with an original piece; students of private teacher Elaine Kreston, including Cindy Won (playing Popper’s Gavotte No. 2 in D Major), Daniel Kang (Handel: Chorus from “Judas Maccabaeus”), Zealin Gall Glick Roman (from Purcell—and ‘Rigadoon’); Uma Nagarajan Swenson (“Song of the Wind”—folk), and Augusta Gordon Baty (“Go Tell aunt Rhody”). Students of Thea Farhadian of UC-Santa Cruz and the Irene Sazar Studio will also play, including an improvisation with wind-up doll by Alma Becerra. Gael Alcock, teacher at Joaquin Miller Elementary School, will improvise on piano and violin with Dale Boyden of San Francisco State, play duets with her student Sophie Staud (a Berkeley Hign freshman), improvise to Shefler’s reading of the story of “Isis and Osiris,” and introduce her classical music students Linnea Gullikson, Marissa Petty and Gabriel Louis-Kayen in solos and trios, finally inviting the whole group to improvise while she reads one of her own stories. 

Suzanne Tan, the new executive director of the Art Center, commented that the visual art, curated by Miriam Stahl, is “a huge, interesting array—a hodge-podge!—of different styles and abilities, from kintergarten through grade 12 ... We’re holding this annual Celebration, at a time when many public school art programs don’t exist, or not to this extent, in our galleries till the end of March. The Center’s been doing it 17 years, inviting students from the school system. Many people don’t know about the center, which really is a hidden gem—a seven-sided gallery space, with good acoustics, where performers are surrounded by art, right by the creek.” Coming up at the Center will be a film festival, and in April, paintings by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. A new website—"with our great new logo!”—will be up in early March at our old address: For information, call 644-6893.