Arts Listings

Berkeley Akademie Gears Up For Nagano’s Last Performance

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday May 28, 2009 - 07:16:00 PM

Berkeley Akademie will feature the final performance of the season this Sunday evening at First Congregational Church, with Bach’s Italian Concerto (in a modern arrangement for chamber orchestra by Joachim F. W. Schneider); Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 3 (“Camp-Meeting”) and Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Opus 20. 

It will be Kent Nagano’s final performance as music director of Berkeley Symphony, though he’ll continue to lead the Akademie. 

The Bach concerto was originally composed for solo harpsichord, probably in the mid- to late 1720s. Joachim Schneider arranged it for chamber orchestra this year; the Akademie performance will be its premiere—in Schneider’s words, “not ... a historically oriented transcription but rather a translation of the time-honored text using the ‘vocabulary’ of our time” 

Ives’ Symphony has three subtitles, “Old Folks Gatherin’,” “Children’s Day” and “Communion”—but the approach is more abstract than programmatic in exploring hymn tunes. “Oh For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” has, as countermelody in the first movement, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The movement ends with strings playing in one meter, the flute in another. Ives’ Third Symphony was completed in 1904, and then revised it five years later. 

Beethoven’s Septet was premiered at a benefit concert in Vienna in 1800. In the Septet, Beethoven explores nontraditional solo and accompanying combinations, giving the violin a major role. The Septet inspired Schubert’s great Octet.  

Franklyn D’Antonio, Berkeley Symphony concertmaster, who will be featured in the Akademie performance, spoke about playing under Nagano’s baton. 

“Every size group offers its own kind of reward,” said D’Antonio of the Akademie’s programming, which features chamber groups (without conductor) with orchestra alternating. “And each has its own difficulties. But everything has to be beautiful. It’s important to transfer focus from technical flawlessness to musical expression. That’s why I’ll work hours on the fingerings and bowings, trying to do something different. I put a lot of time and thought into comparing how a phrase might reoccur during a piece. Even if the listener doesn’t recognize the difference in expression, there’s a subliminal recognition: why am I feeling tedious? Because the repetitions are played in exactly the same way. In concerts like the Akademie’s, everything is like a solo.” 

D’Antonio recalled the last Akademie concert: “It was very meaningful how Kent, conducting, looked at things slightly differently, gave a slightly different slant—say, to the apex of a phrase, making it a little bit earlier or later. Every time he’d stop the rehearsal, he’d share a new insight with me.” 

D’Antonio characterized Nagano’s style of conducting: “A reserved enthusiasm emanates from the podium and his baton. When a piece is finished, he walks off to the side and joins us on our level on the stage. He has so much sincerity, whereas most conductors have so much ego. His baton technique and physical gestures are so meaningful, so spontaneous—a very rewarding kind of communication. 

Speaking of Nagano’s stepping down as music director of the symphony, D’Antonio said, “I’m very saddened, yet he’s still involved with the Akademie. His tenure, the length of time he’s had here, as appreciated as it is, is almost incredible. He’s grown in stature, become world-renowned—and sticks to his roots in Berkeley. It speaks of his emotional commitment, which is so rare.” 


Berkeley Akademie Ensemble 

7 p.m. Sunday at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. $20-60.