Livermore's Pacific Chamber Symphony concerts to launch season
By Lou Fancher
The conductor once had the young student accompany him onstage to lead the orchestra -- only weeks later learning from one of her teachers that the formerly shy, awkward young lady had blossomed after the experience. The anonymous woman told Kohl that when her therapist asked what had brought her out of a struggle with depression, she answered that her "good reason to live" had emerged upon hearing one of the Livermore-based organization's concerts.
"Touching people's lives makes it all worth everything," says Kohl.
Having survived three recessions since founding the 30-member, professional chamber orchestra in 1989, Kohl and the musicians from throughout the Bay Area are a resident company at Livermore's Bankhead Theater. Concerts Saturday in Lafayette and Sunday in Livermore launch the 2015-16 season with the overture to "Le Nozze di Figaro" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig von Beethoven's "Symphony No. 2" and Sergei Prokofiev's "Violin Concerto No. 2" with Igor Veligan, PCS concertmaster and soloist.
The decidedly classical-romantic-neoclassical bridge formed by the three works offers audiences not just a glimpse into music history and how it evolves but also an opportunity to join Kohl's thematic approach to programming.
"For me, it's critical that the pieces play off one another," Kohl says. "We see the pieces differently because new avenues are opened. We start with the Mozart, an example of the classical repertoire with light effervescence, clear harmonies and melodies. That contrasts with Beethoven, who was finding himself going deaf and is stretching the bounds of classicism. It's not a formula symphony. It reaches for
romanticism with small motifs that build in density to create a psychological effect."
Prokofiev, he adds, looks back at classical format and displays irony by inserting unexpected harmonies, rhythms and tempos. A soloist can bring specific coloration and nuance to the Prokofiev, which relies more on the interweaving of the violinist and ensemble than flashy solo cadenzas.
"He's a leader and can make sound gel," Kohl says, about Veligan. "He's attuned and flexible and plays with a tremendous amount of heart. Besides, he has that Russian-Ukrainian soul. I chose this concerto because of the size of the group and because this is precisely the kind of work that will show off his interplay with the orchestra."
The orchestra's size, Kohl insists, enhances the Beethoven, which is most often played by larger symphonies. "The smaller violin section allows for more clarity. I can move the musicians through textures and lines in the music with more uniqueness. It's like the difference between turning around a steam ship versus a small boat."
The orchestra holds only two or three rehearsals before the first performance, a common practice for professional musicians who rehearse independently, then join in efficient, union-mandated 2.5-hour blocks of time. Most of the musicians play with other symphonies and ensembles in the Bay Area's active music
scene. A mixed quintet (flute, clarinet, violin, piano and cello) participate in school outreach programs that bring them to elementary schools in the Tri-Valley, Hayward and Orinda for up to 30 classroom visits each year. In addition to the subscription series and school visits, PCS offers master classes for middle and high school students, along with performances at low-income senior communities.
A five-year Moraga resident after having lived in Orinda and San Leandro, Kohl says the recent addition to the Livermore season of performances in Lafayette came from "a synergy" in the Lamorinda community.
"They are a small community of two cities and a town with a need for a professional orchestra. We used to perform in San Francisco, San Leandro, Napa, Walnut Creek and Pleasanton, then pulled back before finding substantial support from the Tri-Valley community and the arts center in Livermore."
Kohl says a committee has formed in Lafayette that could become the Livermore board's "sister board" for the 501C nonprofit organization but has no plans to "leave our home" at the Bankhead.