Daily newspaper correspondent
Music at Kohl Mansion has hosted chamber music concerts in the imposing and acoustically vibrant Great Hall of this Burlingame Hills mansion for 40 years. To commemorate this, the organization held a commemorative 40th anniversary concert on Sunday 13 November.
To mark the occasion, she commissioned a new work from local composer Shinji Eshima. He titled his 15-minute piece “Hymn for Her.” This is both a pun (hymn/him) and a tribute to the founders of Music at Kohl Mansion, Liz Dossa and Sister Amy Bayley. Bayley was at the time principal of Mercy High School, which occupies the mansion.
Eshima decided to write his piece for an unusual instrumental quintet.
First a double bass, both for melodic purposes and as a harmonic underpinning. This is Eshima’s own instrument, so he has a fondness for it. It was played by Charles Chandler, a bassist with the San Francisco Symphony who is a former student of Eshima.
Second, a cello. This goes well with a double bass in chamber music, but the main reason for this was the realization that San Francisco Opera Orchestra cellist Emil Miland had played in all three of Kohl’s previous original commissions. Why not make it a four out of four?
Then a marimba, another of Eshima’s favorite instruments. This was played by percussion virtuoso Haruka Fujii.
Fourth, a piano played by Karen Hutchinson, a frequent Kohl artist and one of the earliest members of the board.
And lastly, a clarinet, played as a last-minute replacement by Jeannie Psomas, who was also a replacement with the San Francisco Symphony.
This combination of instruments could wreak havoc, but Eshima has a talent for writing light, clean chamber music. He began with different pairs of instruments, one playing a gentle melody, the other providing rhythmic support. Gradually he built on all five. This featured a wonderful blend of timbres, with the marimba lending an exotic touch of rhythmic punctuation as the lengthy melody mutated into an anthemic character. The music was tonal through and through, airy and not rampant, well crafted and consistent in structure. Had the players decided to repeat it from the start, the ecstatic crowd would have been just as pleased the second time around.
As this was an historic celebration, Eshima’s piece was accompanied by revivals of abridged versions of the first two commissions, with Miland repeating his original cello part.
One and a half movements of Ernst Bacon’s Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello and Piano, first commissioned in 1987, were performed with young but fully professional violinist Shaleah Feinstein, who joined Miland and Hutchinson. This was a heavier work than Eshima’s but still broadly tonal, with long melodies for the strings over fast chords in the piano building to a stomping finish.
Miland and Hutchinson also played half of David Carlson’s 1993 Sonata for cello and piano. This is a complex and difficult work, with lengthy glissandos for the cello and dissonant but quiet, slurred passages for both instruments. The final pages become clearer, louder and unexpectedly moving.
The concert was filled with Feinstein, Miland and Hutchinson playing a repertoire classic for violin, cello and piano, Felix Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 1, Op. 49. This also built suspense over time, but less dramatically than the other plays. Its main feature was the audible as well as visual delight with which all three performed it.
The Miró Quartet will perform at the next concert at the Kohl mansion on Sunday, December 4th. This group will play Beethoven’s Op. 131 String Quartet, one of his late masterworks, along with music by Beethoven’s teacher Joseph Haydn and contemporary composer Kevin Puts. The quartet will perform a pre-concert talk this Saturday afternoon at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City.