Friday, February 11, 2011

Bonanza Column 223 – TOCCATA Wins Hearts

Each time I've gone to a TOCCATA concert I write about it and each time I promise myself that it will be the last time I do. After all, how many times can readers stand to hear me wax poetic about the incredible contribution that this ensemble of local musical talent provides? And each time I break my promise because the experience just demands the expression of appreciation and acknowledgement.

As I've said before, that TOCCATA brings together so much talent, many if not most of whom have "day jobs" and still give huge amounts of time to rehearsing and learning to play together is in itself a remarkable accomplishment. That James and Nancy Rawie have made the commitment to share their time and efforts and (considerable) talents between Puerto Rico and Tahoe and bring with them world-class talent makes the difference between what could be just one more community orchestra and chorus and what TOCCATA is – a world-class ensemble that breeds talent and performances that go way beyond what you would expect here in the hinterlands of the Sierra Nevada, and that they give so much back to the community makes this a truly great organization in the best tradition of the fine arts.

Last week's TOCCATA offering included the incomparable Elizabeth Pitcairn returning to Tahoe for the third time with her "Red Stradivarius" violin. Through the efforts of the Rawies, Donna Axton, Joy Strotz, Paul Guttman, and others, Ms Pitcairn has formed a bond with the Tahoe community that goes way beyond "one more gig" for her and for us. In addition to five performances with the TOCCATA Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (about which more in a bit), she did two intimate "soirées musicales" in local homes to raise funds for TOCCATA, did two performances/classes in local schools, and gave a master class at UNR. Understand, this is a top young musician who plays all over the world with the best orchestras and who plays a legendary instrument worth millions of dollars, giving her time to school children and university students and, unless she is one heckuvan actress, having a great time doing it.

And the performances – OMG!!! If you have any taste for classical music at all and you haven't been to a TOCCATA performance you are cheating yourself. To be present for this level of performance in venues that are at once intimate and acoustically superb is not an opportunity one gets almost anywhere else. There is a world of difference between hearing the music in, say, Davies Symphony Hall or Lincoln Center in an audience of thousands and being in St. Francis Church or St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral with hundreds can't be described.

Last week's performances were all Vivaldi pieces – for orchestra, for Chorus, and the familiar "Four Seasons." The Concerto for Two Trumpets complete with baroque trumpets by Paul Lenz, Mark Hoke, and Josh Dunlap was outstanding, the Chorus, with soloists including Anna Helwing, Joy Strotz, Katherine DeBoer, and the redoubtable Stuart Duke brought the Gloria to new heights and then, after the intermission, the centerpiece of the evening – the beautiful and incredibly talented Ms Pitcairn playing the Four Seasons, each "season" preceded by poetry in Italian and English and highlighted by four different gowns each representative of the season in the music. And what music! Playing completely without a score in front of her, her playing was flawless as was that of a chamber orchestra drawn from the TOCCATA strings (and an oboe) along with continuo by David Brock.

And as if all that weren't enough, for an encore Ms Pitcairn performed a piece rarely performed in a concert venue, the Moto Perpetuo (Perpetual Motion) by Nicolo Paganini. This piece, played in about four minutes, includes some 3150 notes – that's an incredible 13 notes per second – is not just an exercise in speed, but also includes melody, phrasing, and everything else that makes great music. Ms Pitcairn shared that she has spent three years learning to play it, in part to overcome a fear of fast pieces. I think she can safely say she's over that fear.

The point of all this adulation is to point out again how incredibly fortunate we in the IV/CB community are to have the kind of talent and opportunities we have here. As much as I love the intimate venues in churches and chapels, it's time we took seriously the possibility of creating a performing arts venue that matches the talent that comes here. In the meantime, if you aren't taking advantage of the opportunities, you should. TOCCATA needs and deserves all our support both in terms of donation and attendance.

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