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Classical bromance brings talented tag team to California Symphony concert

Think of this weekend’s California Symphony program as an ode to musical friendship.

For the first time, the Walnut Creek-based orchestra will feature not one, but two conductors: Sharing podium duties in performances March 17-18 at the Lesher Center are California Symphony music director Donato Cabrera and San Francisco Symphony Chorus director Ragnar Bohlin.

The two conductors have been friends and musical colleagues for more than a decade. Bohlin joined the San Francisco Symphony in 2007, and Cabrera was resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and music director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra from 2009-16.

Now they’re dividing this weekend’s program in a smart – and eminently egalitarian – way. In the first half, Bohlin leads Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” followed by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Te Deum.” The San Francisco Conservatory of Music Chorus, which Bohlin directs, joins the orchestra for Pärt’s score.

In the second half, Cabrera will conduct the orchestra and 101-voice chorus in Mozart’s “Requiem.”

California Symphony music director Donato Cabrera cemented his friendship with San Francisco Symphony Chorus conductor Ragnar Bohlin during the seven years Cabrera was resident conductor at S.F. Symphony. PHOTO BY LINDSAY HALE 

The concept, says Cabrera, was to bring the California Symphony players and Bohlin’s singers together.

“From our initial conversations, we came up with Mozart’s ‘Requiem,’ with Ragnar’s chorus joining our orchestra,” Cabrera explained in a recent phone call from Las Vegas, where he is music director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

“Then I thought it would be wonderful for the chorus to do something on the program’s first half, and for Ragnar to conduct the first half as well. It took a while to come up with pieces to fit the Requiem’s orchestration. It was Ragnar who suggested the Pärt and Vaughan Williams pieces. It’s a nice fit, with a sacred element running through all three pieces.”

Cabrera says that working with Bohlin at S.F. Symphony was harmonious from the start – and grew into a great musical friendship. “We worked together on so many things,” he says, “and over the years, we’ve both become part of the larger Bay Area community.”

The Grammy Award-winning Bohlin has been a choral specialist since his early days in his native Sweden; in addition to directing the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and teaching at the Conservatory, he directs his own chamber choir, Cappella SF. He notes that both of the pieces he’ll conduct for California Symphony are hymn-based. Of Vaughan Williams’ score, he says “The overall atmosphere is spiritual and something echoing the sounds of an organ.” Pärt’s “Te Deum,” he adds, is “modern, but inspired by medieval music and chant.”

For Cabrera, sharing the program with Bohlin is a rare treat – one that he predicts will come together seamlessly. “We have very similar goals in that we both have a fascination and love for the nuts and bolts of music-making,” he says. “I think we both just love the process.”
Details: 8 p.m. March 17, 4 p.m. March 18, Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek; $42-$87, $20 students; 925-943-7469; www.californiasymphony.org.

FINCKEL AND WU HAN: One of the great musical partnerships of our time is that of cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, co-artistic directors of New York’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Bay Area’s own Music@Menlo. They come to Berkeley this weekend in a dynamic duo recital – an alluring program that features Lera Auerbach’s Sonata for Cello and Piano and Bruce Adolphe’s “Couple,” as well as works by Beethoven, Grieg and Mendelssohn.

Details: 3 p.m. March 18, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley; $34-$68; 510-642-9988; www.calperformances.org.

Contact Georgia Rowe at growe@pacbell.net.

Source: East Bay Classical bromance brings talented tag team to California Symphony concert

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