A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Musical Miracle

Every year at this time I tell you about the Midsummer Mozart Festival, for two reasons:
First, there's nothing like Mozart. His music is so beautiful, it warms your heart and soul.
And second, if you want to hear Mozart you can't do better than the Midsummer Mozart Festival. The musicians are some of the finest in the world, let alone the Bay Area.
But this year there's an added reason: The festival will showcase 14-year-old piano sensation Audrey Vardanega, a student at College Prep in Oakland.
I saw Audrey perform last year, playing the same piece she'll play at the festival - Mozart's exhilarating Piano Concerto No. 21 in C.
It reminded me of Ken Burns' "Jazz" series on PBS, when trumpeter Wynton Marsalis said about Count Basie, "When Basie sat down to play, he'd be swinging before he played the first note."
That's Audrey, too. Her solo didn't come until about seven or eight minutes into the concerto; but instead of sitting around waiting for her turn, she was totally into the music.
She and the music were one. It went way beyond her flawless technique. She was feeling the music down to the bottom of her soul, and it all came pouring out through her fingertips. It was one of the most exhilarating musical experiences I have ever had.
And I'm not the only one who feels this way.
"Her age has nothing to do with it," says Maestro George Cleve, the festival's founder and artistic director. "You're lucky to find that kind of ability at any age. She has an endless capacity to move me musically. It's a privilege to work with her."
And get this: She's a brilliant violinist and composer, too! She has composed ballets, string trios, sonatas, pop songs and a musical version of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Emperor's New Clothes."
And as if that weren't enough, she's also a gifted actress who, despite her tender age, has already received raves from the critics for her appearances with ACT in San Francisco.
But the best part is that none of this has gone to her head.
"She is totally sweet and full of fun, with no pretension," says ACT's Craig Slaight, who directed her in a Noel Coward play last year. "Everybody in the company loves her."
Murray Cohen, the Head of School at College Prep, concurs.
"Her teachers and fellow students love her. She is a wonderful, delightful, very deep person with a remarkable degree of thoughtfulness on any subject."
With so many different talents, Audrey is being pulled in all directions. Professional musicians want her to concentrate on music, and theater people want her to concentrate on acting. But she's resisting the pressures.
In fact, most of her friends don't even know about her artistic life, and that's just the way she likes it.
"It's great to be judged by your personality, not how people think you play the piano," she explains.
Audrey will appear with the Midsummer Mozart Festival July 15 in Santa Clara, July 16 in San Francisco, July 17 in Sonoma and July 18 in Berkeley.
There will be a second series of concerts the following week in San Jose, San Francisco, Sonoma and Berkeley, featuring a pianist whom Audrey reveres, the beloved Seymour Lipkin, playing two highly contrasting piano concerti.
Call 1-800-838-3006 or visit midsummermozart.org for tickets and details.

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