Tuesday, February 8, 2011
When Audrey Vardanega was a little girl, her mother used to drive her past Children's Hospital in Oakland on the way to her weekly piano lesson. She always looked forward to seeing the huge rubber duck on top of the building.
"I just loved that duck! Sometimes they'd take it down, and I'd get sad and upset and not have that great a lesson that day. But I never knew what went on inside the building."
Audrey is 15 now, and she has blossomed into one of the truly great classical pianists of her generation. And as if that weren't enough, she's also a virtuoso on the violin.
Even a musical illiterate like me can appreciate how good she is because she includes the audience in the sheer joy of making music.
It's a rare quality that only the greatest artists share. Louis Armstrong had it. So does Fredericka Von Stade. And Audrey has it in spades.
She plays with the Mozart Youth Camerata, an ambitious pairing of some of the most talented young musicians in the Bay Area with their adult counterparts in the Midsummer Mozart Festival orchestra, playing side-by-side under the direction of Maestro George Cleve, the festival's founder and artistic director.
A couple of months ago, Audrey and one of her pals from the Camerata, 17-year-old violist Tori Fukumitsu, visited Children's Hospital to find out what was really going on under the duck.
"We reached a set of double doors and were told to wash our hands before entering because this was the cancer wing," she says. "Tori and I saw kids from babies to teenagers who were receiving treatment. The bulletin boards were covered with pictures of children who had not been so fortunate and had lost their lives. We were both in a state of complete shock."
But there was an upside, too: They were blown away by the way the doctors and staff at Children's Hospital bend over backward to save these kids and make their lives more bearable.
"The doctors showed us this room in the wing where kids can go play," says Tori. "It's filled with coloring books and TVs, and everything is totally sterile. There's only one rule: No treatment is allowed in that room because they don't want the kids to associate that room with sickness."
They went back and told their friends what they saw, and the kids responded by offering to help out in the way they know best - making music.
They're going to hold a benefit concert for Children's Hospital on Sunday, Feb. 20, at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Audrey will be one of the two soloists in the Concerto for Two Violins in D minor by Bach, then she'll move over to the piano and play "Almeria" by Iberia.
And there's a lot more, including Mozart's Symphony No. 29, a flute quartet playing Bach's gorgeous "Sheep May Safely Graze," and surprise appearances by some of the adult soloists from the Midsummer Mozart Festival.
If you want to hear some glorious music in a great cause, there's nothing better. And if you can't make it to the concert but would still like to help, please send a tax-deductible check to the Children's Hospital Foundation, 2201 Broadway #600, Oakland CA 94612.
Audrey and Tori will be grateful.