Dawn Harms

Dawn Harms conducts Symphony Parnassus

Timthumb* Notes *
The amateur musicians of Symphony Parnassus barely all fit on the stage of San Francisco Conservatory of Music's Concert Hall yesterday afternoon. The performance began with Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. The playing was not entirely clear but was quite hearty. Before the Der Rosenkavalier Suite and excerpts from that opera, conductor Dawn Harms announced that Frederica von Stade would not being singing, due to a medical emergency in the family. Soprano Melody Moore (Marschallin) had gamely offered to sing von Stade's part in "Ist ein Traum / Spür' nur dich" with Nadine Sierra (Sophie). Both have lovely voices, and Moore did pretty well with Octavian. Concertmaster Robin Mayforth and the rest of the orchestra sounded robust and flowed nicely.

There was much to sort out before Clarice Assad's "SCATTERED," a concerto for scat singing, piano, and orchestra. A piano had to be brought on stage, as did an extensive drum set. The microphone set up for Assad was not operational, so another was used. Unfortunately this new one did not fit in the given stand, and someone had to simply hold it for Assad, since her hands were not free for most of the first movement. The piece did have a lot of appeal, Assad's playing and singing were strong, as was Keita Ogawa's percussion. The orchestra played with spirit.

The second half of the program consisted of Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 (1930), known as quite appropriately as "Romantic." The playing was very pretty. Harms accidently threw her baton in between the violas and celli at one point in the second movement, but recovered quickly. Despite not going as expected, the performance was endearing.

* Tattling *
The audience was occasionally restless, and there was light talking at certain moments.

Dawn Harms Interview

Dawn-harmsDawn Harms is conducting Symphony Parnassus in a spring concert this weekend with guest artist Frederica von Stade at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Harms also plays violin in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and is Associate Concertmaster of New Century Chamber Orchestra. She spoke with The Opera Tattler on March 19, 2012.

How did you come to be a violinist?
My parents always wanted a violinist in the family. My sister played cello, my brother played viola, and my mother was a voice teacher. I still remember a lot of the etudes and exercises she taught me. She was my accompanist when I was growing up too.

So you are from a musical family! I heard that one of your cousins is Tom Waits, is that true?
Yes, our mothers are sisters. Tom is a great guy. I've played on three of his albums. He'll often tell me that my playing is too sweet, and that I should play more like a child, rough it up more. He really loves the weirdest sounds!

How did you start playing for the opera?
I was in a string quartet in Amarillo, Texas, and that's only 4 hours away from Santa Fe Opera, so I auditioned and played there for 5 summers. The atmosphere there is really something.

How did you meet Frederica von Stade?
It was actually in Santa Fe, and because of recycling. It was early in the morning after a party, and I was recycling some bottles. I happened to see Flicka and introduced myself. She was and is so gracious and down-to-earth.

When did you come to San Francisco?
San Francisco Opera had an opening for the principal violist. I auditioned, and actually, I didn't get the position, the current principal, Carla Maria Rodrigues, did. She couldn't start right away though, so I played principal viola for one season, and then switched to violin.

What appeals to you about opera?
Who doesn't love drama? My favorite operas are Der Rosenkavalier and Peter Grimes. I tend toward the more dramatic. I'm a Puccini freak and also I love Jake Heggie's music.

How is working with other string players different than working with singers?
Playing a string instrument is similar to singing. It is an analogy I use with my students at Stanford, and I have them sing phrases. It helps them connect to the music and emote. The bow is like a vocal cord.

How did you start conducting?
I studied conducting in 2008 at Aspen, for an intensive 9 weeks. It was great to conduct such a fantastic orchestra.

What do you like about conducting?
A lot of people think conducting is about power and egotism, but I would say it is a bit more like dance. It is expressing music through movement, and the whole orchestra becomes your instrument.

Tell me about Symphony Parnassus.
It is a community orchestra made up of doctors, health care workers, and students from UCSF. People have to pay dues in order to join, and they are there for the love of the music. They are very devoted, rehearsing every Monday night after a full day of work.