With Michael Tilson Thomas' last season at San Francisco Symphony opening on Wednesday and a full schedule at the San Francisco Opera including Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Britten's Billy Budd, and Opera in the Park, the galas are upon us. For those looking for something more intimate (and with a better-behaved audience), pianist and composer Gregory Taboloff (pictured left) is performing his piano concerto at Herbst Theatre on Sunday afternoon with David Ramadanoff conducting a 45-member orchestra.
How did you start playing piano?
I started playing because we were supposed to, there was a teacher across the street. My older sister went first, then me, then my younger brother. They both lost interest, but I stuck with it, I always came back to music. In junior high I started viola and then played with two youth orchestras, one in Berkeley and other other in Oakland.
You were also a violist! There are secret violists everywhere.
Yes, everyone wanted to play violin, of course, but viola gives you an appreciation for all the different voices in a symphony. We get to play a lot of "oompha oompha."
Is this how you came to composing?
Yes, my first composition was a trio for piano, viola, and clarinet that I wrote for myself and my best friends, who were accomplished musicians. A lot of composers were violists!
Your music has been compared a lot to Russian Romantics. What is it about that type of music that you are drawn to?
My music is neo-romantic, and tends to the passionate and expressive. As a music major, I definitely studied Webern, Schoenberg, and Stockhausen, and I don't want to denigrate atonal or twelve-tone music, it is very interesting and mathematical. I don’t, however, feel like it communicates with my soul.
Tell me about the pieces on the program.
My piano concerto is inspired by Walt Whitman's The Mystic Trumpeter and a painting by my wife, Ann Marie, also entitled The Mystic. The concert starts with the overture to Mozart's The Magic Flute, which fits nicely because it also deals with the spiritual, with all of its Freemasonry themes. We are also playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, which clearly shows a lot of influence from Mozart.
Are you composing anything else?
I am working on an opera based on Dante's La Vita Nuova, which deals with medieval courtly love. It is prose and verse, and is supernatural. Dante stops writing after his beloved Beatrice's death, and has a mystical experience in his study in which a bright red light appears along with Beatrice herself.