Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

‘Incredibly good’ classical-jazz pianist will solo on campus

Pianist Kirill Gerstein literally carries a tune — and a piano music stand. Photo: Marco Borggreve.


OK, I’ll cop to it — I’ve been living in a constricted mind-tunnel of my own making.

Not that strange for a “retiree,” of course.

Many men just beyond my state of geezerhood have no time for anything fresh because they’re too busy shuffling off to a lab where some kid who can’t shave yet takes blood, or too busy sipping tea laced with aspartame with old ladies thrilled that somebody with different plumbing’s still breathing and will keep ‘em company, or too busy hoping they can dribble to an easy layup without inducing a stroke.

I have a radically different agenda, naturally, and it typically involves situating my butt in front of a computer.

Meeting deadline after deadline after deadline.

So I not frequently get overloaded writing reviews, concocting columns and desperately seeking not Susan or Madonna or Miley Cyrus but someone who’ll publish my book manuscript.

Truth is, when it comes to the entertainment world, I don’t recognize the names of three of every thousand performers anymore.

Until a week ago, to be honest, I’d never heard of pianist Kirill Gerstein.

But then I was urged to promote the pianist’s 8 p.m. June 5 concert with the San Francisco Symphony at the Green Music Center on the Sonoma State University campus — in advance.

So I am.

Why? Because I listened to some of his stuff on YouTube, and it’s incredibly good (more about that later).

The Sonoma concert will take place in the state-of-the-art Weill Hall, which, according to the symphony’s website, “boasts outstanding acoustics, artistic wood interiors, and stunning wine country views.”

Sounds good to me.

The 35-year-old Russian-born Gerstein will be the soloist for Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” with frequent San Francisco guest conductor Charles Dutoit, who’s the main man for the London Royal Philharmonic, leading the orchestra.

Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10,” composed after Stalin’s death in 1953, fills out the bill.

For those who prefer a more urban setting, three duplicative concerts will take place at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco at 8 p.m. June 4, 6 and 7.

Who’s this guy I’m just beginning to know?

Gerstein at 14 became the youngest student at Boston’s Berkelee College of Music, where he was a jazz prodigy. His classical interpretations, indeed, display moments when that energetic training shines through.

His newest album, “Imaginary Pictures: Mussorgsky, Schumann,” I’m told, will be released around the time of the concerts.

As for the YouTube excerpts, though he’s mostly in the background on “Summertime” as jazz stalwart Storm Large makes the tune her own, you certainly know Gerstein’s there.

And he’s utterly brilliant on “Ophelia’s Last Dance,” an introspective mash-up of classical and jazz, a nine-minute exercise composed specifically for him that blends tomorrow with yesterday and today — and adds a touch or two of humor.

Other YouTube pieces that gave me a glimpse into his excellence include the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s “3rd Piano Concert” and the original 1924 band version of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Winners all.

Bob Dylan knew it decades before I did: The times they are a-changin’. And that’s a good thing.

Tickets to the June 4-7 San Francisco Symphony concerts with Kirill Gerstein run from $15 to $156. Information: and (866) 955-6040 and, or and (415) 864-6000.

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