Mon. Nov 28th, 2022

When he strokes his bow over his cello strings, Alexander Hersh commits an act that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, all string players, have done thousands of times on works by Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, Elgar, Dvorak and many other  heavyweights in the standard repertoire.

But in his case, it’s an ongoing legacy for Hersh, 29, a cellist, and his father, Stefan, 59, a violinist, who are the featured soloists, performing (another heavyweight) Brahms’ Double Concerto, for the Vallejo Symphony’s 90th season opener Saturday and Sunday at the Empress Theatre in Vallejo.

Alex, as he liked to be called during a Tuesday telephone interview from his Chicago residence, noted his grandfather taught viola and piano for 40 years at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His great-grandfather, Ralph Hersh, and great-grandmother, Marianne Hersh, helped to found the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and Ralph Hersh joined the Stuyvesant Quartet in New York City.

Asked if he meets people who remember his relatives’ performances or classes, Alex quipped, “It’s a curse and a blessing, depending on how you look at it. It happens all the time.”

Born in Minneapolis and growing up in Chicago, Alex, who will perform in recital at Carnegie Hall later this month, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Then, he said, he received “an amazing grant,” allowing him to study and attend concerts in Berlin, which he called “the epicenter of classical music.”

“Most of my (performance) work was in the states, however,” said Alex, adding, “I really immersed myself in the German aesthetic of string playing.”

He performs 45 to 60 times annually, but, he said, “I do a lot of other stuff.”

Vallejo Symphony conductor Marc Taddei (Contributed photo -- Vallejo Symphony)
Vallejo Symphony conductor Marc Taddei (Contributed photo — Vallejo Symphony)

During the height of the pandemic, he dabbled in making short films and is also working on a new album. He described his filmmaking foray on YouTube as “a marriage of classical music and narrative and short stories. It’s sort of my grassroots to get a whole new generation interested in classical music.”

An example: “A Study in Pasta Making,” which he called “a sort-of comedy of errors. It’s just me making pasta and me playing music in the background.”

Describing himself as “a huge fan of old recordings,” Alex said he and his father have played the Brahms, an 1887 piece and the German composer’s last orchestral work, at previous concerts. They begin rehearsals Friday and before the Saturday concert, when they will review tempi, the speed at which a passage of music is played or should be played, with conductor Marc Taddei.

Turns out, Alex met Marc in New Zealand “and I just kind of pitched this idea” of not only the father and son as soloists but also as a homecoming for his father, who was the Vallejo Symphony’s concertmaster at age 19.

Asked if the special magic of a family of vocalists who harmonize beautifully and naturally can also apply to relatives who perform instrumental music together, he said it boils down to “priorities and value systems.”

“I grew up with my parents, listened to them practice all the time, then I went off and studied,” said Alex. “You never forget where you came from. We’re independent, but we’re always swayed by one another.”

As the conversation turned to the music, he fielded the question about why Brahms’ Double Concerto has not achieved the acclaim of the composer’s Violin Concerto or his two for piano.

“I don’t know,” said Alex. “Anytime you get two soloists doing something, it’s just a little awkward.”

Still, “It’s great Brahms, it’s heroic,” he said, adding that the 33-minute piece started out as a cello concerto. “In the end, I’m happy to have a piece to share with my dad and the audience.”

During the Double Concerto’s first section, a listener might think the two solo instruments come across as consolation prizes of sound but they end up putting out a lot of vigorous music as the music winds down. The second and slow section comes across as sweetly autumnal and the soloists are spotlighted. The third and final section is something of a lively dance. For much of the concerto, the soloists are not the stars of the show but, essentially, the leading players in an orchestral drama of fast-paced tempos with folk song echoes.

While his father — who directs the string chamber music program for the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University — has been practicing the Brahms for 18 months every single day, “My schedule is a bit busier than his in terms of playing,” he said.

Using a sports metaphor, Alex said preparing for a concert is both “a mental thing as much as it is a kinesthetic thing. I begin with scales and etudes — the same thing I was doing when first starting out. It’s kind like a ball player taking batting practice and working on their swing.”

Alexander, who has performed with the Houston Symphony and the Boston Pops, is the co-artistic director of NEXUS Chamber Music, a collective of international artists committed to performing chamber music.

The orchestra also will perform Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” Overture, a cheerful work written in 1816 that gallops along for seven minutes and summarizes musically what is considered the greatest comic opera of all time. The overture is widely performed in concert halls.

Besides Brahms, the concert’s other draw will be Stravinsky’s “Jeu de Cartes” (Card Game) ballet, a 24-minute work written in 1936 for the American Ballet Theater Company (headed at the time by a young George Balanchine), sometimes described as “a ballet in three deals.”

While not as famous as the Russian composer’s “Firebird” and “The Rite of Spring” ballets, it is regarded as a neoclassical masterpiece and was inspired by his favorite card game: Poker. Episodic, it is filled hilariously with quotations from Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Ravel, Delibes, Tchaikovsky, and even Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” notes symphony spokesman Tim Zumwalt, adding, “It is an orchestral tour de force that requires the virtuosity of your orchestra to bring off.”

IF YOU GO
Vallejo Symphony
8 p.m. Saturday
3 p.m. Sunday
Empress Theatre
330 Virginia St., Vallejo
Tickets: $45-$65
(707) 643-4441
www.vallejosymphony.org



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