Composer Profile: Preben Antonsen

Composer Profile:  Preben Antonsen

Preben Antonsen (b. 1991) graduated from Yale University in 2013, majoring in music and computer science. He has been composing since he was a small child, and studied composition with John Adams from 2001-2009. The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra premiered his first orchestral work in March 2009. NPR’s program “From the Top” featured Preben as a young composer in 2008.

Pianist Wuu connects with deep feelings in Rachmaninoff's 'Rhapsody'

Elliot Wuu, piano

Elliot Wuu, piano

Elliot Wuu, piano soloist for the Symphony Parnassus June 11 concert, loves the deep feelings evoked by Rachmaninoff, the great Russian Romantic composer who also happens to be his favorite.

“I feel like I can connect with the strong emotions. I adore his heart-wrenching harmonies,” Elliot says.

Elliot, 17, lives in Fremont, Calif., and attends Valley Christian High School in San Jose. He studies piano with Yoshikazu Nagai at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Pre-College Division, and when not practicing, he likes to play with gadgets and technology, and also loves to swim and play basketball. He has been studying piano since age 6.

His love of music began early: His parents told him that as a baby, he frequently slept next to the piano bench while his sister Rebecca practiced; she is now preparing to graduate with a piano degree from the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

And as for Elliot, all those naps next to the piano bench, plus many years of practice have paid off.   

Elliot Wuu, piano

Elliot Wuu, piano

He is excited to play Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini at the upcoming concert. “I am ecstatic to perform with Symphony Parnassus,” he said. “I hope I will be able to share my love of music with the audience, and to inspire them too!”

“I really like Rachmaninoff's creativity throughout this piece,” Elliot says. “He uses numerous ways to vary the Paganini motive to compose unique textures and expressions in each variation.”

The Rhapsody—one of Rachmaninoff’s most popular pieces—is actually a set of 24 variations on the 24th and last of composer Paganini's Caprices for solo violin. In 2015, Elliot performed it to win the Hilton Head International Piano Competition. That achievement is one of many national and international prizes he has won in his young career, including:  

  • 2017 National YoungArts Foundation Finalist Winner
  • 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts candidate
  • 2014 Lang Lang International Music Foundation Young Scholar (2014-2016)
  • 2016-2021 Music Teachers Association of California Young Artist Guild, the highest honor bestowed to California music students
  • Two-time first prize winner of the Pacific Musical Society Competition, whose past winners include violinist Yehudi Menuhin and pianist Leon Fleisher

Painter's use of light and color inspires composer Cwik's 'Luz Dorada'

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Q&A with Stefan Cwik, Symphony Parnassus composer-in-residence

Stefan Cwik, composer-in-residence

Stefan Cwik, composer-in-residence

Stefan Cwik, Symphony Parnassus composer-in-residence, is proud to present his latest work, Luz Dorada: Music After Three Paintings by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado in a world premiere with Symphony Parnassus.

Stefan, 30, who was named composer-in-residence in 2016, has collaborated three times before with Symphony Parnassus, premiering his Concert Dances for Orchestra, Piano Concerto, and his English horn concerto, The Sword in the Stone.

He is professor of music theory and musicianship at the San Francisco Conservatory, from which he also has a bachelor’s degree in composition. He also has a master’s in composition from The Juilliard School, where he won the orchestral composition competition twice, with his works Terpsichore and The Illusionist. 

Originally from Chicago, he now resides in the Bay Area.

How did you become acquainted with Eduardo, the artist who inspired your music? What is it about his paintings that drew you in?

Finding Eduardo's paintings was a happy accident. I was browsing through abstract art on my computer. I hadn't intended to come across a living artist since I was looking through older art from the late 1800s and early 1900s. A picture of one of Eduardo's artworks made its way into my search. That led me to his website where I learned about him as an artist and as was able to explore some of his works. I was immediately drawn in by the extraordinary use of fragmentation of forms and sensitivity to color and light. Upon reading his artistic statement, I immediately connected with him as an artist, specifically this line (taken directly from his website) "In most of my paintings I represent the human form or some sort of human element and our connection to another plane of consciousness."

Was it unusual to find inspiration in paintings? Have you done this before?

I had never before used visual art as an inspiration for a piece of music. I have always loved art museums and the process of experiencing and receiving a visual work of art but had not directly used art for my music.

Which composers inspire you and why?

I tend to listen to Igor Stravinsky, Britten, Ravel, Esa Pekka Salonen, and Thomas Adès. I like them all for different reasons, but I would have to say that what links them together is their ability to draw from the music that came before them for inspiration and innovate with an enormous creative sensibility that allows them to compose in an instantly recognizable style.

How has it been to work with Symphony Parnassus this time around?

It has been great working with Symphony Parnassus. The orchestra has been picking up the music rather quickly. The music seems to sit well with all of the instruments, which has been good to experience because it shows a general improvement in my orchestral writing. It is a very playable piece.

The challenges are always the same. Generally they are specific things such as bowing and phrasing for the strings, which is something that I consider a weak point in my orchestration skills. Although it is happening much less this time around, in the past it always takes a little bit of time to communicate the affect of the music to the players if the notated music does not communicate that obviously.

Steve helps an awful lot with this because he is such a sensitive musician that he can look at the score and understand what the underlying musical intention is. It is really an honor to work with him every time I get the chance. 

Violinist Vivian Ling finds friendship amid music in her adopted home of San Francisco

Vivan Ling, violin

Vivan Ling, violin

Imagine being barely in your teens, and traveling halfway around the world by yourself to live in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language.

Five years ago, that’s what faced Boxianzi “Vivian” Ling, 19, when she left China to come to the U.S., continuing her violin studies at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in San Francisco, and graduating from high school at San Domenico High School in San Anselmo.

“When I first got here, I was alone and lonely,” she said. “I feel much better now. I can talk to people. I have a lot of friends and I play in an orchestra.”

Many of those friends and colleagues are her fellow musicians at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is a freshman studying violin performance with teachers Wei He (who acted as her guardian when she first moved here), and Ian Swensen.

Vivian Ling in rehearsal

Vivian Ling in rehearsal

On March 19, Vivian—winner of the 2016 Parnassus–San Francisco Conservatory of Music Competition—will perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major with Symphony Parnassus. 

With its lyrical melodies and dramatic passages, the Beethoven is a beloved concerto that presents plenty of challenges for its soloist. “It looks simple, but it’s very hard to control everything technically or emotionally,” Vivian said. She has played it once before, and estimates that she will probably spend between three and six hours a day practicing for the concert.

Vivian looks forward to the concert; it is just her second time performing with a full orchestra. “I’m really excited to play with Symphony Parnassus,” she said.

Vivian was born in Hunan province in southern China, and began studying violin at age 5. She said that “right away” her teacher knew she had a gift, and told her parents to send her to Shanghai or Beijing to study music.

Her parents stayed behind in Hunan because of their jobs, but she left home at age 7 with her grandmother to live in Shanghai, where she attended a prestigious elementary school affiliated with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. At age 12, she was featured on China National TV playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto; she has also soloed with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra.

Her musical background comes from both sides of the family: Her mother “plays a little piano,” and has taught music; her father likes to sing and is a music lover who played a lot of classical music recordings when she was growing up. Mozart is her favorite composer because “it reminds me of my childhood in China. My dad liked to play recordings and Mozart was his favorite.”

The musical lineage goes further back to her grandmother, who was a dancer, and a grandfather who was a conductor who played a Chinese instrument similar to a small violin.

Winner of the Young Artists Concerto Competition with Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra in 2012, Vivian served as concertmaster of San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra from 2014-2016. She participated in the SFSYO European tour, performing in the Berlin Philharmonie and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.