Soloist Alex Zhou returns to Symphony Parnassus eager to share Korngold Violin Concerto
Alex Zhou, violin

Alex Zhou, violin

The last time Symphony Parnassus performed with violinist Alex Zhou, he was a fresh-faced 14-year-old just getting used to playing with an orchestra.

 Three years later, while he’s still young at 17, he is a much more seasoned performer, self-assured in his art and finding deeper expression when he plays.

 “I am more aware of all the different subtleties of the music than I was three years ago,” he said. “That’s still something I am working on—listening closely to music and the orchestra, and not being afraid to express how I want to express the music instead of just playing notes. I feel that’s where I’ve matured over past the past three or four years.”

 Alex is the featured soloist for the Korngold Violin Concerto with Maestro Stephen Paulson and Symphony Parnassus for its spring concert on Sunday, April 7, 3 p.m. at Taube Atrium Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave., 4th floor. Also on the program: Chabrier’s Joyeuse Marche, and Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Tickets ($25 for adults; $20 for seniors and $10 for all students): https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4067535?date=2028986

They are also available at the door.

 Alex is a two-time winner (2015 and 2018) of the Parnassus – San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concerto Competition. The first time, he performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto; this time, he’s playing a piece that is a far cry from the early romantic lyricism of that piece. He looks forward to introducing audiences to the lesser-known violin concerto from the 20th century film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

 “I’ve fallen in love with it,” Alex said. “It’s very unlike other staples of the concerto repertoire, more film-like. It’s a mix between classical tonality and 20th century, not quite modernist. It’s a lot of fun to play.”

 Over the years, Alex has won many prizes. In addition to winning the 2018 Parnassus – SFCM Music Concerto Competition, his recent honors include:

  • honorable mention at the U.S. National YoungArts Competition

  • semifinalist at the 2018 International Shanghai Isaac Stern Violin Competition

  • quarterfinalist at the 2018 International Schoenfeld String Competition

  • 1st place, 2018 International Irving M. Klein String Competition

  • 1st place, 2016 Master Sinfonia Chamber Orchestra Competition

  • Fourth prize and Composer’s Prize, 2014 International Menuhin Violin Competition

 Alex lives with his parents James Zhou and June Hu in San Jose and attends The King’s Academy school in Sunnyvale.

 He started piano lessons at age 5 and began playing the violin a year later after seeing a home video of his older sister performing in her elementary school orchestra. Intrigued, he found her old violin and tried to play it, and soon began taking violin lessons, too.

 Now almost through with high school and set to graduate, he spent the earlier part of this year playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto at college auditions and is still waiting to hear which conservatory he might attend.

 Alex says it is “very exciting” to be performing with Symphony Parnassus again. “It feels very different. I feel like I’ve matured a lot musically and grown as a musician and performer.”

Alex Zhou, Violin

Alex Zhou, Violin

Violinist Sean Mori loves the challenge of Tchaikovsky’s beloved concerto
Sean Mori, violin

Sean Mori, violin

The violin cast an early spell on Sean Mori, who began taking lessons at age 3 after seeing a violinist in concert in San Francisco.

He doesn’t recall the exact details of that first experience, but he remembers the feeling: “I thought it looked cool. I wanted to play the violin,” he said. His parents listened, got him into lessons, and two years later, he gave his first solo performance.

Sean, 16, lives in Palo Alto, Calif., with his parents Takeshi and Sachiko, and younger sister Jennifer, 13, who studies the cello; neither of their parents are musicians. Sean does high-school coursework through the School of Independent Learners in Los Altos, and attends the Pre-College Program at the SF Conservatory.

He enjoys bicycle riding for a hobby, and though he admits it’s a little bit dangerous, he finds it “a good way to let off steam.”

Sean says he says he is drawn to the way music, and especially the violin, can express emotion and stories, particularly in the towering Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, which he will perform with Maestro Stephen Paulson and Symphony Parnassus at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Taube Atrium Theater in San Francisco. (Purchase Tickets)

“Tchaikovsky had the ability to put in all these different colors and conflicts, and it has so many difficult emotions intertwined,” he said.   

His appearance with Symphony Parnassus marks the first time Sean has performed with an orchestra. He is a 2018 winner of the Symphony Parnassus / San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concerto Competition.

“It’s a great honor to be selected to play,” he said. “It’s a big risk to bring in someone who has never performed the Tchaikovsky concerto with an orchestra before. I’m honored that they had the trust in me.” 

Though it’s his first time performing as soloist with an orchestra, he’s no stranger to the concert stage, having played throughout the world, from Prague to New York to Japan, and is a scholarship student of Ian Swensen and Elbert Tsai at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

This past year, he was a quarter-finalist in the under-15 division of the 2018 International Menuhin Competition in Geneva, Switzerland. He has won many first-place prizes as well: the United States International Music Competition, DVC/HNU Young Artist String Competition, Pacific Musical Society competition, Galante Music Festival, Nova Vista Concerto Competition, and was invited to perform at Steinway Society of the Bay Area’s Young Artists Concert.

Sean admits to being “a little nervous” about his upcoming performance with Symphony Parnassus, but looks forward to “showing people what I can do.”

Guest Artist: Dustin Breshears
Dustin Breshears, violin

Dustin Breshears, violin

Dustin Breshears in rehearsal

Dustin Breshears in rehearsal

Dustin Breshears 3

Dustin Breshears looks forward to performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Symphony Parnassus this coming Sunday.

It’s just the second time he will have played the concerto in concert with an orchestra, and he relishes the challenge. “You have to fit in, as well as lead the orchestra,” which is more complex than practicing with piano accompaniment or alone, he said.

Dustin, 11, is the winner of the 2018 Symphony Parnassus / San Francisco Conservatory of Music Competition, an annual event that features some of the brightest upcoming talent in classical music.

In addition to the Mendelssohn, Dustin is also performing a violin solo within Hindemith’s “Symphonia Serena” with the orchestra. (Also on the program is Khachaturian’s Waltz from “Masquerade.”)

The concert, led by guest conductor Emil de Cou, is on Sunday, Nov. 18 at the Taube Atrium Theater in San Francisco. (The concert is at 3 p.m. and tickets are available here.)

Symphony Parnassus has the honor of once again showcasing a talented member of the Breshears family; last season, Dustin’s younger sisters Starla, 10, a cellist, and Valery, 9, a violinist, both had won the Parnassus / SFCM competition and were soloists with the orchestra, performing Haydn and Mozart concertos, respectively.

“I was sort of jealous,” Dustin says with a smile, though he did get to perform with his sisters during an encore at the January concert. The trio of young musicians perform as Little Stars Trio, and frequently busk for tourists in San Francisco’s Union Square.

The trio has toured internationally to festivals and events in Mexico, Argentina and England. This past year in Los Angeles, they performed on “Little Big Shots,” an NBC-TV variety show hosted by Steve Harvey that showcases youth performers ranging from musical virtuosos to martial arts experts. The show aired in March this past year.

 Dustin and his sisters also participate in the Pre-College Program for up-and-coming classical musicians at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and all attend the Crowden School, a music school for grades 4-8 in Berkeley.

The Breshears parents Dustin Sr. and Julie—both pianists and teachers—along with their six children formerly resided in Chico but relocated to San Pablo this past summer to be closer to music opportunities in the Bay Area. Two of the three youngest, Colin, 6, and Delilah, 3, are already taking lessons on the violin and cello, respectively. Serenity, at 19 months is the youngest Breshears, will take up the violin, according to Dustin Sr.

Dustin Jr. says he likes living in the Bay Area and being close to all of the music opportunities for his growing career. He’s enjoying his new school and having fun at the conservatory, where in addition to studying violin performance, he is learning to compose. He also enjoys drawing when not playing the violin.

This Sunday’s concert will be special for Dustin, not only because of his performance of the Mendelssohn concerto, but because it is his 12th birthday. Happy birthday, Dustin!

Guest Conductor: Emil deCou
Emil deCou.jpg
 
Emil deCou 2

American conductor Emil de Cou is currently the music director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet and appears regularly with orchestras across the country. After his debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2000, he became associate conductor and led the NSO on national tours and at the U.S. Capitol. This summer will mark his 14th year as the principal conductor for the NSO’s Wolf Trap performances. His innovative concerts there have included the world premiere screenings of The Wizard of Oz with the score performed by live orchestra, the first-ever live-tweeted program notes (Beethoven’s 6th Symphony), and a live podcast of his Fantastic Planet concert. In 2006 he led the NSO in the Wolf Trap premiere of Holst’s The Planets narrated by Leonard Nimoy with NASA’s images, and in 2008 he conducted the premiere of Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Movies.

As musical consultant for NASA, he has conducted several collaborations, including Human Spaceflight: The Kennedy Legacy at the Kennedy Center for the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s declaration to land a man on the moon. De Cou will lead the NSO in three performances of 2001: A Space Odyssey, co-produced by NASA and The Kennedy Center, for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. For his work with NASA, de Cou was awarded the agency’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal; he is the first musician to receive this honor. 

For eight seasons, Mikhail Baryshnikov engaged Emil de Cou to conduct American Ballet Theatre in New York and on national and international tours. De Cou’s performance of Academy Award-winning composer Elliot Goldenthal’s ballet Othello was aired on PBS’s Great Performances series, and the soundtrack was released on the Varese Sarabande label. Among de Cou’s other releases is Debussy Rediscovered on Arabesque, which includes first-ever recordings of music by Claude Debussy.

Born in Los Angeles, Emil de Cou studied with Daniel Lewis at USC and was chosen for Leonard Bernstein’s master class at the Hollywood Bowl. De Cou made his Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Pops in 2006. He has led many of America’s leading orchestras, including those of Philadelphia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and St. Louis. He has also led the Boston Pops, and served as principal conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Pops. Emil de Cou now makes his home in both San Francisco and Seattle with his husband, conductor Leif Bjaland.