15 May Concerts At Villa Montalvo Arts Center-Saratoga, California
I’ve had some memorable experiences in my life with my music, and I had a wonderful job for several years as a page turner for the classical concerts at Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, California. The outdoor open air theater that seats about a thousand people is a treasure, and the tiny indoor Carriage House is a very imitate performance space that is perfect for chamber music. The history of Villa Montalvo can be found here at Wikipedia….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montalvo_Arts_Center
Years ago I met the stage manager there, Tony Wilson, through my old friend Cameron MacKenzie, who was also working at Montalvo at the time. Tony brought me in many times to turn pages for the accompanists of major classical musicians that did recitals there. I cannot remember all the people that I turned pages for, but many were truly memorable, and I got an amazing post graduate level “degree” as a musician by being that close to that amazing music. Turning pages is a difficult and nerve wracking job, because you really can only do something wrong in that situation. You have to read nasty difficult music at sight, stand up at just the right instant, turn the page so that you don’t block the pianists view, be sure to only turn one page, and make sure your tie is tucked into your pants so that it doesn’t interfere with the pianists fingers! You don’t really get to enjoy the music like a listener, but you absolutely can feel what the performers are feeling and are definitely a participant in the program. Seeing these major players on stage up close and personal as well as interacting with them backstage, seeing how they conducted themselves in and around the venue, and how amazingly well they play, was and continues to be for me truly inspiring.
The first time I was called to come in to Villa Montalvo to turn pages was in October of 1999 for world renowned violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonneborg:
Of course I knew who she was, and I was a nervous wreck. It was an outdoor evening performance in the Villa Montalvo outdoor arena, and the place was packed. The program was all difficult modern classical music, which was a nightmare to read. Nadja walked out on stage with the pianist and myself, and the place went deafening silent. All of a sudden we became aware of the loudest cricket chirping you’ve ever heard in your life. I mean, thousands of the little suckers are chirping, it’s like a cricket symphony. Nadja turns to us, the pianist and I, and says, loud enough for the crowd to hear for sure, “Jesus Christ, I wish the crickets would just SHUT UP!” I would learn in the course of the evening what a wise guy, or girl, Nadja was/is. She’s got that New York sense of humor, and she pulls no punches. She proceeds to just play the heck out of all these difficult pieces, with amazing time and a surety of technique and the supreme confidence that only the really masterful performers possess. It was truly awesome to be a part of. Between movements of pieces she would make offhand comments to us, and after the slow movement of one piece, I whispered to her, “That was beautiful.” She turns to me, with this huge sarcastic grin on her face, and says, in a very loud voice reminiscent of Curly of the Three Stooges, “Glad you liked it!” Man I thought I was going to fall over laughing, but of course I had to keep it together. I remember during the intermission standing alone with her backstage, we were talking a bit about New York and she was very nervously smoking a cigarette. I got the impression that she’s not much of a people person, and that she didn’t want to talk to anyone. I think my being a musician myself was the only reason she felt at all comfortable with me being there at that moment. It sure was an interesting glimpse into her personality. After the gig she literally ran with her violin to a waiting limousine and was the first one to leave the grounds, and signed exactly one autograph. For me. As she packed up her axe I had a pen waiting and the program for the evening handy, and I said, “Nadja, would you mind?” Literally without saying a word she hurriedly signed the program and she was off into the night. I’ll never forget that performance…….my first page turner gig. For Nadja, in front of a thousand people. Amazing and mind blowing…..
Little did I know over the course of the next ten years I’d do a dozen or more of these gigs. Villa Montalvo would usually call me a couple of times a year. Some of the people I remember being on stage with are New York based clarinetist John Mannase
with Jon Nakamatsu on piano, and violinists Hillary Hahn and Gil Shaham. I wish I’d kept a list, I can’t remember them all but I gradually got comfortable with the situation and learned to enjoy it. Gil Shaham was an especially nice guy, he called me into his dressing room before the concert and played all sorts of things for me that he was preparing for his next concert tour. He kept asking me “How’s it sound, man?” I mean, gimme a break, the guys an unbelievably great violinist and musician. I remember saying a dozen or so times, “Yeah, Gil, sounds great!” He just seemed to love the music and loved to play so much, and here he is back stage giving me a personal concert, and asking my opinion. Gil is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Period.
In 2007 Villa Montalvo asked me to turn pages for the pianist that was working with Itzhak Perlman, Rohan De Silva. The show was at the California Theater, in San Jose, CA. What a gorgeous venue this place is. Hearing Itzhak play that night was truly life altering. He’s the most soulful classical musician I’ve ever heard live. The sound of that Stradivarius violin at point blank range in his hands literally took my breath away. At that time Perlman had a way of doing his concerts……he prepares one piece that he plays first on the program, reading from the music, to open the concert. Then he calls out pieces to the pianist, and plays the rest of the gig from memory. Rohan travels with this huge binder of repertoire pieces, and he never knows from night to night what they are going to play. I know jazz musicians do this, but this was the first time I’d ever heard of a classical musician calling his tunes spontaneously. Itzhak is an amazing man, very outgoing, he says hello to all the concert employees and has a kind word for everyone, no matter who you are. He gets around on that little scooter of his, and you can hear his famous booming voice all over the theater backstage. He loves to laugh and cracks jokes constantly. For a guy that is a famous celebrity, he has absolutely no pretense. Truly a gentleman with a huge heart. He was talking about French wine, he’s a huge wine lover, and when I mentioned I knew about French wine and enjoyed Southern Rhone style wines, he called me into his dressing room and talked wine with me for 10 minutes. They actually had to come get him to go on for the second half of the program because he was so engrossed in our conversation. So then he hands me his violin case and asks me to carry it for him as we go down from the dressing room to the stage. And I’m thinking “I cannot believe I’m holding Perlman’s violin right now, and I better not DROP IT!” There was a meet and greet after the concert backstage, probably 300 hundred people saying hello to Mr. Perlman, and he’s back there cracking jokes, signing autographs, talking to everyone until they were all gone. That earned my respect for a lifetime, to see him do that with such finesse and sincerity. Itzhak Perman, what a class act that man is. Please see his Wikipedia entry to in order to appreciate his career and achievements….
They still do various concerts at Villa Montalvo, be sure to check their website to see if there might be something that would interest you at http://www.montalvoarts.org/
I was very lucky to have been part of some of these past classical recitals, and I still love the Villa Montalvo venues and the great live concerts I attended there. I saw David Sanborn:
India Arie, and several more there that I can’t quite recall. What a beautiful place and setting. Get out to Villa Montalvo this summer if you can…