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The Soloists of Summer


Before we begin NEXT SEASON I want to thank the music gods for great soloists!  I got to work with some amazing people this summer in San Francisco as Director of Summer Concerts.  Not only classical powerhouses like Simon Trpčeski, but also the next generation, like the fantastic young violinist Benjamin Beilman. Have you heard him play?  He’s great!

I also helped put together a concert with Cheyenne Jackson (from 30 Rock, Glee, Broadway, and the SF Symphony’s recent amazing recording of West Side Story).  He invited Broadway legend Faith Prince, with whom I had a vibe.  We will meet onstage again someday.

But some of the most memorable soloists were from unexpected places.  Makoto Ozone joined us for Rhapsody in Blue.  If you don’t know Makoto, he is a heavy jazz player who can play classical repertoire, which is kind of amazing because he’s self-taught.  I asked him how he learned the Gershwin, and other pieces like Mozart “Jeunehomme,” and Prokofiev 3rd(!).  His answer? “Very slowly.”  The results speak for themselves.  He blew our collective minds. After the Gershwin, we teamed him up with a combo of SFS musicians (Mark Inouye – trumpet, Jake Nissly – drums, and Scott Pingel – bass) for a Ravel set.  They played Ravel’s Pavane and Bolero along with the orchestra, improvising in between (Pavane) and over (Bolero) Ravel’s music.  Badass.

The other x-factor was drag queen Courtney Act.  (Say it with an Australian accent, and you’ll get it: “caught in the act.”) She had never sung with orchestra, ever. Her challenge was to sing the “Elephant Love Medley” from Moulin Rouge with Cheyenne, and she nailed it. She came in flawlessly prepared, and sang beautifully. Such nerve and poise I have rarely seen, but I guess you need it for RuPaul’s drag race.

Anyway, both these folks should be part of your orchestra’s worlds, but you may not have heard of them yet.  Here are two videos!!

Courtney’s SF Symphony experience:


And here’s Makoto Rhaposdising with the NY Phil: