My collaboration with composer Dalit Warshaw (MM 1997, DMA, 2003) was foreshadowed 26 years ago, at a memorial concert for the pianist Nadia Reisenberg, former Juilliard faculty member, at Merkin Hall in 1989. I was there as an audience member, Dalit as a teenage performer of her own works for piano. I was impressed by the young composer/pianist, and even more intrigued by the hauntingly beautiful theremin performance by Clara Rockmore, sister of Reisenberg and muse of the instrument’s inventor, Leon Theremin. The nuanced artistry she brought to Saint-Saёns’ The Swan and Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise was breathtaking and stayed with me as I walked back to my apartment. Here was an instrument unlike anything I’d ever heard, played by moving the hands around an antenna emitting electro-magnetic waves…otherworldly and magical!
Fast-forward to March, 2011; I read with interest an article in the Juilliard Journal by the “grown up” Dalit Warshaw about her long and close relationship with Clara Rockmore and her new CD of original chamber music compositions on which she plays theremin and piano, in honor of the 100th birthday of her musical mentor. As a member of the San Francisco Symphony since 1994, I had frequently performed on my orchestra’s chamber music series and was always looking for unusual projects. When I heard the intricately interwoven colors of theremin and strings in these arresting compositions, I was inspired to bring Dalit and her theremin to San Francisco.
We decided to program two of her works, Transformation for string quartet and theremin, and Nizk’orah for theremin, cello and piano. The latter, whose title can be translated as “We will remember her,” is an homage to Clara Rockmore and contains references to The Swan and Vocalise.
On June 23, 2013 we collaborated in a unique and exciting concert at Davies Symphony Hall with my SF Symphony colleagues, violinists John Chisholm and Chunming Mo Kobialka, violist Yun Jie Liu and pianist Robin Sutherland (Juilliard class of 1973). The SF Symphony PR department supported our concert by arranging radio interviews on two local arts stations, which brought in new audiences and the best attendance for this series all year. For both Dalit and me it was an inspiring experience, connecting our past through shared musical worlds.