Musical Interludes 2020–21

When we temporarily closed the PCM campus at the beginning of the 2020 spring quarter, we still had one final Mansions & Music concert remaining in the 2019–20 season. While cancelling the in-person performance was inevitable, we wanted to figure out a way to produce the final program virtually.

Upper Left: Male Pianist in a face mask. Lower left: Singer and accompanist performing. Right: Cellist performing

We felt that presenting the concert was particularly important because, as the pandemic evolved, it became apparent that all aspects of the Conservatory’s work would be virtual for the foreseeable future. Among other initiatives and pivots, we had shifted completely to distance learning and launched a weekly newsletter to help keep our community informed and connected. Yet, sharing performances was a still-missing piece of the puzzle we needed to solve.

We cut our teeth on that final Mansions & Music concert of the 2019–20 season by presenting The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. We then began planning a full slate of virtual interpretations of Mansions & Music concerts for the 2020–21 school year. We named the series Musical Interludes.

We wanted each program to be a singular experience. One would be a documentary. Another would be a filmed play set in a dark cabaret in Belle Époque Paris. The third would have a vibrant and cinematic tone.

We learned from The Piano Shop on the Left Bank that each project would include the combined challenges of presenting a concert, telling a story, and producing a film. To be successful, we would need to leverage new and existing partnerships and rely on a wide range of skills, talent, and commitment from faculty members, board members, and staff. Everyone responded with enthusiasm.

All three of this year’s Musical Interludes were accompanied by virtual events including book discussions and post-premiere conversations with the musicians, PCM board member Jane Kaczmarek, and PCM Director of Marketing and Communications Matt Bookman.

What follows are the Musical Interludes of the 2020–21 season.

Alice’s Piano

Performed on November 8, 2020

The first program was inspired by the story of pianist and Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer.

The Pasadena Conservatory of Music, in collaboration with the Holocaust Museum LA, have put together a fascinating program inspired by the life of Alice Herz-Sommer.
—Jeffrey Freymann, KUSC

The program was filmed at the Holocaust Museum LA and includes narration by Jane Kaczmarek, commentary by museum staff, and a recitation of the Kaddish by Joseph Alexander, a 97 year old Holocaust survivor.

The Vexations

Performed on February 28, 2021

The second program was inspired by The Vexations, a novel by Caitlin Horrocks. It was recorded in Monk Space in LA’s Koreatown.

Paul Muller reviewed The Vexations for Sequenza 21:

Filmed in the warm acoustic of Monk Space with a credible staging of Belle Époque Paris, The Vexations is an appealing and accessible way to a greater understanding of the life of Satie and his music… Ms. Kaczmarek sets the scene perfectly. The bare brick walls of Monk Space and the dim lighting establish at once the sense of eccentricity combined with poverty that marked Satie’s life. The video cuts directly to what might be a cabaret after hours. A few minutes of Vexations is played by Nic Gerpe at the piano, marked by his customary sure touch. Louise then describes some of Satie’s early musical acquaintances and this is followed by Gnossiènne No. 1 (1893), and Debussy’s Estampes, “Pagodes”, both performed with great elegance by Kathryn Eames. This sets the pattern for the video: a narrative description of Satie’s life combined with appropriate musical interludes.

The Vexations video is a carefully crafted vehicle that adds to the understanding of Satie’s life and increases the appreciation of his work. The combination of staging, narrative and music is perfectly proportioned to engage the listener so that the arc of Satie’s musical career is fully visible. With this excellent video, the Pasadena Conservatory has simultaneously enhanced its musical appreciation pedagogy and made Satie more accessible for the rest of us.

Bel Canto

June 20, 2021

The final program was inspired by Bel Canto, a novel by Ann Patchett. It was filmed at Villa del Sol d’Oro, a 1924 Italian villa designed by architect Wallace Neff.

Pasadena Conservatory of Music’s Bel Canto performance is enchanting.
—Eddie Rivera, Pasadena Now