The first time I heard them play, I was stunned. The uncanny grace of Hidden Valley String Orchestra’s 16-member ensemble was mind-blowing. How was it that I could hear music this professional, this polished, and not be in some major metropolitan area? The sound of this stellar group rivaled anything I could hear in San Francisco. Yet I was sitting at Peace United Church.
I left that evening thinking two things: “Wow!” And “When is the next concert?” The next concert by this remarkable group of mostly-Bay Area professionals is coming up fast. Two events, the first on Dec. 8 in Carmel Valley and the second at 3 p.m. on Dec. 9 at the aforementioned Peace United Church, will give audiences one of the finest musical experiences they can have. Anywhere.
Concertmaster Roy Malan, renowned violinist and former concertmaster of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, gave me some insight about the upcoming concert. The participants will include well-known local figures, including Malan, Jonah Kim (associate principal cellist of the San Francisco Ballet), violinist Polly Malan, violinist and UCSC grad Rebecca Jackson, cellist Stephen Harrison and violinist Susan Harrison.
Malan revealed that some of his former UCSC students were “willing to travel some distance to participate in our wonderful string orchestra.” That includes Aaron Requiro, now of the Phoenix Symphony and Matthew Lau, Professor of English Literature at CUNY. “Others are coming from as far afield as Truckee and Ukiah,” Malan notes.
“They want to continue to associate with me,” he smiles modestly. “And it’s such fun. I like to see how they’ve formulated their own ideas since being away from school.” He also admits that, “It’s so little money and so much rehearsing.”
This all-star group, who play together several times a year, started up thanks to Hidden Valley founder Peter Meckel. “He started with an old barn and turned it into a small-scale opera house in Carmel Valley,” says Malan. “It started out with me inviting old friends, and over the series of years we built up a loyal group we could count on.”
Using the intimate facility as a music and practice retreat, the group prepares its concerts under the guidance of Artistic Director Stewart Robertson. “We each get our private rooms and rehearsal space. And there’s a wonderful chef who cooks for us. That’s how we can attract these musicians,” Malan grins.
Malan is also quite adamant about the joys of playing without a conductor. “The principal players have been in string quartets together over the years,” explains the former orchestra concertmaster. “There’s something about how they can breathe and feel together. It can be partly learned, but mostly it’s an inborn ability. Musicians of that type always resent being told how to play a piece. After so many decades of playing under conductors, we get to play without one.”
Yes, but doesn’t the concertmaster usually set the tone for your string orchestra, I ask?
“Well … there’s no question about the fact that when I start, we all play,” Malan twinkles.
Don’t miss this concert of rare music performed by an exceptional group of musicians. All strings! Music to the ears.
Hidden Valley String Orchestra Winter Concert
Dec. 8 at Hidden Valley Theatre; Dec. 9 at Peace United Church, 900 High St., Santa Cruz. hiddenvalleymusic.org.
Winter Concert Program
l Edward Elgar—Sospiri 1904, adagio for strings composed in the months leading up to World War I (best known for “Pomp and Circumstance”)
l Arvo Pärt—Summa 1977, renowned living Estonian composer
l Isaac Albèniz—Tango 1890, leading Spanish composer of the post-Romantic era
l Gustav Holst—Vivace, from St. Paul Suite 1912, written for string orchestra
l William Grant Still—Mother and Child 1944, 20th century African American composer
l Manuel Ponce—Estampas Nocturnas 1923, Mexican composer and adaptor of folk songs for chamber orchestra
l John Rutter—Serenade for Strings 1973, American composer influenced by British folk songs; composed anthem for wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton