In the spirit of solidarity in condemning hate crimes aimed at Asians and Asian Americans, this issue hopes to draw attention to a deep well of artistic accomplishment—the boundless contributions to world culture by performers and creators of Asian descent.

  • Now More than Ever The Arts Need You

Now, More Than Ever

Celebrating great performances, past and present.

As a light begins to shine on the horizon and we move toward recovery from the current pandemic, Cal Performances joins our entire audience in looking forward to a return to live presentations in our UC Berkeley concert halls. Surely, that day can’t arrive soon enough!

Since March 2020, and through the pandemic’s darkest days, Now, More Than Ever has continued to celebrate the performing arts’ unsurpassed ability to express the strength and resilience of the human spirit. Through these blog posts, we have enjoyed upwards of 300 memorable performances by the world’s most accomplished and inspiring artists.

Cal Performances hopes you’ll continue to enjoy these YouTube-led virtual journeys—presentations designed specifically for our adventurous and eclectic audiences—until, that is, we can share such experiences together again, live, and under the same roof.

Most importantly, we continue to encourage one and all to find time—each and every day—for the performing arts!

Curated by Jeremy Geffen, Executive and Artistic Director, Cal Performances

Issue 58

Cal Performances joins millions of concerned people in the United States and internationally in condemning hate crimes aimed at Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Recent acts of violence come during a time that has seen a horrifying escalation of unprovoked attacks against these communities, both in the Bay Area and beyond. We express our solidarity with all those who have been targeted as well as the many whose security as citizens and residents of this country has been endangered by these inhumane acts.

And in that spirit, today’s Now, More Than Ever hopes to draw attention to a deep well of artistic accomplishment—the boundless contributions to world culture by performers and creators of Asian descent.

I’m speaking of examples of music, theater, and dance that honor the rich historical traditions of the countries, regions, and peoples of their origin, work that in many cases has profoundly inspired, influenced, and enhanced the development of artistic expression globally.  This is how communication spreads and improves, how one culture benefits from and contributes to another, how humankind grows and matures.

This survey is brief, but we hope it suggests the range of artistic achievements that enable each of us to better appreciate the beauty of our shared heritage as world citizens. We hope that through these videos, you’ll discover new voices to listen to, representatives from communities that are hurting now, whose stories deserve to be told and lifted up.

Pas de deux from La Bayadère

Sae Eun Park and Kimin Kim, dancers
Universal Ballet
Choreography by Marius Petipa
Music by Ludwig Minkus

In this remarkable display of classical dance at its finest, bodies defy gravity as two star dancers and a renowned South Korean dance company shine in a touchstone of 19th-century European story ballet.* We’ve already marveled at the talents of Sae Eun Park, today a premier danseur at the Paris Opera Ballet (NMTE, Issue 42), and many of you will recognize Kimin Kim, principal dancer at the Mariinsky Ballet since 2015, from his unforgettable depiction of Solor in that company’s Zellerbach Hall performances of La Bayadère during fall 2019. This video dates from nearly a decade ago and affords the opportunity to witness these two extraordinary artists in the early stages of what would soon develop into major international careers.

* In highlighting this performance (and given the greater subject of today’s NMTE), I feel it’s also important to acknowledge the challenges presented by a host of so-called “traditional” or “historically accurate” productions of La Bayadère (like the Mariinsky Ballet’s), including questions about the exotification of South Asian culture in the ballet and how this relates to the fetishization of Asian women. For more on this topic, check out this fine article in Pointe magazine.

Tchaikovsky: Pezzo in forma di sonatina from Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48

Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

Seiji Ozawa, who many of you will recall from his years directing the San Francisco Symphony, was probably the world’s first Asian jet-setting, elite conductor, with a brilliant career that has now lasted more than six decades. Since stepping down from his directorship of the Boston Symphony in 2002, Ozawa’s creative output has largely been defined by various international projects—including work with the Vienna State Opera and the Tokyo Opera Nomori.

But even during more recent periods of ill health, Ozawa has managed to find time for three projects dear to his heart: the renowned Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival (formerly the Saito Kinen Festival), an annual event held each summer in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture, Japan, founded by the conductor in 1992; the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy (founded 2000), an education project created to nurture young musicians through the study of opera; and the Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland (founded 2005), where each year 25 young musicians selected from the world’s leading conservatoires and competitions travel to Switzerland to work intensively with each other and a selection of world-renowned tutors and performers.

I think you’ll enjoy this video, showing the legendary conductor as he shares his musical passion and experience—not to mention his characteristic physical gifts as a conductor—with an orchestra of talented young people.

Schubert: Andantino from Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959

Eric Lu, piano

I first came to know the Chinese American pianist Eric Lu through work on a selection panel for a prestigious young artist prize.  I was so impressed by available videos of his work that I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole, exploring many of his other filmed performances; happily, they can be found all over that website, thanks largely to a number of piano competitions that now post their rounds for public consumption.

Lu, recently named a recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, is truly poetic in the core Romantic repertoire—Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms. Here, he turns in a deeply nuanced account of one of Schubert’s towering final three sonatas, the A major, performed last fall under pandemic restrictions in a socially distanced recital at London’s Wigmore Hall. This is surely one of those performers I hope to see in Berkeley as soon as possible.

Andy Akiho: Alloy

Foundry Steel Pan Ensemble

Andy Akiho, an American of Japanese descent (on his father’s side), moved to Washington, DC following college and then chose to pursue a master’s degree in composition at the Manhattan School of Music. Akiho was soon drawn to music for steel pan, which would go on to become his primary instrument. This piece is so stunningly imaginative! (Who knew so many colors could be drawn from the steel pan?) No surprise that Akiho is one of the exciting young composers championed today by Bang on a Can, the renowned multifaceted contemporary music collective based in New York City.

Wagner: Excerpt from Tristan und Isolde

Mihoko Fujimura, mezzo-soprano
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Semyon Bychcov, conductor

Twice in the second act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Brangäne, Isolde’s maid and confidant, warns the lovers to be careful, that they aren’t as concealed as they think they are. As much as I love the Liebestod, I think these two sections feature some of the most transcendent vocal writing in the entire opera.

For this music, what you really need is a mezzo with both a velvety sound and the ability to project over an enormous orchestra. Mihoko Fujimura seems to accomplish this with remarkable ease. (And I love how Bychkov has placed her above the orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall, next to a bust of Sir Henry Wood, an English conductor best known for his association with London’s annual Proms concerts, of which this performance was one). Fujimura may not be as well known in the US, but in the German-speaking world, she has enjoyed a huge career in dramatic mezzo-soprano roles. And what a classy artist!


Choreography by Lin Hwai-min
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

From the first contemporary dance company in the greater Chinese-speaking community comes this sobering depiction of what the Guardian describes as “victims of war and persecution, man’s inhumanity to man,” set to Shostakovich’s stirring String Quartet No. 8. I find myself absolutely mesmerized by the waves of movement that sweep back and forth here; it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before, something authentically new. (For comparison, take another look at a different Cloud Gate work that we featured in NMTE, Issue 40.)

Quanzhou Puppet Theater

In 2007, while conducting research for a festival of Chinese culture produced by Carnegie Hall, I was taken to see this company in Fujian province on the southeastern coast of China. (The city of Quanzhou is home to only about 6 million people, so it doesn’t even rank a spot on the list of most-populated cities in the country.) Every region and dialect in China has its own version of traditional opera, and it just so happens that in Quanzhou, one of their main forms of traditional opera is puppet theater. To see these artists in performance is nothing short of mind-blowing, the delicate movements of the puppets so human and natural.

In this lovely television documentary, two members of the now internationally renowned company—one with decades of experience, the other a comparative newcomer—share what drew them to this demanding and rewarding artform and speak of how much they enjoy their efforts to keep this wonderful tradition alive and relevant in a modern world. This video provides a charming behind-the-scenes look at how it all works.

David Lang: “Simple Song No. 3”

Sumi Jo, soprano
Viktoria Mullova, violin
BBC Concert Orchestra

I’m a great fan of Paolo Sorrentino, the iconoclastic, often outrageous Italian film auteur. (HBO watchers will know him from his recent The Young Pope and The New Pope, starring Jude Law). In Youth (2015), his follow up to The Great Beauty (2013, Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), Sorrentino tells the story of the fictional composer Fred Ballinger (played by Michael Caine), who first became famous for the work featured in this clip, “Simple Song No. 3” (written in real life by the American David Lang). To his great frustration, Ballinger has never again scored a success anywhere near that of his earlier triumph. He is consumed with disappointment and regret.

In these final moments from the film, Ballinger, overcoming his initial unwillingness, has agreed to conduct a performance of the work for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the occasion of Philip’s birthday; the performance is to feature Sumi Jo, here playing herself and described throughout the movie as “the greatest soprano in the world.”

Jo had a huge international career on the stages of the world’s great opera houses, especially in the bel canto repertoire. Today, with most of her staged opera career behind her, she focuses on concert work.

I feel complete
I lose all control
I lose all control
I respond
I feel chills
I break
I know on those lonely nights
I know on those lonely nights

I know everything
I lose all control
I get a chill
I know on those lonely nights I die
I hear all that is left to be heard
I wish you would never stop
I’ve got a feeling

I’ll be right there
I’ll never forget you
I will leave lessons behind
I feel complete
I’ve got a feeling
I wish your body like rain
I’ll be there, I’ll be there
I lose all control

When you whisper my name
When you whisper my name
When you whisper my name, whisper my name
When you whisper my name

When you whisper
When you whisper my name

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