Joy and Power: The Music of RAkU


A miracle has occurred at San Francisco Ballet – the RAkU CD has been released and is now available at the SF Ballet gift shop! Composed for the SF Ballet Orchestra conducted by Martin West, it was recorded at the legendary George Lucas Skywalker Sound Studio in Marin shortly after RAkU premiered.

The amazing miracle is that the orchestra had to record it after already having two recording sessions in the same day, and they had to do it virtually in one take! The result is a recording gem. You can hear the musician’s dedication and “go for broke” energy in their playing. This was written for them, composed to utilize their particular talents, giving them free rein to fully show their stuff. If the proof is in the pudding, this is pudding “flambé!”

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov specifically asked for a violoncello solo for the final scene. It so happened that the principal ‘cellist David Kadarauch was to retire at the end of that season. I wrote it with this in mind, that this would be his “swan song,” and I like to think the orchestra understood this.

You need to know that David is regarded and respected as one of the greatest musicians ever anywhere. The Bay Area is all the richer because of him, (he continues to play in SF Opera and his daughter Katie is a violist in the SF Symphony) and you can hear why when you hear his solo in the final scene of this CD, it is absolutely beautiful.

After the session, David, in his typical self-deprecating manner continues to remind everyone how the recording engineer, the famed Adam Abeshouse, came out of the recording booth and said to him “I think I can make something out of that.’”

Other notable performances include David Rosenthal who plays “I love her” in Morse code on the marimba (this to simulate the fact that the original Zen monk, on whom RAkU is based, was known to stutter.) While he plays this, principal bassoonist Rufus Olivier, brilliantly performs his wickedly difficult solo. This has already become well known in the bassoon community but Rufus tosses it off with his usual virtuosity-a miracle in of itself.

Natasha Feygin plays the piano solo for the prince and princess solo variations with a touch as if produced by snowflakes. Harpist Olga Rakitchenkov draws nothing but golden rapture as the kimono floats off the shoulders into the heavens. Brian McCarty, who replaced the ailing principal French horn Kevin Rivard at the last minute, literally sight-reading the solo at the session, gave a heroic performance during the Messenger scene that still has his colleagues in awe. Oboist Marilyn Coyne did the same thing replacing principal Laura Giffiths who was too pregnant to play.

Together, the sound of the orchestra is a joy and powerful wonder – from the tenderness of the string entrances to the pounding “heart attack” of the bass drum and the roar of the tam-tam as the fire consumes the temple, this orchestra played their hearts out and I am eternally grateful to all of them.

Yes, it is unusual for a member of the orchestra to compose something and have it recorded by his peers, but this orchestra has many unique members. Nora Pirquet, a ‘cellist,  is a baroness of Vienna by birth (her full given name is: Baronesse Eleonora Maria Claudia Johanna von Pirquet de Cesenatico dit Mardaga!) She is also related to Felix Mendelssohn, the composer of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Concertmaster Roy Malan is a published author. David Rosenthal, the guy playing the marimba, is also a world leading expert in Oceanic art –  his name is used as reference in the leading catalogues, and a scholar who has had influence in what is considered the world’s best collection here at the de Young Museum.

We may be in the pit, but we are not the usual “band” of suspects. I hope you enjoy RAkU.


SF Ballet Orchestra (© Erik Tomasson)

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