Chapter IV – Our Fourth Decade 1995-2005
The “Thomson Period” Continues
Our fourth decade story begins in the midst of George Thomson’s five years as Music Director (1992-1997). It also tells of the arrival of Eric Hansen in 1997, who remains our Music Director today.
The Prometheus experience with George was as varied as his own musical interests. One of his earliest programs featured Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade, with Michelle Dulak playing the violin solo. Michelle is not only a musician but also a writer and music critic. She was our concertmaster while George was our conductor, and they got married. Nothing like romance in our midst! Maybe that’s what prompted a Valentine’s Day Concert, featuring Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Goldmark’s Rustic Wedding Symphony, and Cimarosa’s Overture to The Secret Marriage.
30th Season Celebration
George presided over our 30th Anniversary Season celebration in the Fall of 1995, marked by two celebratory concerts.
In the first of these, we played Humperdinck’s Overture to “Hansel and Gretel” – harking back to the Orchestra’s very first performance in 1965, when we backed the Oakland Ballet performing “Hansel and Gretel.” Our founder, Randy Hunt, attended this anniversary concert and Gala party, sharing his collection of photos, recordings and stories. Members of the original orchestra attended, although several had retired from playing. Members who were then still playing with Prometheus after 30 years included Akos Vass (horn), Ralph Anderson (violin) and Bonnie Bogue (bassoon).
The second special concert of that Anniversary Season featured Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony,” quite apropos since Prometheus’s history was far from finished at age 30! That year we donned special shirts bearing our flame logo and marking the triumph of 30 years of making music.
One of our more unusual concerts with George was in 1997, when we featured organist Randall Wurschmidt in Saint-Saёns’sSymphony No. 3 in C Minor-The Organ Symphony. At that time, we had established Saint Ambrose Church in North Berkeley as our performance space, and took advantage of its fine pipe organ. In 1996, we played the Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus, which we have done more than once in our 50-year history. George’s final curtain fell on the spectacular Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in December 1997.
The “Hansen Period” Begins
Several fine conductors auditioned in 1997 to follow George. The competition was fierce, but the choice fell easily to ERIC HANSEN, who was named our SIXTH Music Director.
Eric’s résumé was impressive — a professional musician (violin, viola and trumpet), a dedicated music educator (lecturer at U.C. and Cal State-Hayward and a private instructor), an experienced conductor who had studied the demanding art of conducting with superior maestros, including Michael Senturia, Dennis deCoteau, and Herbert Blomstedt. He received a Masters in Instrumental Conducting at the University of Michigan.
The Best Match
Eric was our very best choice for many reasons in addition to his superior credentials and experience. For one, he “knew” Prometheus, having played with us as a teenager. He made a point of letting us know at the audition that he admired the Orchestra and had followed our progress over the years. Orchestra members got the strong impression from his audition that not only is he easy to follow (an important talent for a conductor of part-time, volunteer musicians), but he also is a good communicator who put us at ease (also a very valuable characteristic). That impression has been confirmed in our 17 years (and counting) with Eric. He has an exceptional ability to gain rapport with amateur musicians, who all have day jobs and rehearse only once a week. With a gift of musicality and a positive attitude that seems imperturbable, he imparts musicality and encourages us to play better than we sometimes believe will be possible, given the difficulty of the music he chooses for us. And he makes us laugh!
Our audiences love Eric, not only for his eloquent conducting, but also for his “music chats” at every concert, when he uses his encyclopedic knowledge of music and music history to entertain and enlighten them on the music they will hear.
Young Concerto Winners
By our fourth decade, our Felix Khuner Young Artist Concerto Competition, initiated in 1989, had achieved a solid reputation around the Bay Area, with applications pouring in from amazing young prodigies. Eric Hansen judges each season’s competition. The winner (sometimes two) has the exceptional opportunity to perform a concerto with a full orchestra and before an audience. The audition experience alone is significant for young musicians intending a career as a professional musician. The great majority of our Competition winners now have successful careers with orchestras and chamber groups throughout the U.S. and in Europe.
One special winner in this fourth decade was cellist Sharon Bogas who won in 1996 by playing Elgar’s Concerto in E Minor. She then attended Julliard, and returns to perform locally with her father, renowned pianist Roy Bogas, who also was Music Director of Prometheus in 1976. Another outstanding example is violinist Andrea Segar, who played Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen in 2001. She has since won the Heifetz Violin Competition for three consecutive years, graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, and appears with orchestras and chamber groups across the country.
Featuring Our Own
With both George and Eric, Prometheus highlighted our own members by providing them the opportunity to perform concertos. Many of our players have talent that tends to be obscured during symphonies. Concerto performances allow us to celebrate their star qualities.
Michelle Dulak, as our concertmaster, performed concertos several times when George was with us, including her performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concert in D in the fall of 1997. After her, our next concertmaster Aaron Brown soloed on several occasions under Eric’s direction.
Concertos are written for a variety of instruments. An unusual combination was Hindemith’s Concerto for Trumpet and Bassoon, with Cynthia Behnke, then our principal bassoonist, and Ron Cohen, still our principal trumpet. Ron again soloed in 1998, joining Keith Sklower on English horn, in Aaron Copland’s Quiet City under Eric’s direction. Keith also performed Mozart’s Concerto for Oboe in C Major, andin 2001, and joined with principal flute Dan Scharlin in Haydn’s Concerto for Flute and Oboe. In 2003, Keith joined with our other equally gifted oboist, Terri Knight, in Vivaldi’s delightful Concerto for Two Oboes.
Dorinda Chase, our principal clarinetist and founder of our Youth Concerto Competition, performed several times. With George it was Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and in 1999 with Eric, she played Five Bagatelles for Clarinet by Finzi. In 2001, our long-time principal cellist, Dana Reese, performed Faure’s gorgeous Elegie for Cello and Orchestra. The audience often hears the exceptional style of our principal horn, Adrienne Chambers, in dramatic passages in orchestral pieces. But her gifts were showcased on 2004 when she played Mozart’s Horn Concerto.
Finding a Concert Hall
After moving from one performance venue to another (over a dozen different churches, schools and theaters since 1965), we found a great home in 2003 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Lake Merritt district of downtown Oakland. The beautiful and historic church provides a good setting for our concerts. The Church continues to be a gracious and helpful host.
♫ Longevity notes
Current orchestra members who joined between 1995 and 2005, so enjoy from 10 to 20 years with Prometheus, include (in descending order of seniority): Kathie Hammond, bassoon, Rich Trevor, bass; Craig Kronman, viola; Betsy Barsamian-Teman (violin), Susan Moore (violin), Tom Baker (viola), John Gilbert (timpani, Board President), Valerie Herr (cello, Board member), Terri Knight (oboe/English horn, former Board member), Sandra Baker (cello), Catherine Jennings (flute, Board member), Mike Wilson, bass clarinet, sax; Yvette Malamud, viola; Jeffrey Bellamy, tuba (former Board member); David Creighton, cello; Valerie Suzawa, violin; and Priscilla Nunn, horn.