The Twin Cities Concert Association brought world-class talent to Grass Valley on Nov. 18. Roberto Cani, violin, and Ken Hardin, piano, played a program of classical music to a full house at the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Cani was in Grass Valley for an encore of a performance here in 2005. He brought with him an impressive musical resume, to say the least. Born in Milan, he began playing violin at age 7, and by age 9 had his first public recital. His talent grew rapidly and, by the age of 21 he had won three international competitions. He has played as a soloist with many renowned orchestras, including the Moscow Philharmonic.
The afternoon program featured music from the late romantic era of classical music, a time when composers pushed the limits of the performers' capabilities.
"The 19th century was full of fantastic violinists who also wrote and performed, and the composers would see how they could outdo each other to write for this instrument." said Dr. Aileen James, who led a pre-concert discussion with Cani and Hardin.
The program began with the Grieg Sonata in C Minor, Opus 45. Cani and Hardin sprang from its rolling introductory melody, through its tender second movement, and rollicked into its clamorous end with grace and proper aplomb.
Cani then put forth a riveting performance of the haunting Sonata For Solo Violin by Eugene Ysaye. He played a Guarneri violin made in Venice in the year 1735, and in the acoustics of the room, its rich tonalities wrapped around an enraptured audience. His empathetic face calmly belied the intensity of the music. Challenging harmonies and exotic melodies floated with ease from his fingers. At times Cani delved so deeply into the music that it seemed his violin was merely a part of his body.
Cani's girlfriend Cindy Lam sat beside me during the concert and explained what sets him apart. "He feels something through the music that comes from his heart when he plays. He loves the instrument and has something to say."
The second half of the show was thrilling. Hardin shined during the Franck Sonata for Piano and Violin, known as one of the most difficult pieces in the piano repertoire. The final piece of the afternoon was the playful Zapateado by Sarasate. Cani's fingers defied the ears by playing harmonics and pizzicato as if a whole ensemble was hidden in his violin. The crowd happily rose to its feet in a heartfelt ovation.
After the program, the audience migrated one building over, where they mingled with the performers over coffee and pastries. Cani was warm and humble and chatted with locals who had attended the concert.
Cani said that he appreciates both of his visits to Grass Valley. "I like it here because its very peaceful, and I feel very comfortable and relaxed. People here enjoy the music. You can give everything you have and they will just enjoy the music."
Hardin talked about what makes these concerts such a treat for the area. "These concerts are important because we get to hear performers like Roberto Cani."
Kay Drake, a resident of Nevada City, concurred. "In L.A., you'd pay $30 to $60 for a ticket, drive for an hour and a half, pay to park, and then sit in the back of a balcony. Here, the acoustics are terrific and you hear musicians in an intimate setting. This is the gold in Nevada County."
That Sunday afternoon I saw one of the best violinists I may see anywhere in the world. With the forest as a backdrop through the windows behind the stage, it was a rare privilege to be in Grass Valley that afternoon.
Luke Geniella is a classically trained cellist and a performing songwriter.