Music News & Reviews


Soprano Maria Jette met SLO Symphony Musical Director Michael Nowak about two decades ago and has collaborated with the symphony several times since then.
Soprano Maria Jette met SLO Symphony Musical Director Michael Nowak about two decades ago and has collaborated with the symphony several times since then. COURTESY PHOTO

Soprano Maria Jette is ringing in the New Year with two San Luis Obispo concerts.

She’ll join the San Luis Obispo Symphony on Friday for its festive “New Year’s Eve Pops” concert.

Then, on Jan. 9, Jette teams up with local pianist and ophthalmologist Dr. Mark Sherman for “Music for the New Year,” featuring traditional Jewish songs, Yiddish theater music and Tin Pan Alley classics.

“People love Maria,” said Michael Nowak, the symphony’s musical director. “She has such a versatile battery of talents and music.”

A classically trained singer who’s appeared with orchestras and chamber music groups from Los Angeles to Houston, Jette met Nowak at the Oregon Bach Festival about two decades ago.

Soon afterward, she made her first appearance with the San Luis Obispo Symphony, performing Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.”

Jette has returned to the Central Coast several times since then, joining the symphony most recently for Gustav Mahler’s “Fourth Symphony in March 2009.” She’s also appeared repeatedly at Festival Mozaic, formerly known as the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival.

“I just love it in San Luis Obispo,” said Jette, who lives in Minneapolis. “Coupled with the glorious environment, it really is heaven on Earth.”

Friday’s pop-centric program represents a departure for Jette, whose usual repertoire revolves around the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

She kicks off the concert with selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” accompanied by Cal Poly organist Paul Woodring on the Forbes Pipe Organ.

Then, since “New Year’s Eve is this traditional time to hear waltzes,” she said, she’ll mix Viennese waltzes by Johann Strauss alongside a medley mixing Richard Rodgers’ “Do I Hear a Waltz?” and “Lover.”

Other selections include George Bizet’s “Carmen,” George Gershwin’s “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” and Frank Loesser’s “What Are You Doin’ New Year’s Eve?”

One highlight is sure to be Harold Arlen’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” —arranged by Jette’s husband, Lee Blaske, as a birthday gift. Jette described the piece as “really luscious.”

Friday’s concert will also feature San Luis Obispo native Alex Kato-Willis, performing with the symphony for the first time.

The pianist will play the “Andante” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21,” famously featured on the sound-track of 1967’s “Elvira Madigan.”

“We’re really excited about having him debut with us,” Nowak said of Kato-Willis.

The concert concludes with two familiar favorites: Peter Illych Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and, of course, “Auld Lang Syne.”

“It’s a very festive situation,” Nowak said, adding that the concert ends at 9 p.m. — midnight on the East Coast — to accommodate other New Year’s Eve activities.

More than a week later,

Jette and Sherman will perform at Congregation Beth David in San Luis Obispo.

After joining forces last year for a house concert fundraiser, the pair decided to focus on the rich tradition of Jewish music, with songs in French, Hebrew, Yiddish and the Sephardic language Ladino.

Selections include Maurice Ravel’s “Two Hebrew Songs,” Darius Milhaud’s “Hebraic Folk Songs” and Joaquin Nin-Culmell’s “Sephardic Folk Songs.”

There’s also a smattering of popular songs from the Tin Pan Alley songwriting movement, which lasted from the 1880s to the 1930s, and professional Yiddish theater’s heyday from the late 19th century to the 1920s.

“People who were raised Jewish or have a connection to the Jewish community will definitely hear melodies they know,” Jette said. “Bei Mir Bist Du Shein,” for instance, was popularized by the Andrews Sisters.

Although her upcoming San Luis Obispo concerts cover a lot of musical ground, Jette said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s really fun to get to do everything,” she said. “Someone asked me what my favorite kind of music is to do. It’s the kind of music I’m doing at that moment.”

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.