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For his birthday, Jeffrey Kahane plays with Yo-Yo
| September 13, 2011

By Chris Smith/The Press Democrat



A couple of old friends sat on stage at the nearly completed Green Music Center on Monday afternoon and created what were quite likely the most beautiful sounds yet to grace Sonoma State University’s world-class hall.

Y0-Yo Ma didn’t bring a cello along. He wasn’t intending to perform when he came in to see the place with Joan and Sandy Weill, whose $12 million donation last March allowed the center’s creators to move the project closer to completion.

But Ma, one of the world’s favorite cellists, had a surprise waiting.

Among the small crowd of about 35 that greeted him and the Weills was Santa Rosa’s Jeffrey Kahane, the renowned pianist and former longtime music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony who now directs the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Years ago Kahane and Ma performed frequently together, in high places.

Monday was Kahane’s 55th birthday. To celebrate he asked Ma to join him in playing a little something for the Weills and the other guests, among them SSU President Ruben Armiñana and his wife, Marne Olson; Kahane’s wife, Martha, and Green Center artistic consultant Robert Cole and artistic director Jeff Langley.

But Ma had no cello. No problem. Stringed-instrument maker Andrew Carruthers of Santa Rosa had brought his finest cello.

I guess it just about brought tears to the small audience as Ma and Kahane played the second and third movements of Rachmaninoff’s Opus 19 sonata for cello and piano.

Monday’s birthday performance wasn’t the first time that fine music has filled the Green Center, scheduled to open next year. Other performances have acted as tests for the hall’s adjustable acoustics; Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang, also a friend of the Weills, played for a small crowd during a visit and tour last March.

Langley said Monday’s 20-minute performance by Kahane and Ma was, “in a way, the real high-level test with the chairs in place.”

“And it was as good as it gets.”

Afterwards, the Weills hosted a dinner at their Sonoma home. The guests included San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, who’s celebrating the symphony’s 100th season by having Ma play in several birthday performances this week.

It’s a safe bet that Ma will return to the Green Center, and when he does we’ll be able to go.