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A Tribute To Isaac Stern - Fiddlefest at Carnegie Hall

- Jazz Corner

Music Performance Reviews

A Tribute To Isaac Stern
Fiddlefest at Carnegie
Carnegie Hall
A Benefit for Opus 118 Harlem Center for Strings


Joshua Bell, John Blake, Regina Carter, Paquito DíRivera,
Amanda Forsyth, Dave Grusin, Yo-Yo Ma, Natalie MacMaster,
Bobby McFerrin, Camilo Molina-GaetŠn, Diane Monroe,
Mark OíConnor, Itzhak Perlman, Arnold Steinhardt,
Nicholas Tzavaras, Dave Valentin, Jian Wang, Pinchas Zukerman,
and Roberta Guaspari with her students of Opus 118.

Additional Guests: David Budway, Alvester Garnett, Gordon Lane, Simon Mulligan, Mark Suter, Brian Torff, Alon Yavnai, Saadi Zain, and Diane Wan.

Host: Dee Dee Bridgewater
Executive Producer: Dorothea von Haeften

Produced by Stratta/Philips Productions
Ettore Stratta and Pat Philips
Nancy Shear Arts Services, National Press

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 2, 2003

The Opus 118 Harlem Center for Strings is a program of after-school instruction, ensemble practice, workshops in classical and jazz, and teacher training for string music. In 1991, Roberta Guaspari, a music teacher in Harlem, saved her students from losing their music experience, in the face of public education budget cuts. In 1993, the first Fiddlefest Benefit was held at Carnegie Hall, under the leadership of Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, and Wally Sheuer. The 1999 Miramax film "Music of the Heart" enabled funds to be restored into Harlem schools for music education. (Publicity Notes).

Tonight was an adorable evening of young students of the famed Opus 118 Harlem Center for Strings, playing alongside and in between renowned violinists, such as Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, both of whom have been instrumental in the longevity of the Opus 118 music education funding. Tonight was also a tribute to the very beloved friend of Carnegie Hall, Isaac Stern, and the film clips of Maestro Stern on his violin and in teaching experiences with the young violinists were poignant and evocative. His daughter, Shira Stern, spoke remarkably well in additional tributes to her fatherís love of music education. Other notable speakers included Tom Brokaw, a brilliant commentator, and Paquito DíRivera, a humorous clarinetist, who worked the crowd, between musical presentations.

Some of these presentations consisted of Jingle Bells, with Bobby McFerrin on voice and Opus 118 on violins; Allegro Prestissimo by Barriere, with Bobby McFerrin using a scat form of vocalization to the cello accompaniment of Yo-Yo Ma, a welcome presence and outstanding cellist; Tzigane by Ravel, a sensual and searing work, with Gypsy intonations and solo violin laments, melodic piano contrasts, and an electrically charged duet, with the amazing Joshua Bell on violin and Simon Mulligan on piano; and Joropo Peligroso, a jazzy and classically infused piece with rhythmic changes, with Dave Grusin, innovative composer and pianist, Arnold Steinhardt on violin, and Amanda Forsyth on cello.

Following presentations were Mark O'Connor's Appalachian Waltz, performed by Yo-Yo Ma, a simple and unsatisfying piece, considering the quintessential quality of the performer and the audience expectation for his solo appearance; Afro by Paquito D'Rivera (See Paquito at Herbie Mann Tribute), preceded by the composer as a fantastic stand-up comedian, and performed by the composer on clarinet, Yo-Yo Ma, Alon Yavnai on piano, and Mark Suter on percussion, with radiant improvisations and bluesy and fanciful jazz interpretations; and Cape Breton Medley, with Natalie MacMaster and Mark O'Connor on violins, which included Irish stomp and kick dancing by Ms. MacMaster.

Astor Piazzolla's Oblivion was masterfully performed by Regina Carter on violin (See Review of Regina Carter on Paganini's violin), and two of her usual accompanists, Brian Torff on bass and Alvester Garnett on drums (See Brian Torff and Alvester Garnett at Regina Carter's Concert) were completely appropriate to this soft and soulful piece, interpreted in Ms. Carter's usual Samba rhythm. David Budway joined this group on piano. Following Ms. Carter was a Dave Grusin piano ensemble in Son Montuno, composed by this pianist, and Roberta Guaspari and her Opus 118 students joined Dave Valentin on his wild flute (See Herbie Mann Tribute), Brian Torff on his richly toned bass, and Camilo Molina-GaetŠn on congas.

After Maestros Perlman and Zukerman performed their brilliant, collaborative violin duet, the audience was treated to Duet #3 Opus 53 for 2 Cellos by Gliere, played by Jian Wang and Nicholas Tzavaras, two extremely talented string musicians. The final presentations of this benefit included Palladio by Karl Jenkins, performed by Roberta Guaspari and students of Opus 118, with Brian Torff on bass, Saadi Zain on second bass, Jian Wang and Nicholas Tzavaras on cellos, and Diane Monroe on violin. Next was Spiritual Medley, which seemed to contain Sephardic and Gospel intonations and themes, performed by John Blake and Diane Monroe on violins.

Next was Improvisations by Dave Grusin and Bobby McFerrin, with Mr. McFerrin singing scat and sounding like a human musical instrument (Tom Brokaw's term). The final piece tonight was performed by Roberta Guaspari and most of the guest artists of this lovely Benefit.

This program was lengthy, about three hours, and, at the end, I had three wishes. One was to have heard more from Maestros Perlman and Zukerman, whose exciting violin duet was not listed on the program. One was to hear the Opus 118 students and their teacher, Roberta Guaspari, perform so eloquently again in the near future. And, the third wish was never to be forced to hear Dee Dee Bridgewater as a standup announcer again. She was entirely miscast and inappropriate in her diminishment of this event through frequent, immature baby talk to the violin students and ridiculous comments to the audience (with reference to the status of their derrieres, etc.) Ms. Bridgewater talked much too much about herself, and her body language was not Carnegie Hall material.

However, this was a superb presentation of string virtuosos, mixed with unquestionable talent, such as Paquito D'Rivera and Bobby McFerrin, and Stratta/Philips Productions, Inc. are to be once again congratulated for amassing and intermingling the best that the music community has to offer. And, of course, kudos to Roberta Guaspari and her Opus 118 students.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at