Peninsula composer's gem
deserves masterpiece status

C O N C E R T  R E V I E W
By Keith Kreitman


FOR MANY YEARS I've harbored a secret wish to be present at the introduction of a great musical work.

Peninsula composer Lee Actor has granted my wish with a first performance of his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, introduced in concert by the Mission Chamber Orchestra this past weekend at Le Petit Trianon in San Jose.

It was a stunning success, one that brought to mind the great Sibelius violin concerto.

I guess, after all these years of reviewing, I've developed an ad hoc set of criteria: If it's exhilarating, brings me close to tears by its beauty and I want to hear it again, then in my book it's great. And my answer to all these questions is "yea."

I have no doubt. This is a major work deserving of national attention.

It was commissioned by the Mission Chamber Orchestra in honor of its 10th anniversary and Actor delivered full measure.

Not only that, English violinist Pip Clarke, the soloist that evening, is the one he had in mind when was composing. It was a marriage made in musical heaven, as she conquered the heights with stunning technique and timbre. I was riveted from the opening bars to the very end.

Where has she been all my life? She is as beautiful in person as she plays the instrument, and is certainly a potent rival to the best of the concertizing violinists who choke the concert stages these days.

Although Actor pays homage to the harmonies and dissonances of modern composers, his work is really steeped in traditional forms and his orchestrations match the best of them. This concerto verges on masterpiece and bodes well for Actor, who is devoting himself full time to the art.

Actor is not entirely unknown. The Palo Alto Philharmonic, where Actor is composer-in-residence, has already given readings of his Variations and Fugue for Orchestra, Symphony No. 1, Prelude to a Tragedy, and most recently his Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra.

The Redwood Symphony commissioned and performed his "Redwood Fanfare" in 2002. And one of his works is being programmed by the Peninsula Symphony for its next season.

But until they hear this violin concerto, they ain't heard nothin' yet.

This is the first time I was able to review the 37-piece Mission Chamber Orchestra, and now I realize I am the poorer for it. It is a little gem, with all the personnel of professional quality. It proved that in its reading of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat, Op. 55, commonly known as the "Eroica."

But why should I be surprised when its founding conductor is the same Emily Ray who put the Nova Vista Symphony on the musical map on the Peninsula more than 10 years ago?

And there was another treat that evening: the short opening piece called "Ascent to Victory" by another local composer, performer and educator Nancy Bloomer Deussen, honoring those who take courage in hand in accepting the challenge of competing in the Special Olympics.

It is a graceful, lyrical work in a traditional pre-modern melodic mode, and featured in its opening passages Sue Biskeborn, a principal clarinetist with a tone of liquid beauty.

It is my hope that all of the local symphonies will hop on the bandwagon and support local composers like these. If we don't, who will?

Keith Kreitman is a freelance writer and host of "Focus on the Arts" on Peninsula TV Channel 26. You can reach him by calling (650) 348-4327 or by e-mail at

Reprinted by permission