When he draws his bow over his cello strings, Alexander Hersh commits a deed that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, all string players, performed a thousand times over on works by Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, Elgar, Dvorak and many other heavyweights in the standard repertoire.
But in his case, it’s an enduring legacy for Hersh, 29, a cellist, and his father, Stefan, 59, a violinist, who are the featured soloists performing (another heavyweight) Brahms’ Double Concerto for the 90th season of the Vallejo -Symphony performance opener Saturday and Sunday at the Empress Theater in Vallejo.
Alex, as he was fondly referred to from his Chicago home during a phone interview Tuesday, noted that his grandfather taught viola and piano at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for 40 years. His great-grandfather, Ralph Hersh, and great-grandmother, Marianne Hersh, helped found the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, and Ralph Hersh joined the Stuyvesant Quartet in New York City.
When asked if he meets people who remember his relatives’ performances or classes, Alex quipped, “It’s a curse and a blessing, depending on how you look at it. It happens all the time.”
Born in Minneapolis and raised in Chicago, Alex, who will perform at Carnegie Hall later this month, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Then, he said, he received “an amazing scholarship” that enabled him to study and attend concerts in Berlin, which he described as “the epicenter of classical music.”
“But I did most of my (performing) work in the States,” says Alex, adding, “I really immersed myself in the German aesthetic of string playing.”
He performs 45 to 60 times a year, but he said, “I do a lot of other stuff.”
At the height of the pandemic, he dabbled in short films and is also working on a new album. He described his filmmaking foray on YouTube as “a marriage of classical music with narrative and short stories. It is my basis, so to speak, to interest a whole new generation in classical music.”
An example: “A Study in Pasta Making”, which he called “a kind of false comedy”. I just make pasta and play music in the background.”
Alex describes himself as “a big fan of old recordings” and said he and his father had played Brahms, an 1887 piece and the German composer’s last orchestral work, at previous concerts. They will start rehearsals on Friday and before the concert on Saturday, when they will check with conductor Marc Taddei the tempi, the speed at which a musical passage is being played or should be played.
It turns out that Alex met Marc in New Zealand “and I just came up with this idea”, not only of the father and son as soloists, but also as a homecoming for his father, who by the age of 19 had become concertmaster of the Vallejo Symphony was.
When asked whether the special magic of a wonderfully and naturally harmonious family of singers could also apply to relatives who perform instrumental music together, he said it boils down to “priorities and value systems”.
“I grew up with my parents, listened to them practice all the time, then went away and went to college,” says Alex. “You never forget where you come from. We are independent, but we always let each other influence us.”
As the conversation turned to music, he wondered why Brahms’s Double Concerto did not win the acclaim of the composer’s Violin Concerto or his two for piano.
“I don’t know,” Alex said. “Every time two soloists do something, it’s a bit awkward.”
Still, “It’s magnificent, Brahms, it’s heroic,” he said, adding that the 33-minute piece began as a cello concerto. “In the end, I’m happy to have a piece to share with my dad and the audience.”
During the first section of the double concerto, a listener might think that the two solo instruments are acting as comforting sonic prizes, but by the end they churn out a lot of energetic music as the music fades away. The second and slow part is sweet autumnal and the soloists are put in the limelight. The third and final section is something of a lively dance. For much of the concert, the soloists are not the stars of the show, but essentially the main actors in an orchestral drama with fast tempos and echoes of folk songs.
While his father — who directs the string chamber music program at the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University — has been practicing Brahms every day for 18 months, “my schedule is a bit busier than his in terms of playing,” he said.
Using a sports metaphor, Alex said preparing for a concert is “both a mental thing and a kinesthetic thing. I start with scales and etudes – the same thing I did in the beginning. It’s like a ball player practicing batting and working on his swing.”
Alexander, who has performed with the Houston Symphony and the Boston Pops, is Co-Artistic Director of NEXUS Chamber Music, an international artists’ collective dedicated to the performance of chamber music.
The orchestra will also perform Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture, a merry work from 1816 that gallops along for seven minutes and musically sums up what is considered the greatest comic opera of all time. The overture is frequently performed in concert halls.
Besides Brahms, the concert’s other attraction is Stravinsky’s ballet Jeu de Cartes (Card Game), a 24-minute work written in 1936 for the American Ballet Theater Company (directed at the time by a young George Balanchine), sometimes described as ” a ballet in three parts.”
Although not as famous as the Russian composer’s ballets “Firebird” and “Ripe of Spring”, it is considered a neoclassical masterpiece and was inspired by his favorite card game: poker. Episodically, it’s hilariously filled with quotes from Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Ravel, Delibes, Tchaikovsky and even Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” notes symphony narrator Tim Zumwalt, adding, “It’s an orchestral feat that requires the virtuosity of your orchestra to perform.” Take off.”
WHEN YOU GO
Saturday 8 p.m
3 p.m. Sunday
330 Virginia St., Vallejo