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Cal Performances puts coming attractions online
Artists and distinguished faculty shed light (camera! action!) on past and future programs

| 16 February 2005


Emeritus professor of music Joseph Kerman tickles the ivories — and the imagination — in his online Beethoven program notes. (Courtesy Cal Performances)

Before going to hear the Takács Quartet perform Beethoven's String Quartet No. 2 in G Major Op. 18, imagine logging on to learn about the composition from Joseph Kerman, professor emeritus of music. That experience and a growing number of other behind-the-scenes video program notes are now available through Cal Performances' website (cpinfo.berkeley.edu/information/archive).

"We live in a very inquisitive community," explains Hollis Ashby, associate director of Cal Performances. "The audience is always clamoring for more information."

Two recent development have helped the performing-arts organization provide new ways to educate its audience. First, Cal Performances received a four-year Wallace Funds grant in 2003, in part to expand its contextual programming, as such educational endeavors are known. It also hired Christina Kellogg as its public-relations manager last summer. Kellogg's background in broadcast production includes stints for Showtime, the Movie Channel, the Discovery Channel, and Lifetime, during which she produced programs on such filmmakers as John Sayles, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Spike Lee.

Two years ago Ashby brought in Kellogg, then a freelancer, to produce a video about AileyCamp, an outreach program for Berkeley and Oakland underserved youth conceived by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and administered by Cal Performances. The resulting video tracked the progress of four middle-schoolers through the six-week program as they shared their initial reluctance and later reflected on the life lessons their AileyCamp experience provided.

Kellogg also produced a video called Behind the Scenes at Cal Performances. When the organization hired her, expanding upon the work she did in these initial videos seemed a logical step. With the financial backing of the Wallace Funds, the key ingredients were in place.

In addition to Kerman's Beethoven discussion, other video program notes include a conversation between choreographer Mark Morris and Cal Performances Director Robert Cole; a behind-the-curtain peek at Matthew Bourne's 2004 production, Nutcracker!; and a look at the Bolshoi Ballet's 2002 visit to Zellerbach Hall.

"You suddenly listen to a piece of music in a way you've never heard it before, or see a choreographer explaining their approach to choreographing a dance," says Ashby almost reverently, "and your understanding deepens."

Videos currently in production include an interview with Yo-Yo Ma about his wide-ranging repertoire; a conversation between Robert Cole and pianist Emmanuel Ax about the latter's upcoming concert with fellow pianist Yefim Bronfman; and a talk by Professor of Music Richard Taruskin about the Kirov Orchestra's April 9 appearance.

"Taruskin is one of the world's foremost authorities—if not the authority— on Western music," says Ashby, who adds that working with faculty and other Berkeley experts is a critical part of the process: "Our goal is to find the best individual on campus who can speak about Italian baroque music or who understands the transmission of cultural ideas along the Silk Road."

Ideally, says Ashby, Cal Performances would like to complete video program notes segments in advance of a concert or program, so that patrons might get a sense of what they'll see onstage. Doing so depends, in large part, on a confluence of factors including artist availability, production assistance, and financial support.

Kellogg, who is currently acting public relations director, has interviewed Yo-Yo Ma as well as members of the Cal Performances stage crew for the organization's videos, and feels that "whether it's behind the scenes or on the stage, there are always interesting people to learn about, and I like telling their stories."