Opus 415

by Maria Karpenko

From "hello" to a chamber music club and more

A serendipitous “hello”

I enrolled in writing courses at Stanford University to test my potential as a writer in 2008. I had just graduated with a B.Sc. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Waterloo and was considering medical illustration or science journalism as the next step.

I was in California for the first time and didn't know anyone. So I picked up conversations wherever the opportunity came up, connecting with classmates, potential tennis partners, and arts lovers. I spent a lot of time at the Stanford Coffee House (CoHo) and that’s where I heard Christine McLeavey-Payne play the piano for the first time. I had no idea that muscling up the courage to say “hello” that time would blossom into a long-term friendship and eventually land me my first Board of Directors seat.

How Opus 415 started

With degrees from Princeton University and the Juilliard School of music under her belt, Christine was working on an MD/PhD at Stanford University at the time. I visited the Bay Area every couple years before I moved in 2014. Over the years, I got to know Christine as a talented and inspiring musician and she got to know me as someone who enjoyed entertaining and bringing people together around the arts. 

The idea to collaborate occurred to us at one of Christine’s house concerts. We co-hosted the Strawberry Social in June 2012. Over 50 PhDs, entrepreneurs, and creatives gathered for chamber music served up with strawberry-themed appetizers, desserts, and drinks. Christine co-founded Ensemble San Francisco (ESF) with clarinetist Roman Fukshansky in early 2013. Soon thereafter, violinist Rebecca Jackson suggested starting a chamber music club. That’s how Opus 415 started (4-1-5 is one of San Francisco’s area codes).

What is Opus 415?

ESF won over the hearts of many guests at its inaugural Opus 415 chamber music party, Jingle & Mingle, in December 2014. I had the pleasure of opening my home to ESF/Opus 415 musicians and everyone eager to hear them play and savour sparkling wine and delicious bites for Bach & Bubbly in January 2015. For the 2016 holiday season, we decided to gather to heal smiles worldwide by supporting Operation Smile with a Chamber Music Party to Benefit Operation Smile.

I’m excited to continue to work with ESF to develop Opus 415 into a thriving chamber music club in Silicon Valley. The concept is to make chamber music accessible and interesting to a modern audience with various levels of exposure to classical music. Musicologist Kai Christensen, guest speakers, board members, and ESF musicians provide relevant information to all musical pieces. Opus 415 is a place to enjoy quality chamber music in an intimate, relaxed, and social setting.

Join the Opus 415 community!

I’m so glad I said “hello” all those years ago. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the musicians, bringing people together, and making classical music a vibrant part of my life. I encourage you to join ESF at a main stage or outreach concert and bring a couple friends to an Opus 415 chamber music party - come say “hello”!

"Like" the Ensemble San Francisco Facebook page to stay in the loop.


Musically yours,

Maria Karpenko ~ Board Member, Ensemble San Francisco


About me

I’m tremendously grateful to my parents for a "renaissance" upbringing and their encouragement and support of all my creative pursuits. I was born in Moscow, Russia, and moved to Germany at the age of 6 and to Canada at the age of 14. I started painting oil-on-canvas at the age of 9 and had my first exhibition at the age of 10, selling many paintings and making waves in local newspapers. In high school, I took up piano and dance lessons and got into fashion design and creative writing. Yet, I decided to formally study how two cells turn into 37.2 trillion cells and work cohesively together, making imagination and innovation possible. In the first year of undergraduate studies, I picked up graphic design and tennis and made it onto the varsity team in third year. Around the same time, I started looking for a creative angle to science. This led me to Stanford University for writing courses and then a Masters of Journalism at Harvard University. Fast forward and I’m back in Silicon Valley, leading marketing and design at a Stanford-StartX healthcare software startup.

Old and New: April 3 & 9

April 2016 ESF concludes its MainStage series with an epic program including Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Mozart Horn Quintet, and a new Sextet by Sheridan Seyfried. 

  • Sunday April 3, 6:30pm at Valley Presbyterian in Portola Valley
  • Saturday April 9, 5:00pm at St. Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco

Kevin Rivard, Rebecca Jackson, Moni Simeonov, Matt Young, Jonah Kim, and Christine McLeavey Payne will be joined by guests clarinetist Jose Gonzalez Granero and violist Joy Fellows. Read on to learn more about these seminal works from Kai Christiansen. 

This concert is made possible through a generous grant from San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music.

The ESF Piano Quintet reunites in April! Left to Right: Matt, Christine, Rebecca, Jonah, Moni

The ESF Piano Quintet reunites in April! Left to Right: Matt, Christine, Rebecca, Jonah, Moni

Kevin Rivard 

Kevin Rivard 

Jose Gonzalez Granero 

Jose Gonzalez Granero 

Joy Fellows

Joy Fellows

Brahms, Clarinet Quintet

Early in 1891, supposedly retired, Brahms became intoxicated by the clarinet playing of Richard Mühlfeld and was inspired by this fresh muse to compose once again. Between 1891 and 1894, Brahms composed a clutch of four final chamber works featuring the clarinet: a trio, a quintet and two sonatas in that order. These are positively magical works. Mellow, melancholy, warmly nostalgic and fleetingly dire, the music perfectly exploits each of these signature characteristics of the colorful clarinet for a composite mood that has often been called “autumnal.”

The first movement is a lengthy sonata of sweeping breadth where the initial theme appears in several closely related variations throughout with vivid contrasts between the powerful string ensemble and the intimate charm of the vulnerable clarinet.

The otherworldly adagio is undeniably the center of the quintet. A languid nocturne softly dreams of a warm summer night with a muted sheen of strings and the clear reedy bell of the clarinet sustaining long, quiet tones. The reverie all too soon gives way by to a much darker mood full of tension, protest, even despair. The clarinet takes center stage here with its full tonal and expressive range pushed to the edge of piercing stridency. Eventually, the mood shifts back again to the calm nocturne.

Brahms concludes the work with two much shorter movements that almost bind together into a single continuum. The third movement initially comes as a surprise; instead of a lively scherzo, one finds a moderately paced song, a vintage Brahms melody. This is a framing device that serves to introduce and conclude a lively scherzo nestled within. The finale is a theme and five variations where Brahms will eventually recollect the beginning: the first theme from the opening movement returns, perfectly dovetailing with the stream of variations. Despite all the ample warmth, the sweetly sorrowful nostalgia, the intimate and friendly tone of the clarinet, Brahms ends the quintet with a single, sobering chord: just beyond the warm Indian summer he seems to anticipate winter’s chill.

Mozart, Horn Quintet

Mozart wrote his horn quintet in 1782 for Ignaz Leutgeb, a horn player in the Salzburg orchestra who also inspired Mozart’s four horn concertos. The entire personality of the quintet is influenced by the horn, not only by its presence but also by the motifs and harmonies that so naturally, even affectionately, highlight its essence. (For rich variety of primary intervals, chord inversions, pedals and blending, this is an ingenious and supremely musical study). A work of grace and balance, it nonetheless demands much of the horn player to achieve an effortless effect, particularly if played on the valve-less “natural” horn of Mozart’s time.

The work is curiously scored for two violas rather than two violins. With the weight shifted to the lower voices, the horn enjoys a more kindred, warm accompaniment. In addition, the single violin becomes more prominent. The quintet might be considered closer to a concerto than a chamber work of equal players, but if so, the concertante ensemble that includes the violin as well. Much of the texture features the interplay of the violin and the horn against the backdrop of the lower strings. Upon attentive listening, the quintet reveals a constantly shifting texture featuring different sub-groupings: the string quartet and the horn, the violin and the horn, the pairing of the horn and the cello, and the string quartet alone.

The quintet has three movements. The first movement sonata features the antiphony between violin and horn. As is often the case with Mozart, it is the development in the recapitulation that is just as interesting than the development section itself. The return of the opening material is treated to delightful elaboration with elongated phrases, richer lines and a refreshing key change. The second movement is literally the heart of the work: it is a sweet and even longing andante with the truest chamber textures in the work in the full range of shifting alliances. The final movement restores the bright mood with a lively rondo, playful but always elegant. Its last episode and rondo refrain satisfy any want of chamber texture with excellent part writing including the final bow of each instrument in five-part imitation for a witty close.

-Program notes by musicologist Kai Christiansen

 Seyfried, Sheridan Sextet

The Sextet is a spirited piece that embraces a range of stylistic influences, including Beethoven, rock and roll, the blues and bluegrass. It uses a standard three movement fast-slow-fast pattern. The last thing I composed was the introduction to the first movement—writing an effective introduction is easier when you know where you’re going! The dark but highly energetic first movement is contrasted with a singing and lyrical second movement. This movement is the heart of the work. It features the interplay of melancholy music (clarinet and strings) and more hopeful music (piano and strings). The tension between the two forces (and instrumentations) is only resolved at the end of the movement. The drama gives way to an exuberant, joyous finale.

-Program note by Sheridan Seyfried


World Premiere Fall 2016

Through the generosity of Stanford Alum, David Kaun, ESF has commissioned award-winning Jose Gonzalez Granero to compose a triple concerto that will be premiered with Stanford Philharmonia, conducted by Anna Wittstruck at Bing Hall on Saturday November 12, 2016 at 7:30pm.

Music in May 2014/Photo by Scot Goodman

Music in May 2014/Photo by Scot Goodman

Above: Jose Gonzalez Granero introduces his String Quartet No. 1 at its premiere performance in May 2014. David Kaun was in attendance and it was that evening that the idea of the commission was first born. Read on to learn more about this project from interviews with David Kaun (DK) and Jose Gonzalez Granero (JGG).

David Kaun, UCSC Economics Professor & Philanthropist/Photo by Shmuel Thaler

David Kaun, UCSC Economics Professor & Philanthropist/Photo by Shmuel Thaler

You have been a huge part of bringing many new works to life. How did you get into this arena? Why is this something that excites you?

DK: I started taking clarinet lessons at the age of 9, and from then on music and sports have been an essential part of my life. Fortunately I can still play the clarinet, but football only vicariously via TV now (and as of late, Stanford has kept me smiling). I'm not sure when I got "hooked" on this commission idea... interestingly, I think it was when I sponsored the Turtle Island Quartet for a Stanford Concert. In conversation with David Balakrishnan, the idea of commissioning a piece just came to me. I've been fortunate in being able to continue this great pleasure. And as an amateur musician, this turns out to be a way for me to be a "professional" as well, via the talents of the group now on stage.

What is your personal connection to this project and the significance of this commission?

DK: As a graduate student here, I had the good fortune of playing in the Stanford Orchestra under the direction of a truly amazing conductor and human being, Sandor Salgo. Blend this with what I'd just said above and support and this evening's piece in this local is, as they say, a no brainer.

Jose Gonzalez Granero

Jose Gonzalez Granero

You are a primarily a clarinetist. How did you get into composing? 

JGG: I have always been interested in composing and I wrote off and on since I was a teenager. I always considered it a hobby, focusing primarily on the clarinet. After getting the San Francisco Opera job, my desire for composing grew and I decided to take it more seriously. I received a commission from Music in May to compose a string quartet and after that experience I was more driven to compose than ever before. I started taking private composition lessons.

How is being a composer different from being a clarinetist?

JGG: I feel composing is solitary. You sit in front of the piano and computer for hours just imagining how the piece would sound. There is not much interaction. Being a clarinetist, especially for an orchestra, involves working with other musicians, a conductor, singers, etc.

What is your personal connection to this project? 

JGG: My personal connection to this project is being able to work with the ESF musicians whom I admire profoundly. I have composed music for them in the past and I couldn't ask for better musicianship and level for my music.

Is this project unique from any other piece you have composed?

This commission is the most challenging piece I've written so far. I am very excited about it. After all the work, it will be great hearing this new piece come alive in Bing Hall!

For more information about Jose, visit his WEBSITE.

Premiere of Jose's String Quartet No. 1, "Noche Del Amor Insomne"

Chamber Music Deconstructed by Kai

Kai Christiansen is a musicologist and founder of earsense.org. Known for his engaging and passionate delivery, he is a sought after lecturer for many of the Bay Area's premier chamber music series. ESF is fortunate to have Kai a part of many of our events!

Kai Christiansen talks about Ravel Trio at an ESF concert, 2015/Photo: Scot Goodman

Kai Christiansen talks about Ravel Trio at an ESF concert, 2015/Photo: Scot Goodman

by Kai Christiansen

I have obsessively loved music all my life. I have explored many genres in great depth but have now come to spend most of my time with my favorite: classical chamber music. Let me share a few thoughts about it.

I start with the word “classical” because that immediately helps define the genre to most of us even with a very casual sense of musical culture.  To me, classical means a kind of “long form”, foreground music composed for a traditional palette of acoustic instruments primarily distinguished by the string family (violin, viola, cello and bass), colored by woodwinds, brass and reeds, and frequently incorporating the comprehensive expanse of the modern grand piano, in the case of each instrument, exploiting its full, virtuosic potential.

The classical canon, or repertoire, features the familiar, historical composers you likely know about (Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms . . .) as well as living composers still writing today. It is not a dead museum relic; quite the opposite. The idea of “long form” music just means a typical “piece” of classical music lasts between 20 and 40 minutes typically divided into multiple “tracks” called movements. In the modern world where one is constantly bombarded by an ever-changing sea of multi-media snippets, the capacity to concentrate on this long form is severely challenged. But, ultimately, this is music to be experienced in the foreground as the main attraction: no distractions, conversation, attendant activity, dancing, singing, acting, religious ritual or whatever. It is like watching a movie except you are listening with your ears. (Mobile phones OFF please.)

That classical chamber music tends to be predominantly instrumental and “merely” sensual—non-verbal, non-visual and essentially “abstract” without being illustrative or having any real “meaning” other that its own sonic existence—makes it all the more mysterious, magical and miraculous. It comprises a unique human experience.

Within this admittedly broad history, tradition and style of classical music lay a particularly intimate and intense sub-genre called “chamber music.”  Chamber music is simply classical music for a small group of players, typically two to six. Unlike the more popular classical music featuring a large symphony orchestra or, at the opposite end, a single, solo pianist, chamber music gathers just a few musicians where each individual instrument has its own completely vivid role within a very fine balance of intimate, highly interactive collaboration.  The music is clear, finely etched and meticulously crafted to highlight all the beauty and richly expressive nuance of each instrument as they combine into an elegantly integrated composite creating patterns, textures, forms and narratives of unparalleled artistic excellence. As with all music, at its core is a delicious and often profound emotional experience.

All the great composers wrote chamber music (Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms . . .), and some might argue that their chamber music is their finest music of any kind. As a genre and tradition, chamber music seems to draw the very best from its composers who often turn to it for their most personal, passionate and intellectually stimulating creations. Nonetheless, chamber music tends to be overshadowed by orchestral music, and classical music in general by far more popular forms. To the typical musical lover, it is largely if not totally hidden from view. Even a brief exposure does not do it justice: like any worthy musical genre of distinction, chamber music is rich and deep and offers much to explore, needing some time to get to know, to “open up.” As with tasting wine or respectfully pursuing a martial art, cultivation leads to greater capacity and ever-deeper satisfaction.

Fiercely dopting a quest to plumb the depths of this art for myself and to take on a mission of passionately sharing this extraordinary music with others, I chose to become a musicologist, meaning, I write and lecture about chamber music doing whatever I can to promote and highlight the genre. In the process, I have created a website that I call “the chamber music exploratorium” at earsense.org. Here, I have combined my skills as a professional software engineer with my love and knowledge of chamber music in an effort to give chamber music a “first-class” presence on the high-tech communication medium of our time: the web. In the end, however, it is all intended as a vehicle to take you right to the heart of the chamber music experience: a live performance right before your very ears.  

This brings me to the Ensemble San Francisco. I first met Rebecca Jackson, one of its founding members, in a bar in the mission district.  It’s not like it sounds: she and I were both at the Revolution Café hearing chamber music and started chatting about our shared interest. Ever since, I have worked with Rebecca for several seasons of her fabulous Music in May festival in Santa Cruz, and that has led to several collaborations with Ensemble San Francisco. I am an avid fan and admirer of ESF and welcome any opportunity to be part of their various wonderful enterprises. In particular, I enjoy their fresh ideas for making chamber music more accessible through creative programming, alternative venues, a flexible stable of musicians with a variety of instrumentation and their consistently outstanding musicianship.

ESF teamwork on display! Kai not only shared his insights at an ESF holiday chamber party, he also helped turn Jonah's pages.

ESF teamwork on display! Kai not only shared his insights at an ESF holiday chamber party, he also helped turn Jonah's pages.

This last point regarding musicianship and chamber music (and classical music in general) is worth emphasizing. Chamber music is, on one hand, “portable” music with great appeal for amateur performers in relaxed, domestic settings: it reflects the finest traditions of people making music for themselves and their friends. But the great chamber music masterworks make extraordinary demands on the musicians and have, since the time of Beethoven, been composed for the finest of professional players. The difference between an “average” and a stellar performance is vast and the best of chamber music demands truly great musicians who frankly need to leverage innate talent, passionate drive and years of disciplined practice and study to reach a state of professional capability and refinement. Ensemble San Francisco has consistently offered excellent live musical performances of the highest caliber and, as such, offers the finest way to experience this art of chamber music. As a vibrant and vital ensemble active and accessible in my very neighborhood, I applaud ESF for keeping chamber music alive in my life and dream with hope and excitement about how they will share this very special music with all of you too.

Outreach at Juvenile Hall

During the 2014-15 season, ESF performed regularly for the youth at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall.

Fall of 2015 Rebecca and Moni joined violist Tiffany Richardson and cellist Frederic Rosselet in part of Sound Impact‘s Project Imagine, a residency at the Santa Cruz Juvenile Hall. “There’s something in music,” said Jackson, “that, hearing it up close and personal as opposed to something on a recording, that I have to believe is engaging them in a deeper way. As for us, you go in. You’re locked in, and you realize that you don’t know what they’ve done (to get in here). They’re just kids and they’re locked in here. That’s heartbreaking. And then you play this music that you love, it does stir up a lot of emotions…” To read more about this special experience, check out the full article in the Santa Cruz Sentinal, The Sound Inside.

In the past season, musicians of ESF performed at the Juvenile Hall:

  • 2014 – December
  • 2015 – April, May, September, October and November

Behind the Scenes

Two of ESF's favorite volunteers, Marco Rozzano and Jess Lin./Photo: Scot Goodman

Two of ESF's favorite volunteers, Marco Rozzano and Jess Lin./Photo: Scot Goodman

Ensemble San Francisco relies on many volunteers to help keep everything running smoothly. We are very appreciative of the support we receive and highly value the friendships formed with each volunteer. We can always use more assistance so if you are interested in joining our team, please email info@ensemblesf.com.

  • Front of house activities at concerts like ushering, greeting guests, and taking tickets
  • Back stage activities like page turning for Christine or helping with stage set up
  • Posting flyers to help advertise 
  • Any other creative way you think you might help ESF!

Armando's Rhumba Transformed!

Through the generosity of David Kaun, ESF commissioned Emmy Award-Winning composer John Wineglass to arrange the famous tune off of Chick Corea's critically acclaimed album "My Spanish Heart." Octa Rhumba was premiered March 2014 at Le Petit Trianon in San Jose. 

Rehearsing Octa Rhumba/Photo: Scot Goodman

Rehearsing Octa Rhumba/Photo: Scot Goodman

Wineglass writes:
Octa-Rhumba is a composition/arrangement based on the theme of Chick Corea's Armando's Rhumba [1976]. It is in a simple A-B-A form stating the melody and going through several improvisations of the chord structure (like a standard jazz tune). The B section is a develop- mental section taking on new original melodic ideas inspired by 'if Corea was to approach this as Beethoven did' along with my own musical quotes of Lloyd-Weber thrown in for an eclectic mix of rumba, mystery, masquerade, macabre - a cadre of inspirations. 

One of the challenges at the request of the group was writing a work where some parts could be interchanged if a player was missing (ESF is a dynamic group of performers not always together at the same time). So doubling was something done on purpose, strategically. In constructing the work and thinking about sonority and composite color, I had to keep in mind that perhaps a flute might double or replace a vio- lin, and likewise with a shifting ensemble with (or without) clarinet, oboe, horn, etc.. This gives the audience a different experience every time (due to the shifting ensemble) while still keeping the consistency of the work. At the premiere performance, I added a cajon (a la myself as the performer) to keep everything together rhythmically. 

John Christopher Wineglass (®Emmy Award-Winning Composer) has performed on five continents, before every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan and with several ®Oscar and ®Grammy- Award Winning artists, including Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Jamie Foxx to name a few. As a recipient of three (two consecutive) ®Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition for a Drama Series, and threeASCAP Film and Television Music Awards, Mr. Wineglass holds seven ®EMMY nominations.