They say you should never work with children or animals, but that hasn’t deterred five plucky Festival Orchestra players who have agreed to do just that, (well, maybe not the animals).
Of course, not all the children here are children anymore. Take Susan Warner and son Henry Griffin. Susan is Acting Principal Clarinetist at Lyric Opera of Chicago and encouraged son Henry, who grew up a keen singer. “As a boy soprano he was frequently featured at Lyric Opera,” Susan explains, recalling his cameo as the “spoiled boy” in La Bohème. “To me, his voice was instantly recognizable within the texture of the chorus, and it was pure joy to listen as the nuances of his brief solo developed over the run. As I sat in the pit, I’m sure my silly, proud smile beamed from ear to ear.”
Now a promising baritone, Henry studies at Manhattan School of Music (MSM). To complete the family affair, they will be joined by dad David Griffin, a hornist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Henry’s girlfriend, Tian Qin, a pianist and MSM composition major, in an arrangement of a song by Clara Schumann.
Violinist Polina Sedukh graduated from the Rimsky-Korsakov St. Petersburg State Conservatory. After moving to the United States, she played in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, before relocating to the Bay Area in 2007 to join the San Francisco Symphony. Her 8-year-old daughter, Saya, has studied for two years with Shaina Evoniuk, inspirational lead violinist of Jazz Mafia and the Eclecta Quartet. She is less enthusiastic, however, about taking directions from her mom. “I understand the psychology all too well,” says Polina, who studied under her own father for 15 years. “I know the deep appreciation for the parent-teacher relationship comes much later.”
Meanwhile, Saya likes to talk about “grazy musicians,” a word of her own invention that compounds “great” and “crazy.” Watch out for their “grazy” interpretation of Dvořák’s Humoresque and a Mozart violin duo.
Also on the program is Juilliard-trained cellist Eric Gaenslen, who has performed with the Festival Orchestra since 1999. He will duet with 10-year-old son Theo, also a budding cellist with equal passions for baseball; science; his dog, Jupiter; and his cat, Suko. “My musician friends tell me I’m crazy to teach my own child, and Theo and I have had our rough patches with tears and everything—mostly his,” says Eric, who also shares that Theo’s “safe word” for when his father is overly demanding is “aardvark.” “Sheltering in place, we have come to appreciate our time together. Now, only very occasionally, during a lesson he will ask me pointedly to ‘go work in the garden’ or ‘go walk the dog.’”
Amos Yang is Assistant Principal Cello in the San Francisco Symphony when he isn’t biking around the Bay Area or flying drones. Daughter Isabel, a junior at Lowell High School, is an avid singer who also enjoys jewelry making, boba tea, and posing thoughtful and difficult questions to her parents. Together they will perform Bernstein’s “Dream With Me” from his musical, Peter Pan. “It’s a piece that resonates with both of us,” says Amos. “It has been a pleasure to work with my daughter, as I’m her biggest fan. Even though she decided the violin wasn’t for her, I’m convinced it helped develop one of her greatest strengths as a singer, her intonation.”
In a sign of the times, San Francisco-based violinist Adrienne Sengpiehl will perform Glière’s “Berceuse” with her 22-year-old son, Oliver Herbert, but from remote locations, as Oliver now lives in New York. A Curtis Institute of Music graduate, Oliver is already a professional cellist with a rising reputation as a distinctive and individual artist. He will always be grateful, however, for the gift of music imparted by his first teacher, aka his mom. “I would spend hours listening to her practice, totally enamored,” he recalls.
“One of my earliest memories making music with Oliver was waddling onto the stage nine months pregnant at the 1997 Midsummer Mozart Music Festival,” recalls Adrienne, who jokes that she did it to give him some early exposure to Mozart. “Sure enough, as a young child he once told me gently as I practiced the Mozart A Major Violin Concerto that I might want to ‘fix the teensy-bit-out-of-tune section.’”