May 27, 2018

The Topanga Symphony, Simple Elegance for 30 Years



The Topanga Symphony, Simple Elegance for 30 Years

BJ Berman plays the “Violin Concerto #1 in G minor, Op. 26,” by Max Bruch during a concert by the Topanga Symphony on March 17 at the Topanga Community Club.

When you do something for 30 years, you get really good at it.

Music Director and Conductor of the Topanga Symphony, Jerome Kessler has put on at least three concerts every year for the past 30 years at the Topanga Community House. The March concert of his thirtieth season was exceptionally wonderful, as usual.

The concert began with Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony,” a piece written for strings only that easily could be described as a musical interpretation of the full range of emotions that we all experience in life. The sections of this piece are not named like normal classical music sections in Italian words like adagio, andante, allegro, presto. Britten chose to use four descriptive English words, “boisterous, playful, sentimental, frolicsome” to identify the movements of his symphony.

The first section used strong chords and complicated passages to demonstrate the emotions of being bold and brave. The second section had the players with their bows on their laps and they played in pizzicato. The musicians commented that this section was some of their favorite music to play.

The third movement began as a sorrowful lament that moved into deeply muted tone colors that musically captured beauty and hope. The final movement invoked feelings of a busy city life full of hustle and bustle. Each movement of the music was executed with amazing talent and skill by the string sections led by concertmaster Ruth Bruegger, principal cellist Billy Tobenkin, principal violist Horst Kuder and principal bassist Steve Fry.

As the wind players entered the stage to get ready for the soloist, long-time local Topanga musicians, principal oboe Margreet Ray and principal trumpet Wayne Hoard were joined by Chen Yun-Yen who was guest principal clarinet for this concert.

The “Violin Concerto #1 in G minor, Op. 26,” by Max Bruch is a beautiful piece of music that was memorized and performed by soloist BJ Berman with the depth of emotion that only comes from years of experience. His confident interpretation and technical skills could only be developed from careful attention to detail and a lifetime of devotion to the violin. A standing ovation brought him back to the stage three times to acknowledge his brilliant performance.

At intermission the audience sipped on beverages and ate delicious brownies homemade by Topanga Symphony Board Member Gaby Smith and her family of volunteers. Concerts require a village of people to help keep them going. Gaby and Jack Smith work tirelessly to help promote and support the symphony, along with Manager Ernie Demontreux and recording engineer Neil Shaw. The Topanga Community House President Mark Nygard and his crew make sure the Symphony plays on.

The final piece on the program was chosen to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, "Symphony in E (Irish)" by Sir Arthur Sullivan. This piece featured the strong winds section of the Topanga Symphony. The talented wind players got an opportunity to shine as each instrument played their solos with elegance and clarity.

The Topanga Symphony musicians and soloists are always incredible. They play their hearts out for a capacity audience of classical music enthusiasts. At the Topanga Community House, the experience is so intimate that you can almost feel the violin and cello strings vibrate as the musicians pull their rosined bows across the strings.

Topanga Symphony President, Arthur Mintz was noticeably absent due to illness, so long-time cellist Susan Cornner spoke to the audience on his behalf. “Arts need support,” she said. “To keep our free concerts in Topanga, it requires generous donations from the public.”

Please visit for information on how to donate. The next concert is scheduled for August 25 for an evening performance.