Cheryl North :: Interviews

Cheryl North Interviews Composer David Conte

Material from the Classical Music Column for October 1, 2010 in Bay Area News Group newspapers

Where in the world do you find classical music composers capable of rivaling the greats of yesteryear?

Many serious music aficionados would suggest that the San Francisco Bay Area is an especially felicitous place to start the search. Our beautiful Bay and its environs are akin to a 21st century Mother Lode of musical gold. Veins of artistic creativity run through our hills and vales like earthquake faults. Just consider the bounty of musical riches offered up by within our boundaries by Jake Heggie, Nate Stooky, Nolan Gasser, Kirke Mecham , Frank LaRocca, Kurt Rohde, Marty Rokeach and more within the past decade.

Lately, the music of David Conte has flashed from our local shores - reaching the Capitol in Washington, D.C. and from there to televisions screens all over the world. His thrilling work, An Exhortation, was chosen to be premiered by the San Francisco Boys and Girls Choirs for the President's Jan. 20, 2009 Inauguration.

His music can be expected to dazzle audiences in faraway Berlin this coming December when his opera, The Gift of the Magi, will be given seven performances by the Berlin International Opera.

Local folks can hear a sample of Conte's music at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9 in the excellent Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), 50 Oak St., in San Francisco.

The concert, called Riding the Elevator into the Sky, is part of the SFCM's BluePrint/New Music Project. The program's artistic director, the dynamic Nicole Paiement, will conduct the New Music Ensemble -- Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano; Wei He, violin; and the highly acclaimed soprano, Marnie Breckenridge.

His songs, says Conte, are based on poetry by the late Anne Sexton and "are composed in a style that evokes aspects of jazz and cabaret, and mixes sustained aria-type music with recitative passages."

Conte, 55, a handsome, soft-spoken, gentlemanly sort, is a professor of composition at San Francisco Conservatory of Music and director of its excellent chorus. He is armed for the job with a doctorate from Cornell University, a Fulbright Scholarship that sent him to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, a Ralph Vaughan Williams Fellowship as well as an Aspen Music Festival Conducting Fellowship. He has composed four operas, scores for films and television presentations, received commissions from a number of famous singers, including baritone Thomas Hampson and soprano Barbara Bonney, as well as from Chanticleer, the Dayton Philharmonic, the Oakland-East Bay Symphony, and more.


More information on David Conte and his compositions can be found at his website. See also the review by Cheryl North of his one-act opera America Tropical in its initial run in May of 2007.