In 2019, California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) celebrated its 25 anniversary. In 1994 the former Ft. Ord, home to the 7th US Army Infantry Division, by act of Congress became the newest member of the California State University System. With modest fanfare President William Jefferson Clinton was on hand (there were snipers on every rooftop) to give the new university his official blessings. In his convocation speech he said, “In converting a military installation into an institute of higher learning we are, in a way, beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.” From 600 students in its opening year to over 7,500 students today, CSUMB has become a vital presence on California’s central coast, even more so since the creation of the “Leon Panetta Institute,” which attracts the attention of the world for its contribution to international relations.
However, when it comes to classical music events, CSUMB is a mysteriously hidden asset unknown to most patrons of the musical arts on the Monterey Peninsula. CSUMB has two performance venues — a 175-seat Recital Hall in the Music & Arts Performing building, and a state-of-the art, 450-seat auditorium called “The World Theater.” Although these potential classical music venues are only a short distance from the cities comprising the Monterey Peninsula, few of our regular concert goers ever venture to events on the CSUMB campus.
Partly this is because classical music events on the Monterey Peninsula already have well established venues, like Sunset Center, Monterey Peninsula College, and a number of churches, and partly because of the inconvenience of navigating your way through the labyrinth of unfamiliar roads on the CSUMB campus. And, don’t forget the parking hassle, for at CSUMB parking permits are enforced 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To be fair, the parking situation has been made much simpler in recent years, whereby if you are attending an event on campus, you can purchase online a parking permit for a limited number of hours or for the whole day, and print out the permit on your home printer for display on your car’s dashboard.
But the real reason that CSUMB performance venues do not attract more regular patrons of Monterey Peninsula classical music scene is that CSUMB’s programming does not try to attract audiences who regularly attend concerts of symphonic or choral music, string quartets, various ensemble combinations, or solo instrumental recitals.
Most CSUMB concerts are designed to appeal to younger audiences and feature a wide variety of youth oriented popular music and dance events. It serves this audience well. But, imagine my astonishment to see an ad in local media this week of a classical piano recital featuring “Concert Pianist Tien Hiseh” in a Saturday evening performance in CSUMB’s World Theater.
The term “Concert Pianist” is rarely used in concert promotion, because normally an event promoted as a “Piano Recital” is understood to mean a serious presentation of standard or contemporary music. But in context of the more popular programing at CSUMB, “Concert Pianist” is code for serious classical piano music, not someone doing onstage improv on tunes by Thelonius Monk or Elton John.
And a serious classical piano concert it was when Tien Hsieh came out on stage to talk briefly with the audience and then play quite an interesting program consisting of Scriabin’s 24 Preludes of Op. 11, Beethoven’s mighty last Sonata, Op. 111, and finish with a moving performance of Schubert’s great Sonata in B-flat Major, D.960. Hsieh displayed a natural charm as she spoke to the audience about the works she was to perform. The concert was a great success, and she even threw in an encore — no, not Thelonius Monk or Elton John, but rather an eloquent performance of Schumann’s solo piece, “Dedication,” written for his beloved, soon to be wife, Clara Schumann.
By CSUMB, or any standards, this was a classy event. Entering the parking lot an attendant immediately appeared to offer a complimentary parking permit. The lobby was festive with tables set out with information about future events, and after the performance there was complimentary sparkling wine and delicious samples of cake.
For a classical piano recital on a Saturday evening, this event was well attended, since to be able to attract an audience of 150-200 people is no mean accomplishment. We look forward to future presentations.