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Steve Hansen: Why go to San Francisco when world-class musicians perform right here in Lodi?

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Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 12:47 am

Why go to San Francisco for great musical performances when you can find comparable quality here?

Perfect examples of this premise are the Easter and Christmas concerts at the First Baptist Church of Lodi. Now wait a minute — before you scoff, read on:

Last weekend, I attended their most recent performance and was thoroughly impressed by the professionalism. No amateur night here. A full orchestra, along with vocal soloists and an outstanding choir, made the evening an enjoyable and memorable experience.

There was a variety of seasonal music, ranging from classical to contemporary. The show began with a twist on the Beatles’ hit — “Here Comes the ‘Son.’”

Some of the talented musicians included soloist Leslie Loomis, who has one of the most beautiful soprano voices I have ever heard on any stage. Her rendition of “Requiem,” by Andrew Lloyd Webber, was emotionally charged. Her range and clarity were amazing. Her stage presence couldn’t be beat.

Eleven-year-old Naomi Raphael accompanied her in a duet with excellent harmony.

The orchestra also had a number of talented people. Some play with the Stockton Symphony and at University of the Pacific. One of these is violinist Dr. Warren van Bronkhorst.

While a student at Pacific’s Conservatory of Music in the late 1960s, I remember van Bronkhorst. The Eastman School of Music graduate was a professor of violin for 24 years. He also was the concert master for the Stockton Symphony. Last Friday, I enjoyed seeing the maestro still playing beautifully at 86 years of age!

First chair violinist Juan Gutierrez was another brilliant performer. The clarity of tone and the perfect pitch of his instrument would rival anything heard in New York, Washington, D.C. or San Francisco.

These biannual programs are designed and arranged by Dane Burg and Susan Alexander. Burg is pastor of worship arts at the church and an accomplished concert pianist. He holds a degree in music from the Manhattan School of Music — one of the nation’s best.

Susan Alexander is a fine musician in her own right. She directs the choir and orchestra. Her background includes a bachelor’s degree in music. She was a teacher in Lodi Unified for 25 years. During the 1990s, Alexander also taught music education at Pacific.

The entire program lasted about an hour, which was just about right for us old folks. Our ancient backs, among other issues, don’t let us sit too long.

If there was a hitch in the entire show, it was the sound-mixing for the last number, called “End of the Beginning.” It was too loud and many musicians were competing simultaneously at the same decibel level. This caused an unfortunate distraction that made it difficult to hear the vocal soloist, Bruce Gaetke.

But perhaps the best thing about this great performance was the cost. Not $35, $50 or $100 per seat, but free and open to the public. Of course, the church did ask for a free-will donation to help offset fees of some of these professionals. Many others simply donated their talents.

So again, why spend fortunes on trips to the big cities? Why pay high “tourist” taxes, waste expensive gas, pollute the environment and pay ridiculous prices for parking when you can experience some of the best in musicianship available right here in livable, lovable and, I might add, “lyrical” Lodi?

This town has excellent musical performances if one simply knows where to look.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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