By Sharon Bleviss
Fred Lifsitz on violin, with Maiko Nishio on piano, performed an awe-inspiring and spiritual concert at Congregation B’nai Emunah on February 6, 2011. Despite the beautiful weather and many competing events, including the Super Bowl, 90 people attended the concert and were not disappointed. Fred mixed music with conversation, sharing often humorous personal vignettes about his own personal journey and interesting stories about the composers and other musicians. Lifsitz and Nishio played J. S. Bach’s Minuet in G, W. A. Mozart’s Sonata in G Major, L. v. Beethoven’s Sonata in F Major, A. Dvorak’s Sonatina, Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre” and C. Franck’s Sonata in A Major, as well an encore. The music filled the sanctuary, bringing some to tears. The anecdotes were amusing and illustrated an interesting life.
Frederick Lifsitz was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1961. He lived for a couple of years in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving to Newton, Massachusetts, at the age of 6. He began studying the violin at the age of 13 after a few years of playing the guitar and (quite badly) the piano. He fell in love with string quartets at the age of 15 after hearing a recording of a Beethoven quartet performed by the Budapest Quartet. He studied violin with Marylou Churchill in Boston and Paul Biss and Henryk Kowalski at Indiana University. Both as a teenager and during his early professional life, Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin were strong personal and artistic influences. Mr. Lifsitz joined the Alexander String Quartet in 1987, after receiving a fortune cookie that stated, “You will be traveling far and wide and coming into a fortune.” Well, one out of two isn’t bad.
With the Alexander String Quartet, Mr. Lifsitz has recorded the complete quartets of Beethoven twice, the complete Shostakovich quartets, quartets of Mozart and numerous other works totaling some 40 CDs. The Alexander String Quartet travels around the world from its base in San Francisco. The members of the Quartet are on the faculty at San Francisco State University and serve as the Directors of the Morrison Chamber Music Center. The Quartet is also the resident ensemble of San Francisco Performances. Mr. Lifsitz’s violin was made in 2006 by the renowned Cremona/San Francisco-based maker Francis Kuttner. The violin’s name, interest- ingly enough, is “Francisco.” Mr. Lifsitz and his wife live in San Francisco with their two children.
Maiko Nishio is originally from Fukuoka, Japan, where she started playing the piano at age 4. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from Tokyo University of the Arts. While studying in Tokyo, she traveled to the United States to participate in the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College, where she won fourth place in the competition. After moving to San Francisco, she began intensive flute studies as a beginner. After three years of private study, she was accepted with a scholarship into the Master of Music program at San Francisco State University.
Inspired by attending many performances at the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony, her unique and comprehensive music experience eventually led her to becoming a serious collaborative pianist. She won the Michael Avalos Award and received her Master of Music degree as a chamber music pianist. She has performed with several musicians from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and the Alexander String Quartet.
Maiko is currently a master’s student at The Jullliard School, where she is the recipient of the Edward Jabes Scholarship. She is a student of Jonathan Feldman and Margo Garrett.
A delicious wine and cheese reception followed the concert, allowing fans to speak with the musicians themselves. Everyone left with their spirits elevated and asking when the next concert is planned.
Thank you, Fred and Maiko!