When the California Symphony tunes up in Walnut Creek Oct. 18, the Lesher Center auditorium will carry echoes of a dark day in American diplomacy.
David Commanday, the guest conductor for the symphony (as a tryout for the job of music director for the Walnut Creek-based symphony), is the stepbrother of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who was killed with three other Americans in a mob's Sept. 11 attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
Commanday said he is altering the program for Oct. 18 as a tribute to Stevens' efforts for "peace, understanding and progress," according to a news release from the California Symphony.
“It is an honor to feature accomplished conductor David Commanday and honor the legacy of his brother, Ambassador Chris Stevens,” said California Symphony Executive Director Walter Collins. “We know that music will continue to bring a measure of healing and hope to his family and our nation, as we recover from this great loss.”
Commanday and Stevens grew up in the East Bay. Stevens graduated from Piedmont High School and UC Berkeley; other family members still live in Piedmont.
The Stevens death was in the news last week in a controversy over CNN's use of a personal journal of the late ambassador found in the "largely unsecured consulate compound where (Stevens) was fatally wounded," according to a story on CNN.com.
What follows are excerpts from the California Symphony's news release:
Commanday’s original concert program, titled “Sounds in the Night,” was designed on themes of magic and mystery, and featured such works as Wagner’s “Wotan’s Farewell and Fire Music” from Die Walküre, Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, and Stravinksy’s Firebird Suite.
“The sudden tragic loss of Chris changed my world,” Commanday said. “Plans, projects, relationships—all took on a different aspect in light of this blow. I felt the need to re-craft the program we had planned for the California Symphony, so that it could serve as a tribute and carry a dedication to Chris' memory. Music can work magic in celebrating and in healing, and it is my hope to offer both in this concert.”
In the new program, “Salute to a Hero,” the Wagner, Saint-Saens and Stravinsky remain, as does John Williams’ “Suite from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” But the new balance emphasizes the heroic elements of each work. “That’s the thread that binds the concert together,” Commanday said. “The music of this concert is a mix of glory, power, mystery, and love - and the heroes are triumphant!”
To open the concert, Commanday added John Williams' "Summon the Heroes.” Written for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, Commanday calls it “thrilling music to summon the athletes, heroes for their achievement, discipline, and idealistic dedication.”
… Commanday is very familiar with the power of music to heal and inspire. He started playing piano at the age of six and now leads orchestras all over the world. He also comes from a musical family. Mary Commanday, his stepmother and Stevens’ mother, is a cellist, while his father, Robert Commanday, was head music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and later founding editor of the San Francisco Classical Voice website. Both Mary and Robert Commanday are expected to attend the October 18 concert.
Commanday said his stepbrother was not a musician himself, though he learned to play saxophone. “He was a fan of all kinds of music - and loved classical music.”
Commanday is also heartened to perform the concert in the East Bay, where Commanday grew up and where Stevens, too, was a “native son,” graduating from Piedmont High in 1978. At UC Berkeley, Stevens studied languages, history and classics. He first went to the Middle East as a Peace Corps volunteer and joined the Foreign Service in 1991 after getting his law degree at UC Hastings College of Law. Nearly all his posts were in the Middle East and North Africa, including previous stints in Libya - first under the Gadhafi regime, and later as U.S. envoy to the Libyan rebels during the revolution.
“Chris was a remarkable, accomplished, brave man, with a deceptively calm and unassuming persona,” Commanday said. “My family lost a son and brother, but the world lost a great advocate for peace.”
Salute to a Hero
Thursday, October 18, 2012 – 7:30 p.m.
WILLIAMS: Summon the Heroes
WILLIAMS: Suite from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
WAGNER: Wotan’s Farewell and Fire Music from Die Walküre
FALLA: Ritual Fire Dance
SAINT-SAENS: Danse Macabre
STRAVINSKY: Firebird Suite
WHERE: Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Center Drive, Walnut Creek.
TICKETS: Single tickets start at $35, and season subscriptions start at $130. For tickets and information, call (925) 943-SHOW (7469) or visit www.lesherartcenter.org or the California Symphony website.