Conductor Dedicates Music to Late Ambassador

David Commanday — stepbrother of Chris Stevens, who was killed in Libya Sept. 11 — says Lesher Center concert Oct. 18 will pay tribute to his stepbrother's efforts for 'peace, understanding and progress.'

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 J. 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. Stevens was a 1978 graduate of Piedmont High School. His mother and stepfather still live in Piedmont.

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.”

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 6 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 Oct. 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.”

Salute to a Hero
Thursday, Oct. 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.

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