Braving the elements

Lara St. John

The question was whether I could make it alive.

Whether I could drive my car, with its screwed-up headlights, into the thick tule fog that covered miles of the Skyway as in some surreal ‘40s horror film. After already turning back once when I couldn’t see the white lines, I decided my only chance was to follow the closest taillights of the vehicle in front of me, hoping it would get better near Paradise (it did).

The occasion for my foggy notion was a concert from talented New York violinist Lara St. John, whose skills and taste I have admired since buying her debut album of Bach solo works several years ago. Presented by Community Concerts in the superb audio environment of the Paradise Performing Arts Center, the moving concert did not disappoint.

Onstage, the tall (over 6 feet) St. John loomed as a strong female presence decked out in a purple gown and accompanied by Israeli-born pianist Ivan Rechtman, whose nimble fingers provided nice counterpoint to St. John’s technical prowess. With a look of earnest concentration, St. John swayed as she played a slow, pastoral sonata by Beethoven (who, she pointed out, likely heard the 1779 Guadagnini violin she was playing tonight “when he was about 9"), and her head bounced during crackling, up-tempo originals from her later Gypsy music album—captivating songs that Rechtman noted were requested to be “written so difficult that only she could play them.”

The pair also performed a stirring rendition of a more recent pop piece—"Theme from Schindler’s List"—to warm applause from the mostly white-haired audience. St. John’s playing can impress with speed, but it was her confidence in the slower, more emotional passages that truly inspired.

Afterwards, puffing on Parliaments in the parking lot, St. John worried about driving back down the Skyway (whose scenic view appeared more like a smoky lake that night then a canyon). “What? There’s a drop over there?” she asked, before recounting a humorous incident from earlier that night. Apparently, a senior Paradise patron had seen preview articles for her concert that mentioned St. John’s sex appeal, and the man approached her during intermission with the disgruntled observation that “she was supposed to be performing nude tonight.”

We all had a good laugh over that one before nervously steering our cars back toward the milky ocean of white-winged fog.