Ron McFarland, a protege of the legendary Ethel Leginska in Los Angeles, made his successful Los Angeles piano debut as a teenager with the Leginska Little Symphony. Critically acclaimed as pianist, composer and teacher, he studied composition with the great Arnold Schoenberg at his famed Brentwood, California studio and continued his studies in orchestration with David Sheinfeld in San Francisco.
He has written operas, symphonies, concertos, chamber works, songs and music for the piano, theater and for children. His opera The Donner Party, premiered at Chico State University, was later featured in a highly successful production with Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra.
His second opera, Song of Pegasus, was presented at the In Performance series at Marin's Forest Meadows, directed by Denis de Coteau with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. Song of Pegasus was also performed that same weekend as a finalist in the Samuel Rubin American Opera Competition in New York.
When compared to the experimental, non-conventional forays of the 70's and 80's, Mr. McFarland's compositions might be viewed as conservative. And yet, his works are as "contemporary" as could be imagined in the 90's - at a time when the move seems to be more towards the melodic and harmonic than in previous decades. Certainly he was tremendously influenced by Arnold Schoneberg, one of the greatest masters of 20th Century composition, with whom he studied while still in his teens.
Ron McFarland began his musical career as a pianist. The single most important person in his young life was the late, legendary Ethel Leginska, wo arranged for him to study privately with Schoenberg, and with whom he studied for over six years. He remembers Leginska as a very demanding taskmaster who stipulated that her students enter as many competitions as possible, because she believed the experience was tantamount to launching concert careers. In order to oblige his teacher, McFarland entered so many competitions that he began to question who and what he was.
At age 19, Ron McFarland gave his debut performance with the Leginska Symphony Orchestra to critical acclaim, which led to a performance at the Hollywood Bowl with the KFI Symphony Orchestra. Six months later, he left music behind and traveled to New Orleans, where he began a career as an artist.
While in New Orleans, he met the well-known Hungarian pianist Istvan Nadas, a teacher at Loyola University, and decided to renew his piano studies. Later, when Nadas accepted a teaching position at the San Francisco Conservatory, he decided to move to California as well. During the long drive from New Orleans to San Francisco, he was haunted by the strains of a piece he had been working on at the conclusion of his studies with Schoenberg. It was then that Ron McFarland made the final commitment to spend the rest of his life writing music.
He began writing for many different combinations of instruments, including compositions for violin, for two pianos, for orchestra with narrator, and a children's opera. In 1974, he embarked on writing The Donner Party, an opera based on the prize-winning book by George Keithley, with libretto by Maria Woodward. This impressive composition has since received critical acclaim throughout cities on the West Coast, and inspired a rave review in the definitive publication, Opera News, which called it: "Fresh and Original É the passacaglia theme imprints itself vividly on the ear. The final duet is beautifully lyrical."
In 1982, the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra performed The Donner Party under the baton of Kent Nagano, who called the work: "A score to be treated with respect and one worthy of a great production."
Mr. McFarland's second opera, Song of Pegasus, was a finalist in the New York University American Opera competition in 1985. It has since received many performances, including the summer "In Performance" series at Forest Meadows, in San Rafael, California, conducted by noted San Francisco Ballet and opera conductor Denis de Coteau.
Spurred by a continuing deep desire to compose, Ron McFarland has written works for many media, given only the restrictions of instrumentation and time. A notable collaboration occurred when he received a call from Edward Hastings, Artistic Director of the American Conservatory Theatre, to write the incidental music for Hasting's production of King Lear. Its success led him to write a version for two spoken voices with instruments, premiered with Lear actors Peter Donat and Fredi Olster. A third version for singers resulted from the request of Metropolitan Opera tenor William Lewis, who gave the premiere performance.
Mr. McFarland writes particularly well for the voice. Windows, his second string quartet with soprano, is a very fine example of this genre. He is equally at ease with much larger works, such as his Second Symphony and the charming Legend of Sleepy Hollow. McFarland has written two works for solo piano: Suite No. 1 for Piano, and Les Hommages, a set of 24 preludes in 24 keys. These pieces are in the styles of many well-known composers, but the same thematic material is present throughout.
His latest CD, featuring members of the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Conservatory, and American Conservatory Theater, has just been released by Eroica Classical Recordings: To find out more, click on "The Music" below.