Shakes It Up

Sherezade Panthaki’s soprano is at once linear and angular, with a richness in registers high and low. She combines technical precision with emotional intensity in her singing.

You might think starting piano lessons at age 4 would pave a fast-track to a career as a pianist. But for soprano Sherezade Panthaki, a holiday vocal solo as a teen changed that, nearly a decade after she started on the keys.

“Something just suddenly resonated in me on that day,” she says. “I think it was using text and words in addition to playing notes on the piano. It also had to do with standing and facing the audience and watching them, rather than sitting looking at the piano keyboard.”

The song that changed everything? “O Holy Night,” which emphasizes vocal range and emotion. “I still enjoy the piano,” Panthaki says. “But ever since that day, voice has become a much more direct and powerful way for me to connect to and communicate with an audience.”

Panthaki visits this weekend to continue the Carmel Music Society’s 93rd season when she fronts the highly acclaimed San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra for an outing of Renaissance and early Baroque songs inspired by the works of William Shakespeare. Curated by music director Nicholas McGegan – who will retire this year after stewarding this orchestra for 34 years – the players will perform on historic instruments of that period.

McGegan debuted this program to enthusiastic reviews as part of Berkeley Early Music in 2016, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Bard of Avon’s passing. Panthaki’s association with this orchestra is nearly a decade old now, and she recalls meeting McGegan shortly after her graduation from Yale University.

“I was drawn to working with him both as a person, for his prodigious intellect and for his profound musical skills,” Panthaki says. “Working together over time I have grown artistically from how finely attuned he is to the unique nature of working with singers.

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“He has always been amazing at curating selections for a program and this one is no exception,” Panthaki says. “We open with a Robert Johnson piece. He was a contemporary of Shakespeare. It’s just myself and a lute player, so it’s not unlike what Shakespeare might have heard in his own time. And from such sparse beginnings we proceed through many highly melodic twists and turns to culminate in a full-fledged orchestral finale.”

PHILHARMONIA BAROQUE ORCHESTRA AND SHEREZADE PANTHAKI, SOPRANO. 3pm Sunday, Jan. 12. Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $45-$60. 620-2048, sunsetcenter.org.

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