Classical Music News of the Week, November 23, 2014

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space's Inspiring Advent Lessons and Carols Returns on November 30

The acclaimed music series from the Upper East Side's Church of St. Ignatius Loyola begins the Advent-Christmas season with a beloved tradition, reprising its immensely popular "Advent Lessons & Carols" on Sunday, November 30 at 3:00 pm (980 Park Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets). The concert is open to the public by free will offering. No tickets are required.

Join the Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola for its inaugural musical event of the holiday season—a meditative "Advent Lessons and Carols" service that celebrates the complex role of the Blessed Mother through music and readings. Artistic Director K. Scott Warren has hand-selected inspiring motets to complement a series of Biblical readings and poems and favorite sing-a-long carols in this modern interpretation of the traditional service that peaked in popularity during the 1920s.

This is a service of prayer and song that invites us into the stillness of Advent, a foil to the bustling holiday pace throughout the city. The musical selections, which will be performed by the Church's superlative professional choir conducted by Warren, include Francis Poulenc's Salut, dame sainte from Quatre petites prières de Saint-François d'Assise; Angelus ad virginem by composer Paul Halley (former Music Director at New York's St. John the Divine); Franz Biebl's Ave Maria; Magnificat by Robert Parsons; and Morton Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium.

Poetic readings include an excerpt from Eternal Feminine by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who once lived in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola parish house; and Denise Levertov's The Annunciation. The service will also include familiar Christmas carols for all to sing, prayers and seasonal biblical readings.

Designed to celebrate Mary's humility and courage from the moment of the Annunciation through the rest of her life, the service announces the beginning of the holiday season not with trumpets (there will be plenty of those later in the month!), but with a quiet space for reflection on the most sacred aspects of Christmas.

The "Advent Lessons and Carols" is the first event of a very musical December at the church. The Grammy-award-winning male chorus Chanticleer performs its beloved "A Chanticleer Christmas" concert on Friday, December 5 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 7 at 4:00 pm (tickets $35-$85, assigned seating) and the St. Ignatius Choir and Orchestra join forces with the Parish Community Choir and Children's Choirs for the Church's joyous Christmas celebration, "Heavenly Light," on Sunday, December 14 at 3:00 pm and Wednesday, December 17 at 7:00 pm (tickets $35-$85, assigned seating).

Ticket information:
Advent Lessons and Carols – November 30, 2014: Free will offering (no ticket necessary)
Chanticleer Tickets – December 5 & 7, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85
Heavenly Light Annual Christmas Concert – December 14 & 17, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85

Order online: www.smssconcerts.org
Phone:  212.288.2520

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

92nd Street Y December Concerts
Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 7:30 PM
The Return of the Violin: Screening and Discussion
with Joshua Bell, Sigmund Rolat and Budd Mishkin
92Y Buttenwieser Hall

Sunday, December 7, 3:00 PM
Alisa Weilerstein & Inon Barnatan
Musicians of the NY Philharmonic
92Y Kaufmann Concert Hall

Saturday, December 13, 8:00 PM
The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio
92Y Kaufmann Concert Hall

Sunday, December 14, 11:00 AM
Leon Fleisher in Conversation
92Y Weill Art Gallery

Monday, December 15, 7:30 PM
Schoenberg Before Schoenberg
SubCulture

Wednesday, December 17, 8:15 PM
Can We Be Silent? Artists on Prejudice, Racism and Persecution
92Y Buttenwieser Hall

Tickets are available at www.92Y.org/concerts or 212-415-5500.

--Ely Moskowitz, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Distinguished Concerts International New York Names Eph Ehly Recipient of DCINY's Educator Laureate Award
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) is pleased to announce that conductor Eph Ehly will be the recipient of the DCINY Educator Laureate Award. Celebrated as a conductor and educator worldwide, Ehly will receive the award on Sunday, November 30th, at the start of DCINY's performance of Messiah … Refreshed! at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. Co-founded by Iris Derke (General Director) and Jonathan Griffith (Artistic Director and Principal Conductor), DCINY's 8th season will begin in January 2015.

Named "one of the most sought-after choral conductors/clinicians" by the American Choral Directors Journal, Eph Ehly is renowned as a conductor, author, and lecturer. Ehly has appeared in 48 states, as well as Canada, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and several countries throughout Europe, and presented on more than 100 college and university campuses. DCINY's Maestro Jonathan Griffith--the recent winner of the 2014  American Prize in Conducting--comments: "Dr. Eph Ehly has been a major influence in my life, not only musically but also personally.  Much of who I am today as a conductor goes back to the early days of my doctoral studies at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and specifically with my daily contact with Dr. Ehly. It is a sincere privilege to honor this wonderful and giving musician and human being."

After 27 years of service--and conducting over 80 All-State Choirs, and over 600 festival ensembles--Dr. Ehly retired from the Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri-Kansas City. He also served an Interim Professorship at the University of Oklahoma in 2006-07. More than 90 Doctorate and 100 Masters Degree students have graduated under his supervision. He imparts a lifetime of wisdom and expertise in his popular memoir, "Hogey's Journey," published by Heritage Press, and Hal Leonard Publishing Company released a series of video master classes which feature Dr. Ehly's philosophies in conducting and rehearsal techniques. He has received numerous important teaching awards and fellowships.

Distinguished Concerts International New York is driven by passion, innovative vision, a total belief in its artists, and unwavering commitment to bringing forth unforgettable audience experiences. Having presented numerous sold out concerts and world and US premieres, DCINY also created a mentorship program for young conductors and the DCINY Premiere Project which commissions new works.

For more information on upcoming concerts and events, visit www.DCINY.org

--Shira Gilbert PR

Mediaeval Baebes Kick Off the Holiday Season with a Free Performance at Rough Trade, New York City on November 30 at 2pm
The Baebes, whose angelic voices and an eclectic mix of ancient instruments wend their way through Christmases past, all the way back to that sacred night in Bethlehem, will perform selections from their newest album Of Kings and Angels followed by a post-performance signing.

Fans of Christmas tunes and early music aficionados alike will be enchanted by the Mediaeval Baebes' sophisticated takes on 17 carols including "Good King Wenceslas," "Ding Dong Merrily on High," "We Three Kings," "Away in a Manger," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," "Silent Night," "The Holly and the Ivy," and many more. The vocal quintet known for their angelic voices, innovative arrangements and poetic beauty re-imagines classic carols as they may have been heard on a snowy Christmas in 13th century England or on the balmy Middle Eastern night of Jesus's birth. Earthly roots stretch up to the heavens, where it all began, offering a graceful antidote to the commercial frenzy of the modern holiday season.

Join the Baebes at Rough Trade NYC (64 North 9th Street, Brooklyn) on November 30 at 2pm for a free, non-ticketed in-store performance of selections from Of Kings and Angels and post-performance signing. For more information on store location or event, please call 718-388-4111.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

American Bach Soloists Present Messiah in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral
Beloved holiday tradition and perennially sold-out event features outstanding soloists and period instruments.

Premium seating is already sold out ~ Reserve now for best seating options.

Handel: Messiah
Mary Wilson soprano ~ Eric Jurenas countertenor
Wesley Rogers tenor ~ Jesse Blumberg baritone
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

Tuesday December 16 2014 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Thursday December 18 2014 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Friday December 19 2014 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

For more information, visit http://americanbach.org/seasons/14-15/Messiah.html

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

The Chicago Community Trust Supports Institute for Therapy Through the Arts' Collaboration with Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
The Music Institute of Chicago's Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) has again received a $50,000 grant from The Chicago Community Trust to continue its long-successful clinical services in creative arts therapy for patients of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).

For more than 15 years, ITA's licensed and board-certified therapists have provided individual and group creative arts therapy at no cost to RIC patients. Services include inpatient individual and group music therapy, a weekly creative arts therapy group for adults with aphasia, weekly drama therapy groups, and in-service trainings on the benefits of creative arts therapy for RIC staff.

"RIC patients continue to need alternative forms of therapy to successfully recover from an injury or illness," said ITA Executive Director Jennifer Rook. "These patients, staff, and those in the aphasia program have reported creative arts therapy, including drama and music therapies, has had a notable impact on rehabilitation and emotional well-being. Referrals for music therapy in the hospital have dramatically increased throughout the years as more research demonstrates the impact of music on the brain."

Institute for Therapy Through the Arts:
Founded in 1975, the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) empowers and energizes individuals, families, and communities to grow and heal by engaging in creative arts therapies and is one of the few comprehensive community-based arts therapy programs in the United States to offer all four creative arts treatment modalities: Music Therapy, Drama Therapy, Art Therapy, and Dance/Movement Therapy. ITA has received national recognition and distinguished itself in the use of integrated arts approaches to help children, adults, and families to improve functioning related to psychological, developmental, physical, or cognitive factors.

For more information, visit musicinst.org

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

PARMA Recordings Student Composer Competition
As a part of PARMA's continuing efforts to bring new music to the listening community and to support new performers and composers, every year PARMA's Student Composer Competition holds a call for scores for current students in composition under the age of 30. The top 10 winners from the Competition are included in the "PARMA Anthology of Music" and the Grand Prize Winner is rewarded with an additional prize.

This year, there will be 3 Grand Prize Winners, and they will all receive a reading and archival recording of an orchestral work as part of our PrimaVista program.

With no entry fee and all costs subsidized, the PARMA Student Composer Competition is a great opportunity for student composers from around the world, and we encourage you to submit your music.

2014 Grand Prize Winner Michael Mikulka had his piece To Throw premiered by the Redline Brass Quintet at the 2014 PARMA Music Festival. 2013 Grand Prize Winner Tina Tallon had her piece selective defrosting premiered by the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra String Quartet at the 2013 PARMA Music Festival. And 2012 Grand Prize Winner Quinn Dizon's small ensemble piece Awakening was recorded by Clayton Hoener, Peter Sulski, Ron Lowry, and Hannah Shields in August 2012 and is featured on Perceptions (Navona Records).

Student Composer Competition Timeline:
December 1, 2014 to January 31, 2015 – Submission period
February/March 2015 – Judging period
April 2015 – Winners announced
Summer 2015 – Reading sessions

Eligibility:
Entrants must be 30 years old or younger and currently studying composition either at an institution or through private instruction. There is no entry fee to submit.

Submission Guidelines:
Submitted works should be no greater than ten (10) minutes in duration and orchestrated within a standard orchestral configuration of 2, 2, 2, 2 – 4, 3, 3, 1 – percussion – strings, with optional piano and harp. All costs will be fully subsidized by PARMA.

Awards:
Ten (10) winners will be selected to have their works published in the 2015 PARMA Anthology of Music, and three (3) Grand Prize Winners will receive readings and archival recordings of their scores by a full symphony orchestra via PARMA's PrimaVista program.

For more information, visit http://www.parmarecordings.com/studentcomposercompetition

--Bob Lord, PARMA Recordings

Fantasy (CD review)

Piano fantasies of Schubert, Hirtz, Mozart, Di Liberto, and Schumann. Jon Kimura Parker, piano. FP 0908.

Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker fairly attacks the piano. And we wouldn't expect anything less of him. He is a pianist of distinct personality, one who isn't afraid of pouring everything of himself into a piece, for better or for worse. Last time out, I found his piano transcription of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring one of my favorite albums of 2013, and I found these present performances of various fantasies for piano no less pleasurable.

First up on the "Fantasy" agenda is the Fantasie in C Major, D. 760, "Wanderer" by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). It's a four-movement affair that Schubert wrote in 1822. It's apparently so difficult to play that even the composer admitted he could not do it justice. Well, Parker does do it justice, and then some. While most other pianists in my experience play it rather sedately, Parker goes at it with vigor and virtuosic vitality. Still, he doesn't just bang away at the keys; he modulates the playing beautifully, going from softest to loudest passages with grace and élan. Parker catches the music's rhythmic thrust with enthusiasm, to be sure, yet he manages to convey its poetic qualities with equal confidence. The reading is riveting. I can't remember when this work so engrossed me.

Next is a somewhat unusual choice that only Parker would come up with, the Wizard of Oz Fantasy by William Hirtz, based on themes by Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart from the famous 1939 movie. Parker approaches the music with all the seriousness he would accord a classical piece, yet he captures the score's fun along the way. Hirtz wrote his little fantasy in 1999 for piano duet, and Parker asked the composer if he could arrange a solo version, which he plays here. Solo adaptation or no, it still sounds as though Parker is playing with four hands. The music is wonderful; more than a mere medley or pastiche, the score hangs together on its own, with unifying transitions smoothly drawn under Parker's guidance. As I say, fun stuff.

Then it's the Fantasia No. 3 in D minor, KV 397, by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791). He wrote it in 1782 but left it unfinished. Parker improvises an ending for it, so, as he says, if it's not to your liking, don't blame Mozart. Under Parker, the music floats as gently through the air as a summer breeze, the occasional stronger currents warmly communicated.

Jon Kimura Parker
The penultimate work is the Fantasy on the Cavalleria Rusticana, Italian pianist Calogero Di Liberto's (b. 1973) take on music from Pietro Mascagni's opera. Di Liberto wrote the piece in 2005 while completing his doctoral studies in Parker's piano studio at Rice University, where Parker is a Professor of Piano. The music is familiar and theatrical, and Parker makes the most of its operatic, almost melodramatic qualities. Nevertheless, it's Parker's handling of the music's quieter moments that catches one's attention; it's quite lovely.

Finally, the album ends with the Fantasie in C major, Op. 17, by Robert Schumann (1810-1856). It's one of Schumann's finest works for piano, a three-movement piece written in 1836, revised and published in 1839, and dedicated to Franz Liszt. Parker tells us his battered old copy of Schumann's score bears the words of his mentor: "Sentiment without sentimentality," "Proportion vs. freedom," and "Surge!" I like that last bit best because it clearly defines Parker's approach: he always appears to be surging ahead, whether it's dynamically, impulsively, sweetly, or lyrically. His cadences, tempos, inflections, pauses, contrasts, reflections, and rushes of emotion continuously move the work forward in a manner that seems as if it's the only way anyone could possibly want to take it. Yet few do. Remarkable work.

Again Parker scores with another favorite recording of the year for me.

Producer Aloysia Friedmann and engineer and editor Andy Bradley recorded the music at Stude Concert Hall, the Shepard School of Music, Rice University, Houston, Texas in September 2012 and August 2014. The piano sound is excellent, very big and robust to match Mr. Parker's playing style, while not so close that the instrument stretches all the way across the room. Transient response is very quick, with impact fast and clean. There's no hint of edginess, steeliness, or forwardness to the sound, either; it's all quite dynamic, natural, and lifelike, with a mild ambient resonance and moderate decay time to add to the effect.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky (CD review)

Also, Scythian Suite. Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano; Valery Gergiev, Kirov Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg. Philips 289 473 600-2.

A big, brawny, red-blooded Russian performance of the Scythian Suite and a relatively restrained but stately reading of Alexander Nevsky get undermined by sonics that might peel plaster at forty feet. By the time it was over, the album had fairly thrilled and almost deafened me at the same time. A bit frustrating, you know?

But let me start at the beginning. In its plainness, the disc cover is among the least attractive I've seen in years, and the packaging offers no track information until you dig into the accompanying booklet. So the packaging has already annoyed me before I even start to listen to the disc. Then, the program begins with the rather noisy Scythian Suite, which looks as though it was Prokofiev's attempt in 1915 to out-Stravinsky Stravinsky. Scythian is a ballet in Prokofiev's early mode but with little of Stravinsky's (or Prokofiev's later) subtlety. Gergiev and his Kirov players do what they can with it, and, indeed, it comes off with the combination of reflection and ferocity that the score deserves, whether you like it or not.

Finally, by track five we get to the star of the show, Alexander Nevsky, the cantata for mezzo-soprano, mixed chorus, and orchestra that Prokofiev wrote for the 1939 film of the same name by Sergei Eisenstein. The movie and the music celebrate the deeds of an ancient, thirteenth-century Russian warrior, leader, and folk hero.

Valery Gergiev
The Nevsky music does credit to the legendary character with its colorful tone painting, its melting tragedy, and its ultimately uplifting spirit; and maestro Gergiev conveys most of it with a surprising nobility and control, if that's the kind of interpretation you're seeking. For me, Gergiev's rendition tends to lack the flair I was expecting (or hoping for). Still, if you're looking for a tamer, more deeply serious rendering of Prokofiev than usual, Gergiev may be your man.

But that sound. Philips recorded it live at the opening concert of the first Moscow Easter Festival, May 5, 2002, and maybe because they did it live did them in. While the stereo imaging is fine, if a bit close and constricted, the upper midrange and lower treble fairly toll the rafters, and with little compensating lower-octave response to offset it, it can be deadly. Unless your playback system is somewhat soft or dull to begin with, you may find yourself leaving the room with your ears ringing.

For years a direct rival to this disc has been a DG Originals release of the same material by Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony, which comes in at mid price. By comparison, Abbado's performance is marginally more sympathetic, more heartfelt, and more moving; and even better, the sound appears more naturally balanced, if somewhat artificially imaged. Nevertheless, if we were taking a vote, I'd definitely go with Abbado.

JJP

To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.