Classical Music News of the Week, April 29, 2012

National Philharmonic Presents the D.C. Premiere of Debussy's Martyrdom of St. Sebastian

The D.C. premiere of  Claude Debussy's Martyrdom of St. Sebastian will be presented by the National Philharmonic, conducted by National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson, on Saturday, May 19 at 8 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. The concert will conclude the May National Philharmonic and Strathmore celebration of the music of Claude Debussy, marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of the most important French composers. The concert will feature the National Philharmonic's nearly 200 voice all-volunteer Chorale, as well as soloists Audrey Luna (soprano); Rosa Lamoreaux (soprano); Linda Maguire (mezzo-soprano);  and narrator Eliot Pfanstiehl, founder and CEO of Strathmore.

The martyr St. Sebastian's life, death, and miracles have inspired painters and sculptors throughout history and in 1911, it captured the imagination of Debussy in the form of a text by Gabriele d'Annunzio. The work they created together retells the soldier-saint's story as a medieval mystery play in five tableaux or movements - The Court of Lilies, The Magic Chamber, The Council of False Gods, The Wounded Laurel and Paradise. Reviewers have praised the sheer beauty of the music, with its evocation of ecstasy and mysticism. Describing his intentions with this piece, Debussy wrote, ". . . when in the last act, the Saint mounts to paradise, I think I set down what I felt at the thought of soaring to the heavens!" Audiences agreed. The piece debuted in Paris in 1912 to great critical acclaim and packed houses – one audience member, Arturo Toscanini, made immediate arrangements to take it to La Scala for its Italian premiere, where it also triumphed.

About the Soloists:
Soprano Audrey Luna, whom Opera News says "has power and a blazing coloratura facility that most lyric sopranos can only dream of," is fast emerging as one of the country's brightest young artists. Ms. Luna is the 2009 winner of the Loren L. Zachary Vocal Competition and received the top prize awarded in the 2009 Renata Tebaldi International Voice Competition. She has also been awarded first place in the Terzo Concorso Lirico Internazionale "Alfredo Giacomotti," the Caruso International Voice Competition and Eleanor Lieber Awards,and has garnered prizes from the George London Foundation, the José Iturbi International Voice Competition, Elardo International Opera Competition, the Liederkranz Foundation, the Licia Albanese – Puccini Foundation, and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Soprano Rosa Lamoreaux, acclaimed for her "scrupulous musicianship ... gorgeous sound and stylistic acuity"  (The Washington Post), is engaged in an international career of broad scope, including solo recitals, chamber music, opera, and orchestral performances at major concert venues:  Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Strathmore Hall and the Washington National Cathedral, among others.  Her concert tours abroad have included performances in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Peru and Japan.

Ms. Lamoreaux is Artistic Director of the National Gallery of Art Vocal Ensemble. Her art museum performance venues also include the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters and the Phillips Collection. She has recently received her seventh Washington Area Music Association WAMMIE award as Best Classical Vocalist.

Mezzo-soprano Linda Maguire is an internationally renowned vocal artist with an extensive resume in concert, recital and opera, as well as live broadcasts and recordings. She has sung regularly with many of the major orchestras of North America, including Calgary, Dallas and Vancouver. Appearances abroad include Les Musiciens du Louvre, I Virtuosi di Praja, and Les Violons du Roi.

Narrator Eliot Pfanstiehl is the CEO of Strathmore Hall Foundation Inc., which operates and presents programming at Strathmore, a multi-disciplinary arts center, including the Music Center and the Mansion at Strathmore, in Montgomery County, Maryland. Mr. Pfanstiehl has held this position since the foundation's inception in 1983.

About the conductor:
In demand throughout the United States and Europe, Dr. Stan Engebretson has led choirs in Venice's Cathedral of St. Mark and taught in Cologne, Trier, St. Moritz and Barcelona. He has studied with the great masters of choral music, including Robert Shaw, Gregg Smith, Richard Westenburg, Roger Wagner and Eric Ericson. After attending the University of North Dakota and earning his Doctorate from Stanford University, Engebretson taught at the University of Texas and the University of Minnesota. He also was the Artistic Director of the Midland-Odessa Symphony Chorale and the Associate Conductor of the Minnesota Chorale.

A free pre-concert lecture will be offered at 6:45 pm on Saturday, May 19 in the Concert Hall at the Music Center at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to the May 19 Martyrdom of St. Sebastian concert, please visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org or call the Strathmore box office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets to the National Philharmonic concerts are $28-$81; kids 7-17 are FREE through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette). ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone. Parking is complimentary.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Seattle Symphony Announces Commission by Renowned American Composer Elliott Carter
Ludovic Morlot and orchestra to Give world premiere in February 2013.

The Seattle Symphony is thrilled to announce a new commission by renowned American composer Elliott Carter. The new work, a 12-minute long orchestral piece titled Instances, will receive its world premiere at the Orchestra's Wyckoff Masterworks Season performances on February 7, 9 and 10, 2013, conducted by Music Director Ludovic Morlot. Carter and Morlot share a friendship forged during Morlot's tenure as Assistant Conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; the eminent composer is writing this piece, commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, as a special gift to Morlot in his new role as the Seattle Symphony's Music Director.

"It is an enormous honor to be involved with the creation of this jewel of a piece by Elliott Carter," said Morlot. "Since my first meeting with him in Boston almost a decade ago, my admiration for his music and his extraordinary spirit has grown incessantly. That he would write a piece for me and the Seattle Symphony to celebrate the start of our relationship together is an absolute privilege. I cannot wait to share this music and this honor with our musicians and audiences at Benaroya Hall."

About Elliott Carter:
Twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the first composer to receive the United States National Medal of Arts, one of the few composers ever awarded Germany's Ernst Von Siemens Music Prize, and in 1988 made "Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" by the Government of France, Elliott Carter is internationally recognized as one of the leading American voices of the classical music tradition. He recently received the Prince Pierre Foundation Music Award and is one of only a handful of living composers elected to the Classical Music Hall of Fame. Carter was recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Committee for the first time in 1960 for his groundbreaking String Quartet No. 2. Igor Stravinsky hailed Carter's Double Concerto for harpsichord, piano, and two chamber orchestras (1961) and Piano Concerto (1967) as "masterpieces."

Of his creative output exceeding 130 works, Carter has composed more than 40 pieces in the past decade alone. He remains extraordinarily prolific at over 100 years of age; his recent works include the Flute Concerto (2008), premiered by Emmanuel Pahud, flute, and the International Chamber Music Ensemble, led by Daniel Barenboim; What are Years, a 2010 joint commission of the Aldeburgh and Tanglewood Festivals; Tintinabulation (2008), premiered in 2008 by the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble at Jordan Hall in Boston; and the Concertino for Bass Clarinet (2009), premiered in Toronto in December 2010 by Virgil Blackwell and the New Music Concerts Ensemble. An all-Carter concert in honor of the composer's 103rd birthday in December 2011 featured the world premieres of String Trio (2011) and A Sunbeam's Architecture (2010), as well as two surprise pieces composed in the month preceding the concert: Rigmarole and Mnemosyné.

About the Seattle Symphony:
The Seattle Symphony, now presenting its 109th season, has gained international prominence with more than 140 recordings, twelve GRAMMY nominations and two Emmys. The 2011–2012 season is the inaugural year for Music Director Ludovic Morlot, who was appointed to the position in 2010. The Seattle Symphony performs in one of the world's finest concert venues — the acoustically superb Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle — and is recognized for its innovative programming, devotion to the classics, and extensive recording catalog. From September through July, the Symphony is heard live by more than 315,000 people. For more information on the Seattle Symphony, visit www.seattlesymphony.org.

--Patrick Gullo, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Strathmore Music in the Mansion Presents a Celebration of Composer Claude Debussy with Katie Mahan, piano, National Philharmonic and Friends
May Mansion concerts honor 150th anniversary of cardinal French composer's birth.

Strathmore's Music in the Mansion concert series honors the 150th anniversary of the birth of integral French composer Claude Debussy with two all-Debussy May concerts, featuring acclaimed pianist Katie Mahan and members of the National Philharmonic. Mahan will perform on Thursday, May 10, 2012 and the National Philharmonic musicians will pay tribute to Debussy on Thursday, May 17, 2012. Both concerts will be held at 7:30 p.m. and will feature pre-performance lectures beginning at 6:30 p.m. with WETA's David Ginder. The performances are part of the National Philharmonic's Debussy festival, with Music Center performances including an All Debussy concert on Saturday, May 5, 2012 with pianist Brian Ganz and a Washington, D.C. premiere of the composer's large choral work, The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian on Saturday, May 19, 2012. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (301) 581-5100 or visit www.strathmore.org.  Music in the Mansion is sponsored by Asbury Methodist Village.

Katie Mahan:
An acclaimed interpreter of Claude Debussy, American pianist Kate Mahan has won international admiration for her delivery of his multi-layered, complex music. Praised for her extraordinary musical sensitivity, Mahan creates, "Numerous nuances of sound...sometimes strong, sometimes astoundingly tender and intimate" (Neue Ruhr Zeitung). Mahan made her orchestral debut in 1999 with the Breckenridge Symphony, and has subsequently appeared with such celebrated conductors as Jiri Belohlavek, Marin Alsop and Robert Lehrbaumer. Mahan's 2011-12 season includes recital appearances around the world, as well as a series of all-Debussy recitals at the Roerich Museum in New York City; in Greenville, South Carolina; and at Strathmore. Mahan is a Steinway artist.

Mahan's all-Debussy program will include Deux Arabesques, Estampes, L'isle joyeuse and Préludes Livre II.

National Philharmonic and Friends:
Strathmore and the National Philharmonic gather like-minded fans and virtuoso partners for this intimate performance of Debussy's seminal works— Piano Trio in G Major, Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor  and the String Quartet in G minor. Performing in the concert are violinists Jody Gatwood and Claudia Chudacoff, violist Julius Wirth, cellist Lori Barnet and pianist Kathryn Brake.

About Strathmore:
Strathmore is an arts presenter and cultural destination that nurtures art, artists and community through creative and diverse programming of the highest quality.  The Mansion at Strathmore is located at 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, MD, one half-mile north of the Capital Beltway and immediately adjacent to the Grosvenor-Strathmore station on Metro's Red Line. For further information or tickets, call (301) 581-5100 or visit www.strathmore.org.

Strathmore Music in the Mansion Presents Katie Mahan, Thursday, May 10, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
Pre-concert lecture with WETA's David Ginder at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets $30 (Stars Price $27)
Deux Arabesques
Estampes
L'isle joyeuse
Préludes Livre II

National Philharmonic and Friends, Thursday, May 17, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
Pre-concert lecture with WETA's David Ginder at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets $30 (Stars Price $27)
Piano Trio in G Major
Cello Sonata in D minor
Violin Sonata in G minor
String Quartet in G minor

Mansion at Strathmore
10701 Rockville Pike
North Bethesda, MD 20852

For additional information or to purchase tickets visit www.strathmore.org.

--Michael Fila, Strathmore

Spring For Music Asks You to Create Your Fantasy Program
The festival dedicated to bringing adventurous programing to New York wants to hear your fantasy program.

Fantasy Program contest started April 24 and ends at noon EDT, May 5

Spring For Music, an annual festival at Carnegie Hall May 7 through 12, firmly believes that great ideas and great concert programs come from open dialogue and creative collaboration. Orchestras for Spring For Music are chosen based on the strength of the programs they submit. Last fall, we posted programs from orchestras wanting to be considered for the festival and more than 60,000 readers read them and cast 20,000 comments and votes.

That is why we want to hear what you think makes for an outstanding orchestra program. Spring For Music's Fantasy Program contest allows users to post a hypothetical program for orchestra online. Just like the Spring For Music orchestras, participants will make a case for why their program is a great one. Visitors to the Spring For Music Web site can comment and vote fantasy programs up and down. The contest opens today, April 23, and runs for two weeks. When it closes on May 5, the program that has received the most "up" votes by visitors to the website will be declared the winner. The winner gets two tickets to each of this year's and next year's Spring For Music concerts at Carnegie Hall. Additionally, the winner will be interviewed for the Spring For Music website, and the winning program will be featured by Carnegie Hall and WQXR.

After thousands of music lovers voiced their opinion, the 2011 Fantasy Program contest winner was New York-based cellist, Peter Sachon. His program, "Eternal Stories", was an imagined night of music engaging with the character of superman as seen through different cultures. Richard Strauss' "Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Op. 30" was interestingly paired with John Williams's "Superman". Sachon later discussed his winning program on Performance Today, one of America's most popular classical music radio programs.

Jennifer Rivera at Trying to Remain Operational Wins the Arts Blogger Challenge:
Trying to Remain Operational is the winner of Spring For Music's first Arts Blogger Challenge. The festival posted a series of prompts about the larger arts community and challenged bloggers to respond. Public voting accounted for one-third of the tally, and three official judges, composer Nico Muhly, ArtsJournal founder and editor Douglas McLennan, and Katrine Ames, former senior editor at Newsweek, accounted for two-thirds of the vote. 42 blogs participated and hundreds of votes were cast. Trying to Remain Operational will receive $2,500 and six pairs of tickets to the Spring For Music festival. The blog is written by Jennifer Rivera, a professional lyric mezzo soprano. Her winning entry can be found here. In the fourth and final round, entrants were asked to answer the question, "Do we need to save the arts, and if so, what does saving them mean?" In her post, Rivera wrote:

"After I found out that I'd passed on to the next round in this competition this morning, I called my parents to let them know, and to tell them what the next question I was answering was. Being a very independent thinker, I didn't want their input, but my mom, being a painter, sculptor and potter herself, couldn't help but weigh in just before she hung up, with, "Don't forget, the arts are irrepressible!!" She has a point. The arts will never need saving, because throughout history, we have proven that we need creativity in order to survive our own humanity and to help understand our own mortality. Art seems to stick around as part of the human condition, and no matter how the society evolves or devolves, creativity remains. Art is irrepressible - we know because it has been created in even the most horrendous and repressed conditions, like the concentration camp in Terezin, whose prisoners produced innumerable pieces of art, including a complete opera; Der Kaiser von Atlantis, which is still being performed in opera houses today. Art is not something that can ever be repressed because within every human being exists the ability to create. We don't need to save art because art saves us. This, at least, can give us some hope for the future."

About Spring For Music
Spring For Music is an annual concentrated festival of concerts by North American symphony and chamber orchestras presented at Carnegie Hall. The concerts will be held May 7-12 and tickets are only $25. Through a unique marketing structure involving shared costs, shared risks, and generous donations, the festival allows participating orchestras to showcase their artistic philosophies through distinctive and adventurous programming in one of the world's most competitive musical environments. This festival is meant to start a conversation about programming. What makes one program better than another? How do pieces on a program interact - some brilliantly, some less so? What makes the difference? Spring For Music is an experiment; the idea is to take risks, explore new territory, and to get people involved. Tickets are available at the Carnegie Hall box office, through CarnegieCharge, and on the Carnegie Hall Web site.

--Amanda Ameer, First Chair Promotions

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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.