Classical Music News of the Week, May 31, 2013

Soprano Kristine Opolais Follows Tanglewood, Proms debuts with Packed 2013-14 Opera Season

The Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais, who has won unanimous critical and popular praise for her lush voice and stirring performances at opera houses worldwide, sets out to conquer new audiences this summer with a pair of concert debuts at Tanglewood and the BBC Proms.

Kristine then kicks off a jam-packed 2013-14 opera season with one of Verdi’s most demanding heroines--Desdemona in Otello at the Hamburg Staatsoper--before reprising several of her signature roles (Rusalka, Jenufa, Madama Butterfly) and shining as the titular heroine of a highly-anticipated new Covent Garden production of Manon Lescaut.  

“An affectingly natural actress,” possessing a “plush voice with a throbbing richness that lends a touch of poignancy to every phrase she sings” (The New York Times) that is also “lithe and precise” (Classics Today) and “filled with colors and shadings” (Associated Press), the sensational soprano Kristi-ne Opolais’s upcoming season will delight dedicated fans and produce a bevy of new converts.

Tanglewood audiences will get a chance to hear Kristine intone the passionate swells of Verdi’s Requiem on July 27 in a performance conducted by the celebrated conductor Andris Nelsons, who has the unique distinction of being both her longtime artistic accomplice and husband. Verdi is also on the menu at Kristine’s August 17 BBC Proms debut, where she will perform arias from Otello (“Willow Song,” “Ave Maria”), as well as from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (“Polonaise,” “Letter Song”), with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, also conducted by Nelsons. She’ll perform Wagner lieder on a program also featuring Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture and Dvorák’s joyous Symphony No. 8 for a tantalizing trio of festival concerts with the same orchestra on August 29 (Locarno), August 31 (Menuhin Festival in Gstaad) and September 1 (Bremen Festival - Glocke Veranstaltungs). The dynamic duo of Opolais and Nelsons teams up again for an all-Wagner program performed with the NDR Sinfonieorchester at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival on August 24 and 25.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Opera Parallele Presents First Workshop Reading of Dante De Silva’s Gesualdo, Prince of Madness June 7 at San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Concept Designer Brian Staufenbiel debuts new “GraphicOpera” genre.

Opera Parallèle presents the first workshop reading of Dante De Silva’s Gesualdo, Prince of Madness, at 7 p.m. June 7 in the Sol Joseph Recital Hall at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. During the reading, the company will also debut the concept of “GraphicOpera,” melding the graphic novel with operatic performance. The two-act opera examines the sometimes flexible nature of justice through the figure of Carlo Gesualdo, a 16th century composer who is accused of murder but escapes prosecution because of his noble status. Los Angeles composer Dante De Silva incorporates renaissance colors in homage to the title character by including a theorbo, a plucked instrument of the Baroque period.

Concept designer Brian Staufenbiel, illustrator Mark Simmons and animator Sony Green explore a new idea in bringing the music and text of Gesualdo, Prince of Madness to life by using a series of illustrations and animations, done in a traditional graphic novel style, projected onto a large, central screen. This workshop will be the first phase in Opera Parallèle's development of GraphicOpera as a new genre with the hope that this art form will embrace the spectrum of animated imagery that new technology enables.

For the June 7 reading, Artistic Director Nicole Paiement conducts a musical ensemble featuring lutenist Adam Cockerham on theorbo, percussionist McKenzie Camp, pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmerman on electronic keyboard.

Bay Area baritone Daniel Cilli leads the cast as the heartbroken Carlo Gesualdo alongside Chris Filipowicz as his servant Orazio. Michelle Rice plays Maria Gesualdo and Andres Ramirez, recently in Opera Parallèle’s production of Trouble in Tahiti, plays Maria’s secret lover Fabrizio. Maya Kherani, Nuria in Opera Parallèle’s production of Ainadamar, portrays Leonora, Carlo’s second wife. Nikola Printz will play the servants, Anna and Patrizia, as well as the herbalist, Artemisia. Rounding out the cast is a female trio sung by Sarah Eve Brand, Lora Libby and Rachel Rush.

“Opera Parallèle is fearlessly committed to expanding appreciation for contemporary opera,” said Artistic Director Nicole Paiement. “I’ve long admired Dante De Silva and the company is thrilled to offer the public a first glimpse at our workshop. Not only will audiences get a chance to preview the music, but we will also be ‘previewing’ a new way of bringing the music to life visually with the debut of GraphicOpera. This will be a sort of laboratory experiment in the music and visual arts—another step in our process of encouraging dialogue and opening minds to contemporary opera.”

Dante De Silva’s Gesualdo, Prince of Madness is free and open to the public. Pre-reserved seating is available for donors and, given the intimate nature of the venue, tickets for the general public may be limited and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The world premiere workshop reading will be followed by a question and answer session with Nicole Paiement, Brian Staufenbiel and Dante De Silva.

For further information, please call (415) 503-6279 or email info@operaparallele.org.

--Karen Ames Communications

Britain's Favourite Film Critic Celebrates His 50th Birthday with a Full Orchestra and Some Surprise Guests
Mark Kermode will join the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to celebrate his 50th birthday with four unique concerts: Cheltenham Festival; Barbican, London; The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; and Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

The UK’s best known and most authorative film critic, Mark Kermode, will celebrate his 50th birthday with a top UK orchestra as they perform music from the films that have inspired him. From The Exorcist to Mary Poppins expect a riot of music, plus stories from his life and career, in concerts across the UK.

This summer, Mark, the co-host of BBC Radio 5 Live's Kermode and Mayo's Film Review, will team up with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at Cheltenham Festival (3 July); Barbican, London (6 July); The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (8 July); and Symphony Hall, Birmingham (9 July) to celebrate a life spent in the movie theatre and how particular films have affected him so deeply.

The concerts will reflect Mark's unique and eclectic tastes: after all, how often will you hear music from Twin Peaks and Mary Poppins in the same evening. Taking us through the films that mean most to him, Mark Kermode will bring us a tender theme from Silent Running, a violent hunt from Planet of the Apes (a film Kermode credits with teaching him everything he knows about politics), Jonny Greenwood's hugely influential music from There Will Be Blood,  the infernal strains of Peter Maxwell Davies’s hell-raising score from The Devils, the fandango of North By Northwest, the sleazy cityscape of Taxi Driver, Angelo Badalamenti's dreamy score for David Lynch's Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me and the joyous overture to the Disney classic, Mary Poppins (one of Kermode's all-time favourites). And a Kermode concert would not be complete without The Exorcist, which famously lifted a spine-tingling theme from the opening of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Be afraid.

All the music will be conducted by maestro Robert Ziegler, who has a worldwide reputation as a conductor of film music and has worked regularly in the studio with film composers such as Howard Shore (Hugo, The Hobbit) Patrick Doyle (Hamlet, Sense and Sensibility) and Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood, Norwegian Wood).

Also joining Kermode will be a surprise guest who will talk about their own career in the movies, and discuss the film music which has inspired them – a selection of which will be played live by the orchestra.

For further information go to www.Kermodefilmmusic.co.uk or join in the conversation #CBSOMovie.

--Ruth Green, CBSO

Other Minds Presents the West Coast Premiere of Rhys Chatham’s Awe-Inspiring Work for 100 Guitars, A Secret Rose, November 17 at Craneway Pavilion, Richmond, CA, June 7 and 8
Composer/guistarist Rhys Chatham will be in San Francisco for two kick-off events: The performance of 1977 Guitar Trio (G3) at The Lab and and the G100 Roundup.

Other Minds will present the West Coast Premiere of Rhys Chatham’s awe-inspiring work for 100 electric guitars, A Secret Rose, at 7 p.m. on Sunday, November 17 at Craneway Pavilion, Richmond, California. Led by composer/guitarist Rhys Chatham, credited with creating a new type of urban music by fusing early 1960s minimalism with the relentless, elemental fury of punk rock, this large-scale performance features an international team of section leaders working in concert with amateur and professional guitarists from all over the Bay Area and beyond. With an almost cult-like following akin to those who travel to hear The Grateful Dead, Rhys Chatham is a formally trained composer whose music combines “the drone-based minimalism of La Monte Young and Tony Conrad with the raw energy and amplified instrumentation of punk bands like the Ramones.” (Steve Smith, The New York Times). A Secret Rose is sponsored by a lead grant from the Exploring Engagement Fund of the James Irvine Foundation.

To build excitement for the November 17 performance of A Secret Rose, Other Minds presents two preview events June 7 and 8 in San Francisco. Rhys Chatham joins an all-star cast of local Bay Area musicians on June 7 at The Lab in a performance of his groundbreaking 1977 Guitar Trio (G3). The participating performers will be guitarists Ava Mendoza, John Schott, George Chen and John Krausbauer, along with Lisa Mezzacappa (bass) and Jordan Glenn (drums). On June 8, Charles Amirkhanian will join Rhys Chatham for the “G100 Roundup,” an exclusive event in a private Mission District art studio. This intimate evening event will feature an in-depth interview covering his early days as the first music director at The Kitchen in New York to his recent large-scale guitar works and will be accompanied by rare films and audio footage from Rhys’ extensive career, including footage from his compositions for electric guitar orchestras. The G100 Roundup event will also be an opportunity for fans to find out how they can get involved in A Secret Rose.

Tickets for the June kick-off events are now on sale at www.thelab.org for June 7 and g100.eventbrite.com for June 8. Those interested in participating as one of the 100 guitarists in November should visit otherminds.org to apply online. Applications and specific information on instrument requirements will be open June 15.

--Karen Ames Communications

American Composers Orchestra Names Derek Bermel New Artistic Director and Renews George Manahan’s Music Directorship
American Composers Orchestra (ACO) announced last night at its Spring Benefit at Tribeca Rooftop that composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel will be the orchestra’s new Artistic Director, commencing with the 2013-14 season. Bermel has been ACO’s Creative Advisor since 2009, and succeeds composer Robert Beaser who has been ACO’s Artistic Director since 2000 and was ACO’s Artistic Advisor from 1993. Bermel joins Music Director George Manahan, who has just renewed his contract with ACO for an unprecedented five years, in leading the ensemble in its mission to be a catalyst for the creation of new orchestral music. 

ACO Board Co-Chair Astrid Baumgardner said of Bermel’s appointment, “Multi-talented composer, clarinetist, and artistic leader Derek Bermel is one of the beacons of today's music scene. With his creativity, intelligence and charm, the orchestra is poised to scale new heights and make an important contribution to the contemporary music scene.” Board Co-Chair Annette McEvoy added, “Derek has the talent, know-how, and creativity to present compelling contemporary music for our dynamic audience, and I am thrilled that he will be leading us into the future.”

Grammy-nominated composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel has been widely hailed for his creativity, theatricality, and virtuosity. In addition to his new appointment with ACO, he will continue to serve as Director of Copland House's Cultivate! Program for emerging composers. Bermel, an “eclectic with wide open ears” (Toronto Star), is recognized as a dynamic and unconventional curator of concert series that spotlight the composer as performer. Alongside his international studies of ethnomusicology and orchestration, an ongoing engagement with other musical cultures has become part of the fabric and force of his compositional language.

Bermel first came to ACO's attention in 1994 as a participant in the Whitaker Emerging Composers Readings (now the Underwood New Music Readings) with his piece Dust Dances. ACO has since commissioned and premiered Bermel’s work on numerous occasions, including his first professional orchestral commission and Carnegie Hall debut in 1998 with Voices, a clarinet concerto. ACO also commissioned and premiered A Shout, A Whisper, and a Trace (2009); Elixir (2006); and The Migration Series with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which premiered to sold-out audiences in 2006. Bermel was ACO’s Music Alive Composer-in-Residence from 2006-2009, joining ACO's board and becoming the orchestra's Creative Advisor in 2009. In his role as Creative Advisor, Bermel excelled at programming ACO’s Orchestra Underground series at Carnegie Hall and ACO’s citywide new music festival SONiC, Sounds of a New Century, in 2011, which featured 21st century music by 120 emerging composers. Bermel has also been active in several of ACO's composer development initiatives including serving as a mentor for the Underwood New Music Readings and EarShot programs, and serving as an artist-faculty member for the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute.

--Christina Jensen PR

Young People’s Chorus of New York City Spring Concert Tickets
Two Performances For YPC Families and Friends Spring Family Concert - Saturday, June 8, 2013.
Tickets:
3:30 p.m. matinee tickets -$15, $25, and $50.
7:00 p.m. evening tickets - $20, $30, and $60.
All tickets are available at the 92nd Street Y box office or by calling 212-415-5500.

Don't miss the renowned showmanship, poise, and professionalism of all of the YPC choristers in music ranging from classical, pop, and jazz to folk, gospel, and world music. The 3:30 matinee will include a cameo performance by the young singers in YPC's new after-school program, Young People's Chorus at Washington Heights (YPCWH)

The 7 p.m. evening performance comes to a poignant close with YPC's annual celebratory send-off to its graduating seniors as they leave the chorus to embark on their college careers and a new chapter in their young lives.

--K. Gibson, Young People’s Chorus of New York

Holst: The Planets (SACD review)

Walter Susskind, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 4005.

Mobile Fidelity began life as a producer of half-speed remastered vinyl discs. When CD’s came along, they kept pace in the audiophile arena by transferring music to gold discs. These days, having largely moved away from gold discs and on to Super Audio CDs, they have found some good source material in the performances of Walter Susskind, such as this one where he conducts Gustav Holst’s The Planets with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

The first and only time other time I heard this recording was almost thirty years ago when it first appeared on a Vox/Turnabout LP in the mid Seventies. It was during the quadraphonic era, and Vox had intended for listeners to play it back in four channels. But I heard it at that time in ordinary two-channel stereo where the sound appeared a mite blurry and noisy to me. Not being too impressed by the sonics at that time, I quickly forgot about the performance. Unlike before, however, I was able to hear it in cleaner, clearer stereo on this Mobile Fidelity SACD, and I regret not having given the performance more credit back then.

Mo-Fi is producing hybrid two-channel/multi-channel discs, so a person can listen to The Planets with or without an SACD player or rear channels. I listened in two-channel stereo through a Sony SACD player, where the sound now appeared better focused, and Susskind’s interpretation of this colorfully descriptive score thoroughly delighted me.

“Mars” begins things with a zesty, saucy bravado. I’ve read that Holst wanted this “Bringer of War” to ridicule the stupidity of war, and surely Susskind’s zippy rendition conveys this thought. Nevertheless, it’s the slower movements that most impressed me, “Venus” and “Saturn” and, of course, the ethereal “Neptune,” with their grace and refinement. Still, it’s “Uranus” that always seems to me the centerpiece of the work, the movement that combines the strongest tensions, the biggest outbursts of emotion, and the softest moments of repose. Susskind handles it superbly, the pacing immaculate. This is quite a nice reading, actually.

The sound, as I’ve said, is a marked improvement over the old vinyl. But one must play it somewhat loudly to enjoy it to the full, in all its spacious grandeur. At a soft or even moderate playback level, there seems to be a degree of cloudiness to the proceedings. Yet at volume, the sound is reasonably firm and well delineated. On the minus side, there is a minor feeling of compartmentalization about it, an absence of ultimate depth, some minor softness about the dynamics, and a lack of truly deep bass, all of which could intrude upon one’s complete surrender to a willing suspension of disbelief. Be that as it may, I’m sure it sounds realistic enough, overall, to please most folks, probably close to the original master tape. It’s an enjoyable disc, and I’m nitpicking.

The only flaw is that since my writing this review, Mo-Fi seems to have discontinued the disc. Alas, if you’re interested in it, you may have to do a search.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


JJP

Cal Tjader & Stan Getz: Sextet (UltraHD CD review)

Cal Tjader, Stan Getz, Vince Guaraldi, Eddie Duran, Scott Lafaro, Billy Higgins. FIM LIM UHD 061 LE.

When you’ve got a good thing, there’s nothing for it but to make it better. That appears to be the philosophy of Winston Ma, president and owner of FIM (First Impression Music), who supervises the CD remastering of classic older recordings to today’s most-exacting audiophile standards. And what more classic a jazz album is there than Sextet, the celebrated 1958 recording with the all-star cast. To put it mildly, it’s never sounded better for home playback.

The players involved are Cal Tjader, vibes; Stan Getz, tenor sax; Vince Guaraldi, piano; Eddie Duran, guitar; Scott Lafaro, bass; and Billy Higgins, drums. Of course, not all of them were at the time as well known as they are today; but, still, it was a remarkable feat for Fantasy Records to gather them together for a one-time recording shot. No one figured just how memorable or how historic the occasion would be.

The session begins with “For All We Know,” which features Tjader on vibes and Getz eventually coming in on sax, the others providing accompaniment. It’s a good opening number to showcase the primary stars, and it’s wonderfully breezy and beautifully played. “My Buddy” follows, with even more from the bassist and pianist, again with Tjader taking the lead on vibes. The players had never performed before as a group, yet their contributions are so seamless, you’d think they had been working together for years.

And so it goes. This is jazz for people who say they don’t care much for jazz. I mean, how could one resist so affecting a number as their rendition of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from the then-new stage musical My Fair Lady? It’s all quite easy to grow accustomed to when every member of the ensemble is so thoroughly professional and skilled his position.

While much of the music is laid-back and genial, there is a particular track that finds the group at its rollicking best: a fast dance called “Ginza Samba.” They swing in the best sense, backing each other with supportive figures in a remarkably able fashion. Likewise, after starting the album in relatively lyric form, the fellows do the final three numbers up tempo. Pick your mood.

For fun, see if you can make out the words whispered in the background. Interestingly, too, there were no rehearsals before the recording date, no alternates, and second takes. Although the album lasts only forty-two minutes and forty-seven seconds, you can’t help but have a great time with it.

Fantasy Records made the album at Marines Memorial Auditorium, San Francisco, California, in February of 1958. FIM (First Impression Music) and their subsidiary LIM (Lasting Impression Music) brought the music to the present audiophile UltraHD CD in 2013, using the latest advances in 32-bit technology for the transfer. Moreover, as it seems that every time producer Winston Ma releases a new series of discs, he’s added some new and innovative engineering, this time we get something called Pure Reflection, or as Ma calls it, putting the two words together, PureFlection. It’s an improved disc reproduction process that makes replication even more precise, and which Ma goes on to explain in several pages of detail in the disc’s accompanying notes. Let it suffice that the technology seems to work, and we get what Ma claims is a pure reflection of the original. The disc sounds darned good, so I don’t doubt him.

The modestly close miking used in the original recording produces a wide stereo spread, and certainly the high-definition UltraHD and PureFlection systems produce pure, clean sound, no matter that the master tape is over half a century old. It was obviously good to begin with, and it sounds good now.  The disc opens with Tjader on vibes, which ring out clearly and dynamically. When he’s joined by Getz on sax, we hear how really lifelike the instruments sound. Percussion, including piano, likewise display excellent transient response, and both ends of the frequency spectrum appear well extended. Just as important, there is a fair amount of depth to the group, with air and space around the instruments. A good thing just keeps getting better.

FIM/LIM have packaged the disc in a glossy, foldout, hardbound book-like case, with notes fastened to the inside and the disc itself inserted into static-proof liner, further enclosed by a thin cardboard sleeve. The liner and sleeve make sense for taking the best possible care of the disc, although it can be something of a pain trying to get the liner back into the sleeve properly if you’re as clumsy and nearsighted as I am. It’s a small price to pay for dust and scratch protection.

And speaking of price, don’t forget that these audiophile products aren’t cheap. Don’t say I didn’t warn you in advance against sticker shock.

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

JJP

Mozart: Divertimenti Nos. 11 and 17 (CD review)

Helmut Muller-Bruhl, Cologne Chamber Orchestra. Naxos 8.570990.

Mozart wrote a ton of divertimenti (well, several dozen at least), light music intended largely as background entertainment for social gatherings--dinners, parties, and the like--for families that could afford them. The two we find here, Nos. 11 and 17, are fairly prominent examples of the genre, conducted by the late Helmut Muller-Bruhl and his Cologne Chamber Orchestra. Maestro Muller-Bruhl died just a few months after making the recording, so it’s something of a swan song for him. He went out in style.

The Divertimento No. 11 in D major, K. 251, begins the program.  Mozart wrote it in 1776, probably for the name-day of his sister Nannerl. It’s a relatively small work in six movements, scored for an oboe, a pair of horns, two violins, viola, double bass, and strings; and it’s filled with the usual series of charming melodies we would expect from the young composer. Muller-Bruhl provides a warm, sunny, yet highly refined interpretation of the music. This is old-school Mozart, not your slingshot period-instruments presentation.

Nevertheless, this is not to suggest there is anything staid or stodgy about the performance. It is chipper, outgoing, and thoroughly delightful. After giving us a frothy opening Allegro, Muller-Bruhl offers up the first of two highly polished minuets. Between them we find a particularly graceful Andantino in a flowing dotted rhythm. The piece concludes with a spirited Rondeau and a march in the French manner.

Mozart composed the Divertimento No. 17 in D major, K. 334, in 1780 for the university graduation of a wealthy family friend. The piece is almost twice the length of No. 11 and displays a degree of maturity and invention somewhat lacking in the earlier work. Again, Muller-Bruhl gives us a gracious, friendly, cultivated reading, with an especially felicitous pair of Menuettos, things we would expect of dinner music. However, this is not merely background music; no Mozart could be. These well-developed musical arrangements verge on symphonies; in fact, you might even consider them overdeveloped symphonies, with their six-movement design. Whatever you call them, they’re quite entertaining in Muller-Bruhl’s capable hands. 

So, what Muller-Bruhl gives us are cultured, what some people might call sedate Mozart interpretations, old-school Mozart you could say, with accomplished playing from the Cologne Chamber Orchestra. To add another plus to the affair, the total disc time is over seventy-three minutes, something we don’t always find in this age of frugal recordings. Anyway, if  some of today’s more frenetic performances tire you, Muller-Bruhl’s more gentle approach may be right up your alley.

Naxos recorded the music at the Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany, in September of 2011. Typical of so many Naxos products, the sound is warm and full, with a slightly soft, veiled midrange and a slightly limited frequency and dynamic range. Still, these qualities are not severe and may be just what the music needs; they provide an easygoing atmosphere for Muller-Bruhl’s easygoing style. The moderately close-up miking allows for a big sound, too, very wide and acceptably deep.

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

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, May 26, 2013

The National Philharmonic Presents Carmina Burana at Strathmore

The National Philharmonic Chorale, led by Artistic Director Stan Engebretson, will present Carl Orff’s most famous work, Carmina Burana, on Saturday, June 8 at 8 pm and on Sunday, June 9 at 3 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD  20852. The program also includes Three Poems by Henri Michaux by Witold Lutos?awski. In addition to the nearly 200 voice all-volunteer chorale, the concert will feature soloists Audrey Luna (soprano); Robert Baker (tenor); Leon Williams (baritone) and the Choralis Youth Chorus (Cantus Primo).

Orff’s rousing Carmina Burana blends secular medieval texts with seductive melodies and spellbinding rhythms. The composer’s popular 1936 oratorio, a setting of medieval poems about life, love and morals, features the powerful and pulsing sound of chorus and orchestra that you now hear in many movies, videogames and on TV. In fact, the famous opening and closing movement, O Fortuna, has been used in such popular movies as Glory, The Hunt for Red October, and Cheaper by the Dozen.

Lutosawski, Poland’s most celebrated composer of the last century, traced his musical roots to Debussy and Stravinsky. These influences are heard in his evocative 1963 work, Three Poems by Henri Michaux, for chorus, strings and percussion, in a stirring Washington-area premiere.

About the Soloists:
Soprano Audrey Luna’s 2012-13 season engagements include Ariel in The Tempest with the Metropolitan Opera, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos with Fort Worth Opera, and Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte with Utah Opera. Recent season highlights include Queen of the Night with Lyric Opera of Chicago; Madame Mao in Nixon in China with Lyric Opera of Kansas City; Ariel with Festival Opéra de Québec, also with Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, directed by the composer; and Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos with the Metropolitan Opera.

For more information, click on www.nationalphilharmonic.org

Tenor Robert Baker is a central figure in the Washington area classical music scene. He has been featured by the Washington Concert Opera in numerous roles totaling more than 250 performances. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Prokfiev’s War and Peace, which he also recorded during the Spoleto Festival’s production in 1999.

Baritone Leon Williams performances have included Mendelssohn’s Elijah (Honolulu Symphony and Florida Orchestra), Orff’s Carmina Burana (Florida Orchestra, Baltimore, Reading, Alabama, Westchester, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Hartford and Colorado Symphonies, National Philharmonic, and at the Berkshire Choral Festival); Britten’s War Requiem, the Mozart and Fauré Requiems, and Haydn’s Creation with the Colorado Symphony.

The Choralis Foundation, founded by Artistic Director Gretchen Kuhrmann in 2000, is dedicated to nurturing a passion for choral music in the greater Washington metropolitan area. Its choruses--the Choralis Youth Choirs (Cantus Choirs)—Cantus Liberi (grades 3 5), Cantus Medius (grades 6-8), and the select choir heard this evening, Cantus Primo (grades 5-9)—are the most recent fulfillment of Choralis’ mission to instill a love of choral music through excellence in choral performance and educational outreach to youth.  Details about Choralis programs and concert season may be found at www.choralis.org.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Bang on a Can Announces Clarinetist Ken Thomson Is a New Member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars
Bang on a Can, New York’s innovative and energetic champion of new music, officially announces the new clarinetist for its “All-Star” lineup today. The Bang on a Can All-Stars have become a singular vehicle for visionary composition over the course of the last 20 years, and with the addition of Ken Thomson will continue to set the standard for exciting and virtuosic performances.

Bang on a Can co-founder Julia Wolfe welcomed Ken Thomson with this statement: “We are thrilled to welcome high voltage clarinetist Ken Thomson to the Bang on a Can All-Stars! This past year, during our national search, we played with stunning clarinetists from all over the country. We were honored to share the stage with so many great performers. After a search far and wide, in the end we came back home to one of our own. Ken has been a part of the Bang on a Can family for many years. As a founding member of Asphalt Orchestra (our rad street band) and as faculty at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival at MASS MoCA, Ken has graced us with his dynamic and physical performances.

He has already jumped right in with a European tour taking place right now through Belgium, Sweden, the UK, and Iceland, to be followed by his first hometown performance as an official All-Stars at the Bang on a Can Marathon on Sunday June 16.”

Ken Thomson is a Brooklyn-based clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer. In demand as a composer and freelancer in many settings, he moves quickly between genres and scenes, bringing a fiery intensity and emotional commitment to every musical situation; Time Out New York called him “the hardest-working saxophonist in new-music show business.”

For more information about Bang on a Can, click here: www.bangonacan.org

--Christina Jensen PR

Music Institute Takes Fischoff Gold for Fifth Time in Six Years
Consistent leadership in the prestigious competition showcases a strong chamber music program.

The Music Institute of Chicago has reaffirmed its status as one of the best schools in the nation for chamber music study: Quartet Lumiére, a Music Institute Academy string quartet, has won the coveted First Place Gold Medal and a $2,300 scholarship in the Junior Division of the 2013 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, which took place May 10–12 in South Bend, Indiana.

Quartet Lumiére musicians include 2012–13 Sage Foundation Academy Fellow Rebecca Benjamin (18, Warsaw/Indiana, violin student of Roland and Almita Vamos); 2012–13 Susan and Richard Kiphart Academy Fellow Gallia Kastner (16, Arlington Heights/Illinois, violin student of Roland and Almita Vamos); William Warfield Scholarship recipient and Academy student Mira Williams (15, Chicago/Illinois, viola student of Marko Dreher); and Venzon Memorial Scholarship recipient and Academy student Josiah Yoo (15, Northbrook/Illinois, cello student of Gilda Barston and Hans Jorgen Jensen).

Coached by Academy faculty member Marko Dreher, Quartet Lumiére was Overall Winner in the open division of the 2013 Discover National Chamber Music Competition, 1st Prize Winner of the Society of American Musicians 2013 Jules M. Laser Chamber Music Competition, and Grand Award Winner and first place in the Strings and Piano Division of the first annual A.N. and Pearl G. Barnett Chamber Music Competition held in April 14 at Merit School of Music. Most recently, the Quartet performed a pre-concert for the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra and for internationally acclaimed musician Lang Lang at the Music Institute’s 83rd Anniversary Gala.

2013 Fischoff Competition
Founded in 1973 in South Bend, Indiana, the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition began with Joseph E. Fischoff and fellow members of the South Bend Chamber Music Society seeking to find an innovative way of encouraging young people to pursue chamber music study and performance. Since then, the competition, presented by the Fischoff National Chamber Music Association, has grown to become the largest chamber music competition in the world and one of the most illustrious classical music prizes attainable today. During the past 40 years, more than 5,700 musicians have participated in the competition, many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers in music performance and education. In addition, Fischoff is the only national chamber music competition with both Senior (ages 18–35) and Junior Divisions (age 18 and younger).

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Listen: Life With Classical Music Releases Its Summer 2013 Issue Features Béla Fleck, Summer Festivals, Artists Inspired by Art, Viola Jokes, and Van Cliburn, and more
While you’re (hopefully) lying by the pool this summer, Listen: Life with Classical Music is the ultimate guide to summer music festivals and endless entertainment. From mixology at the Metropolitan Opera to Jesus Christ’s operatic debut to the effect of the ubiquitous viola joke, this issue will get you through the hot summer months.

This year, classical music lost a lion-hearted hero: Van Cliburn, the Texan who conquered Russia, who graces the magazine’s cover. Editor-in-Chief Ben Finane ruminates on Van Cliburn’s rise as an unforeseen ambassador with a win at Moscow’s inaugural Tchaikovsky competition.

A print quarterly hailed by Library Journal as one of the best new magazines of 2009, Listen Magazine is the American voice of classical music. Now entering its fifth year of publication, Listen delivers exclusive interviews with the world’s top musicians, feature articles, think pieces, festival coverage, insight into the masterworks and the unsung works of the classical canon, as well as recommendations on record, on screen, in print and online. No one covers the breadth and depth of classical music with greater elegance and zeal than Listen.

The magazine is available at Barnes & Noble or by subscription: https://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/ListenOnePage?source=FB
Between issues of Listen, the world of classical music continues to spin. Get your fix between print issues with the editor’s weblog, The Listener; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ListenMusicMag; and Twitter: https://twitter.com/ListenMusicMag.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Mozart: In-Between (CD review)

Symphony No. 23; Piano Concerto No. 9; Schuler: In-Between; others. David Greilsammer, piano and conductor; Lawrence Zazzo, countertenor. L’Orchestre de Chamber de Geneve. Sony 88725430254.

Everybody needs a gimmick, I remarked the last time I reviewed an album by David Greilsammer. That was Conversations, a disc that offered four segments comprised of three piano selections each, two Baroque masterpieces as the outer movements and a modern work in the middle. It was clever, and Greilsammer pulled it off pretty well. With this follow-up album, In-Between, Greilsammer provides several works by Mozart as a young man, a composer “in-between” his earliest youth and his adulthood, along with the premiere recording of a modern contemporary piece called In-Between by Swiss composer and musician Denis Schuler. While Greilsammer again handles the music quite well, I’m not sure he and his producer needed the “in-between” gimmick to sell it.

Anyway, David Greilsammer is a prizewinning pianist as well as the Principal Conductor of the Geneva Chamber Orchestra. Born in Jerusalem, Israel, he studied there at the Rubin Academy before entering the Juliard School in New York and making his solo debut in 2004. Apparently, one of the things audiences have enjoyed are his recitals juxtaposing Baroque and contemporary music, as he did in his earlier program. Now, he tries a similarly themed approach to Mozart.

Greilsammer says of the In-Between album, “Each of the pieces represents a different in-between situation, all guiding us towards the violent imaginary storm that occurs in Mozart’s heart. Once we have arrived inside this secret world, we suddenly find ourselves facing a battle between opposing forces: light and darkness, the human and the divine, childhood and adulthood, conservatism and innovation, solitude and the collective, love and hatred, past and present, dream and reality, father and mother.” I have only an inkling what he means, he gets so carried away with his highfalutin rhetoric. Fortunately, Greilsammer’s vague thematic connections cannot displace his excellent execution of the music, which sounds delightful.

The program leads off with Mozart’s Symphony No. 23 in D major, K. 181, written in 1773 when the composer was seventeen. Since it’s such a youthful work, that’s the way Greilsammer conducts it--youthfully, with plenty of exuberant energy. The symphony contains only three movements, in the Italian style of the day, and, coincidentally, Mozart wrote it after his third trip to Italy. It’s very brief, all three movements comprising less than ten minutes: fast-slow-fast, and more like an overture, really. Greilsammer has fun with it, even though the second movement isn’t so much fun as it is emphatically dramatic. The finale is ablaze with action, which Greilsammer appears to delight in.

Next, we get Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K. 271 “Jeunehomme,” which he wrote in 1777 at the age of twenty-one. Here, Greilsammer both conducts the orchestra and plays the piano, and it’s also here that Greilsammer proves his worth. The piece has a delightful charm about it, and even if Greilsammer does go at it at a lickety-split pace, he never loses track of either the pulse of the music or the pleasures of the piano’s interactions with the orchestra. Meanwhile, the orchestra provides a flawless dialogue with the piano.

Then, after a typically rambunctious first movement, we get a surprisingly solemn and soul-searching second-movement Andantino that seems to come out of left field and which Greilsammer performs with great sensitivity. The final movement is also surprising in that it contains a lovely minuetto right in the middle of an otherwise presto presentation. It’s like a miniature concerto unto itself, and again Greilsammer impresses us with his spirited direction and virtuoso performance.

To conclude the program we find two passages from Mozart’s Thamos, Konig in Agypten, K. 345, another early work, interrupted between passages by Denis Schuler’s In-Between, written in 2010, and, finally, the aria “Venga pur, minacci e frema” from Mozart’s youthful opera Mitradate, re di Ponto, K. 87, which he wrote around 1770 when he was only in his mid teens. Although the modern Schuler work strikes an odd note alongside the Mozart, I suppose that’s the point. Schuler tells us he intended it to sound like breathing, the sound going in and out. Fair enough; but there seems little connection with Mozart outside of Schuler’s title coinciding with Greilsammer’s. In any case, I would rather have heard two longer Mozart pieces on the disc than the one longer work and four shorter ones, but we have what we have, and it’s all pretty good.

Sony recorded the music at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 2011, and they did a good job of it, too. The midrange is clear and taut, with an exemplary transient response. Highs sound reasonably well extended, and while the bass doesn’t need much low end, it’s there when necessary. The orchestra displays a realistic depth of image as well as being suitably wide. In the Concerto, the piano seems ideally positioned just slightly ahead of the orchestra, and even if it tends to change in size from time to time, it is hardly noticeable. A very light, warm, ambient bloom complements the music making nicely.

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


JJP

Grieg: Piano Concerto (CD review)

Also, Symphonic Dances; In Autumn Overture. Havard Gimse, piano; Bjarte Engeset, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Naxos 8.557279.

Naxos has always offered good value for the classical buyer’s dollar, as this album of Grieg’s music demonstrates. The performances and sound may not rank with the absolute best, but they’re close enough for most folks, I’m sure, and the seventy-one minutes of playing time provide plenty to listen to.

The opening movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, a staple of the piano concerto repertoire and therefore having many alternative rivals, is famous for its dramatic opening drum roll and cascading crescendos from the piano. Pianist Havard Gimse, Maestro Bjarte Engeset, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Naxos engineers nicely capture the theatrical effect of this opening, and, indeed, the whole of the first movement follows closely the excitement set out in the beginning. Throughout the work, Gimse follows this pattern in exemplary fashion. Tempos remain moderate but flexible; intonation is nuanced; transitions, as into the second subject, sound smooth and fluid; and Gimse seems always sensitive to Grieg’s designs.

The second movement comes across wonderfully hushed and continues to portray the beauty of nature as Grieg intended. It’s in the final movement that the Concerto itself begins to suffer, as the finale has never seemed to hang together well with the rest of the piece. The last movement is like a miniature concerto unto itself, very folksy in its outer sections and sweetly quiet in its middle. But it doesn’t have much to do with anything that went before it, and neither Gimse nor conductor Engeset can do much about that. In fact, by playing up the extremes, the performers only make matters worse. Oh, well; it’s not a serious complaint.

Accompanying the Concerto is the brief tone poem “In Autumn” and the suite of folk tunes called “Symphonic Dances.” They also come off well, very colorfully and pictorially presented, although I doubt that most buyers would be attracted to the disc by anything but the Concerto.

The Naxos sound is excellent in terms of the piano tone in the Concerto, very vibrant, clean, and alive. As for the orchestral sound, it’s a little less so, both in the accompaniment to the Concerto and in the coupling. I found it a bit lean in the bass and not entirely transparent in the midrange. Still, it’s more than adequate, broad and spacious.

Finally, I should mention that as good a bargain as this Naxos release is, one can still buy the two-disc, mid-priced Philips set that includes one of the best Grieg Concerto performances of all, with Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis, along with piano concertos from Schumann (Kovacevich), Addinsell (Dichter), Tchaikovsky (Argerich), and Brahms (Kovacevich again), making the Philips set one of the ultimate great bargains in the history of recorded music.

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


JJP

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 (HDCD review)

Christoph Eschenbach, Houston Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HDCD283.

The folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) usually take recordings that are either out of the catalogue or out of copyright and transfer them to CD from commercial tapes or vinyl discs in audiophile sound. This time they did something slightly different, taking 16-bit Betamax master tape and converting and processing it for compact disc. The results are up to HDTT’s typically high sonic standards, and the performance by Maestro Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony, heretofore commercially unreleased, is quite good.

Gustav Mahler wrote the Symphony No. 1 in D major in 1888, premiering it in 1889, calling it at first a symphonic poem rather than a symphony and temporarily, at least, giving it the nickname “Titan.” Within a few years, however, he revised it to the four-movement piece we have today and dropped the “Titan” designation. The work’s popularity soared at the beginning of the stereo age, along with that of the Fourth Symphony, possibly because the composer scored the First for a very large orchestra, and with its soaring melodies, enormous impact, and dramatic contrasts it makes a spectacular impression on the listener. Plus, the First and Fourth are Mahler’s shortest symphonies, making them ideal for home listening.

Anyway, you’ll recall that for the Symphony No. 1 Mahler said he was trying to describe a protagonist facing life, with a progression beginning with the lighter moments of youth and proceeding to the darker years of maturity. In the first movement, “Spring without End,” we see Mahler’s youthful hero in the symbolic stirring of Nature before a long spring. In the second-movement Scherzo, “With Full Sail,” we find Mahler in one of his early mock-sentimental moods, displaying an exuberance that he may have meant as ironic. In the third movement we get an intentionally awkward funeral march depicting a hunter’s fairy-tale burial, which comes off as a typical Mahler parody. It may represent the hero’s first glimpse of death or maybe Mahler’s own recollection of a youthful encounter with the death of a loved one. The movement has long been one of the Mahler’s most controversial, with audiences still debating just what the composer was up to. Then, in the finale, Mahler conveys the panic “of a deeply wounded heart,” as his central figure faces the suffering of life and fate. Still, Mahler was a spiritual optimist and wanted Man to triumph in the end. In the final twenty minutes or so, Mahler pulls out all the stops and puts the orchestra into full swing, making it an audiophile favorite for home playback.

Maestro Eschenbach has proved himself a sturdy conductor. Expect no idiosyncratic or revelatory performance here but a good, solid, serious-minded, highly refined one. Of course, I suppose a person could question the need for yet another straightforward interpretation of Mahler’s score with so many emotionally charged recordings already available from the likes of Mackerras (EMI), Horenstein (Unicorn), Solti (Decca), Kubelik (DG), Bernstein (DG), Walter (Sony), Haitink (Philips), Tennstedt (EMI), Luisi (WS), and others. There is, however, something one can say for a performance that is all Mahler, with few excesses or exaggerations, and a recording that sounds as good as this one.

In the first movement Eschenbach takes his time with the morning mists and the coming of spring. Mahler marked the opening “slowly, sluggish or dragging,” and while “sluggish” and “dragging” can seem somewhat derogatory, I’m sure the composer didn’t mean them that way, nor does Eschenbach “drag” anything out. But, yes, Eschenbach’s account of the music does appear more leisurely than most other accounts. When the main theme enters some five or six minutes in, it has an appropriately youthful bounce. Eschenbach also shows a propensity for emphasizing contrasts by bringing the orchestra down to a whisper in quieter passages, making those big Mahlerian outbursts appear all the more earthshaking. So, even though Eschenbach may be a tad more relaxed than many other conductors here, you can’t say the performance lacks requisite thrills.

In the second movement the conductor moves implacably forward, not too quickly yet with enough momentum to keep listeners on their toes, so to speak. Then he introduces some heady tempo changes to keep everyone just a little off balance. Even so, the music is lovely in the Landler section especially.

The third-movement funeral march could have advanced at a little faster pace, and this is the only part of the performance where I thought Eschenbach’s reading seemed a touch undernourished and under characterized. Be that as it may, the music comes off as bizarre as ever, particularly in the second half.

In the finale, Mahler appears to ask if life’s upheavals truly come to a resolution in the hero’s victory over life’s tribulations, or if the triumph is illusory, a temporary conquest, as ironic as the earlier funeral march. You’ll hear nothing undernourished about Eschenbach’s reading here. He unleashes his Houston players in a flurry of power and excitement. Mahler wanted a stormily agitated and energetic feeling from the music, and the conductor provides it in aces, aided by a bass drum that sounds as though it could do some serious woofer damage if played too carelessly loud.

In all, Eschenbach offers up a more cultured, more lyrical Mahler First than we often hear. Although he lets the music speak eloquently for itself, there is much refined beauty in the conductor’s rendition of this familiar score.

HDTT transferred the music from an original 16-bit Betamax master, using a Sony PCM501ES digital processor feeding an Antelope Audio Eclipse converter and transformed to 24/96 resolution. With minimal miking (two Neumann KM83 microphones across the front of the orchestra), the recordist made the Betamax tape live at Jones Hall, Houston, Texas, in 1987.

Betamax?, I hear some of you asking yourselves. Yes, Betamax, which was quite a good recording format, even if it didn’t yield the bit rates of today’s digital masters. Regardless, the folks at HDTT do such a good job transferring it for today’s home use, it doesn’t matter where they got it. Believe me, it will satisfy most demanding audiophiles. The giant bass whacks alone will please most listeners; then add in a wide dynamic range, a very smooth, very extended frequency range, sharp transient attacks, and a broad stereo spread, and you get some pleasing effects. What’s more, the recording exhibits a good sense of orchestral depth and a fine, natural-sounding midrange transparency, making it all the more lifelike and attractive. But it is a live recording, so expect an inevitable outburst of applause at the end. That said, the audience is generally quiet during the performance, even when the music fades into almost silent intervals. In all, excellent sound.

For further information about the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.

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

JJP

Chavez: Piano Concerto (CD review)

Also, Meditacion; Moncayo: Muros Verdes; Zyman: Variations on an Original Theme. Jorge Federico Osorio, piano; Miguel Prieto, Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico. Cedille CDR 90000 140.

So, who is Carlos Chavez, whose Piano Concerto is the centerpiece of this Cedille disc? Regrettably, I must admit that I had never heard of him before now, which only demonstrates how little I know. Carlos Antonio de Padua Chávez y Ramírez (1899-1978) was a Mexican composer, conductor, educator, and journalist, the founder and director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, the very group who perform on this album. Chavez wrote symphonies, quartets, sonatas, incidental music, and concertos, and he was among the most influential composers of his day.

Fortunately, I can say I have heard of pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, who performs the Piano Concerto along with several solo pieces on the disc. Osorio is a piano virtuoso of international fame, and in my experience he has never demonstrated anything but sensitive, immaculate, committed, passionate  playing in his work. It was a pleasure listening to him on the Cedille disc, and even though I had never heard any of the music before, he made it appear vibrant and entertaining.

As I say, the centerpiece is Chavez’s Piano Concerto, written in 1940. Now, here’s the thing: If you’re looking for something Latin-inflected, this may not be what you want. While the booklet note says that Chavez adhered to local tradition and borrowed from indiginous native culture, I could hardly detect it. The fact is, there is more Stravinsky here than anything Hispanic or Native American; however, as Chavez’s style is to create constantly shifting dissonances, it’s hard to tell what might be buried in all the notes.

Anyway, there seemed to me to be as many Asian-oriented passages as anything else, at least in the first few minutes. Now, here’s the thing: You may find it as complex and scintillating as critics did at the premiere or as cacophonous as audiences did, which may explain why the piece has gotten so little attention since. Nevertheless, as a modernist, Chavez used cacophony as a part of his technique, so you live with it.

Although I had no other recording of the Concerto with which to compare this one, I can’t imagine another surpassing Osorio’s way with it. His playing is full of intense, nervous energy, which no doubt the Chavez work requires. There is nothing Romantic or sentimental, either, not in Chavez’s music and not in Osorio’s performance.

What we get here is an abundance of sharp contrasts and vibrant rhythms, with a good deal of percussion and flute backing up Osorio’s piano. But it’s always Osorio’s piano that is front and center in the music, with Osorio mining a seemingly inexhaustible fund of accents, textures, nuances, and brief flurries of melody.

Chavez follows the momentous first movement with a rather outgoing slow one, largely scored for piano, harp, and reeds. Again, it’s Osorio who rightly dominates, his playing always keeping the listener intently aware that this is music of an original kind, strongly characterful, but, again, never romanticized or nostalgic. Then, with the finale, we’re back to the cacophony of the first movement, where Osorio dazzles with his gymnastic finger work. It’s quite a bravura piece of music with a performance by Osorio, Maestro Miguel Prieto, and the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico to match. Whether you’ll like it or not is another question.

Also on the program are three solo piano pieces, the first of which is Chavez’s Meditacion, an early work from 1918. As the name implies, it’s contemplative, sounding rather Debussy-like in its quiet, dreamy way. Osorio makes sure, though, that we don’t dismiss it out of hand as lightweight, and his alternating dynamism brings out the work’s more-creative development.

Next, there is Muros Verdes (“Green Wall,” 1951) by Jose Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958), a Mexican pianist, percussionist, music teacher, composer, and conductor. As with Meditacion, Muros Verdes comes across with an easygoing stillness. Then, the album ends with Variations on an Original Theme (2007) by the contemporary Mexican composer Samuel Zyman (b. 1956). It exhibits a remarkable variety of fast, slow, agitated, relaxed, and vibrant characteristics. Needless to say, Osorio puts his heart into it, and while it can sound somewhat as cacophonous as Chavez’s Concerto, it also sounds richly expressive.

Producer and engineer Bogdan Zawistowski and engineer Humberto Teran recorded the Concerto in 2011 at Sala Nezahualcoyotl, Centro Cultural Universitario UNAM, Mexico; and producer James Ginsburg and engineer Bill Maylone recorded the additional solo pieces in 2012 at the Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio at 98.7 WFMT, Chicago. The miking in the Concerto ideally integrates the piano and orchestra, even if the modest distance employed can result in a slightly recessed sound if played back too softly. The midrange is smooth and natural, without losing too much detail, the hall imparting a faint, pleasant glow to the music. At an appropriate playback level the sound is nigh-well perfect, with wonderful percussion effects. In the solo pieces, we hear a slightly closer, more-dynamic piano sound, near ideal.

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

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, May 19, 2013

Twenty-nine Artists from Six Countries to Participate in Twelve-Week Intensive Merola Opera Program

Conductors Mark Morash, Kevin Murphy, Xian Zhang and John DeMain lead performances this summer including Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, Schwabacher Summer Concert, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, and Merola Grand Finale.

Twenty-three singers, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director, representing six different countries, will participate in the 56th season of the Merola Opera Program from May 28 to August 17, 2013. More than 1000 artists vied for the 29 coveted spots in the 2013 summer festival, which is offered free of charge for all participants. Selected through an extensive world-wide audition and application process, nearly one third of this season’s artists come from countries outside the United States, representing six countries: United States, Canada, Iran, Ireland, New Zealand and Latvia. This year, the program will have four returning Merola participants: Aviva Fortunata, Jacqueline Piccolino and Joseph Lattanzi--participants in the 2012 Merola Opera Program--and Timothy Cheung who participated in the program in 2011.

The 2013 Merola summer artists will participate in an intensive 11-week training program--12 weeks for the apprentice coaches and the apprentice stage director--which will include master classes with opera luminaries such as Warren Jones, Jane Eaglen, Martin Katz, John DeMain and Neil Shicoff along with San Francisco Opera Center Director of Musical Studies Mark Morash (Merola ’87). Guest teachers such as Steven Blier, Patrick Carfizzi, Kevin Murphy and Eric Weimer provide training in voice, foreign languages, operatic repertory, diction, acting and stage movement. Merola members will enjoy the opportunity to sit in on select master classes for a behind-the-scenes look at the training process.

Performance is a key element of the program throughout the summer and participants will appear in public performances during the Merola Opera Program summer festival, which includes two staged operas and two scenes concerts. The 2013 festival will open with Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Mark Morash. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11 and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 13 at Everett Auditorium. The season continues with the Schwabacher Summer Concert, conducted by Kevin Murphy and directed by Roy Rallo. The concert will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 18 at Everett Auditorium and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 20 in a free outdoor concert at Yerba Buena Gardens. W.A. Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, directed by Robin Guarino and conducted by Xian Zhang, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 1 and 2 p.m. Saturday August 3 at Everett Auditorium. The festival concludes with the annual Merola Grand Finale, conducted by John DeMain and directed by apprentice stage director George Cederquist, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 17 on the main stage in the magnificent War Memorial Opera House.

One of the world’s most prestigious young artist training programs, the Merola Opera Program was founded in 1957 and has since served as a proving ground for thousands of artists, including nine internationally acclaimed singers and one stage director appearing with the San Francisco Opera this summer and fall: Meredith Arwady (Merola ’02 & ’03), Susannah Biller (’09), William Burden (’91), Jose Maria Condemi (’99 & ‘00), Catherine Cook (’90), Daniela Mack (’07), Lucas Meachem (’03), Patricia Racette (’88), Alek Shrader (’07) and Dolora Zajick (’83).

For more information about Merola, please visit www.merola.org or phone (415) 551-6299.

--Karen Ames Communications

AOP’s Sensual Songbook Beauty Intolerable Premieres with Soprano Lauren Flanigan, An Intimate Evening of Songs and Poetry
AOP (American Opera Projects), The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society, ClaverackLanding, and Symphony Space co-present a world premiere performance of Beauty Intolerable, a collection of love songs composed by Sheila Silver based on the poetry of iconoclast and libertine Edna St. Vincent Millay and performed by a trio of operatic chanteuses. The songs are accompanied with poetry recitations by actresses Tyne Daly (June 8) and Tandy Cronyn (June 13). The song cycle will be presented on June 8 at 6 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church: 4th & Warren Streets, Hudson, NY 12534. A Manhattan premiere follows on June 13 at 7:30 PM at Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space. Tickets will be available through the venues' Web sites. A limited number of tickets to the Symphony Space performance which include VIP seating and a reception with the artists are available for $75 at AOP's website.

The concert will feature soprano Lauren Flanigan (La Scala, Santa Fe, Metropolitan and New York City Operas),  mezzo-soprano Deanne Meek (Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu, Metropolitan Opera), and soprano Risa Renae Harman (New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera), with Kelly Horsted and Christopher Cooley on piano. Each performance is accompanied with poetry recitations by guest actresses Tyne Daly (Cagney & Lacey and Judging Amy), and Tandy Cronyn (Once Upon a Time in America and The Story Lady).


--American Opera Projects

From May 29th on YouTube: Experience Anderson & Roe’s Breathtaking New Film of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for Piano Duo
Boundary-breaking pianists mark the centenary of Stravinsky’s epoch-defining work with their most ambitious music video yet.

Classical pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe are different. A piano duo who have attracted legions of new fans with their virtuosic and acclaimed arrangements of popular hits (such as their “Billie Jean” cover or their Star Wars Fantasy), they are musicians who bring the care and stunning imagination of brilliant indie filmmakers to their YouTube music videos, pushing the form forward. Case in point: their Schubert Lied-turned-horror-film Der Erlkönig – which, as we go to press, has just been nominated for an Emmy Award.

If they attract full houses across the U.S. and internationally with their live shows, they have made an art of presenting classical music on YouTube, producing and directing videos that have been viewed by millions. “We cater our performances to the venue, whether it be a concert hall or online, and as such, we design our YouTube videos to potently deliver the spirit of the music in a bustling graphic environment,” says Anderson. But even they have never previously attempted anything on the scale of The Rite Of Spring.

To be released in segments (as it is composed), one every two weeks starting from the date of the work’s centenary, Anderson and Roe’s Rite takes the viewer on an epic journey but one that finally mirrors the primeval nature of the work itself. Starting in traditional concert trappings, the performers become gradually sucked into a ritualistic spiral that sets them immersed in a troupe of dancers, crawled on by insects, lost in a hallucinatory world, naked in the ocean, or alongside an antique instrument ablaze in the desert. What is real? What is imaginary? One thing is for sure - theirs is a striking, strident view of music that ripped apart the culture of its time, and this film proves it can still unsettle and thrill us today. In this year of the Rite’s centenary, this interpretation will leave a mark--a scar?--and, perhaps, help to redefine it.

The Rite of Spring will be free to view on YouTube at Anderson & Roe’s channel from May 2. Watch Anderson & Roe’s Emmy-nominated video Der Erlkönig here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xH4uKPDAEE

--Inverne Price Music

Berkeley Symphony Receives National Endowment for the Arts Grant to Support Music in the Schools Program
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa announced today that Berkeley Symphony is one of 817 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. Berkeley Symphony is recommended for a $12,500 grant to support their 2013-2014 Music in the Schools program.

Since 1992, Berkeley Symphony’s Music in the Schools program, in partnership with the Berkeley Unified School District, has provided a comprehensive, hands-on and age-appropriate music curriculum to elementary school students in Berkeley. This award-winning program includes more than 20 interactive in-school concerts and hundreds of classroom musician visits. In addition, Berkeley Symphony will continue to present its Family Concerts: “Meet the Symphony” on Saturday, November 2, 2013, and “I’m a Performer” on Saturday, April 12, 2014. The latter concert is a community collaboration in which both adults and children are invited to perform with the Orchestra under the baton of Education Director and Conductor Ming Luke.

Acting Chairman Shigekawa said, "The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support these exciting and diverse arts projects that will take place throughout the United States. Whether it is through a focus on education, engagement, or innovation, these projects all contribute to vibrant communities and memorable opportunities for the public to engage with the arts."

“I am delighted that our Music in the Schools program has been recognized for its importance and benefit to the local arts community,” said Berkeley Symphony Executive Director René Mandel . “I want to thank the National Endowment for the Arts for their generous support which enables us to continue our commitment to providing the highest quality of musical education and exposure to thousands of children and their families.”

In August 2012, the NEA received 1,547 eligible applications for Art Works grants requesting more than $80 million in funding. Art Works grants support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts. The 817 recommended NEA grants total $26.3 million and span 13 artistic disciplines and fields. Applications were reviewed by panels of outside experts convened by NEA staff and each project was judged on its artistic excellence and artistic merit.

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the NEA Web site at arts.gov.

--Karen Ames Communications

Seattle Symphony Board of Directors and Musicians Approve New Contract
Balanced Budget for 2011–2012 Financial Year, Including Record Fundraising Results
The Seattle Symphony announced today that its Board of Directors and its Musicians have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement through August 31, 2015. The agreement, reached after 15 months of negotiations, will enable the organization to continue its journey of artistic growth under Music Director Ludovic Morlot, expand its engagement with young people and communities, increase the size of its digital footprint, and set a path for long-term financial stability.

The financial terms include concessions in musicians’ salaries for the remainder of the 2012–2013 season, a move to a more economical healthcare plan, and a temporary reduction in the size of the orchestra. This will be followed by salary and pension increases in subsequent years and the gradual restoration of vacant positions. The new contract includes a significant new electronic media agreement that will allow the launch of a new series of live recordings online and on CD, and provide unprecedented audio and audio visual access, via the Internet, to rehearsals and concerts for public engagement, promotional, educational and community purposes. Additionally, the new contract provides for flexibility in operating procedures that will aid in scheduling rehearsals and performances as the Symphony continues to experiment with concert formats and times of day. It will also enable the organization to reach increased numbers of students for next season’s launch of the major new education program Link Up: Seattle Symphony, in which students play and sing along with the Symphony from their seats in Benaroya Hall, following preparatory in-school sessions led by teaching artists and based on a specifically developed curriculum from Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.

Seattle Symphony Board of Directors Chair Leslie Jackson Chihuly stated, “We express our deep gratitude to the entire orchestra for its willingness to work creatively with us on this agreement, and for again agreeing to make concessions. Settling the contract is a great step forward and allows the entire organization to move toward our shared goals, both artistically and financially. I want to acknowledge and share our deep appreciation for the hard work on the part of so many involved in the negotiations over many months. This agreement provides the strength and impetus needed for us to advance toward ever greater achievements.”

--Ashlyn Damm

Washington National Opera Premieres D.J. Sparr’s Vibrant New Opera, Approaching Ali, Saturday, June 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 9 at 2:00 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater
Eclectic composer D.J. Sparr teams up with celebrated sportswriter and memoirist Davis Miller, crackerjack librettist Mark Campbell and the Washington National Opera for this compelling new one-hour opera that tells the true story of how Muhammad Ali inspires one young man to turn his life around. The two premiere performances will take place at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Saturday, June 8 at 7:30pm and Sunday, June 9 at 2pm. Tickets are $30.

This June, Washington National Opera presents the first fully-staged opera commission created for its American Opera Initiative: Approaching Ali from the composer D.J. Sparr, whose mellifluous music “spouts streams of color” (San Jose Mercury News) and embodies “the boundary-erasing spirit of today’s new-music world” (New York Times).

When WNO announced this ambitious new program to build a repertoire of original American-themed operas, Sparr didn’t hesitate to contact the man that had sublet his Richmond home the previous summer. That man was Davis Miller, author of the famous memoir The Tao of Muhammad Ali, which recounts how Miller transcended his past traumas with the help of Ali, his childhood hero and one of our most revered athletes.

The pair won the inaugural WNO commission and hooked up with superlative librettist Mark Campbell (whose credits include Kevin Puts’s 2012 Pulitzer-winning opera Silent Night) to create the hour-long opera, Approaching Ali. Cutting from the transformative meeting between Ali and Miller, then a wayward adult, to difficult memories of Miller’s boyhood in North Carolina, the story explores the themes of parents and children, loss, bullying, hero-worship, friendship and redemption.

Musically, Approaching Ali draws on myriad influences, with Sparr citing works as wide-ranging as Orff’s Der Mond, Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, Britten, Tom Petty, dharma drumming, and Appalachian fiddle music. Clearly, Sparr’s pop-Romantic aesthetic, shaped as much by his rock roots as his conservatory rigor, is in full bloom. His iconoclastic style, in which a vital, shimmering quality propels his undeniable lyricism from the tangible to the magical, is a perfect match for this uplifting story.

For more information, click here: http://www.kennedy-center.org/events/?event=ONOMA

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Andris Nelsons Appointed Music Director Designate of the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons has been appointed as Music Director Designate for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from the start of the 2013/14 season and will officially take up the position of Music Director in 2014/15.

Andris Nelsons is currently Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, where he was appointed in 2008 as a relatively unknown young conductor. Since then he has delighted audiences in Birmingham and built a global reputation as one of the world’s most exciting conductors.

Stephen Maddock, Chief Executive of the CBSO, said: “This appointment to one of the world’s most distinguished orchestras is a real accolade for Andris, and we are delighted for him. During his time at the CBSO, he has proved himself to be amongst the very best conductors in the world, and it is testament to his extraordinary talent that he has secured this major role at such a young age. Of course, we also believe this is a reflection of Birmingham’s continued excellent taste in Music Directors!

“Andris’s rolling contract with the CBSO is currently in place until the end of the 2014/15 season, and there will be no change to his commitment to Birmingham during this time. It is not unusual for a conductor of Andris’s stature to hold more than one position, and we will make an announcement about future seasons beyond 2015 later this year. In the meantime, we all congratulate him on his success and look forward to our next concerts with him in May and June, including an eight-concert European tour.”
Andris Nelsons said: “I am very proud to be appointed to this great orchestra, and I also look forward to lots more wonderful concerts with my beloved CBSO.”

--Ruth Green, CBSO

Application Deadline Extended for Composers & the Voice 2013-2014
Due to overwhelming demand, the deadline for applications to AOP's Composers & the Voice program has been extended.
New Application Deadline: May 24, 2013 (postmarked)
Composers Notified of Acceptance: June 28, 2013
Workshop Sessions: September 2013 through April 2014


C&V Artistic Director Steven Osgood w composer Hannah Lash The Composers & the Voice Workshop Series is a competitive biannual fellowship offered to composers & composer/librettist teams. Created and led by Composers & the Voice Artistic Director Steven Osgood, six composers or composer/librettist teams will be selected for a year-long fellowship, working with the company's Resident Ensemble of Singers and Artistic Team. The primary focus of Composers & the Voice is to give composers and librettists experience working collaboratively with singers on writing for the voice and opera stage.

C&V fellows
  Compose solo works and opera scenes in closed workshop sessions with the AOP Resident Ensemble of Singers
  Participate in "Skill-Building Sessions" in acting, improv games, and libretto development
  Gain in-depth and firsthand knowledge of how singers build characters, act in scenes and sing text.
  Have their compositions featured in two public performances: First Glimpse, a concert of songs in spring 2014, and Six Scenes, an evening of short opera scenes in Fall 2014.

--AOP

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CD review)

Also, Petrouchka. Jon Kimura Parker, solo piano. Jon Kimura Parker FP 0907.

Over the years there have been a number of piano transcriptions of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, including several that Stravinsky himself wrote for two hands and four. The former the composer used to preview the work for producers and conductors and the latter he used for rehearsals. So, the new transcription for solo piano we get here from noted Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker is nothing innovative. It’s just something better, being more complex, more detailed, more demanding than any piano transcription we’ve yet heard of the Rite, and probably better played in this world-premiere recording.

Explaining his reasons for the new piano arrangements of old orchestral scores we hear on the present disc, Mr. Parker says in a liner note, “When I discovered Stravinsky’s piano duet version, my obsession with playing this music at the piano began in earnest. I noticed that Stravinsky, having arranged the duet primarily to facilitate ballet rehearsal, was less fastidious with details than I had expected. I became engrossed in adding instrumental lines that had been left out. From there, it was a natural evolution to try to manage it all myself. The Rite of Spring has been transcribed for solo piano before, in versions so bare as to be unsatisfying, or so inclusive as to be unplayable. However, it is well known that Stravinsky often composed at the piano, and many sections in The Rite bear this out. Petrouchka (1911) presented a different challenge, in that Stravinsky had already created a virtuoso solo piano suite from selected moments of the ballet. Upon reflection I chose to honor the tragic conclusion of the story by transcribing the ballet in its original and complete form.”

Listening to any transcription of a familiar work may take a little getting used to, and these adaptions of Stravinsky for the keyboard may be an acquired taste. Personally, I miss the vibrant percussion of a full orchestra. However, there is no denying that in Mr. Parker’s hands, The Rite, especially, reveals new depths of clarity and detail without losing much of its rhythmic pulse. This is no doubt a tribute not only to Parker’s fine piano arrangement but to his dynamic piano playing.

Russian-born American composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) wrote The Rite of Spring for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, where the music scandalized the country. To be fair, it had probably as much to do with Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography as with the music. Anyway, Mr. Parker’s piano score brings out all the primitive strains in the piece as well as its quiet lyricism.

Parker manages to capture all of Stravinsky’s rowdy, sensual, rhythmic vitality in his piano rendition.  Going in, I had some minor reservations about whether or not he really could pull it off. But the man is amazing. His virtuosity is dazzling and his expressive technique remarkable. You won’t be more than five minutes into the album before you forget there’s no orchestra involved. It’s almost uncanny how Parker is able to recreate the orchestral textures and harmonic nuances of the music. If you are fond of The Rite but have grown tired of all the new recordings of it sounding alike, you owe it to yourself to try this one; it’s like nothing you’ve probably heard before.

Stravinsky composed his ballet Petrouchka in 1910–11 and revised it in 1947. It tells the story of a traditional Russian puppet, Petrouchka, made of straw and sawdust, who comes to life and develops a life of his own, complete with emotions. The composer wrote it just a year after The Firebird and two years before The Rite, so he was flying high.

Petrouchka benefits a little less from Parker’s new transcription, probably because the music itself, while exceptionally melodious, is less innovative than The Rite and because the composer himself wrote a really good piano suite of the music with which many people are already familiar. Nevertheless, Parker’s complete piano rendering contains a good deal of color and excitement, and with the performer’s brilliant finger work the tale comes to life with passion and pathos.

Stravinsky wrote some spectacular ballet music, and Jon Kimura Parker’s piano transcriptions and his playing of them do both scores justice.

Mr. Parker recorded The Rite and Petrouchka for his own recording label in 2009 and 2012 at Stude Concert Hall, The Shephard School of Music, Rice University, Houston, Texas. The piano sound is rich, warm, mellifluous, and resonant. Its mellow bloom accompanies a strong impact from the keys, well caught by the audio engineer. Highs ring out vividly, and low notes make their presence known.  It’s the kind of big, brawny, yet intimate piano sound that fits the music perfectly. It lights up the room.

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

JJP

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.