Mozart: The Late Symphonies (CD review)

Nos. 25, 29, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, and 41. Leonard Bernstein, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. DG 474 349-2 (3-disc set).

When conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein left the New York Philharmonic his performances by and large tended to change. Especially after he took up with the Vienna Philharmonic, his interpretations seemed to slow down considerably, lose some of the electric charge that drove his earlier work. Some people attributed this to age and called the later readings "mature." Others just thought he was getting old and tired. Not so, however, with these mid 1980s' recordings of the late Mozart symphonies, reissued by DG in 2003. Like the live performances I was privileged to hear from him around this time period, the recordings show no signs of anything slowing down whatsoever.

Taken as a whole, this set is undoubtedly one of the best all-around collections of late Mozart symphonies available today, and they come in DG's low-priced Trio series, a bargain by any standards. Every piece of music on the three discs sounds exactly right. Not only right, but sometimes downright wondrous. Nos. 36 and 41, for instance, the gems of the set, are never ordinary yet they feel comfortably worn. The tempos are perfectly judged, the caressing inflections lovingly applied, the outer movements spirited, the slow movements gentle and lilting. These symphonies are noble and uplifting, delicate and soothing as the occasion demands. This is the Bernstein of old: romantic and nostalgic, open and bighearted. I had heard only his VPO "Jupiter" before coming to this set, and I was mightily impressed by the rest of the box.

Yes, there were other conductors for whom one could make a case for better (or more appealing) interpretations of individual symphonies. We cannot discount the likes of Bohm, Walter, Klemperer, Karajan, Barenboim (my own favorite), Marriner, and the like in particular works. But taken overall, it's hard to say that any of them surpassed Bernstein.

The only minor snag in this three-disc, budget-priced set is some of DG's sound. I say "some" because it varies. Half of the pieces Bernstein recorded live, as he was fond of doing, and it shows. The live recordings, Nos. 35, 39, 40, and 41, seem slightly more recessed, more distantly miked, producing a softer, mellower, and occasionally more hollow sound. The recordings made without an audience appear better detailed, though not always more realistic. Nevertheless, I preferred the cleaner, clearer sonics of the absent audience. You'll hear the difference immediately, as those done without an audience also have the appearance of being a touch louder in volume.

In any case, I wouldn't worry overmuch about the sound. The performances are solidly in the grand tradition, the glorious Vienna forces playing superbly as always, and Bernstein at the top of his game.

JJP

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


Locatelli: Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 (CD review)

Elizabeth Wallfisch and Nicholas Kraemer, The Raglan Baroque Players. Hyperion Dyad CDD22066 (2-disc set).

The problem these days with most composers of the Baroque period (roughly from 1600-1750) is that the bulk of them pale in the shadow of a popular few like Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi in particular, with Albinoni, Corelli, Monteverdi, Purcell, Pachelbel, Rameau, Scarlatti, Telemann, and occasional others bringing up the rear. In fact, by the late eighteenth century Baroque composers in general had fallen out of favor with the public, and it would not be until well into the twentieth century that musicians and musical scholars rediscovered many of them.

So, where does that leave the Italian Baroque composer and violinist Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764)? I'd say "rediscovered," thanks to people like Maestro Nicholas Kraemer and his Raglan Baroque Players on the present recording. (The Raglan Players got their name from a former patron, Fitzroy Somerset, the 5th Lord Raglan, and the Players made several recordings, mainly for Hyperion, during a twenty-odd-year partnership during the Seventies, Eighties, and early Nineties.) The ensemble perform with a great deal of finesse yet maintain a lively style, with Mr. Kraemer conducting from harpsichord and organ and Elizabeth Wallfisch doing the lead violin parts.

Anyway, about Locatelli: Scholars don't know a lot about him, except that he began studying in Rome around 1711, where he debuted as a composer, publishing the Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 in 1721. They were probably among his first published works, and they continue to remain among his most popular. The Op. 1 Concerti appear to owe much to Arcangelo Corelli, already an established composer and violinist when Locatelli was just beginning his career. Concerto No. 8, for instance, ending with the Christmas Pastorale, seems especially reminiscent of Corelli's famous work.

The trouble with all this is minor at best: mainly, a little goes a long way. With twelve Concerto Grossi in this two-disc set, each with between three and seven brief movements, listened to all at once they can begin to take on a sameness that may become wearying. But that's what CD players are for; you can program favorite pieces for playback during a single listening session. At least, once you've decided what your favorites are. (For a single-disc, best-of collection of Op. 1 Concerto Grossi, you might consider Gottfried von der Goltz and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi.)

As for Mr. Kraemer, Ms. Wallfisch, and the Raglan band, they do their best to keep things moving along at a brisk yet elegant pace. However, one might feel that the ensemble's historically informed tempos and phrasing can at times rob the music of some of its more lyrical qualities. In other words, it isn't always as graceful as it could be.

I liked the first Concerto Grosso because it sets the tone for the rest of the pieces in the set. The tempos remain well judged throughout, energetic without being tiring. Some of the slow movements could perhaps have been a tad slower and used a bit more sentiment, but it is of no serious significance. Ms. Wallfisch's playing is sprightly and alert, and the ensemble project a radiant and pleasingly stylish refinement.

The second concerto grosso seems more sedate than the first one, but that's probably what Locatelli wanted. No complaints here. No. 3 shows a Vivaldi influence, much to its advantage. It is among my favorites of the bunch. No. 4 appears more varied than most of the others and shows more invention than one might expect.

And so it goes, with No. 8 a highlight of the set, thanks largely to that influence of Corelli, who was undoubtedly Locatelli's inspiration. But for that matter, all the concerti grossi on the album are entertaining. If you enjoy Baroque music, the performances and sound shouldn't disappoint.

Engineer Antony Howell and producer Martin Compton recorded the music in June and September 1994, and Hyperion rereleased the set in 2014 as part of their Dyad series, offering two discs for the price of one. The sound is nicely resonant without clouding much detail, the smallish numbers of players involved in each concerto helping with the definition as well. There's a modestly wide stereo spread, a fair sense of air around the instruments, and a smooth, warm glow around everything. It's a good, natural sound, pleasing to the ear and reasonably realistic to the occasion.

JJP

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


Some Other Time (CD review)

Music of Barber, Copland, Bernstein, and Foss. Zuill Bailey, cello; Lara Downes, piano. Steinway & Sons 30025.

What more could you ask for than a collaboration between preeminent cellist Zuill Bailey and innovative pianist Lara Downes? I've admired their work separately for several years already, and now they've produced an album together.

For the present album of tunes by Barber, Copland, Bernstein, and Foss, Mr. Bailey plays a 1693 Mateo Goffriller cello and Ms. Downes a Steinway Model D, so not only do we get a couple of the finest musicians in the world playing the music, they do it on a couple of the finest musical instruments possible. Kind of a two-for-one deal, which isn't even counting the superb quality of the music itself. And just to make myself clear, the music, the performances, and the sound are extraordinary.

In a booklet note, Ms. Downes says "The transcriptions and concert pieces collected here are all big, beautiful examples of nostalgic American music. But this is timeless music, too, its romanticism, spirit of adventure, playfulness and purity tap into our collective memory, our underlying, ongoing, deeply American nostalgia for what we all know simply as some other time." The nostalgia is for the four American composers represented on the program and for a "golden" time in American culture when concert music held a more-important place than it does today. As such, the music is romantic, adventurous, sweet, and utterly delightful, presented lovingly by the two star performers.

The first three items come to us from the pen of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein: "Dream With Me" from the 1950 Broadway production of Peter Pan; "Some Other Time" from the 1944 musical On the Town; and "In Our Time," an unused song only recently published. All three are lushly nostalgic and appropriately sentimental. And they're exquisitely beautiful, with Bailey and Downes providing just the right amount of wistfulness and melancholy without the music becoming maudlin or melodramatic.

Next up we find Samuel Barber's Sonata for Cello and Piano, written in 1932. There's a haunting beauty about the piece, poignant at first and then becoming ever more lighthearted before settling back into a somewhat heavier concluding mood. After that, Bailey and Downes give us their take on one of Barber's most-popular songs, "Sure on This Shining Night," the performance giving us a delightfully lyrical dialogue between voice (cello) and piano.

Following those numbers, we have a couple of works by Lucas Foss, the first, "For Lenny," is a 1988 tribute to Bernstein, borrowing the style of his West Side Story and given a charming interpretation by Bailey and Downes. Then there's Foss's Capriccio for Cello and Piano, a sort of tribute to the music of Aaron Copland, borrowing its style from things like Rodeo and Billy the Kid. Bailey and Downes provide it with plenty of good-natured spunk and vigor.

Three more Bernstein numbers follow: "For Lucas Foss" (a lot of crossbreeding here); the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, the composer's first published piece; and "For Aaron Copland."

The performers conclude the album with two selections from that most "American" of American composers, Aaron Copland: "Simple Gifts," the Shaker tune Copland used in his 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring; and the traditional ballad "Long Time Ago" from Old American Songs. With them Bailey and Downes provide a pleasingly evocative and highly satisfying ending to the proceedings.

Producer Daniel Merceruio and engineer Daniel Shores recorded the music at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia in September 2013. The sound is gorgeous, the cello richly expressive, the piano every bit as impressive. The two musicians sit with the cello on the left, piano slightly to the right, with both instruments showing up clearly and brilliantly. Moreover, they sound so realistic, you'd think they were live in the room with you. It's all as perfect as the music itself.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, April 27, 2014

Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony Present Bay Area Premieres by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho May 1; 2014 Benefit Gala Showcases Works by 2014-2015 Season Composers John Adams, Thomas Ades, Oscar Bettison, and Jake Heggie May 9

Music Director Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony conclude their 2013-2014 season with the Bay Area premieres of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Nyx and Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Songs on Thursday, May 1 at 8 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall and the 2014 Annual Benefit Gala Celebrating Composers & Musicians on Friday, May 9 at the Claremont Hotel Club & Spa.

Praised for her "dark, lustrous vocal tone and…arresting command of melodic phrase" by San Francisco Chronicle critic Joshua Kosman, mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm features as soloist for Saariaho's Adriana Songs in the final subscription concert of the season. Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 completes the program. On May 9, musicians from Berkeley Symphony will be joined by pianist Sarah Cahill and other guest artists for the 2014 Annual Benefit Gala, performing a variety of chamber works by 2014-2015 season composers John Adams, Thomas Adès, Oscar Bettison and Jake Heggie. Proceeds from the gala will support the commissioning of new works and the Symphony's award-winning Music in the Schools program. Brian James and Lisa Taylor serve as co-chairs for the event with Bay Area theater veteran Joy Carlin as Master of Ceremonies.

Renowned as both a conductor and composer, Esa-Pekka Salonen served as the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 17 years with Ms. Carneiro working closely alongside him from 2005-2008 as an American Symphony Orchestra League Conducting Fellow. Salonen introduced Nyx as his first composition after stepping down as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Considered one of the most compelling performers of her generation, Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor appears with some of the top orchestras across the world, including the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, London Symphony, BBC Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Honored guests for the 2014 Benefit Gala include 2014-2015 commissioned composers Oscar Bettison and Jake Heggie, as well as Bay Area composer John Adams. The evening will be hosted by Music Director Joana Carneiro, Executive Director René Mandel and Director of Education Ming Luke. A variety of live performances will be enjoyed throughout the evening, featuring works by Oscar Bettison, Jake Heggie and John Adams in addition to Thomas Adès, who also receives a Bay Area premiere on the 2014-2015 season. Sarah Cahill will perform selections from Thomas Adès' piano version of his opera Powder Her Face (1995); a guest mezzo-soprano will join a string quartet of Berkeley Symphony musicians for a movement from Jake Heggie's Camille Claudel: Into the Fire (2012); and Berkeley Symphony concertmaster Franklyn D'Antonio and pianist Miles Graber will perform the last movement from John Adams's Road Movies (1995). Oscar Bettison's Krank (2004) for percussion will feature Ward Spangler, Berkeley Symphony principal percussionist, as soloist.

The Gala evening begins at 6 p.m. with a reception where guests will have the opportunity to place bids during a Silent Auction and participate in a Fine Wine Raffle. At 7:30 p.m. guests will be treated to an elegant dinner with wines by William Knuttel Winery. Floral design is by Jutta's Flowers.

Dinner will be followed by a Live Auction led by auctioneer Grant Snyder. Among the featured auction items are: an exclusive New York package that includes a live taping of the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon; a London package that includes a performance of the English National Opera led by Maestra Carneiro; a private dinner with opera star Frederica von Stade and composer Jake Heggie; and a trip to visit Music Director Joana Carneiro in her hometown of Lisbon, Portugal. For more information and to purchase Gala tickets, visit www.berkeleysymphony.org/concerts/gala.

Zellerbach Hall Concert Series
Program IV
Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 8 p.m., Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley
Joana Carneiro, conductor
Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano

Esa-Pekka Salonen: Nyx (Bay Area Premiere)
Kaija Saariaho: Adriana Songs (Bay Area Premiere)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

Single tickets for the concert are $15-$74. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (510) 841-2800 x1 or visit www.berkeleysymphony.org

2014 Benefit Gala tickets start at $350 and include the reception, dinner seating with one of our honored guests, and parking. Proceeds will benefit Berkeley Symphony's commitment to new music and its award-winning Music in the Schools program.

To purchase tables or tickets, call (510) 841-2800 x1 or visit www.berkeleysymphony.org/concerts/gala

--Karen Ames Communications

Cleveland International Piano Competition Presents 2013 First-Prize Winner Stanislav Khristenko at Zankel Hall, NYC--May 19, 2014
First Prize Winner of the 2013 Cleveland International Piano Competition, 29-year-old Ukrainian-born pianist Stanislav Khristenko performs at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on May 19, 2014 at 7:30 pm. Selected from a field of 28 pianists from 15 countries, Mr. Khristenko has received more than 50 worldwide engagements, four years of management services and a recording by Steinway & Sons, in addition to a cash prize of $50,000. He is the first winner under the direction of the CIPC's President and Chief Executive Officer, Pierre van der Westhuizen.

Mr. Khristenko's program includes works by Chopin, Prokofiev, Bartók, Liszt, Zemlinsky and Ernst Krenek. He opens with Bartók's Piano Sonata, Sz. 80, followed by Zemlinsky's Fantasies on Poems by Richard Dehmel, the composer's most imposing piano work. In this series of miniature tone-poems, Zemlinsky sonically encapsulates verse by Dehmel, the most prominent of Viennese Secessionist poets.  Krenek's dramatic twelve-tone piece, Piano Sonata No. 3, was composed during his move to the United States from Nazi-infiltrated Vienna during World War II. Liszt's Rhapsodie espagnole closes the first half of the program. Chopin's Fantasy in F Minor begins the second half, and the concert concludes with Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 7. Known as the "Stalingrad" sonata, this composition won Prokofiev his first Stalin Prize in 1943.

Cleveland International Piano Competition First Prize Winner
Monday, May 19, 2014 at 7:30 PM
Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, NYC

Admission: $35/$45, $10 for students.
Tickets on sale at www.carnegiehall.org, CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800 and at the Carnegie Hall Box Office.

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

The Bach Sinfonia Presents Mozart's Journey From Prague to Jupiter
On Saturday, May 10, 2014, Bach Sinfonia will present a concert of Mozart's most popular symphonies, rarely heard on period instruments in the Washington, D.C. area. The concert will feature Mozart's final symphonic work, Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 "Jupiter" which is considered one of the major pieces of symphonic repertoire. The symphony is not only a rich work, but imbues the late baroque counterpoint into classical era music. Sinfonia will also perform Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 "Prague," another well-known work composed late in Mozart's life.

Paul Hopkins will join Sinfonia on natural horn performing Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 1 in D Major, K. 412 (+514). Highly virtuosic in nature, this is one of the four horn concertos composed by Mozart and will be performed without hand stopping, creating a true period instrument performance of this work.

Eine kliene Natchmusik, led by Sinfonia's strings, will round out a program of Mozart's most cherished works, performed on this occasion on period instruments, showcasing the beloved melodies of Mozart, widely considered one of the greatest composers of all time.

Saturday, May 10, 2014 AT 8PM
Free Pre-Concert Discussion at 7:20PM
Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center
7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910

Tickets:
$30 adult
$27 seniors (60 and up)
$15 (ages 15 – University)
Free (ages 14 and under)

Order Online at www.bachsinfonia.org or call (301) 362-6525

--Jennifer Buzzell, Bach Sinfonia

West Edge Opera Announces 2014 Season: Three Operas in Festival Format at Berkeley's Ed Roberts Campus
Under the combined artistic leadership of Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky and Music Director Jonathan Khuner, West Edge Opera's 2014 Season will be presented as a Summer Festival of three productions, July 26 - August 10 at Berkeley's Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St, Berkeley, CA.

The company's 35th season opens on Saturday, July 26 at 8 p.m. with an "immersive" version of Puccini's La bohème, with repeat performances on Friday, August 1 at 8 pm and Sunday, August 10 at 3 pm. Philip Glass's Hydrogen Jukebox opens on Sunday, July 27 at 5 pm and repeats on Saturday, August 2 and Friday, August 8, both at 8 pm. The final opera of the Festival is the Bay Area premiere of Jake Heggie's The End of the Affair, opening on Sunday, August 3 at 3 pm and repeating on Thursday, August 7 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, August 9 at 8 pm. All performances take place in the atrium of the Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St, Berkeley, at the Ashby BART Station.

"Mounting a new season as we continue to search for a permanent home has presented many challenges," says West Edge's General/Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky, "which in turn means many opportunities. Our new mobility plays into my long desire for three things: to come back to Berkeley, to do opera in an alternative venue and to do it in a festival format. The result: an exciting partnership with the Ed Roberts Campus (ERC), an internationally recognized facility dedicated to services for persons with disabilities. The building is a model of the new movement of universal architecture and is just an elevator ride from the Ashby BART Station beneath. We will present our entire festival of three operas in ERC's spacious and beautiful atrium."

Mark Streshinsky will direct La bohème and Jonathan Khuner will conduct. Singers are sopranos Alexandra Sessler (Mimi and Christine Capsuto (Musetta), tenor James Callon (Rodolfo), Jordan Eldredge (Schaunard) and bass Brandon Keith Biggs (Colline); the remainder of the casting is to be announced. The opera will be presented as "immersive" with the action happening all around and within the audience.

Philip Glass's Hydrogen Jukebox, set to the words of beat poet Allen Ginsberg, will be directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer and conducted by David Möschler. The cast is comprised of tenor Jonathan Blalock, baritone Efraín Solís, bass Kenneth Kellogg, soprano Sara Duchovnay, soprano Molly Mahoney and mezzo-soprano Nicole Takesono. The piece was intended to form a portrait of America covering the 1950s through the late 1980s. Glass and Ginsberg sought to incorporate the personal poems of Ginsberg, reflecting on social issues – the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, drugs, eastern philosophy, environmental issues.

Jake Heggie's opera, The End of the Affair, is based on Graham Greene's novel of the same name. Streshinsky will direct and Khuner will conduct a cast headed by soprano Carrie Hennessey, baritone Philip Cutlip, mezzo-soprano Donna Olson and baritone Philip Skinner. The story is set in London in 1944 and 1946 and focuses on Maurice and Sarah, who are having an illicit affair, which she vows to end if his life is spared in a bombing. His survival leads to Sarah's religious conversion and Maurice's railing against God for it.

"A critic recently described West Edge Opera as 'Always trying to push the envelope,' says Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky. "That is an apt description of what drives our work. At West Edge Opera we believe there is no limit to where this art form can go. We want to break down the perceptions of opera as exclusive and distant and present the essence of the story. To reveal the emotions that can't be spoken."

All performances are preceded by a lecture beginning 45 minutes prior to curtain.

Festival Subscriptions are now on sale, priced from $120 for seniors and youth to $135 for adults. All seating is general admission. Single tickets will go on sale June 1st. For more information or to request a brochure, go to westedgeopera.org or call (510) 841-1903.

--Marian Kohlstedt, West Edge Opera

Music Institute Spotlights Distinguished Alumna Inna Faliks May 3
WFMT Chief Announcer Peter Van de Graaff reads poetry as part of "Music/Words Program."

For its fourth annual Distinguished Alumni Concert, the Music Institute of Chicago presents pianist Inna Faliks, Saturday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL.

Faliks, whose mother joined the Music Institute's piano faculty in 1990, offers an imaginative concert program to explore the connection between words and music. To spotlight her recent all-Beethoven CD, Faliks performs the composer's Fantasia in G Minor, Op. 77; Polonaise in C Major, Op. 89; and Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111. Chicago's Peter Van de Graaff, chief announcer on WFMT, 98.7 FM, reads poetry by Goethe and Schiller between the piano works.

After studying at the Music Institute with Emilio del Rosario, Faliks worked with such towering figures as Leon Fleisher, Ann Schein, and Gilbert Kalish, eventually earning a doctor of musical arts degree from Stony Brook University in New York. She has performed in some of the world's most distinguished venues, including Carnegie Hall's Weill Concert Hall, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paris' Salle Cortot, Chicago's Symphony Center, and many more. Critics have described her as "a soloist in total command of her instrument" and "a concert pianist of the highest order." This year, she joined the prestigious faculty of UCLA as a tenured associate professor of piano.

Peter van de Graaff joined the Beethoven Satellite Network in February 1989 after a year as one of the staff announcers on WFMT. He serves as overnight host on WFMT, a program heard on many radio stations across the United States. As a professional singer, he has performed with opera companies and orchestras throughout the world, including the Czech State Orchestra, and with the New Orleans, Utah, Colorado Springs, and San Antonio Symphonies. He also serves as host of the live Lyric Opera of Chicago broadcasts.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Osmo Vänskä Is Back As Music Director of Minnesota Orchestra
The Minnesota Orchestra on Thursday took a giant step away from the turmoil of the past two years and opened a new window on its future. The orchestra's board brought back celebrated music director Osmo Vänskä on a two-year contract to rebuild an arts organization that has weathered the greatest crisis of its 110-year history.

"This brings stability, and we can move forward because we have the pieces in place," said board chairman Gordon Sprenger. "We're excited to have Osmo back and we believe the future of the orchestra is phenomenal."

Vänskä, who will return on May 1, was in Washington, D.C., preparing for a Thursday night concert with the National Symphony Orchestra. In a statement released by the Minnesota Orchestra, he said he was "very pleased to have this chance to rebuild the Vänskä/Minnesota Orchestra partnership." While he has no concerts scheduled at Orchestra Hall in the remainder of the current season, Vänskä leads the orchestra in concerts at Northrop Auditorium on May 2 and 4.

Tense labor negotiations, begun in April 2012, resulted in the longest lockout of musicians in U.S. symphonic history. Last October Vänskä, 61, resigned in frustration over the lack of a settlement.

A deal to cut salaries 15 percent was approved in January, but almost immediately musicians and their supporters insisted that the question of artistic leadership be addressed. They made clear they supported Vänskä's reinstatement. A major sticking point was tension between Vänskä and Michael Henson, the orchestra's CEO and president. On the weekend that musicians returned to Orchestra Hall, Vänskä said publicly that for the institution to begin healing, Henson would need to resign.

About five weeks later, Henson's departure was announced by a board that was sharply divided. Several directors, in fact, quit in protest, feeling that Henson had been unfairly maligned for carrying out an aggressive fiscal objective in the contract negotiations. Others contended that Vänskä's presence was essential to restoring the orchestra's luster.

Almost immediately following Henson's resignation (which takes effect in August), negotiations began with Vänskä. Sprenger would not reveal details of those talks, but sources said that at one point Vänskä was offered a position that was less than full music director.

The terms of the two-year deal provide that Vänskä will lead at least 10 weeks of concerts in each of the next two seasons. In addition, his annual salary, reported in the 2012 tax return at $1.176 million, will be cut by the same 15 percent the musicians took.

--Graydon Royce, Star Tribune

James Brawn in Recital, Volume 1 (CD review)

Music of Mussorgsky, Bach-Busoni, Liszt, and Rachmaninov. James Brawn, piano. MSR Classics MS 1501.

Although British pianist James Brawn is hardly a young man anymore (b. 1971), he has only recently begun a recording career with MSR Classics, so I suppose you can excuse people like myself for not recognizing his name until now. But belated or no, he appears to be off to a flying start with his first few albums. He's been winning awards since he was a child, teaching, and performing (mainly in New Zealand, Australia, and England) to great acclaim, and this new recording makes one understand his appeal. He is a consummate artist.

Mr. Brawn begins his recital on Volume 1 (of what will presumably be a series of such concerts) with the Chaconne from the Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). A chaconne is an early dance form, probably Spanish in origin, in moderate triple meter, this one the concluding item from a set or suite of numbers for violin. Ferruccio Busoni arranged the piece for piano in 1893, and pianists have cherished it ever since.

The variations within the Chaconne allow Brawn the flexibility to offer a brilliant display of pianism, the artistry always present yet never interfering with or distracting from the music itself. Brawn's performance is alternately dark and dramatic, the pianist responding quickly and delicately to each new inflection in the score.

After that are two works by Franz Liszt (1811-1886), starting with the familiar Mephisto Waltz No. 1, which is about as opposite the preceding Bach as you can get, filled as it is with Romantic, melodramatic touches. While the very devil is in the fiddle here, as it should be, Brawn is careful not to exaggerate the ornate flourishes for pure show. The piece is a little symphonic poem that gracefully yet energetically tells its story of Faust and Mephistopheles at a wedding party. Brawn's interpretation brings out all the lush, eerie beauty in the piece, as well as the passion and excitement.

Then comes the only slightly less-familiar Consolation No. 3 in D-flat Major. If it reminds you of Chopin's Nocturne No. 2, as it did me, it's no coincidence. Not only are the tone, tempo, and key the same, the melody itself is quite similar. In Brawn's hands, it's exquisitely beautiful and expressive.

Next, we come to the centerpiece of the recital, Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) in its original piano score. Of course, the piece wouldn't really become as popular as it is today without its various and later orchestral transcriptions, but the piano version is no slouch, either. Obviously, it's the most pictorial of the works on the program, featuring a gallery of portraits that describe people, places, and events. It requires the pianist create little tone pictures of diverse moods and character, a process in which Mr. Brawn succeeds admirably.

Here's also where Brawn gets to show off a bit, with each portrait perfectly judged and perfectly well characterized. Sections that stood out for me include the mysteriousness of "The Old Castle," the humor of "The Ballad of the Unhatched Chicks," the hustle and bustle of "The Marketplace," the creepiness of "The Catacombs," and the exhilaration of "The Hut on Fowl's Legs." I would liked to have heard a bit more splendor and grandeur in "The Great Gate of Kiev," but otherwise this is among the best piano versions of the Mussorgsky piece I've experienced.

Finally, Brawn closes the recital with the Prelude in B minor by Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and the Prelude in C Major by J.S. Bach, which brings us full circle. Brawn's program is impressively varied, showing off all of the pianist's technical prowess as well as his sensitivity to the nuances of the piano. His playing is virtuosic and exciting at times, yet soft and lyrical when necessary. But most of all, it's simply fun to listen to. Fans of piano music cannot miss.

Producer Jeremy Hayes and engineer Ben Connellan made the recording for MSR Classics at Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK in August 2012. The piano sounds crisply articulated, with solid impact and a firm transient response, without being bright or forward in any way. Moreover, we hear a pleasantly mild ambient bloom around the notes, making the sound not only well defined but moderately warm and natural, too. The miking is not so close as to stretch the piano across the room, making for an even more realistic presentation.

JJP

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


Bach: Violin Concertos (CD review)

Also, Oboe and Violin Concerto. Hilary Hahn, violin; Jeffrey Kahane, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. DG B0000986-02.

This is one I nominated some years ago for a "Best of the Year" award. At least, it was an award winner with me. Except for a minor reservation about the sound, I can still recommend the disc with almost complete assurance.

Perhaps because Ms. Hahn was relatively young at age twenty-three when she recorded these pieces in 2002-03, she was able to bring to them a youthful vitality that is sometimes missing in the performances of older artists. Yet the vitality in no way suggests immaturity or reckless abandon. Indeed, it brings to the works a contemporary feeling, making them sound as though written in and for our own era. Ms. Hahn makes all three of Bach's familiar Violin Concertos sound new again through her lively, spirited, yet thoughtful interpretations.

I suppose some listeners might quibble that Ms. Hahn takes things a bit faster than most older, more-traditional violinists do, but her performances are much in keeping with today's historically informed style, though not as frenetic as some period-instruments groups perform the pieces. Anyway, if the Violin and Oboe Concerto that accompanies the Violin Concertos seems a bit more conservative by comparison, it is no less persuasive.

Ms. Hahn leads off Bach's three Violin Concertos on the album with possibly the most popular of the bunch, the E Major, BWV 1042, with its well-known opening movement running along as briskly yet as attractively as I've heard it. Of course, all three of the Violin Concertos begin with showstopping opening movements, followed by sublimely beautiful slow movements, and concluding with brash, often overexuberant finales. Even though I've never cared much for those finales as much as the rest of the music, even here Ms. Hahn brings a delightful sense of fun to the occasion, and she's splendidly accompanied by Jeffrey Kahane and the strings of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

My only quibble I alluded to earlier: it's about the depth of the sound, which is almost nil. The instruments are pretty much strung out along a straight line from left to right, with little sense of the group's size or shape. Otherwise, the sound is warm, smooth, well defined, terrifically well-balanced, and easy on the ear. For a modern recording of these Bach works played on modern instruments, this remains one of the best current choices, slightly eclipsing Grumiaux's old Philips recording in sound quality and almost everybody else in performance.

JJP

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


Mozart: Symphony No. 35 "Haffner" (CD review)

Also, Serenade in D Major "Posthorn"; March No. 1. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Concentus Musicus Wien. Sony 88883720682.

In 1953 with his wife Alice, Austrian cellist and conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt founded the Concentus Musicus Wien, which is now the world's oldest continuously performing period-instruments ensemble. That they are still recording after all these years is remarkable in itself; that they are still producing as vigorous and historically informed performances as we find on this 2014 Sony release is doubly remarkable.

Maestro Harnoncourt starts off the program with Mozart's little March No. 1 in D Major, K.335, a brief but energetic piece that serves as an appropriate curtain-raiser for the album. Given Harnoncourt's years (b. 1929) he leads a sprightly performance. There appears to be no slowing down with age for him, for good or for bad depending on your point of view about such things. Moreover, even though the band itself must have turned over many times, they sound as lively and attentive as ever. Maybe more so, as they appear more spry as the decades pass.

Next, we get Mozart's Serenade for Orchestra No. 9 in D Major, K. 320, also called the "Posthorn Serenade." It consists of seven movements: an Adagio, a Minuetto, an Andantino, a Rondeau, an Andante, another Minuetto, and a Finale. Mozart wrote the piece in 1779, and it got its nickname from the use of a post horn in the second minuet, the piece also featuring an oboe, flute, and flautino prominently.

I mentioned earlier that Harnoncourt leads a lively performance of the march, and he does likewise in the "Posthorn." Understand, however, that I'm not necessarily referring to ultrafast tempos. Indeed, Harnoncourt takes things at an easy, listenable pace most of the time, never leaving one breathless as some period performances can. Instead, the conductor seems intent on drawing out all the melodic lines as well as emphasizing the rhythms in as cozy a manner as possible, even though he can attack the contrasts with vigor. The result I might better describe as being alive, perhaps not the most exciting reading you'll ever hear, but one that's entertaining, with an ever-so-slightly darker tone as well.

Finally, we get the center attraction, the Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385 (or the "Haffner" Symphony because a prominent Salzburg family, the Haffners, commissioned it). Mozart wrote the work in 1782, taking much of the material from an earlier piece he had written for the Haffner family, the equally famous "Haffner" Serenade.

Mozart wrote of the Haffner Symphony that "The first Allegro must be really fiery, the last as fast as possible." Here, Harnoncourt follows the composer's instructions well enough, although he varies the tempo internally so much that it never sounds as frenetic as it sometimes can. Harnoncourt produces undoubted thrills without resorting to a completely all-out attack on our sensibilities.

The succeeding Andante is as gracefully lyrical as Harnoncourt can make it without slowing it down to a crawl. The movement has a lovely lilt to it, a sweet dance-like quality that quickly and easily pleases the ear, and it's probably the highlight of the Harnoncourt program.

The conductor gets the Minuetto off to an appropriately forceful start before settling down to its more tranquil main theme, at which point it's reasonably lovely. Thankfully, Harnoncourt doesn't take the finale "as fast as possible," which would simply leave one panting for breath and destroy the score's musical integrity in the progress, so he compromises a tad, still providing plenty of vigorous momentum while slowing down enough to let the music breathe a little.

Of course, the bottom line for any new recording of an old warhorse is whether it's worth buying yet version of something one already has. I mean, given that practically every major conductor of the past sixty years has recorded the Haffner Symphony and the Posthorn Serenade in stereo, the competition is great. However, when you consider the number of period-instruments recordings there are of these works, the field becomes considerably smaller. Then when you consider the experience and authority Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his players bring to the works, maybe the recording is at least deserving of a listen.

Producer Martin Sauer and engineer Michael Brammann recorded the music at the Great Hall of the Viennese Music Association, Vienna in December 2012. The sound they obtained is moderately close but without much edginess, harshness, or bright forwardness. In fact, it's pleasingly warm and mildly resonant, yet with a reasonably good degree of detail, too, a strong transient response, and a modest orchestral depth. It may not be absolute top-drawer audiophile sound but it is comfortable and revealing all the same.

JJP

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


Recomposed by Max Richter (CD review)

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Also, Shadows 1-5; "Remixes." Daniel Hope, violin; Andre de Ridder, Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin. DG 479 2776 (CD + DVD).

I don't suppose there's anything new under the sun, and every now and then even the not-so-new becomes new again. Such is the case with British composer Max Richter's reimagining of Vivaldi's perennial favorite The Four Seasons, which Richter recomposed for solo violin, Moog synthesizer, and chamber orchestra. He premiered it at London's Barbican Centre in October 2012, and it soon picked up a huge following for its reductive approach to the old warhorse. Richter has said he discarded about three-quarters of Vivaldi's original material, and the parts he does use he phased and looped, which recall the composer's roots in minimalist and postmodern music.

Whether you'll like Richter's approach, however, is a pretty big question mark. If you can accept his newly reconstructed view for itself, you may just find it fascinating fun. If you're a traditionalist who doesn't appreciate modern musicians messing with established classics, you may hate it. In its favor, and in kind of a bizarre twist of fate, the recording has noted violinist Daniel Hope playing the solo part on a 1742 Guarneri del Gesu violin, Richter on a Moog, and Maestro Andre de Ridder leading the Berlin Konzerthaus Chamber Orchestra in accompaniment.

In a booklet note, Richter explains that he "wanted to get inside the score at the level of the notes and in essence rewrite it, re-composing it in a literal way." Fair enough. He opens the music with what he describes as "a dubby cloud which I've called 'Spring 0.' It serves as a sort of prelude, setting up an electronic, ambient space for the first 'Spring' movement to step into. I've used electronics in several movements, subtle, almost inaudible tings to do with the bass, but I wanted certain moments to connect to the whole electronic universe that is so much part of our musical language today." OK.

Concerning other movements, Richter tells us he wanted to convey the feeling of contemporary dance music and also the style of various pop bands of the 60's and 70's like the Beach Boys and the Beatles. Then he says he thinks the regular patterns of Vivaldi's music connect with his own brand of post-minimalism. He feels it's a natural link between Vivaldi and himself. "Even so," he continues, "it was surprisingly difficult to navigate my way through it. At every point I had to work out how much is Vivaldi and how much is me." And that is the point at issue here, isn't it? How much will a listener enjoy Richter at the expense of Vivaldi and vice versa?

In all fairness, if you keep an open mind and think of this as newly composed music rather than any kind of reinterpretation of Vivaldi, you're likely to enjoy it more. Violinist Daniel Hope takes it all very seriously, as he should, and conveys a sweet note throughout the selections. Although some listeners may feel the antique instrument he plays seems wasted on so little of Vivaldi, I wouldn't count too heavily Richter's claim that he threw out three-fourths of Vivaldi's music. The fact is, much of Vivaldi remains, though some of it repetitiously, and Hope plays it assuredly and sympathetically.

Disregarding the Moog, which doesn't play as big a part in the proceedings as you might expect, this is essentially an old-fashioned reading of Vivaldi, the slow movements taken at fairly slow, steady speeds, with large doses of soft sentimentality along the way, and the fast movements taken at lively, spirited tempos. Whether the performances capture all the vivid color of Vivaldi's tone pictures is still open to question, but there's no denying the arrangements and performances of the works are unique and worth a listen.

In addition to Richter's reimagining of The Four Seasons, the CD includes several other works: Shadows 1-5, a series of "electronic soundscapes" by Richter, and "Remixes" of The Seasons by Richter, Robot Koch, Fear of Tigers, and NYPC. All of them are brief, but they are imaginative and fun.

The advantage of the current 2014 edition of the album over the one DG released in 2012 is that now you get not only the compact disc of the music but a DVD of Hope, Richter, and L'Arte del Mondo (with conductor Werner Ehrhardt) performing the work live in 2013. So, you not only get to hear the score but see a filmed presentation of the musicians playing it, and the cost of the CD + DVD edition is only a little more than the single-disc edition.

In terms of sound, we'll concentrate on the Vivaldi CD work, which Richter produced and Neil Hutchinson engineered at b-sharp Studios, Berlin, in March 2012. Given the degree of electronic augmentation, the sound quality is quite good, showcasing not only a natural ambiance but a spacious, dimensional one as well. The sound of the Moog is reasonably clear and clean, and the sound of the orchestra is warm and well rounded, flattering to the ear if a little soft on inner detailing.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, April 19, 2014

The Moscow Virtuosi Celebrate Their 35th Anniversary at Strathmore Hall

Maestro Vladimir Spivakov leads the highly acclaimed ensemble in a program of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Mozart, and Piazzolla on May 10 at 7pm.

Hailed by The Washington Post as "a dramatically unified ensemble [with] a sound that would put many full orchestras to shame," the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra returns to the Washington area to celebrate their 35th anniversary at Strathmore Hall. Led by Maestro Vladimir Spivakov, one of the world's preeminent violinists and conductors, the Moscow Virtuosi have set the gold standard for chamber orchestras since 1979. For tickets, call 301-581-5100 or click here: http://www.strathmore.org/eventstickets/calendar/view.asp?id=10065

On May 10, Maestro Spivakov will lead the Moscow Virtuosi in an exuberant program of favorites from beloved Russian composers and more. The program will open with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's charming Divertimento No.3 in F Major (K.138), followed by Tchaikovsky's lush Serenade for Strings (Op. 48) a definitive composition of the late-Romantic era. The first half of the program closes with two works by Dmitri Shostakovich, a giant of Russian modernism: the Prelude and Scherzo (Op. 11), and the Elegy and Polka (Op. 36). After intermission, the program concludes with Astor Piazzolla's grand suite La Historia del Tango, arranged for violin and orchestra by Alexey Strelnikov. Each of the suite's four movements evokes a specific moment in the history of this passionate Argentinean dance.

Over the years, the Moscow Virtuosi have become world-renowned for their "precision, style and panache" (Chicago Classical Review). Not only do the orchestra members play exceptionally well together, they are each incredible virtuosos in their own right, as one would expect from the ensemble's name. Listeners have come to expect nothing less than the best from the Moscow Virtuosi, and Strathmore patrons should expect the same as this important ensemble celebrates 35 years of excellence.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Berkeley Symphony Announces 2014-2015 Season
The season will be highlighted by world premiers from Oscar Bettison and Jake Heggie in addition to a Bay Area premiere from Thomas Ades

Programs also feature orchestral masterpieces by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Elgar, and Ravel; choral masterworks by Mozart and Adams; and internationally acclaimed artists mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and violinist Jennifer Koh.

Music Director Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony today announced programming for the 2014-2015 season including a world premiere by Oscar Bettison in a program that also features Jennifer Koh performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto; a world premiere by Jake Heggie featuring Grammy-Award winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; the Bay Area premiere of Thomas Adès's Asyla; and a program of choral works that combines Mozart's beloved Requiem Mass with a first-time Berkeley Symphony performance of John Adams' Choruses from the Death of Klinghoffer.

Berkeley Symphony has established itself as a presenter of major contemporary orchestral works with a steadfast commitment to programming cultural treasures from the standard European repertoire. A recipient of the ASCAP award for adventurous programming in nine of the past 11 seasons, Berkeley Symphony will demonstrate its innovative exploration of the past and present with a 2014-2015 season that combines contemporary works alongside classics including the Sibelius Violin Concerto, featuring Jennifer Koh as soloist, Elgar's Enigma Variations, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, Brahms's Symphony No. 4 in E minor, and the Mozart Requiem.

"As we embark on another fresh and exciting season, I am constantly reminded of the rich connection that the orchestra experiences with Berkeley audiences," says Music Director Joana Carneiro. "Exploring these musical pathways with a shared love and appreciation of diversity and intrigue pushes us to new heights. I am delighted to present a number of new works by some of the most established composers of our time, including two world premieres and a Bay Area premiere. We are also fortunate to be collaborating with a variety of solo artists and ensembles, expanding our family even further."

Ticket information:
2014-2015 season subscriptions to the Zellerbach Hall Concert Series (four concerts) range in price from $39 to $266. Subscribers enjoy a 10% discount on additional single ticket purchases throughout the season. Single ticket prices range from $15 to $74. Orders for 2014-2015 season subscriptions can be placed online at www.berkeleysymphony.org starting May 1, 2014; by phone at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1; by fax to (510) 841-5422; or mailed to 1942 University Avenue, Suite 207, Berkeley, CA 94704. Single tickets go on sale July 1, 2014. Groups of 6 or more receive a  20% discount off the single ticket price. Berkeley Symphony offers a $7 Student Rush ticket one hour prior to each performance for those with a valid student ID.

Tickets to the Berkeley Symphony & Friends chamber music concerts are $25 and can be purchased in advance at www.berkeleysymphony.org or by phoning the Box Office at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1.

Tickets to the Under Construction New Music readings are $10.

All Family Concerts are offered free of charge. (Suggested donation: $10 adults/$5 students)

For more information or to request a brochure, call Berkeley Symphony at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1, email tickets@berkeleysymphony.org or visit www.berkeleysymphony.org.

--Karen Ames Communications

Festival Mozaic Announces Artists, Repertoire and Venues for 44th Season
Renowned classical musicians provide sophisticated musical experiences in scenic, small-town atmosphere.

Each summer since its beginnings in 1971, FESTIVAL MOZAIC has transformed the Central Coast of California into a hotbed of classical music culture. This July, Music Director and violinist Scott Yoo will lead a group of more than 50 artists gathered from top orchestras and chamber ensembles from around the world in performances in scenic places all over San Luis Obispo County.

Conveniently located on the coast just off iconic Highway 1 – just three hours from the Bay Area and just three hours from downtown Los Angeles – this region is home to the town of San Luis Obispo, (named "Happiest City in North America" by National Geographic and Oprah Winfrey) and Paso Robles (named "2013 Wine Region of the Year" by Wine Enthusiast Magazine).

San Luis Obispo County (or SLO, as the locals call it) has a pleasing mix of farm-to-table bistros, art galleries, boutique shopping, hiking trails and seaside activities, and of course, wine tasting. It is into this comfortable, captivating ambiance that the musicians of FESTIVAL MOZAIC will bring their international-caliber artistry, celebrating the works of composers both familiar and out-of-the-ordinary. With 20 events in 11 different venues, the Festival offers something for every kind of music lover and provides an authentic SLO experience offering the best in culinary, coastal and cultural life.

The Festival presents four different types of events:
Orchestra –conducted by music director Scott Yoo and featuring soloists such as Orion Weiss, piano and Emily Daggett Smith, violin and others
Chamber Music –featuring performers like Kristina Reiko Cooper, cello, Steven Copes, violin, of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, Eriikka Nylund, viola, of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Robert Walters of the Cleveland Orchestra and others)
Fringe series—featuring classically-trained musicians playing in innovative crossover ensembles (like the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet and 3 Leg Torso).
Notable Encounters – our short-format explorations of individual pieces of music which are equal parts interactive performance and education.

The music of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms will be played alongside Bach, Corelli, and Haydn and many more. Listeners can also enjoy Shostakovich, Bartók and a host of other musical masters in charismatic venues such as Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Chapel Hill in wine country, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, and the state-of-the-art Christopher Cohan Center for the Performing Arts.

The festival has a strong tradition of presenting emerging artists early in their careers alongside well-respected professionals. This summer's festival will feature players from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Baltimore Symphony and a host of other top orchestras across the country. Over its four decades, the festival has come to be known for presenting emerging artists early in their careers, including Richard Goode, Jeffrey Kahane, Hilary Hahn, Sir Neville Marriner, the Kronos Quartet, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and the first American premiere performances of Maxim and Dmitri Shostakovich with Mstislav Rostropovich, immediately following their defection from the Soviet Union in 1981.

Subscription Tickets are on sale now. Individual tickets are on sale May 1. Tickets may be ordered online at www.festivalmozaic.com or by calling (805) 781-3009 / (877) 881-8899.

--Bettina L. Swigger, Festival Mozaic

Composer Howard Shore Joins Forces with the National Concert Hall and RTÉ Concert Orchestra in Dublin Ireland to Present His Music
On Saturday 26 April 2014 the National Concert Hall and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra welcome the multi Academy Award-winning composer Howard Shore to Dublin for a concert of his own music. The RTÉ Concert Orchestra will be conducted by Ludwig Wicki and joined by cellist Emma-Jane Murphy, and chorus to include DIT Choral Society.

Famous for his scores of The Lord of the Rings, The Silence of the Lambs, The Departed, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Hugo, and more recently The Hobbit, Howard Shore is among today's most respected, honoured and active composers.

This concert, which will be introduced by the composer himself, offers a rare opportunity to hear live performances of Howard Shore's Fanfare for Organ and Brass, selections from Seven Pieces for Chamber Orchestra, Mythic Gardens Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (all of which are Irish premières), and The Prophecy and The Return of the King from The Lord of the Rings Symphony for Orchestra and Chorus.

Selections from the program will subsequently be recorded at RTE studios for planned CD release later this year by Howe Records. "We are very pleased to work in partnership with the National Concert Hall and RTÉ Concert Orchestra and look forward to the opportunity of sharing the result more broadly in recorded form," said Howe Records GM, Joe Augustine.

--Harmonia Mundi USA

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space Presents Psalms of David
Timeless songs of praise, faith and love are brought to life through the music of Schütz, Gabrieli, Monteverdi and Rossi on May 7, 2014 at 7pm at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, NYC.

Bringing its 2013-2014 season to a moving conclusion, Sacred Music in a Sacred Space presents Psalms of David, a program that explores different composers' interpretations of these songs of love, repentance and praise. The lineage of Western sacred music begins with the Psalms, and these timeless songs reach full expressive power in the hands of early Baroque masters Schütz, Gabrieli, Monteverdi and Rossi. Multiple choirs and instrumental ensembles capture the glory of these works in the beautiful Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on New York's Upper East Side on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 at 7pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling 212-288-2520 or by clicking here for details: http://smssconcerts.org/

Included on the program are works by Giovanni Gabrieli, including "In Ecclesiis," the Venetian composer's magnum opus; Salamone Rossi, another Italian composer of Jewish heritage who was one of the few Baroque composers to set Biblical texts in their original Hebrew; five pieces from Heinrich Schütz's Psalmens Davids (German settings of the Psalms); and Claudio Monteverdi's Cantate Domino. These works will be performed by multiple instrumental and vocal groups scattered throughout the church, so as to envelop the audience in sound. Orchestrations of original period instruments by Artistic Director K. Scott Warren complete the experience of being transported back 400 years to a Basilica in Venice or a royal chapel in Dresden.

--Julia Casey, BuckleSweet Media

John Luther Adams Wins Pulitzer Prize for Become Ocean, Commissioned by Seattle Symphony; To Be Performed at Carnegie Hall as Part of Spring for Music 2014
John Luther Adams has won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his atmospheric and revolutionary work, Become Ocean. On May 6th, the Seattle Symphony will give its New York premiere at Carnegie Hall as part of Spring for Music.

Regarding this Seattle Symphony commission, which received its world premiere in Seattle on June 20, 2013, Musical Director Ludovic Morlot commented: "What really attracts me to a composer is the individuality in the voice – and John Luther Adams' music is very much inspired by the natural landscapes that are all around us. Become Ocean is written for three different orchestras, each of which has their own journey and rhythm. Three times in the piece they meet in that crucial moment, at the peak of their dynamics together. It's ultimately about you becoming an element of nature yourself, and disappearing in the whole landscape of things."

Executive Director of the Seattle Symphony, Simon Woods, remarked: "We're overjoyed for John Luther Adams. As soon as we premiered Become Ocean, we had the distinct impression that it was special. It's a work that literally changes the way we write for orchestra. Perhaps it's not too much to say that it's one of the early masterpieces of the 21st century."

Alaskan-based composer John Luther Adams has made nature the subject of his compositions for nearly four decades. Become Ocean was inspired by the oceans of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest and immerses the audience in an organic and constantly evolving sound world that reflects the natural environment with an orchestral technique that is deeply original and unique to Adams. Adams explains: "My music has led me beyond landscape painting with tones into the larger territory of 'sonic geography' – a region that lies somewhere between place and culture, between human imagination and the world around us. My music is going inexorably from being about place to becoming place." The score includes a message from the composer, which reads, "Life on this earth emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans face the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean." Regarding the world premiere of Adams' work, The New Yorker wrote, "It may be the loveliest apocalypse in musical history."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 7:30pm
Carnegie Hall
Spring for Music
Ludovic Morlot, conductor
Seattle Symphony

John Luther Adams: Become Ocean
Edgard Varese: Déserts
Claude Debussy: La Mer ("The Sea")

For more information, click http://www.springformusic.com/seattle-symphony/

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

AOP To Honor Wicked Composer Stephen Schwartz at 25th Anniversary Gala at the Players Club
Opera and Broadway stars scheduled to perform include Lauren Flanigan, Betsy Wolfe, and Anthony Roth Costanzo.

On Monday, May 12, 2014, AOP (American Opera Projects) hosts its 25th Anniversary Gala honoring Stephen Schwartz, composer and lyricist of Wicked, Pippin, and Godspell as well as the AOP-developed opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon that premiered at Opera Santa Barbara and ran at New York City Opera for ten performances in their 2010-11 Season. The evening, titled "Opera Sings Broadway Sings Opera," brings together stars of Opera and Broadway at The Players (16 Gramercy Park South, NYC), a historic theatre club in Manhattan. Doors open at 7:30pm with performances scheduled to begin at 8:00pm. Tickets begin at $250 and are available at AOP's Web site www.operaprojects.org.

--Matthew Gray, AOP

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Prince Rostislav. Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Warner Classics 50999 4 09596 2 7.

Of Sergei Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) three symphonies, the Second (1907) has always since its inception received the most love, the Third (1936) its fair share, and the First (1895) the least attention. It may just reflect the appeal of the three works; the Second is by far the most Romantic and most accessible; the Third a little less so; the First the least attractive of the three for many listeners. Besides, the First had its problems from the very beginning, the premiere being a total failure by any measure, thanks to an underpowered and underprepared performance from conductor and composer Alexander Glazunov. The experience so unnerved Rachmaninov he had a nervous breakdown, and no one gave the piece another public performance until 1945, several years after the composer's death. Today, we have a number of fine recordings of the music, of which we must count Vasily Petrenko's with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic one. But it's no accident that Petrenko finishes up his recordings of the three symphonies with this one; apparently, he was no taking chances by opening the series with the First.

I confess that I can only remember hearing Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13 three times in my life, all from recordings. They are Andre Previn's account with the London Symphony on EMI, Vladimir Ashkenazy's rendering with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Decca, and Mikhail Pletnev's reading with the Russian National Orchestra on DG. Of those three, Previn seems the best recorded, Ashkenazy the most exciting, and Pletnev the most lyrical. Now, we have Petrenko, who tends to combine the best of all three worlds in a well-recorded performance of passion and restraint.

The composer marks the first movement Grave--Allegro ma non troppo, meaning it should begin in a serious, even solemn manner and proceed to something a bit more up-tempo though not too much. Petrenko brings out the varied contrasts in the opening movement, from the bang-up clutter of the start, through the more-exotic moods of the middle section, to the almost-frenzied latter half, to the forceful yet essentially peaceful conclusion. Indeed, the conductor shows he has a strong control over the work's design, with its nod toward the popular orientalism of the day, something Petrenko demonstrates throughout the symphony.

The second movement is an Allegro animato, obviously a brisk, well-animated tempo. It's a relatively brief scherzo that Petrenko handles with a surprising moderation. While he doesn't whip up quite the passion that Ashkenazy does, he does keep the pressure on, varying the tempo and tone substantially enough to maintain one's interest. This is a more-nuanced interpretation than you might expect, given the material.

The third movement is a Larghetto, a somewhat slow-paced affair. The leisurely, softly lit melody is quite lovely in Petrenko's hands, maybe the highlight of the symphony. It offers hints of the great, rhapsodic sweeps of color the composer would exhibit in his later works.

Then Rachmaninov goes out with an Allegro con fuoco, literally a fast movement with fire. This ornate finale brings the symphony to a jovial conclusion, with an abundance of youthful enthusiasm from the composer, who was just in his early twenties when he wrote the music. Petrenko sensibly keeps most of the bombast under wraps and ends the piece in broad strokes, the lush tunes luminous and satisfying.

Accompanying the First Symphony (actually, preceding it) Maestro Petrenko gives us the symphonic poem Prince Rostislav. This little-heard work dates from 1891, written while Rachmaninov was still in school. It shows clearly the influence of Tchaikovsky, as we might expect of a work by a young Russian student of the time. The story involves a knight fallen in battle, lying on the bank of a river, water nymphs caressing his hair, as the dying soldier strives to call his wife and family around him. It's all very melodramatic, yet Maestro Petrenko manages to makes us feel the action in a most-sympathetic manner, and the whole thing makes a fascinating and emotionally engaging experience.

Producer Andrew Cornall and engineers Philip Siney and David Pigott made the recording in concert at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, England in 2013. A symphony hall has existed on the spot since around 1846, and the present hall since 1939. It offers a nice acoustic, with a mild resonance bringing out the richness of the orchestra. Since the engineers recorded it live, we get the occasional audience noise; otherwise, everything from the orchestra sounds fairly well articulated, well defined, and just a tad sharp and bright. Still, the slight brightness provides for plenty of detail, and it's not particularly objectionable. Frequency extremes, dynamic range, and, especially, impact are all adequate for the event. Depth and dimensionality are modest, though, so don't expect the absolute ultimate in realism, just good, clean sound from a live recording. Thankfully, there is no applause involved.

JJP

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


Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 (CD review)

Also, Gluck: Overture to Iphigenie en Aulide; Humperdinck: Overture to Hansel und Gretel. Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia and Philharmonia Orchestras. EMI 7243 5 62622 2.

Of Bruckner's last six, most-important symphonies, the Sixth is among his least performed and least recorded. I suppose there are reasons for that, most prominent of which is its not sounding much like the rest of the stuff the man wrote. The work is not really as awe-inspiring or as structurally coherent as Bruckner's other famous symphonies, and it is to Otto Klemperer's credit that he was able to make as much out of it as he did. This 1964 recording is one of the best we'll probably ever get.

The first movement has always reminded me of the score to some epic movie. Maybe twentieth-century film composers looked to the nineteenth-century Bruckner for ideas. It wouldn't be the first time. Klemperer takes it in a broad, grand sweep. The second-movement Adagio is far more placid than the first, but it hasn't quite the ethereal, otherworldly inspiration that marks some of Bruckner's best slow movements. Here, Klemperer is fairly direct and not a little quick paced. The Scherzo is actually the first point in the symphony that the composer seems himself, the movement being a restless contrast of grandiose reflections and serene respites and, interestingly, a possible inspiration for the later Scherzos of Mahler. The Finale barely hangs together in many other conductors' hands, but Klemperer seems to make it all of a piece. Indeed, Klemperer so loved this symphony he practically made it his own, championing it long before most of Bruckner's music had come back into favor.

A booklet note tells us that Klemperer's longtime producer, Walter Legge, would never let him record the Sixth because he didn't think audiences were ready for it. When Legge disbanded the old Philharmonia Orchestra and the ensemble quickly reformed without him, Klemperer got his way and sans Legge made the Sixth a priority. I have to admit that even though I can't remember enough of the Sixth to hum a note, I have always admired, nay, loved, Klemperer's way with it. With his usual granitelike style, he seems to make it all hang together and work better than most anyone.

Along with the Sixth come the overture to Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel and Wagner's arrangement of Gluck's Overture to Iphigenie en Aulide. Here, Klemperer is on slightly less-sure ground, yet the performances come over with more than adequate passion and glow.

EMI (now Warner Classics) recorded the Bruckner in 1964 at Kingsway Hall, London with producer Peter Andry and balance engineer Robert Gooch. The sound they obtained is possibly no less accountable for the recording's success than Klemperer's conducting. Remastered in 2003 using EMI's Abbey Road Technology and a part of the "Great Recordings of the Century" series, the Sixth Symphony sounds smoother and more natural than ever, appearing for all the world as good as or better than most new classical releases. However, EMI recorded the two accompanying pieces, the overtures to Gluck's Iphigenie en Aulide and Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel, about four years earlier in 1960, and they sound leaner and, consequently, brighter. They haven't quite the warmth and realism the Bruckner does, but Klemperer well characterizes them all the same.

JJP

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


Rossini: Complete Overtures, Volume 4 (CD review)

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Il Turco in Italia, et al. Christian Benda, Prague Sinfonia Orchestra. Naxos 8.572735.

Maestro Christian Benda and the Prague Sinfonia Orchestra continue their march through the complete overtures of Italian composer Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (1792–1868) with this fourth and final installment of selections. As before, Benda gives us a couple of well-known pieces and fills out the rest of the program with lesser-known items. And, as always, he does them up splendidly.

Here's the thing, though: There is still Sir Neville Marriner's complete, three-disc set to consider on Philips; yes, a long-gone label but one still available new and used for a reasonable (sometimes absurdly low) price. And if it's only a single disc of the most-popular overtures one is interested in, there are excellent bargains from the likes of, again, Marriner (Philips, PentaTone, or EMI), the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG), Fritz Reiner (RCA), Piero Gamba (Decca or JVC), Peter Maag (HDTT), Riccardo Muti (EMI), Claudio Abbado (DG), Riccardo Chailly (Decca), Carlo Maria Giulini (EMI), Sir Roger Norrington (EMI), and others. Nevertheless, Benda's performances stand up to the best, and the Naxos sound and price are right.

In The Barber of Seville we get a typically robust, responsive reading from Maestro Benda. As it is a lively comic opera, the overture follows suit, with Benda providing a good dose of smart theatrics, yet without in any way exaggerating the music. While I still wouldn't say I liked his interpretation any better than those I mentioned above, when you consider that it comes with a full complement of more-obscure overtures, it might find a home with dedicated Rossini fans.

Likewise, The Turk in Italy is a comic affair, and Benda treats it so. If anything, he plays up the contrasts even more in this one than he did in The Barber, making it another delight, frolicsome and energetic.

And so it goes: eight selections, two of them familiar and six of them less so. For example, the Sinfonia in E flat Major dates from Rossini's student days, but he reused it several times over in other overtures. It's actually quite charming in its original version, and Benda appears to make the most of it.

The other items include Riccardo e Zoraide, Torvaldo e Dorliska, Armida, Le Comte Ory, and Bianca e Falliero. Of them, Armida pleased me the most with its steady march rhythms, which Benda emphasizes slowly and dramatically before the action starts later in the piece.

The Prague Sinfonia Orchestra, a smallish group in their performances here, judging by the booklet picture of them, sound both rich and crisp in their presentation. They seem an ideal ensemble for the likes of Rossini and his music.

Producer Katerina Chobotava and engineer Michael Rast recorded the music at Produckeni dum Vzlet and Kulturni Dum Barikadniku, Prague in 2011 and 2012. The sound is very clean, with little overhang or veiling, yet there is a small degree of hall resonance, too. The miking is fairly close, revealing a modest degree of inner detail and reproducing a healthy dynamic range and impact. Bass and treble extension are pretty good as well, making this another deserving sonic entry in Benda's Rossini series.

So, is Benda's Rossini complete set worth the price of four discs? I'd say yes, at least for the listener wanting more than the standard fare. Marriner's set fits on three discs but isn't quite as thorough as Benda's, which includes darn near every overture and introduction Rossini wrote. What's more, even though some other conductors may be more colorful, more dynamic, or more refined in the material, Benda provides thoughtful, unobjectionable performances. Then add in the sturdy, modern sound, and, yeah, I'd say it's a worthy set.

JJP

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


Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CD review)

The Bad Plus. Sony Masterworks 88843 02405 2.

It's not uncommon anymore to hear Stravinsky's Rite of Spring played on any number of solo instruments and combinations thereof. Among the best recent applications of the theory was the solo piano transcription by Jon Kimura Parker. With the current disc it's a jazz arrangement from the trio The Bad Plus (Reid Anderson, bass, electronics; Ethan Iverson, piano; David King, drums), an innovative jazz ensemble that's been entertaining audiences with their eccentric and eclectic brand of music for the better part of two decades. This time, they try their hand at the Rite with generally favorably results.

The Rite lends itself especially well to jazz interpretations. Russian-born American composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) wrote it for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, where the music immediately scandalized him and, in part, the country. To be fair, the ruckus it caused probably had as much to do with Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography as it did with the music. In any case, The Bad Plus's jazz rendering brings out many of the primitive strains in the piece as well as much of its hushed lyricism.

In the hands of The Bad Plus the music takes on a more surreal air than ever. Notes seem to shimmer and float eerily, especially during the opening "Introduction," and the percussion often gives one a hint of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. We're on slightly more-familiar ground with the second movement, "The Augurs of Spring," although here the piano work seems more fluid than an orchestra might sound. The electronic background effects lend a new and creative quality to the proceedings as well, making it all appear imaginatively different while still seeming quite familiar.

"Spring Rounds" exudes a kind of Bob James aura, if you're acquainted with his smooth jazz style, as well as a certain early Emerson, Lake and Palmer vibe. So, yes, you'll hear influences of other jazz, rock, and pop artists mixed into Stravinsky's score in The Bad Plus's performance. In other words, this is an album that might appeal to a broad spectrum of music listeners.

The fact that all three Bad Plus musicians know what they're doing and have a healthy respect for Stravinsky's material helps, too. Their arrangement doesn't cheapen the music but, if anything, helps further to illuminate it. Even the men's occasional inarticulate vocal expressions tend to heighten the musical experience. And did I mention it was downright fun?

Now, here is one thing, and it's not really a negative criticism: I didn't find the same degree of unrestrained savagery in the Second Part of the score ("The Sacrifice") that I have found in traditional orchestral interpretations from the likes of Bernstein, Solti, and Muti. Maybe there are just some things a full orchestra can do that three lone musicians can't; it's hard to discount the enormous force a big ensemble can produce. I dunno. Still, The Bad Plus offer their own unique contributions to the music, not the least of which is their effective creation of mood, mystery, and atmosphere. This is a Rite worth hearing.

The Bad Plus produced and arranged the album, and Pete Rende recorded it at Kaleidoscope sound Studios, June 2013. For their presentation, Ethan Iverson plays a Steinway D Piano, and David King uses Ellis drums, Zildjian cymbals, and Vic Firth sticks. The sonics are impressively dynamic, and for just three guys they sound like a much bigger group in a fairly enveloping acoustic field. The miking is somewhat close, so expect good detail, definition, transient response, and impact at the expense of some small lack of dimensionality and air.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, April 13, 2014

American Bach Soloists Presents "Bach's Legacy," April 25-28

The program offers motets and choral works by Bach and his followers.

"The chorus, it goes without saying, was spectacular.
Its finesse is a local legend by now."
--Michael Zweibach, SFCV

"The unashamed earnestness of their presentation was a powerful example of how persuasive and even seductive this music can be when under the care of great performers."
--Jonathan Rhodes Lee, SFCV  

Bach: Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir
Komm, Jesu, komm
Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf

Mendelssohn: Sechs Sprüche
Brahms: Fest und Gedenksprüche
Sandström: Komm, Jesu, komm
Nystedt: Immortal Bach

With the American Bach Choir, Jeffrey Thomas, conductor.

Belvedere, CA: St. Stephen's Church - Friday April 25 2014 8:00 pm
Berkeley, CA: First Congregational Church - Saturday April 26 2014 8:00 pm
San Francisco: St. Mark's Lutheran Church - Sunday April 27 2014 4:00 pm
Davis, CA: Davis Community Church - Monday April 28 2014 7:00 pm

Tickets and information at http://americanbach.org/seasons/13-14/Legacy.htm or americanbach.org or (415) 621-7900.

--American Bach Soloists

Music Institute Presents Organist Nathan J. Laube May 17, Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Its Skinner Organ
The Music Institute of Chicago celebrates the 100th anniversary of its E.M. Skinner organ by presenting acclaimed young organist Nathan J. Laube in concert Saturday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL.

The program includes Bach's Cantata 29, "Wir danken dir," BWV 39, Dupré transcription; Mendelssohn's Variations Sérieuses, Op. 54, Laube transcription; Schumann's Studien für den Pedalflügel, Op. 56; Widor's Symphonie pour Grand Orgue, Op. 42, No. 5; Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G Minor, Op. 28, No. 5, Federlein transcription; Saint-Saëns's Fantaisie pour Orgue, Op. 101; Mozart's Adagio und Allegro in f-moll für ein Orgelwerk, KV 594; and Dupré's Prélude et Fugue en sol-mineur, Op. 7, No. 3.

A star among young classical musicians, Nathan J. Laube has quickly earned a place among the organ world's elite performers. His brilliant playing and gracious demeanor have thrilled audiences and presenters across the United States and in Europe, and his creative programming of repertoire spanning five centuries, including his own virtuoso transcriptions of orchestral works, have earned high praise from critics and peers alike. In addition to his busy performing schedule, Laube is dedicated to mentoring the next generation of young organists, and in the fall of 2013, he joined the faculty at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York as assistant professor of organ.

Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students, available at brownpapertickets.com/event/477613 or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. For more information visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Young People's Chorus of New York City Presents "Transient Glory," a Composer Spotlight on Missy Mazzoli
Friday, April 25, at 8 p.m.
92nd Street Y, New York City
It is an evening of premieres, settings, and adaptations by Missy Mazzoli especially for YPC, with guest artists Victoire and Soprano Mellissa Hughes.

"Transient Glory," the Young People's Chorus of New York City's groundbreaking, 21st-century commissioning series of choral music for young people, returns with a Composer Spotlight on Missy Mazzolion Friday, April 25, at 8 p.m. at the 92nd Street Y. Conducted by YPC Artistic Director and Founder Francisco J. Núñez, the evening focuses on a musical world of Missy Mazzoli. It encompasses an entire evening of premieres of specially selected music from Missy's acclaimed collection of genre-bending works interpreted, set, and adapted for the first time for an ensemble of young voices and Victoire, Missy's all-female band. It also includes the world premiere of a new YPC "Transient Glory" commission, "New New York Songs."

For this "Transient Glory" composer spotlight, YPC brings back WNYC's John Schaefer to host, and in a new YPC collaboration, Mark DeChiazza will stage the concert to draw the audience into this exciting universe of sounds that burst with the vitality, diversity, and youthful optimism of New York City, a crossroads where artists gravitate and transform the course of music and life.

All tickets are $15 and are available at the 92nd Street box office (92nd Street and Lexington Avenue), by calling 212-415-5500, or online at www.92y.org.

--Young People's Chorus of NYC

Pianist Mirian Conti Celebrates the Music of Argentina at DiMenna Center April 30, 2014 in a Free Performance
Looking beyond Argentina's most popular exports—Piazzolla and Ginastera— Conti reveals the lively voices of lesser-known composers.

On April 30, 2014 at 7pm at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music (450 West 37th Street - Mary Flagler Cary Hall), Steinway & Sons pianist Mirian Conti will give a free recital (no tickets required) featuring music off her recent Steinway release Panorama Argentino. The program will also include pieces from Nostalgias Argentinas and Chopin: The Mazurkas, Conti's two other Steinway albums. The recital will be followed by a reception with Conti.

The DiMenna Center recital program will explore the music of lesser-known Argentinian composers. These works run the gamut from melancholy to mercurial, folding in the lyrical influences of Italian immigrants like Cayetano Troiani, the homebred impressionism of Ángel Lasala, the unapologetic Romanticism of Carlos Guastavino, the folkloric influences of Remo Pignoni and Enrique Albano, the brassy nationalism of Julián Aguirre, Buenos Aires rhythms from a trio of tango gods— Aníbal Troilo, Horacio Salgán and Mariano Mores, and a classical take on the form by Mario Broeders.

For more information, go to www.mirianconti.com

--Julia Casey, BuckleSweet Media

The National Philharmonic Celebrates 10 Years at Strathmore in Its 2014-2015 Season
Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski and the National Philharmonic today announced its 2014-2015 season, which celebrates  the orchestra's 10th anniversary of performing at the beautiful Music Center at Strathmore. In early February, a special anniversary weekend kicks off with the annual all-Chopin recital by pianist Brain Ganz, now almost halfway through his quest to perform all of the works of this great Romantic composer, and concludes with a reprise of the Philharmonic's inaugural Strathmore concert from February 12, 2005, featuring Beethoven's epic Symphony No. 9 and Andreas Makris's Strathmore Overture.

During the 2014-15 season, many accomplished soloists will share the stage with the Philharmonic, including  superstar Chee-Yun performing the Sibelius Concerto for Violin; the 2009 Van Cliburn Gold Medalist, Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang, playing the "Mount Everest" of piano concertos—the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3; and premiere cellist Zuill Bailey playing Haydn's elegant Cello Concerto No. 2. In addition, cellist Summer Hu, who at age 11 was one of the first musicians to perform at Strathmore, joins pianist Brian Ganz, tenor Colin Eaton, baritone Norman Garrett and others for the Strathmore 10th anniversary concert on February 8.

The season also features Handel's Messiah, Bach's St. John Passion and Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart's moving Requiem and Jupiter Symphony, and Tchaikovsky's romantic Variations on a Rococo Theme.

In its eleventh year of residency at the Music Center at Strathmore, the National Philharmonic is performing to nearly 50,000 people each year. The Philharmonic will continue its commitment to education and outreach by offering free concerts to every second grader in Montgomery County Public Schools, free pre-concert lectures, master classes with renowned guest soloists and high quality summer string and choral programs.

The success of the Philharmonic over the past 30 years is largely credited to its critically acclaimed performances that are filled with great, time-tested music and its family friendly approach. All young people age 7 to 17 attend National Philharmonic concerts free of charge through its unique ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program.

Repeat Sunday matinee performances of the Philharmonic's most popular programs (six concerts in total in the 2014-15 season) will also be offered again this year. In addition, concertgoers can attend National Philharmonic's pre-concert lectures on featured composers and music 75 minutes before performances.

The 2014-2015 season will also feature performances by such great artists as pianist Christopher Taylor, violinist Justine Lamb-Budge and violist Victoria Chiang; sopranos Danielle Talamantes, Rosa Lamoreaux and Julie Keim; and mezzo-sopranos Magdalena Wór and Margaret Mezzacappa, among others. It will include music by Handel, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Sibelius.

For the sixth year, National Philharmonic is offering its subscribers a flexible custom series. This allows subscribers to create their own packages and receive discounts of up to 25% on tickets, with the largest discounts provided to those who purchase seven or more concerts. Season and subscription information are available at nationalphilharmonic.org or by calling 301-581-5100. Single tickets will be on sale in August 2014.

--Deborah Birnbaum, The National Philharmonic

Pianist Peter Serkin: Masters of the Keyboard
Saturday, May 10, 8:00 PM
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

Recognized as an artist of passion and integrity, the distinguished American pianist Peter Serkin has successfully conveyed the essence of five centuries of repertoire. Mr. Serkin, a longtime 92Y collaborator who made his 92Y debut in 1965, has been presented nearly every season since 2002. This recital features three pieces written for Mr. Serkin by American composer Charles Wuorinen—all commissioned or co-commissioned by 92Y since 2007—including the New York premiere of Wuorinen's Intrada. Adagio, Scherzo and Intrada were composed separately for different occasions, but together they can serve as individual movements in a classical sonata. Mr. Serkin's program also explores diverse solo repertoire including works by Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and Danish composer Carl Nielsen, and concludes with Beethoven's "Les Adieux" Sonata.

Tickets $25, $35, $57
Tickets are available at www.92Y.org/concerts or 212-415-5500

Ariel Quartet: 92Y Concerts at Subculture
Monday, May 12, 7:30 PM
SubCulture - 45 Bleecker Street (downstairs), NYC

Characterized by its youth, brilliant playing and soulful interpretations, the Ariel Quartet has quickly earned a glowing international reputation for its performances. According to The Washington Post, "…they crank out virtuosity by the bucketful and passion by the yard." The Quartet's 2013/14 season includes two performances of the complete Beethoven cycle for the first time by a quartet, all of whose members are under the age of 30. Formed in Israel, the Ariel Quartet returns to 92Y for an evening of Beethoven, Berg and Haydn String Quartets at SubCulture.

Tickets $30, $35
Tickets are available at www.92Y.org/concerts or 212-415-5500

Pianist Yefim Bronfman & Musicians from the New York Philharmonic
Friday, May 23, 8:00 PM
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall

Following his critically acclaimed January performance as part of 92Y and the New York Philharmonic's co-presented CONTACT! series at SubCulture, pianist Yefim Bronfman returns to 92Y's Kaufmann Concert Hall with musicians from the New York Philharmonic for a program spanning genres and time periods. The concert opens with Mr. Bronfman and retiring New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow performing Schubert's Sonatina in A minor, followed by works of Bartók and Brahms. Yefim Bronfman is the New York Philharmonic's 2013-2014 Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence and this concert is a co-presentation with the New York Philharmonic.

Tickets $25 (age 35 & under), $45, $58, $62
Tickets are available at www.92Y.org/concerts or 212-415-5500

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Pacific Boychoir Sings the Sound of Vienna in San Francisco
The Pacific Boychoir Academy sings a dynamic concert of Viennese music from the Classical era with the Magik*Magik Orchestra, April 26th at 8:00pm at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, California. Oakland's Grammy-winning choir school, the country's only boychoir school outside of the East Coast, presents The Sound of Vienna, in homage to Europe's famed tradition of powerful music and fine boychoirs. Nearly 60 trebles and 30 tenors and basses perform Haydn's Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida (Heiligmesse) and Mozart's Te Deum, both sung in their entirety. Also enjoy Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, Strauss waltzes for treble voices, and Schubert's Ständchen (Op. 135) for alto soloist and four-part men's voices.

The Pacific Boychoir regularly perform this type of repertoire overseas, but this is a rare opportunity for local audiences to hear a mass sung in its entirely and with a large orchestra, over the typical chamber ensemble. Their rich and unique sound of solely men and boys voices will be accompanied, not by their usual counterparts—the San Francisco Symphony or California Symphony, as earlier in the season—but for the second time this year, the Pacific Boychoir collaborates with the Magik*Magik Orchestra. The two organizations recently partnered to celebrates the orchestra's fifth birthday in a rock extravaganza at the Fox Theater. Switching gears to 18th Century popular music, the players will demonstrate their classical chops as graduates of the San Francisco Conservatory, Juilliard, Peabody, and Eastman. Pianist Miles Graber is also featured—an acclaimed teacher and accompanist for the National Association of Composers, the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley, and the Preparatory Division of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The venue, St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, has a rich history of some of the best liturgical music in the Bay area, heard in the vast acoustic of the over 100-year-old structure. Associate Director Jonathon Hampton says, "We're thrilled to perform in what is perhaps the Bay Area's most grand, European-influenced churches. The classical style puts the singers and audience closer to an authentic experience of the music." Engineer John E. Pope envisioned a building "with towering outlines visible from all parts of the city," and "stately towers piercing the air above the breakers." Hampton says, "We expect our sound to soar and captivate listeners just the same."
For tickets or more information, visit PacificBoychoir.org.

--Jonathan Hampton, Pacific Boychoir

Violinist Sarah Chang Plays Vivaldi's Four Seasons with the National Philharmonic at Strathmore
The brilliant violinist Sarah Chang will join the National Philharmonic, under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, for Vivaldi's best-known work, the popular Four Seasons, at the Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday, May 17, 2012 at 8 pm and on Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 3 pm. The concert will also feature Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss.

Composed in 1723, The Four Seasons is Vivaldi's best-known work and is among the most popular pieces of the Baroque period. It is a set of four violin concertos that reflect and celebrate nature's meteorological cycles. The concertos each depict a season and are filled with dazzling effects mimicking natural phenomena such as storms, wind, thunder and rain, as well as bird calls. Vivaldi wrote a sonnet to accompany each concerto and notated in the scores exactly what the music illustrates. For example, a "barking dog," is heard during the second movement of Spring and "languor caused by the heat" is evoked in the soothing and calm first movement of Summer.

The program also includes one of Strauss' last work, Metamorphosen, the adagio for strings that was written during the closing days of World War II as an elegy for the destruction of Munich. It is scored for ten violins, five violas, five cellos and three double basses. Near the end of the work, several bars of the funeral march from Beethoven's Eroica Symphony can be heard. Strauss noted this section in the score, accompanied by the words "In Memoriam!" Strauss' quotation of the Eroica and including "In Memoriam" can be seen as having parallels with Strauss's own involvement and rejection of Hitler and the Nazi regime. As one of Strauss's last works, Metamorphosen masterfully exhibits the complex counterpoint for which the composer showed a predilection throughout his creative life.

A free pre-concert lecture will be offered at 6:45 pm on Saturday, May 17 and at 1:45 pm on Sunday, May 18 in the Concert Hall at the Music Center at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to the Sarah Chang concerts, please visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org or call the Strathmore box office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets 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.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Transient Glory: A Composer Spotlight on Missy Mazzoli
Friday, April 25 at 8 p.m.

Transient Glory, YPC's acclaimed new music series, returns with a special Composer Spotlight on Missy Mazzoli. Missy is one of today's most admired, young, indie-classical composers.

She has set and arranged selections from her genre-bending compositions especially to be performed for the first time by YPC and her all-star band, Victoire. With Francisco J. Núñez conducting, this exciting universe of sounds, bursting with vitality, diversity, and youthful optimism, will include the world premiere of a new YPC Transient Glory commission, New New York Songs. New New York Songs is set to a poem by Walt Whitman about a ferry ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn, that musically explores the feelings and experiences that connect New Yorkers of all ages and eras.

Join us on April 25 and see whether you agree with National Public Radio about the music of Missy Mazzoli: Is this music "post-rock, post-minimalist or pseudo-post-pre-modernist indie-chamber-electronica? It doesn't particularly matter. It's just good music!"

Transient Glory: A Composer Spotlight on Missy Mazzoli
Friday, April 25, at 8 p.m.
Kaufmann Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y (at Lexington Avenue), NYC
Tickets: $15, from the 92nd Street Y box office, at 212-415-5500, or online at www.92y.org.

--Katharine Gibson, Young People's Chorus of New York City

Ted Hearne Selected as Third Annual New Voices Composer
Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, Boosey & Hawkes, the New World Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony announced composer Ted Hearne as the third annual New Voices composer. A recipient of the Gaudeamus Prize; ASCAP's Leonard Bernstein Award and Morton Gould Award; fellowships from the Barlow Endowment, the Fromm Music Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and two residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Ted Hearne has captured the attention of the classical, pop, and rock worlds. His collaborations with ensembles such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and artists like Erykah Badu have earned him praise from musicians and critics. Also a singer, Hearne has been called a "vocal hellion" by Time Out Chicago, and The Los Angeles Times has said, "No single artist embodies the post-genre Brooklyn scene, but Hearne may be its most zealous auteur."

"Ted Hearne is an exciting young composer, his music often combining various musical traditions and styles," comments Michael Tilson Thomas. "I look forward to working with him in a variety of new commissions and settings on both coasts."

For more information, visit www.tedhearne.com

--Schuman Associates News

Music Institute of Chicago Free Concert April 23
The Music Institute of Chicago is offering free lunchtime concerts and conversation one Wednesday per month. Lunch is available for purchase from the Pret A Manger Kiosk, and free coffee will be served.

The March program features Music Institute faculty members Meret Bitticks, flute; Stanley Davis, clarinet; Barbara Drapcho, clarinet; Mary Drews, piano; and guest artist William Dresden, piano. The program includes works by Chicago composer Robert Muczynski, Samuel Barber, and Charles Stanford.

Free Faculty Lunchtime Concerts: Chamber music: flute, clarinet, piano
Day/Date/Time: Wednesday, April 23, 12:15–1 p.m.
Location: Music Institute of Chicago Black Box Theater, 1702 Sherman Ave., Evanston, IL
Admission: Free
For further Information, click musicinst.org or call 847.905.1500

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

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.