Classical Music News of the Week, April 22, 2017

Music Institute Presents Yana Reznik, Academy Orchestra May 20

The Music Institute of Chicago showcases its award-winning Academy Orchestra in a concert featuring pianist Yana Reznik Saturday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Illinois. The Music Institute recently hired Reznik to join its piano faculty at the Academy, a prestigious training center for gifted pre-college pianists and string players.

The program includes Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, with Reznik as soloist and Academy Director James Setapen as conductor. Also on the program is Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92, conducted by Roland Vamos.

The Music Institute of Chicago presents Yana Reznik and the Academy Orchestra Saturday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, IL. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students, available at musicinst.org/faculty-guest-artist-series or 847.905.1500. All programming is subject to change. For more information, visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Merola Opera Program 60th Anniversary Season: June 11 Gala and Concert
The Merola Opera Program launches its 60th Anniversary season on Sunday, June 11 with a Benefit Gala at City Hall and a concert immediately following at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, featuring some of the acclaimed Merola program's most illustrious participants.

The 60th Anniversary concert will feature performances by Merola alumni from the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and current and recent participants, including: soprano Deborah Voigt (1985); mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick (1983); Mark Morash, pianist and Merola Opera Program Music Director (1987); and soprano Tracy Dahl (1985); soprano Kristin Clayton (1993), mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook (1990), Bojan Knezevic, bass-baritone (1992, 1993, 1994), and John Churchwell, pianist (1996); baritone Quinn Kelsey (2002); 2013 Merola graduates mezzo-soprano Zanda Švede and tenors Pene Pati and Issachah Savage; soprano Julie Adams, and bass Anthony Reed,  all from 2014; Amina Edris and Toni Marie Palmertree, sopranos; and Brad Walker, bass-baritone, both from 2015; and 2016 artists Sarah Cambidge, soprano; Amitai Pati and Kyle van Schoonhoven, tenors; Andrew G. Manea, baritone; John Elam and Jennifer Szeto, pianists; and director Aria Umezawa.

The evening will begin with an elegant cocktail reception in the historic Rotunda of San Francisco City Hall. A special collection of Signature Events will be the focus of the silent auction, where guests can bid on an exciting array of once-in-a-lifetime, intimate recitals and receptions featuring Merola alumni in private homes and other exclusive settings. Dinner will be held in the North Light Court, where guests will be seated with the new 2017 Merola artists, who will be training and performing beginning in June and throughout the summer. The evening's celebrations will continue in the beautiful Herbst Theatre with the concert, featuring aforementioned Merola alumni from the past four decades. Following the concert, there will be a festive dessert after-party with dancing in the Veterans Building Green Room, where guests can mingle with the concert artists and the 2017 Merolini.

The concert begins at 8 pm with performances from two of Merola's most well-known successes, Deborah Voigt and Dolora Zajick, joined by the 2017 Merolini for "Belle nuit, o nuit d'amour," from Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann. Soprano Julie Adams, who sings Mimi this summer in San Francisco Opera's La Boheme, and tenor Pene Pati will sing the duet "Suzel, buon dì" from Mascagni's L'amico Fritz.

For more information, visit http://www.merola.org/home

--Jean Catino Shirk, Shirk Media

Tucson Desert Song Festival Announces its Sixth Season
The Tucson Desert Song Festival (TDSF) will celebrate the life and music of Leonard Bernstein, the iconic conductor, composer, pianist and educator, from January 16 through February 4th, 2018, in Tucson, Arizona. Over a period of eighteen days, TDSF, in partnership with Tucson's leading arts organizations, will present 30 events honoring Bernstein at 100. The festival will provide a rich and unusual context in which to experience Bernstein's work.

Leonard Bernstein's compositions span classical, Broadway, jazz and pop music idioms with a singularly American voice. TDSF Director George Hanson has curated a festival that draws from every aspect of Bernstein's compositional range, from large to intimate works, featuring, films, lectures, symposiums and master classes. Highlights include a fully-staged production of Bernstein's comic operetta Candide (in partnership with Arizona Opera); Trouble in Tahiti (in partnership with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra) featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Kelly Markgraf; Mass, in a new reduced version (in partnership with True Concord Voices & Orchestra) featuring Jubilant Sykes; the "Kaddish" symphony, narrated by Jamie Bernstein, and an evening with Broadway star Chita Rivera.

George Hanson, a former assistant to Bernstein states, "Leonard Bernstein is one of America's most important and influential musicians. His impact is felt by all who were alive during his glorious career; and is still felt today even by those too young to recall his time on earth. Nowhere else in the world, as far as we know, can a listener experience the full spectrum of Bernstein's genius in such a short period of time, and in such a beautiful place as Tucson."

Jamie Bernstein, narrator, writer and broadcaster, will be TDSF's Artist-in-Residence, sharing insights and memories of her father and his work. Dr. Matthew Mugmon, the New York Philharmonic's Leonard Bernstein Scholar, will also be in residence. Ms. Bernstein and Dr.. Mugmon will provide context to help understand the complex life and career of Leonard Bernstein and will participate in symposia, Leonard Bernstein's Impact on American Music, among them.

For complete information, visit http://www.tucsondesertsongfestival.org/

--Nancy Shear Arts Services

Moab Music Festival Announces 25th Anniversary Season
Concerts celebrate past composers-in-residence, works written by composers in their 25th year, Bernstein's centenary, and signature concerts in the breathtaking Grotto.

This season, the Moab Music Festival (MMF) celebrates 25 years of music in concert with the landscape with "sandstone walls for acoustics, willows for privacy and river sand for a stage" (Sunset Magazine), and more than two decades of what makes this Festival "stand out from many of its competitors." (Chamber Music Magazine)  As Denver Magazine 5280 wrote, "Although I don't know Tchaikovsky from Brahms, the beauty of this festival is that I don't have to. It's about what you feel when the music starts, not about what you know. The combination of music - whether it's chamber music or jazz ensemble - set against the canyon lands background is, in a word, stirring."

For complete information, visit www.moabmusicfest.org

--Dworkin & Company

In the Salon of Mademoiselle Lévi
Performed by Hesperus: Tina Chancey, John Mark Rozendaal, and Webb Wiggins

May 11, 2017 - 8:00pm
The Santucary of Brotherhood Synagogue
28 Gramercy Park South
New York, NY 10003

Tickets: $25/$35/$50/$100
For more information, visit www.salonsanctuary.org

--Salon/Sanctuary Concets

Pianist Michael Brown Debuts at 92Y - May 3
Winner of 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant, pianist Michael Brown makes his 92Y debut at the Buttenwieser Hall on Wednesday, May 3 at 8:30 pm. Selected by Sir András Schiff, Mr. Brown performs at the final concert of 92Y's Sir András Schiff Selects series of the season, featuring works by Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Bernstein and one of the pianist's own composition, Constellations and Toccata.  Praised by The New York Times as a "young piano visionary," Mr. Brown is a Steinway Artist and a member of  CMS Two at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Equally committed as a pianist and composer, Mr. Brown's recent commissions include a piano concerto for the Maryland Symphony and works for the Look & Listen Festival, Bargemusic, Concert Artists Guild, The Stecher and Horowitz Foundation, and Shriver Hall. His two-part composition, Constellations and Toccata, was written for and premiered by the acclaimed American pianist Orion Weiss. It draws inspiration from two different modes of perceiving the universe.

For more information, visit https://www.92y.org/event/michael-brown-piano.aspx

--Xi Wang, Kirshbaum Associates

Francisco J. Núñez to Present Educator Patricia Redd Johnson with Academy for Teachers Award
The Academy for Teachers will present its first-ever fund-raising gala celebrating New York City teachers on Tuesday, May 2, during which Francisco J. Núñez, founder and artistic director of the Young People's Chorus of New York City and an educator himself, will present Patricia Redd Johnson, his former teacher at I.S. 44, with The Academy's Woodridge Award for Great Teachers.

The benefit takes place at the New-York Historical Society and begins with cocktails at 6 p.m. followed by a performance featuring stars of stage and screen Matthew Broderick and Vanessa Williams, jazz great Ron Blake, hip-hop sensation Sean Cross, composer Phil Galdston, poet Taylor Mali, puppet genius Basil Twist, as well as a quartet of gifted students from the Special Music School.  The benefit's honorary co-chairs are Caroline Hirsch, Stephen Sondheim, and Gloria Steinem.

"Show Teachers the Love!"
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street), NYC

6 p.m.   Cocktails
7 p.m.   Show
Tapas and dessert to follow                    

For tickets, contact Rebecca@academyforteachers.com

--Shuman Associates PR

Summer 2017: Weill Hall, the Green Music Center, Sonoma State University
July:
July 4 Fireworks Spectacular
3rd Annual Bluegrass Festival
Gloria Estefan – The Standards and More
Community Concert

August:
Diana Krall
Jake Owen
Blues at the Green feat. Dr. John & The Nite Trippers
Chick Corea Elektric Band | Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
St. Paul and the Broken Bones | Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave.
Pink Martini featuring China Forbes

September:
Taste of Sonoma
George Benson & Kenny G
Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra
Common
Los Tigres del Norte
National Acrobat and Martial Arts of the People's Republic of China

For complete information, visit http://gmc.sonoma.edu/

--Green Music Center

String Quartet Brooklyn Rider Makes Wallis Debut on May 13
Hailed as "the future of chamber music" (Strings) that perform with "the energy of young rock stars" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), the game-changing string quartet Brooklyn Rider comes to The Wallis for one night only on Saturday, May 13 at 8pm. NPR best described the ensemble when it said: "Take two violins, a viola, a cello. Add the world. Persian, Silk Road, Bartók, Beethoven, Roma, klezmer, Minnesota, Brooklyn, Philip Glass--and you've got Brooklyn Rider. The spell-casting, trail-blazing string quartet straight out of Brooklyn and all over."

Brooklyn Rider will present an eclectic program at The Wallis that includes work by Philip Glass, Leoš Janácek, Beethoven and the ensemble's own violinist, Colin Jacobsen. A pre-concert conversation moderated by Classical KUSC's Brian Lauritzen with members of Brooklyn Rider will take place at 7:00 pm with complimentary wine sponsored by The Henry Wine Group.

Single tickets are now available for $29 - $59. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TheWallis.org/Rider, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Ticket prices subject to change.

For more information, please visit: TheWallis.org

--Sarah Jarvis, The Wallis

Gould: American Ballads (CD review)

Also, Foster Gallery; American Salute. Theodore Kuchar, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Naxos 8.559005.

The surprise here, and a delightful one, is not that American composer, arranger, conductor, and pianist Morton Gould (1913-1996) successfully orchestrated so many fine, old American folk tunes; most people who are familiar with twentieth-century American music already know and appreciate the man and his work. No, the surprise is that a Ukrainian orchestra and a Ukrainian-American conductor could bring them off so idiomatically and with such enthusiasm and charm.

The program begins with a series of short tunes (1976) called American Ballads: the "Star-Spangled Overture" an appropriate starting point, through "Amber Waves," "Jubilio," "Memorials," "Saratoga Quickstep," and "Hymnals."

The core of the disc, however, is a collection called Foster Gallery (1939), in which Gould connects some of Stephen Foster's most memorable songs with a few of his lesser-known things in a kind of Pictures From an Exhibition layout, with variations on "Camptown Races" being the thread holding the pieces together. Some of it is achingly beautiful, like "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair"; much of it familiar, like "Swanee River," "Old Black Joe," "My Old Kentucky Home"; and some of it not so familiar, like "Canebreak Jig," "Comrades, Fill No Glass for Me," "Kitty Bell"; with a rousing finale of "Oh, Susanna." The disc concludes with the composer's arrangement of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," which Gould titled American Salute.

Theodore Kuchar
The idea of taking old tunes and renewing them symphonically is not new. People like Dvorak, Ives, Grainger, Vaughan Williams, and dozens of others did it, too. Gould uses banjos along with piccolos, harps, oboes, clarinets, trombones, tubas, percussion, and strings--lots and lots of strings--to accomplish the deed.

What's more, Theodore Kuchar and his Ukrainian players (he was still the orchestra's Principal Conductor at the time of the recording) perform all of this as though it were their own native music. Now, you might say the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine seems an unlikely ensemble to be playing American nationalistic music; but in this case they play with as much passion and spirit as any native orchestra might. Let's say, they adjust well, and there is probably a good reason why the Ukraine ensemble has recorded more music than any other orchestra of the former Soviet Union.

Then, there's the sound from this 2000 Naxos release. It projects a big, bold image to match Gould's big, bold music and Kuchar's big, jazzy music-making. Although one could hardly describe any of it as subtle, it sounds wholly appropriate.

And all for less money than you'd pay for a hamburger at McDonald's. There are few other labels that let one experiment as much as Naxos.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (SACD review)

Also, Dvorak: Rusalka Fantasy. Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Reference Recordings Fresh! FR-720SACD.

It seems that the Pittsburgh Symphony's Music Director, Manfred Honeck, wants us to be as fascinated by the mysteries of Tchaikovsky's final symphony as he is. Honeck spends eleven-and-a-half pages of the booklet notes explaining all the various rumors, insinuations, descriptions, and elucidations surrounding the work. You know, did Tchaikovsky write it to foretell his own death, and so on. I'm not sure he needed to go into such detail on the subject, since no one really knows for sure why the composer wrote his last big-scale piece the way he did, but it makes for an interesting and enlightening read.

Anyway, the real question is why we might need yet another recording of a work that conductors have already recorded to death. To answer that, we have to look at several factors, including whether the music is worth performing so often; whether the new interpretation is good enough to warrant buying it; whether the orchestra responds well to it; whether there is value in the coupling; and whether the recorded sound holds up to the listener's standards. Let's take them one at a time.

Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) wrote his Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 "Pathetique" in the last year of his life, and it would be his final work before he died. The ensuing century brought it mounting fame, and today one can hardly doubt its value as one of the late-Romantic period's most-popular works. The title "Pathetique" in Russian means "passionate" or "emotional," which is how most conductors play it--big, bold, and red-blooded. Maestro Honeck, though, generally brings to it a more restrained approach.

The work begins with a fairly lengthy introduction, which Honeck takes in leisurely fashion before moving into the main subject. Then, things build in an agitated fashion, culminating in the music's famous central theme. The first time it appears, Honeck appears to do little with it, and one wonders if the music is ever going to catch fire. But not to worry; about halfway through, Honeck lets the big guns loose, and we know this is Tchaikovsky after all. A very dynamic live recording helps here as well. Honeck ends the movement with an appropriately sedate repose.

Manfred Honeck
The second-movement Allegro con grazia is a waltz, and the third-movement is a zippy scherzo before ending a mournful Finale. Here, Honeck does keep things quite as usual, either. The waltz seems a bit too fast, as though Honeck wanted to get it over with. The scherzo is also quick, which we would expect, although I'm not sure Honeck catches all the fire and passion by taking it quite as speedily as he does. Nevertheless, it's fun. Lastly, Honeck ends the affair with a finale in the same unhurried vein as his first movement.

The Pittsburgh Symphony proves once again that it is among America's top orchestras, ranking right up there near the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Chicago, New York, and San Francisco Symphonies, among others. Its presence may not be as dominant as some of the illustrious European ensembles from Berlin, Amsterdam, Dresden, Leipzig, and London, but the Pittsburgh ensemble play with precision, and they sound as rich and lush as any you'll find.

In terms of the symphony's coupling, be aware that many discs don't even include additional selections. In Honeck's case, he has chosen to provide a suite, the Rusalka Fantasy, from Antonin Dvorak's opera Rusalka (arranged by Tomas Ille and Honeck himself). Maybe because I've heard the Tchaikovsky done so often by so many conductors, I couldn't appreciate Honeck's performance of it as much as I enjoyed his Dvorak; and I didn't have as much with which to compare the Dvorak. Whatever, Dvorak's music comes off with a delightful charm and joyful grace.

Producer Dirk Sobotka and engineers Mark Donahue and John Newton (all of Soundmirror, Boston) recorded the music live at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA in April 2015. They made it in hybrid SACD to play back in multichannel or two-channel from an SACD player and two-channel from a regular CD player. I listened in two-channel SACD.

The sound they obtained is about what we might expect from a live recording. It's close-up, of course, although not to the extent of some live recordings, and the engineers probably did it to minimize audience noise, making everything sound just a little bigger than life. Dynamics are huge, clarity is excellent, the response appears smooth and well balanced, and the frequencies seem well extended. It's just sort of an irony of live recordings that to me they most often don't sound as "live" as a studio recording (or one without an audience). Compared to the studio productions Reference Recordings have made over the years, this "Fresh!" live one doesn't quite project the dimensions of the concert hall, the ambience, the warmth, or the presence of RR's best non-live discs.

However, that's just me. Other listeners will, I'm sure, disagree and find the sound of this recording a delight--vigorous and detailed. It is certainly more than adequate, and RR have gratefully spared us any applause.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (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.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa