Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (CD review)

Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Tafelmusik TMK1004CD2 (2-disc set).

Conductor and violinist Jeanne Lamon has been the Musical Director of Tafelmusik (or the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra as we currently know it) since 1979, just two years after its founding.  Tafelmusik is a period-instruments ensemble specializing in historical recreations of Baroque music, getting their name from the German word for "table-music," music performed during banquets and feasts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Tafelmusik have recorded for several labels over the years and are now re-releasing some of their best material on their own label, Tafelmusik Media, the set under review among them. They originally released these six Brandenburg Concertos in 1995 for Sony, and it's good to have them back in circulation.

You'll recall that the Brandenburgs sound different from one another because J.S. Bach never intended them as a cohesive group. Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg commissioned Bach to write several pieces for him, and what he got a few years later was a collection of six works for various-sized instrumental groups and various solo instruments. It's probable that Bach composed them at different times for different other occasions, and as was his wont, sort of re-arranged them for the collection he presented to the Margrave.

The most obvious comparison I can make in describing Tafelmusik's performances of the concertos is that of Trevor Pinnock's most-recent period-instruments recording with the European Brandenburg Ensemble on Avie. Pinnock is very marginally quicker throughout, Tafelmusik a touch more relaxed and reserved. Pinnock's group also seems to be very slightly steadier, the players more together, Tafelmusik a bit less polished and refined. However, for that matter, one can hardly tell them apart in most movements. Both groups get very good recordings, so for that matter, even their sound is pretty much alike. Since there's really not a lot to choose between them, and since both orchestras pretty much lead the field at the moment for historically informed performances of the music, I'd say one might make a choice in the matter according to one's predisposition regarding the conductors themselves.

Lamon and Tafelmusik take the opening movement of the Concerto No. 1 a tad slower than I'd like; otherwise, the playing is vigorous without being hurried or frenetic, a characteristic of the ensemble's readings of all six concertos. The trumpet in Concerto No. 2 is not as annoyingly forward as it can be in some recordings, and the piece goes by with a zesty warmth. Appropriately, Concerto No. 3, possibly the most popular of the set, sounds lively and spontaneous, without any sense of overdoing the tempos or stressing out the fabric of the music.

Concerto No. 4 is especially delightful, with a vivacious bounce in its step. No. 5 features superior harpsichord playing from Charlotte Nediger that raises this interpretation a notch above most of the rest. And No. 6 displays a wonderfully light hand, given the number of instruments involved, Ms. Lamon keeping the dance rhythms moving along at a healthy, vibrant, yet smoothly nuanced gait, particularly in the final movement.

Recorded in 1993-94 and done in Sony's 20-bit "high definition" technology at Toronto's Glenn Gould Studio, the engineers obtained a natural, lifelike sound. The miking doesn't usually favor any one instrument or frequency range, so the sonic presentation appears quite well balanced. More important, there is hardly any veiling of the midrange, providing a fairly clear, clean sound. What's more, one notices a light studio resonance that supplies a pleasing ambient bloom to the activities and adds to the feeling of being at a live event.


Franck: Symphony in D minor (CD review)

Also, Lalo: Symphony in G minor; Faure: Pavane. Sir Thomas Beecham, Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise. EMI 7243-5-62949-2.

Until the rerelease of this disc, my reference standard for French composer Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor was Monteux's recording from 1961 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (RCA Living Stereo) and before that (because Monteux's old recording had long been unavailable on CD) Dutoit's digital recording with the Montreal Symphony (Decca). I have to admit that it had been many years since I had heard Beecham's 1959 rendering, and I had quite forgotten how good it was. But I have to stand by the conviction that Monteux still rules the day.

By comparison to Monteux's authoritative interpretation, Beecham's account sounds a tad more wayward in matters of pacing and a bit less magical overall, even if it is still quite fluid and graceful. Dutoit, whose performance is also very good, seems more matter of fact than either Monteux or Beecham, more suavely elegant, to be sure, but ultimately more mundane. Monteux is the more reposed and more insightful of the three, whilst retaining plenty of excitement. Although timings are much the same in all three accounts, Monteux seems more meaningful for his better gauged lingerings and pauses. The music is just as dramatic in all three versions, swinging from moody to energetic, but Monteux is that much more ravishing in the central Allegretto, with its prominent English horn solo, and in the playfulness of the slender scherzo-like theme that follows.

In terms of sound, Dutoit's newer digital recording is admittedly the most detailed, but it is really no more lifelike than the other two. Where Dutoit's recording comes into its own is in filling out the center of the orchestral field better, the RCA being slightly more prominent in the left and right channels. The Beecham EMI recording, on the other hand, sounds nicely balanced left to right, with good dynamics, but it is also a little brighter through the lower treble while being a touch muted in the upper highs. The result is that the Beecham sounds very slightly harsher, overall, than the other two.

One's final decision may rest with the couplings. EMI add Beecham's account of Edouard Lalo's Symphony in G minor, an oddly neglected work presented here with great sympathy and understanding in a heartfelt rendition that brings out all the pathos, melancholy, vigor, and charm of the piece. Although Lalo's Symphony is perhaps not the epitome of Western symphonic art, it has its moments, especially in its vivid finale. Beecham championed the work all his life, but it never caught on. Also on the Beecham disc you'll find Gabriel Faure's little Pavane, exquisitely molded. However, Monteux's disc has his enchanting interpretation of Stravinsky's Petrouchka on it, so it doesn't make decisions easy.  Fortunately, both the Beecham and Monteux discs come at a mid price, so maybe having both of them in one's collection isn't a bad idea.


Barber: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Korngold: Violin Concerto; Waxman: Carmen Fantasy; Williams: Theme from Schindler's List. Alexander Gilman, violin; Perry So, The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. OehmsClassics OC 799.

So, what are the connections among Barber, Korngold, Waxman, and Williams? There are always connections, right? Well, in this case, they are all twentieth-century composers, of course.  And they are all essentially Romanticists after their time. But, more important, they all either wrote at one point or another directly for Hollywood or allowed Hollywood to use their music in films. On the present album, we get a chance to hear mostly music they wrote for the concert hall, with the John Williams piece most obviously written for a movie.

The primary performers on the disc are a young pair of musicians (both coincidentally born in 1982) with enormous talent and potential, who provide the music with a Romantic spirit and youthful vitality. German violinist Alexander Gilman has performed and won competitions throughout the world and is also currently an assistant at the University of Music in Zurich. Chinese conductor Perry So has also performed worldwide, won awards, and is currently the Associate Conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. With the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, the participants do the music proud.

The program begins with the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14, by the American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Of the composers on the album, it is only Barber who did not write directly for the movies, yet filmmakers used his Adagio for Strings in motion pictures like Platoon, Lorenzo's Oil, The Elephant Man, and probably others. Anyway, Gilman's violin floats above the orchestra, the tone heartfelt and sweet. It's surprising that two performers as young as Gilman and So would produce such a relaxed and moving an interpretation; I mean, you might have expected them maybe to have hurried things along with quick tempos, quirky phrasing variations, and extreme dynamic contrasts. It's good to see they resisted the temptations and present the music in a most-touching manner, intimate and soaring.

Next, we find the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 35, by the Austro-Hungarian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). Folks possibly know Korngold best for his swashbuckling music for Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and the like, but he wrote a considerable number of non-movie pieces as well. As we might expect of a composer accomplished in film scores, Korngold's work is rhapsodic and filled with references to his own movie music.  Its melodic richness could well underscore any Hollywood romance of the day. Again, Gilman and So treat the piece with reverence, soberness, and almost old-fashioned sentiment. It's exactly what the music needs, and the second-movement Andante is meltingly beautiful. Then, as Barber did in his concerto, Korngold ends his work in a rather rambunctious style, with Gilman and So letting their hair down, so to speak.

After that, we get The Carmen Fantasie for Violin and Orchestra by the German-American composer Franz Waxman (1906-1967). As you can guess, he based the piece on themes from Bizet's opera, so it gives the performers a chance at further exhibiting some bravura playing. Originally, Waxman had written the Fantasie for the movie Humoresque (1946) and later adapted it for the concert stage.

Finally, we hear the theme from the movie Schindler's List by American composer John Williams (b. 1932). The music is brief and appropriately serious. It also allows the orchestra a bigger role in the music making and provides opportunities for both Gilman and So to shine.

OehmsClassics recorded the program in 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa, to good, atmospheric effect. The sound is big and warm, the violin comparatively close, the orchestra placed effortlessly behind it in a wide array. There is a pleasing sense of ambient bloom on the instruments, which also tends very slightly to veil the presentation's overall transparency. Nevertheless, the rich, resonant sonics go a long way toward conveying the Romantic mood of the music, and it doesn't really affect the tone of the violin, which remains quite clear and natural throughout the proceedings. Add in a resplendent bass, solid impact, and a reasonably good depth of field, and you get a sonic presentation that's easy to like.


Tune thy Musicke to thy Hart (SACD review)

Tudor & Jacobean music for private devotion. Stile Antico, Fretwork. Harmonia Mundi HMU 807554.

First, a description of the music. Most of us probably think of Renaissance music as played either by minstrels for the entertainment of the masses or by choirs and such for liturgical services. Apparently, however, there was also a good deal of music for private, domestic devotion, secular religious music for use in the home. The present album offers a selection of fifteen songs from the English Tudor and Jacobean eras (1500's and 1600's), played by the English vocal ensemble Stile Antico, accompanied by the English consort of viols, Fretwork.

Some of the composers may be familiar to you, others not so much.  Among the better known names are John Taverner (c. 1490-1545) with "In nomine (Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas)," Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) with "Purge me, O Lord," John Dowland (1562-1626) with "I shame at my unworthiness," William Byrd (c. 1540-1623) with "Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?" and Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) with "See, the Word is incarnate." Lesser-known names (at least to me) include Thomas Tomkins, John Amner, Robert Ramsey, Robert Parsons, Giovanni Croce, and, to a lesser degree, Thomas Campion.

I liked this line from Matthew O'Donovan, who sings bass with the group, from his booklet essay:  "In hindsight the shaking of the Church music at the Reformation could be said to represent little more than a historic example of evangelicals bringing 'pop' music into worship." Certainly, we hear the overlap of popular, secular, and ecclesiastical music in these tunes.

The singing is a special joy. While there are only about a dozen singers in Stile Antico, they almost sound like a full choir, their voices blending so well, the harmonies so exacting, the tone and timber so precise, so lilting, lyrical, and soaring. What's more, the five members of Fretwork also contribute to the performances seeming bigger than the sum of the participants, Fretwork's instruments lending subtle but solid support. Most of their work we hear during the introductions to the songs and in the purely instrumental number "In nomine a 4 nos. 1 and 2 by Robert Parsons (c. 1530-1570).

The songs offer a unique glimpse into the evolution of music as we know it. But, more important, the songs are beautiful in and of themselves and perfectly executed by all involved.

Recorded for SACD at Air Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London, in February, 2011, the sound is as realistic as one could imagine. In the two-channel stereo mode of this hybrid stereo/multichannel disc (which I listened to on a Sony SACD player), the voices sound well defined and well separated, with a wide front-channel spread and ample depth. The viol accompaniment is subtle and well integrated into the sonic field. To make matters even better, the acoustic displays a touch of inherent hall resonance for a warm and natural effect, an effect the multichannel layer would undoubtedly enhance.

To complete the package, we get a well-explained, well-illustrated booklet insert, which also contains the full text and translations of the songs in English, French, and German. The package itself is a Digipak, which I don't care for all that much, but I can forgive this one drawback when the Harmonia Mundi folks have done everything else so well.


Classical Music News of the Week, March 25, 2012

Pinchas Zukerman Announces Plans to Leave the National Arts Centre Orchestra

Pinchas Zukerman, one of the world's premier violinists, violists and conductors announced today that he will not renew his contract with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) and will depart at the close of NACO's 2014-2015 season. After a tenure of 17 years as Music Director Designate and Music Director, Mr. Zukerman's will step down August 31, 2015.

In a statement issued today, Mr. Zukerman said:  "It has been my great pleasure and honor to lead this outstanding orchestra for the past 13 years. I have fallen in love with the city of Ottawa, its citizens and our audience, and I truly consider Canada my second home. My collaborations with the Orchestra and interactions with the audience have been very meaningful for me. I look forward to continuing this musical journey in Ottawa over the course of the next three concert seasons with the same satisfaction and joy I have felt since the first day of my contract in 1998."

Pinchas Zukerman has remained a phenomenon in the world of music for four decades. His musical genius, prodigious technique and unwavering artistic standards are a marvel to audiences and critics. Devoted to the next generation of musicians, he has inspired younger artists with his magnetism and passion. His devotion to teaching has resulted in innovative programs in London, New York, China, Israel and Ottawa. The name Pinchas Zukerman is equally respected as violinist, violist, conductor, pedagogue and chamber musician.

As he completes his 13th season as Music Director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Mr. Zukerman is recognized for elevating the ensemble's caliber of performance and reputation, inaugurating the prestigious National Arts Centre Summer Music Institute, and expanding the ensemble's repertoire to include large-scale works. Performances under Maestro Zukerman have included the Brahms, Mozart, Verdi and Fauré Requiems, Opera Lyra Ottawa's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute and major works by Beethoven, Berlioz, Bruckner, Dvorák, Elgar, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, Schumann, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.

Mr. Zukerman has enriched the National Arts Centre Orchestra's cultural identity within the region, and since his appointment has taken an interest in virtually every aspect of Ottawa's artistic community. He has made five recordings with the Orchestra, procured a new Acoustic Control System for the NAC's Southam Hall, and been involved in a number of national radio and television broadcasts. Countless educational initiatives have been established under his leadership, including the NAC Institute for Orchestral Studies and the Summer Music Institute which brings students to Ottawa from around the globe to participate in the Young Artist, Conductors and Composers Programs. The Zukerman Musical Instrument Foundation for the NAC Orchestra was created to acquire donated and new instruments for the Orchestra's musicians. He has championed contemporary Canadian composers, conducting works by Linda Bouchard, Jacques Hétu, Alain Perron, Peter Paul Koprowski, Gary Kulesha, Denis Bouliane, Alexina Louie, Denis Gougeon and Malcolm Forsyth.    

Since Zukerman's arrival  as Music Director in 1998, the National Arts Centre Orchestra has renewed its commitment to touring, both nationally and internationally. He led enormously successful Canadian tours in 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2005, as well as critically acclaimed tours to the Middle East and Europe in 2000 and the United States and Mexico in 2003. Under his direction all touring was coordinated with hundreds of education outreach activities, including ground-breaking and innovative use of the internet.  Mr. Zukerman plans to tour with NACO in China before the conclusion of his tenure.

--Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

The National Philharmonic in Residence at the Music Center at Strathmore Announces 2012-2013 Season
Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski and the National Philharmonic, in residence at the Music Center at Strathmore, today announced its 2012-2013 concert season that features the music of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Prokofiev and Wagner, among others. In its ninth 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 and fifth grade student 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 29 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) 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 2012-2013 season will feature performances with such great artists as pianists Orli Shaham and Brian Ganz; violinists Stefan Jackiw and Elena Urioste; cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski; sopranos Danielle Talamantes and Audrey Luna; and mezzo-sopranos Denyce Graves and Magdalena Wór, among others. It will include music by Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Prokofiev, Wagner and more.

Highlights include:
Season kickoff concert featuring Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica") and Piano Concerto No. 3 with pianist Orli Shaham.
Award-winning pianist Brian Ganz in his third all-Chopin recital at Strathmore and performing Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3.
An All-Brahms concert with superstar mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves singing the Alto Rhapsody and the National Philharmonic performing the composer's Symphony No. 4.
An evening celebrating the viola, with violist Victoria Chiang playing the Telemann Concerto for Viola and Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with violinist Stefan Jackiw.
Cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski performing Witold Lulos?awki's Cello Concerto.
Violinist Elena Urioste playing the late-Washington, DC composer Andreas Makris's compelling Violin Concerto.
National Philharmonic's annual "impressive" and "splendidly rich-toned" (The Washington Post) holiday performances of Handel's Messiah.
An All-Bach concert featuring the Brandenbrug Concertos No. 1 and 5 and his Cantata No. 140, Wachet Auf ("Sleepers Awake").

For the fourth year, National Philharmonic is offering its subscribers a flexible custom series. This allows subscribers to create their own packages and receive discounts of 15-30% on tickets, depending on the number of concerts that are ordered. Season and subscription information are available at or by calling 301-581-5100. Single tickets will be on sale in August 2012.

The complete National Philharmonic 2012-2013 season schedule appears at their Web site,

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Music Institute of Chicago Chorale Continues 25th Anniversary Season with Three Choirs Festival March 31
Welcoming two guest choirs, the Music Institute of Chicago Chorale, conducted by Daniel Wallenberg, continues its 25th Anniversary Season with the Three Choirs Festival, presented by the Music Institute of Chicago, March 31 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

Joining the Music Institute of Chicago Chorale are City Voices (based in Oak Park), directed by William Chin, and the Choir of the First Congregational Church of La Grange, directed by Ryan Cox. Singers from all three choirs come together in polychoral works with brass by early Baroque composers Giovanni Gabrieli and Heinrich Schütz, in Josef Rheinberger's Abendlied, and contemporary New Zealand composer David Hamilton's The Moon Is Silently Singing for two choirs and two French horns. The program also includes performances by the individual choirs featuring music by Henry Purcell, Gabriel Fauré, Healey Willan, Robert Applebaum, Rene Clausen, Edwin Fissinger, and Percy Grainger.

The Chorale's 25th season concludes at Nichols Concert Hall with "25 Great Years" Sunday, June 10, highlighting audience favorites from the Chorale's history.

Daniel Wallenberg, conductor of the Chorale since 1987, noted, "Although our Chorale is Evanston-based, participants come from as far south as Chicago and far north as Zion and everything in between. Several members have been in the Chorale for more than 15 years, and a few have been members since its inception in 1986."

About the Music Institute of Chicago Chorale:
The Music Institute of Chicago Chorale is a community chorus that provides an opportunity for adult singers with prior experience to study and perform the best in sacred and secular choral music. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Chorale has one continuing goal: to perform the finest sacred and secular choral music with the highest of standards in a community setting. Under the leadership of Conductor Daniel Wallenberg, the Chorale has developed a wide range of repertoire, including motets, madrigals, part-songs, folk songs, and larger choral-orchestral works by Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Durufle, and many others. Throughout the years, the Chorale has collaborated with local choirs and symphony orchestras and has produced two fully costumed Elizabethan madrigal dinners. In addition, the Chorale has collaborated several times with the Music Institute's voice faculty for concerts of opera and Broadway music.

Chorale conductor Daniel Wallenberg is also on the staff of the Chicago Children's Choir, working with the In-School Chorus and After-School Programs for the Rogers Park and Humboldt Park Neighborhood Choirs, as well as its world-renowned Concert Choir with whom he toured Ukraine and the United States. He is the director of the junior and adult choirs at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation and the founder and artistic director of "Zemer Am," the Chicago Jewish Choral Festival. A native of Bogota, Colombia, Wallenberg founded several adult and children's choirs while living in Israel.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Sonoma State Universtity Announces Inaugural Season for Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, Lawn and Commons at the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center
Sonoma State University (SSU) today announced inaugural season programming for Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, Lawn and Commons in the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center located on the picturesque campus in the heart of California's Sonoma wine region. SSU has programmed a season of the highest artistic excellence offering a diverse array of the world's most distinguished performers from classical music, opera, jazz and world music--the majority of whom make their first appearances in Sonoma County with these performances.

Weill Hall officially opens Saturday, September 29, in a celebratory Opening Night concert featuring piano sensation Lang Lang in recital, followed on Sunday with a Choral Sunrise Concert, a concert with Bruno Ferrandis and the Santa Rosa Symphony, and a special evening performance with Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas. Respected arts leader Robert Cole led artistic programming, working in close collaboration with Jeff Langley, Artistic Director of the Green Music Center and Director of SSU's School of Performing Arts. The news was announced in Weill Hall by SSU President Ruben Armiñana and Green Music Center Board of Advisors Chairman Sanford I. Weill.

Highlights include acclaimed vocalists Stephanie Blythe, Eli-na Garanc(a, Joyce DiDonato and Barbara Cook; celebrated classical soloists Yo-Yo Ma, Vadim Repin, Wynton Marsalis and Anne-Sophie Mutter; acclaimed early music ensembles Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, Tallis Scholars and Il Complesso Barocco; and Latin jazz greats Chucho Valdés and Buika.

The Santa Rosa Symphony, Resident Orchestra, offers a full season of programming at the Green Music Center including classical subscription series and family concerts. The San Francisco Symphony will perform four concerts, two with Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. On-Campus Presents, a student-centered presenting group, will showcase contemporary artists, legends of the recording industry, comedians, a speaker and lecture series, and dance events. More details will be announced as On-Campus Presents events are confirmed.

For further information,visit the Web site at, phone 1-866-955-6040, or e-mail

--Karen Ames News

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Musicians Perform at Nichols Concert Hall
Music Institute Presents Civitas May 12. 
Two of Chicago's leading music institutions collaborate when the Music Institute of Chicago presents Civitas—Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians Yuan-Qing Yu, violin; Kozue Funakoshi, violin; Kenneth Olsen, cello; J. Lawrie Bloom, clarinet; and Winston Choi, piano—in concert May 12 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

The program includes Beethoven's Clarinet Trio, Op. 11; Milhaud's Clarinet Trio; and Dvorak's Piano Quintet in A Major No. 2, Op. 81.

About Civitas:
Civitas is a nonprofit performing arts group featuring members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The ensemble's goals are to provide classical chamber music at the highest possible level to people who are passionate about live music, present educational programs to young audiences, and bring music to those who would have limited access to the healing power of live classical music. Civitas strives to achieve these goals through creative programming, which includes working with other nonprofit organizations, collaborating with other artists and visual arts, and presenting new compositions.

Civitas performs Saturday, May 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students, available online or 847.905.1500 ext. 108.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Mark Abel: The Dream Gallery (CD review)

Seven California Portraits. Various soloists; Sharon Lavery, La Brea Sinfonietta. Delos DE 3418.

Musicians, composers and players, have been trying to merge classical and pop music, however one might define either genre, for years. Early composers like Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and their kin wrote music for the court, music for the Church, music for the upper classes, music the masses, and music for the family, each kind of music appropriate to the audience. Louis Gottschalk, George Gershwin, and Leonard Bernstein fused American folk, pop, and jazz forms with classical structures; the Jacques Loussier Trio has successfully played classical pieces in jazz arrangements for ages; people like Wendy Carlos and Tomita have transcribed classical music for synthesizer; Paul McCartney has tried his hand at writing popular classical works; Mannheim Steamroller and The Great Kat have applied the principals of pop to the classics; and even Queen did A Night at the Opera.

Accordingly, American composer Mark Abel (b. 1948), who describes his work as "a post-modern synthesis of classical and rock," is in good company when he gives classical-pop fusion a try in The Dream Gallery: Seven California Portraits, attempting to describe in seven short vocal-orchestral art songs the lives of seven representative Californians. As a lifelong Californian myself, I can only guess at what Abel was trying to achieve here, California being such a varied and well-integrated state that to try to sum up its citizenry in a mere seven musical portraits seems futile, especially when most of his material is so critical; but I applaud the effort.

Each of the songs depicts a different Californian from a different city, some of the songs straightforward, some of them ironic, some satirically biting. Are they fair to the state? No, and I doubt that Abel meant them to be fair; they're as much personal, intellectual reactions as those of any novelist or poet. Abel is making a few perceptive insights here and doesn't try to pass them off as absolute examples of everybody in the state. Yet, when you listen to the texts of the songs, you recognize the types of people involved, and, yes, you probably know at least a few of them, they're so universal.

The "gallery" begins with "Helen" from Los Angeles, sung by Mary Jaeb. It's a grim note of despair, disillusion, and loneliness about a woman caught in the upward spiral of the American dream until it all comes tumbling down--the years of marriage, the child, the husband who finds a younger companion. Still, thinks Helen, there is always a new day. Shades of Gone with the Wind, yet, sadly, without Scarlett's firm resolve actually to do something to improve her situation.

"Todd" from Taft, sung by David Marshman, continues the reproachful trend as he describes a town built on hope, a town now derelict, a ghost of its former self, ravaged by exploiters. Then there's "Naomi" from Berkeley, sung by Janelle DeStefano. Naomi is a smug Berkeleyite who looks down on those without her knowing understanding of the world, those who just don't get it, yet she is a woman who clearly feels something may be just as wrong with her as with the people she faults. Abel writes of people who either lack confidence or have it stripped from them.

And so it goes, the singing uniformly informed, soaring, penetrating, affecting as the situation demands. The orchestral support tries to remain unobtrusive, although it does occasionally seem to overpower the narrative. Most of the sentiments are easy enough to identify with, especially "Carol" of San Diego (Delaney Gibson), a go-getter with an empty life filled to the brim with the nothingness she so cherishes.  Empty people, empty lives, empty dreams. The series ends with one person, "Adam" of Arcata (Tom Zohar), who chooses probably to leave the state for lands unknown. Anywhere but what he sees as a wasteland.

Let's agree these are not flattering pictures of Californians, and the easy knock against them is to say that anybody can condemn, criticize, and denounce. Yet inherent in all the bitter sarcasm are pointers to happiness. Recognizing a problem, after all, is the first step toward solving it.

Anyway, as I was saying, the singing and ensemble work are spot on, and the content is readily accessible. It's the actual music that may trouble some listeners; at least it did me because after a few songs I began to find it repetitious. True, the Berkeley segment shows promise in its street noises, and "Carol," "Lonnie" (Carver Cossey), and "Luz" (Martha Jane Weaver) evoke notes of menace, despondency, and heart. Nevertheless, there's a sameness about the melodies and rhythms that can grate after a while, perhaps part of Abel's intent. Using different singers for each song helps to create and communicate different moods, though, and the songs do have a certain magnetic appeal despite their apparent uniformity of approach. Then, too, if everyone found these tunes winning or engaging, maybe they wouldn't be classical anymore, would they? Maybe they would be pure pop. It's kind of a vicious circle, blurring the lines further between what is classical and what is popular music.

Delos recorded the album in Studio A, Citrus College, Glendora, California, at some recent date; the disc doesn't say, carrying only a copyright of 2012. The sound is close-up and fairly one-dimensional, with little or no resonant bloom or air. While the sonics appear reasonably well defined, dynamic, and wide ranging, they don't carry with them much of a stamp of reality. It sounds, in fact, like a typical pop album, which is probably appropriate to the tone the music is trying to convey.


Richard Strauss: Rosenkavalier Waltzes (CD review)

Also, Burleske; Capriccio Sextet. Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano; Herbert Blomstedt, Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig. Decca B0004645-02.

I'm not sure we needed another recording of Richard Strauss's Rosenkavalier Waltzes, but here we get two of them. Strauss was not too keen on arranging a suite of waltzes from the opera himself, yet he was never too happy with the suite arranged by Otto Singer and others, either. In 1944, with apparently nothing else to do, he finally got around to putting together a sequence of waltzes from Acts 1 and 2, along with some new connecting material to make the whole thing hang together better.

Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig in both this suite and the anonymous one of tunes from Act 3, along with two couplings, the Burleske for Piano and Orchestra, with the eminent Jean-Yves Tibaudet as soloist, and the Sextet that opens the opera Capriccio. Blomstedt's knowledge and direction of Strauss are beyond reproach, and whether we needed another recording of the music, this one is as good as any.

The waltzes owe a lot to those other Strausses, the waltz family Strausses, but, of course, they are pure Richard Strauss, too, with sweet, felicitous touches of Til Eulenspiegel and Ein Heldenleben thrown in along the way. The Sextet is wonderfully serene and beautifully performed. And the Burleske is surprisingly Romantic, or perhaps not so surprising considering Strauss originally wrote it when he was only twenty-one years old (and revised it a few years later).

The sound is typical of Decca in that it is very robust, strong in the bass, and a touch hard in the upper frequencies. Oddly, while Decca recorded the Burleske more recently, in 2004, they recorded the other pieces almost a decade earlier in 1996. I wonder how much other good stuff these record companies have lying around unopened in their vaults?


Beethoven: Symphonies No. 6 & No. 8 (CD review)

Douglas Boyd, Manchester Camerata. Avie AV2242.

Douglas Boyd and the Manchester Camerata conclude their Beethoven cycle on Avie with these live recordings of the Sixth "Pastoral" and Eighth Symphonies. Having only heard one other disc in the Boyd series, I can't say the results entirely disappointed me, although I'm not too keen on his quick-paced yet fairly cautious readings, either.

Of all Beethoven symphonies, I'm guessing there are probably more folks who love the "Pastoral" best of all than any of the others, although certainly the Third, Fifth, and Ninth are right up there. I'm not talking about sheer popularity, understand, where the Fifth and Ninth would no doubt win the day. I'm talking actual love for a piece of music. The Sixth is simply the most loveable of all the symphonies Beethoven wrote. I mean, who can doubt the appeal of the work's continuously happy, bucolic, tranquil, frolicsome qualities? Not even a storm cloud can interrupt this music's playful, joyous charisma. Maybe it's why Disney chose it as one of the highlights of his 1940 animated movie Fantasia.

Also making the piece easily accessible is the fact that it's Beethoven only program symphony, the composer assigning each movement a description. So the music is ready-made to interpret by any listener. However, this programmatic agenda may also make it harder on conductors because they know that listeners are expecting a certain thing, and if they don't give it to them, woe be it to them. Then, too, over the years, practically every conductor on Earth has performed and/or recorded the symphony, which makes it harder still for any new recording to find a place in the hearts of fans. My own choices? Bruno Walter (Sony) almost owns the piece, his final, exuberant stereo recording now probably the most authoritative reading of all. But there are also the genial Karl Bohm (DG) version to consider, the glowing Fritz Reiner (RCA) version, the idyllic Otto Klemperer (EMI) rendition, and the surprisingly joyful Eugen Jochum (EMI); plus a score of others from David Zinman (Arte Nova), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca), Andre Previn (RCA), Colin Davis (Philips), Tilson Thomas (Sony), Georg Solti (Decca), Andre Cluytens (EMI), Carlo Maria Giulini (EMI), Pierre Monteux (Decca), George Szell (Sony), Ernest Ansermet (Decca), Gunter Wand (RCA), and others too numerous to mention. So where does Douglas Boyd's new realization sneak in, or does it?

The Sixth Symphony begins with an Allegro non troppo (fast, but not too much) that Beethoven describes as "The awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country." Admittedly, Boyd's opening does sound cheerful. It has a light step, a nice bounce, and a zippy gait without sounding frenetic. Although it perhaps loses a little something in overall grace by not slowing down at least occasionally but continuing to forge ahead at all times, it makes up for it in sheer exhilaration.

The second movement Andante molto moto (walking speed, with much motion) the composer calls "The scene at the brook." Here, Boyd could really have relaxed a bit more; there may be too much "motion" and not enough "walking" involved. He moves things along at such a fast clip, it robs the music of some of its easygoing charm.

In the central Allegro, the "Merry gathering of country folk," Boyd shines, his quick tempos raising one's spirits, even if the music hasn't quite the flowing lines of several of the conductors cited above.

Then the "Thunderstorm" goes by in appropriately menacing fashion and fades just as quickly into the final Allegretto (moderately fast), which Beethoven calls the "Shepherd's song: Happy and thankful feelings after the storm." Again, Boyd goes after it full throttle, perhaps following Beethoven's own metronome markings too literally because it's the only time the conductor's impetuosity seems misplaced. Nevertheless, his tempos are flexible enough that the music never becomes too static, and the symphony ends in a most-energetic manner. Still, I would not count Boyd's interpretation in the same league with the elite conductors I so favor.

Because the little Eighth Symphony has a cheerful character, it makes an apt coupling on the disc. As with the Sixth, Boyd adopts a decidedly quick tempo throughout, which doesn't exactly do anything for the more lyrical parts of the score. But at least it keeps the adrenaline flowing. The second-movement Allegretto scherzando comes off best with this approach, leaving the rest of the score to fend for itself.

Avie recorded the music live in January and October of 2009 at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, England. It's among the best live recordings I've heard, miked neither too closely nor too distantly, with excellent transparency and air. It's also very clean, with little noticeable distortion, and well balanced from the upper bass to the lower treble. Dynamics seem a tad constricted at times, though, especially compared to my remastered Blu-Spec CD of the Walter recording from Japanese Sony. However, that may be a trifle unfair to the Avie disc, which does hold its own.

To make the situation all the more agreeable, we hear little or no noise from the audience during the performances, and the Avie engineers cut out any distracting applause.


Bach: An Imaginary Dance (CD review)

Cello Suites Nos. 1, 3 & 4. Charles Curtis, cello; Anthony Burr, organ; Naren Budhakar, tabla. Entertainment One EOM-CD-2127.

By now, cellist and composer Charles Curtis has probably gotten his audiences used to his doing unusual musical things. He's been a celebrated musician for a number of years, specializing in experimental music, minimalism, modern interpretations of classical pieces, and the like. It is no accident that he has been a Professor of Contemporary Music Performance at the University of California, San Diego, since 2000. In his present album, An Imaginary Dance, two of his colleagues on organ and tabla join Curtis for new looks at three of Bach's well-traveled cello concertos. For purists, this may be sacrilege. For the rest of us, it's simply different, fascinating, and mostly fun.

Curtis, who arranged most of the music with Robert Sadin, performs the suites with Anthony Burr on organ and Naren Budhakar on tabla (a small drum from India, played with the hands). The effect of these three seemingly disparate instruments is surprisingly effective, if, as I say, different.

They begin with the Suite No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009, with Curtis playing the Prelude solo. Then the tabla joins in the succeeding movements, with a light organ accompaniment. It's the plan of attack Curtis employs in all three pieces. As Bach intended most these movements as dance numbers (probably for listening, not for dancing, however)--allemandes, sarabandes, gigues, minuets, and such--the added rhythms of the tapping drum and the further lyricism of the gentle organ backdrop make the music agreeably vibrant and alive. Whether you feel it actually enhances the music is another story, since Bach's solo suites are pretty good all by themselves.

Curtis makes the point in a booklet note that Bach himself rearranged, transcribed, and reorchestrated many of his own works for other instruments and often left it to the individuals playing the music to work out the accompanying ensembles for themselves; so what Curtis is doing today might not have probably bothered Bach much. Indeed, he might have gotten a kick out of these new arrangements had he had a chance to hear them.

Curtis goes on to say that his arrangements, like so many others, offer mere "decoration, adornment." Fair enough. Not even he takes this sort of thing too seriously; music is, after all, for our entertainment, our enjoyment. He further suggest the tabla "hints at the ancient dance traditions of the world" and "the organ, too, brings at times a rawness and verve that are far removed from church services." Again, fair enough.

There is no question Curtis plays with a lively, virtuosic style, his colleagues adding rhythmic vitality and a lilting and sonorous accompaniment. The result is undoubtedly to hear the music almost for the first time, bringing a new dimension to well-worn territory.

Entertainment One recorded the performances at Music Recorders, Hoboken, New Jersey, I assume in the last year or so; they don't specify a date, but the disc bears a 2012 copyright. The engineers have miked the cello up close, making it sound very clean, very clear, and fairly natural, yet without much ambient air or resonance that might have added greater richness. The attending instruments also sound good, although there isn't much sense of their spatial relationship to the cello beyond various degrees of left-to-right stereo separation. There is also a wide dynamic range involved, sometimes getting a bit too loud but assuredly realistic. In short, while the acoustic can sometimes seem a trifle dry, the instruments themselves sound pleasantly warm and comfortable.


Classical Music News of the Week, March 18, 2012

Acclaimed Lincoln Trio Performs at Nichols Concert Hall April 29
Violist Roberto Díaz Joins Music Institute of Chicago Ensemble in Residence

The Music Institute of Chicago presents ensemble in residence and faculty members The Lincoln Trio with guest violist Roberto Díaz in concert April 29 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

The program includes Patrick Zimmerli's Piano Trio No. 1; the premiere of Music Institute composer in residence Mischa Zupko's Occupy Piano Quartet; and Gabriel Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 15.

About The Lincoln Trio:
The celebrated, Chicago-based Lincoln Trio, made up of violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, cellist David Cunliffe, and pianist Marta Aznavoorian, has been praised for its polished presentations of well-known chamber works and its ability to forge new paths with contemporary repertoire. The Lincoln Trio performs frequently, including recent engagements with Chicago's WFMT radio, Music in the Loft, NEIU Jewel Box Series, Fazioli Concert Series, and the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series. Champions of new music, the Lincoln Trio has performed numerous compositions written especially for them. The trio made its Ravinia Festival debut in 2009.

About Roberto Díaz:
A violist of international reputation, Roberto Díaz holds the prestigious position of President and CEO of the Curtis Institute of Music. A professor of viola at Curtis and former principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Díaz has performed with symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles around the world. He has several recordings on the Naxos label.

About the Music Institute of Chicago:
The Music Institute of Chicago believes that music has the power to sustain and nourish the human spirit; therefore, our mission is to provide the foundation for lifelong engagement with music. As one of the three largest and most respected community music schools in the nation, the Music Institute offers musical excellence built on the strength of its distinguished faculty, commitment to quality, and breadth of programs and services. Founded in 1931 and one of the oldest community music schools in Illinois, the Music Institute is a member of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts and accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. Each year, the Music Institute's world-class music teachers and arts therapists provide the highest quality arts education to more than 5,000 students of all ability levels, from birth to 101 years of age at campuses in Evanston, Highland Park, Lake Forest, Lincolnshire, Winnetka, and Downers Grove. The Music Institute also offers lessons and programs at the Steinway of Chicago store in Northbrook and early childhood and community engagement programs throughout the Chicago area and the North Shore. Nichols Concert Hall, an education and performance center in downtown Evanston, reaches approximately 14,000 people each year. The Music Institute's community engagement and partnership programs reach an additional 6,500 Chicago Public School students annually. The Music Institute offers lessons, classes, and programs through four distinct areas: Community School, The Academy, Creative Arts Therapy (Institute for Therapy through the Arts), and Nichols Concert Hall.

The Lincoln Trio and guest Roberto Díaz perform Sunday, April 29 at 3 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students, available online or 847.905.1500 ext. 108.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

PARMA Recordings Announces 2012 PARMA Student Composer Competition
PARMA Recordings is pleased to announce the inaugural PARMA Student Composer Competition, the first in a series of annual competitions for student composers. The official Call For Scores was distributed on February 29th.

Ten winners will be selected by an award-winning panel of three independent judges, and the winners' pieces will be published in the digitally-distributed 2012 PARMA Anthology Of Music: Student Edition.

One Grand Prize Winner will be selected to have their piece professionally recorded and produced for release by PARMA.  All recording, production, and publicity costs will be completely subsidized by PARMA, and the master will be released on a collection to be distributed through industry leader Naxos.

As with all PARMA projects, the composers will retain their rights to the composition and master recording. One of the goals of this competition is to usher in new music from the next generation of composers, and PARMA feels strongly that artists should retain rights to their intellectual property, particularly at the outset of their professional musical careers.

This competition gives young composers a career-advancing and career-positioning opportunity to be published, produced, and distributed by an established music company while still a student.  The Grand Prize Winner will have a chance to enjoy a singular recording experience, fully funded and produced by PARMA, and all composers selected for the Anthology will have their work introduced to the listening public with the same high level of attention and quality given to all PARMA artists.

"We are pleased to offer student composers the chance to have their music published, performed, and recorded in an immersive, interactive environment," says PARMA Recordings CEO Bob Lord.  "PARMA has dedicated itself to promoting new music by living composers deserving of wide recognition, and this Anthology will offer students the same opportunities provided to all of our artists."

There is no fee for entry.  The call for scores and full submission details will be distributed on February 29th, and submissions will be accepted from March 1st until March 31st. Submitted pieces can be written for up to 5 performers and have a duration of up to 10 minutes. More information will be sent in the official Call for Scores and on the PARMA Web site,

Competition Timeline:
February 29, 2012 - Call for scores distributed
March 1, 2012 - Submission period opens
March 31, 2012 - Submission period closes
April 1, 2012 - April 30th - Judging period
May 1, 2012 - Winners announced

Composer must be enrolled in a composition program or studying privately with a professional composer
Composer must be under the age of thirty
Piece must be written for up to five acoustic instruments
Piece must be ten minutes or less in duration

To Enter:
Fill out the submission form to submit your information and a PDF of your score, along with an MP3 or MIDI recording. Submission limit is one work per composer.
To submit your piece to the competition, please fill out the Submission Form at the Web site.
To view a list of frequently asked questions, visit the Competition FAQ page at the Web site.
To learn more about the judges and the judging process, visit the Judging Process page at the Web site.

--Rory Cooper, PARMA Recordings

Spring For Music Announces The Great 2012 Arts Blogger Challenge!
Winner awarded $2,500 and tickets for all Spring For Music Concerts at Carnegie Hall, May 7-12, 2012.  Bloggers from all cultural genres are invited to participate.

The first week's blog challenge is: "New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?"

From March 26-April 20, arts bloggers will compete to find the best arts blogger in North America. First prize is $2,500 and six pairs of tickets to the Spring For Music festival, May 7-12, 2012, at Carnegie Hall. The prize is $2,500, which, should the blogger not live in New York City, will cover his or her trip there. From May 7-12, the winner will be encouraged to blog about the New York arts scene and experience all six Spring For Music concerts. All culture blogs--music, dance, theatre, visual, general culture, architecture, movies, television, books--are invited to enter. The organizers of Spring For Music strive to promote a national conversation about contemporary culture in and out of the classical music field, and eagerly anticipate contributions from a diversity of arts bloggers. Blog posts will be featured on the Spring For Music website and promoted by the festival's social media outlets, driving traffic to the blogs of all the participants and promoting the many fine arts writers in this country.

Here's how it works:
Bloggers will enter a four round process with eliminations following each round.
Your blog must have been started prior to January 1, 2012.
Each week, a new challenge will be posed and competing bloggers are invited to respond. Readers will vote on the blog entries, and the audience vote plus votes from our team of four judges will determine which bloggers advance to the next week's challenge.
Blog entries can be of any length and will be considered on the basis of their originality and persuasiveness.
The first blog challenge is: "New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?"
To enter, answer the first challenge question and visit for specific instructions.
The entry deadline is March 21 at noon EST.

Here's the schedule:
The list of entered blogs will be posted on the Spring For Music website on Monday morning, March 26.
Voting will occur through Thursday, March 29 at 6PM EDT.
The sixteen bloggers advancing to ROUND TWO will be announced on Friday, March 30 at noon EDT.
Second round posts are due Sunday, April 1 at 6PM EDT.
Voting for second round will occur until Thursday, April 5 at 6PM EDT.
The eight bloggers advancing to ROUND THREE will be announced Friday, April 6 at noon EDT.
Round three posts are due by 6PM EDT on Sunday, April 8.
Round three voting will occur through Thursday, April 12 at 6PM EDT.
The FINAL FOUR bloggers will be announced Friday, April 13 at noon EDT.
The Final Four posts must be posted by Sunday, April 15 at 6PM EDT.
Voting for Final Four continues until Thursday April 19 6PM EDT.
The Winner will be announced at noon on April 20!

There will be three official judges, who will account for two-thirds of the vote. Public voting accounts for one-third of vote, so bloggers should encourage their friends and followers to support them in their quest to be the best arts blogger in America! The three official judges are composer Nico Muhly, ArtsJournal founder and editor Douglas McLennan, and Katrine Ames, former senior editor at Newsweek.

About Spring For Music:
Spring For Music is a new orchestra festival at Carnegie Hall built around innovative programming that had its first season in May 2011. Called "fresh at every turn" by The New Yorker's Alex Ross, Spring For Music aims to be more than a series of concerts. This May 7-12, the second Spring For Music festival welcomes the Edmonton, Nashville, Houston, Alabama, New Jersey, and Milwaukee symphonies.  Tickets are priced at $25 throughout Carnegie Hall. The festival hopes to provide a laboratory, free of the usual marketing and financial constraints, for an orchestra to be creative with interesting, provocative and stimulating programs reflecting its beliefs, its standards, and vision. For more information, visit the Spring For Music Web site.

--Amanda Ameer, First Chair Promotion

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Announces 2012-2013 Season
Orpheus celebrates its 40th season with trailblazing collaborations and fresh takes on masterworks.  Guest artists Sasha Cooke, Nathan Gunn, Anne Akiko Meyers, the Wayne Shorter Quartet, Richard Goode, and Gabriel Kahane join Orpheus at Carnegie Hall and on U.S. tours. Orpheus also tours Japan with violinist Ryu Goto and Europe with pianist Brad Mehldau.

The diverse programs feature major premieres from Augusta Read Thomas, Wayne Shorter and Gabriel Kahane, plus the Orpheus debut of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and signature works by Mozart, Rossini, Ives, and Prokofiev.

In 1972, a group of like-minded musicians founded the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra as a democratically organized ensemble aspiring to perform orchestral repertoire with the spirit of chamber music. Forty years later, their vision continues to expand through groundbreaking partnerships and probing interpretations of classics. Highlights of Orpheus' 2012-13 season include favorites by Beethoven, Rossini, Mozart, Schumann, and Mendelssohn, more recent works by Barber, Ives, Schoenberg, and Wolf, significant commissions from Augusta Read Thomas and Gabriel Kahane, and an adventurous collaboration with the Wayne Shorter Quartet.

Of Orpheus' landmark 40th season, Artistic Director Ronnie Bauch writes, "Musical invention comes in many varied and distinct genres, styles, and systems. Like a universal translator, great ensemble playing has the ability to cut across all musical forms and languages. The techniques of perpetual listening, constant learning, and integrated dialogue that are so fundamental to classical chamber music and the Orpheus Process are also common threads in the worlds of jazz, tango, world music, indie rock, and others. Orpheus will collaborate with the giants of these musical worlds—not only great instrumentalists and composers, but each one an extraordinary ensemble player—to form new artistic bonds, explore new intersections, and create new works of musical convergence."

This summer, Orpheus embarks on a tour of Japan with the ascendant violinist Ryu Goto. Goto and Orpheus, who collaborated at the orchestra's annual gala event in 2011 and on a previous tour of Asia, will bring Rossini, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven to Tokyo's Suntory Hall and Osaka Symphony Hall among other Japanese cities.

The orchestra begins its Carnegie Hall season on October 11, 2012, with a much-anticipated premiere by Augusta Read Thomas, featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Nathan Gunn. Earth Echoes, commissioned by Orpheus, is Thomas' homage to Gustav Mahler. The orchestra sets the mood for this dramatic evening with Rossini's Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri, and concludes the program with Beethoven's 5th Symphony in its Orpheus debut.

In November 2012, Orpheus tours Germany with pianist and composer Brad Mehldau, performing a work the orchestra commissioned. This collaboration with one of the foremost jazz artists of our era with performances at the Vienna Musikverein and Berlin's Philharmonie, among others, confirms Orpheus' commitment to sharing the stage with sensitive chamber musicians of all disciplines.

On December 1, 2012, Orpheus welcomes violinist Anne Akiko Meyers to perform Barber's lyrical Violin Concerto. The program also features Mozart's Symphony No. 41 and Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony, selections that highlight the confluence of classical and neoclassical strains in Orpheus' repertoire.

On February 1, 2013, the Wayne Shorter Quartet joins Orpheus to debut a new work by Shorter, the legendary jazz saxophonist and composer. The program also includes Beethoven's Overture to Creatures of Prometheus and Ives' Symphony No. 3, The Camp Meeting.

On March 23, 2013, Orpheus celebrates its long-standing relationship with pianist Richard Goode. Their 1998 recording, featuring Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 23 and 24, was nominated for a Grammy Award; this season, Goode performs Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor. Two other effervescent works complete the program: Copland's Short Symphony and Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony.

On April 27, 2013, Orpheus caps the two-year residency by composer/performer Gabriel Kahane with the premiere of a genre-bending new work. Kahane has led the orchestra to Galapagos in Brooklyn, worked on educational initiatives in New York City, offered his musical insights in program notes and blog posts, and helped to expose Orpheus to a wider audience. This Carnegie Hall performance showcases a new work inspired by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Wolf's Italian Serenade for Viola and Orchestra and Schoenberg's Transfigured Night round out this season's final event.

The October 11, 2012, December 1, 2012, March 23, 2013, and April 27, 2013 concerts will be broadcast live on WQXR-New York Public Radio.

As a self-governing organization, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra performs without a conductor and rotates musical leadership roles for each work. Striving to empower its musicians by integrating them into virtually every facet of the organization, Orpheus is changing the way the world thinks about musicians, conductors, and orchestras. The effect is extraordinary: The New York Times raves, "Orpheus, whose string players perform with the physical verve of members of a string quartet, produced a convincingly full-blooded sound."

The Residency of Gabriel Kahane is made possible through Music Alive, a residency program of the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA. This national program is designed to provide orchestras with resources and tools to support their presentation of new music to the public and build support for new music within their institutions. Funding for Music Alive is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and The ASCAP Foundation.

--Amanda Ameer, First Chair Promotions

Merola Opera Program Announces a Royal Affair
Annual Benefit and Silent Auction to be Held April 21, 2012, at the Four Seasons Hotel, San Francisco

The Merola Opera Program's 2012 Spring Benefit will be held Saturday, April 21, 2012, from 6:00 – 11:00p.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel, San Francisco. "A Royal Affair" celebrates royal opera characters and will feature a silent auction, a three-course seated dinner, a concert by the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows and a post-concert reception with drinks and dancing. Proceeds from the evening will support the Merola Opera Program, one of the most respected young artist training programs in the world. A recognized leader in the opera community, Merola provides invaluable training and financial support to the next generation of young opera talent.

"We wanted our theme this year to be luxurious, but also playful," said Merola Spring Benefit co-Chair Mary Sue Bizzarri. "We think people will have fun playing at being royalty for the night and we know they will enjoy celebrating the royal opera characters we all know and love."

The silent auction will have a special emphasis on wines and wine events this year, in addition to featuring entertainment, dining and travel items. "While the whole auction will be spectacular, wine lovers are in for a real treat this year," said Auction Chair Jane Burkhard. The wine auction will feature more than fifty bottles of fine wines and experts will be on hand to answer guests' questions and assist them in choosing the perfect bottle of wine. Merola will also be auctioning off several spectacular travel packages, including a very special one week stay for up to ten people at the Greystone Estate in Sonoma with daily VIP tours and tastings at local wineries.

Merola's annual gala is well-known for its unique "Signature Events." Many guests attend the event just to secure a spot at these once-in-a-lifetime experiences. They will not be disappointed by this year's line-up, arranged by Board Member Tracy Grant, with highlights including recitals with renowned artists Leah Crocetto, Quinn Kelsey and Melody Moore, as well as conversations with Carol Vaness and Samuel Ramey.

The Merola Opera Program is dedicated to the continuing education and training of the finest young operatic talent, and to the development of this talent into professional opera singers, coaches and stage directors of the highest artistic caliber. Merola operates in close artistic collaboration with San Francisco Opera, but is an independent nonprofit organization. Governed by a separate board of directors, Merola is responsible for its own long-term financial stability and fundraising, and is grateful to the hundreds of loyal members, donors and foundations who support the Program.

TICKETS for "A Royal Affair" are priced at $300, $600, $1,200 and $3,000. All tickets are available through the Merola Opera Program and can be purchased by calling/emailing: (415) 551-6299 / or online at

--Karen Ames, Alexandra Elliott, Merola Communications

Violinist Sarah Chang Debuts at Strathmore Playing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto
The brilliant violinist Sarah Chang will make her debut at the Music Center at Strathmore performing  Mendelssohn's popular Violin Concerto in E minor with the National Philharmonic, under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, on Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 8 pm and on Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 3 pm. The concert will also feature Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and Brahms's Symphony No. 3 in F Major.

Ms. Chang is recognized as one of the world's great violinists.  Since her debut with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 8 she has performed with the greatest orchestras, conductors and accompanists in a career spanning more than two decades. In 2012, she will have recorded exclusively for EMI Classics for 20 years.

Ms. Chang tours extensively throughout the year. Highlights in 2010/11 in Britain and the United States included appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra (Washington), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Pittsburgh and Detroit Symphony Orchestras. She also performed in Norway, Romania, Austria, Canada, Poland and Denmark. Ms. Chang appears regularly in the Far East and returns to Seoul for concerts with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and to Guangzhou to perform with the Symphony Orchestra as part of the Asian Games Opening Festival.

First on the program is Mendelssohn's tone painting, the Hebrides Overture, which was inspired by the stunning beauty of Fingal's Cave, found on one of the Hebrides Islands off the west coast of Scotland. One can hear the breaking of waves, see the rich colors and, above all, experience the overwhelming vastness of a cavern in this remarkable work.

Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 is one of the most popular and most frequently performed violin concertos of all time. The composer started the concerto in 1838, but did not complete it until six years later. Although this Romantic work consists of the three traditional concerto movements  (fast–slow–fast), its unique features include the immediate entrance of the violin at the beginning of the work and the linking of the three movements. Its final movement pays proper homage to the virtuoso tradition of the concerto, displaying buoyant themes at breakneck speed.

The last work of the evening is Brahms's Symphony No. 3 in F Major, his shortest symphony, written when he was a 50-year-old bachelor. At that point of his life, Brahms declared himself "frei aber froh" ("free but happy"). The composer gave the symphony a motto (F–A flat–F) based on this declaration and used it throughout the work, thus revealing himself in a novel, yet personal and intimate way.

A free pre-concert lecture will be offered at 6:45 pm on Saturday, April 28 and at 1:45 pm on Sunday, April 29 in the Concert Hall at the Music Center at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to the Sarah Chang concerts, please visit 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

Brahms: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrucken Kaiserslautern. OEHMS Classics OC 408.

When I saw Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's name as conductor on this disc, I thought it might be a historical recording, perhaps one from the man's heyday with the Minnesota Symphony back in the Sixties and Seventies. I hadn't thought about him in years and figured he must have retired by now (if not passed away). Then I looked at the recording date: February, 2011. Yes, Maestro Skrowaczewski is very much alive and kicking and probably already planning to celebrate his ninetieth birthday with some new releases next year. It's good to have a musician of the old school still with us, and it's good to hear him conducting a traditional Romantic classic like the Brahms First. At least, we can expect a thoroughly informed interpretation from him.

Here's the thing with Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and his Symphony No. 1. He probably felt intimidated by Beethoven; after Beethoven's death, composers were reluctant to continue in the symphonic field where Beethoven left off. Many of them felt that Beethoven had already said it all, and they were content to deal with concertos, operas, ballets, chamber music, and the like. Brahms spent in excess of a dozen years, from 1862-1876, deliberating over various ideas for his First Symphony, finally premiering it in 1876. The public and critics hailed it a success, and it has more or less remained in the basic repertoire ever since.

Here's another thing I have to confess: Of Brahms's four symphonies, I have never really cared for the First as much as the other three. While I recognize the symphony is something of a musical precedent, that does not in my book necessarily make it a great piece of music. I have always found the opening movement too busy, too messy; the Andante too overtly, lushly Romantic; and the third movement too humdrum. For me it is only the finale that is at all interesting, where Brahms saves up his big theme. Nevertheless, I'm always willing to listen to a good performance of the work, and there have been plenty of them over the years.

Contrary to what some conductors do, who begin slowly and build incrementally, Skrowaczewski gets the first movement off to a properly grand, almost majestic start, and then he slows the pace considerably and stays there for the duration. You certainly can't accuse him of hurrying the music because he caresses it with strength and care. His primary goal appears to be in clarifying every note and every phrase as though he's afraid we might miss something. At times, this means his approach may appear lethargic; but so be it. Oddly, though, I seem to recall his rendition of the same symphony with the Halle Orchestra some years ago being quite a bit more intense, but, unfortunately, I didn't have it any longer for comparison.

In any case, Skrowaczewski's new rendering is a bit different from most, and it doesn't really touch other, more-vigorous, more-exalted performances from people like Szell (Sony), Boult (EMI), Abbado (DG), Walter (Sony), Wand (RCA), Haitink (Philips), Mackerras (Telarc), and especially Klemperer (EMI). This new one, in fact, may appear too old-fashioned to appeal to everyone.

Understandably, the two inner movements benefit the most from Skrowaczewski's leisurely style, the second-movement Andante sostenuto particularly lovely and lyrical. The third movement, usually reserved for a quick-moving Scherzo, Brahms replaces with a gentle Allegretto, a kind of shepherd's hymn, and the conductor handles it without incident, providing a solid, perhaps even authoritative-sounding rendition.

Yet it's the finale we all wait for in the First, the high point of the symphony, the crowning glory with its instantly recognizable main theme bursting forth radiantly no matter who's conducting. Here, again, however, Skrowaczewski tends to be so cautious, or so excessively fastidious, taking the lead-up so slowly we have to wonder if the principal melody is ever going to appear. When it does, there is no denying its brilliance. Nevertheless, it tends to sound a tad mechanical compared to the way some of the aforementioned conductors handle it. So the work ends not quite on the high note it should but on sort of a hesitant stutter.

In short, if you're looking for ultimate electricity, vitality, or excitement in this symphony, you're probably not going to find it with Skrowaczewski. Instead, you'll find a dignified, carefully crafted reading of a noble rather than high-spiritual quality.

OEHMS Classics recorded the music at the Kongresshalle, Saarbrücken, in, as I've said, February of 2011. The engineers obtain clean, transparent sonics, although with a slight forward edge to the upper midrange. Bass, treble, and dynamics are fine, if not terribly extraordinary, while stage depth and stereo spread sound quite impressive. It's a good, modern recording without quite rising to the highest of audiophile standards.


Mozart: Requiem (CD review)

Donald Runnicles, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus. Telarc CD-80636.

It seems as though every time a new Mozart Requiem appears, it's based on a different edition, each revision claiming to be more "authentic" than the last. I suppose it sells records.

In this 2005 Telarc release from Donald Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony, the performers play the work from the Robert D. Levin edition of 1993. As you know, when Mozart died he left over half of the Requiem unfinished, and his friend and former pupil, Franz Xavier Sussmayr, completed the work from the middle of the "Lacrimosa" to the end (perhaps with help). Ever since then, audiences have complained that the second half of the piece didn't exactly sound like Mozart. Well, surprise; it isn't. I suspect that for the purist, the easy answer to the dilemma is simply to stop at the end the "Lacrimosa" and forget about the rest. (Or stop somewhere in the middle of the "Lacrimosa" to be doubly sure that your Mozart is pure.)

In any case, Mr. Levin says he tried to improve upon Sussmayr's additions rather than replace them, writing, "The traditional version has been retained insofar as it agrees with the idiomatic Mozartian practice." He corrected a few sections and pared back others in order to hear the vocal parts better, and so forth. The results of all these editions never seem to sound much different to me, but I'm clearly a barbarian.

Runnicles adopts a steady tempo throughout, with very few dramatic dynamic contrasts, making for an enjoyably smooth Requiem, one that both avid Mozart fans and casual listeners alike should find readily accessible. Still, there is a "however." It was not long before that Nikolaus Harnoncourt also recorded the Requiem (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi), his interpretation sounding to my ears more vibrant and spirited, more emblazoned with fiery color, and done on period instruments. What's more, I think the DHM sonics were cleaner and more transparent, the massed voices, especially, sounding clearer than Telarc's.

So it's not as though this new Telarc has the field all to itself. Indeed, with so many competing Requiems available, it's hard to make a single recommendation. Certainly, Runnicles is in the running.


Pleyel: Symphonies in B flat and G (CD review)

Also, Flute Concerto in C. Patrick Gallois, conductor and flute; Sinfonia Finlandia Jyvaskyla. Naxos 8.572550.

OK, so Ignaz Joseph Pleyel is not exactly a household name. However, if you are an enthusiastic classical-music fan, you may have heard of him. He was a prominent figure in his time (1757-1831), a French composer and piano builder born in Austria, a pupil of Joseph Haydn, and the prolific writer of some fifty classical symphonies and a ton of other stuff before retiring from music into the business world. How prominent was he? People of his day thought of him as more important than Mozart and a successor to Haydn. Today, if it weren't for a few record labels like Naxos, Chandos, CPO, and Denon, we probably wouldn't know who he was. Such are the vicissitudes of life.

Next, you may not be quite aware of who Patrick Gallois is, either, so let me remind you. He's the conductor on the disc and the flute player on the final piece. He was the principal flutist for the Orchestre National de France from 1977-1984; he's been a celebrated soloist for years; he's been the Music Director of the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyvaskyla since 2003; he's been under contract to both DG and Naxos as a soloist and a conductor for quite some time; and he's got a discography that numbers over seventy-five recordings. Yes, of course, you know him.

Now that we're a little clearer about the participants, let's take a look at the music. The album begins with two of Pleyel's multitudinous works, the Symphony in B flat major (Benton 125) and the Symphony in G major (Benton 130), which Pleyel wrote somewhere in 1780's. In the same way that Carl Friedrich Abel's symphonies resemble early Mozart, so do Pleyel's symphonies sound like early Haydn. They are elegant, charming, bouncy, cheerful, and endlessly entertaining. The music is light and airy, with delightfully lilting melodies.

Using an orchestra of modest proportions (a booklet photo shows about thirty-five or so players and a note says there are thirty-eight involved), Gallois is able to produce buoyant rhythms and clear, clean textures appropriate to the tunes. The slow movements are particularly lithe, radiating a special glow that is hard to resist.

As appealing as the symphonies are, the Flute Concerto in C major (Benton 106) is the highlight of the program. Even though this concerto comes from late in Pleyel's musical career, one can understand after listening to it why the man was so enormously popular in his era. Hedging his bets, Pleyel issued it in simultaneous versions for flute, violin, and cello. He had it all cornered. Anyway, Gallois has it all cornered as well, conducting with a liquid, flowing hand and playing with grace and sensitivity.

Smooth and lifelike, the sound is among Naxos's best. They recorded the album at Suolahti Hall, Jyvaskyla, Finland, in January of 2010, obtaining excellent stereo separation and imaging left-to-right and front-to-back. We also hear a pleasant ambient bloom, but not so much resonance that it veils important detail. The ensemble, relatively small, not much more than a chamber orchestra, reflects those of the Classical Period, and the Naxos sound provides ample transparency for them. Dynamics are not especially strong, yet they do not need to be. This is fairly easygoing music, and as such it doesn't require much crash, boom, bang. The engineers miked it to reveal a suitable distance, too, giving the listener the feeling of being in an actual concert hall, the whole presentation doing just about everything right.

On a side note, Naxos have filled out the disc with a generous seventy-nine minutes of music. So, yes, you get your money's worth here, a proposition all the more attractive when you consider the relatively low cost of the disc.


Falla: Works for Stage and Concert Hall (CD review)

The Three-Cornered Hat; Nights in the Gardens of Spain; Tributes. Raquel Lojendio, soprano; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano; Juanjo Mena, BBC Philharmonic. Chandos CHAN 10694.

Spanish composer Manuel Maria de Falla (1876-1946) wrote some of the most colorful music Spain ever produced, and this album offers three of his best works, done up in splendid Chandos sound.

The program begins with his two-act ballet El sombrero de tres picos (The Three Cornered Hat), a lighthearted tale of attempted seduction, which the composer wrote in 1919 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The music, based on a well-known Spanish folk tale and several popular Spanish folk tunes, is continuously rhythmic and infectious, here presented by the BBC Philharmonic under their current chief conductor, Juanjo Mena, with soprano Raquel Lojendio. While the performance is most fetching, the real question, I suppose, is how it compares to the famous 1961 stereo recording by Ernest Ansermet, who conducted the music's première, and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Decca and LIM). The answer is that Mena and company almost hold their own.

Maestro Mena displays a good deal of spark in select passages, sometimes igniting a fiery response from his performers, while also taking a more relaxed, though eloquent, approach throughout much of the rest of the piece. The soloist is especially effective and her phrasing impressionistic. OK, I have to admit that Ansermet seems more consistently animated throughout, yet that should take nothing away from Mena's more easygoing and evocative interpretation. I also have to admit that for me the music itself gets a little static by the halfway point, and Mena's slightly casual reading doesn't exactly make it any better. However, that's just me, and I have no doubt the present recording, particularly the exhilarating conclusion, will more than satisfy most listeners.

The second item on the program is Noches en los jardines de Espana (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), for piano and orchestra, which Falla originally wrote in 1909 as a set of nocturnes for piano alone and orchestrated for a première in 1916. Here, pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet joins Maestro Mena and his BBC players for the recording. Falla described the music as a set of impressions of three gardens in his country, and if any performance is to succeed, it must call to mind the visions, even smells, of those gardens. Here, I found Mena's performance more to my liking. It clearly evinces the proper moods and atmosphere of the various gardens, and Bavouzet's piano playing is dynamic in support.

The program ends with Homenages (Tributes), a suite for orchestra Falla completed in 1939 and was among his last works. In four primary movements Falla pays his respect to four fellow composers and musicians (Enrique Fernandez Arbos, Paul Dukas, Claude Debussy, and Felipe Pedrell), and in the music he draws upon some of his previous work. Not terribly "Spanish" in flavor, the Homenages are, nevertheless, quite full of distinctive character, specifically the way Mena does them up. And although they are understandably dark and elegiac, they can be rather exuberant affairs at times as well.

Chandos recorded the music at MediaCityUK, Salford, England, in June and September of 2011. The sound is vivid enough, yet natural, too. It hasn't the immediacy of the old Decca recording I mentioned earlier, but for a lot of folks the softer, warmer Chandos sound may be easier on the ear, depending on one's playback equipment, of course. Additionally, the Chandos disc has a nice balance between soloists and orchestra, with a fair amount of transparency, air, and depth to the instruments. The acoustic is somewhat resonant, so we get an adequate sense of hall ambience in the music without losing too much detail or definition. Bass sounds taut, and highs, while not prominent, sound well extended.


Classical Music News of the Week, March 11, 2012

92nd Street Y Announces Its 2012/13 Concert Season

92nd Street Y and 92Y Director of Tisch Center for the Arts Hanna Arie-Gaifman today announced the institution's 2012/13 concert season, which encompasses an intriguing collection of repertoire by living composers alongside classical music's historic figures, works heard for the first time in New York, and appearances by 92Y favorites along with new artists making their institutional debuts. In addition to being the home of Kaufmann Concert Hall, one of the city's most acoustically inviting halls, the continued breadth and creativity of 92Y's programming reinforces its reputation as one of New York City's most important artistic and cultural centers.

Central to Dr. Arie-Gaifman's programming is her dual commitment to the world-class artists that return to 92Y season after season, as well as to musicians being introduced to 92Y audiences for the first time. Dr. Arie-Gaifman also understands the power in juxtaposing the works of classical music's founding fathers with living composers. Over the course of a season in which musical giant Johann Sebastian Bach is prominently celebrated, Arie-Gaifman also programs the works of 24 living composers, including Thomas Adès, Lera Auerbach, Phil Kline, Thomas Larcher, Arvo Pärt, Bright Sheng, Roberto Sierra, Jörg Widmann and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, among many others. Three of these living composers—Marc-André Hamelin, Benjamin Verdery and Jörg Widmann—appear at 92Y this season in performances of their original works.

In addition, every performance at 92Y benefits from the freedom that Hanna Arie-Gaifman provides artists when working with them to design their programs. "I do not want musicians who come here to be bound by any strict parameters," Arie-Gaifman states. "I want them to pursue themes that are of interest to them, to ask questions of themselves and of their listeners, and to ultimately realize their own unique visions. One of the great joys of music is how profoundly personal it is for each individual, and it is my hope that performing in this hall gives artists a unique opportunity to tell audiences what moves them. In this way, it becomes a beautiful learning experience for everyone involved."

Examples of such inspired programs are evident throughout the 2012/13 season:
- András Schiff presents a trademark examination of J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier
- Christian Tetzlaff and Alexander Lonquich juxtapose the works of Mozart and Jörg Widmann in the new Contrasts series
- Julian Rachlin examines the evolution of Brahms' violin and viola sonatas in his own pair of concerts
- The Masters of the Keyboard and Distinguished Artists in Recital concerts consistently showcase today's major performing artists in intimate recitals of their own programming
- The artists of Chamber Music at 92Y and the Tokyo String Quartet curate concerts that illustrate the rich variety of sounds that even small ensembles can create
- Art of the Guitar takes audiences through the centuries and around the world to showcase the instrument's versatility and universal appeal.

92Y welcomes a number of artists making their debuts in 2012/13, including pianists Cristina Barbuti and Lars Vogt, Beijing Guitar Duo, Parker String Quartet, violinist/violist Julian Rachlin, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and clarinetist/composer Jörg Widmann. Pianist Inon Barnatan and guitarist Raphaella Smits make their 92Y solo recital debuts, and New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert and Bach Collegium Japan founder Masaaki Suzuki appear at 92Y for the first time in an enlightening discussion on the various ways in which J.S. Bach's works have been interpreted, performed and reimagined over the years.

Reflecting 92Y's commitment to presenting the work of living composers, the season includes eight New York premieres, several of which are 92Y commissions. In November 2012, Peter Serkin and the Shanghai String Quartet perform the New York premiere of Bright Sheng's Dance Capriccio. January 2013 sees the first New York performance of Lera Auerbach's string quartet—a 92Y co-commission performed by the Tokyo String Quartet—and pianist Marc-André Hamelin plays his own Variations on a Theme by Paganini. Violinist Jennifer Koh includes a new work and 92Y co-commission by Phil Kline on her Distinguished Artists in Recital program in March 2013. The Art of the Guitar series also includes a number of New York premieres this season: the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet performs a 92Y co-commission by Carlos Rafael Rivera, and Manuel Barrueco's recital program features premieres by Roberto Sierra and Sérgio Assad. Pianist Lars Vogt rounds out the season's New York premieres with excerpts from Thomas Larcher's Poems.

Subscription ticket packages for 92Y's 2012/13 are now on sale.  For more information, please visit or call the 92Y Box Office at 212-415-5500.

--Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

British Clarinetist Brenden Guy Joins Acclaimed Local Pianist Sarah Cahill, Valinor Winds and other Accomplished San Francisco Musicians in a "Celebration of Bay Area Music, including a World Premiere by David Conte
British clarinetist Brenden Guy presents "A Celebration of Bay Area Music" on Sunday, March 18. Celebrating the rich musical talents of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mr. Guy's program features the world premiere of David Conte's Sextet led by San Francisco Lyric Opera conductor Barnaby Palmer. Mr. Guy also welcomes acclaimed local pianist Sarah Cahill who will perform John Adams' China Gates, a work dedicated to her by the composer. Completing the program are works by past and present Bay Area composers Ernest Bloch, Dan Becker, Nicholas Pavkovic and Aaron Pike in addition to the premiere of a newly commissioned work by Joseph Stillwell. The concert takes place Sunday, March 18 at 4:30pm at The First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco (1187 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA 94109). The program is free to the public with a suggested donation of $5-$10 at the door to go towards the Winter Homeless Shelter fund. The musicians are kindly donating their services in support of this important charity.

Pianist Sarah Cahill, described as "fiercely gifted" by the New York Times, is a passionate interpreter of new music and has commissioned, premiered and recorded numerous works for solo piano. Ms. Cahill has performed with various ensembles in the Bay Area including the Berkeley Symphony, New Century Chamber Orchestra and the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble as well as appearances at nationally renowned festivals such as Spoleto, Caramoor Center for Music and Arts and Portland Piano Festival. In addition to her numerous recordings on the New Albion label, she also presents her show 'Then and Now' which can be heard on KALW, 91.7 FM in San Francisco every Sunday evening from 8-10pm.

Barnaby Palmer, conductor of the San Francisco Lyric Opera, will lead David Conte's Sextet and Dan Becker's S.T.I.C.  In addition to his extensive work with San Francisco Lyric Opera, Mr. Palmer has also conducted the Livermore Valley Opera as well as leading performances in Michigan and the Czech Republic. A graduate of both the Cleveland Institute of Music and University of Michigan, Mr. Palmer has studied with acclaimed conductors such as Alan Gilbert, Rossen Milanov, Larry Rachleff and Michael Morgan with whom he is currently working.

Violinist Kevin Rogers, a member of Ensemble Parallèle, Nonsemble 6 and Friction Quartet, will perform Bloch's Nigun for violin and piano. As former president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Ernest Bloch composed an impressive list of works and this is perhaps one of his most well known within the violin repertoire.

San Francisco's Valinor Winds will perform Pavkovic's Eight Figments, a wind quintet that was originally written as a set of miniatures for piano solo and later orchestrated and debuted by the San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble. Valinor Winds is scheduled to record the quintet version for a multi-media eBook that will be released through Apple and in April, 2012. Also entitled Eight Figments, the eBook is part of a collaborative project that integrates text, visual art and music.

Also featured is Dan Becker's S.T.I.C which stands for Sensitivity To Initial Conditions, a variation on a phrase and phenomena often used in Chaos Theory; David Conte's Clarinet Sonata, a one movement work composed in 1978; and Child's Play by Aaron Pike, a work that won the 2011 Kris Getz Award for Composition. The premiere of Joseph Stillwell's Clarinet Quartet completes the program, a new work that was commissioned by Brenden Guy and Kevin Rogers in recognition of their ongoing musicial collaborations with the composer.

Mr. Guy will also be joined by numerous accomplished Bay Area musicians including pianist Miles Graber, who has performed with various orchestras such as the San Francisco Symphony, Berkeley Symphony and Santa Rosa Symphony; Michelle Kwon, a member of the Delphi Trio and Quartet San Francisco and Erin Wang who has also performed with Quartet San Francisco in addition to the New Century Chamber Orchestra and Aspen Chamber Orchestra.

"There is a wealth of talented composers living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area," says Brenden Guy. "As a British musician, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to experience this exceptionally rich and diverse arts scene. It has been an honor collaborating with these composers both as colleagues and as friends and this concert is a celebration of their talents. I am extremely grateful for the musicians that have come together to be a part of this special occasion because without these ongoing collaborative partnerships, the wonderfully diverse arts and culture scene wouldn't be what it is today."

--Karen Ames

Emerson String Quartet to Perform Three Concerts at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall
The Emerson String Quartet will present a three-concert series at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in March and April, performing works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. With performances on March 21, April 4 and April 29, the Quartet seeks to match the Classic and Romantic periods with two of history's most recognized composers.

In October 2011, the Quartet recorded and released Mozart's "Prussian" quartets on Sony Classical. These pieces and others by Mozart, paired with later Beethoven works, highlight the late style that developed in each composer's voice as he approached the end of his life. In programming these late works, the Emerson String Quartet dissects the growth and influence of Mozart's and Beethoven's chamber music.

Mozart's last three string quartets—originally intended to be a set of six, dedicated to the King of Prussia--provide a glimpse into the composer's changing style. The cello receives much more prominence in these works; Mozart's nod to the King's passion for the instrument. Emphasizing a stylistic change in motivic cohesion, texture and phrasing, these pieces offer a look at the direction Mozart's writing was taking. As the Quartet showcases these pieces, it couples them with the late string quartets of Beethoven. Beethoven's forward-thinking approach to harmony and structure presents a future for compositional technique while he still looks to the past (using devices such as the Lydian mode, a medieval church scale, in his Opus 132.)

In the spirit of education and awareness, the concert on March 21 will feature a pre-concert lecture by Bryan Gilliam. The April 29 performance will include a post-concert discussion with the Emerson String Quartet and Ara Guzelimian.

--Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Music Institute Invites Families for Day of Music March 17
Rami Vamos Performance, Concerts, Instrument Petting Zoo Celebrate Music in Our Schools Month.
The Music Institute of Chicago will join the national celebration of Music In Our Schools Month with a day of concerts for all ages and an instrument petting zoo Saturday, March 17 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. The day's events, all free except where noted, are as follows:

9 a.m.: Open house including the Music Institute's instrument petting zoo, refreshments, early childhood demonstrations, Suzuki opportunities, and more.

10 a.m.: Family Concert by Rami Vamos: Introducing: Wolfgang Amadeus Schmutzinberry introduces children both to the instrumentation and textures of the string quartet as well as the compositional process. The mediocre genius Schmutzinberry creates his masterpiece to the sounds of a live string quartet. Ludwig van Beethoven even makes a cameo appearance! Cost: $10 per family.

1 p.m.: Music Institute Composer-in-Residence Mischa Zupko will explore all things musical with students from Skokie Montessori School. Building on the skills that the Skokie Recorder Level 1 and two students have developed with Music Institute instructor Rachel Page, Zupko will focus on the expressive qualities composers build into their works.

3 p.m.: In celebration of Music In Our Schools Month, the Music Institute honors the Joseph Sears School Band from Kenilworth, directed by Patrick Dawson, with its 2012 award for Excellence in Middle School Instrumental Music, which includes a $500 cash prize for the band program and five $100 scholarships for students to study at the Music Institute. The band performs with Music Institute ensembles-in-residence Quintet Attacca and Axiom Brass.

5 p.m.: To conclude the day's events, Evanston Escola de Samba, which offers classes at the Music Institute, performs a high-energy family concert, featuring a trumpet welcome by students from the Music Institute's Dawes School and Walker School "Brass for Beginners" Program, followed by an interactive samba experience. Brazilian Chicago website Chicagoano recently named Evanston Escola de Samba Chicago's Best Samba School.

About Rami Vamos:
Combining his talents as a performer, educator, writer, and composer, Rami Vamos has produced a wide array of creative output, ranging from children's musicals to chamber compositions. For the past 10 years he has used these creations to share an appreciation of classical music with people of all ages and backgrounds.

"Introducing: Wolfgang Amadeus Schmutzinberry" takes place Saturday, March 17 at 10 a.m. at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets are $10 per family and are available online or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. All other events are free.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

The Bach Sinfonia presents "You Decide:  Bach's Audition at Leipzig": Live Voting Immerses the Audience in the Experience
Cultural Arts Center at Silver Spring
Montgomery College
7995 Georgia Ave.
Silver Spring, MD 20910

$30 adult
$27 seniors (60 and up)
$15 (ages 15 – University)
Free (ages 14 and under)
Order Online at or call (301) 362-6525

The Bach Sinfonia presents "You Decide: Bach's Audition at Leipzig" on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 8 PM.  A free pre-concert discussion precedes this and all Bach Sinfonia performances at 7:15 PM led by Daniel Abraham.  During the performance, the audience will play the role of the Leipzig Town Council and determine whether Bach deserved the coveted position of Cantor at Leipzig through a systematic voting process using hand-held clicker polling machines by Turning Technologies. The Bach Sinfonia musicians will be joined by featured soloists Celine Ricci, soprano, Charles Humphries, countertenor, Craig Lemming, tenor, and Phillip Collister, bass.

Historical Context:
With the death of Johann Kuhnau in the fall of 1722, the position of Cantor of Leipzig became available. The appointment was offered to Georg Philipp Telemann, who turned down the privilege and recommended Bach. The Leipzig Town Council determined it would hold auditions to fill the position and seven composers vied for the coveted role. This upcoming performance highlights the surviving compositions associated with the auditions by three composers: Georg Friedrich Kauffmann, who auditioned on November 29, 1722, Johann Christoph Graupner, who auditioned on January 17, 1723 and Johann Sebastian Bach, who auditioned on February 7, 1723. During the actual competition, Bach emerged as runner-up to Johann Graupner, who was forced to turn down the role after his employer would not release him from his duties. After much political intrigue, Bach was granted the position and spent the remaining twenty-seven years of his life at Leipzig, during which time he composed his Passions, Magnificat, many cantatas, many civic pieces, and the Mass in B Minor. Conductor and Artistic Director Daniel Abraham will tell the intriguing tale of the auditions at Leipzig as part of a concert that re-imagines the fierce competition and allows the audience to fill the role of the Town Council of Leipzig – re-examining, once again, which composer should have been granted the position.

About Turning Technologies:
During the concert, audiences will rate each work using hand-held wireless clickers provided by Turning Technologies. At the end of each half, the software will aggregate the voting data and will display the audience tallies on a screen above the stage incorporating the use of a real-time audience response system to create a unique interactive concert experience.

About the Performers:
Celine Ricci, "a sensation, vital on stage and a dazzling coloratura" (LA Times), travels the world with early music playing a major component in her repertoire. Her first solo CD, Cirque, was released in late February 2011 on the Sono Luminus label, with another CD set for release in early 2012. She frequently appears with Philharmonia Baroque (Nicolas McGegan, cond.), at the Göttingen-Handel Festival, and with many of the great early music ensembles of Europe. Charles Humphries "mixes with and stands out through the orchestral sound in a very special way both ethereal and in its smooth, pure beauty." (Aarhus Stiftstidende, Denmark). He moved to Washington, DC from the UK and currently continues to perform in the area, nationally and internationally. Craig Lemming, a Zimbabwean tenor, focuses his voice particularly on the Baroque and Classical eras. He debuted his voice with the title role of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo during the 2007 Bloomington Early Music Festival, in which the Herald Times testified, "Craig Lemming offered a tour de force as Orfeo, dispatching every ornate melody with ease, while imbuing the musical and theatrical aspects of his role with endearing passion." Phillip Collister serves as associate professor of voice and music for the stage and assistant chairperson at Towson University's Department of Music. Collister has appeared as soloist at the Halle Handel Festival and with the Maryland Handel Festival as well as with Washington Bach Consort and the Handel Choir of Baltimore.

Free Educational Opportunies:
In addition to the free pre-concert lecture, the public can learn more about the history of Bach's audition at Leipzig in two full-length lectures with Sinfonia's Music Director and Conductor. Join Daniel Abraham for the lecture "Leipzig Idol—Bach's 1723 Leipzig Audition and the Job He Didn't Win." Hear the full story of how Bach lost to the competition but eventually was appointed cantor of Leipzig in 1723. With seven competitors, the competition was tense but politics eventually moved the Leipzig Town Council to offer the coveted position to Bach. Learn about this 18th century multi-week audition process, hear examples of the music heard by the town's people and council, and engage with Daniel Abraham in a conversation regarding the process that provided Bach with his most important and final 27-year post as Director of Choirs and Music of Leipzig. Two pre-concert lectures will take place. Tuesday, March 20 at 7 PM at Hill Center at Old Naval Hospital (921 Pennsylvania Ave, NE, Washington DC 2003) and Wednesday, March 21 at 7PM and the Cultural Arts Center at Silver Spring, Montgomery College.

About Sinfonia:
The Bach Sinfonia is a Maryland-based organization dedicated to excellence in performance and public education of Baroque and Classical music. Now in its 17th season, Sinfonia presents an annual series of unique concerts, open dress rehearsals, and listening lectures of music from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Sinfonia strives to create programs that differ from the standard classical music concert with performances that aren't just listening entertainments but are also learning experiences.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, BWV 22
Johann Sebastian Bach: Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23
Johann Christoph Graupner: Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden
Johann Christoph Graupner: Aus der Tiefen rufen wir
Johann Christoph Graupner: Magnificat
Georg Friedrich Kauffmann: Unverzagt, beklemmtes Herz (North American premiere)
Georg Friedrich Kauffmann: Die Liebe Gottes (North American premiere)

--Jennifer Buzzell and Daniel Abraham

Emilio del Rosario Piano Concerto Competition
The Emilio del Rosario Piano Concerto Competition, presented by the Music Institute of Chicago and Harper College, was established in 2010 to honor master piano teacher Emilio del Rosario, who dedicated his life to the art of teaching and nurturing pianists to the highest standards. Many of his students have gone on to flourishing careers in music and have achieved great success largely due to his guidance and desire for perfection. This competition hopes to continue his legacy of excellence by providing the next generation of young pianists an opportunity to perform with an orchestra and help them to realize their musical potential.

The competition includes three divisions:  Elementary (10 and younger), Junior (14 and younger), and Senior (18 and younger)

The final application deadline is March 15, 2012; any applications postmarked after March 15 will not be accepted. Application fees: Students of MTNA members: $70; students of non-members: $90

Elementary, Junior, and Senior Preliminary Rounds: April 1, 2012
Junior and Senior Final Round: May 13, 2012

Three finalists each from the Junior and Senior divisions will perform with the Harper Symphony Orchestra. Prizes will be awarded at the conclusion of the May 13 performance .

Junior Division Prizes: 1st: $300; 2nd: $200; 3rd: $100
Senior Division Prizes: 1st: $500; 2nd: $400; 3rd: $300

Harper College Performance Arts Center
1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine, Illinois

Please visit or call Brenda Huang at 847.963.1965 for more information.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me — point out recordings that they think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, Goldpoint SA4 “passive preamp,” Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura’s hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa