Classical Music News of the Week, August 19, 2012

A 21st-Century “Ring” for Wagner’s 200th Anniversary Year

Wagner’s Ring presents the ultimate challenge for any opera company, and the New York Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, unveiled between 2010 and 2012 and starring some of the greatest Wagnerian singers of today, is among the most ambitious Ring stagings ever mounted.

The Met’s production, directed by legendary theatre visionary Robert Lepage, uses a 90,000 lb “tectonic” set – an infinitely mobile, writhing, rotating raft of 24 individually pivoting aluminium planks that came to be nicknamed “The Machine” – in a dazzlingly cinematic staging that harnesses the latest interactive and 3D video technology to realize many previously “unstageable” aspects of Wagner’s epic drama. It is at once a state-of-the-art production for the 21st century and a deeply traditional Ring. In Lepage’s words, “it’s the movie that Wagner wanted to make before movies existed.” For the Boston Globe, it’s “a high-tech Ring with a traditional heart”. In the London Telegraph’s view, it’s “a triumph, at once subtle and spectacular, intimate and epic”.

Already seen by over a million people in the theatre and at cinemas around the globe, the Met Ring was filmed live in high definition and is now being released on both DVD and Blu-ray to launch Deutsche Grammophon’s celebration of the composer’s bicentenary year in 2013.

With Bryn Terfel, widely acknowledged as one of the finest bass-baritones of our age, performing his first complete cycles as the embattled god Wotan and American soprano Deborah Voigt making her role debut as his disobedient warrior-daughter Brünnhilde, alongside international stars Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek as the incestuous Siegmund and Sieglinde, and last-minute stand-in Jay Hunter Morris – a thrilling new tenor from Paris, Texas – saving the day as the fearless but ill-fated hero Siegfried, the New York Times declared the cast “as strong a lineup of vocal artists for a Wagner opera as I have heard in years”.

Acclaim was equally enthusiastic for the cycle’s two conductors: James Levine, the Met’s longstanding Music Director, who has conducted 21 complete Ring cycles at the Met; and Fabio Luisi, the Met’s Italian-born Principal Conductor, who took over conducting the second half of the cycle after illness caused Levine to withdraw. “Levine drew exciting, wondrously natural playing from the great Met orchestra,” wrote the New York Times, while “Luisi brings out the score’s three-dimensional detail and animal heat,” wrote New York Magazine.

Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met since 2006, says: “Nothing defines an opera house more than its new productions, and there’s no new production that is more significant than a new Ring cycle. That is why I invited Robert Lepage, one of theatre’s great visionaries, to create our new cycle.”

Mark Wilkinson, President of Deutsche Grammophon, says: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Met to help take Wagner’s spectacular, breathtaking music, boldly realized here by Robert Lepage, to as wide an audience as possible. Both collectors and newcomers to Wagner’s extraordinary world will find it at once spectacular, visually spell-binding and deeply thought-provoking.”

To complement the complete Ring cycle on both DVD and Blu-ray, Deutsche Grammophon is releasing two related titles: Twilight of the Gods, a 2-CD compilation of audio highlights from the Met Ring – featuring all the major stars of the production and such famous extracts as The Ride of the Valkyries, Wotan’s “Farewell,” the “Magic Fire Music,” “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” and the concluding “Immolation Scene” – and Wagner’s Dream, a frank and revealing documentary about the five-year making of the Met’s new Ring that has already been acclaimed as “simply the best documentary about the Met ever made” (Film Journal), “a must-see for any creative soul” (Cinespect) and “destined to be one of the classic documentaries about opera” (Philadelphia Inquirer).

--Olga Makrias, Universal Music

Lincoln Trio Opens Music Institute’s 10th Season at Nichols Concert Hall
As the first of 10 stellar musical performances celebrating 10 years at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, the Music Institute of Chicago presents ensemble in residence and faculty members The Lincoln Trio September 23.

The program for the Lincoln Trio’s concert will include Brahms’ Trio in C Major; Turina’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D Major, Op. 35; and other works to be determined.

Other highlights of the Music Institute’s 10th anniversary season at Nichols include a Billy Strayhorn festival featuring jazz great Terell Stafford in late October, the internationally acclaimed Pacifica Quartet in February, and pianist Sergei Babayan in April. Noteworthy annual events include Family Concerts in December and March; the Martin Luther King, Jr. concert with the Brotherhood Chorale in January; the Four Score Festival of contemporary music in March; and the third annual Emilio del Rosario Distinguished Alumni Concert, this year featuring violinist Rachel Barton Pine and pianist Matthew Hagle in May.

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.

Nichols Concert Hall:
The 2012–13 season marks the 10th anniversary of Nichols Concert Hall, originally designed by noted architect Solon S. Beman as the architecturally and acoustically magnificent First Church of Christ, Scientist, located at 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, in 1912 (celebrating its centennial). Restored in 2003, the building has become Nichols Concert Hall, a state-of-the-art, 550-seat performance space and music education destination, which annually reaches approximately 15,000 people and hosts a world-class chamber music series, workshops and master classes, student recitals, and special events.

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, reaching more than 10,000 students of all ability levels, from birth to 102 years of age, at campuses in Evanston, Highland Park, Lake Forest, Lincolnshire, Winnetka, and Downers Grove and through its longstanding partnership with the Chicago Public Schools. 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. 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 performs Sunday, September 23 at 3 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students, available online or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. For more information visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Andris Nelsons Renews Contract with City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra announced today that Andris Nelsons, one of the world’s most sought after conductors, will be extending his contract with the CBSO on the basis of an annual rolling renewal from the 2014/15 season onwards.

Andris was unanimously invited to be Music Director from 2008 by the CBSO’s players and board of trustees, after just a private concert and recording session. Since his appointment, he and the Orchestra have created many ‘once in a lifetime’ performances such as Wagner’s Lohengrin and the 50th Anniversary performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral. The partnership attracts some of the best singers and musicians from across the world, performing to ecstatic audiences at both Symphony Hall, Birmingham and throughout Europe. Award-winning recordings released by the record label Orfeo, including acclaimed series of Tchaikovsky and Strauss, also continue to cement this distinctive relationship.

Stephen Maddock, chief executive of the CBSO, said: “The chemistry between Andris and the musicians and audiences of the CBSO family has always been very special and there have been many electric performances and recordings since his appointment here.

“As we start our Beethoven cycle in Birmingham, visit the BBC Proms, the Edinburgh International Festival, and depart for a major European Summer Tour, including a five day residency at the Lucerne Festival, we are delighted to confirm the extension of this relationship and look forward to sharing our plans for the future in due course.”

Away from Birmingham, Andris has earned himself a distinguished name on both the opera and concert podiums, collaborating with the Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Boston Symphony and New York Philharmonic. He has toured Japan with the Vienna Philharmonic and regularly appears at the Royal Opera House and the Bayreuth Festival.

Andris said: “My colleagues and friends in the CBSO family are very important to me and it is a great pleasure to be continuing our partnership into future seasons. We have shared many wonderful experiences over the last four years and I am looking forward to exploring more thrilling music together. It is a privilege to be working with this fantastic orchestra and to represent Birmingham together across the world. I look forward, in hope, to the continuation of the wonderful support that we have gratefully received from our many audiences and partners!"

Over the summer, Andris and the CBSO will be appearing at some of the most prestigious European festivals, including their residency at the Lucerne Festival with the CBSO Chorus. Highlights in the 2012-13 season include Mahler’s momentous Resurrection Symphony, Wagner’s romantic opera The Flying Dutchman and a Beethoven cycle which features all of the great composer’s symphonies.

For full details on the 2012-13 season or to find out more visit www.cbso.co.uk.

--Ruth Green, CBSO

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa