Classical Music News of the Week, September 30, 2012

Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony Open 2012-2013 Season with a World Premiere by Paul Dresher October 4

Music Director Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony open their 2012-2013 Season on Thursday, October 4 at 7 PM in Zellerbach Hall with the world premiere of Concerto for Quadrachord and Orchestra by acclaimed Bay Area-based composer Paul Dresher. The work also features Dresher in performance on his unique invented Quadrachord, a stringed instrument resembling a guitar that can be plucked or bowed. The Paul Dresher commission is made possible in part by grants from the Creative Work Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts. Continuing its commitment to combining new works with masterworks, the orchestra will also perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question.

Immediately following the concert, Berkeley Symphony will host an Opening Night Gala Dinner honoring Paul Dresher in the Zellerbach Hall Mezzanine. Guests will be joined by the composer, Joana Carneiro, and musicians of Berkeley Symphony.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was given its first performance in 1813 in a series of benefit concerts. These performances also featured his Wellington’s Victory, a work honoring the victory against Napoleon and the French army at the Battle of Vittoria that same year. At the time, the success of the Seventh Symphony was largely attributed to the popularity of Wellington’s Victory which marked an important moment in his career. This was the first time that public recognition for Beethoven’s music spread beyond the narrow circle of aristocrats and reached a much wider audience.

Many interpretations have been brought forth to explain Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question since its first performance in 1946. Originally titled The Unanswered Perennial Question, Ives pared down the title to its current, more open-ended form with the intention of treating the piece as an invitation to inquiry rather than attaching any specific meaning. Ives was a keen observer of the world around him and his music reflects this trait; many of his works feature multiple sonic events occurring simultaneously, often multi-layered in texture, keys and meter.

Paul Dresher is an internationally active composer noted for his ability to integrate diverse musical influences into his own personal style. He pursues many forms of expression including experimental opera and music theater, chamber and orchestral composition, live instrumental electro-acoustic music performances, musical instrument invention, and scores for theater, dance, and film. As an experienced collaborator with artists from all performing disciplines, he also has been actively involved as a producer in the realization of collaboratively-created opera, music theater and new media projects.

A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2006-07, he has received commissions from the Library of Congress, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Spoleto Festival USA, Kronos Quartet, San Francisco Symphony, California EAR Unit, Zeitgeist, San Francisco Ballet, Meet the Composer, Seattle Chamber Players, Present Music, Chamber Music America, and Berkeley Symphony. He has performed or had his works performed throughout North America, Asia, and Europe with New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta, Lincoln Center, Berkeley Symphony, the Festival d’Automne in Paris, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, CBC Vancouver Radio Orchestra, Minnesota Opera, Arts Summit Indonesia ’95 and Festival Interlink in Japan.

Dresher has created new works in collaboration with such directors as Robert Woodruff, Rinde Eckert, Tony Taccone, Richard E.T. White, Les Waters, and Chen Shi Zheng. He has also worked extensively with many choreographers including Margaret Jenkins, Brenda Way/ODC San Francisco, Nancy Karp, Wendy Rogers, and Allyson Green.

Recent performances include the December 2009 performance of his invented instrument work Glimpsed From Afar on two programs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Disney Hall. In March of 2009 at Stanford University, Dresher premiered Schick Machine, a music theater work performed on a set comprised entirely of invented musical instruments/sound sculptures and created in collaboration with writer/director Rinde Eckert, percussionist/performer Steven Schick and mechanical sound artist Matt Heckert. In April 2008, the San Francisco Ballet premiered Dresher’s orchestral score for Thread, his collaboration with choreographer Margaret Jenkins, commissioned for the Ballet’s 75th anniversary. In May 2006, Dresher’s solo chamber opera The Tyrant, for tenor John Duykers and with a libretto by Jim Lewis, premiered in five performances at Opera Cleveland and has now been produced in eight other US cities. In 2012, an entirely new production was premiered by the Teatro Comunale di Bolzano in Bolzano, Italy.

He has had a longtime interest in the music of Asia and Africa, studying Ghanaian drumming with C.K. and Kobla Ladzekpo, Hindustani classical music with Nikhil Banerjee as well as Balinese and Javanese music. For more information about his work and the work of the Paul Dresher Ensemble go to: and for the Berkeley Symphony:

--Karen Ames Communication

Remarkable Theater Brigade Presents its Fourth Annual "Opera Shorts”: An Eclectic, Electric Evening of Opera Miniatures at Carnegie's Zankel Hall on October 19
Opera Shorts 2012 features ten 10-minute operas by a powerhouse line-up of living composers including Carlisle Floyd, Bern Herbolsheimer, Seymour Barab, Graham Robb, Ben Bierman, Richard Burke, Patrick Soluri, Randolph Coleman, Christian McLeer and David Morneau • including eight world premieres

The Remarkable Theater Brigade’s delectable evening of Opera Shorts returns for its fourth annual edition on October 19, 2012, at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall at 7:30pm. This year’s collection of ten-minute operas packs a punch, delivering emotional knockouts by Carlisle Floyd, Randolph Coleman and Remarkable Theater Brigade co-founder/artistic director Christian McLeer, as well as funny-bone-ticklers from Bern Herbolsheimer, Seymour Barab and David Morneau. Works by Opera Shorts veterans Ben Bierman and Patrick Soluri plus newcomers Richard Burke and Graham Robb round out the evening, which boasts seven world premieres, many written especially for the passionate RTB performers.

“When writing a three-hour opera, a composer can take his time with a lot of different musical ideas, incorporating passionate moments, beautiful moments and funny moments. But in ten minutes it all happens at once,” says RTB co-founder and general director Monica Harte. “When composers have only 10 minutes, they tend to make the entire piece very accessible.”

The format, which thoughtfully juxtaposes different emotional tones and musical styles into what amounts to an entire opera season condensed into a single evening, has been enormously popular with audiences. “One of the reasons it works so well is because if something isn’t to your taste, you aren’t committed to it for the next two or three hours.” says Harte. “Also, the incredible variety is fun for the audience.”

To accommodate the overflow audiences, this edition is being moved from its previous home at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall to Carnegie’s decidedly hipper space, Zankel Hall. In addition to more seats, Zankel has the added advantage of supertitle capabilities, which will make the ever-changing kaleidoscope of new sounds and stories even more audience friendly.

In past seasons, Opera Shorts has presented operas of 10 minutes (or less) by composers including Pulitzer-winners John Corigliano and William Bolcom, as well as Tania León, Mark Adamo and Jake Heggie. Opera Shorts began in 2009 when Patrick Soluri showed Harte and McLeer his 10-minute opera Figaro's Last Hangover. Harte says, "We adored it. And it was so inspiring that we decided to produce an entire evening of 10-minute operas. Christian and I really want to return to the era when people went to see the composer’s work. It’s the composers who take the final bow in Opera Shorts."
Another 2012 highlight is the premiere of a staged version of Pilgrimage, a powerful Biblical setting by elder statesman of American music Carlisle Floyd. Harte, whose parents founded the Nevada Opera in 1968, remembers her first encounter with Floyd’s music. “I met him when I was a little girl, so I’ve known his work for a long time. The opera was Of Mice and Men, which remains one of my favorite operas; it is one of the most dramatic operas ever written. To have Carlisle come and participate in Opera Shorts is really a great honor,” says Harte. “Pilgrimage is an outstanding piece, so emotional, and we have opera star Chris Trakas singing it.”

“I’m also excited to have a really fun new opera, Quartet, from Bern Herbolsheimer in this edition,” Harte adds. “I met Bern and sang one of his arias when I was in a young artists’ program back in the 80s. I loved his music so much that I introduced him to my parents, who ended up commissioning an opera from him for Nevada Opera’s 25th Silver Anniversary. That was the first time I was intimately involved in the creation of a new opera and it’s when I got the new music bug.” 

Other premieres include operas by Christian McLeer (to be directed by tenor/actor Anthony Laciura of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), Patrick Soluri, Seymour Barab, Ben Bierman, Randolph Coleman, David Morneau and Graham Robb. While the focus of the October 19 show is firmly on the composers, there are some exceptional singers on board as well including Metropolitan Opera baritone Chris Trakas, soprano Danya Katok who recently debuted at New York City Opera and operatic baritone and Broadway actor Dewey Moss. The instrumentation ranges from colorful chamber ensembles to the exotic Peruvian percussion box, the cajón. Richard Burke made a special arrangement of his opera Sacred Tree for this evening’s performance including piano, string quartet and woodwinds.

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet Media

Music Institute Celebrates Jazz Master Billy Strayhorn October 26-28
Performances by Terell Stafford Quintet, Music Institute jazz faculty, Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble, vocalist Tammy McCann; and a screening of Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life.

Honoring the work and legacy of one of the great jazz composers and collaborators, the Music Institute of Chicago presents a Billy Strayhorn Festival October 26–28. The festival, presented in partnership with Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc., a family corporation of the Strayhorn heirs, includes two star-studded concerts featuring trumpet great Terell Stafford and a screening of the award-winning film Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life followed by a panel discussion. The festival takes place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

The Music Institute is forming an honorary committee for the festival, co-chaired by jazz advocate and Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. President Alyce Claerbaut and world-class jazz musician and educator Clark Terry. Other jazz luminaries on the committee include Ann Hampton Callaway, John Clayton, Michael Feinstein, Manny Fox, Victor Goines, David Hajdu, Herbie Hancock, Dr. Nelson Harrison, Hermene Hartman, Quincy Jones, Robert Levi, Tonie-Marie Montgomery, Terell Stafford, Richard Steele, and Dr. Richard Wang.

Billy Strayhorn (1915–67) was one of the greatest composers in the history of American music, the creator of a body of work that includes such standards as “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Chelsea Bridge,” and “Lush Life.” Yet, all his life, Strayhorn was overshadowed by his friend and collaborator Duke Ellington, with whom he worked for three decades as the Ellington Orchestra’s primary songwriter and arranger. While composing some of the most gorgeous American music of this century, Strayhorn labored under a complex agreement whereby Ellington took the bows for his work; until his life was tragically cut short by cancer and alcohol abuse, the small, shy black composer carried himself with singular style and grace as one of the few jazzmen to be openly homosexual. (This text is courtesy of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

Friday, October 26, 7:30 p.m.—Film Screening and Panel Discussion
The festival kicks off with a screening of Robert Levi’s recently updated, highly acclaimed documentary Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, which uncovers the mystery behind the complex life of this pioneering African-American composer, arranger and pianist. The film features world premieres of his music featuring singers Elvis Costello and Dianne Reeves, pianists Hank Jones and Bill Charlap, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and guitarist Russell Malone. With interviews, performances, and archival footage, Lush Life showcases Strayhorn’s gifts and illuminates the issues that deprived him of deserved recognition. In 2008, Lush Life became the first program in broadcast history to receive three important awards in one year: the Emmy Award for Best Documentary of the Year, the George Foster Peabody Award for Broadcast Excellence, and the Writers Guild Award for Best Documentary Screenplay. The film was also one of three documentaries to make New York Magazine’s Top Ten Best Television Events list.

For the post-screening discussion, panelists include Henry Louis Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University; filmmaker Robert Levi; Victor Goines, director of jazz studies at Northwestern University; Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu; trumpeter Terell Stafford; and WBEZ 91.5 FM broadcaster Richard Steele.

Saturday, October 27, 7:30 p.m.—Terell Stafford Quintet: This Side of Strayhorn

Inspired by his own recording of the same name, jazz trumpeter Terell Stafford and his ensemble pay tribute to one of the 20th century’s greatest jazz composers and collaborators—Billy Strayhorn. The quintet also features Tim Warfield Jr., saxophone; Bruce Barth, piano; Peter Washington, bass; and Dana Hall, drums.

Terell Stafford is a gifted and versatile trumpeter with a voice all his own. His newest release, This Side of Strayhorn (MAXJAZZ 2011) has been called “the first must have album of 2011” and “genius.” Stafford is a member of the Grammy Award-winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Grammy-nominated Clayton Brothers Quintet, and the Frank Wess Quintet; he has performed with Benny Golson’s Sextet, McCoy Tyner’s Sextet, the Kenny Barron Sextet, the Jimmy Heath Big Band, and the Jon Faddis Orchestra. Stafford is professor of music and director of jazz studies at Temple University and recently received its Creative Achievement Award. He is also a former member of the faculty at the Juilliard Institute for Jazz Studies. He appears on five albums as a lead trumpet player, including his debut album Time to Let Go (1995), critically acclaimed Centripedal Force (1997), Fields of Gold (2000), New Beginnings (2003), and Taking Chances (2007). Between 2006 and 2007, Stafford played an integral part on Diana Krall’s Grammy-nominated From this Moment On, joining with the Hamilton-Clayton Jazz Orchestra. In celebration of Jimmy Heath’s 80th birthday, Stafford recorded with the Jimmy Heath Big Band for the album Turn Up the Heath (2006). As a sideman Stafford has been heard on more than 90 albums.

Sunday, October 28, 3 p.m.—Terell Stafford, Music Institute jazz faculty, and special guests

Grammy-winning trumpeter Terell Stafford collaborates with the Music Institute’s acclaimed jazz studies faculty, including trumpeter Victor Garcia and percussionist Ernie Adams, joined by guest reedist Victor Goines, vocalist Tammy McCann, and the Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra 2012 U.S. Tour
U.S. Theatrical premiere of Josh Aronson’s Orchestra of Exiles at Quad Cinema October 26.

As the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra embarks on its 28th tour of the United States, the U.S. theatrical premiere of Orchestra of Exiles is scheduled to take place on Friday, October 26 at The Quad Cinema in New York City. The screening will follow the Orchestra's Carnegie Hall benefit on October 25, presented by American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and co-chaired by Adrienne Arsht and Lauren and John Veronis. Written, directed and produced by Oscar-nominated writer/director Josh Aronson (and featuring interviews with Pinchas Zukerman, Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell), this First Run Features release chronicles the development of the ensemble that was to become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman's vision and resolve to save Jewish families from antisemitism and Nazism brings to light the amazing story of the founding of one of the most culturally enterprising musical organizations in the world. The film will also be coming to Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles, opening November 2.

The Quad Cinema: 34 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011
Laemmle Theaters, Music Hall 3: 9036 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Laemmle Theaters, Town Center 5: 17200 Ventura Boulevard, Encino, CA 91316

Along with Grammy Award-winning baritone Thomas Hampson, Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient Yuja Wang and The Collegiate Chorale, tenor Carl Hieger joins the roster of participating artists in a unique sacred music program with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on October 25. The benefit concert recently saw a program change: after the heartfelt response the IPO received for its performance at the Salzburg Festival in July—and after front-page coverage of the concert in The New York Times—the Orchestra quickly restructured the program for Carnegie Hall. Arnold Schoenberg's Kol Nidre and the New York premiere of Israeli composer Noam Sheriff's Mechaye Hametim (Revival of the Dead)—two works performed in Salzburg—bookend a concert that also features internationally celebrated pianist Yuja Wang performing Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1. This benefit concert is being generously underwritten by Adrienne Arsht. Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic will travel across the country with Yuja Wang, performing in New York, Palm Desert, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Benefit tickets may be purchased by contacting American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra online or by phone at 212-697-2949 or at Concert tickets may be purchased through Carnegie Hall's box office, website or by phone at 212-247-7800 (tickets from $21 - $137).

"Abetted by Mr. Hampson's tour de force, in which he also served as narrator in the Schoenberg and spoke and sang in the Sheriff, the evening's performances were everywhere excellent...The concert was greeted warmly, even clamorously..." — The New York Times

The concerts in Palm Desert (October 28), Las Vegas (October 29) and Los Angeles (October 30) all feature Schubert's Symphony No. 3 in D major, Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor (with Yuja Wang) and Brahms's Symphony No. 1 in C minor (for the complete schedule, click here.) The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra acts as Cultural Ambassador for the State of Israel during this tour to the United States.

Pianist Yuja Wang opens the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's 77th season in Tel-Aviv with a gala on October 4, performing Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1.

--Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique (CD review)

Also, Le corsaire overture. Leonard Slatkin, Orchestre National de Lyon. Naxos 8.572886.

Before we begin, I have to mention again some of my favorite conductors in Symphonie fantastique recordings: Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Colin Davis, Leopold Stokowski, John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Roger Norrington, Charles Munch, and Jean Martinon. I mention these names because so well-traveled a warhorse as the Berlioz already has heady competition for any new recording, even when the recording comes from so notable a conductor as Leonard Slatkin.

For those of you like me who need a road map to keep up with the musical travels of Maestro Slatkin since his leaving the St. Louis Symphony in 1996, here’s a quick rundown: He was the director of the Blossom Festival of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1990-1999. Then, he was the Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., from 1996 to 2008. In 2000, he became the Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until September 11, 2004. He was also the Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra from 1997 to 2000, and in 2004 became the Principal Guest Conductor at the Hollywood Bowl for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Following that in 2005, he became the Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London. In 2006, he became the Music Advisor to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and then in 2008 the Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Finally, in 2007 Slatkin became the Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and in 2011 the Music Director of the Orchestre National de Lyon, the posts he currently holds.  Whew!

Now, to the music at hand. The composer, Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), wrote his Symphonie fantastique in 1830, and it wasn’t long before it became one of the most influential pieces of music of all time. With programmatic elements similar to previous works like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and using a huge orchestral arrangement for well over a hundred players (Berlioz employed about 130 musicians for the première), the result must have been extraordinary for its period; indeed, it remains extraordinary even today. It’s not really a traditional symphony despite the title, more like a psychodrama in five movements. Therein, the young Berlioz writes autobiographically of the hopeless love of a young man for a woman, the young man falling into a drug-induced dream, which the composer describes in his music. The woman reappears throughout the Symphonie in the form of an idée fixe, a “fixed idea” the young man cannot shake, a musical innovation Berlioz used to advantage.

As we might expect from Maestro Slatkin, he takes a fairly literal view of things, which in a programmatic work like the Symphonie fantastique may be the best course. He interprets the opening movement at face value, the Reveries--Passions, never quite animating it as much as I’d like but nicely playing up the contrasts as the dejected romantic of the score conjures up opium dreams and nightmares of his lost love.

The second movement describes a ball in which the young man catches a glimpse of his beloved.  Berlioz later composed a cornet part for this section, which Slatkin includes as a bonus track. Anyway, the conductor ensures the music itself sweeps and swirls in an appropriately questioning, probing manner.

Next, we come to the scene in the country, a slow Adagio. In it, the young man sees a pair of shepherd boys playing a pipe melody to call their flock, and all is well until, as always, the young man notices his love in the picture. Needless to say, the music shifts into a left sudden turn, which Slatkin negotiates smoothly, if without too much high drama.

Then we come to the final two movements that audiophiles so adore because they burst over with so much busy, vigorous energy. They’re ideal for showing off one’s audio system. The March to the Scaffold brings the young man to his death for the murder of his beloved, and the Witches’ Sabbath finds the poor fellow apparently at Judgment Day in hell. Beecham and Bernstein generated genuine electricity in these movements; Slatkin merely contents himself with some passing color. I’d rather have felt a little more of the young man’s agony. Still, it’s hard to go wrong in this music, and there remains much one can commend in Slatkin’s low-key characterization. At least he doesn’t let the excitement alone carry the day. It’s also nice to see that Naxos chose to divide the final movement into four separate tracks for an easy indexing of ideas.

Besides the alternative cornet movement, the coupling on the disc is Berlioz’s Overture to Le Corsaire. Here, too, Slatkin’s reading sounds admirably restrained and unaffected, with a dashing élan.

Naxos recorded the music in 2011 at the Auditorium de Lyon, France, to generally good effect. The sound is typical of much of Naxos’s work, perfectly adequate yet never quite reaching audiophile heights. The all-important midrange is refined and natural, if not entirely transparent. The high and low ends appear well enough represented, though not particularly extended except at the very end of the Symphonie. Dynamic range and impact appear a tad limited, so they don’t produce quite the force of an actual orchestral experience. In all, the sonics seem ideally suited to easy listening rather than really critical listening.


Vintage Cinema (CD review)

Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Telarc CD-80708.

It seems as though every time I’ve read the inside back cover of one of Telarc’s booklet inserts, I found they were using the latest and greatest new audio technology to record their music. This 2008 disc, for instance, says they used a Sonoma Direct Stream digital workstation with DAD AX-24 DSD converters, EMM Labs DSD converters, a Genex 8500 DSD recorder, EMM Labs Switchman MK2 monitored speakers, ATCSM 150 and SCM50, etc., which means little to me except that their sound doesn’t ever seem to change much. Nevertheless, I thought this particular recording from Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops seemed distant, recessed, slightly foggy, and smeared. Maybe it’s just me. I put the disc away for a few days and went back to it later. It still didn’t sound very transparent or detailed. Despite my reservations, it appears natural enough if you’re comparing it to the sound you might hear sitting in the back half of an auditorium, which is maybe the point.

Anyway, the musical content this time revolves around old movie soundtracks from 1933 to 1962, starting, appropriately enough, with the main title and “Entrance of Kong” from Max Steiner’s score for the original King Kong (‘33). This score is appropriate because it’s often thought of as the first-ever complete movie music made expressly to underscore an entire film, music cues, themes, and all. Mostly, the first talkies borrowed pre-established classical music for their backgrounds until King Kong came along, so Kong sort of set the standard for movies to come.

Kunzel goes on to cover things like Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Adventures of Robin Hood, Miklos Rozsa’s Spellbound, Franz Waxman’s Sunset Boulevard, Leonard Bernstein’s brilliant On the Waterfront, Bernard Herrmann’s North By Northwest, and others, twelve tracks in all. My own favorite, incidentally, is Elmer Bernstein’s score for To Kill and Mockingbird, maybe because I love the movie so much and the music seems so fitting.

Kunzel gives all of them the usual Kunzel treatment, sometimes overglamorizing them, sometimes playing them straight. There is never any question about the grandiloquence of the music, though, especially the big tunes like Robin Hood and King Kong, which Kunzel seems to relish. If you’re familiar with Kunzel’s work (and who wouldn’t be, considering he probably recorded more albums than anybody in history), you can safely add this one to your collection.

However, I seem to remember some years earlier Telarc telling us they would never produce an album with less than an hour of content. This one contains only fifty-three minutes of music. Surely, there was room for more. I dunno. As I say, it’s played well enough, and if you’re an old-time movie fan, you’ll find some fine music here. Personally, I don’t much care for little bits and pieces of things, so with sound I didn’t much care for along with it, the disc didn’t impress me. But, who knows, maybe it would impress you more than it did me.


Brahms: Serenades (CD review)

Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Philharmonia Baroque Productions PBP-05.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) didn’t complete his first symphony until he was around forty-three years old, supposedly because of the intimidating shadow of Beethoven. In the meantime, the closest he came was contenting himself with two Serenades in the late 1850’s (and at least starting a First Symphony, which he finally completed in the 1870’s). No matter; his Serenade No. 1 is still pretty close to a symphony, and it’s the match for any orchestral material the man ever produced, even if it did predate the première of his symphonic output by nearly twenty years.

This was the first time I’d heard the Serenades performed on period instruments, and it is quite a welcome change of pace. My three favorite previous versions have been on modern instruments, versions by Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips), Kurt Masur and the Gewandhaus Orchestra (PentaTone), and Istvan Kertesz and the London Symphony Orchestra (Decca). I think now I’ll have to add one more version to my list.

For reasons known only to Maestro Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque, they give us the Serenade No. 2 in A, Op. 16 (1860) first on the program. It is shorter than No. 1, about half its length, slightly darker, and less outgoing; and it has its special appeals, not the least of which is its chamber-music quality in which winds predominate (there are no violins involved).

McGegan’s reading of No. 2 is wonderfully lyrical and relaxed. The mood may be mellower than No. 1 but don’t tell that to the PBO. They play even the slower sections with a joyous enthusiasm. The piece is in five movements, in all of which the orchestra displays a boundless energy, creating a sweet spirit and a resonant atmosphere.

While I’m not sure that playing on period instruments improves the performance all that much, it certainly does nothing to distract from it. Indeed, the distinctive sonic character they produce does add a new flavor to the mix. With performing skills of such a high order and an interpretation so gentle and lovely, the musicians could be playing on penny whistles and make it sound right. The Quasi minuetto in particular has a lilting charm, and the closing Rondo, Allegro has an energetic bounce.

Then comes the Serenade No. 1 in D, Op. 11 (1858), which is alternately gentle, warm, lyrical, and always cheerful. It is a typically youthful work, the composer just in his mid twenties at the time he wrote it. It is also a fairly long work of its kind, close to fifty minutes, yet it is quite delightful, the composer stringing together a seemingly never-ending series of charming melodies.

In No. 1 Brahms was much more youthfully high spirited than he would be in No. 2, especially noticeable in the first movement, which McGegan and his team play with appropriate vigor. Timpani in a period band always punctuate the music in such a commanding manner, and the PBO offer some of the best; that big, familiar opening tune never sounded better. Arranged in six movements, the Serenade No. 1 adds a robust pair of Scherzos to the general design for serenades set forth by Mozart.

Interestingly, perhaps surprisingly, McGegan adopts some fairly traditional tempos throughout the piece, never resorting to the kind of hell-bent-for-leather approach taken by some other period-instruments ensembles. In fact, the timings for McGegan’s rendering of both Serenades are within seconds, more or less, of the aforementioned conductors, with just a tad more bounce in the step of the PBO. Moreover, the long central Adagio has never seemed more moving or more faintly melancholic. Then, the ensuing Minuetto, Scherzo and finale blend in perfectly with everything that has gone before, bringing the Serenade to a glorious, rousing close.

The recordings come to us from 2010 (No. 1) and 2012 (No. 2), both made live at First Congregational Church, Berkeley, California. First Congregational has always sounded like a fairly lively acoustical venue to me, and in the past, the PBO’s live recordings there have been a bit too brightly reverberant for my taste. However, this time the engineers miked things a little closer and obtained a more flattering response. The sound of the Second Serenade is especially smooth, although neither Serenade appears quite as well detailed and transparent as the PBO’s studio productions. There is a pleasingly warm glow around the instruments in both cases, though, and while orchestral depth suffers somewhat from the close miking, the stage width no doubt benefits, so we get a nice, big sonic picture. Anyway, No. 2 doesn’t really sound “live,” but No. 1, recorded two years earlier, does sound live; one can hear and sense the presence of an audience, chiefly at the beginning of the piece, during the quietest passages, and, of course, during an unfortunate eruption of applause at the end. Still, as I say, the sound is warm and accommodating, not at all bright or excessively reflective, making for an easygoing listening experience.


Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

Also, Cross Lane Fair. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, BBC Philharmonic. Naxos 8.572350.

You know Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Well, if you don’t, you should. As of this writing, the prolific English composer and conductor (b. 1934) is the Master of the Queen’s Music, a title equivalent to the Poet Laureate of the country or the Archbishop of Tunes or something. To be fair, though, I rather suspect the English program his music more than we do in the U.S., so if you’re not quite sure about him or what he’s written, you have cause. Anyway, he’s written nine symphonies so far, and this third one is among the best. It’s good to have the composer’s own recording of it back in circulation from Naxos.

The Symphony No. 3 is big work in four slightly unconventional movements. It begins and ends rather quietly, with sometimes violent turns in between as it conjures up visions of seascapes, rock cliffs, and seabirds. Maxwell Davies suggests that the piece resembles a spiralling mollusk shell. He wrote the music in 1984 “at home in a tiny isolated cottage on a remote island off the north coast of Scotland, on a clifftop overlooking the meeting of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.” To me, the music resembles some things by fellow Englishman Arnold Bax, who also wrote tone poems of nature and the sea, things like Tintagel, Northern Ballad No. 1, and November Woods. Then, too, there is always the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and his various descriptive, romantic tone poems and symphonies to consider as comparisons.

The composer himself leads the BBC Philharmonic, so we have to presume the interpretation is authoritative. Certainly, the music bespeaks of a rugged individuality of spirit, along with a kind of Debussy La Mer sensibility. Interestingly, Maxwell Davies also inserts a medieval Roman Church chant into the piece; I’m not sure exactly why except perhaps because of some religious connotations equating our lives with the wrath of God and Nature and because the chant variations give the work a pleasing texture.

After the long opening movement, there follow a pair of Scherzos, the second of which somewhat distorts the first. There is a vaguely jazz-inflected tone to these movements, at least part of which describes a flock of nesting seabirds spiraling upwards. The third-movement Allegro vivace introduces us to the final section, a brooding Adagio, even longer than the other sections, that tends to repeat some of the effects of the first movement.

There are some wonderfully evocative feelings and moods expressed in the symphony, although at nearly an hour, it probably overextends its welcome by a good fifteen minutes or more. This was only my second time hearing it, and I couldn’t help thinking again that it would have maybe been better as a shorter tone poem. Yet surely this is a fascinating piece of music, and it’s good to hear so relatively recent a work that hearkens back to the days of actual melody and harmony instead of mere noise.

The brief, quarter-hour accompanying work is a lighter piece called Cross Lane Fair. From 1994 it’s a genuine tone poem that evokes the sights and sounds of a fair the composer recalls from his childhood. Using pipes and bodhran (an Irish frame drum) as soloists with the orchestra, it’s quite a lot of fun.

The sound comes to us originally courtesy of Collins Classics, who recorded it in 1993-94 at BBC North Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK, and the folks at Naxos re-released it in 2012 along with several other Maxwell Davies discs. It’s among the best-sounding albums I’ve heard from the Naxos group, with a wide stereo spread, a good depth of field, a realistic tonal balance, and a fairly clear midrange.


Classical Music News of the Week, September 23, 2012

Orchestra of Exiles to Have U.S. Theatrical Premiere October 26

The film opens timed to gala at Carnegie Hall on October 25 featuring Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
“Huberman was a visionary and a dreamer, and in my mind, a hero.” – Itzhak Perlman
“The seeds of culture that Huberman planted, that he brought from Central Europe, we are reaping its awards today.”  --Zubin Mehta

First Run Features presents the U.S. theatrical premiere of Orchestra of Exiles, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Josh Aronson’s meticulously crafted and researched tale of the man who saved Europe’s premiere Jewish musicians from obliteration by the Nazis during WWII. Overcoming extraordinary obstacles, violinist Bronislaw Huberman moved these musicians to Palestine and formed the Palestine Symphony, that would eventually become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. With courage, resourcefulness and an entourage of celebrity allies including Arturo Toscanini and Albert Einstein, Huberman forever changed and preserved the landscape of musical history.

Orchestra of Exiles will open in New York on October 26 at the Quad Cinema, followed by a nationwide release to select cities.

About the Film
In the early 1930s Hitler began forcing Jewish musicians out of orchestras across central Europe.  But the Nazis unwittingly created a unique opportunity, as never before had so many top orchestra players been simultaneously jobless. After three years of extraordinary dedication to the project, Bronislaw Huberman fulfilled his dream of creating the Palestine Symphony Orchestra with Arturo Toscanini as it’s first conductor.

Orchestra of Exiles, featuring commentary by musical greats including Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman and Joshua Bell, documents Huberman’s struggle to create the Palestine Symphony.  Director Josh Aronson’s research for the film required the translation of thousands of letters, interviews and articles in libraries from Berlin to Tel Aviv, a process that would take years, and which revealed a complex story touching on themes of music, genocide, courage and intolerance.  The result is a thrilling story with a diverse array of characters including Joseph Goebbels, renowned conductors Furtwangler and Toscanini, future head of state Chaim Weizmann and the families of victimized Jewish musicians who made up the ranks of orchestras across central Europe. Even Albert Einstein played a role, a man who, among other pursuits, was an amateur violinist who liked to read music with Huberman.

Huberman and Toscanini knew that a world-class ensemble of Jewish exiles would be a powerful tool to fight the savage anti-Semitism spreading out from Germany, and would build the international prestige of the Jewish people. Huberman used all of his political capital and every contact at his disposal to arrange for musicians and their families to escape persecution and emigrate to Palestine. In all, he saved close to a thousand Jews--along with the musical heritage of Europe.

Orchestra of Exiles explores profound psychological questions: How did living through WWI and the Depression change Huberman from a self-absorbed eccentric genius into an altruistic statesman dedicated to egalitarian politics and humanism? How did Nazism and its cultural policies ignite Huberman and inspire him to bring music to Palestine, to save Jews and to fight anti-Semitism?

Orchestra of Exiles is a timeless tale of a brilliant young man coming of age, and the suspenseful chronicle of how his efforts impacted cultural history.

The release of Orchestra of Exiles could not come at a better time, as in October 2012, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra travels to the United States to perform in New York, Palm Desert, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Presented by American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, benefits at Carnegie Hall in New York City (October 25) and at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (October 30) highlight the Israel Philharmonic's 28th tour of the United States. (Click here for more information.)

Orchestra of Exiles, 2012, USA, 85 min. Written and Directed by Josh Aronson. Produced by Josh Aronson.  German Line Producer: Sven Woldt.  Israel Production:  United Channel Movies.  Associate Producer:  Nina Krstic.  Editor:  Nancy Kennedy. With Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Zubin Mehta and Pinchas Zukerman.  A First Run Features Release.

--JMP Verdant Communications

Nicola Luisotti Leads a New Production of Nabucco Shared by La Scala and Royal Opera, Verdi’s Requiem wtih Teatro di San Carlo, and Rigoletto, Tosca, Cosi Fan Tutte, and His First Lohengrin with San Francisco Opera
2012-2013 season highlights include orchestral engagements in Paris, Milan, Rome, and San Francisco

The 2012-13 Season finds Tuscan conductor Nicola Luisotti entering his fourth season as Music Director of San Francisco and beginning his tenure as Music Director of Teatro di San Carlo in Naples.

As Music Director of San Francisco Opera, Luisotti begins his 2012-2013 performance season conducting great works of Verdi, Puccini, Mozart and Wagner: Rigoletto, Tosca, Così fan tutte and his very first Lohengrin. The Maestro returns to Milan and London for Verdi’s Nabucco in a production shared by La Scala and Royal Opera. Appointed Music Director of Teatro di San Carlo in February of 2012, Luisotti will follow his highly acclaimed February 2012 performances of Verdi’s rarely performed opera I Masnadieri with performances of the composer’s monumental Requiem scheduled for early 2013.

“Conducting with such passion, tension, such perfect timing and emphasis” (Seen and Heard International), Luisotti garners high acclaim for his orchestral conducting as well as his work in the opera house. This season he makes appearances with four great orchestras, including Filarmonica della Scala, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestra di Santa Cecilia in Rome and his own San Francisco Opera Orchestra presented by Cal Performances in programs anchored by great works such as Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 3, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, Beethoven’s Symphony No.2, and Brahms’ Symphony No.3.

Maestro Luisotti made his La Scala debut in May 2011, conducting Verdi’s Attila with “expressive finesse and dramatic lacerations” ( in a new co-production by Gabriele Lavia which was then performed by San Francisco Opera this past June. Recent triumphs also included Puccini’s rarely performed La fanciulla del West which Luisotti led at both the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera. Praised by the New York Times for his “stylish, nuanced and sensitive conducting” at the Metropolitan Opera, Luisotti was honored to lead performances commemorating the birth of this important Puccini work, the Met Opera’s first world premiere commission in 1910. Following the official 100th Anniversary performance, Luisotti was awarded the Premio Puccini Prize by the Fondazione Festival Pucciniano. The recording of the centennial production was recently released on DVD by Deutsche Grammophon.

 Luisotti made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2005 conducting La forza del destino and has since led performances of La bohème, Il trovatore, Salome, Otello, La fanciulla del West, Aida, Le nozze di Figaro, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, Don Giovanni, Carmen, and Attila with the company. Called “both an original thinker and a great respecter of tradition” by Opera News, which featured him on the cover of the July 2011 special issue on conductors, his critically acclaimed international debut leading a new production at the Stuttgart State Opera led to performances with nearly every major opera company across the globe, including the Bavarian State Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Dresden Staatskapelle, Frankfurt Opera, La Scala, Los Angeles Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opera, Royal Opera House, Seattle Opera, Teatro Carlo Felice, Comunale di Bologna, Teatro La Fenice, Teatro Real, Teatro di San Carlo, and Vienna State Opera. He made his debut in Japan, where he served as Principal Conductor of the Tokyo Symphony from April 2009 to 2012, with a semi-staged production of Tosca at Suntory Hall and has since returned for Turandot, La bohème, and the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy of Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte.

Equally acclaimed as an orchestral leader for his “blazing and idiomatic conducting” (Chicago Classical Review), the Italian conductor has worked with Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, Atlanta Symphony, Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, Budapest Radio Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Filarmonica della Scala, Hamburger Philharmonic, Hessischer Rundfunk Orchestra, London Philharmonia, NHK Symphony, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, Orquesta Nacional de España, Philadelphia Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle, San Francisco Symphony, Tokyo Symphony, and Zagreb Philharmonic. Luisotti led special concerts in Beijing in conjunction with the 2008 Olympic Games.

Nicola Luisotti – 2012-2013 Season Performance Calendar:
Verdi, Rigoletto
San Francisco Opera
September 7, 8, 11, 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21 and 23, 2012
San Francisco, CA
For official information:

Wagner, Lohengrin
San Francisco Opera
October 20, 24, 28, 31, November 3, 6 and 9, 2012
San Francisco, CA
For official information:

Puccini, Tosca
San Francisco Opera
November 15, 16, 18, 20, 21, 24, 25, 27, 28 and 29, 2012
San Francisco, CA
For official information:

Orchestre de Paris
January 9 and 10, 2013
Verdi, La forza del destino overture
Stravinsky, Concerto for violin; Gil Shaham, violin
Tchaikovsky, Capriccio italiano
Prokofiev, Symphony No. 3
Paris, France
For official information:

Teatro alla Scala
January 14, 2013
Verdi, Nabucco overture
Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto in D major Op. 35; Ray Chen, Violin
Beethoven, Symphony No. 7
Milan, Italy
For official information:

Teatro alla Scala
Filarmonica della Scala
January 21, 22 and 24, 2013
Rimsky-Korsakov, Shéhérazade
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 4
Milan, Italy
For official information:

Verdi, Nabucco – New Production
Teatro alla Scala
February 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 13, 15, 17 and 20, 2013
Milan, Italy
For official information:

Verdi, Requiem
Teatro di San Carlo
February 24, 26, 28, March 1 and 3, 2013
Naples, Italy
For official information:

Verdi, Nabucco – New Production
Co Production with La Scala (premiered February 2013)
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
March 30, April 1,4, 6, 8, 15, 20, 23 and 26, 2013
London, UK
For official information:

Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
May 11, 12 and 13, 2013
Cherubini, Requiem
Beethoven, Symphony No. 2
Rome, Italy
For official information:

Concert - Cal Performances
San Francisco Opera Orchestra
May 17, 2013
Puccini, Capriccio Sinfonico
Rota, Piano Concerto
Brahms, Symphony No. 3
Berkeley, CA
For official information:

Mozart, Così fan tutte
San Francisco Opera
June 9, 12, 18, 21, 26, 29 and July 1, 2013
San Francisco, CA
For official information:

--Karen Ames Communications

Music Institute Holds Billy Strayhorn Songwriting Contest: Submission Deadline October 15
In conjunction with its October 26–28 Billy Strayhorn Festival, the Music Institute of Chicago Jazz Studies Program is holding a Billy Strayhorn Songwriting Contest for high school students in Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties. The submission deadline is Monday, October 15 at 11:59 p.m.

Judging the submissions are Music Institute of Chicago President and CEO Mark George, Jazz Studies Director Audrey Morrison and Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. President Alyce Claerbaut. The panel will award nearly $1,000 in Music Institute scholarships to first, second and third place winners, each of whom also will receive two free passes to all events during the Billy Strayhorn Festival.

The Billy Strayhorn Festival, which honors the work and legacy of one of the great jazz composers and collaborators, is presented in partnership with Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc., a family corporation of the Strayhorn heirs. The Festival includes two star-studded concerts featuring trumpet great Terell Stafford and a screening of the award-winning film Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life followed by a panel discussion. All events take place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

Billy Strayhorn (1915–67) is acknowledged as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. As Duke Ellington’s primary collaborative partner for 28 years, Strayhorn created a compelling musical language that transcended Ellington. His innumerable contributions to the jazz canon built a formidable legacy for musicians from all genres. Strayhorn’s deep knowledge of both classical and popular music manifested itself in a unique approach to songwriting. Elements of his harmonic sophistication and voicing techniques have become emblematic of excellence in the jazz repertoire. In addition to his musical achievements, Strayhorn has become identified with the struggle for civil rights. Throughout his career, he overcame several stigmas, not the least of which was being an African-American artist in a society dominated by whites and a gay man in a culture that considered homosexuality a crime. In 1963, Strayhorn came to Chicago to serve as music director of  Ellington’s My People, a work composed on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and performed as part of “A Century of Negro Progress Exposition” at the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place. In tribute to Strayhorn and the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Music Institute is proud to present the Billy Strayhorn Songwriting Contest.

The submission deadline for the Billy Strayhorn Songwriting Contest is Monday, October 15 at 11:59 p.m. For more information, contact Audrey Morrison, 847-905-1500 ext. 576 or; for information about or tickets for the Billy Strayhorn Festival, visit

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Elza van den Heever’s 2012-2013 Season Highlighted by Metropolitan Opera Debut as Elisabetta in a New David McVicar Production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda
Ms. van den Heever makes her company debut with Canadian Opera Company and completes her tenure as Resident Artist in Frankfurt with role debuts in Les vêpres siciliennes and Maria Stuarda.

“Blessed with a plush, dramatic voice capable of formidable power and dazzling high notes” (Associated Press), Ms. van den Heever begins the 2012-13 season as Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore with Canadian Opera Company and goes on to make her Metropolitan Opera debut as Elisabetta in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda in a new David McVicar production opening December 31. During the 2012-13 Season, as she concludes her five-year residency in Frankfurt, Ms. van den Heever will perform role debuts as La Duchesse Hélène in the Company’s new production of Verdi’s Les vêpres siciliennes and as Elisabetta in concert performances of Maria Stuarda, in addition to revisiting the role of Elettra in a new production of Mozart’s Idomeneo.

Ms. van den Heever’s most recent triumphs include outstanding role debuts as two formidable Handel characters: Armida in Rinaldo with Lyric Opera of Chicago where The New York Times proclaimed her a” bright-voiced, fearless soprano [who] stole every scene she was in,” and the title role of Alcina with Opéra National de Bordeaux where she was applauded as “an important soprano of our times” by Seen and Heard International. Her critically acclaimed 2011 debut as Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello with Oper Frankfurt brought praise for her “huge voice, full of tenderness and precision” (Frankfurter Rundschau).

Following her professional debut as Donna Anna in San Francisco Opera’s 2007 production of Don Giovanni and an internationally acclaimed European debut in 2008 as Giorgetta in Oper Frankfurt’s production of Il trittico, the South African soprano’s performances have taken her to major stages worldwide, including Opéra National de Paris, Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper, Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Opéra National de Bordeaux and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

During her tenure with Oper Frankfurt, Ms. van den Heever has had numerous acclaimed performances including Elisabetta di Valois in Don Carlo, Elsa in Lohengrin, the title role in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena (concert version), Vitellia in La clemenza di Tito, Antonia in Les contes d’Hoffmann and Desdemona in Otello, in addition to concert performances of Verdi’s monumental Requiem. Other roles in Europe have included Elsa in Lohengrin for Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper; Agathe in Der Freischütz at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien; Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte for Opéra National de Paris; Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at Hamburgische Staatsoper; and Elettra in Idomeneo, the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, Leonora in Il Trovatore and, most recently, the title role in Alcina at Opéra National de Bordeaux. Critically acclaimed performances in the United States include Fiordiligi with Dallas Opera and Armida for Lyric Opera of Chicago. In San Francisco, where she participated in both the Merola Opera Program and San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship, she portrayed Mary Custis Lee in the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Appomattox and Donna Anna in the Company’s 2007 Don Giovanni, performances which were seen nationwide through the Company’s Grand Opera Cinema Series and broadcast on Northern California’s KQED Public Television. She enjoys a successful performance partnership with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony with performances of Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Grammy Award winning performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in San Francisco, on tour in Europe and on disc for SFS Media.

--Karen Ames Communications

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (HQCD review)

Martti Talvela, James King, Marilyn Horne, Dame Joan Sutherland; Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna State Opera Chorus. HDTT HDCD263.

Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt was among those older conductors who, luckily for us, lived long enough into the stereophonic age to have left us any number of fine stereo recordings. He was one of an elite group of conductors that included people like Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Fritz Reiner, Rafael Kubelik, Karl Bohm, Eugene Jochum, and their like. There were other conductors who came along during and after their tenures who offered more glamor, like Herbert von Karajan, or more pizzazz, like Georg Solti, and conductors like Roger Norrington and John Eliot Gardiner who performed on period instruments using period practices. But it’s hard to beat the grace and refinement the older hands brought to the music, especially to Beethoven. On the present disc, the folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) bring us Schmidt-Isserstedt’s classic 1965 recording of the Beethoven Ninth, and it couldn’t be better.

Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote and premiered his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, in 1824, and it would be his final completed symphony. Its use of vocals in the final movement gave it the title “Choral Symphony,” and the work proved to be at least as revolutionary as his Symphony No. 3. There are critics to this day who consider the Ninth the greatest piece of music ever written, and it’s hard to argue with them.

We can learn a lot about Schmidt-Isserstedt’s style from his handling of the first movement, the Allegro, ma non troppo, un poco. It sounds exactly right (Schmidt-Isserstedt’s handling, not Beethoven’s tempo markings). To give you an idea of that “rightness,” I compared his timing for the movement with other recordings I had on hand: Solti: 17:39; Jochum: 16:31; Schmidt-Isserstedt: 16:26; Bohm: 14.54; Norrington: 14:13; Zinman: 13:35. So Schmidt-Isserstedt is pretty much in the middle of the crowd when it comes to tempos, yet the pace actually seems quicker because he puts such emphasis on dynamic contrasts, making his interpretation as lively as any of the others. Still, it never seems hurried. In each movement, Schmidt-Isserstedt takes the time to elucidate, illuminate, and clarify every note.

And so it goes, always with Schmidt-Isserstedt keeping a bounce in his step but never overstepping the bounds of classical propriety. His is a thrilling yet elegant performance. The third-movement Cantabile is as beautiful as any I’ve heard, and then comes that big finish: the “Ode to Joy,” based on the poem by Friedrich Schiller and sung here by probably the finest quartet ever assembled for the occasion: Martti Talvela, bass; James King, tenor; Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano; and Dame Joan Sutherland, soprano. Along with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the best ensembles in the world, and the Vienna State Opera Chorus at the top of their game, one could not ask for more.

This is not a flashy Ninth, not a monumental one, not a grandiose one, not a zippy, rushed one. Schmidt-Isserstedt’s account is simply a most-fulfilling, most-pleasing, most-rewarding one. It’s a dignified, spacious reading, well balanced and relaxed, yet invariably riveting, a performance that is hard to fault and, thus, a performance easy to live with and easy to enjoy upon repeat listening.

Decca recorded the music in the Sofiensaal, Vienna, in 1965, and HDTT transferred it to HQCD from a London four-track tape. The sound is as good as any Beethoven Ninth on record and better than most. Let’s just say there is nothing seriously better. Clarity is outstanding, without being in any way bright or edgy, and while it may not be as ultimately transparent as some other recordings, it is more lifelike than most. The stereo spread is wide; dynamics are strong; transient response is quick; orchestral depth is moderately good; and bass and treble appear reasonably well extended. A pleasant ambient bloom and almost no background noise give the whole affair a natural, realistic feel. Very nice.

For further information about HDTT discs and downloads, you can check out their Web site at

“Top of the world!”  --James Cagney, White Heat


Mozart: Overtures (CD review)

Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. EMI 7243 5 85060 2.

Time is a funny thing. When you’re a kid, you want it to go by in a hurry so you can grow up fast.  When you’re an adult, you’d prefer it slowed down...way, way down. I got to thinking about time when I saw that EMI had re-released Marriner’s Mozart Overtures in their budget-label Encore series.

It seems like only yesterday, 1982, when Marriner first released these performances, and they went straight to the top of my personal favorites. They were the best I had heard, and at the moment they’re still among the best we’ve got. To be able to buy them new for less than the cost of the old full-price LP seems a bargain, indeed.

The collection includes nine overtures: The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, La clemenza di Tito, Lucio Silla, The Abduction from the Seraglio, Don Giovanni, Idomeneo, Cosi fan tutte, and Der Schauspieldirektor. The thing about them is that there is so little one needs to say to describe them. They are not scorching, exciting, tranquil, relaxed, or radiant. They simply “are.” They simply are the way they should be, just as we always imagine this music to sound. Of course, Marriner is always elegant, and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is always impeccable; that goes without saying. Otherwise, the performances are spot on, neither hurried nor lax, but glowing when they should be, witty when they should be, inspiring when they should be. It’s no wonder the Saul Zaentz Company chose Marriner to conduct the music for Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning Mozart movie Amadeus a few years later.

EMI’s sound is very early digital, but it was never hard or edgy as some early digital recordings could be. What’s more, the new mastering, which the folks at EMI do not indicate they updated in any way, is as convincing and alive as the old full-price disc. In any case, it’s good to hear this budget release sounds just as clean as the older edition. Understandably, there is little deep bass involved with Mozart, but there is a natural tonal balance, a wide stereo spread, a realistically ambient bloom, and a reasonable orchestral depth, and a modest transparency. It makes for a very fine reissue.


Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra (HQCD review)

Also, Burleske in D for Piano and Orchestra. Byron Janis, piano; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD264.

First, let’s get the old joke out of the way about your being able to tell a true, dyed-in-the-wool audiophile because he only listens to the introductory fanfare (“Sunrise”) of Zarathustra. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Next, let’s consider the performance. In 1954 conductor Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony made their first recording of Zarathustra in stereo for RCA. It became one of the earliest commercially available stereo recordings ever produced (and the earliest stereo recording of Zarathustra, period). Eight years later, in 1962, RCA audio engineers figured they had advanced the art of stereo recording enough that they asked Reiner to re-record the piece, which we have here. Subsequently, RCA released both the 1954 and 1962 recordings to CD in their “Living Stereo” series, and I was lucky enough to have both recordings on hand (the ’62 version on a JVC XRCD) for comparison.

The thing is, when Reiner made the ‘62 recording, he was in ill health, resigning from the orchestra shortly afterwards and dying the following year. His health issues may explain in part why critics for the past fifty years have pretty much agreed that this later recording was not quite as spontaneous, animated, or tension-filled as the earlier one. Indeed, the ’54 recording has withstood the test of time remarkably well, becoming a genuine classic, and there really hasn’t been anything to come along since to surpass it. Certainly not Reiner’s ’62 performance, which, by the way, is still quite good. What’s more, the ’54 recording’s audio quality holds its own as well, and in some people’s estimation still sounds better than the ‘62 one we have here. In any case, it’s the later recording HDTT remastered, so I was anxious to give it a listen.

A little more background: German composer and conductor Richard Strauss (1864-1949) wrote his tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra) in 1896, inspired by a philosophical novel by the German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche. Strauss divided the music into nine sections, naming the sections after various chapters of the book: “Sunrise,” “Of the Inhabitants of the Unseen World,” “Of the Great Longing,” “Of Joys and Passions,” “The Grave Song,” “Of Science and Learning,” “The Convalescent,” “The Dance-Song,” and “The Night-Wanderer’s Song.”

It’s probably best not to put too much stock in the literal meaning of each of these sections but to enjoy them for their figurative spirit. In fact, Strauss himself, criticized at the time for trying to put Nietzsche’s philosophy into music said, “I did not intend to write philosophical music, or to portray in music Nietzsche’s great work. I meant to convey by means of music an idea of the development of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of its evolution, religious and scientific, up to Nietzsche’s idea of the superman. The whole symphonic poem is intended as my homage to the genius of Nietzsche, which found its greatest exemplification in his book, Thus Spake Zarathustra.”

Listeners could always expect fine interpretations from Reiner, and I can’t think of a stereo recording he made with the CSO between 1954 and 1962 that didn’t thrill critics and audiences alike. It seems a little unfair that in ‘62 fans expected him to outdo his own ‘54 Zarathustra, since practically no one has done so to this day. Nevertheless, Reiner’s ‘62 performance remains vital, its vision still grand, noble, and eloquent. A simple glance at the timings for the work (about thirty-two minutes in ‘54 and thirty-four minutes in ’62) shows us that the conductor had slowed down a bit with the years and was taking things at a slightly more leisurely pace. This had the advantage, however, in producing a warmer, richer tone, which is especially telling in the final moments of the piece. It’s one of the most-affecting “Night-Wanderer’s Songs” you’ll find anywhere.

The companion music on the disc is Strauss’s early Burleske in D for Piano and Orchestra, with Byron Janis, recorded in 1957. Mr. Janis remains one of America’s preeminent pianists, and his performance of the Burleske remains one of the best you’ll find. 

RCA producer Richard Mohr and engineer Lewis Layton recorded the music in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, in April and May of 1962. The folks at RCA say in their original liner notes that they used six overall microphones for the occasion to capture the full impact of the 109-man orchestra. HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) remastered Zarathustra from an RCA 4-track tape (and the Burleske from an RCA LP) and then transferred it to HQCD. I put the HDTT disc into one CD player and the audiophile edition JVC XRCD of it remastered from the original master tape into another player and listened to them side-by-side, changing them out of each player from time to time to ensure fairness.

The chief difference I noticed within moments of Zarathustra was that the HDTT disc had a better left-to-right stereo spread than the JVC disc, the JVC for some odd reason favoring the left side of the stage. The HDTT, by contrast, distributed the instruments far more evenly and more realistically across the sound stage. Then I noted a marginally greater degree of clarity from the HDTT disc, while the JVC seemed to produce a greater degree of smoothness, although these qualities appeared to vary a tad as the comparison went on. Both discs displayed about an equal amount of roughness in the strings, no doubt a characteristic of the master tape, but for that matter the roughness was almost too small to care about. In addition, I heard a minimal level of background noise from both discs, with the effect perhaps heightened at times by the increased transparency of the HDTT. Bass was robust on both discs, and spaciousness and dynamics as well, but I’d give a small edge here to the HDTT.

Perhaps some day HDTT will favor us with a remastering of Reiner’s 1954 recording of the work. “‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

HDTT remastered the Burleske from a 1957 RCA LP, and I actually found its sound a touch more pleasing than the Zarathustra. It seemed quieter and softer, with a warm, added glow. It’s quite nice, and even if the music itself is nowhere near as impressive as Zarathustra, it makes a welcome coupling.

For further information about HDTT discs and downloads, you can check out their Web site at


Beethoven: Piano Concertos 1 & 3 (CD review)

Leif Ove Andsnes, piano; Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Sony Classics 88725420582.

With this 2012 release, Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes embarks on The Beethoven Journey, as he has titled the album, the first of several that will cover all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos and the Choral Fantasy. Whether he will then go on to do the Triple Concerto and the various sonatas, we’ll have to wait to see. As Andsnes notes in the disc’s accompanying booklet, this is the first time he’s recorded Beethoven at all, and his inspiration to do so was hearing snippets of the concertos playing in an elevator he used regularly. Mr. Andsnes is a fine, thoughtful, clearheaded pianist, and if this initial foray of his into Beethoven as pianist and director of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is any indication, we can only hope he’ll consider going as far as he can in the repertoire.

As Andsnes also points out in the booklet, there is nothing slight or lightweight about Beethoven’s first couple of piano concertos. In fact, it is only by comparison to the revolutionary ideas in the final few concertos that the early concertos seem of less consequence. Nevertheless, there is much to commend in all five of them.

Beethoven premiered the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15, in 1798. It is one of my favorite works by the composer, and if it sounds more mature than his Concerto No. 2, it’s because he actually wrote No. 1 some ten years after No. 2. Anyway, here in the Concerto No. 1 we get a big, rhythmic opening movement, a playfully tuneful closing movement, and in between them one of the most tranquil, meditative middle movements a listener could imagine.

I enjoyed the fresh bounce Andsnes maintains in his playing. He certainly takes the first movement briskly, which perhaps diminishes slightly the joy of the music, yet it’s probably more in line with Beethoven’s own Allegro con brio tempo marking than most pianists observe. So, it may be all in what a person has become used to hearing. The playing of both the soloist and the orchestra are friendly and inviting despite the quick pace. Andsnes is able to bring out not only the grandeur in the first movement but the lyricism and turmoil as well.

The Largo is among Beethoven’s most sublime creations, and Andsnes gives it a heartfelt interpretation. Still, the pianist shows no signs of sentimentality, which some listeners will appreciate. Personally, I would rather have heard a little more old-fashioned emotiveness from him, but that’s probably just my age speaking. It’s lovely, really.

The final Rondo, Allegro is rhythmically joyous fun, and Andsnes appears to be having a good time with it. Although it’s maybe not as resilient or melodious as, say, Steven Kovacevich's performance for Philips (still the touchstone in these works), it’s close, and Andsnes’s finger work is astonishing.

The Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, premiered in 1803, with Beethoven as usual the soloist. No. 3 is where a lot critics feel Beethoven found his own voice, and we begin to feel less the influence of Mozart and Haydn. Frankly, I find nothing wrong with those influences, but, yes, Beethoven is more creative here than ever before. The work is darker and more complex than Nos. 1 or 2, which in themselves don’t make No. 3 better, just different. The stricter, somewhat harsher moods Beethoven conjures up in No. 3 seem to suit Andsnes better, though, and he turns in a superb reading, both gravely somber and seductively sweet. While Andsnes fills the piece with a remarkable energy, there is always something just a trifle melancholy and lonely about all three movements.  Well done, sir.

Sony recorded the music at Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, Czechoslovakia, in early 2012. The sound is big (from so small an ensemble), yet it hasn’t quite the transparency or naturalness I’ve heard in a few other recordings. Nor is there much in the way of orchestral depth involved, so the sonic impression is one of relative flatness. However, there is a pleasant ambient glow around the instruments, a mild resonance that goes a long way toward compensating for any possible shortcomings. Moreover, there is a wide dynamic range and a strong impact that aid in overall realism.

A minor quibble: I enjoy nice-looking album covers. I enjoy at least glancing at them once in a while as I’m listening to a piece of music. The Andsnes Beethoven cover is as stark and nondescript as one can imagine; it looks as though someone simply typed the album’s title on a white sheet of paper. Since Sony plans to do more releases in this series, I hope they reconsider the artwork.


Classical Music News of the Week, September 16, 2012

Listen Magazine’s Fall Issue Ranges from Great Instrumentalists to Fine Instrument Makers, from First Loves to Last Rites – with a Cover Interview of Early-Music Virtuoso Jordi Savall

The new issue of Listen also features an appreciation of late vocal master Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a Bach masterclass with pianist András Schiff, a guide to more than 20 of the best new classical recordings and more

The Fall 2012 issue of Listen magazine ranges far and wide across the landscape of classical music today. There are stories from great instrumentalists and a photo essay on makers of fine instruments. Readers from across the globe tell about the first time they fell in love with classical music, and a reverend discusses the solace that laments in music can offer us. Few classical musicians have bridged divides in the world of music quite like Catalan early-music maestro Jordi Savall, who is a scholar, a conductor and the impresario of an art-house independent record label – along with being the world’s most beloved virtuoso of the viola da gamba. In this issue’s cover interview, Savall tells editor-in-chief Ben Finane about the philosophy behind his polymath multicultural explorations – and how he has been as moved by a simple Sephardic song as he has a big Mahler symphony.

Other highlights in the fall Listen are a virtual masterclass in Bach by pianist András Schiff, plus a look back on the career of the late and very great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. We see violinist Jennifer Koh dressed up like Albert Einstein for Philip Glass, and there are reports on the opera scene in English country houses and on the new Frank Gehry concert hall in Miami. Former Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent has the last word, reflecting on the art of his piano tuner.

In his interview, Savall reflects on the connection he had with his late wife and longtime musical partner, soprano Montserrat Figueras (who died last November). “She is still with me,” he says, adding that the two learned a key lesson together: “All the most important and beautiful moments in life are intimate. In the life I shared with Montserrat, we saw this. We saw that life is too short. . . so you look in music for good friends. As one philosopher says: `If you want happiness, find a friend and stay close to him.’”

Elsewhere in this issue of Listen, Bradley Bambarger covers an in-depth talk András Schiff gave on the interpretation of Bach – on the occasion of the pianist’s new ECM recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier, the latest of Bach’s major works he has revisited on disc. Schiff discusses his reverence for the golden-age Swiss pianist Edwin Fischer as a Bach interpreter over Glenn Gould, and he points out how age can be an aid to an artist – helping him, for instance, to expunge elements of “sentimentality” that he hears in his early recordings.

Very entertaining are the stories sent in by Listen readers – from Massachusetts to California, Italy to Australia, England to Israel, Canada to Oklahoma and beyond – about how they first fell in love with classical music. Several recalled fondly the scores they heard in The Lone Ranger radio series that ran from 1933 to 1956. Julia Strozyk of Oregon told a touching story from when she was a pre-teen learning the clarinet and taken by the classical records she heard in school: “My home life at this time was difficult. My parents were alcoholics, and I tried very hard to be a good student and well behaved, hoping I could make things better. But as so many kids in my situation find, it’s impossible to fix other people. I was frustrated but afraid to express that frustration. So Beethoven expressed it for me. Listening to that powerful music inspired me to have the courage to hold up my head, no matter what. I still feel a glorious feeling whenever I listen to the Fifth Symphony.”

Photographer Sarah Shatz’s engaging profiles of instrument makers, repairers and tuners honor such artisans as a “bellyman” restorer at the Steinway factory in Queens, N.Y., a violin maker on the Lower East Side and a brass repairer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Bow maker William Salchow also has a line in self-deprecation: “Bows are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

Brian Wise reports on Opera America’s ambitious new National Opera Center, a 25,000-square-foot performance, rehearsal and meeting complex in Manhattan. Thomas May offers an appreciation of an unsung masterpiece: Brahms’ choral-orchestral work Nänie, a song of mourning that isn’t a requiem but rather a creation in a category of its own. Daniel Felsenfeld reviews A Clockwork Counterpoint, a study of the composer Anthony Burgess – better known as the novelist who wrote A Clockwork Orange. As always, Listen offers recommendations on the best new recordings, including a “completion” of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony performed by Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic; rarely heard works by Hans Rott, Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling, August de Bouck, Volkmar Andrae and Scott Joplin; a Salzburg Festival DVD of Janácek’s Makropulos Case led by Esa-Pekka Salonen; Debussy’s Préludes by Alexei Lubimov on period pianos; and much more.

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet Media

The National Philharmonic’s 2012-2013 Season at Strathmore Features Fantastic Vocalists
Celebrating great vocalists, the National Philharmonic’s 2012-2013 concert season will feature superstar mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, who sings Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody; Magdalena Wór in Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky Suite; and Danielle Talamantes in Poulenc’s Gloria on the 50th anniversary of the composer’s passing. Led by Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, the season opens with an all-Beethoven program showcasing two of the composer’s most popular works--the sublime Piano Concerto No. 3 and the heroic Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”)--and throughout the year includes music by Bach, Handel, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Poulenc, Bernstein and more. Many renowned soloists will take the stage, including pianist Brian Ganz, playing his third all Chopin recital; violinist Stefan Jackiw and violist Victoria Chiang in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante; prizewinning cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski playing Luosawski’s Cello Concerto; and violinist Elena Urioste performing Andrea Makris’s compelling Violin Concerto in a concert celebrating American violin music. The season concludes with a tribute to Richard Wagner on the 200th anniversary of his birth featuring famous excerpts from the composer’s operas, including the Overture to the Flying Dutchman and the stirring curtain-raiser Prelude to Die Meistersinger.

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

Repeat Sunday matinee performances of the Philharmonic’s most popular programs (six concerts in total) 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.

Highlights of the 2012-2013 season 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 Lulosawki’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 more information and to purchase tickets, please visit or call 301-581-5100.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Music Institute Showcases 2012 Fischoff Grand Prize Winners
Barkada Quartet Performs October 21 at Nichols Concert Hall

The Music Institute of Chicago presents the Barkada Quartet, winner of the coveted 2012 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition Grand Prize and the Senior Wind Division Gold Medal. Only the fourth non-string ensemble to take top honors at Fischoff, the Barkada Quartet performs Sunday, October 21 at 3 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. As a Fischoff Winner’s Tour presenting partner, Nichols is a key stop on the Barkada Quartet’s Midwestern tour, which spans the month of October.

Barkada’s program includes “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by George Frideric Handel; Introduction et variations sur une ronde populaire by Gabriel Peirné; Six Bagatelles by Gyorgy Ligeti; Quartets per a saxos, volum 1 by David Salleras Quintana; Italian Concerto, BWV 971 by Johann Sebastian Bach; String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima” by Philip Glass; “They Might Be Gods” by John Leszczynski; and Recitation Book by David Maslanka.

Barkada Quartet:
Comprising current and former students at the renowned Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, the Barkada Quartet blends the colors and subtlety of traditional chamber ensembles with the flexibility and power of the saxophone. The ensemble, which formed in the fall of 2011, took the 2012 Fischoff Competition by storm. Only the fourth time in 39 years that a non-string ensemble earned top honors, the quartet was selected from a field of 48 top competing ensembles from around the world. Indiana University Associate Professor of Music Dr. Otis Murphy commented, “The Barkada Quartet exhibits a unique sense of respect, trust and camaraderie that defines its sense of oneness as a chamber ensemble. Its success at the Fischoff Competition is a major feat.”

The quartet’s soprano saxophonist Christopher Elchico suggested the name “barkada,” which signifies “a group of friends” or “a form of family” in the Filipino language Tagalog, as a reminder to listeners of all ages that chamber playing began to give friends and family a chance to share the beauty of music with one another. See below for individuals musician bios.

In addition to the Fischoff Winner’s Tour of the Midwest, the Barkada Quartet will perform several concerts in the Emilia Romagna Festival in Italy in 2013.

Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition:
Founded in 1973 in South Bend, Indiana, the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition has become the largest chamber music competition in the world and one of the most prestigious classical music prizes attainable today. Since its founding, more than 5,000 musicians have participated, many continuing to establish distinguished careers in music performance and education.
The Music Institute of Chicago has had a strong presence at Fischoff throughout the years. Students from the Music Institute’s prestigious Academy for gifted pre-college musicians earned first and third place in the Junior Division of the 2012 Fischoff competition, and Academy students have taken first place in the Junior Division in four of the past five years, as well as earning five additional top medals:

2012 – 1st, Quartet Stracciatella; 3rd, Quartet Ardella
2010 – 1st, Quartet Danae; 2nd, Emerald String Quartet
2009 – 1st, Aurelia String Quartet; 3rd, Quartet Danae
2008 – 1st, Quartet Polaris; 2nd, Ridere Quartet; 3rd, Aurelia String Quartet

In addition, Music Institute ensembles in residence Quintet Attacca and Axiom Brass have received awards at the competition.

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.

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 2012 Fischoff Grand Prize winning Barkada Quartet performs Sunday, October 21 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.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Anne Akiko Meyers Announces Contest Winners
Arcus Gold Bow valued at $5k goes to Armenian-born violinist Hrachya Avanesyan while scholarship and string sets go to violinists from Greece and Uzbekistan.

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers today announces the winners of her worldwide contest to identify some of the most promising aspiring violinists playing today. The prize, an Arcus Cadenza Gold carbon fiber violin bow (valued at over $5,000) is being awarded to the Armenian-born violinist Hrachya Avanesyan for his performance of Mozart’s Violin Concert No. 3 in G Major.

The contest was held on Facebook and was open to anyone. Musicians entered to win by uploading a video that showed how they would be the best fit for this bow. Between the launch of the contest on July 15th and the closing on September 2nd, nearly 1000 violinists submitted entries for the prized bow.

“I was overwhelmed by the incredible quality of musicians and the great responsibility of choosing the winners,” remarked Anne Akiko Meyers. “It was a labor of love and reminded me how powerfully music can bring people from all over the world together."

 As a result of this tremendous response, Meyers made the decision to add two more prizes to the contest whose winners are also announced today. The second prize, a $1000 scholarship is being awarded to the 19 year old Greek violinist Jonian Ilias Kadesha for his interpretation of Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 2. Third prize, five sets of Titanium Vision violin strings (valued at close to $500) will go to Adelya Nartadjieva of Uzbekistan for a movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

For more information about Anne Akiko Meyers and the recent contest, visit  Follow Anne on Twitter at @anneakikomeyers and on Facebook at

--Rebecca Davis PR

The Pianist Daniel Levy Celebrates His Silver Jubilee as a Recording Artist and his 20th Anniversary as a Steinway Artist with a Limited Edition of CDs “The Voice of the Piano.”
As part of the celebration of Daniel Levy’s 25th anniversary as a recording artist, the label Edelweiss Emission will be releasing a Limited Edition of 64 CDs throughout 2012-2013 named “The Voice of the Piano.” 

The first 9 CDs of the series will be presented on Tuesday 9th October 2012, from 17.30 until 19.00, at Steinway & Sons, 44 Marylebone Lane, London, W1U 2DB. Daniel Levy will be interviewed by the music critic Bernard Jacobson.

For this celebration, the legendary piano makers Steinway & Sons have conferred a special acknowledgment to Daniel Levy as a "Steinway Artist" for his significant contribution to music. In 2012, Daniel Levy celebrates two anniversaries: his silver jubilee as a recording artist and his 20th Anniversary as a Steinway Artist. Steinway & Sons would like to express our cordial congratulations, and look forward to being a part of Daniel Levy’s wonderful musicianship in the future.”

Gerrit Glaner, Steinway & Sons

The series gathers together a wide variety of recordings by Daniel Levy that have been recorded over a successful 25 year period of intensive artistic activity and instrumental virtuosity, with a repertoire that includes music for solo piano, for piano with orchestra, chamber music and lieder. The series is made up of new releases and a number of carefully selected re-editions of Daniel Levy’s earlier recordings.

Critics and audiences across the world consider Daniel Levy to be one of today’s most inspiring musicians, with a unique approach to music and its meanings that he conveys with refined artistry.
This outstanding series of 64 CDs will feature the following works:

The two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier and The Art of the Fugue by J.S. Bach

Sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert
Works by Chopin and Liszt
A captivating fresco of 15 CDs with works by Schumann, including Kreisleriana, Davidsbündlertänze, Kinderszenen, Waldszenen, Sonatas n. 1 and n. 2, Fantasia Op. 17 and Phantasiestücke, Carnaval and Vienna Carnaval, Papillons, Gesänge der Frühe, Album for the Young, chamber music with violin, viola, clarinet and oboe, Piano Concerto in A Minor, Lieder and Quintet, among others
Grieg’s 66 Lyric Pieces and his Sonata, completed with the three sonatas for violin and piano
Works by Brahms for piano, along with the Concerto No. 1 with the Philharmonia Orchestra
Piano Recitals with works by Mendelssohn, Debussy and Ravel
Studies and preludes by Scriabin
Spanish pieces by Albéniz, Granados and De Falla
Argentinian pieces by Guastavino, Ginastera and Piazzolla
A series of compositions by Levy

The acclaimed journalist and Classical Music critic Bernard Jacobson had this to say about Levy’s playing and The Voice of the Piano: “I have loved Daniel Levy’s playing since the first moment I encountered it. But it has taken this superb collection to remind me that he is an artist worthy to stand alongside, not just the Brendels and Lupus, but any of the most celebrated figures in the ranks of musical interpretation. However well listeners to these performances may already know the works presented here, they will assuredly learn many things about them that they have not thought of before–and that, along with the blessed willingness to take risks, is what distinguishes great artistry from mere craftsmanship.”

--Dhyana McAlister, PR Edelweiss Emission

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