Classical Music News of the Week, November 18, 2012

An Array of Genres Showcased in Winter Programming for the MasterCard Performance Series In Sonoma State University’s Weill Hall

November and December concerts feature renowned mezzo-sopranos Stephanie Blythe and Joyce DiDonato, Afro-Cuban musician Chucho Valdés, jazz-infused flamenco artist Buika, Renaissance polyphony with the Tallis Scholars, and Handel’s Messiah with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

Located on the picturesque campus of Sonoma State University in the heart of California’s wine region, Weill Hall at the Green Music Center continues its 2012-13 inaugural season of the MasterCard Performance Series with November and December concerts by world-renowned artists including acclaimed mezzo-sopranos Stephanie Blythe and Joyce DiDonato, Afro-Cuban musician Chucho Valdés, jazz-infused flamenco artist Buika, Renaissance vocalists the Tallis Scholars, and Philharmonia Baroque with Handel’s Messiah.

Renowned mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe brings her highly praised program, “We’ll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith” Saturday, November 10 at 8 p.m. New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe asserts that Blythe “was in some ways an even better Kate Smith than Kate Smith. Guiding listeners through anecdotes alternately hilarious and moving, and accompanied subtly and stylishly on the piano by Craig Terry, she infused this sometimes frustratingly stable material with nuance and sophistication, filament-thin pianissimos and formidable walls of sound, which excavated fresh emotion in songs that she lovingly called ‘musical comfort food, mac-and-cheese music.’”

Hailed by The New York Times as "the dean of Latin jazz" and "one of the world's great virtuosic pianists," Afro-Cuban musician Chucho Valdés and his quintet perform in Weill Hall on Sunday, November 11 at 7 p.m. Their sound is a unique blend of African, South American, Cuban, and Spanish music traditions, with the dexterous Valdés leading from the piano and combing sheer power with rhythmic sensibility, steeped in the intricacies of Afro-Cuban culture. Valdés has a forty-year track record of blazing new trails – as a visionary musician unwilling to bend to his government’s aesthetic structures, and as a composer, musician, arranger, and bandleader.

The New York Times describes singer Buika’s unique blend of flamenco, jazz, soul and blues as "luminous...magnificent...superb!” Daughter of political refugees from Equatorial Guinea, the “Flamenco Queen” was raised in a gypsy neighborhood on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Her soulful, passionate and powerful vocals have been described as a mixture of Tina Turner, Lora Flores, and Sarah Vaughan – but her musical style is one all her own. Her performance takes place Thursday, November 15 at 8 p.m.

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is beloved by audiences and critics alike, receiving international honors including the 2010 Gramophone Artist of the Year award. Proclaimed by the New York Times to be “the perfect 21st-century diva --an effortless combination of glamour, charisma, intelligence, grace, and remarkable talent,” DiDonato performs at Weill Hall on Tuesday, November 20 at 8 p.m., one of only three recitals in the United States this season. Fresh off of her hugely successful performance as Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi with the San Francisco Opera, mezzo-soprano DiDonato’s recital, “Drama Queens,” focuses on music from the Italian Baroque period.

The superbly blended voices of The Tallis Scholars, led by Peter Phillips, are renowned for their absolute clarity and purity of sound in Renaissance polyphony with The New York Times calling them “the rock stars of Renaissance vocal music” and asserting that the group has “proved themselves equally adept in the idiom of the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.” Their program, “Love is Better Than Wine,” will demonstrate that range when they mix works by Tallis, Praetorius, Lassus, Vivanco and Pärt on Saturday, December 8 at 8 p.m.

Famed Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki, founder and Music Director of the Bach Collegium Japan, leads the internationally renowned Philharmonia Baroque on Sunday, December 9 at 3 p.m. in a performance of Handel’s beloved Messiah. Recently proclaimed by Joshua Kosman in Gramophone as “a leader in the field of historically informed performances, both in the U.S. and internationally,” the Bay Area-based early music ensemble will be joined by Philharmonia Chorale led by director Bruce Lamott, and soloists Sherezade Panthaki, Fabiana González, Dann Coakwell and Dashon Burton.

MasterCard Worldwide is the series presenting sponsor for Weill Hall at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center, providing generous supports for the annual MasterCard Performance Series, as well as a future outdoor pavilion for music and dance. Programming support is also provided by the Edward and Carolyn Stolman Fund, inaugural season lead underwriter; and Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, vocal series underwriters.

Tickets range from $20 - $90 and are available through the Green Music Center Box Office at 1-866-955-6040 or online at gmc.sonoma.edu.  For further information, please visit gmc.sonoma.edu or email greenmusiccenter@sonoma.edu.

--Karen Ames Communications

National Philharmonic Chorale to Perform Handel’s Messiah at the Music Center at Strathmore
In celebration of the holidays, National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson will conduct the National Philharmonic in Handel’s Messiah on Saturday, December 8 at 8 pm, Saturday, December 22 at 8 pm and Sunday, December 23 at 3 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. The concert will feature the National Philharmonic’s nearly 200 voice all-volunteer Chorale, as well as soloists Danielle Talamantes (soprano); Magdalena Wór  (mezzo-soprano); Matthew Smith (tenor); and Kevin Deas (bass).

Handel’s Messiah, among the most popular works in Western choral literature, was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The composer’s most famous work is divided into three parts that address specific events in the life of Christ. Part one is primarily concerned with the Advent and Christmas stories; part two chronicles Christ's passion, resurrection, ascension and commitment to spreading the Christian message; and part three is based primarily upon the events chronicled in the Revelation of St. John. The National Philharmonic and Chorale, in addition to a stellar cast of soloists, will perform the complete work, which includes such favorites as “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” “And the Glory of the Lord,” and, of course, the famous “Hallelujah Chorus.”

About the Soloists    
DC’s Danielle Talamantes is one the region’s most sought after soloists. Appearing before sold out houses, Ms. Talamantes continues to garner the attention of a number of classical music organizations, symphonies, and opera companies. She recently debuted as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata with Fremont Opera to the tune of rave reviews. She was also thrilled to fulfill her debut contract in the Spring of 2011 with the Metropolitan Opera covering the role of Najade in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Recent concert performances featured Ms. Talamantes as soprano soloist with the Nashville Symphony, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Choralis, and the Oratorio Society of VA. She looks forward to making her debut with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society in May, 2012 in Mendelssohn’s Elijah and is delighted to return to perform with the New Dominion Chorale in an October 2012 production of Orff’s Carmina Burana as well as the National Philharmonic Chorale & Orchestra in a December, 2012 performance of Handel’s Messiah, and a February, 2013 performance of Poulenc’s Gloria. This summer, Ms. Talamantes, will be soprano in residence at the 2012 Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont.

Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wór is the first place Winner of the Heinz Rehfuss Vocal Competition (2005), a Metropolitan Opera Competition National Finalist (2002), a winner of the Mozart Society of Atlanta Competition, an alumna of the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Summer Opera Program and Chautauqua Music Institution’s Marlena Malas Voice Program and St. Louis Opera Theatre’s Gerdine Young Artist Program. Ms. Wór was a member of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera from 2006-2008. She has recently appeared with the Metropolita Opera, National Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony and New Trinity Baroque. A polish native, Wór has lived in the United States since 1991. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in vocal performance from Georgia State University.

Tenor Matthew Smith is an accomplished tenor, having performed with many prestigious ensembles including the Washington Bach Consort, Cathedral Choral Society, Washington Concert Opera, Niagara Symphony Orchestra, Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra, and the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. His operetta and operatic roles have included Frederic in Pirates of Penzance, Baron Zsupàn in Countess Maritza, the Prologue in The Turn of the Screw, Kaspar in Amahl and the Night Visitors, the Mayor in Albert Herring, and Torquemada in L’heure Espagnol. Smith received the Carmel Bach Festival’s Adams Fellowship in 2008. He studied voice with Beverley Rinaldi and Christine Anderson while earning his BM in Voice at the Cleveland Institute of Music and a MM in Opera from Temple University. Matthew currently serves with the Air Force Singing Sergeants in Washington, DC.

American bass Kevin Deas is especially celebrated for his riveting portrayal of the title role in Porgy and Bess with the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco, Atlanta, San Diego, Utah, Houston, Baltimore and Montreal Symphonies and at the Ravinia and Saratoga Festivals.  His recent recordings include Die Meistersinger with the Chicago Symphony under the late Sir Georg Solti and Varèse’s Ecuatorial with the ASKO Ensemble under Ricardo Chailly, both on Decca/London. Other releases include Bach’s B minor Mass and Handel’s Acis & Galatea on Vox Classics and Dave Brubeck’s To Hope! with the Cathedral Choral Society on the Telarc label.

About the Conductor
In demand throughout the United States and Europe, Dr. Stan Engebretson has led choirs in Venice’s Cathedral of St. Mark and taught in Cologne, Trier, St. Moritz, and Barcelona. He has studied with the great masters of choral music, including Robert Shaw, Gregg Smith, Richard Westenburg, Roger Wagner and Eric Ericson. After attending the University of North Dakota and earning his Doctorate from Stanford University, Engebretson taught at the University of Texas and the University of Minnesota. He also was the Artistic Director of the Midland-Odessa Symphony Chorale and the Associate Conductor of the Minnesota Chorale. In Washington since 1990, Engebretson is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Studies at George Mason University and is the Director of Music at the historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. From 1993-2003, he was the Artistic Director of
the predecessor to the National Philharmonic Chorale, the Masterworks Chorus and the semi-professional National Chamber Singers. Engebretson remains active in other areas, performing as a professional chorister and lecturer, and leading the Smithsonian Institution’s Study Journeys
at the Spoleto-USA Festival of the Arts.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony Present a World-Premiere by Dylan Mattingly, with Shai Wosner as Soloist in Ligeti’s Piano Concerto December 6
Music Director Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony continue their 2012-13 Season on Thursday, December 6 at 8 PM in Zellerbach Hall with the world premiere of Invisible Skyline by Berkeley native Dylan Mattingly. Berkeley Symphony also welcomes acclaimed pianist Shai Wosner. Praised by NPR’s “All Things Considered” for his “keen musical mind and deep musical soul,” Wosner will perform as soloist in Ligeti’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Robert Schumann’s Symphony No.2 in C Major, Op.61 also features on the program. Berkeley Symphony dedicates the concert to the memory of Alan Farley, who hosted the KALW broadcast of the orchestra’s Zellerbach Hall performances until his passing in October.

Dylan Mattingly’s music has been performed around the world by such performers as Berkeley Symphony, the Del Sol String Quartet, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Soovin Kim, Sarah Cahill, Mary Rowell and Geoffrey Burleson. A multi-talented performer and improviser on cello, bass, piano, guitar and percussion, Mattingly is influenced by the music by Thomas Ades, John Adas, Olivier Messiaen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and the old American blues and folk field recordings of the Lomaxes. For two years he was the co-director of “Formerly Known as Classical,” a Bay Area new-music ensemble whose young members only play music written in their lifetimes, and is now the co-artistic director and co-founder of Contemporaneous, a New York-based ensemble of young musicians dedicated to performing the most exciting music of the present moment. Contemporaneous has just released an album on INNOVA Records entitled “Stream of Stars--Music of Dylan Mattingly.” Mattingly is a graduate of Berkeley Symphony’s “Under Construction Composers Program” which offers the opportunity for emerging composers to further develop their skills and gain practical experience in writing for a professional orchestra.

In demand as a soloist, chamber musician and recording artist, Israeli pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry, musical integrity and creative insight. The New York Times wrote of his Onyx debut recording of works by Brahms and Schoenberg as “inventively conceived and impressive.” A versatile performer of all musical genres, Shai Wosner will demonstrate his contemporary artistry with Ligeti’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Throughout Ligeti’s life, he continually sought out new musical styles and remained open to fresh influence. It was perhaps his endurance of two totalitarian regimes--Nazi and Stalinist--that provoked his rejection of compositional systems and sparked exploration of ideas such as African polyphony and mathematically inspired principles of fractals and chaos theory. The same influences informed his Piano Concerto.

Conducted by Felix Mendelssohn in Leipzig, the premiere of Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major in 1846 received a lukewarm reception from the audience. But after the composer made numerous edits creating a much sleeker version, it soon became the most highly esteemed of his symphonies. Despite suffering from mental illness throughout most of his adult life, Schumann overcame these afflictions through his dedication and application to music. He studied Bach counterpoint with his wife Clara, each writing a series of fugues including a set on the name B-A-C-H. The exercise was to leave its mark on the C Major Symphony.

--Karen Ames Communications

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Returns with Handel’s Messiah at First Congregational Church, Saturday, December 8, at 7:00 p.m.
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, led by guest conductor Masaaki Suzuki, with “a subtle ear for color, a keen sense of harmonic direction, and an ability to make phrases breathe and rhythms live” (The New York Times), returns to Cal Performances with George Frederic Handel’s class oratorio Messiah on Saturday, December 8 at 7:00 p.m. at First Congregational Church. This performance will feature the Philharmonia Chorale, directed by Bruce Lamott, and soloists from Suzuki’s ensemble at Yale University’s Institute of Sacred Music: Sherezade Panthaki, soprano, Fabiana González, alto, Dann Coakwell, tenor and Dashon Burton, bass-baritone. Speaking on a recent Handel performance, San Francisco Classical Voice applauded the “irresistible combination of rhythmic verve and sheer delight” of the ensemble.

Handel (1685–1759) completed Messiah in 1742. While it was originally intended for performance during Lent and Easter, Messiah—subtitled “A Sacred Oratorio”—has in modern times become an Advent and Christmas-season mainstay. The work combines Old and New Testament texts concerning prophecies of a savior, the Messiah.

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has presented historically informed Baroque, Classical and early-Romantic music on original instruments since its founding in 1981 by Laurette Goldberg. Nicholas McGegan has been its artistic director since 1985. The group has garnered an impressive reputation including Musical America’s Ensemble of the Year in 2004. Based in the Bay Area, the ensemble has toured nationally and internationally performing in prominent locations such as BBC Proms, Tanglewood, Concertgebouw and Disney Hall.  The Philharmonia Chorale was created in 1995 to provide voices for works that the orchestra performs. This group is composed of 24 singers that have distinguished solo and ensemble experience with San Francisco Symphony, American Bach Soloists, Carmel Bach Festival and others.  The chorale has been led by Bruce Lamott since 1997.

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has collaborated with Cal Performances on a number of occasions. Most recently in the 2011-2012 season the ensemble performed in Mark Morris’s Dido and Aeneas with Stephanie Blythe singing the role of Dido and with Morris conducting.

Masaaki Suzuki is currently the director of Bach Collegium Japan and a visiting professor at Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music.  A leading voice in early music, Suzuki has conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Melbourne Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and others.  He has recently won the German Record Critic’s Award in 2010 and a BBC Music Magazine Award with his recording of Bach motets with Bach Collegium Japan. Suzuki last appeared with Bach Collegium Japan at Cal Performances in March 2006.

Soprano Sherezade Panthaki is known as a talent in the field of early-music and has worked with many of the world’s leading early music interpreters including Nicholas McGegan, Simon Carrington and Willim Christie. She sang Handel’s Messiah previously with the Nashville Symphony. Born in India, Panthaki recently graduated with an Artist Diploma from Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music where she won multiple awards such as the prestigious Phyllis Curtin Career Entry Prize. Alto Fabiana González, a Puerto Rican native, recently completed her Masters in Early Music Performance at Yale School of Music, and has since become a rising star in the United States. In addition to solo performances, she has worked with various national and international festivals including the International Baroque Institute at the Longy School of Music, the Norfolk Festival and the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers. Tenor Dann Coakwell is equally well versed in early and lyric opera. He debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2010 as Audrey in Prokofiev’s Dalyekie Morya (Distant Seas) and has worked with such conductors as Suzuki and Helmuth Rilling. He has appeared as a tenor soloist with the five time Grammy-nominated group Conspirare both in performance and in their 2009 CD, Conspirare: A Company of Voices. Coakwell holds his Artist Diploma in Vocal Performance from Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Bass-baritone Dashon Burton has recently collaborated with Suzuki, Pierre Boulez and Steven Smith. He sang and recorded with Cantus, an elite nine piece vocal ensemble that travels across the country and collaborates with artists and groups such as the Boston Pops, James Sewell Ballet and Bobby McFerrin. He is a founding member of Roomful of Teeth, a vocal group committed to exploring the full range of possible vocal techniques.

--Joe Yang, Philharmonia Baroque

American Bach Soloists Present Handel’s Messiah in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, December 20-22, 2012
There will be three performances only of Northern California's beloved holiday tradition and perenially sold-out event.

American Bach Soloists (ABS) have been thrilling audiences with holiday presentations of Handel’s Messiah in the breathtaking setting of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral since 1998. To mark the opening of ABS’s 24th season—and the 14th of this beloved tradition—music director Jeffrey Thomas will lead three performances from December 20-22, 2012, of the immortal masterwork with the period-instrument specialists of ABS, “some of the greatest period-instrument players in the world” (San Francisco Classical Voice), a superb quartet of vocal soloists, and the American Bach Choir, which “sets the standard in choral singing” (SFCV). Building upon the usual one or two performances of past seasons, 2012 marks the first time that the opportunity to experience this event will be extended through a Saturday presentation. These are always sold-out affairs, year after year, so even with an added performance seats are filling rapidly.

Having already presented the myriad versions of the work that Handel prepared during his lifetime, ABS will perform a version with voice assignments and sequences of parts that communicate the humanity and brilliance of Messiah with the greatest immediacy. Utilizing period instruments, these performances feature valve-less trumpets, the warm tone of gut strings, and expressive singing according to the performance practices of the composer’s time. With Maestro Thomas at the helm leading the extraordinary forces of ABS, these performances will continue to be among the finest anywhere. From the opening strains of the overture to the final “Amen,” the powerful score resonating throughout the awe-inspiring interior of Grace Cathedral makes this the perfect holiday treat to inspire wonder and joy.

Performance Schedule:
Thursday, December 20, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street (at Taylor Street), San Francisco

Friday, December 21, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street (at Taylor Street), San Francisco

Saturday, December 22, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street (at Taylor Street), San Francisco

Single tickets $20--$94. For more information, visit americanbach.org or call 415-621-7900.

--Christopher D. Lewis, Development and Communications Director

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa