Classical Music News of the Week, December 2, 2012

December 12-16 Concerts Showcase Extraordinary Muscians of New Century Chamber Orchestra

World Premiere from Clarice Assad rounds out program that includes music by Vivaldi, Handel and Lera Auerbach.

The “Soloists of New Century” December concerts showcase the extraordinary virtuosity of Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the musicians of New Century Chamber Orchestra with concerts designed to feature the ensemble’s musicians as soloists. In a creative stroke by Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg, each movement from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons will be performed by a different member of the orchestra. Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg performs the first and last solos with the remaining taken by each of the violinists. Clarice Assad’s Suite for Lower Strings, based on themes of Bach, in its world premiere performance, shines light on the viola, cello and bass sections. And New Century violist Jenny Douglass takes her turn in the spotlight as soloist with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in Sogno di Stabat Mater for Solo Violin, Viola, Vibraphone and String Orchestra, a work by 2012-13 Featured Composer Lera Auerbach. The program also includes Handel’s Solomon, Entrance of the Queen of Sheba which features the entire ensemble.

“I've often said that one of the most important elements of the New Century equation is the individualism of these fantastic musicians,” says Salerno-Sonnenberg. “Audiences have noticed and critics have noticed and now...all of us on stage are beginning to feel it ourselves. These concerts give the spotlight to each of my colleagues and give audiences a chance to really hear that this is, truly, an extraordinary ensemble comprised of great solo musicians playing as one.”

“Soloists of New Century” will be given on four evenings in different locations around the Bay Area:  Wednesday, December 12 at 8 PM, Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton High, Atherton, Thursday, December 13 at 8 PM, First Congregational Church, Berkeley, Saturday, December 15 at 8 PM, Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, and Sunday, December 16 at 5 PM, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, San Rafael. New Century offers an Open Rehearsal at 10 AM on Monday, December 10 at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco for a price of only $8. The Open Rehearsal will offer a sneak preview of the concert repertoire, while allowing audiences to experience the musical democracy of a rehearsal without a conductor. The December 15th San Francisco performance is made possible, in part, by the generous support of My Dutch Uncle. 

Two of the most famous Baroque works are featured on the program, beginning with Handel’s Solomon, Entrance of the Queen of Sheba, and concluding with Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Vivaldi composed more than 500 concerti during his life, of which The Four Seasons are undoubtedly the most popular. Through this outstanding output, Vivaldi did more than any composer to develop the Baroque concerto, establishing many of its standard features such as its three-movement (fast-slow-fast) structure. They were published in 1975 as part of a collection entitled “The Test of Harmony and Invention,” and if not the earliest example of program music, they are among the boldest musical experiments of the 18th century. “Entrance of the Queen of Sheba” is the name of an orchestral movement from Handel’s oratorio Solomon, where it serves as the Overture to Act III.

Russian composer Lera Auerbach, New Century’s 2012-13 Featured Composer, is widely regarded as the musical heir of Alfred Schnittke. In similar style, Auerbach often uses classical quotes to express her personal message as she did in her 40 minute work Dialogs on Stabat Mater, of which Sogno di Stabat Mater is an abridged version. Both versions were premiered by the Kremerata Baltica and featured violinist Gideon Kremer, violist Ula Ulijona and vibraphonist Andrei Pushkarev as soloists. Lera Auerbach is the fifth Featured Composer for the New Century Chamber Orchestra. The Featured Composer program was established to give structure to the organization’s longstanding commitment to the creation and performance of new music. The ensemble will perform the world premiere of her work Sinfonia for Strings (Primera Luz) in May 2013.

--Karen Ames Communications

Cal Performances Presents Mark Morris’s Acclaimed The Hard Nut, December 14-23 at Zellerbach Hall
George Cleve conducts the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra with Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir.

“…something approaching a miracle…” (Washington Post) comes to Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall, Friday–Sunday, December 14–16 and Thursday–Sunday, December 20–23, as Mark Morris’s The Hard Nut returns to the Bay Area after a three year hiatus for the holidays. It is a festive reimagining of Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker ballet—with its tale of childhood hopes and fears, fairytale menace and life-renewing love that Morris sets in the 1970s. It features dancing Barbie dolls, go-go boots, G.I. Joe soldiers, leaping snowflakes, inspired gender-bending casting, 93 costume changes, over 60 set pieces and props including 20 lbs. of confetti for the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” scene, all set to Tchaikovsky’s glorious score. For the first time in Berkeley, Morris will take on the role of Dr. Stahlbaum/King. Sets and costumes for The Hard Nut are based on concepts of comic-book artist and illustrator Charles Burns and were designed by longtime MMDG collaborators Adrianne Lobel (sets), Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) and James F. Ingalls (lighting). Maestro George Cleve will conduct the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s complete score and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, under the direction of Robert Geary, once again lend their voices. “Going back to The Hard Nut is like revisiting a dear old friend. You laugh at the foibles, rejoice at the triumphs and find delight in the familiar. You anticipate responses, but they still evoke laughter and even, occasionally, plunge you into a moment of reflection” (San Francisco Chronicle).

The Hard Nut premiered in Belgium in 1991; it was Morris’s farewell gift to his European hosts before stepping down as Director of Dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, the national opera house of Belgium. The production was greeted with unanimous critical acclaim and uproarious applause. Cal Performances presented the West Coast premiere of The Hard Nut in December 1996 and has re-mounted the production often to rave reviews.

Artists:
Several dancers return to familiar Hard Nut roles, including Lauren Grant (Marie), June Omura (Fritz), Jenn Weddel (Louise/Princess Pirlipat), John Heginbotham (Mrs. Stahlbaum/Queen) and Kraig Patterson (Housekeeper/Nurse). Dancers Aaron Loux and Billy Smith will perform the roles of Nutcracker/Young Drosselmeier and Drosselimeier respectively. Shawn Gannon, who danced with the company from 1995–2004, returns as one of the Party Guests in Act I and the Dentist in Act II. The rest of the Mark Morris Dance Group join the principals as Party Guests, Rat Soldiers, G.I. Joes, Snow, Suitors, Spaniards, Arabians, Chinese, Russians, Frenchmen and Flowers.

The work of comic book artist and illustrator Charles Burns is the basis for the production’s distinctive look. Adrianne Lobel (sets), James F. Ingalls (lighting) and Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) are each longtime design cohorts of Morris’.  Lobel and Ingalls have collaborated with Morris on a number of works, including Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato and Purcell’s King Arthur. Pakledinaz most recently designed the costumes for Morris’s Festival Dance in 2011.

George Cleve, who will guest conduct the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, is the cofounder of the Midsummer Mozart Festival and has conducted orchestra nationally and abroad for over 20 years.  Robert Geary is the artistic conductor of the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir and together they have toured through the United States and performed in numerous music festivals such as the Oregon Bach Festival and Newport Music Festival.

Mark Morris was born on August 29, 1956, in Seattle, Washington. In the early years of his career, he performed with Lar Lubovitch, Hannah Kahn, Laura Dean, Eliot Feld and the Koleda Balkan Dance Ensemble. He formed the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980, and has since created more than 130 works for the company. From 1988–1991, he was Director of Dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, the national opera house of Belgium. Among the works created during his tenure were three evening-length dances: The Hard Nut; L’Allegro; il Penseroso ed il Moderato and Dido and Aeneas. In 1990, he founded the White Oak Dance Project with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Morris is also much in demand as a ballet choreographer.  He has created eight works for the San Francisco Ballet since 1994 and received commissions from American Ballet Theatre and the Boston Ballet, among others both nationally and internationally. Morris is noted for his musicality and has been described as “undeviating in his devotion to music” (The New Yorker).

Most recently Morris has been awarded the Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate Award (2012) and Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). He is the subject of a biography by Joan Acocella (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) and Marlowe & Company published a volume of photographs and critical essays entitled Mark Morris’ L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato: A Celebration. He also has received 11 honorary doctorates including a recently from the Cornish School of Arts in 2011.

The Mark Morris Dance Group was formed in 1980 and gave its first performance that year in New York City. Based in Brooklyn, New York, the company has maintained and strengthened its ties to several cities around the world, most notably its West Coast home Cal Performances. The group first came to Cal Performances in 1987, and has returned every year since 1994. Visits to Zellerbach Hall include world premieres and West Coast premieres such as Socrates (2010), Romeo & Juliet, On Motifs of Shakespeare (2008), Mozart Dances (2007), King Arthur (2006) Candleflowerdance (2005), Rock of Ages (2004), All Fours (2003), Something Lies Beyond the Scene (2003) and Kolam (2003). More information about Mark Morris and MMDG can be found at http://markmorrisdancegroup.org.

Ticket Information:
Tickets for The Hard Nut Friday–Sunday, December 14–16 and Thursday–Sunday, December 20–23 in Zellerbach Hall range from $30.00– $110.00, subject to change. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall; at (510) 642-9988; at www.calperformances.org; and at the door.  Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. UC faculty and staff, senior citizens, other students and UC Alumni Association members receive a $5.00 discount (Special Events excluded). For select performances, Cal Performances offers UCB student, faculty and staff, senior, and community rush tickets.  For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php or call (510) 642-9988.

--Joe Yang, Cal Performances

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa