Classical Music News of the Week, January 5, 2014

Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang Join Philharmonia Baroque in C.P.E. Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord & Fortepiano February 5-9, 2014

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra celebrates the 300th birthday of composer C.P.E. Bach with renowned fortepianist and harpsichordist Robert Levin, joined by his wife, Ya-Fei Chuang on fortepiano. Music Director Nicholas McGegan leads the Orchestra in C.P.E. Bach's Concerto for Fortepiano and Harpsichord in E-flat major and Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 68 in B-flat major. Concerts take place from February 5-9, 2014, at Stanford University's Bing Concert Hall (Wednesday, February 5), San Francisco's SFJAZZ Center (Friday, February 7), and at First Congregational Church in Berkeley (Saturday, February 8 and Sunday, February 9). Tickets are priced from $25 to $97.

C.P.E. Bach's Concerto for Fortepiano and Harpsichord juxtaposes these complementary yet contrasting instruments, both predecessors to the modern piano. Says McGegan "The harpsichord and fortepiano have a tennis match with the orchestra as the net." The concerto was written at a time when the harpsichord was being replaced by the fortepiano as solo instrument. Also on the program are C.P.E. Bach's Keyboard Concerto in B minor and his sprightly Symphony in E minor - both full of unexpected twists and turns.

McGegan leads the Orchestra in an energetic performance of Haydn's Symphony No. 68, which dates from Haydn's years as Kappellmeister to the Esterházy family. "Haydn and McGegan were made for each other," enthused the Los Angeles Times

Robert Levin is known for his expertise in Classical period performance practice. He served on the editorial board at the Packard Humanities Institute which oversaw publication of the complete works of C.P.E. Bach.

When/Where:
Wednesday, February 5 at 7:30 PM
Bing Concert Hall, Stanford University

Friday, February 7 at 8:00 PM
SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco

Saturday, February 8 at 8:00 PM
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

Sunday, February 9 at 7:30 PM
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

Tickets are priced $25 to $97, available through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com or call (415) 392-4400. Tickets for the performance at Bing Concert Hall may be purchased through Stanford Live: live.stanford.edu.

--Ben Casement-Stoll, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Pianist Gabriela Martinez to Perform Bach’s Concerto No. 1 with National Philharmonic at Strathmore
Pianist Gabriela Martinez will perform Bach’s Concerto No. 1 with the National Philharmonic, under the direction of Associate Conductor Victoria Gau, on Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 8 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD  20852. The concert will also feature Mozart’s Divertimento K. 136 in D Major and Schubert’s Mass No. 2 in G Major.

Performed by Ms. Martinez, Bach’s Piano Concerto No. 1, originally written for harpsichord, is among the first concertos written for keyboard. First published in 1938, it has remained one of the most popular concertos written by Bach. In the 20th century, it was typically played and recorded with the piano, but with the rise of historical performances, it is now often played on the harpsichord again.

The brilliant inventiveness and virtuosity of the D Major Divertimento is, to echo the words of Alfred Einstein, “a masterpiece of masterpieces, on the smallest possible scale.” One of a set of three, the Divertimentos contain clear echoes of Haydn and Bach, composers Mozart admired most.

The concert concludes with Schubert’s famous Mass No. 2 in G Major, composed in less than a week in 1815. All but unknown during Schubert’s life, it has become one of his most popular sacred works. Characteristic for Schubert, he is more interested in an over-all devotional mood of a religious composition than in individualistic romantic text-expression.

Soloist:
Lauded by The New York Times as “compelling, elegant, and incisive,” Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Martinez has performed as orchestral soloist, chamber musician, and recitalist in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to the Grosses Festspielhaus in Salzburg to the Tokyo International Music Festival. She has appeared with such renowned orchestras as the Chicago and San Francisco symphonies and Germany’s Stuttgarter Philharmoniker, and performs regularly with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela under Gustavo Dudamel. Ms. Martinez’s awards include first prize and audience award at the Anton Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Dresden and a Jury Discretionary Award at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She earned her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from The Juilliard School as a full scholarship student of Yoheved Kaplinsky, and her doctorate in Germany with Marco Antonio de Almeida. In 2008 Ms. Martinez was appointed to the Concert Artist Faculty at Kean University.

For more information, visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

American Bach Soloists Launch 25th Season in Four Northern California Venues January 24-27, 2014
All-Bach program includes Magnificat, Cantatas, and Orchestral Suite.

The 2013-14 concert season marks the American Bach Soloists 25th season. To honor the group’s illustrious history and usher in the next twenty-five years of artistic excellence, ABS artistic and music director Jeffrey Thomas handpicked some of his favorite works from the pen of ABS namesake, Johann Sebastian Bach, for this benchmark season. Thomas and ABS will open the season with Bach’s Magnificat as part of an extraordinary, all-Bach program to be performed January 24-27, 2014 in Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis, CA.

Three of the compositions on this program call upon especially heraldic trumpet ensembles. Bach’s Magnificat, one of the best known and popular among his liturgical works, is like a delicious smorgasbord of sweet and savory vocal delights, and Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten! (“Sound, you drums! Ring forth, trumpets!”) is a grand secular cantata featuring music that eventually became part of the “Christmas Oratorio.” Bach’s virtuoso Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor will feature flutist Sandra Miller, whose playing is noted for its “mellow, quietly penetrating tone” (The New York Times). The program closes with one of Bach’s most extraordinarily impressive cantatas, Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir, a fantastically extroverted work composed for Leipzig’s lavish celebrations of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels in 1724. Bringing back a hallmark of ABS’s cantata performances over the years, the audience will be invited to sing along on the final chorale.

The American Bach Choir will be featured on three of the program’s four selections. Directed by Thomas, this esteemed group of singers who “set the standard in choral singing” (San Francisco Classical Voice) will demonstrate their mastery in Bach’s exuberant and joyous music. Further augmenting the vocal forces will be four exceptional vocal soloists: soprano Clara Rottsolk, countertenor Eric Jurenas, tenor Guy Cutting in his ABS debut, and baritone William Sharp.

Clara Rottsolk’s “clear, appealing voice and expressive conviction” (New York Times) have thrilled ABS audiences since this rising early music star’s 2012 debut with the ensemble in the early version of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Countertenor Eric Jurenas, a participant in the 2011 ABS Academy, dazzled ABS audiences in this season's performances of Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral and the Mondavi Center. Tenor Guy Cutting makes his ABS debut in Bach’s Magnificat as the inaugural recipient of the Jeffrey Thomas Award, established in 2013 to honor and encourage emerging early music professionals of remarkable merit. Rounding out the quartet of soloists is the distinguished baritone William Sharp, who has performed with American Bach Soloists for two decades, most recently appearing as Christus in Bach’s St. John Passion; he is also a member of the ABS Academy faculty.

Friday, January 24, 2014, 8:00 pm
St. Stephen’s Church, 3 Bayview Avenue, Belvedere, CA
Saturday, January 25, 2014, 8:00 pm
First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA
Sunday, January 26, 2014, 4:00 pm
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell, San Francisco, CA
Monday January 27, 2014 7:00 pm
Davis Community Church, 412 C Street, Davis, CA

2013-14 subscriptions range from $64 to $163
Single Tickets range from $20 to $64

For more information, click http://americanbach.org/

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Brahms and Beyond: Pianist Emanuel Ax Creates Concert Series Including Four Bay Area Premieres
January 23 and February 26 in Zellerbach Hall
January concert features mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter
February date features cellist Yo-Yo Ma
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley Campus, Bancroft Way at Dana Street, Berkeley, CA

The great pianist Emanuel Ax is the architect of the upcoming Brahms and Beyond concert series presented by Cal Performances. In two distinct concerts, Ax will collaborate with esteemed musicians Anne Sofie von Otter and Yo-Yo Ma and four contemporary composers to explore the music of Johannes Brahms along with new, related works, all Bay Area premieres. Ax is the ideal musician to construct such an ambitious, wide-ranging, yet cohesive series. He has spent decades performing the works of Brahms, and in recent years he has challenged new composers with daring commissions. “I have loved the music of Brahms since I was a teenager and have been studying and practicing his music for 40 years; I wish I had another 40 to understand it better,” Ax said. For this project, bridging Brahms’s time and present day, Ax has commissioned four composers—Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, Anders Hillborg, and Brett Dean—for something a bit unusual.

Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter joins Emanuel Ax on Thursday, January 23 at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall in a program of Brahms’ lieder, folksongs, and two new works. So Many Things, for mezzo-soprano and piano by Muhly, employs “a longer, more narrative poem by Joyce Carol Oates [and] is sandwiched between two of Daniel Mendelsohn's gorgeous translations of C.F. Cavafy,” said Muhly. The second work is titled Bolts of Loving Thunder, a solo piano work composed by New York–based composer Mazzoli.

Ax returns with his longtime musical partner, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, on February 26 at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall, matching the first and second Brahms cello sonatas with Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 78.

A thread, both musical and historical, ties the four new compositions—all Bay Area premieres—to Brahms: The Romantic master adopted the phrase Frei aber Froh (“free but happy”) as his motto, and may have used the notes F-A-F to open his third symphony because of this motto. Ax, in commissioning new works for Brahms and Beyond, asked the composers to use F-A-F as a theme or motive in their new works. “We are hoping that this idea, far from being a restriction, will be an inspiring starting point for them,” Ax said. The pianist’s ability to craft a cohesive concert from seemingly disparate elements was noted by The New York Times as early as 1997, when a reviewer noted, “His choice of music made listeners think about every piece in relation to every other.” The Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall join Cal Performances in co-commissioning this new music.

Tickets range from $30.00 to $175.00 and are subject to change. They are available through the Cal Performances Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall; at (510) 642-9988; at calperformances.org; and at the door.

--Rusty Barnes, Cal Performances

Philharmonia Announces SESSIONS - New Concert Series for Young Professionals Philharmonia is pleased to announce the debut of SESSIONS, a brand-new concert series which takes you on a guided tour of works by great composers. The premiere concert, A Tale of Two Keyboards, takes place on February 6 at San Francisco's SFJAZZ Center. The concert is hosted by Rachael Myrow of KQED's The California Report with featured soloists Robert Levin (harpsichord), Ya-Fei Chuang (fortepiano) and conductor Nicholas McGegan. All tickets are priced at $25 and include a post-concert reception with soloists and Orchestra musicians, as well as complimentary wine generously donated by Boisset Family Estates.

The debut of SESSIONS, A Tale of Two Keyboards focuses on works by C.P.E. Bach and Joseph Haydn. The concert features musical demonstrations and exhilarating performances as well as lively commentary, multimedia, and an audience Q & A. Levin, a consummate performer who the London Times described as having "the orchestra as much on the edge of their seats as the audience" takes a starring role in explaining the evolution of these two keyboard instruments - harpsichord and fortepiano - into the modern piano most audiences are familiar with today.

Following the concert, audience and performers will mingle in the second floor lobby at SFJAZZ in an informal reception featuring complimentary wine by Boisset Family Estates. Audience members will have the chance to meet the artists, ask questions, and see their period instruments up close.

Who:
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Rachael Myrow, host
Robert Levin, harpsichord
Ya-Fei Chuang, fortepiano
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

What:
C.P.E. Bach: Concerto for Fortepiano and Harpsichord in E-flat major, Wq 47
Haydn: Symphony No. 68 in B-flat major (selections)

 Description:
SESSIONS - an entirely new type of concert - makes its debut at SFJAZZ with works by C.P.E. Bach (son of Johann Sebastian) and Joseph Haydn. In this 90-minute concert, hosted by KQED's Rachael Myrow, conductor Nic McGegan and harpsichordist Robert Levin take you on a guided tour through these works complete with multimedia and dazzling performances. Learn about the harpsichord and the fortepiano, two predecessors to the modern piano. After the concert, stick around to socialize in the lobby, meet our musicians, and enjoy free wine generously donated by Boisset Family Estates.

When/Where:
Thursday, February 6 at 8:00 PM
SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco, CA

Tickets are $25, including the post-concert reception with free wine, and can be purchased at www.philharmonia.org or by calling (415) 295-1900.

--Ben Casement-Stoll, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Opera Index Honors Tosalind Elias with Distinguished Achievement Award at JW Marriott Essex House, Sunday, January 12, 2014
Gala Evening also celebrates 30th anniversary of Opera Index vocal competition.

On Sunday, January 12, 2014, Opera Index will presents its 35th Distinguished Achievement Award to mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias, described as one of the finest singing actresses of our time, at its Winter Gala in the Grand Salon of the JW Marriott Essex House, 160 Central Park South, beginning at 6 p.m. with a reception in the Petit Salon. The three-time Grammy and two-time Emmy Award-winning artist made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1954 and over her half-century-long career, has sung more than 50 roles. Ken Benson, renowned artists manager and longtime Opera Index supporter, will present the award to Ms. Elias.

The January 12 Gala will also be a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Opera Index Vocal Competition, which to date has provided awards valued at almost $1 million to 323 singers.  This year awards totaling $55,500 are being presented to 15 young singers. Two top prizes of $10,000 will be awarded to mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez and soprano Ying Fang. Tenor Michele Angelini receives $7,500, and tenor Mingjie Lei and bass-baritone Yohan Yi each receive $5,000. Soprano Sydney Mancasola receives $3,500 and baritones Musa Ngqungwana and Norman Garrett receive $2,500, respectively. Emerging Artist Awards of $2,000 will be given to soprano Tracy Cox and tenor Juan José de León, and Encouragement Awards of $1,000 go to five singers: mezzo-soprano Avery Amereau, tenor James Edgar Knight, soprano Felicia Moore, tenor Patrick O’Halloran, and mezzo-soprano Nian Wang.

The January 12 program will not only celebrate the remarkable career of Rosalind Elias, but will also feature performances by several of this year’s Opera Index Competition award-winning singers.

Tickets for the Opera Index Winter Gala range from $350 to $1,000 and are available by calling 212-706-9550 or by e-mailing operaindex@rcn.com.

--Angela Duryea, Opera Index, Inc.\

West Edge Opera Announces “Opera Medium Rare (But Well Done)
Lesser-known operas by well-known composers will be performed in concert format.

West Edge Opera is pleased to announce "Opera Medium Rare (but well done)," a series of lesser-known operas by well-known composers, performed in concert format with West Edge Music Director Jonathan Khuner at the piano. Inaugurating the series on January 19 is Rossini’s Elizabeth, Queen of England, starring Emma McNairy in the title role. Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro is on March 30, and Verdi’s Aroldo concludes the series on May 4. All performances take place on Sundays at 3 pm at Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda, Berkeley. All three operas will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. This series of concert performances is in addition to West Edge Opera’s mainstage season, which will be announced in the near future.

Rossini’s early opera Elizabeth, Queen of England (Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra), about Queen Elizabeth’s passions, vicious court intrigue, a secret marriage, and redemptive heroic fidelity, cemented Rossini’s reputation as a brilliantly masterful theatrical composer. By age 22, Rossini had already established an outstanding reputation in Northern Italy. With 14 produced operas already under his belt, he wrangled a commission from the all-important San Carlos Theatre in Naples. Transforming a popular play of the day into an extravaganza of virtuosic vocalism, he also recycled his best earlier material to create a spectacular southern debut. Though history has allowed it to be eclipsed by his later triumphs, Elisabetta remains as charming and vital as at its premiere in 1815, which guaranteed Rossini’s success over the next 15 years and 24 operas. This concert performance stars Emma McNairy and Michael Belle, with Alix Jerinic, Nadev Hart, Elayne Juten and Alan Briones.

Considered one of his most deeply felt, atmospheric and dramatically truthful scores, Caterina Cornaro was Donizetti’s final opera produced in his lifetime. Historically overshadowed by his spectacularly successful Don Pasquale and La Fille du Regiment, it nonetheless rivals them in melodies of lyric beauty and scenes of effective drama. About to be married to her sweetheart, Caterina (an actual 15th century Venetian noblewoman) is torn away to become Queen of Cyprus. Faithful love leads to political machinations, assassinations, even war, but human grace is the eventual victor.

The vintage Verdi Opera Aroldo (flanked by Luisa Miller and Rigoletto) is Verdi’s revision of his almost equivalent opera Stiffelio, which has been revived occasionally in the two last decades. Originally it was a shocking story of marital infidelity, jealousy, and forgiveness involving a priest; Italian censors forced Verdi to bastardize that version. Eventually, to satisfy himself, he rewrote it in the form of Aroldo, which features soaring vocal lyricism and anguished scenic tension. It is a medieval saga of a cuckolded husband who loves his wife through all the torments of her lies, his discovery, and her lover’s rage.

Tickets are now on sale, at $15 for general admission or $40 for priority reserved section. Tickets are available online at www.westedgeopera.org or by telephone at (510) 841-1903. For more information, go to West Edge Opera’s website at www.westedgeopera.org.

--Marian Kohlstedt, West Edge Opera

Music Institute of Chicago Presents Duo Piano Concert
Saturday, January 18, 5 p.m.

Enjoy a recital of short duo piano works followed by a Q & A session with the Music Institute’s piano duo in residence, Claire Aebersold and Ralph Neiweem, about duo piano opportunities at the Music Institute of Chicago's northern campuses.

Music Institute of Chicago Lake Forest Campus,
Dickinson Hall, 100 E. Old Mill Rd., Lake Forest, IL

Admission is free.

For further information: musicinst.org or 847.905.1500 ext. 191

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

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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