Classical Music News of the Week, June 29, 2014

Listen: Life With Classical Music Releases Its Summer 2014 Issue

The issue includes Avi Avital, 130+ Summer Festivals, Singing Nuns, Menahem Pressler Goes Solo, Librettists Unleashed and a Tsar's Bride.

The summer issue of Listen: Life with Classical Music urges you to get outside with its annual round up of great summer festivals. But if travel isn't in the cards for you this summer, you can still travel beyond classical music's borders to discover a wide world where virtuoso mandolinist Avi Avital flips between Bach and Bulgarian klezmer, where talented, good-looking accordionists are on the rise, where video game music is elevated to orchestral art, where a jazz band is riffing on tone rows, where singing nuns are topping the charts, and where clapping between movements doesn't equal a facepalm.

On the cover is intrepid Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital, who shares his delight in blending the border between folk and classical with Editor-in-Chief Ben Finane, talking about the pitfalls of performing Bach harpsichord pieces with just four fingers, traveling back in time to 1914 to catch the premiere of Bartók's Six Romanian Dances, and composers hell-bent on making him do the impossible.

Our annual state-by-state listing of summer festivals includes 133 amazing events across the continent with tantalizing photos of some of the stunning venues that will give even the most devoted homebody a case of wanderlust.

Speaking of playing outside, if the music of Anton Webern can sometimes seem like "watching Telemundo without knowing Spanish," meet jazzer John O'Gallagher of The Webern Project who, according to our reporter Bradley Bambarger, will happily be your translator.

Or perhaps you're more interested in finding out which classic Nintendo character's journey String Arcade creator Dren McDonald deems "existential," revealed by writer Brian Wise as he traces the logical evolution of video game music into highbrow fare.

The thorough and insightful poet Ernest Hilbert posits that a new crop of librettists, with a knack for historical speculation and imaginative storytelling, are major drivers of a new era of American opera while Maya Pritsker remembers another operatic renaissance through one of its bejeweled relics: Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride.

Plus: Stuart Isaacoff catches up with nonagenarian pianist Menahem Pressler, who is tickled to find himself as an in-demand soloist for the first time in his life.

The magazine is available at Barnes & Noble and other fine bookstores throughout the US and Canada or by subscription:  http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/listPage.jsp?list_id=2445&source=LISTEN

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Mohammed Fairouz: Zabur
Indianapolis Symphonic Choir commissions Oratorio on the Psalms of David for mixed choir, children's choir, soloists and orchestra. Eric Stark will conduct the world premiere on April 24th, 2015 at Indianapolis's Hilbert Circle Theatre.

In April 2015, composer Mohammed Fairouz's first oratorio, Zabur, will receive its world premiere by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.  Commissioned by a consortium led by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and comprised of Jewish, Christian and Islamic congregational partners, public and private schools, as well as other arts institutions, the large-scale oratorio takes its name from the Arabic title for the Psalms of David. The work is scored for chorus, children's choir, soloists and orchestra and sets several of the Arabic psalms within the context of an original libretto by acclaimed writer and actor Najla Said. Said re-imagines King David as a poet living and writing in the upheaval of the contemporary Middle East, composing the Psalms as a way to contend with his day-to-day reality.

Described by Gramophone as "a post-millennial Schubert," Fairouz is an adept and accomplished writer for the voice with an opera (a second in progress), thirteen song cycles, and hundreds of art songs to his credit. For Zabur, Fairouz looked to Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms (in Latin) and Bernstein's Chichester Psalms (in Hebrew) as models. "I was eager to bring my own cultural dimension to the Psalms," he writes. "By bringing back the essential Arabic aspect of the Psalms as well as by setting the ancient texts in a contemporary environment, Zabur attempts to take the Psalms 'off the shelf' and restore their original form as raw human poetic documents."

Eric Stark, Artistic Director, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir writes, "Performing and commissioning new, bold works is at the heart of our mission, and the Symphonic Choir sees a call to engage others in our community in that experience of creating new works of music." The commissioning partners have been involved in the entire process, from establishing parameters of the work – broad themes, identification of potential composers, musical traits – to a three-week, city-wide unveiling surrounding the premiere in April 2015. Stark says, "This consortium model is transformative for the Indianapolis arts and faith communities."

--Rebecca Davis PR

American Bach Soloists Present Bach's Mass in B Minor
One of the musical highlights of a summer in San Francisco is the opportunity to hear Jeffrey Thomas conduct the ABS Festival Orchestra and the American Bach Choir in Bach's magnificent Mass in B Minor. In fact, as part of its annual San Francisco Summer Bach Festival, ABS offers two chances to hear the timeless work each summer and both performances sell out year after year. The Mass's richness, expressivity, complexity, and the awe-inspiring genius of its composer are all attributes that pay dividends of insight and satisfaction when revisited regularly. At present, tickets are still available for the two performances on July 13 at 7:00 pm and July 20 at 2:00 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA.

The Bach Festival tradition, which began in this country 114 years ago in Pennsylvania, has proliferated in musical communities around Europe, the United States, and the entire world. Here in San Francisco, we have one of the younger Bach Festivals–2014 will be ABS's 5th annual event–but it is a great one that, like that 1900 festival in Bethlehem, has been making waves and drawing music lovers from all around. Tickets are available for the Festival performances from July 11-20, but they won't last long. Get your tickets to the Mass in B Minor now, while they are still available.

For more information on this and other ABS concerts, visit http://americanbach.org/sfbachfestival/schedule.html

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Merola Opera Program Summer Festival Presents Andre Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire July 10 and 12
The Merola Opera Program presents André Previn's opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 10, and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 12, at Everett Auditorium, 450 Church Street in San Francisco.

The cast features soprano Julie Adams as Blanche DuBois; tenor Casey Candebat as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell; soprano Adelaide Boedecker as Stella Kowalski; baritone Thomas Gunther as Stanley Kowalski; mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet as Eunice Bubbell; tenor Benjamin Werley as Steve Hubbell; mezzo-soprano Shirin Eskandani  as the Mexican Woman; and tenor Mingie Lei as a Young Collector. Celebrated stage director Jose Maria Condemi (a Merola alumnus from 1999 and 2000) and acclaimed conductor Mark Morash (a Merola alumnus from 1986) will lead the production.

André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, with a libretto by Philip Littell based on the play by Tennessee Williams, premiered at San Francisco Opera in 1998. The story follows Blanche DuBois, a fading Southern belle with a frail veneer, who retreats to her sister's home only to find herself unwanted and abused. Sexual tension simmers in this claustrophobic atmosphere. Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, Blanche's would-be suitor, and Stanley Kowalski, Blanche's brother-in-law, shatter Blanche's romanticized view of her life through a series of acts, driving her to madness. Previn's jazz-influenced score provides a fresh take on this classic story of a retreat into the past darkened with sexual abuse and family disloyalty.

A festival package discount of 20 percent applies through June 28, 2014 if tickets for all festival performances of A Streetcar Named Desire, Schwabacher Summer Concert, Don Giovanni, and the Merola Grand Finale are purchased together.

Tickets for all performances may be purchased by calling San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330 open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

For more information, visit www.merola.org

--Karen Ames Communications

András Schiff Knighted
Pianist Sir András Schiff has been awarded Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the 2014 Birthday Honours.  With regard to the recent announcement, BBC News commented, "Schiff has been hailed as the greatest musician Hungary has produced since the composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly. Alongside his brilliance as a pianist, he has a reputation as one of the great musical thinkers. His lectures on Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas remain a central tenet of music broadcasting."

A British citizen since 2001, Sir András Schiff, was recently awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal in December 2013 and the International Classical Music Award 2012, in the category "Solo Instrumental Recording of the Year" for his recording of "Geistervariationen" with works by Robert Schumann (ECM). Recitals and special cycles, such as the major keyboard works of J.S. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann and Bartók, form an important part of his activities. Since 2004 he has performed complete cycles of the 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas in 20 cities, and the cycle in the Zurich Tonhalle was recorded live.

Beginning in February 2015, his next project in the United States will be the final sonatas of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert presented in the cities of New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco,  Vancouver, and Ann Arbor.

Learn more about András Schiff here: http://www.kirshdem.com/artist.php?id=andrasschiff

--Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

David Aaron Carpenter to Launch Central Synagogue's International Concerts Series, July 8th
London debut for 'the hottest violist of the 21st century' and his Salomé Chamber Orchestra soloists, with Music Of The Jewish Diaspora.

"Music of the Jewish Diaspora," featuring David Aaron Carpenter (viola) and soloists of the Salomé Chamber Orchestra. Works include Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words in G Minor; Hatikvah (traditional); Kreisler's Liebeslied, Caprice Viennois and Hora Staccato; Gershwin's "Summertime"; Oran Eldor's Sephardic Prayer; Alexey Shor's "740 Samba," "Chicken Tarantella," "Semi Canonical Great Feud," and "Murka Variations" (by Shor and Eldor); Monti's Czardas; "Ljova" and Lev Zhurbin's Budget Bulgar.

Where: Central Synagogue, 36 Hallam Street entrance (behind Great Portland Street), London W1W 6NW.
When: Tuesday 8th July, 7pm.
Booking: Tel 020 75801355 / email bookings@centralsynagogue.org.uk. All tickets £20.

--Inverne Price Music

Wilmette Summerfest Concert & Garden Party Featuring Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues
The Music Institute of Chicago, which received the Wilmette/Kenilworth Chamber of Commerce's 2013 Community Service Award, is playing a significant role in this event: the Music Institute will offer an Instrument Petting Zoo for children to experiment with a variety of string instruments, and our chamber music students perform prior to and during the Corky Siegel concert, as well as after the concert at the VIP party.

Friday, July 11, 2014
7:30 pm
St. Augustine's Episcopal Church
1140 Wilmette Avenue, Wilmette IL 60091

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

American Bach Soloists News 
Soprano Mary Wilson Returns:
Soprano Mary Wilson is no stranger to American Bach Soloists audiences. Since her 2003 debut with ABS in Handel's Messiah at Grace Cathedral, she has thrilled concertgoers with her dazzling performances of some of the most challenging and exciting vocal works of the Baroque era. Ms Wilson will return this summer as the Distinguished Artist for the 2014 ABS Festival & Academy and will appear, along with countertenor Eric Jurenas, as a soloist in Bach's transcription of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater at the opening night concert, "Bach's Inspiration – Part I" on July 11.

ABS Festival Opens July 11:
Do you have your tickets for the 5th annual ABS Festival & Academy yet? This summer's event, which will take place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from July 11-20, promises to be the best Festival ABS has offered to date. Titled "Bach's Inspiration," the 9 performances, 5 lectures, 5 master classes, and a public colloquium titled "Baroque Instruments and Performers, Then and Now: Creating a New Fusion of Styles and Tastes" comprise a 10-day immersion in the music and culture of the Baroque, specifically the works that inspired ABS's namesake, J.S. Bach. Musical delights and discoveries await Baroque music connoisseurs and newcomers alike.

1900: The First American Performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor:
One of the musical highlights of a summer in San Francisco is the opportunity to hear Jeffrey Thomas conduct the ABS Festival Orchestra and the American Bach Choir in Bach's magnificent Mass in B Minor. The idea of performing Bach's Mass in B Minor annually has been a mainstay in European musical communities since the mid-nineteenth century. In the United States, the tradition of yearly performances began with the very first American performance of the entire work on March 27, 1900, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Before the tradition could take root, however, the difficulty of mounting the work and introducing it to domestic audiences proved a significant challenge.

ABS Festival Attractions: Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato:
Opera / Oratorio night at the ABS Festival & Academy is always a musical highlight. This summer's program on Friday July 18 will be no different as ABS and the Festival Orchestra under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas will present Handel's 1740 pastoral ode, L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. The work is neither opera nor oratorio, but rather a meditation on the quixotic nature of humanity. It synthesizes two poems by John Milton (pictured at left) - L'Allegro ("the joyous one") and Il Penseroso ("the pensive one") - into a single work along with a third voice, Il Moderato ("the moderate one"), contributed by Charles Jennens. A few years after creating L'Allegro together, Jennens and Handel would collaborate again on Messiah.

San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA

Have a look at the ABS YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/AmericanBachSoloists

For more information and tickets click http://americanbach.org

--Jeff McMillan, ABS

62nd Annual DownBeat Critics Poll
DownBeat, the venerable American magazine devoted to "jazz, blues and beyond," recently announced the winners of its 62nd Annual Critics Poll. For the complete list of winners, visit http://www.downbeat.com/digitaledition/2014/DB1408/single_page_view/58.html

--Jim Eigo, Jazz Promo Services

YPC Steals the Hearts of Basel
May 28 - June 1 - Basel, Switzerland
YPC with 19 other festival choirs

After the last note was sung at the Ninth European Festival Youth Choirs in Basel, Switzerland, and just before Francisco Núñez and 41 YPC choristers prepared to return home to the U.S., Festival Director Kathrin Renggli hugged Francisco and said: "You stole the hearts of Basel. You brought joy to the city."

The Young People's Chorus of New York City was invited by Ms. Renggli to participate as the artists-in-residence at the festival, and those words summed up the reception YPC received from the hundreds of thousands of exuberant international audience and chorus members who were charmed by YPC's performances. And for YPC, it was a fantastic experience to mix, mingle, and make new friends with 19 of the best of the best youth choirs from Armenia, Estonia, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Russia, Spain, and Switzerland. The choristers also had the incredible opportunity to see what it is like to live in Switzerland, personally experiencing the Swiss culture, customs, and foods through home stays with warm and welcoming local families in Basel.

By the time they left Switzerland, YPC had received invitations from several more European festivals in Israel, Armenia, Estonia, and Ireland.

Throughout the week, YPC gathered experiences and memories they will never forget.

Take a look at the YPC blog for some of the choristers' amazing experiences in their own words at http://ypcofnyc.blogspot.com/ and on this news feature on Swiss TV: http://www.srf.ch/player/tv/tagesschau/video/die-gesangswelthauptstadt-basel?id=b78b3049-714b-45e7-a93e-830b43fa5791

--Katharine Gibson, Young People's Chorus of New York City

Summer Events Around Maestro Long Yu's 50th Birthday
High-profile concerts a chance for China's preeminent conductor to salute those who have joined his remarkable journey; for many, they will be a realisation of how much he has influenced culture in China and beyond.

Maestro Long Yu is the Artistic Director, Chief Conductor and co-founder of the China Philharmonic Orchestra, and Music Director of the Shanghai and Guanzhou Symphony Orchestras. He is also Founding Artistic Director of the Beijing Music Festival.

Music has an almost unmatched potential to inspire, to move, on occasion to lift an entire society in a cultural exploration, in the pursuit of cultural ideals. And there are great figures, teachers, performers - artists – who show us the way. Sometimes their impact is so great that their work reaches people who have never even heard of them, nor dream that they have somehow impacted their life. One such figure is Long Yu, the preeminent Chinese conductor, who led the drive to establish a hunger for classical music in his country – coming out of a time when it was forbidden to so much as hum anything other than a prescribed list of patriotic songs – and building its great institutions, among them the China Philharmonic (which he founded in 2000), the Shanghai Symphony, the Guangzhou Symphony and the Beijing Music Festival (of all of which he is music director). Fittingly, Long Yu will mark his 50th birthday next month with a concert to mark the opening of the MISA Festival – a new event that Long Yu co-directs with Charles Dutoit geared towards bringing young people towards classical music.

The concert, entitled "Long Yu and Friends," will take place on July 4, 2014 and begins a year of benchmark activities for Long Yu and some of his favourite colleagues. The Shanghai event will feature the world premieres of three works – Tan Dun's Long-li-ge-Long (guest-conducted by Tan Dun himself), Chen Qigang's Joie Eternelle, with British trumpeter Alison Balsom as featured soloist, and John Williams's Scherzo for Piano and Orchestra, with the admired Chinese pianist Li Jian. Violinist Maxim Vengerov joins the proceedings with Saint-Saens's Introduction and Rondo capriccioso and Kreisler's Tambourin Chinois. And the cellist Wang Jian plays Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme. The orchestra for that occasion will be the Shanghai Symphony, and Long Yu will also lead the entire program in Beijing with the China Philharmonic – with one change of soloist. On that occasion Lang Lang will play the John Williams piece as well as Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue.

Long Yu will then bring aspects of the program to the BBC Proms at London's Royal Albert Hall on 19th July, with the China Philharmonic as the first Chinese orchestra ever invited to play that fabled series. The concert will be televised and broadcast over radio and the internet internationally.

There will be other events during the year, not least the now-institutional Chinese New Year's concerts in the USA, a tradition that Long Yu has been proud to lead. And - back to Shanghai – the opening of what promises to be an incredible new home for the Shanghai Symphony, covering some 20,000 square metres, with two state-of-the-art auditoria and mostly built underground! With an acoustic design by Yasuhisa Toyota – the famous acoustician behind Walt Disney Hall and many others - that will constitute Shanghai's first purpose-built venue dedicated to orchestral music.

--James Inverne, Inverne Price Music

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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.

Contact Information

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

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa