Classical Music News of the Week, March 1, 2015

Violinist Rachel Podger Returns to Philharmonia Baroque for an All-Vivaldi Program

This March, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra - hailed by the New York Times as the nation's leading period-instrument ensemble - welcomes violin virtuoso Rachel Podger for a program of nine popular Vivaldi violin concertos featuring soloists from the Orchestra alongside the acclaimed British violinist. Four performances take place around the San Francisco Bay Area at Stanford's Bing Concert Hall, (Wednesday, March 11), the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco (Friday, March 13), and First Congregational Church in Berkeley, CA (Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15). Tickets are available through City Box Office and start at $25.

This concert includes some of Vivaldi's most popular concertos from La cetra, La stravaganza, and L'estro armonico. Among the best-known is the Concerto for Two Violins, No. 8 in A minor, RV 522, in which Podger is joined by Philharmonia co-concertmaster, Elizabeth Blumenstock. Other concertos on the program showcase sparkling soloists from the Orchestra including violinists Carla Moore, Katherine Kyme, Lisa Weiss, Jolianne von Einem, and cellist Phoebe Carrai. At Podger's debut with Philharmonia in 2013, one critic described the evening's program - which featured Vivaldi as well as Corelli, Pergolesi, Mossi, and Locatelli - as "a friendly gathering of colleagues all assembled for the joy of music-making."

The program includes
Violin concerti from L'estro armonico, Op. 3 and La cetra, Op. 9
L'estro: Concerto for 4 Violins No. 4 in E minor, RV 550
L'estro: Concerto for 2 Violins No. 8 in A minor, RV 522
La stravaganza: Concerto for Violin Op. 4, No. 8 in D minor, RV 249
L'estro: Concerto for 2 Violins and Cello No. 11 in D minor, RV 565
La cetra: Concerto for Violin No. 12 in B minor, RV 391
L'estro: Concerto for 2 Violins No. 2 in G minor, RV 578
La cetra: Concerto for 2 Violins No. 9 in B-flat major, RV 530
L'estro: Concerto for 4 Violins No. 10 in B minor, RV 580

Tickets are priced $25 to $100 and may be purchased through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com or call (415) 392-4400.

For more information, visit http://www.philharmonia.org/

--Ben Casement-Stoll, PBO

Concert Honoring Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis
"A Celebration of Peace Through Music" is a special televised concert created by American conductor Sir Gilbert Levine that took place on May 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C. The concert features the Krakow Philharmonic Choir, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, and the Washington Choral Arts Society. Through music, a language that supersedes all cultural boundaries, Levine leads these world-class vocal and orchestral ensembles in a moving tribute to Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, three spiritual leaders recognized for their devotion to promoting understanding and peace around the world. "A Celebration of Peace Through Music" is a two-hour show that will be broadcast on public media stations nationwide in Spring 2015, particularly around Easter 2015, Sunday, April 5.

A world-renowned conductor, Levine has been a major presence on Public Television, leading the U.S. television debuts of some of the most important orchestras world-wide. Known as the Pope's Maestro for his decades long friendship with Pope John Paul II, Sir Gilbert is uniquely qualified to lead this musical tribute.

"A Celebration of Peace Through Music" is a celebration of music and spirit, open to people of all faiths. Conducted by Levine, the concert honors the canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, in the spirit of Pope Francis. Each musical work performed was selected to reflect the spirit of these three great leaders and their commitment to peace and understanding among people of all faiths. This concert special also follows Sir Gilbert as he travels to Buenos Aires, Venice, Krakow, Rome, Vienna, and Washington, D.C., to show us all how music and spirit can unite our world.

The concert, performed in Washington, D.C., in May 2014, following Pope Francis's ceremony to make Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II saints, was a joint effort by WETA Washington D.C., Georgetown University, the Archdiocese of Washington and the embassies of Poland, Italy, Argentina and the Holy See. The embassies represent the native countries of Pope John XXIII (Italy), Pope John Paul II (Poland) and Pope Francis (Argentina). The music program for "A Celebration of Peace Through Music" was specially selected to commemorate and celebrate historical moments of peace and understanding demonstrated by each pope.

--Chloe Kougias, Publicity Coordinator, WETA

AOP Receives Opera America Grant to Commission New Opera, "To Kill That Bird"
American Opera Projects (AOP) is proud to announce it is the recipient of an OPERA America Female Commissioning Grant in support of a new double bill chamber opera by composer Wang Jie currently titled To Kill That Bird. The two one-act operas of To Kill That Bird are united by the theme of strong female artists contending against the oppressive bureaucracy of the Zodiac Animal overlords.

AOP will begin workshops of the opera in 2015 through its First Chance program, which allows composers and librettists to hear their work in part or in full for the first time before an audience, with live singers and accompaniment. The production is slated to debut in 2017 at Festival Opera in Walnut Creek, CA, to be conducted by Festival Opera's longtime artistic director, Michael Morgan.

First premiered in concert at Carnegie Hall in 2010 where it was called "by turns whimsical, campy, tragic, haunting" by The New Criterion, the first half of To Kill That Bird, the 30-minute "From the Other Sky," portrays the fable of how the thirteen animals of the Chinese Zodiac downsized to twelve. Experiencing human compassion for the first time, this thirteenth Zodiac Goddess loses her place in the heavens to share her musical powers with mankind. "From the Other Sky" was commissioned by American Composers Orchestra/Mr. Paul Underwood.

The 70-minute second bill "From the Land Fallen" tantalizes the audience with a tragic and haunting transgender love story. New York City in a parallel universe, the Zodiac Animals rule the human world headed by the Rat. As human rebellion erupts, a war widow finds her late husband's spirit embodied in a deranged woman and falls in love with her.

For more information, visit http://www.operaprojects.org/

--Matthew Gray, Amercican Opera Projects

St. Patrick's Day Concert With Grammy-Winning Irish Band The Chieftains
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will present a St. Patrick's Day concert with The Chieftains on Tuesday, March 17, in the Virginia G. Piper Theater. The concert showcases the acclaimed Irish band's founder Paddy Moloney and special guests, including the Advanced Vocal Ensemble from Scottsdale's Saguaro High School.

After more than 50 years of innovative music-making, The Chieftains are one of Ireland's most renowned and revered bands. The six-time Grammy Award-winning group has uncovered the wealth of traditional Irish music that has accumulated across the centuries, making the music their own with a style that is as exhilarating as it is definitive.

The Chieftains were formed in Ireland in 1962 by Paddy Moloney, one of the country's top folk musicians. Although their early following was purely a folk audience, the range and variation of their music and accompanying musicians quickly captured a much broader following. The Chieftains are never afraid to shock purists and push musical boundaries, and the trappings of fame have not altered the band's devotion to their roots. They are as comfortable playing spontaneous Irish sessions as they are headlining a concert at Carnegie Hall.

The Chieftains, with Paddy Moloney and Special Guests
Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

Tickets start at $49 and are available through www.ScottsdalePerformingArts.org or 480-499-TKTS (8587).

--Bill Thompson, SCCARTS

Young People's Chorus of New York City Makes Its Festival of the Arts Boca Debut Saturday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m.
The award-winning Young People's Chorus of New York City makes its Festival of the Arts BOCA debut in Boca Raton, Florida, on Saturday March 14, with an exciting two-part program at the Mizner Park Amphitheater, which displays the range, vocal excellence, and showmanship of the award-winning chorus. The 7:30 p.m. concert opens with YPC Artistic Director/Founder Francisco J. Núñez conducting YPC in thrilling selections from the chorus's tour program. Following intermission, YPC joins the Festival Orchestra Boca and the Master Chorale of South Florida in what is considered Beethoven's greatest composition, Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 "Choral," conducted by Constantine Kitsopoulos.

The first half of the program displays the ability of the YPC choristers to move from pure classical to folk and contemporary music, employing a variety of vocal techniques in quick succession, while at the same time executing complex choreographic moves.The set ranges from works by Robert Schumann and Leonard Bernstein, to a dramatic performance of a native song from Brazil, and Americana from Stephen Foster and Paul Simon.

The Festival of the Arts Boca runs from March 6 to 15. Tickets for the Saturday, March 14, performance are $25 to $125. More information about the Festival of the Arts BOCA is available here: http://www.festivaloftheartsboca.org/

--Angela Duryea, Young People's Chorus of NYC

Foundation to Assist Young Musicians
Est. in 2007, FAYM is 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to providing instruction, scholarships & career assistance for musicians to age 26. FAYM's "Violins for Kids" project (est. in 2009) provides two to three lessons a week, instruments, materials, field trips, and a 2-week summer camp for youngsters from low income families at no charge. Enrollment has grown from 15 to 120 with plans to add 40 more students in March 2015.

All administrative functions are performed by highly qualified volunteers. Only FAYM's teachers are paid. All legal, accounting, and other services are generously donated 'pro bono' by experts in their fields.

Your contribution will go entirely for programs and scholarship assistance for deserving and underserved young musicians. Please help further the cause by joining the Family of FAYM today!

For further information, visit http://nvbiggive.razoo.com/story/Foundation-To-Assist-Young-Musicians

Hal Weller, FAYM

YPC Shines a Spotlight on Gala Guest Artist Allison Blackwell
At the March 2 Young People's Chorus of New York City gala guest artist Allison Blackwell will sing "Life is a Bowl of Cherries" with the young singers of YPC and The New York Pops. "I picked 'Life is a Bowl of Cherries,'" she said, "because it is a song that celebrates, love, joy, perseverance, and faith. These are all things that music has given my life."

"My support for the Young People's Chorus of New York City tells the world that choral music is a life-changing art form that is worthy of being celebrated." Allison likes to quote the words of composer, author, and educator Cheryl Lavender who wrote: "The fact that children can make beautiful music is less significant than the fact that music can make beautiful children."

Read more about Allison Blackwell here: http://ypc.org/gala/gala-bios-guest-artists.html

Read more about the YPC gala here: http://ypc.org/gala/index.html

--Katharine Gibson, Young People's Chorus of NYC

AOP's Latest Opera at MSM Is a Drag
AOP First Chance returns to the Manhattan School of Music for their annual Opera Index series New American Opera Previews, From Page to Stage with excerpts from Legendary, an opera-in-development by Joseph Rubinstein and Jason Kim. The afternoon will feature a panel discussion with the artists hosted by Midge Woolsey and performances from Encompass New Opera Theatre.

1985. New York City. Famed drag performer Dee Legendary embarks on a passionate love affair with Officer John, whose fascination with Dee takes an unexpected and dangerous turn. Inspired by a true story, Legendary is an opera about double lives and destructive desires set in the glory days of New York City's underground drag culture. The opera began development in AOP's Composers & the Voice program in 2013-2014.

Sunday, March 15 | 2:30 PM
Manhattan School of Music - Greenfield Hall
122nd Street and Broadway, New York, NY 10027

Tickets:
General Admission: $20 | Advance: $15 | Students/Seniors: $10
212-706-9550 to order tickets

--Matthew Gray, American Opera Projects

Saint Petersburg State "Russian Ballet" Brings U.S. Tour to 7 Major Cities Beginning March 31
The esteemed Saint Petersburg State "Russian Ballet" will embark on a seven-city U.S. tour beginning in Milwaukee on Tuesday, March 31. Ten performances will showcase the classic fantasy ballet "Swan Lake," featuring the renowned music by Tchaikovsky and an impressive cast of some of the world's best dancers. The Saint Petersburg State "Russian Ballet" continues to captivate audiences worldwide, adhering to the signature aspects of Russian ballet as a whole: true expressivity, dramatic presentation and impeccable technical presentation.

"We are thrilled to bring the Saint Petersburg 'Russian Ballet' to the U.S. and believe the audience will enjoy themselves," said Ernesto Texo with Texoart Cultural Productions.

Saint Petersburg State "Russian Ballet" performers are graduates of Saint Petersburg's prestigious Vaganova Ballet Academy, founded in 1738, and continue to perform on the oldest stages in Saint Petersburg. Consistently delighting sold-out audiences worldwide with world-class dancers and dazzling costumes, the Saint Petersburg State "Russian Ballet" continues to make international touring a large part of its contribution to furthering Russian dance and culture.

Created in 1990 by the family of professional ballet dancers, The Saint Petersburg State "Russian Ballet" dynasty is more than 100 years old. Artistic Director Alexander Bruskin is a former soloist of the famed Kirov Ballet, a former classmate of the renowned Mikhail Baryshnikov, and a former student of legendary ballet instructor Alexander Pushkin.

The Saint Petersburg State "Russian Ballet" has successfully conducted more than 50 tours worldwide in countries including Japan, England, Ireland, Spain, the U.S., France and Germany among many others, and has participated in 10 international ballet festivals. Today, the repertoire includes such masterpieces as "Swan Lake," "Sleeping Beauty," "The Nutcracker" and "Don Quixote." Each ballet is performed in its original choreography, and the Saint Petersburg State "Russian Ballet" perceives its main mission to be the preservation of such choreographic authenticity.

For more information, visit http://spbt.ru

--Andy Wilson, Bohlsen Group PR

An Entire Canon of New Music - Long Yu Announces "Compose 20:20"
Maestro Long Yu has never been one to shy away from big ideas. Emerging from the barren years of China's Cultural Revolution, he set about founding a major orchestra, the China Philharmonic, which he still leads, alongside the Guanzhou Symphony, the Shanghai Symphony and two major music festivals - the Beijing Music Festival (which he also founded) and, his newest addition, the Shanghai MISA Festival (co-founded with Charles Dutoit). He also helped spearhead the establishment of the Shanghai Orchestra Academy, a partnership between the New York Philharmonic and Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, with collaboration from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. And now comes an initiative which he calls, "one of the most important projects in my life." Nothing less than a grand attempt to present to China and to the West an entire canon of the other region's music. He has called it Compose 20:20.

Buoyed by the great success of new commissions such as Qigang Chen's Joie Eternelle for trumpet and orchestra at last year's London Proms, and Ye Xiaogang's "Imitation of an Old Poem: Long Autumn Night" from The Song of the Earth with the New York Philharmonic - as well as the new works he has brought to his Chinese orchestras in the past - Long Yu realized that there was a hunger on both sides for new music from across what he calls "the cultural bridge" between East and West. "More than a hunger," says Long Yu, "It is an absolute need, if we are to keep the cultural fires alive. We have seen so far a wonderful fascination in China for Western classical music, and the same coming the other way from the West. But this frenzy of energy has too often been somewhat diffuse and without shape. Now is the time that we can start using it to harness important thoughts, to explore and to experience in a curated way. New music especially needs this as it is hard for the individual work by itself to find an audience beyond its premiere these days."

And so was born the idea of Compose 20:20. Between now and the year 2020, Long Yu will present at his concerts in the West 20 new works by Chinese composers, and during that same period he will program 20 contemporary Western works in China. All the pieces selected will be by composers about whose music Long Yu is passionate.

Launching the project last night was a performance with Yo Yo Ma, Wu Tong and the New York Philharmonic of Zhao Lin's Duo. The concerto, for cello and a Chinese woodwind instrument made from bamboo pipes called a sheng (to be played by Wu Tong), took place at the Philharmonic's annual Chinese New Year's Concert and Gala, at Avery Fisher Hall, which Long Yu conducted for the fourth consecutive season.

Over the five years of Compose 20:20, works by other featured composers such as Qigang Chen, Huang Ruo and Zhao Lin will be conducted by Long Yu, with additional Western Orchestras including the Dallas Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre National de Lyon, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and more. And the China Philharmonic, Shanghai Symphony and Guanzhou Symphony among others will play Long Yu's choice of new Western works.

For more information, visit www.compose2020.com

--James Inverne, Inverne Price Music

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 (XRCD24/K2 review)

Carlo Maria Giulini, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Hi-Q Records HIQXRCD35.

Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) was among the most elegant, most sophisticated, most refined conductors the world of classical music has ever known. He was, however, also among the last conductors I would have considered a top choice in the Mahler First Symphony, a youthful, zealous, even ostentatious work. It always seemed to me that Giulini's style better suited the music of Mozart, Verdi, Debussy, Brahms, Schumann, and the like, than to Mahler, and that we were better off leaving Mahler's outgoing music to someone more like Georg Solti. But what do I know? I had never heard Giulini's Mahler First before, so I approached listening to this audiophile-remastered, 1971 EMI recording from Hi-Q Records with some small degree of hesitation, even trepidation. I should not have.

Whatever, let's start with some background on the music itself. As you no doubt know, Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) premiered his Symphony No. 1 in D major in 1889, saying at first it was a five-movement symphonic poem and, at least temporarily, being persuaded to give it the name "Titan." Before long, though, he revised it to the familiar four-movement piece we know today and dropped the "Titan" designation. The work became especially popular in the mid-to-late 1950's, the beginning of the stereo age, probably because with its large orchestra, soaring melodies, enormous impact, and dramatic contrasts the symphony makes a spectacular listening experience, and it became an ideal way for audiophiles to show off their newly acquired stereo systems. And we can't forget that the First is one of Mahler's shortest symphonies, making it an ideal length for home listening.

In the Symphony No. 1 Mahler said he was trying to describe his protagonist facing life, beginning with the lighter moments of youth and proceeding to the darker years of maturity. In the first movement, then, "Spring without End," we see Mahler's young hero as a part of the symbolic stirring of Nature before a long spring. In the second-movement Scherzo, "With Full Sail," we find Mahler in one of his mock-sentimental moods, displaying an exuberance that he may have meant as ironic. In the third movement we get an intentionally awkward funeral march depicting a hunter's fairy-tale burial, which comes off as a typical Mahler parody. It might represent the hero's first glimpse of death or maybe Mahler's own recollection of a youthful encounter with the death of a loved one. With Mahler, who knows. The movement has long been one of the composer's most controversial, and audiences still debate just what he was up to. Then, in the finale, Mahler conveys the panic "of a deeply wounded heart," as his central figure faces the suffering of life and fate. Still, because Mahler was a spiritual optimist, he wanted Man to triumph in the end. Therefore, in the final twenty minutes or so Mahler pulls out all the stops and puts the orchestra into full swing.

Carlo Maria Giulini
So, what does Giulini do with all this? Quite a lot, actually. Contrary to my worry that Giulini's demeanor might sound too polished and sophisticated for the work, his performance is mostly vibrant and alive, though not to excess. Although he keeps tempos on the modest side, he nevertheless creates a healthy degree of excitement in an interpretation as big, bold, and exhilarating as most any you'll find, yet with nothing false about it, nothing done for show alone. More important, Giulini projects the more-sensitive elements of the score with intensity, without over sentimentalizing them.

Giulini's reserved manner serves him well in the atmospheric introductory moments of the symphony, as spring awakens. From there, the conductor's innate poetic vision takes over, and the first movement has a sweet sense of beauty and repose leading to a vigorous conclusion.

Under Giulini the second movement seemed initially a touch slack to me, but it picks up as it goes along, and there's an attractive sweetness in the overall line. The funeral march, too, seemed at first a pinch underpowered, yet as with the second movement it's Giulini's way to build incrementally, and he does so with a satisfactorily mounting tension. Then the conductor opens the final movement with the huge burst of noise we know so well, and it is effective enough in startling us from the melancholy of the funeral march. Furthermore, Giulini again handles the lyrical sections with an easy lilt, the big Romantic melody blooming nicely, and he ends the score on an appropriately happy and positive note.

If I have any small reservation about Giulini's reading, though, it's that from time to time he tends to fall into a fairly conservative, somewhat studied rhythm rather than letting the momentum carry the day. In other words, the flow of the music occasionally seems impeded by Giulini's tendency to become too careful and slow the pace to a rather steady, predictable, and clocklike gait. Maybe the conductor lets his own sense of propriety get in the way of Mahler's exuberance, where a little more spontaneity might have been the order of the day. Despite this relatively small concern, however, Giulini's is an enlightened, heartfelt interpretation, full of passion and zest, if on a slightly reserved scale.

EMI producer Christopher Bishop and engineer Carson Taylor recorded the album at Medinah Temple, Chicago in March 1971. Engineer Tohru Kotetsu remastered the original tape at the JVC Mastering Center, Japan in 2014 using XRCD processing and 24-bit K2 technology. The results are much better than I expected, given that in my recollection of EMI's Chicago recordings of the period, the sound never seemed that great to me. Here, things sound considerably improved.

While the sonics are still a tad too bright for my taste, they are quite smooth, rich, spacious, and resonant, highly dimensional, and extremely dynamic. Indeed, the impact will have you thinking you're in the concert hall, with hushed silences building to huge climaxes before you know it. The sound is not at all hard or harsh as some of EMI's Chicago sound could be. Just don't play it too loudly, or it may appear to get a little piercing. Well, with its wide dynamic range, you shouldn't have the gain set too high, in any case, or the music will knock out of your seat in its stronger parts. If you like the performance, this remastering is undoubtedly the best you'll find, even though I would have welcomed a more-natural reaction from the upper mids and lower treble, a bit more lower range warmth, and perhaps a stronger deep bass response. OK, I'm being petty. It sounds great.

For some of the best prices and availability for Hi-Q products, you might want to visit Elusive Disc at http://www.elusivedisc.com/.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

Pleyel: Symphonies (CD review)

Jakub Dzialak, piano; Riccardo Bovino, violin; Howard Griffiths, Zurcher Kammerorchester. CPO 999 759-2.

If the music sounds like Haydn or Mozart, don't be surprised. Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831) was a contemporary of those men, and, perhaps surprisingly, in his day people thought he might be greater than Mozart and the successor to Haydn. OK, if you are an enthusiastic classical-music fan, you already know that.

Pleyel was a prominent figure in his time, a French composer and piano builder born in Austria, a pupil of Joseph Haydn, and the prolific writer of some fifty classical symphonies and a ton of other stuff before retiring from music into the world of business. Today he's all but forgotten except in occasional recordings like this one that, alas, I would guess few people will have even heard of. Nevertheless, this 2002 recording could still make Pleyel a few new friends. His music may be outdated but not any the less fun.

Howard Griffiths
The three works on the album are his Symphony in D major, Op. 3; his Second Symphonie Concertante for Violin, Piano, and Orchestra; and his Sixth Symphonie Periodique. These from a man who wrote more symphonies than Mozart. Yet by the end of his lifetime his critics were calling his music old-fashioned, lightweight, and facile, the emerging style of Beethoven having swept the Continent. Well, Pleyel is lightweight, no doubt, but for modern listeners that may be his strongest suit. The fact is, there isn't much going on in Pleyel's music that we can't anticipate before ever hearing it, yet one can say much the same thing of most other composers of the Baroque and Classical periods.

Anyway, of the three works represented here, I preferred the Symphony Concertante best, it being a sort of minor-league Mozart violin-and-piano concerto. It has zip and zest and all manner of wit and humor about it, with violinist Jakub Dzialak and pianist Riccardo Bovino playing their hearts out as if it were, indeed, Beethoven; and Howard Griffiths and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra give them splendid support.

What's more, CPO do their part, too, by providing a good, open acoustic and reasonably well detailed sonics; fairly strong dynamics; a modicum of hall warmth and bloom; and a realistic dimensionality to the presentation. True, the music may sound imitative, but for me it was worth hearing.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Simone Dinnerstein: Broadway-Lafayette (CD review)

Music of Ravel, Lasser, and Gershwin. Simone Dinnerstein, piano; Kristjan Jarvi, MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. Sony Classical 88875032452.

This is another of those kind of, sort of theme albums, the producers telling us that "the music on this album celebrates the time-honored transatlantic link between France and America through the music of three composers--George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel and Philip Lasser." It suggest also "the French-American connection as the Marquis de Lafayette and his French troops helped the American colonists out against the British during the American Revolution." OK, a tenuous link if you ask me, but it's awfully good music and well handled by American pianist Simone Dinnerstein, conductor Kristjan Jarvi (another in the musical Jarvi family, son of conductor Neeme Jarvi and brother of conductor Paavo Jarvi), and the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The program opens with the Piano Concerto in G major by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). The Concerto has always struck me as one of Ravel's most-imaginative works, full of jazzy bustle one moment and the tenderest grace the next. It's done up not only in Ravel's usual impressionist style but most expressive as well, and unless the pianist is careful the piece can appear merely as a series of clamorous rants and dreamy allusions. One past master of taming this sometimes unwieldy beast was Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who in a 1957 recording for EMI (now Warners) showed how beautifully crystalline and elegant the music could sound. Now, Ms. Dinnerstein gives it a shot, and she, too, finds joy in the work.

Dinnerstein emphasizes the jazz element in the first movement, perhaps to show the work's connection to Gershwin all the better. Yet she keeps it fairly light and atmospheric, too, never making the music appear too showy. Does it fully capture Michelangeli's magic? No, but it's close. Ms. Dinnerstein does even better in the touching second-movement Adagio assai, which embraces a sweet, Chopin-like quality. In the final Presto, Dinnerstein fully engages the composer's blazing technical displays, yet also manages to find some respite along the way. If the whole is still not quite so coherent as Michelangeli's account, it is nevertheless satisfying, with good support from Maestro Jarvi and the MDR orchestra.

Simone Dinnerstein
Next, we find the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra "The Circle and the Child" by American composer and pianist Philip Lasser (b. 1963). Lasser's work, composed in 2012 especially for Ms. Dinnerstein and here receiving its premiere recording, is a different sort of animal from the others on the program. Lasser says of the concerto that it "speaks of memory, inner voyage and closeness," the circle "a powerful metaphor for life." Fair enough, if fairly vague and ambiguous. He uses as the basis for his composition a Bach chorale, and the piece does possess a delightfully melodious nature. Like most modern music, though, it doesn't rely too heavily on memorable tunes, relying mostly on creating mood, which Dinnerstein provides nicely, along with the orchestra's continual reinforcement.

Things close with the perennial favorite Rhapsody in Blue by American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937). In Gershwin it's hard for me not to think of Bernstein's classic recording for Columbia (now Sony) or Previn's (EMI) or Gershwin's own, reworked by Tilson-Thomas (Sony). Still, Ms. Dinnerstein puts her own stamp on the piece and makes the music a bit more tender than we usually hear it, a bit milder and gentler, though still filled with dazzling finger work. While I wouldn't call it as energetic an approach as the ones mentioned above, it's an interpretation that's easy to live with, and it reveals a sensitive side to Gershwin that is most flattering.

Adam Abeshouse produced and engineered the album, recording it at the MDR Orchestersaal, Leipzig, Germany in July 2014. The sound is warm and smooth, with no rough or jagged edges in sight. Nor have the engineers recorded it too close up; instead, it has a moderate distance involved, making it sound all the more realistic (if at the expense of sounding a trifle soft). Ultimate transparency, therefore, is only so-so, yet that's the case with many concert-hall performances, so one can hardly complain. Figuring into the equation a mild resonance as well, let's just say the sound is pleasingly comfortable.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Aurora Orchestra: Road Trip (CD review)

Sam Amidon, voice and guitar; Dawn Landes, voice; Nicholas Collon, Aurora Orchestra. Warner Classics 0825646327911.

Conductors Nicholas Collon and Robin Ticciati founded the adventurous young British chamber orchestra Aurora in 2005. Since then, they have been receiving good reviews not only for their performance style but for their diverse programming, playing everything from Baroque to modern music. Road Trip (oddly misspelled as one word on the cover and the disc) appears to be the orchestra's debut album.

The ensemble plays beautifully, a precision instrument yet full of spunk and spark. They remind me a lot of San Francisco's New Century Chamber Orchestra and New York City's The Knights. The question I have, though, is how many classical listeners buy record albums because of favorite orchestras rather than favorite soloists or favorite composers. I dunno; well, not my business.

A look at the disc's program shows just how diverse Aurora's material is with works by American composers John Adams, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Paul Simon, and several traditional numbers arranged by Nico Muhly. The program is both daring and conventional at the same time.

Whatever, first up (after a brief introduction) is Chamber Symphony by John Adams (b. 1947). Adams himself writes that Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony was his inspiration for this 1992 composition, as were some animated cartoons. So, it's understandable the work involves a good degree of high spirits and kinetic energy. The Aurora Orchestra capture the fun of the three-movement piece with apparent glee, right up until the closing mixture of clashing gaiety.

Next are several tunes arranged by Nico Muhly (b. 1981): "Reynardine," "The Brown Girl," and, closing the set, Paul Simon's "Hearts and Bones." "Reynardine" tells the story of a young girl and a werewolf, nicely sung by Sam Amidon and smartly accompanied by Aurora. Singer Dawn Landes does a sweet-voiced rendition of "The Brown Girl," a lovely lilt always present in the music. Then Sam Amidon again does the voice and guitar work on Simon's tune, making a fitting conclusion to this "road trip."

Nicholas Collon
The Housatonic at Stockbridge from Three Places in New England by Charles Ives (1874-1954) was for me the highlight of the program. The work, though brief, captures the soft, misty moods of a quiet river at night, the orchestra always at the command of the music. It's wonderfully evocative in a gentle, comforting manner, culminating in the sound of a church spiritual across the way before falling back into silence.

And there is Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland (1900-1990), the familiar piece performed in its original version for thirteen instruments. Because Copland's work is probably the most familiar thing on the program, it has the most competition on disc, including the composer's own 1973 recording for chamber orchestra (which is a bit longer and more complete than the suite we get here). Copland marks the first movement "Very slowly," and that's exactly how the Aurora Orchestra plays it, very slowly indeed. It sets the tone and creates the atmosphere for the remainder of the work. Although taking things a tad more leisurely than other recorded performances I've heard, the Aurora players make the composition as colorful and engaging as any you'll find, and they do up the famous variations on a Shaker hymn in a most-gentle and poignant fashion.

Raphael Mouterde engineered and produced the album, recorded at Kings Place, London in January and April 2014. The sound is about as ideal as one could want, with plenty of transparency in the midrange and bloom and air around the instruments. In other words, it sounds real, dimensional, each player in the ensemble clearly delineated yet blending into the whole. With its smooth, detailed response, the sound is among the best I've heard from a new recording in quite some time.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Classical Music News of the Week, February 22, 2015

Merola Opera Program Announces 2015 Artists. Summer Performances Begin July 9

Twenty-three singers, five apprentice coaches, and one apprentice stage director, representing seven countries, will participate in the 58th season of the Merola Opera Program from June 8 to August 22, San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald announced today. More than 800 artists vied this year for the 29 coveted spots in the highly selective summer opera training program. Nearly one third of this season's artists come from countries outside the United States, including artists from Australia, China, Italy, New Zealand, Russia and South Korea, and the US artists hail from 15 states, including California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Idaho.

Opera luminaries Jane Eaglen, Martin Katz, Malcolm Martineau, James Morris, and Antony Walker will offer public master classes for the 2015 Merola artists as part of their intensive 11-week training program beginning June 8. Guest teachers Richard Battle, Steven Blier, Deborah Birnbaum, Alan Darling, Peter Grunberg, Robin Guarino, Bruce Lamott, Kevin Murphy, Ann Murray, John Parr, and Cesar Ulloa provide training in voice, foreign languages, operatic repertory, diction, acting and stage movement. Apprentice coaches and the apprentice stage director have a 12-week program.

The 2015 training program culminates in the Merola Opera Program Summer Festival, beginning Thursday, July 9 with the artists performing in the Schwabacher Summer Concert, directed by Roy Rallo and conducted by Valéry Ryvkin, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and a free outdoor afternoon concert at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco on Saturday, July 11. The program will feature extended, semi-staged scenes from the operatic repertoire. The Merola artists perform two one-hour operas on a double bill, Menotti's The Medium, about a séance gone awry, and Puccini's comic opera Gianni Schicchi, on Thursday, July 23 and Saturday, July 25 in the newly-renovated and intimate Cowell Theater at Fort Mason. Mark Morash conducts and Peter Kazaras directs.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale, led by director Nic Muni and conducted by world-renowned pianist and conductor Warren Jones, will be presented on Thursday, August 6 and Saturday, August 8 at the Cowell Theater. The festival concludes with the participants singing in the annual Merola Grand Finale, an operatic showcase with full orchestra, led by conductor Antony Walker and directed by Merola Opera Program apprentice stage director Mo Zhou on Saturday, August 22 at the War Memorial Opera House.

This season marks the Merola Opera Program's return to the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason. The 450-seat theater reopened in fall 2014 after a $20 million upgrade. The Merola artists give the program's first concert in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's 450-seat concert hall, opened in 2006, and praised by The New York Times for its "vibrant acoustics" and as "close to being ideal."

Tickets for all performances may be purchased starting May 4 by calling San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330. The box office is open Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For full information, visit www.merola.org

--Jean Shirk Media

New Date Announced for SMSS Caritas Concert with Sara Murphy, 3/18
Sacred Music in a Sacred Space's Caritas Concert Series to feature Mezzo-Soprano Sara Murphy and Pianist Michael Sheetz at NYC's Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on March 18 at 6:30pm

Performing an evening of song featuring Mahler's Rückert Lieder, as well as works by Brahms, Elgar and Lili Boulanger. All proceeds benefit LifeWay Network.

Described by The New York Times as "a gorgeous, deep, dark mezzo-soprano" and by the Huffington Post as "... another force to be reckoned with ... Her grand, expansive voice, was like a rich Columbian coffee blend…" mezzo-soprano Sara Murphy is no stranger to New York audiences where she frequently appears as a soloist on the Sacred Music in a Sacred Space [SMSS] concert series. Murphy and acclaimed pianist Michael Sheetz perform as part of SMSS's Caritas Concert Series in Wallace Hall at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, on March 18, 2015, at 6:30pm. Tickets are $50 and may be purchased http://www.smssconcerts.org or by calling 212.288.2520.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Cal Performances Presents Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard
In celebration of the esteemed composer Pierre Boulez's 90th birthday, pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich perform a program of Boulez's most challenging works for piano on Thursday, March 12 at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall.

This performance marks the Cal Performances debut of Aimard and Stefanovich, in which they perform a strictly Boulez program, including Sonatas No. 1, 2, and 3; Incises; Une page d'Éphéméride; and Structures, Book 2 (1961). Renowned for his nuanced interpretations of Boulez's work, Aimard has performed them since the age of 19, when the French composer invited Aimard to become a founding member of Ensemble Intercontemporain. A master of post-World War II serialism, Boulez expanded the definition of the movement with the serialization of dynamics, rhythms, and other musical elements throughout his works. Structures, Book 2, for which Stefanovich will join Aimard, was written for two pianos and four hands and is a reconstruction of Structures, Book 1 (1952). Cal Performances continues the celebration of Boulez's milestone birthday in June at Ojai at Berkeley with an opening night performance of A Pierre Dream: A Portrait of Pierre Boulez, an acoustic and theatrical work featuring an elaborate design by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

Cal Performances Executive and Artistic Director Matias Tarnopolsky talks with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard in a colloquium entitled "The Piano Music of Pierre Boulez" on Friday, March 13, 2015 at 3:30 p.m. in 125 Morrison Hall.

Tickets for Pierre Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich on Thursday, March 12 at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall range from $32.00 to $76.00 and are subject to change. Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall, at (510) 642-9988, at www.calperformances.org, and at the door. For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php.

--Rusty Barners, Cal Performances

Seattle Symphony Performs All Sibelius Symphonies
A major highlight of the Seattle Symphony's 2014–2015 season is Luminous Landscapes: The Sibelius Symphonies, a three-week festival from March 12–28, led by Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard in his first year as Principal Guest Conductor. The festival, which commemorates the 150th Anniversary of Jean Sibelius' birth with performances including all seven of the composer's symphonies, the Violin Concerto and Finlandia, is the most extensive festival of Sibelius' music this year in the U.S., and one of a very small number of orchestras worldwide presenting the complete Sibelius symphonic cycle this season.

Executive Director Simon Woods said, "We are thrilled to be holding one of the major celebrations in the world of the extraordinary symphonic legacy of Sibelius. These works are among the profoundest in the symphonic repertoire, and the chance to experience this extraordinary journey from the stirring First Symphony through to the exalted and enigmatic Seventh, will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people. And we will be in the best possible hands with Thomas Dausgaard — a musician who has a tremendous affinity for Sibelius' music — as our guide."

Thomas Dausgaard, who takes up his post as Principal Guest Conductor with these concerts shared, "For many years it has been a special joy to make music with the wonderful Seattle Symphony. It is a great honor for me that our first project together in my new role will be a fusion of the two great S's: Seattle and Sibelius! A cycle of Sibelius' symphonies is always a big event. His music shows us what a transcendental instrument an orchestra can be — stimulating our imagination, sensitivity and intellect, as well as our love for music! I look forward to sharing these qualities with musicians and music lovers over the coming seasons."

For more information, visit http://www.seattlesymphony.org/

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Cal Performances At UC Berkeley to Launch Berkeley RADICAL, a Cultural Initiative in Pursuit of Public Artistic Literacy
Cal Performances Board Chair Gail Rubinfeld and Executive and Artistic Director Matías Tarnopolsky today announced Berkeley RADICAL, a framework to cultivate public artistic literacy and create cultural access for diverse future audiences in the context of the digital age and transitional generations. Berkeley RADICAL is a platform on which Cal Performances artists will operate within and beyond the University and instigate substantive interactivity between Cal Performances' commissioning, creation, and presentation, UC Berkeley learning and scholarship, and Bay Area public learning across a wide age range. Berkeley RADICAL at Cal Performances will contribute to determining a future for the performing arts—broad dissemination of the process and results in contemporary digital forms will be key to this goal. To serve the goal of dissemination, Cal Performances will be available on iTunes with a dedicated destination (iTunes.com/calperformances) featuring exclusive Berkeley RADICAL podcasts, as well as a selection of music from artists performing in concert at Cal Performances.

"Through Berkeley RADICAL we assert that the arts are necessary, that they enhance our ability to handle change and challenges, and that they are essential to sustain and advance our society," said Matías Tarnopolsky, Executive and Artistic Director of Cal Performances. "If we define the arts as necessary, then artistic literacy is as essential as any other literacy, including reading, writing, and arithmetic. Because we see artistic literacy as equally the responsibility of artists, educators, arts organizations, and digital partners, Berkeley RADICAL will have components that serve each of these primary stakeholders."

Beginning in September 2015, several distinctive projects in each season will contribute to the Berkeley RADICAL process and will include explorations of known works or creation of major new works with public performances; residency of commissioned artists; a significant partnership with the University across academic disciplines; on- and off-campus learning programs; post-performance dissemination of such things as creative process, education, research, and scholarship endeavors delivered via various media platforms. Berkeley RADICAL is intended to work in tandem with, and harness, the unique intellectual capital and capabilities of the world-class research university that is home to Cal Performances.

The first to be named Berkeley RADICAL artists are conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. It is fitting that they launch this program since it was musical training as a youth that put the conductor on his life path. Gustavo Dudamel brings to music and the larger cultural landscape, a deep understanding of the necessity of the arts. Residency activities, featuring Gustavo Dudamel and musicians of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, will include symposiums, master teaching, lecture/demonstrations, a film screening, rehearsals open to Bay Area music students, multiple concerts, and the recording, framing and disseminating of these events on iTunes and other digital platforms.

--Rusty Barnes, Cal Performances

Mirror Visions Ensemble Embarks on Tour of New Program: Journeys
The Mirror Visions Ensemble, a vocal trio featuring soprano Vira Slywotzky, tenor Scott Murphree and baritone Jesse Blumberg, presents Journeys accompanied by pianist Grant Wenaus in February and March with dates in San Francisco, Newton (MA), Hillsdale (NY) and in New York City at Lincoln Center's Library for the Performing Arts and SubCulture.

Journeys is a new program in which the singers explore land, sea and air travel to far-flung destinations -- both real and imaginary -- in lighthearted and humorous ways. The ensemble sings about modes of transportation, travel experiences and hotel accommodation with style and flair. They also eloquently tour coral reefs in The Mermaid's Song by Haydn, search for the isle of true love in Berlioz's L'Ile inconnue, and have a momentary rest in Barber's Solitary Hotel. This program features five MVE commissions in addition to familiar works by such composers as Haydn, Porter, Duparc, Wolf, Berlioz, Poulenc and Barber set to the poetry of James Joyce, Charles Baudelaire, Pietro Metastasio and others.

For more information, visit http://www.mirrorvisions.org/

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Tallis Scholars New Release & Tour
Peter Phillips and the legendary voices of The Tallis Scholars celebrate Arvo Pärt's 80th birthday with the release of Tintinnabuli - a new album of Pärt's finest a cappella choral works. Tintinnabuli will be released March 10, 2015 launching the U.S. portion of the Tintinnabuli world tour. U.S. concerts run from April 10-26th and include dates in Berkeley (CA), New York (NY), Atlanta (GA), Dallas and Houston (TX).

"It is with great pleasure that we present our tribute to Arvo Pärt in his 80th year. Tintinnabuli (from the Latin for 'bell') is the compositional style created by Arvo Pärt which informs every work on this recording. In all my searchings for inspiring contemporary music I have not come across anyone to rival him." --Peter Phillips

Apr 10 -11 Berkeley, CA - First Congregational Church
Apr 12 - Arcata, CA - Van Duzer Theatre
Apr 17 - New York, NY - Church of St. Ignatius Loyola
Apr 18 - New York, NY - Weill Recital Hall
Apr 19 - Atlanta, GA - Emerson Concert Hall
Apr 21 - Birmingham, AL - Cathedral Church of the Advent
Apr 23 - Little Rock, AR - Christ Episcopal Church
Apr 24 - Dallas, TX - Highland Park Presbyterian Church
Apr 25 - Houston, TX - Christ Church Cathedral
Apr 26 - Lubbock, TX - First United Methodist Church

For more information, visit http://www.thetallisscholars.co.uk/

--Sarah Folger, Harmonia Mundi USA

The Orion String Quartet at Lincoln Center
The Orion String Quartet will be performing with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on February 26th. Over the past 27 seasons the Orion String Quartet has been consistently praised for the fresh perspective and individuality it brings to performances.

Noted for their European interpretations of Haydn's works, according to The New York Times the quartet "played [String Quartet in C] with energetic brio and graceful poise." The Orion Quartet's recordings reflect its musical diversity. The ensemble has achieved an enviable reputation for its interpretations of Beethoven's string quartets, and has recorded the complete cycle for KOCH International Classics.

Thursday, February 26, 2015, 7:30 PM
Rose Studio, Lincoln Center

Haydn: Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5
Haydn: Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 33, No. 2, "The Joke"
Haydn: Quartet in C major, Op. 50, No. 2
Haydn: Quartet in F major, Op. 77, No. 2

--Ely Moskowitz, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Free Concert with Conversation with the Beijing Guitar Duo at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 27
Meng Su and Yameng Wang, the Beijing Guitar Duo first met at the Central Conservatory in Beijing, where they both studied with acclaimed professor, Chen Zhi.

The Duo was formally established at the encouragement of Manuel Barrueco, their teacher and mentor, while pursuing advanced studies at the Peabody Conservatory. The impressive individual talents of Ms. Su and Ms. Wang come together to create what is sure to be one of the most exciting guitar duos on the scene today. As recipients of the Solomon H. Snyder Award, the Beijing Guitar Duo made its New York debut at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall with critical acclaim.

When: Fri., Feb. 27 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Community Music Center Concert Hall (544 Capp Street, San Francisco)
Admission: Free
RSVP: For reserved press seating, please contact Kristin Cockerham or email cmc@landispr.com by Feb. 25.
The event is sponsored by San Francisco Performances.
Learn more at www.sfcmc.org

--Kristin Cockerham, Landis PR

Broadway's Norm Lewis, Allison Blackwell, and Douglas Hodge Join Young People's Chorus of New York City
The Young People's Chorus of New York City will hold its annual fund-raising gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Monday, March 2, at 7 p.m. YPC Artistic Director Francisco J. Núñez and the chorus are excited to welcome The New York Pops and three award-winning stars of the Broadway stage - Norm Lewis, Allison Blackwell, and Douglas Hodge - in an unforgettable showcase of magic, swing, and the kinds of spectacular, fully choreographed production numbers YPC galas are known for.

Remaining tickets are available at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Box Office or by calling CenterCharge 212-721-6500.

The concert will be followed by dinner in the five-star Mandarin Oriental ballroom overlooking Central Park featuring an exciting live auction with many one-of-a-kind items. The evening's auctioneer is Sara Friedlander from Christies.

Being honored by YPC at the dinner are Thomas Wagner, the co-founder and managing member of Knighthead Capital Management, LLC with YPC's Corporate Award, and pianist, composer, and educator Seymour Bernstein with YPC's Artistic Award.

More information about the March 2 gala evening is available at www.ypc.org or at http://www.jazz.org/events/t-4350

--Angela Duryea, Young People's Chorus of NYC

Bach: English Suites 1, 3 & 5 (CD review)

Piotr Anderszewski, piano. Warner Classics 0825646219391.

Somewhere around 1715-1723, early in his career, Bach wrote six keyboard suites, which he would have played on the harpsichord. Nobody's quite sure how or why these keyboard pieces got the nickname "English," though. Bach didn't even call them the "English Suites"; he called them "Suittes avec leur Preludes pour le Clavecin." They didn't actually acquire the title "English Suites" until the nineteenth century when one of Bach's biographers, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, declared that Bach "made them for an Englishman of rank." However, Forkel never backed up his claim, so who knows. The funny thing is that these suites have more in common with French suites of the period than English, particularly their preludes.

Whatever, what we have here are three of the six suites, Nos. 1, 3, and 5 (BWV 806, 808, and 810), played on a Steinway D piano by noted Polish-Hungarian pianist Piotr Anderszewski. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Anderszewski, he first came to prominence in the early 1990's and has since performed with many of the world's leading orchestras as well as conducting from the keyboard various chamber orchestras. In the past quarter-odd century he has made a number of recordings for Harmonia Mundi, Accord, and Philips before signing exclusively to Virgin Classics in 2000 (now Warner Classics); and he has won any number of awards for his discs and performances.

Each of Bach's suites begins with a prelude, followed by six or eight dance movements--allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, bourrees, passepieds, and concluding gigues. While the melodies pour forth graciously from all the suites, it's No. 5 in E minor I like best for its refined, flowing lines and noble heart. But that's no matter. If you like the suites, you'll probably appreciate what Anderszewski does with them.

Mr. Anderszewski begins the program with No. 3 in G minor, and it sets the tone for the rest of the suites. No, Anderszewski doesn't display the crisp articulation and crystal clarity of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, who probably did as much as anyone to popularize Bach on the piano. But I doubt that Anderszewski is making any attempt to duplicate what Gould and others have already done. Anderszewski is his own man with his own style, which is smooth and agreeable. Of course, how you view "smooth and agreeable" in Bach is a matter of taste, and it may not be yours.

You see, here's the thing: There's a great deal of difference between the sound of a harpsichord and the sound of a modern Steinway. So right there the performance finds itself at odds with the period-instrument crowd. An old friend of mine used to call music of the Baroque period "all that tinkly stuff." I'd say Anderszewski's performances are for people who already have enough recordings of that tinkly stuff or, like my friend, simply don't like it. The question, then, is how smooth is too smooth for Bach? How mellifluous is too mellifluous? How refined is too refined? How sophisticated is too sophisticated? In other words, there may be a few listeners who will not take to Anderszewski's gently expressive, carefully reasoned renditions of Bach.

Piotr Anderszewski
Anyway, No. 3 pretty much shows us where Anderszewski is coming from. His tempos appear well judged, never too lickety-split or helter-skelter nor too leisurely, except when necessary. The playing sounds free, fluid, and flowing, the technical qualities of the performance nigh well flawless. Everything, in fact, seems perfectly in order and, as I say, calculated to please most listeners.

However, I couldn't help questioning from time to time whether Anderszewski wasn't just a tad too calculating; I mean, these interpretations may sound letter-perfect, with some dazzling finger work, but they didn't always strike me as the most spontaneous or joyous I've heard. One might even go so far as to say they sound a bit dreamy-eyed and Romantic (or maybe that's the result of the piano sounding so warm and musical in this recording).

I don't know about the "authenticity" of Anderszewski's approach (the use of a modern piano aside), but I do know that he makes Bach's keyboard works quite accessible, treating each tune with affectionate care and a delicate touch. I know, too, that I enjoyed his readings, especially his handling of the slow movements, where he sometimes finds a sweet melancholy in the music I had never before appreciated as much as here.

Some listeners, particularly Anderszewski's fans, will doubtless praise the man's ability to plumb the depths of intellect and emotion in Bach. Maybe, and surely he does so in No. 5, to me the most serious of the suites; but mainly I just thought Anderszewski's work sounded nice. Then again, I'm a pretty simple guy.

Producers and recording engineers Andrzej Sasin and Aleksandra Nagorko recorded the album in March-June 2014 at the Philharmonic Concert Hall, Warsaw, Poland. The piano sound, like the playing, is smooth and mellow. The engineers have given the piano a little space, meaning it sounds moderately distanced and does not extend from one speaker to the other. There is also enough room resonance to simulate a real experience, and a small degree of reverb adds to the piano's slightly soft, warm tone.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Vivaldi: Concerti per mandolini (CD review)

Also, Concerti con molti strumenti. Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante. Erato/Virgin Veritas 7 243-5-45527-2 4.

After reviewing another album, a new album, of Vivaldi's music on mandolin from Avi Avital on DG, I remembered this older disc of Vivaldi mandolin music from Erato/Virgin Classics, released in 2003. Not that any of the selections on the two albums are the same, but if you like the tone of the mandolin, you might like both albums. More important, although I haven't always cared for Fabio Biondi's recordings with Europa Galante, I loved this one. It is, in fact, one of the best things he's ever done.

Anyway, there was a time a dozen or so years ago that you hardly knew there was a slowdown in the classical music industry if judged by the frequency of recordings from Biondi and his band. He and his period-instrument Europa Galante seemed to issue about a dozen discs a year, most of them covering Vivaldi. I'm kidding, of course, but theses players continue to enjoy a goodly success rate with Baroque releases, their Four Seasons for Opus 111 selling over half a million copies a few years before this one. More power to them.

Here on Erato/Virgin Veritas, Biondi and company present a series of concertos by Vivaldi, several with mandolins and the others with various other instruments. These concertos include the Concerto in G major for 2 mandolines and strings, RV532; Concerto in C major for 2 violini in tromba marina, 2 flauti dritti, 2 madolini, 2 salmoe, and 2 teorbe e violoncello, RV558; Concerto in G minor per violino, 2 flauti dritti, 2 oboi, and fagotto, RV576; Concerto in D major per 2 violini, and 2 celli, RV564; Concerto in G minor per violino solo, 2 pboi, and fagotto, RV 319; Concerto in C major per mandolino, RV425; and Concerto in C major per 3 violini, oboe, 2 flauti dritti, 2 ciole all`inglese, salmoe, 2 celli, 2 cembali, and 2 violini in tromba marina, RV555.

For me the best of the best were the opening and closing concertos: the gentle and persuasive Concerto for 2 Mandolins, RV532, and the robust Concerto in C major, RV555, scored for three violins, two recorders, two viole all'inglese, chalumeau, two cellos, two harpsichords, and two violini in tromba marina. The former, RV532, sometimes called the "Double Mandolin Concerto," presents all the color and nuance of the mandolin in a performance that is at once subtle and invigorating.

Fabio Biondi
The latter work, RV555, is unique for the early eighteenth century in its combination of instruments in such prodigious proportions. The accompanying works tend to sound rather alike to me, but they include five more concertos, these for violin, tromba, recorders, oboes, bassoons, and others. Somehow, they're all quite enjoyable while listening to them but almost instantly forgettable. I mean no disrespect in saying that, however, because it's just me. Most important, Biondi, as violinist and conductor, and his players perform with zest, style, and authority. While on some of their recordings they can sound a little overzealous in regard to tempos and rubato, I heard none of that here, and there is little doubt the results are lovely and exhilarating.

I also liked the sound Erato/Virgin provided the ensemble better than I liked what Opus 111 did for them earlier. I thought the Opus 111 acoustic was often too bright and reverberant to the point of obscuring inner detail. But the sound on Erato/Virgin, recorded at the San Giovanni Evangelista church, Parma, Italy in 2001, is quite natural and well balanced. And even though Europa Galante's earlier Opus 111 recordings often featured breakneck interpretations, this time out there is a touch of sonic warmth to the music that nicely complements the warmth of the performances themselves.

If you're a fan of Biondi and Europa Galante or of Vivaldi or of Baroque music in general, you might find a home for this Erato/Virgin disc in your CD collection, especially now that you can find it so easily at such a good price on-line. Then again, to other listeners it may seem like "more of the same." Who knows.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Montage: Great Film Composers and the Piano (CD review)

Music of Bruce Broughton, Michael Giacchino, Don Davis, Alexandre Desplat, John Williams, and Randy Newman. Gloria Cheng, piano. Harmonia Mundi HMU 907635.

I once remarked to a friend that I thought film composers were writing some of the most-memorable orchestral music of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. He merely scoffed at the idea. But I don't think we should reject out of hand the work of these folks just because they write primarily for the mass media. That was also the opinion of pianist Gloria Cheng a few years ago when in concert she began playing some of the piano music of famous Hollywood film composers. No, she wasn't playing movie scores; she was playing music specifically written by film composers for concert piano. Apparently, audiences greeted these concerts with overwhelming enthusiasm, and now Ms. Cheng gives us an album of such music, Montage, all of it written within the past few years, and most of it expressly for Ms. Cheng to play.

In the event you need a little background on Ms. Cheng, she won the Grammy award in 2009 for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance and in 2014 for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. She holds degrees from Stanford University, UCLA, and the University of Southern California, and she served as Regents Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley.

Now, here's the thing: Despite Ms. Cheng's best efforts, these concert piano pieces probably will not remain in the public consciousness for as long as the composers' film scores do. It's just the nature of the game. Fifty or a hundred years from now, audiences will still be enjoying the movies these composers wrote for--watching the films at home, in retrospectives, or listening to albums of classic film music--while audiences may only run into the piano pieces at the very occasional live performance. The music business, like so much of life, has never been fair.

Anyway, first up on Ms. Cheng's program is Five Pieces for Piano by Bruce Broughton (Silverado, Tombstone, Young Sherlock Holmes), a five-movement suite Mr. Broughton presented to Ms. Cheng in 2010. Broughton alternates fast, flowing movements with slower, more languid ones and a set of variations in the middle. Ms. Cheng plays all of it with a good deal of bravura finger work combined with a sweet sensitivity. This may not be great music, but Ms. Cheng treats it as such.

Next up is Composition 430 (2013) by Michael Giacchino (Up, Lost, Ratatouille). Mr. Giacchino tells us it's "the reflection of a memory I have from a particular moment in time while growing up in New Jersey. I remember the feeling of freedom I had while riding my bike around the neighborhood and the sense of self that it brought me." Giacchino's music is sweetly nostalgic, becoming more outwardly expressive as it goes along, and Ms. Cheng carries it off with a fine sense of sentiment without being sentimental. At around six minutes, it's also about the right length to maintain this mood.

After that is Surface Tension (2013) by Don Davis (The Matrix, Beauty and the Beast). Mr. Davis tells us the music "explores the tension created by the juxtaposition of sound/time surfaces as expressed by the metaphor of a well-integrated visual object in which curvature changes systematically." I confess I know next to nothing about modern music, and while I admired Davis's use of tension and release and differing tempos and rhythms, the overall effect did not really impress me much. I enjoyed Ms. Cheng's handing of it and cannot imagine it better played, technically or intellectually; and I liked her handling of the softer middle section best because it was the only part I could much understand.

Gloria Cheng
Then, there is L'Etreinte ("The Embrace") from Trois Etudes by Alexandre Desplat (Argo, The King's Speech, The Grand Budapest Hotel), which Mr. Desplat says "are dedicated to Solre, who is my concertmaster, my artistic director, and also my wife." Lang Lang premiered them in 2012. Desplat's piece may remind some listeners of Debussy with its dreamy lyricism, and that's a compliment. Ms. Cheng approaches its delicate tone in a lovely, subtle fashion.

Following Desplat's L'Etreinte is Conversations (2012) by John Williams (Star Wars, E.T., Close Encounters, Indiana Jones). Mr. Williams explains that it represents a conversation "between the great jazz pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr. and Elizabeth Freeman, known as Mumbett, a resident of western Massachusetts and a former slave who sued the state of Massachusetts in 1781 for her freedom...and she won!" The Williams piece is the longest work on the program, as perhaps befits his stature as a leading composer of our day. His "conversations" take us through several musical genres, most of it quiet and meditative, which Ms. Cheng negotiates nicely.

The program concludes with Family Album: Homage to Alfred, Emil and Lionel Newman (2013) by Randy Newman (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Cars), written at Ms. Cheng's request. As we might expect, Newman's music is light, joyful, tuneful, often playful, and almost old-fashioned compared to some of the other pieces on the album. It's also delightfully accessible as it takes us through several musical eras with various references to familiar tunes of the day. If I had to put money on the lasting power of any of the music on this disc, I'd put it on Newman's material, not because it's any better than the rest but because, as I say, it's so listener friendly. Ms. Cheng handles it with loving care.

Producer Judith Sherman and engineer Ben Maas of Fifth Circle Audio recorded the music at Zipper Hall, The Colburn School, Los Angeles, California in April 2014. The piano sounds a trifle close, but there is a fine sense of room ambience around it, the notes displaying a pleasant bloom and resonance. Clarity, too, is quite good, without ever sounding bright or hard.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Avi Avital: Vivaldi (CD review)

Avi Avital, mandolin; Juan Diego Florez, tenor; Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord; Ophira Zakai, lute; Patrick Sepec, cello; Venice Baroque Orchestra. DG B0022627-02.

Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital made his debut album a few years ago for Naxos and has followed it up since with several more albums on the DG label. His speciality is music of the Baroque period, particularly the music he has himself transcribed for mandolin from other instruments. On the present album, simply titled Vivaldi, Mr. Avital presents seven selections, six from Italian baroque composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), although only one Vivaldi composed specifically for the mandolin, and one traditional Venetian song. Accompanied by the talented and prolific Venice Baroque Orchestra, the album offers an enjoyable fifty-odd minutes of virtuoso mandolin playing.

The program includes the Concerto in A minor RV 356, originally for violin; the Concerto in D major RV 93, also originally for violin; the Mandolin Concerto in C major RV 425; the Largo from the Concerto in C major RV 443, originally for flautina; the Trio Sonata in C major RV 82, originally for violin and lute; the Concerto in G minor RV 315 "Summer," from The Four Seasons, originally for violin; and the traditional Venetian song "La biondina in gondoleta." In addition to the Venice Baroque Orchestra, various titles include the support of tenor Juan Diego Florez, lutenist Ivano Zanenghi, cellist Daniel Bovo, harpsichordist Lorenzo Feder, and baroque guitarist Fabio Tricomil.

Avital is unquestionably a fine mandolin player, his tone sweet and fluid, his tempos well judged, neither too breakneck fast nor too maddeningly slack, and his natural affinity for the instrument always in evidence in his intonation and flexibility. I mean, the thing about Avital is that he makes Vivaldi fun again. After so many Vivaldi recordings that all sound alike, it's refreshing to hear Avital's mandolin take on things. His transcriptions are a breath of fresh air, even giving new life to that old chestnut "Summer."

Favorites? I must confess to liking all of them. But I especially enjoyed the dreamy Largos in RV 356 and RV 318; the zesty opening Allegro in RV 318; the entire RV 425, which Vivaldi wrote for mandolin and needed little transcription (interestingly, Avital replaces the harpsichord with an organ); the lovely, delicate Trio Sonata; the sweet yet lusty and fanciful spirit Avital brings to the "Summer" concerto (here, you can practically feel the heat rising from the Venetian pavement in the Adagio); and the longing melancholy in the final song, sung by Juan Diego Florez to Avital's accompaniment. But, as I say, they all sound fresh and beautiful.

Avi Avital
If there's any one minor concern I had about the album, it's the way the folks at DG (like most other record companies with rising young artists) are promoting Avital like a rock star. With fully eight photos of the performer in various fashion-model poses and even an article in the accompanying booklet titled "Rocking Vivaldi," I hope the company doesn't wear him out through overexposure and unrelenting hype.

But that's neither here nor there: Avital has shown the talent and proved his worth. Now, let's hope he just doesn't run out of mandolin material to play (although, to be fair, if he keeps doing mandolin transcriptions of Vivaldi's work alone, he'll have enough material to carry him through the next two hundred years).

Producer Sid McLauchlan and engineers Filippo Lanteri and Rainer Maillard recorded the music at Teatro delle Voci, Treviso, Italy and the Meistersaal, Berlin, German (Trio Sonata) in September and October 2014. The engineers have captured the sound of the mandolin pretty well, the instrument very clean, very clear, with excellent transient response, and they have integrated the soloist well within the context of the orchestra. However, the sound is also a bit thin and top heavy, emphasizing the mandolin and strings at the expense of the lower midrange and bass response. So, while the mandolin is not in one's face, there is no mistaking who the star of the show is. I would have appreciated a warmer, stronger orchestral sound, but that's just me, and others may find the sonics nigh well perfect.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Classical Music News of the Week, February 15, 2015

Festival Mozaic And Bach Collegium San Diego Announce Collaboration

Festival Mozaic and Bach Collegium San Diego will collaborate for the 45th Anniversary Celebration. Renowned classical musicians will team up in a first-time intra-state collaboration featuring Sacred Music in Sacred Spaces.

Each summer since its beginnings in 1971, Festival Mozaic has transformed the Central Coast of California into a hotbed of classical music culture. This July, Festival Mozaic Conductor and violinist Scott Yoo will lead a group of more than 50 artists gathered from top orchestras and chamber ensembles from around the world in performances in scenic places all over San Luis Obispo County. 2015 marks the Festival's 45th Anniversary Season and the celebration will be marked by a special, first-time-ever collaboration with Bach Collegium San Diego.

In late July, the Festival Mozaic Orchestra will be joined by the Bach Collegium San Diego Chorus for two joyous performances of J.S. Bach's masterpiece Mass in B minor. This collaboration reflects a unique blend of California history and arts, as this timeless, sacred music will be presented in two sacred spaces: Old Mission San Luis Obispo and Mission San Miguel.  Both historical settings were built in the late 18th century – just 50 years after the Mass was compiled - and the acoustics and spirit of both venues will serve as a picturesque background for the passionate, lush music.

Festival Mozaic and San Luis Obispo frequently draw visitors from around the state of California, so this intra-state collaboration between the two nonprofit organizations will serve a wide array of Californians, as well as residents in San Luis Obispo County and visitors from around the country and the world.

Performances of the Bach Mass in B Minor will take place on:
Friday, July 24, 2015 – Mission San Miguel
Saturday, July 25, 2015 – Old Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

The full schedule for the two-week Festival Mozaic, which will take place July 16-26, 2015, will be announced in March. Subscription tickets will go on sale March 1.

Festival Mozaic (founded in 1971 as the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival) is a celebration of five centuries of music that takes place year-round in varied venues across San Luis Obispo County. The Festival presents an orchestra gathered from professionals across the world, chamber music concerts, guest artists and ensembles,  concerts of classical crossover artists and educational programs.

For more information, please visit www.FestivalMozaic.com

--Bettina Swigger, Festival Mozaic

Aldo Ciccolini Dies at 89
Aldo Ciccolini, an Italian-born pianist who specialized in the music of French composers and was known in particular as a champion of Erik Satie, has died at his home outside Paris. He was 89.

His manager, Paul Blacher, told Agence France-Presse that Mr. Ciccolini died either Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Mr. Ciccolini began his international career in the late 1940s and continued performing until he was well into his 80s. His work, which can be heard on more than 50 recordings, took in renowned French composers like Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Ravel as well as less familiar ones like Déodat de Séverac and Alexis de Castillon. His repertoire also spanned a wide array of non-Frenchmen, including Bach, Scarlatti, Salieri, Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt.

Throughout Mr. Ciccolini's career, critics praised his playing for its technical virtuosity, airy lyricism and cool, assiduous elegance.

For more information, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/arts/music/aldo-ciccolini-dies-at-89-pianist-interpreted-satie.html

--Margalit Fox, NY Times

Drummer Stewart Copeland and Pianist Jon Kimura Parker Team Up This Spring
Chamber music rockets "Off the Score" with drummer and composer Stewart Copeland and pianist Jon Kimura Parker's all-star quintet.

"Off the Score" is a sizzling performance collaboration between drum legend Stewart Copeland (The Police), visionary pianist Jon Kimura Parker, Met Opera violinist Yoon Kwon, rising star bassist Marlon Martinez and champion of the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) Judd Miller. New works by Copeland and Parker collide with renditions of Stravinsky, Ravel, Piazzolla and Aphex Twin for an inspiring look at a musical universe that shines beyond genre. The North American tour kicks off on March 6, 2015 in Austin, TX.

Most famous as the founder and drummer of The Police, Stewart Copeland is a rock legend who has established himself as a major symphonic composer, earning commissions from Covent Garden, the Cleveland Opera, Virginia Arts Festival, the San Francisco Ballet, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and the Pittsburgh and Dallas Symphonies, among others.

On this program called "Off the Score," commissioned by the University of Texas at Austin, Copeland teams up with another musical iconoclast, the concert pianist Jon Kimura "Jackie" Parker. Together they perform original chamber works and amp up some of the great pieces from the classical canon including Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G and Piazzolla's Oblivion. Add in jazz pianist Mike Garson's Paganini Variations and a wild arrangement of an Aphex Twin tune and the annihilation of genre is complete.

"Off the Score" Tour Dates:
March 6, 2015:    Austin, TX (University of Texas at Austin)
March 8, 2015:    Rohnert Park, CA (Sonoma State University)
March 25, 2015:  Lawrence, KS (University of Kansas)
March 27, 2015:  Indianapolis, IN (Butler University)
March 28, 2015:  Sewanee, TN (Sewanee: The University of the South)

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Announcing Philharmonia Baroque's 2015-16 Season - Nic McGegan's 30th!
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra 2015-16 season celebrates 30 years with Nicholas McGegan,
the Orchestra's 35th season, and the Philharmonia Chorale's 20th.

Season highlights will include
Six concert programs showcase the virtuosity of the Orchestra and Chorale around the Bay Area
Nicholas McGegan's 30th season gala concert with Susan Graham.
Tour of major North American concert halls in Spring 2016, including guest artists Anne-Sofie von Otter and Andreas Scholl.
American premiere and new recording of Alessandro Scarlatti's La gloria di primavera on its 300th anniversary.
Collaboration with singers from San Francisco Conservatory of Music, UC Berkeley, and Stanford for Mendelssohn's monumental Symphony No. 2, Lobgesang ("Hymn of Praise").
Special performance of Handel's Messiah in Berkeley
The Orchestra returns to San Francisco's Herbst Theatre

For complete details, visit http://www.philharmonia.org/

--Ben Casement-Stoll, PBO

Two World-Renowned Dance Companies Take the Stage in Scottsdale
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will present two celebrated European dance companies: Nederlands Dans Theater 2 on Saturday, Feb. 28, and Companhia Portuguesa de Bailado Contemporaneo on Friday, March 6, in the Virginia G. Piper Theater.

Tickets for each performance start at $39 and are available through www.ScottsdalePerformingArts.org or by calling 480-499-TKTS (8587).

Based in The Hague, Nederlands Dans Theater 2 (NDT2) is the acclaimed dance company's launching pad for young dancers, who are carefully selected through auditions to perform works by the new generation of dance makers. The troupe performs around the world, offering the opportunity for talented, up-and-coming dancers and choreographers to grow and develop their art.

NDT2's program will include Johan Inger's I New Then (2012), a swinging, fresh and optimistic dance set to songs by Van Morrison; Sol Leon's and Paul Lightfoot's Shutters Shut (2003), a remarkable piece during which the dancers visualize the words of Gertrude Stein reciting her 1923 poem "If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso"; and Sharon Eyal's and Gai Behar's Sara (2013), created simultaneously with a new composition of electronic sounds by Ori Lichtik and exploring themes of memories, dreams, emotions and more. The program will conclude with Alexander Ekman's Cacti (2010), a gleeful and knowing parody of contemporary dance's greater excesses, performed to classical masterpieces by Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert.

--Bill Thompson, SCCARTS

92Y March Concerts
Monday, March 2, 7:30 PM
Sir Andras Schiff Selects: Young Pianists
Roman Rabinovich, piano
92Y Concerts at SubCulture, NYC

Monday, March 9, 8:30 PM
Meitar Ensemble
92Y Buttenwieser Hall, NYC

Monday, March 16, 7:30 PM
Sir Andras Schiff Selects: Young Pianists
Adam Golka, piano
NY Debut
92Y Concerts at SubCulture, NYC

Sunday, March 22, 11:00 AM
(Rescheduled from Feb 8)
Leon Fleisher with Julian Fleisher
Living Through Music - On Seeing Through Schubert
92Y Warburg Lounge, NYC

Tuesday, March 24, 7:30 PM
Nikolai Lugansky, piano
92Y Debut
92Y Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

Saturday, March 28, 8:00 PM
American Guitarist-Composers
92Y Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

Tickets available at www.92Y.org/concerts or 212-415-5500.
For more detailed information, visit www.92Y.org

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Two Knights of the Keyboard in Scottsdale
As part of its Virginia G. Piper Concert Series, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will present piano recitals by two legendary musicians: Sir Andras Schiff on Thursday, Feb. 26, and Murray Perahia on Thursday, March 12.

"It is a privilege to present two of the greatest pianists in the world at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in back-to-back months," remarked Neale Perl, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Cultural Council. "If you love classical music and the piano, you won't want to miss hearing Sir Andras Schiff and Murray Perahia, who are both at the height of their careers and interpretive powers, performing masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart and more."

Tickets for each concert start at $29 and are available through www.ScottsdalePerformingArts.org or 480-499-TKTS (8587).

--Bill Thompson, SCCARTS

New Century Welcome Guest Concertmaster Glenn Dicterow
New Century Chamber Orchestra continues its 2014-2015 season March 5-8 with a debut performance by legendary New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow. Making his first San Francisco appearance since ending his 34 year tenure with the New York Philharmonic, Dicterow joins New Century as guest concertmaster in a program that features classics from the string chamber repertoire including Brahms's Sextet for Strings No. 1, Mozart's Divertimento in D Major, Grieg's Two Nordic Melodies, and Holst's St. Paul's Suite.

"Dicterow Leads Brahms and Mozart" will be given on four evenings in different locations around the San Francisco Bay Area:
Thursday, March 5 at 8 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA
Friday, March 6 at 8 p.m., First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m., Nourse Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
Sunday, March 8 at 5 p.m., Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, CA

New Century offers an Open Rehearsal Wednesday, March 4 at 10 a.m., Kanbar Performing Arts Center, 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.

Single tickets range in price from $29 to $61 and can be purchased through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com and (415) 392-4400. Discounted $15 single tickets are available for patrons under 35.

Open Rehearsal tickets are $8 general admission and can be purchased through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com and (415) 392-4400.

--Brenden Guy, New Century Chamber Orchestra

AME Performs BLUE at SubCulture
American Modern Ensemble performs BLUE at SubCulture, NYC, featuring "powerhouse pianists" Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen, March 3 at 8pm.

AME celebrates the release of its groundbreaking new album of all-American piano duos, Powerhouse Pianists II. Gosling and McMillen perform tracks from the album including works by Amanda Harberg, Robert Paterson and Frederic Rzewski. Their AME compatriots step in for the rest of the program that includes works by Margaret Brouwer, George Crumb, and Laura Kaminsky.

Now in its 10th season, American Modern Ensemble continues to spotlight American music via lively thematic programming, performing the widest possible repertoire, particularly by living composers. Says Seen and Heard International on the groundbreaking American Modern Ensemble, "Listening to and watching the musicians for the American Modern Ensemble is like experiencing a 'perfect ten' dance team."

Tickets:  $20 Advance/$30 Day of Show.  Available at www.subculturenewyork.com or (212) 533-5470.

For more information, visit www.americanmodernensemble.org.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Music Institute Students Place 1st at Sphinx, Win Big at Other Competitions
Music Institute of Chicago students, including those studying through its Community School and those enrolled in its Academy for gifted pre-college musicians, continue to demonstrate the results of the organization's high-quality instruction by excelling at annual competitions. These students live in the city of Chicago and suburbs throughout the Chicago area, as well as in nearby towns in Wisconsin.

Sphinx Competition, January 28–February 1, 2015
At the 18th Annual Sphinx Competition, Hannah White became the fifth Music Institute student to win the Junior Division during the past 10 years. Hannah, 15, lives in Germantown, Wisconsin; she studies with Almita and Roland Vamos and Hye-Sun Lee and is the Betsey and John Puth Academy Fellow. Placing second was Mira Williams, 17, from Chicago, a former student in the Music Institute's Academy for gifted pre-college musicians who studies viola with Roland Vamos.

The Sphinx competition is open to all junior high, high school, and college-age black and Latino string players residing in the U.S. The Sphinx Competition offers young black and Latino classical string players a chance to compete under the guidance of an internationally renowned panel of judges and perform with established professional musicians in a competition setting.

As the Junior Division winner, Hannah receives a cash prize, solo appearances with major orchestras, performances with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and at the Finals Concert, and a nationally broadcast radio appearance on From the Top. She was Junior Division 3rd place Laureate in 2014 and Junior Division Semi-Finalist in 2013.

Walgreens National Concerto Competition, December 28 and 29, 2014
The 19th annual Walgreens National Concerto Competition was hosted by Midwest Young Artists (MYA) on December 28 and 29, 2014 at the MYA Center at Fort Sheridan and at Bennett Gordon Hall at Ravinia. Prizes for this solo competition included an opportunity to perform with the MYA Symphony Orchestra and on the prestigious "From the Top" radio program.

DePaul Concerto Festival for Young Performers, January 10, 2015
The DePaul Concerto Festival for Young Performers was founded in 2003 to provide an opportunity for intermediate level pianists in the Community Music Division to perform with an orchestra. Since then, the Festival has expanded to include students outside the Community Music Division and those who play violin, cello, flute, viola, clarinet, oboe and bassoon. A partnership was formed in 2007 with the Oistrach Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Mina Zikri. Winning soloists will perform with members of the Oistrach Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, March 14, 2015, as part of the Winter Youth Orchestra Concert.

West Suburban Symphony Society, January 17, 2015
Each year since its founding, the West Suburban Symphony Society has provided an opportunity for high school instrumentalists and vocalists to compete to perform a solo work with orchestra as a way to inspire, educate, and foster the musical talent of young adults. Karisa Chiu, 16, Palatine, violin student of Almita Vamos, is the winner of the 2014–15 competition and will perform a selection from Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major on the May 17 concert at Hinsdale Central High School.

For more information, visit http://www.musicinst.org/

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

"Voigt Lessons" at 92Y, NYC Premiere
Internationally beloved opera star Deborah Voigt shares memories and music from her celebrated career at 92Y, Thursday, Feb 26, 2015, 8 pm, in an intimate account of her life beyond the velvet curtains in the New York City premiere of her confessional one-woman show, "Voigt Lessons." She performs arias, pop songs, standards and spirituals that have special meaning for her, including Strauss's "Zueignung," Mancini's " Moon River," The Carpenters' hit, "A Song for You," and much more.

For more information, visit http://www.92y.org/Event/Voigt-Lessons.aspx

--Ely Moskowitz, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Seattle Symphony Announces 2015-2016 Season
Music Director Ludovic Morlot and President & CEO Simon Woods today announced an ambitious and wide-ranging 2015–2016 season, continuing the theme of innovation and exploration for which the Symphony has been celebrated for in recent years, and including a number of firsts for the Orchestra. In Morlot's fifth season as Music Director, the Orchestra will continue to explore diverse repertoire and engage with Seattle's creative community, while opening the season with the first-ever Seattle Symphony International Piano Competition in September and closing the season with the first-ever Asia Tour in June.

"Next season I'm thrilled to again explore French and American repertoire, and this time I'll be joined by Jean-Yves Thibaudet as our Artist in Residence for many programs on our season, and our competition and tour," Morlot said. "In the last few years, our programming of contemporary and less-familiar music alongside more traditional repertoire has helped us to create a unique and inspiring musical journey with our audiences, and I look forward to continuing down that path in 2015–2016."

Woods added, "Seattle is one of America's most forward-looking and creative cities, and our programming is intended to reflect and celebrate that spirit. Next season will be one for the record books, as we embark on our first-ever Asia Tour, expand Sonic Evolution, launch a piano competition, release three new recordings on our own label, and continue our exciting creative journey under Ludovic Morlot's leadership. We're also very proud to unveil our new Web site today at www.seattlesymphony.org."

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

ABS Announces Tatiana Chulochnikova as Recipient of 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award
The American Bach Soloists (ABS) are pleased to announce violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova as the winner of the 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award. Splitting her time between Washington, DC, New York City, and San Francisco, Chulochnikova is a talented and enterprising artist who has performed with many of the nation's leading Baroque ensembles. Her thrilling technique and bravura style have dazzled audiences around the country and across continents.

Born in Ukraine, Chulochnikova began playing violin at the age of 7 and made her professional debut at 14 playing Bruch's violin concerto with the Kharkov Philharmonic. Around the same time, her own Trio for violin, flute, and cello was awarded Second Prize at the International Young Composers Competition in Kiev. Chulochnikova received her professional training at the Tchaikovsky College of Music and Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. She was first introduced to historically informed performance practice at the Conservatory where she quickly developed a passion for the early music repertory. Her interest in the Baroque brought her to the United States where she continued her studies under the direction of Marilyn McDonald at the Oberlin Conservatory.

For more information, visit americanbach.org

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Foundation Works to Ensure Every Child Can Play Music
The young violinists stand in a semicircle around instructor Linda Rodgers, who announces that the next piece they'll be rehearsing is the "William Tell Overture."

A few kids respond with cheers of "Yay!" — it's obviously a favorite — and one particularly exuberant player looses a quiet whoop and leaps into the air in the beginnings of a sort of not-fully-thought-out jig.

It's certainly cute. Better than that, it's impressive, considering that there's no way the young violinists' enthusiasm could possibly be connected to the piece's double life as the theme to "The Lone Ranger."

But, truth be told, there's plenty of enthusiasm to be seen in the practice rooms of the East Las Vegas Community/Senior Center when Violins for Kids, a program of The Foundation to Assist Young Musicians, takes up residence there several days each week.

The program is one facet of the foundation's three-pronged mission: to provide scholarships and financial assistance to music students studying at colleges and universities, to establish and promote performance and career opportunities — through funding special training, symposia, workshops and the like — for promising musicians, and to offer early music education to elementary school-age children who might otherwise not be able to afford it.

FAYM — note that the acronym reads as "fame" — was founded in 2007 by Hal Weller, founding music director and conductor laureate of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, who had happened to catch a YouTube video of a performance by Krzysztof Rucinski, a then-16-year-old violinist from Poznan, Poland.

"I wrote him, (saying,) 'Nice job' and he wrote back in perfect English," Weller recalls. "I asked him, 'Have you ever thought of studying in the United States?' and he wrote back and said, 'That's impossible, my parents are very poor.'?"

"It was the word 'impossible' that started me to think," says Weller, who contacted friends and others in the music community. FAYM, a nonprofit organization, was created as a vehicle to provide higher-education financial support not only for Rucinski, but for other young, promising music students who need financial support to further their studies.

For more information, visit http://www.reviewjournal.com/entertainment/arts-culture/foundation-works-ensure-every-child-can-play-music

--John Przybys, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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