Viennafest (CD review)

Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Telarc CD-80547.

It had been a while since I last heard the late Erich Kunzel and his Cincinnati Pops doing a record for Telarc, so it was fun renewing an old friendship. Having remembered Kunzel's work with Telarc's Straussfest discs, I prepared myself for something a bit unusual in the way of waltzes and polkas, and that's exactly what Kunzel delivers. However, I didn't find it always in a good way.

In Viennafest we get a mixture of the traditional and the novel, all of it done up in reasonably good taste. The disc starts with an appropriately rousing curtain raiser, the "Radetzky March" by Strauss, Sr., and done in loud, boisterous, if somewhat mechanical fashion, followed by the overture from The Gypsy Baron. Then we have a polka, "The Huntsman," with a horse whinnying for effect.

Here are a few more selections, including one of the more controversial items on the program, the "Voices of Spring" waltz with a vocal part sung by soprano Tracy Dahl that you'll either love or hate, depending on what you're used to. A couple more novelty polkas come next, "At the Double" and Eduard Strauss's "At Full Steam," both featuring suitable sound effects. After those are Franz Lehar with the "Gold and Silver" waltzes and the "Siren of the Dance" waltzes from The Merry Widow.

Josef Lanner's "Court Ball" waltz is particularly nice, Robert Stolz's "Two Hearts in Three-Quarter Time" is delightful, and Strauss, Jr.'s overture to Die Fledermaus is as charming as ever. The proceedings come to a close with a fairly schmaltzy rendition of Rudolf Sieczynski's "Vienna, City of My Dreams," but what are you going to do: It is what it is.

Erich Kunzel
Although Erich Kunzel may have sold probably more albums than almost anyone, he was never among my favorite conductors, generally taking things a little too matter of factly for my taste. This is especially noticeable in the aforementioned "Radetsky March" and also in the Lehar numbers, even if he is certainly felicitous enough in "Voices of Spring." Still, I prefer Willi Boskovsky, Herbert von Karajan, Lorin Maazel, Andre Reiu, and others in Strauss material to Kunzel's more relatively straight-arrow, largely uninspiring approach.

Telarc recorded the album using Super Bit Mapping Direct Stream Digital at the Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio in February 2000. The resultant sound is very smooth, as we have come to expect from this company, the bass drum always at the fore, with decent stage imaging, and a wide dynamic range. Nevertheless, the sound also appears to me a little thin in the midrange while at the same time a bit shy on the sparkle I had expected, as though Telarc had recorded things a tad more distantly than normal for them.

Anyway, the collection will please most of Kunzel's fans, even though I'm not sure any of the old Strauss family themselves would have usually had so large an orchestra at their command. Whatever, the current Johann Strauss Orchestra under Andre Reiu with its considerably fewer players (about two dozen or so) produces a more lustrous and transparent sound, and for a big, full ensemble it's still hard to beat the Vienna or Berlin Philharmonics.


To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click below:

The Deer's Cry (CD review)

Music of Arvo Part, William Byrd, and Thomas Tallis. Harry Christophers, The Sixteen. CORO COR16140.

The juxtaposition of works on this album by modern Estonian composer Arvo Part (b. 1935) and Renaissance English composers William Byrd (c. 1540-1623) and Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) may at first blush seem odd. Yet the combination works surprisingly well.

As almost everyone knows by now, The Sixteen and its founder and conductor Harry Christophers are a vocal and period-instrument ensemble founded by Mr. Christophers in 1977. They deal largely in Renaissance, Baroque, and early Classical repertoire but have obviously here expanded their scope to include modern music. With over 130 recordings and numerous awards to their credit, one can understand their critical and popular success.

Here are the track listings for the present album:
1. Byrd: Diliges Dominum
2. Byrd: Christe qui lux es et dies
3. Part: The Deer's Cry
4. Byrd: Emendemus in melius
5. Part: The Woman with the Alabaster Box
6. Byrd: Miserere mihi, Domine
7. Byrd: Ad Dominum cum tribularer
8. Tallis/Byrd: Miserere nostri
9. Tallis: When Jesus went
10. Byrd: O lux beata Trinitas
11. Part: Nunc dimittis
12. Byrd: Laetentur coeli
13. Byrd: Tribue, Domine

The total timing for the album runs very nearly sixty-seven minutes.

Harry Christophers
So, why include the music of Arvo Part among that of Byrd and Tallis? Well, although both Byrd and Tallis wrote some secular music, the bulk of their output was sacred. Byrd, for instance, wrote sacred music for use in Anglican and Catholic services, and Tallis (Byrd's teacher, by the way) worked at a Benedictine priory, Waltham Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, and the Chapel Royal, among other places. And of Part? He, too, writes both classical and religious music. In fact, he is one of the most important and certainly one of the most prominent of today's composers of spiritual music. Yes, as I said, the combination of composers on the album works.

As always, The Sixteen sing in a heavenly manner, and their voices sound rich and full in harmony, their intonation flawless, and their commitment to the music as emotionally vibrant as ever. What we've got as a result is beautiful music, beautifully performed.

Now, what did I like best? That's hard to answer because everything about the music and the singing is so letter-perfect. Of course, the Byrd and Tallis pieces go without saying. Their music has stood the test of time and been enjoyed by and inspirational to people for centuries. However, Part's music in particular impressed me, starting with the album's title tune, The Deer's Cry. Like the other two of the composer's selections, it's partly new, partly old; partly modern, partly ancient. Obviously, Part is a man of many parts. Sorry. The Deer's Cry is an updated setting of an incantation written in the fifth century. It's appropriately solemn yet wonderfully uplifting. The Woman with the Alabaster Box sets a narrative from Matthew 26:6-13. But equally impressive is Nunc dimittis, written in Part's tintinnabular or bell-like style; it's beautiful, and as with the rest of the album the singers do it full justice.

Producer Mark Brown and engineer Mike Hatch recorded the album at the Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, London in October 2015. Here is the only minor fly in the ointment: The venue is highly reverberant, and, consequently, voices sometimes appear to have a touch too much bloom and echo to them. Still, the ambient glow makes the choir sound more "heavenly," even it doesn't do as much to clarify the album's transparency as it could. There is also a slight upper midrange brightness to the sound, which doesn't hurt and probably actually helps make the voices appear more distinct. There is much to like here, so I'm not really complaining.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 12, 2017

Orion Opens 25th Season with Schubert's Trout Quintet, Mozart, Prokofiev

The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, opens its 25th anniversary season with "A Beautiful Oboe and
Friends," welcoming three guest artists who have joined them in previous seasons: violist Stephen Boe, oboist Alex Klein and bass player Robert Kassinger.

For these concerts, Orion revives two works the ensemble performed with Klein in 2002. Mozart composed his Quartet in A Major for oboe, violin, viola and cello, K. 370/368b, for Friedrich Ramm (1744-1813), a brilliant oboist whose artistic connections Mozart was anxious to renew. Hailed as a concerto within the intimate genre of chamber music, the piece's towering first movement leads to the heart-rending Adagio, one of Mozart's finest. The concluding Rondeau is famous for the ingenious passage in which the oboe plays in common time against the energetic 6/8 accompaniment.

Prokofiev's Quintet in G minor for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and bass, the second piece Orion and Klein performed together previously, is a wonderfully imaginative work with colorful scoring that accentuates the composer at his original best. While Prokofiev was visiting Paris in 1924, a traveling dance company commissioned him to write a chamber ballet. As there were only five players to accompany the dancers, Prokofiev created a quintet of wondrous beauty using the instruments available to him.

Thaddaus von Durnitz, a talented amateur bassoonist, commissioned Mozart's delightfully charming Sonata in B-flat Major, here adapted for bass, oboe and cello, K. 292/196c, in 1775. The piece offers each musician opportunities for highly lyrical expression.

In 1819, the 22-year-old Schubert was on vacation in the mountains. Relaxing in the most congenial of surroundings, he met Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy amateur cellist. Paumgartner commissioned Schubert to compose a work for his group, which consisted of piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass, and the result was the famous "Trout" Quintet in A Major. The work takes its name from the fourth movement's theme and variations, which use the melody from Schubert's earlier art song "Die Forelle" (The Trout). The wavering ascending accompaniment accentuates the irresistible straightforwardness of the melody.

The concert program takes place Sunday, September 24 at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Geneva-Chapelstreet Church, 2300 South Street in Geneva; Wednesday, September 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago; and Sunday, October 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, IL. Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets. For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit

--Jill Chukerman, The Orion Ensemble

Kenneth Woods and English Symphony Orchestra Announce 2017-18 Season
Kenneth Woods embarks on his fifth season as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the English Symphony Orchestra (ESO), building on a fruitful conductor-orchestra partnership that continues to go from strength to strength. The 2017-18 season reflects Woods' wide-ranging talents, including Classical and Romantic perennials, popular evergreens, commissions and world-premieres, and multi-media presentations.

With decades-old roots established throughout the Midlands, Woods and the ESO continue to cultivate their associations throughout Elgar Country and the surrounding region with an increased number of performances in over a half dozen venues. Further afield, Woods and the ESO return to two cherished London venues and debut in Bristol. Outside of the traditional concert hall, the ESO continues its valuable work with young musicians through its Orchestra Courses, and performances for the elderly in care homes and hospices.

The 2017-18 season marks the ESO's second as Orchestra-in-Residence of Worcester Live, the city's leading live events presenter. Four performances in Worcester's premiere venues Huntingdon Hall and the Swan Theatre range from family-friendly events to world-premieres and unique theatrical stagings.

The Worcestershire-based English Symphony Orchestra, the "International Orchestra of Elgar Country," is an ensemble that has become synonymous with artistic excellence, innovative and visionary programming, distinctive commissioning, ground-breaking recording, a welcoming and immersive concert experience, transformative youth programmes and service to the community.

With the appointment of Kenneth Woods as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director in 2013, the orchestra has become a major force in British musical life.

The season gets under way on 26 August 2017, the season running through May 2018. For complete concert information, please visit

--Melanne Mueller, MusicCo International

A New Opera in the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs
On Site Opera will present the World Premiere of Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt, a new opera by John Musto with libretto by Eric Einhorn, at the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs this Fall. Performances of the family-friendly opera - which will run approximately 20 minutes - will be free with museum admission, and will take place September 23, 24, 29, 30, October 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15 (Fridays at 11:30am; Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00 & 2:30).

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt is based on the real-life experiences of Rhoda Knight Kalt (soprano Jennifer Zetlan) and her trips to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) with her grandfather Charles R. Knight (baritone Robert Orth), the famous naturalist artist who was commissioned by Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn (tenor Patrick Cook), paleontologist and president of the AMNH, to create paintings and sculptures of prehistoric creatures – many still on display at the AMNH today. During the performances, audiences will join Rhoda as she goes on a hunt for missing fossils around the hall, while learning about the interconnectedness of creativity and science.

Dates & Location:
Sept 23, 24, 29, 30
Oct 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15
*Fridays at 11:30am; Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00 & 2:30.*
Central Park West & 79th St, New York, NY 10024

For information, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

LA Master Chorale Tickets on Sale
Single tickets for the Los Angeles Master Chorale's 2017/18 season are now on sale. The season opens on September 23 and continues through to June 2018 in Walt Disney Concert Hall with nine concert programs presented over this time.

Tickets start at $29 and are available to purchase online from, by phone from 213-972-7282, or in person from the box office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center, of which the Master Chorale is a resident company. It will be the Los Angeles Master Chorale's 54th concert season and Grant Gershon's 17th season as the Kiki and David Gindler Artistic Director.

The new season includes the solo Disney Hall conducting debut of Jenny Wong whose title has been elevated from Assistant Conductor to Associate Conductor. Wong will conduct the December 10 concert of Bach's six motets.

Tickets and information for all concerts are available now:
Phone: 213-972-7282
Tickets can also be purchased in-person at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Box Office Monday – Saturday, 10 AM – 6 PM.

--Jennifer Scott, LA Master Chorale

Green Music Center 2017–18 Season – Single Ticket Announcement
Nestled in the picturesque foothills of Northern California's esteemed wine country, the Green Music Center (GMC) is a focal point for arts in the Northern San Francisco Bay Area, presenting year-round programming of premiere classical, contemporary, jazz, chamber, and world music artists in concert. The GMC campus includes the 1,400-seat Weill Hall, the intimate 240-seat Schroeder Hall, as well as the highly unique summertime concert-going experience of Weill Hall + Lawn.

Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Part, CA 94928. Phone 1.866.955.6040.

For a complete listing of all of the season's offerings, visit

--Green Music Center

River Oaks Chamber Orchestra Announces Its 2017-18 Season
ROCO (also known as The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra) of Houston, Texas is excited to announce its 2017–18 season, themed "Cultivate Curiosity." Featuring a staggering nine world premiere commissions (to add to their already-impressive 58) inspired by everything from JFK and nursery rhymes, to punk rock and Disney, the inventive programming also includes concerts that pair chocolates with strings, beer with brass, and lullabies with epitaphs.

Spread out across 16 different venues, ROCO performances will take audiences trick or treating at Houston's Heritage Society (with a musical performer in each historical building), celebrate the Day of the Dead in a gallery surrounded by retablos and altars, and honor the local philanthropists the Mastersons at their magnificent home Rienzi, which they donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Alecia Lawyer, ROCO's founder, artistic director and principal oboist, said of the season: "In our 13th season, ROCO celebrates all the ways that we embrace innovation, and we encourage audiences at home and in the concert hall to dig deeper into what links their personal experiences to the musicians and the music that brings us together."

ROCO's In Concert series, which features the full 40-person orchestra and live videostreamed performances, kicks off September 22 & 23.

For complete information, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

The Making of The Judas Passion
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is making history with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) in London. Never before have two of the world's greatest period-instrument orchestras commissioned a new work together, and in October, you'll experience the U.S. premieres in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sitting across the kitchen table a few years ago, Nicholas McGegan and composer and friend Sally Beamish (his neighbor in Scotland) talked about creating a new work for period instruments. Sally was fascinated by the story of Judas Iscariot and sought to create a work that would present Judas in a new light. Sally joined forces with librettist David Harsent to bring Judas to life and now The Judas Passion is ready for its world premieres in the United Kingdom.
The UK performances will take place on Sunday, September 24 at Saffron Hall in Essex and on Monday, September 25 at St. John's Smith Square in London. These performances are accompanied by All Words of Forgiveness, a literary project exploring the role of forgiveness in contemporary society. If you're in London in September, let us know since PBO Executive Director Courtney Beck will be there.

For more information, visit

Following the performances in London and Essex, Nic will conduct the American premieres of The Judas Passion with PBO in October, featuring the same world class cast from the UK.

For more information, visit

--Marketing, Philharmonia Baroque

Serenata: A Bouquet of Favorites for Strings (CD review)

Antonio Janigro, I Solisti di Zagreb. Vanguard Classics SVC-142.

If you laid all the albums of string music in the world end to end, some hot new group would try to rerecord all of them. No need to rerecord this collection, though. It contains some splendid music, almost every short favorite for strings you can name. The amazing thing is that Vanguard Classics recorded them so long ago, 1957 and 1962. The recordings were good in their day and they're good now, even if some listeners may not appreciate all of the interpretations.

Every performance is as lively and energetic as you'd expect from this conductor and ensemble, Antonio Janigro and I Solisti di Zagreb, and from the repertoire represented. The program starts with a zesty rendition of Albinoni's Concerto a cinque in B-flat Major, with sonics of startling presence. The Super Bit Map remastering has not only clarified the sound, it has eliminated most of the background noise between the notes. However, it has not removed all of the noise accompanying the notes, so what we get can sound slightly rough or fuzzy at times.

Antonio Janigro
The recordings themselves are a bit forward and bright, anyway, and the result is a little disconcerting at first. But one soon adjusts. The first nine tracks come from 1957 and actually sound the best of the lot; the later 1962 tracks display a fraction more static and low-end rumble.

Following Albinoni, there are Boccherini's familiar Minuet and Haydn's equally famous Serenade, requisite numbers in these kind of collections and pieces I continually mistake for one another. Janigro and his group do up both of them lovingly. The centerpiece of the album is Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, performed with as much verve as one could want. If it doesn't come across quite as smoothly Marriner's or as effortlessly as Boskovsky's, it's close.

Also on hand are Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 3; Paradis's Sicilienne; Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on "Greensleeves," especially moving; Pergolesi's Concertino in G; Sibelius's Valse Triste; and, finally, a rather quick-paced version of Barber's Adagio for Strings that I had heard before from Janigro on an all-Barber anthology. This last one may be a matter of taste; Stokowski and Toscanini took it at about seven minutes; Janigro does it in six, although it doesn't sound particularly hurried, just a little too straightforward for my taste. I think, perhaps, the conductor was better in early music.

Overall, though, this is a fine collection of music, very well played. The audio, if not turned up too loudly, can sound superb as well. The collector will have most of these pieces already in his or her music library, but still a warmly recommended disc.


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

Schubert: Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished" (CD review)

Also, Haydn: Symphony No. 104 "London." Josef Krips, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Antal Dorati, Philharmonia Hungarica. HDTT remastered.

Austrian conductor and violinist Josef Krips (1902-1974) had recorded the Schubert Ninth Symphony with the London Symphony to great acclaim in 1959, so it was no surprise that he should also record the Schubert Eighth. However, he didn't get around to it for another ten years, this time with the Vienna Philharmonic, and fans didn't think the performance quite matched the sparkle and joy of his Schubert Ninth. Perhaps we can attribute the leisurely pace of Krips's Eighth to his older age; or perhaps he just felt a need to slow things down. It's certainly a more relaxed interpretation than we usually find, and whether it appeals to all listeners, as always, is a matter of personal taste.

Anyway, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) started writing his Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished" in 1822 but left it uncompleted after only two movements. Although no one knows for sure why he left it unfinished, we do know that it wound up in the hands of a friend, Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who kept it in a drawer for the next forty-odd years before it finally premiered in 1865. The score for the two movements received publication a couple of years later.

The first movement begins with a brief, somewhat dark introduction before opening up to a more typically Schubertian theme and lyrical second subject. There follow several soaring melodies, rising to a grand climax, then a gentle receding of power to a final reprise and back to a slightly dark conclusion. Krips takes on the gloomier sections less sullenly than usual and offers up lighter, more sensuous moods in the lyrical segments, thus making the movement more of a whole than most conductors do. It's all quite engaging in its low-key way.

The second movement Andante begins slowly, again develops some lovely melodies, and moves on to a quiet, gentle finish. Here, Krips approaches the score as sweetly and gently as possible but without unnecessary sentimentality or schmaltz. Needless to say, the Vienna Philharmonic play this music as though born to it, and some of the players probably were.

Josef Krips
Coupled with the Schubert is one of Hungarian-born conductor Antal Dorati's (1906-1988) celebrated Haydn recordings, this one of the Symphony No. 104 "London" with the Philharmonia Hungarica. As you no doubt know, Dorati was among the first conductors to record all 104 of Haydn's symphonies, so he knew what he was doing.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) composed his Symphony No. 104 in 1795 while living in London, and it would be his last symphony. It may have gotten its "London" nickname simply because he wrote it in London or because the final movement seems to evoke the sounds of London street vendors. Whatever, Dorati seems pleasantly involved in the music and conveys that spirit to the listener. His Haydn may not be as delightful as Beecham's or as energetic as Jochum's, but it is knowing and consistent. The Philharmonia Hungarica isn't as full or rich as the Vienna Philharmonic, but they acquit themselves nicely in the music.

Producer Christopher Raeburn and engineer Colin Moorfoot recorded the Schubert piece at the Sofiensaal, Vienna in March 1969. Producer James Mallinson and engineer Colin Moorfoot recorded the Haydn at St. Bonifatius Kirche, Marl in December 1972. HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) remastered the recordings from 15ips 2-track tapes in 2017.

The Schubert displays a remarkable clarity and a very wide dynamic range. Combined with a modest touch of orchestral depth, it provides a satisfying musical experience. While there is also a small amount of background noise if played too loudly, and while one hears some minor upper midrange brightness, these things should not prove distractions.

The Haydn sounds much the same as the Schubert, not unexpected as Decca recorded them only a few years apart and as the same engineer made both recordings. Still, the Haydn sometimes appears a tad smoother, even though it retains to some small degree the same slightly glassy "Decca" sound. The venue isn't quite as resonant at that in Vienna, nor do the sonics seem quite as dynamically wide; nevertheless, for all intents and purposes the two recordings sound remarkably alike, and both of them will doubtless provide much enjoyment.

For further information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at


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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 5, 2017

Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert 2017 Comes to THIRTEEN's "Great Performances"

Led for the second time by German pianist and conductor Christoph Eschenbach, the world-renowned Vienna Philharmonic returns for its 14th open-air concert, with a program inspired by fairy tales and myths, in Austria's Imperial Schönbrunn Palace Gardens. The Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert 2017 airs on THIRTEEN's "Great Performances," Friday, August 18 at 9 p.m. on PBS.

Fairy tales, myths, legends and sagas are closely entwined with many composers and compositions. They have served as inspiration, models and sources for many musical works, several of which have been selected for this concert. Some are new and some are old; some are German, Bohemian, and Russian; some are based on literary models and one is a composer's opinion about a myth.

The concert soloist is renowned soprano Renée Fleming who performs two arias from operas by Antonin Dvorák: the famous "Song to the Moon" of the water nymph Rusalka and the aria of the sorceress Armida from the operas of those names, as well as three songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff: "Twilight," "Sing not to me, beautiful maiden" and "Spring Waters."

The 2017 Summer Night Concert will be released on CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital platforms by Sony Classical on August 11. For more information, visit

--Harry Forbes, WNET

FREE Events at the ABS Summer Bach Festival
Observe the American Bach Soloists Academy—the educational component of the ABS Summer Bach Festival—that offers advanced conservatory-level students and emerging professionals unique opportunities to study and perform Baroque music in a multi-disciplinary learning environment.

Academy participants are featured exclusively in three FREE programs of Academy-in-Action "Baroque Marathon" Concerts. Additionally a number of Academy-related events are offered to the public at no charge, including …

Public Colloquia
Annual engaging forums for performers and audience members alike explore a variety of topics centered on historical, artistic, and practical considerations of performing Baroque music today.

Master Class Series
The ABS Academy opens its doors to the public to witness the artistic transformations that make Master Classes so tremendously exciting, as performers and their master teachers share their knowledge and insights.

Lecture Series
Join the members of the American Bach Soloists Academy for a series of enlightening and informative public lectures presented by the Academy faculty on a wide range of subjects centered on Festival themes.

All Free ABS Festival Events are held in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness and Franklin, near Market.

For a full schedule of events, visit

--American Bach Soloists

Merola Opera Grand Finale, 8/19 at the War Memorial Opera House, SF
The acclaimed Merola Opera Program, one of the most prestigious and selective opera training programs in the United States, concludes its 2017 Summer Festival and its 60th Anniversary Season with the Merola Grand Finale on Saturday, August 19 at 7:30 pm at the War Memorial Opera House.

Conductor Antony Walker will lead the orchestra and 2017 Merola Apprentice Stage Director Victoria Crutchfield will stage the program, featuring works by Donizetti, Wagner, Leoncavallo, Massenet, Verdi, Rossini, Lehár, R. Strauss, Boito, Thomas, Mozart, Britten, and Handel. The performance is a culmination of the 12-week Merola Opera training program, and all 23 of the 2017 Merola singers will perform, under the coaching and direction of their fellow artists.

Tickets for the performance range from $25 to $50, with a limited number of $15 student tickets available, and are on sale at San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330, or A special post-performance reception follows the Grand Finale (tickets sold separately).

--Jean Catino Shirk, Shirk Media

August in Saratoga: Philadelphia Orchestra, Chamber Music Society & SPAC on Stage
August at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center brings the return of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center to their summer home and the launch of the innovative concert series "SPAC on Stage."

The Philadelphia Orchestra residency – running from August 2 – 19 – kicks off with a Tchaikovsky Spectacular complete with fireworks and performances by New York City Ballet dancers. Russian, American and French mini-festivals follow, celebrating the vital musical traditions of each culture. Yo-Yo Ma also returns to Saratoga for a community PlayIN and performance, and renowned pianist Marcus Roberts and his trio join the orchestra for an All-Gershiwn program featuring a jazzy reimagining of Rhapsody in Blue.

"A Night at the Opera" with Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the family-oriented multi-media "Philadelphia for Families" offerings – including Cirque de la Symphonie and Movie Nights featuring E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Raiders of the Lost Ark – also highlight the orchestra's residency at SPAC. Guest conductors Stéphane Denève, Marin Alsop, Bramwell Tovey, Stephen Reineke and David Newman will also take the podium during the Orchestra's season.

The full schedule of SPAC's programming and events is available at

--Rebecca Davis Public Relations

Five Boroughs Music Festival Annouces Programming for 2017-18 Season
Five Boroughs Music Festival (5BMF) announces programming for its 2017-2018 season, continuing its mission of bringing affordable, world-class performances of traditional and contemporary chamber music to all five boroughs of New York City.

Throughout the season, 5BMF presents the Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Bronx premieres of the second volume of its "Five Borough Songbook." The project, which premiered in Manhattan and Queens last year for 5BMF's 10th anniversary season, features 20 new commissions inspired by New York City places, people and poetry from twenty composers, and includes solo songs, duets and ensemble works scored for various combinations of voice, piano and cello.

The "Five Borough Songbook," Volume II receives its Staten Island premiere on Saturday, September 16 at 4:00 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, preceded by a 3:30 p.m chat with some of the project's commissioned composers and lyricists. The next day, on Sunday, September 17 at 5:00 p.m., the program premieres in the Bronx at the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture, preceded by a 4:30 p.m. composer chat. The final stop of the borough premiere tour takes place at National Sawdust in Brooklyn on Thursday, November 16 at 7:30 p.m., preceded by a composer chat at 7:00 p.m.

The "Five Borough Songbook," Volume II includes works by Matthew Aucoin, Lembit Beecher, Conrad Cummings, Jonathan Dawe, Evan Fein, Daniel Felsenfeld, Herschel Garfein, Whitney George, Marie Incontrera, Laura Kaminsky, Libby Larsen, Hannah Lash, Missy Mazzoli, Jessie Montgomery, Robert Paterson, Paola Prestini, Kevin Puts, Kamala Sankaram, Gregory Spears and Bora Yoon. Performers this season include sopranos Justine Aronson and Marnie Breckenridge; mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider; tenors William Ferguson and Michael Slattery; baritones Christopher Dylan Herbert and Sidney Outlaw; cellist Sophie Shao; and pianists Thomas Bagwell and Erika Switzer.

For tickets and learn more about all Five Boroughs Music Festival concerts, visit

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Lara St. John Announced as Curator of 2017-18 Season of Wolf Trap's "Chamber Music at the Barns"
Violinist Lara St. John announced her curated 2017-18 season of Wolf Trap's "Chamber Music at The Barns," exploring the intersection of classical and folk music. Each performer and ensemble has included a work based on a traditional theme.

The season opens October 20, with St. John and pianist Matt Herskowitz performing music from her recent album Shiksa, in which she commissioned contemporary composers to re-imagine traditional folk tunes, as well as the Franck sonata and a series of jazz arrangements.

November 5, the Attacca Quartet will perform music by Haydn, Beethoven and Michael Ippolito (from their new album Songlines). January 21, clarinetist David Krakauer and pianist Kathleen Tagg will offer a far-reaching program centering on 'lost' music of the Jewish people. March 2, pianist/composer Marc-André Hamelin will give a recital of works by Liszt, Feinberg, Debussy, and Godowsky. March 18, members of the Sphinx Organization will perform a mixed program including Dvorák's String Quintet in G major with Double Bass op. 77. April 8, cellist Cameron Crozman will give a recital of 20th century works by Debussy, Poulenc, Messiaen, Françaix, and Koechlin. The series will conclude on April 22 with a celebration of composer John Corigliano's 80th birthday, with St. John, pianist Martin Kennedy, soprano Melinda Whittington and the PubliQuartet performing selections of his chamber music.

For complete information, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Center for Contemporary Opera Opens 35th Season
The Center for Contemporary Opera opens its 35th season presenting the New York premieres and world premiere roduction of Gordon Getty's "Scare Pair": Usher House and The Canterville Ghost, with Brian Staufenbiel, stage director, and Sara Jobin, conductor. Thursday, October 19 and Saturday, October 21, 2017 at 7:30pm at The Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, NYC.

Tickets are priced at $35, $25. Senior/Student Tickets are $30 and must be purchased in person with valid ID. For ticket information by phone at 212 772 4448 or at

--Shear Arts Services

San Francisco Girls Chorus Announces 2017-2018 Season
The San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) today announced its 2017-2018 season. Led by Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa and Music Director and Principal Conductor, Valérie Saint-Agathe, SFGC will present three subscription concerts in San Francisco.

In celebration of Philip Glass's 80th birthday, SFGC will present a program dedicated to the composer in collaboration with members of the Philip Glass Ensemble with whom the Chorus makes its Carnegie Hall debut in February. Further subscription highlights include the Chorus' popular annual holiday concert at Davies Symphony Hall featuring guest soprano and SFGC alumna Michele Kennedy and the world premiere of the chamber version of Colin Jacobsen's "If I Were Not Me," part of an April program showcasing works from the Chorus's latest album, to be recorded in August with the Kronos Quartet and released early next year. Furthering its commitment to the music of living composers, the Chorus School welcomes Bay Area composer Pamela Z for a year-long residency working closely on the process of creating and performing new music as part of its choral training program.

Three-concert subscriptions to San Francisco Girls Chorus self-produced concert season go on sale August 14. Call (415) 392-4400 or visit

--Brenden Guy

Festival Mozaic WinterMezzo Tickets on Sale Now
Festival Mozaic continues to bring exceptional classical music performances to the San Luis Obispo area year-round with the WinterMezzo Chamber Music Series. Enjoy chamber music performed by world-class Festival Mozaic musicians in the fall and winter. The two chamber series full-weekend experiences allow you to fully immerse yourself in the wonders of classical music.

Join us for the 2017-2018 WinterMezzo Series, two weekends of music that will suprise, delight, and inform you.

WinterMezzo I - October 20 - 22, 2017:
"Mozart, Chopin & Prokofiev"
The weekend explores three centuries of chamber music's artistic progress. Mozart's sonatas were performed in royal court chambers throughout Europe. Chopin's challenging Ballades beguiled attendees in 19th century Parisian salons. And Prokofiev's passionate Violin Sonata No. 1, written during World War II, was so beloved by the composer that it was performed at his funeral.

WinterMezzo II - February 23 - 25, 2018:
"Musique Française"
French composers in the 20th century reinvented melody through impressionism and neo-classicism. The melodic works of Gabriel Fauré, Jean Cras and Albert Roussel were written when jazz sounds from the United States had crossed the pond. Rounding out this imaginative and evocative program is a jazz riff on the baroque style by living composer Noam Elkies.

For complete information, visit

--Bettina Swigger, Executive Director

Suk: Summer Tale (CD review)

Also, Fantastic scherzo. Sir Charles Mackerras, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Decca 289 466 443-2.

In America, Josef Suk (1874-1935) may be better known as Dvorak's son-in-law than as a musician, but in Czechoslovakia he is more famous. He was first a student of Dvorak and then married his daughter. But both his mentor and his wife died in the years 1904-05, devastating the composer. His subsequent work, especially the Asrael Symphony (1906) and Summer Tale (1909), marked a change from the light Romantic fare he had been producing. Asrael had been a kind of philosophical working out of his grief; then its sequel, Summer Tale, recorded here by Sir Charles Mackerras and the Czech Philharmonic, demonstrated he had overcome his heartbreak through, as he said, "the healing power of nature."

Although the disc's accompanying booklet insert describes Summer Tale as an antidote to the "bleakness of much of Asrael," it is still fairly gloomy, with only a glimmer of sweetness at the very end. Constructed in five movements, this big orchestral work begins with an enigmatic, shimmering section called "Voices of life and consolation." It has an impressionistic quality to it that is fairly becoming, obviously symbolizing the break of a new and promising day. The second movement, "Noon," has less personality; it appears mainly to be an evocation of midday heat. The third section has the most provocative title, "Blind musicians." It sounds melancholy and repetitious, possibly inspired by Suk's coming across a real group of blind musicians endlessly repeating a mournful tune. The fourth movement is a strange scherzo, "In the power of phantoms," which sounds vaguely sinister. Then the work ends aptly enough with "Night," full of wistful yearning and concluding on an upbeat note of hope.

Sir Charles Mackerras
Coupled to Summer Tale is one of Suk's earlier works, Fantastic scherzo. It is about as different from Summer Tale as one could imagine, written at a time (1903) of great joy in the composer's life. It is delightfully optimistic, Mendelssohnian in its mood and structure, and shows us where Suk's music might have led had not tragedy intervened.

Sir Charles presents Summer Tale with dramatic flair, capturing the rare beauty of the landscapes (and dream scapes) wonderfully. He brings out the sinister qualities of Suk's music quite well, too, all the while remaining attentive to Suk's brilliant, graceful, curving rhythms. With Fantastic scherzo, Mackerras is lighter, appropriate to the mellifluous melodies. Equally important, the Czech Philharmonic plays with the opulent exactitude of the best orchestras in Europe. All in all, conductor and players make beautiful music together.

Decca's 1999 sound for Mackerras and the Czech Philharmonic appears somewhat subdued, perhaps as befits the music itself, but turned up a bit it produces some good color, contrast, and depth. The strings are particularly lovely, and the frequency extensions and dynamic range are up to Decca's usual high standards.


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

In Schubert's Company (CD review)

Maxim Rysanov, viola and conductor; Yakov Katsnelson, piano; Riga Sinfonietta. Onyx Classics 4183 (2-disc set).

You may not hear as much about Ukrainian violist (and here also conductor) Maxim Rysanov (b. 1978) as you should because he works for a relatively small record company that probably doesn't promote him as much as a big company would. Or maybe it's because he plays the viola, and the viola is not exactly the superstar of the classical world that violins and cellos are. In any case, Rysanov is a fine player, and this current album should go a long way to gain him some of the attention he deserves.

Most new albums need an angle, of course, something to draw one's interest to them and set them apart from the rest. The idea of the present program is that, called "In Schubert's Company," includes music both old and new. It contains mostly the works of Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828), but it intersperses Schubert with pieces by several of Rysanov's contemporaries, composers who say Schubert inspired their compositions. So, we see that even after almost two hundred years, a great composer can continue to inspire modern artists. The albums's two discs and 115 minutes of material make for entertaining, enlightening, and consistently fascinating listening.

The program begins with Schubert's delightful Polonaise for violin and orchestra in B flat major, arranged by Mr. Rysanov for viola (he uses an il Soldato Guadagnini). It's a splendid way to introduce the album because Rysanov approaches the piece with a sweet, leisurely warmth. The music flows smoothly, effortlessly from his viola.

Next is a short piece called "In Schubert's Company" by Sergey Akhunov (b. 1967), which won a YouTube competition Rysanov created a few years ago. One can easily hear Schubert in it, yet it is also clearly Akhunov's work as well, and it flows along with a melancholy grace.

Then there's another new piece, "Wie der alte Lieermann" for violin and orchestra, by Leonid Desyatnikov (b. 1955), again arranged for viola by Mr. Rysanov. The music is a take on Schubert's slow movement from the C major Fantasy for violin and piano, the "take" being most modern and a little jarring after the abundant ease of the first two tracks.

The first disc concludes with the longest work on the album, Schubert's Sonata in A minor for arpeggione & piano, with Rysanov on arpeggione (a six-stringed musical instrument, fretted and tuned like a guitar but bowed like a cello) and Yakov Katsnelson on piano. The piece is quite lovely and the performers do justice to it.

Maxim Rysanov
Disc two starts with Schubert's Symphony No. 5, conducted by Mr. Rysanov. Here, the conductor has rather formidable competition from Sir Thomas Beecham in an unequaled performance. All the same, Rysanov negotiates the piece with a commendable elegance, not quite matching Beecham's charming lilt but giving us plenty of sweetness and light in a slightly more rigid manner. The Riga Sinfonietta respond eagerly, with a flawless precision.

After that, it's on to a contemporary piece, Fantasy Homage to Schubert for viola and string orchestra, by Dobrinka Tabakova (b. 1980), It's kind of spacey, his description of it "a vision of floating through the cosmos," with Schubert slowly emerging as one sails along. It's the most different music on the agenda and certainly fun. Following that is another brief work by Sergey Akhunov, "Der Erlkonig" for viola and orchestra, again different in style and scope but still fascinating.

The album ends with two pieces by Schubert, the Violin Sonata No. 3, in Rysanov's arrangement for viola and piano, and Winterreise "Der Leiermann." I think along with the opening Polonaise, the sonata was my favorite music on the program. It has an enchantingly fairy-tale quality to it, and the performers handle it with a refined and affectionate comeliness.

Executive producer Matthew Cosgrove, producer and sound engineer Maria Soboleva, and engineer in Riga Normuns Sne recorded the music at the Choral Academy Music Hall, Moscow, and the Reformation Church, Riga, in March and September 2016. The viola sound is rich and warm; the orchestral sound likewise pleasing, a little dark with a touch of hall resonance to bring out its natural ambience. The sonata sounds a bit closer yet softer, nevertheless still lifelike. One also hears some extraneous noises, but they are never too bothersome or distracting. In other words, the sound is as welcome as the performances.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 29, 2017

Ars Minerva Presents "La Circe" Sept 8, 9 at ODC Theater

Ars Minerva, a San Francisco-based arts nonprofit organization, presents Pietro Andrea Ziani's "La Circe," September 8 and 9 at the ODC Theater. Directed by Founder and Artistic Director of Ars Minerva Céline Ricci, this performance marks the first time the opera has been performed since its creation in 1665.

The "La Circe" manuscript, which resides at the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, is attributed to Pietro Andrea Ziani (1616-1684) with a libretto by Cristoforo Ivanovich (1620-1689). Ziani was the organist at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice and served the Holy Roman Empress, Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg, in Vienna later in his life. Ivanovich was the first historian of Venetian opera and was a librettist for several operas performed in Venice, Vienna and Piacenza. He catalogued all opera performances held in Venice from 1637 until 1681 in his treatise Memorie teatrali di Venezia published in 1680 as part of collection Minerva al tavolino.

"La Circe" is inspired by the adventures of Circe, the goddess and magician of Greek mythology made famous in Homer's Odyssey and in Ovid's Metamorphosis. After Ulysses escapes Circe's clutches, the outraged enchantress remains on her island with a number of unlucky captives who fall victim to her resentment and manipulations. Dreadful potions, transformations, dancing Graces, Furies and other colorful agents of evil – alongside carnival-esque comic scenes – bring drama featuring laments, rage arias and drinking tunes.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles, the opera will be semi-staged by Céline Ricci and presented on September 8 and 9 at the ODC Theater in San Francisco. It will feature eight singers, an acrobat and an orchestra led by Derek Tam.

Ars Minerva Presents Pietro Andrea Ziani's "La Circe"
The ODC Theater, 3153 17th Street, San Francisco, California
7:30 p.m. September 8 and 7:30 p.m. September 9
Tickets: $86, $56, or $25 for students

For complete information, visit

--Kristin Cockerham

Pierre-Laurent Aimard Signs to Pentatone
Pentatone is proud to announce that Pierre-Laurent Aimard, one of today's most celebrated musicians and winner of the 2017 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, has signed with the label.

The French pianist intends to record key works from his repertoire, spanning three centuries and ranging from Bach to Kurtág. His move to Pentatone follows an exclusive association with Deutsche Grammophon that began nearly a decade ago.

This significant new partnership, destined to deliver interpretations of the highest artistic calibre to the Pentatone catalogue, will be launched next March with the release of Messiaen's complete Catalogue d'oiseaux, a first in Aimard's discography.

For more information, visit

--Silvia Pietrosanti, Pentatone

American Classical Orchestra Opens Season at Lincoln Center with Prodigy Adrian Romoff
The American Classical Orchestra opens its 2017-2018 season on Saturday, September 16, 2017 at 8:00 p.m., at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center with a concert of Mendelssohn and Berwald, featuring 12-year old prodigy and Mensa competition winner Adrian Romoff in his Lincoln Center debut, led by Music Director and ACO founder Thomas Crawford.

The program includes Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G minor with Romoff on fortepiano; Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4, "Italian"; and Berwald's Symphony No. 3, "Singulière."

Season subscriptions are currently on-sale until September 13th by visiting or by calling 212-362-2727. Beginning on August XX, single tickets, priced at $35 to $95, can be purchased at, by calling Center Charge (212-721-6500) or by visiting the Alice Tully Hall Box Office. $15 student tickets are available at the Alice Tully Hall Box Office with valid student ID. Please visit for more information.

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Catherine LeClair New Director of Development of Young People's Chorus of NYC
Francisco J. Núñez, Artistic Director and Founder of the Young People's Chorus of New York City (YPC) is pleased to announce that Catherine LeClair has joined the Young People's Chorus of New York City as its new Director of Development.

In making this announcement, Mr. Núñez said, "We are very excited to welcome Catherine LeClair as our Director of Development. We believe her experience and enthusiasm for the arts and her belief in arts education for all children are going to make this an extremely fruitful partnership for us all.  As we approach our 30th anniversary, we are looking to her leadership to help us prepare for the future."

Ms. LeClair, who said she is "thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Mr. Núñez to help advance the organization's work," comes to YPC most recently from the Garrison Institute in Garrison, NY, where she was Director of Development, and previously, from New York City Ballet, where she was Director of Foundation and Government Relations for the company for nearly eight years.

For more information, visit

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

YPC Singers Return From a Triumphant Tour to Spain
Eighty-one YPC choristers recently returned from a spectacular 10-day tour in Spain. It was highlighted by two performances at the world-famous Palau de la Música Catalana and competitions and performances conducted by Francisco Núñez and Elizabeth Núñez at the Festival Internacional de Música de Cantonigròs. The tour culminated with a first-place win in the Children's Choir competition and two second-place awards in the Female Choirs and Folk Song competitions.

At the invitation of famed choral conductor Simon Halsey, the tour began with two performances in the Palau de la Música Catalana, the world famous modernistic concert hall, home to the Orfeó Català and the Orfeó Català's Youth Choir. YPC was able to meet with the resident choir and their conductor Esteve Nabona and share an afternoon of singing Catalonian and American music. The exquisite architecture provided a stunning backdrop to the choristers' performances, which were received by enthusiastic audiences. In addition to rehearsals and performances, the choristers and staff happily found time to take in the sights of the city.

The second leg of YPC's journey took them to the Festival Internacional de Música de Cantonigròs in Vic, where the YPC travelers stayed in a beautiful historic seminary, performed for live and television audiences, and was the only choir from America invited among 25 other extraordinary groups from all over the world. The YPC singers returned to New York exhausted but inspired, with new knowledge of the world around them, and ready to take on their next summer challenge: their Mostly Mozart Festival debut.

For more information, visit

--Young People's Chorus of NYC

Orpheus & Bach - Two Musical Inspirations
The American Bach Soloists Academy--the educational component of the ABS Festival--features one of the most distinguished faculty of Early Music performers to be found anywhere. This Festival program, "Orpheus in Britannia" on Saturday August 5th, designed specifically to spotlight their gifts as powerful and dramatic performers, takes its name from the legendary ancient Greek hero who was endowed with superhuman musical skills that could move all living things, charm wild beasts, and even coax rocks and trees into movement. Selections by the greatest composers of the English Baroque—including Dowland, Gibbons, and Handel, among others—will present the unique artistry of the Academy Faculty in an enthralling showcase.

The 2017 Festival, running August 4-13, features Concerts that extol the Masterful Achievements of London's most Celebrated Baroque Composers. Annual performances of Bach's towering Mass in B Minor and a special program titled "Bach & Sons" complete the lineup of performances.

St. Mark's Lutheran Church • 1111 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Conservatory of Music • 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA

For full schedule and tickets, visit

--American Bach Soloists

Mirror Visions Ensemble Announces 2017-2018 Season
Mirror Visions Ensemble (MVE) announces its 2017-2018 season, which brings the group to Hudson, Quebec; Jamaica Plain and Salem, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Fullerton, California; Morristown, New Jersey; and New York City. Now in its 26th season, MVE was founded from a desire to explore the relationship between music and text, initially through the creation of "mirror visions" — settings of the same text to music by different composers. Featuring soprano, tenor, baritone and piano, often joined by other instrumentalists, Mirror Visions Ensemble artists include soprano Vira Slywotzky, tenor Scott Murphree, baritones Jesse Blumberg, and Mischa Bouvier, and pianists Grant Wenaus, and Margaret Kampmeier. Guest artists this season include sopranos Mireille Asselin and Justine Aronson, and mezzo-soprano Abigail Levis.

Monday, August 7, 2017 at 7:00pm
"Journeys" at Hudson Music Festival (Hudson, Quebec)

Friday, September 15, 2017 at 8:00pm
"Journeys" at JP Concerts (Jamaica Plain, MA)

Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 8:00pm
"Flights of Fantasy" at Media Performing Arts Series (Media, PA)

October 5 - 10, 2017
"Residency" at California State University Fullerton (Fullerton, CA)

Saturday, November 18, 2017 at 7:30pm
"Journeys" at Abendmusik (Morristown, NJ)

Friday, December 8, 2017 at 7:30pm
"When Icicles Hang by the Wall" at Salem Classical (Salem, MA)

Saturday, February 3, 2018 at 2:30pm
Of Beasts and Brutes at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts' Bruno Walter Auditorium (NYC)

Thursday, March 15, 2018 at 8:00pm
"Of Beasts and Brutes" at the Sheen Center (NYC)

For more information, visit

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Only 20% of Seats Still Available for Bach's Mass in B Minor
ABS Academy Festival Orchestra & American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

A cherished tradition, the annual performances of this pinnacle work of the repertory feature instrumental and vocal soloists from the American Bach Soloists Academy.

Sunday August 6 2017 at 7:00 p.m.
St. Mark's Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell Street between Gough & Franklin, San Francisco

Sunday August 13 2017 at 2:00 p.m.
(This performance is nearly sold out)
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
50 Oak Street between Van Ness & Franklin, San Francisco

For more information, visit

--American Bach Soloists

Verdi's La Traviata Comes to "Great Performances at the Met"
Sonya Yoncheva reprises her widely praised interpretation of the heroine Violetta Valéry in Verdi's La Traviata, on "Great Performances at the Met" Friday, August 25 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Michael Fabiano is her lover, Alfredo, Thomas Hampson, in one of his most acclaimed Met roles, returns as Alfredo's protective father, Giorgio Germont. San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducts.

Visit "Great Performances" online at for additional information on this and other Great Performances programs.

--Harry Forbes, WNET

Yo-Yo Ma Joins Philadelphia Orchestra for a PlayIN at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, August 9th
Cellists of all ages and abilities are invited to participate in a rare musical event that will allow them to play alongside cellist Yo-Yo Ma as well as cellists from The Philadelphia Orchestra for a one-hour PlayIN event, taking place on August 9th at 1:30 p.m. at Saratoga Performing Arts Center's amphitheatre stage.

PlayINs are signature events for The Philadelphia Orchestra and this will be the first to be held at SPAC. They are part of the HEAR initiative, a portfolio of programs promoting the role of music in Health, Education, Access and Research. PlayINs have taken place regularly in Philadelphia since 2012 and are part of a full array of programs designed to promote access for people of all ages to experience orchestral music either as listeners or performers.

For more information on the PlayIN as well as a schedule of The Philadelphia Orchestra's SPAC programming, August 2 – 19, visit

--Rebecca Davis Public Relations

Bach: Violin Concertos (DVD review)

Also, Double Concerto; Air on the G-String. Takako Nishizaki and Alexander Jablokov, violins; Oliver Dohnanyi, Capella Istropolitana. Naxos DVD 0991.

Labeled "A Naxos Musical Journey," this DVD music video from 2000 was among the first in a series of such productions from the company that had hitherto given us audio-only CDs.

But before I tell you what I think of the disc, let me make an introductory remark: A while ago I said to a friend that if it had not been for the advent of home-theater and surround sound, two-channel home stereo would be practically dead by now. What I was getting at was that in the old days a lot of people interested in music would sit in front of and between their two speakers and concentrate on the musical sounds coming at them. But I guess such people as we were, and still are, in a minority. From everyone I know come comments like, "How do you just sit and listen to music? Isn't that a little like meditation?" Most folks, it seems, attend to music while doing other things, sometimes not even in the same room with the music. So, for years even audiophiles would spend thousands of dollars on elaborate stereo setups and then hardly ever listen to them except, of course, to show them off to friends. Now that home theater has been with us for a good long time, people have a reason to listen attentively again. Namely, the movies they watch force them to sit in front of and often between their front speakers because that's where the TV is. And they no longer have to address the music alone; they have images to go with the sound. The world is happy.

Frankly, I still don't subscribe to this all-inclusive audiovisual theory, and I maintain two separate systems in my home: A two-channel stereo rig in the living room for music-only listening and a 7.1-channel surround-sound setup in a separate room for home theater viewing and listening. It is in this latter room that I auditioned the present crossover disc from DVD International and Naxos Records. Naturally, it combines music with pictures and does so in a relaxing audiovisual environment.

Takako Nishizaki
Although the music seems almost secondary to the imagery, for those interested Takako Nishizaki, Oliver Dohnanyi, and Capella Istropolitana present the Bach violin concertos in reasonably attentive if somewhat staid interpretations characteristic of the performances often recorded by Naxos. However, they are not the most lively, distinctive, or creative performances you'll find, meaning they are solid, middle-of-the-road readings, well matching the easygoing serenity of the visuals. The DVD's total running time is fifty-six minutes.

The disc offers an image in a 1.33:1 ratio, presenting a lovely pictorial survey of architecture and nature. The scenery is mostly from Italy--ancient Roman ruins, parks, palaces, interspersed with mountains, hills, valleys, vineyards, seas, bays, and such. The picture quality looks warm and inviting, sometimes quite beautiful. It sometimes looks very slightly blurred, too, but nothing to worry about, and there were a couple of instances of fluttering horizontal lines.

The audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0, and DTS. In DD 5.1, the sound, recorded in 1989, is pleasant, a bit bright on my system but easily tamed, with a couple of occasional, extraneous bass rumblings. The rear channels hardly come alive, adding only a subtle ambiance appropriate to music reproduction. In any case, with music the listener should not actually notice the back speakers at all unless they're turned off. This is not an action movie we're listening to. Also, there is no narration on the disc, thankfully, just music and pictures, and an easy-to-use menu system allowing one to navigate quickly through the musical selections or the written travel notes. There is also an option to repeat certain chapters or play them randomly.

Now, I have to be perfectly frank with you here in saying that I found all the imagery superfluous.  Personally, I would still rather listen to a more imaginative interpretation of Bach by, say, Kuijken and La Petite Bande, Menuhin and the Bath Festival Orchestra, Grumiaux and the New Philharmonia, or Lamon and Tafelmusik than these. Then, closing my eyes and listening only, I can use my imagination to envision whatever I choose without the distracting pictures. OK, as I said before, I know I'm in a minority here.


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

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" (CD review)

Sir John Barbirolli, BBC Symphony Orchestra. HDTT remastered.

It is seldom that I remember just where or how I first learned about a particular recording. Most of the time, it's something a studio has sent me for review. But when something like Sir John Barbirolli's 1967 EMI recording of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony found its way into my collection some forty-odd years ago, it's a different story: I recall exactly the way I learned about this one. It was a 1973 book I still own called 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers by announcer, commentator, and author Martin Bookspan (b. 1926). In the publication, Bookspan comments on various pieces of classical music and makes recommendations for specific recordings. For the Beethoven Third, he wrote, " own favorites among the many 'Eroica' recordings are the performances conducted by Barbirolli, Bernstein, and Schmidt-Isserstedt. Barbirolli's, in fact, is the finest 'Eroica' performance I have ever heard, on or off records; it is noble, visionary and truly heroic, with playing and recorded sound to match. The performance has lost none of its power and impact with the passage of time. If anything, its stature has grown as far as I'm concerned."

High praise, indeed, from a man who knew music well, and the recording has remained high in my own regard all these many years. So it is with open arms and welcome ears that I find it remastered yet again, this time by the estimable team of engineers at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers).

Anyway, Beethoven originally wrote his Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" in 1804 in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom the composer greatly admired. However, just before Beethoven premiered the piece in 1805, he learned that Bonaparte had declared himself "Emperor," corrupting the ideals of the French Revolution, so he removed the man's name from the manuscript, inscribing it, instead, "to celebrate the memory of a great man." More important, the Third marked a turning point in Beethoven's artistic output, with its daring length, range, and emotional commitment, marking something of a new beginning in the development of symphonic structure and prompting endless discussions among critics about what it all meant.

Sir John Barbirolli
What it meant to Sir John, apparently, was something a bit kinder and gentler than it has meant to some other conductors. Barbirolli approached the work with a greater affection than many other conductors, offering up music of urgency and emotion, to be sure, but of resplendent love, stately nuances, and sublime caresses as well. It's not the kind of performance that sets the blood to boil, but it is a performance that is hard for one not to find appealing.

Take, for instance, those opening strokes that introduce us to Beethoven's vision of the emperor. With many conductors, the notes sound sharp and concise; with Barbirolli, they sound mellower, more resigned. It's as though the conductor wants us to know at the outset that this is going to be a more benign, more humane interpretation than you've probably heard before. The second-movement funeral march is more leisurely than most, too. Rather than bring out the stateliness of the music, Barbirolli chooses to bring out the beauty. By the time of the Scherzo, though, the conductor has picked up more steam and seems to want us to pay closer attention to details. Then we get a reasonably driving Finale, still not taken at a hectic pace but with a reassuringly triumphant conclusion.

So, Barbirolli's account of the symphony is more lyrical, more musical, more sensitive than we usually hear. Add to this a wonderfully alert response from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and you get possibly the most poetic account of the music you're likely to find. This was among the final recordings Barbirolli made, and it has an appropriately autumnal glow about it, with Sir John lingering over individual phrases as was his wont in later life. If the whole thing hasn't the tautness one cares for, well, that was his way. The performance is still well worth hearing.

Producer Ronald Kinloch Anderson and engineer Neville Boyling recorded the music for EMI in No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London in May 1967. In the years since EMI released it, the recording has appeared in several different forms and formats from LP and tape to CD. As of this writing, one can obtain it from Dutton Laboratories, who remastered it in 1997, and from HDTT, who transferred it from a four-track tape in 2017.

First, let me say that the Dutton remastering is quite good, and, in fact, for overall clarity it actually surpasses the newer HDTT product. That said, there is an argument for the smoother, warmer sound from HDTT. Namely, it rather flatters Barbirolli's overall design. Both versions provide plenty of dynamic range and a fairly quiet background. In the end, it may be one's choice of price or playback format that determines which edition to buy. They're both quite good, as I say.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 22, 2017

ICE Performs Summer Events in NYC Presented by Lincoln Center

From July 28, 2017 - August 14, 2017, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) will perform in five summer events presented by Lincoln Center's "Out of Doors" and "Mostly Mozart" Festivals.

On Friday, July 28 at 7pm, ICE will perform Heart of Tones: A Tribute to Pauline Oliveros, a free Lincoln Center "Out of Doors" concert honoring the memory and legacy of long-time ICE mentor Pauline Oliveros.

Part of Lincoln Center's "Mostly Mozart Festival," ICE performs another free concert, "Schubertiade Remix," at the David Rubenstein Atrium on Monday, August 7, 2017 at 7:30pm. In the festive spirit of Schubert's famous musical soirées, artists from New York's eclectic music scene will present an evening of radical contemporary responses to Schubert's songs.

In two highly anticipated "Mostly Mozart" performances on Saturday, August 12 at 7:30pm and Sunday, August 13 at 5pm, ICE performs Netia Jones's "enthralling" (The Daily Telegraph) theatrical production of Hans Zender's adaptation of Schubert's Winterreise, The Dark Mirror: Zender's Winterreise, at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. ICE will be joined by tenor Ian Bostridge -- one of today's foremost interpreters of Winterreise -- and conductor Baldur Brönnimann in his "Mostly Mozart" Festival debut to bring Schubert's poignant song cycle about lost love to life through the contemporary orchestrations and Jones' stunning monochrome imagery.

ICE's final "Mostly Mozart" concert of the summer is How Forests Think, a contemporary interpretation of the temple of nature in which Schubert and his fellow Romantics worshipped, on Monday, August 14, 2017 at 7:30pm at Merkin Concert Hall.

For complete information, visit

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Szymon Laks, a Pole Apart: The Remarkable Music of Auschwitz Survivor Szymon Laks
Born into an assimilated Jewish family in 1901, Laks left his native Warsaw and settled in Paris in the early 1920s. He soon established himself as a versatile pianist and violinist and, by the the end of the decade, a published composer. When he was deported to Auschwitz Birkenau in the summer of 1942, these musical gifts, a fluency in six languages and an intuitive resourcefulness served him well. Shortly after his arrival, a chance game of bridge introduced Laks to a barracks Kapo who arranged his transfer to the violin section of the camp orchestra. This led to work as a copyist and arranger, and finally to the position of conductor. His extraordinary story and his survival is recounted in his memoir Music of Another World, published shortly after the war.

Laks's view of music as powerless to effect change and irrelevant to the quality of prisoners' lives, capsizes assumptions that credit music with an intrinsic goodness or redemptive power, and this is something that many continue to find troubling. Laks did little to promote his music after the war and his survival left him depressed and reclusive; he stopped composing in the late 1960s and devoted himself entirely to translating and literary work. He died in Paris in 1986.

Laks's music has had to wait over three decades for the beginnings of a revival. It  is an extraordinary irony that as a survivor his works were marginalized, whereas those of his murdered colleagues are regularly performed on memorial programs. Laks's music is witty, elegant, beautifully crafted and full of rhythmic energy, and this is clearly evidenced by the ARC Ensemble's third recording in its series devoted to composers who were forced into exile by National Socialism. But Laks's music tells us very little of the composer's wartime experience, or the pressure that ultimately drove him from composition.

For more information, visit

-- Simon Wynberg, Artistic Director, ARC Ensemble

Tuomas Hiltunen Named General Director of Fort Worth Opera
Fort Worth Opera (FWOpera) today announced Tuomas Hiltunen as its new General Director. Joe Illick, currently the company's Music Director, has been named as Artistic Director. Hiltunen joins the Fort Worth Opera from the international Barenboim-Said Foundation where he most recently served as Director of Administration and Management. In this position, Hiltunen was instrumental in significantly growing the Foundation's endowment, advancing its brand, and developing and executing its business plans and strategies.

Born and educated in Finland, Hiltunen began his formal theater training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Columbia University. In the following years, he became a lecturer at Barnard College and joined Columbia University as the Director of the Finnish Studies Program where he taught Finnish language and culture courses. As a performer, Hiltunen has worked extensively in theater, opera, concerts, television, and film in Finland, England, and the United States. He has performed at the Metropolitan Opera with James Levine, Carnegie Hall with Hannu Lintu, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra with Neeme Järvi, and the New York Philharmonic with Joshua Gersen. He also appeared in the 2009 film Confessions of a Shopaholic starring Isla Fisher.

"I am honored to be part of the Fort Worth community and Fort Worth Opera. I would like to thank the association for giving me a chance to lead this fine organization in its mission toward excellence," said Hiltunen. "I am looking forward to sharing thrilling experiences of music and theater with the broader Fort Worth community, and to bringing in new and expanded audiences to share our passion for this ever-changing art form."

--Ryan Lathan, FW Opera

Call for Scores - Piano/Violin Works, Chamber Orchestra, and Choral Works
1. Piano, violin, and violin/piano duo works:San Francisco US, Prague CZ.
PARMA is now accepting score submissions for a new compilation of works for solo piano, two pianos, solo violin, and violin/piano duo. Sessions will be held in San Francisco US and Prague CZ with pianist Karolina Rojahn, violinist Vít Mužík, and pianist Lukáš Klánský. There is also the possibility of live performance of recorded works pending performer approval.

The compilation will include up to 60 minutes of music, we encourage submissions of pieces between 5-12 minutes in duration. Deadline for submissions is August 7, 2017. Please inquire regarding possibility of remote recording/rehearsal/performance via ISDN line.

2. Chamber orchestra: Chicago US, Zagreb HR.
PARMA is now accepting score submissions for a new compilation of works for chamber orchestra. Sessions in Chicago US will feature the Chicago Arts Orchestra under the baton of Javier Mendoza and sessions in Zagreb HR will feature the Croatian Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Miran Vaupotic. The album will include up to 50-60 minutes of music. Deadline for submissions is August 7, 2017.

3. Choral works – Philadelphia US, Prague CZ
PARMA is now accepting score submissions for a new compilation of choral works. Sessions in Philadelphia US will feature The Crossing, conducted by Donald Nally, and sessions in Prague CZ will feature the Prague Mixed Choir, conducted by Jirí Petrdlík. The album will include up to 50-60 minutes of music. Deadline for submissions is August 7, 2017.

Click here to submit your score:

Click here to learn more about PARMA Recordings:

--PARMA Recordings

Arsht Center Debut with Miami Wagner Institute
For the first time in 30 years, the Miami Music Festival brings to life Wagner's Die Walküre, the composer's grand musical drama from the Ring Cycle. The Grammy Award-winning soprano Christine Brewer joins bass-baritone Alan Held – hailed as "one of opera's finest singing actors" with the Institute's extraordinary young professional artists, the 100 musicians of the MMF Symphony Orchestra, and conductor Michael Rossi in a staged performance at the Adrienne Arsht Knight Concert Hall.

Michael Rossi - Artistic Director Conductor
David Toulson - Director
Christine Brewer -Brünnhilde
Alan Held - Wotan

--Miami Music Festival

Today's Musical Anniversary
Three hundred years ago by the calendar, George Frideric Handel's inimitable "Water Music" was heard by hundreds of Londoners for the first time. Join the "ace baroque instrumentalists" (Opera News) of American Bach Soloists at our 2017 FESTIVAL & ACADEMY to celebrate the 300th anniversary of that legendary performance for King George I during an evening on the River Thames.

The 2017 Festival features Concerts that extol the Masterful Achievements of London's most Celebrated Baroque Composers. Annual performances of Bach's towering Mass in B Minor and a special program titled "Bach & Sons" complete the lineup of performances.

St. Mark's Lutheran Church • 1111 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA
Friday, August 4, 2017 - 8:00 P.M.
Saturday, August 5, 2017 - 8 P.M.

For tickets and further festival information, visit

--American Bach Soloists

Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin Comes to PBS's "Great Performances"
Anna Netrebko reprises one of her most acclaimed roles as Tatiana, the naïve heroine of Tchaikovsky's opera, adapted from Pushkin's classic verse novel. Peter Mattei stars as the title character, who rejects Tatiana's love until it's too late.

Eugene Onegin airs on "Great Performances at the Met" Sunday, August 13 at 12 p.m. on PBS.

For more information, visit

--Harry Forbes, WNET

The Wallis Extends Hershey Felder's "Our Great Tchaikovsky"
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts announced today the extension of the Los Angeles premiere engagement of actor and pianist Hershey Felder's "Our Great Tchaikovsky," which now runs through the closing matinee performance on Sunday, August 13 at 2pm. Directed by Felder collaborator Trevor Hay, Hershey Felder's "Our Great Tchaikovsky" is a time-bending tale of music, politics and one of the world's most beloved composers.

Single tickets are now available for $35-$100 at For more information or to purchase tickets, visit, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Ticket prices subject to change.

--Sarah Jarvis, The Wallis

Composer/Librettist Fellowships Awarded for Two-Year Opera Training
AOP (American Opera Projects) and Composers & the Voice Artistic Director Steven Osgood have selected six composers and three librettists to receive fellowships for its upcoming ninth season of Composers & the Voice. The 2017-2019 season will train, and present new works from, composers Matthew Browne, Scott Ordway, Frances Pollock, Pamela Stein Lynde, Liliya Ugay, and Amber Vistein and librettists Laura Barati, Kim Davies, and Sokunthary Svay. The primary focus of Composers & the Voice is to give emerging composers and librettists experience working collaboratively with singers on writing for the voice and contemporary opera stage.

"The philosophy of Composers & the Voice since its beginning has been that by immersing composers and librettists in hands-on work with skilled singers and music directors, we empower them to create groundbreaking works that are true to each of their artistic languages," says Osgood. "Composers rarely have the opportunity to work with opera singers during their training, and C&V was designed to address this void. I could not be prouder of the commissions and premieres that have flowed from the alumni of C&V."

--Matt Gray, American Opera Projects

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

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