Classical Music Buzz > Interchanging Idioms
Interchanging Idioms
Chip Michael
Discussions about Classical Music, Concerts, Festivals, Operas, Recordings, Films and the people who work in the industry.
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When Trinity Wall Street’s Director of Music and the Arts, Julian Wachner, led the resident Trinity Choir and Trinity Baroque Orchestra in Handel’s Messiah last season, the New York Times praised the performance’s “juxtaposition of serene introspection and ebullient release.” Now the same forces reprise this holiday favorite for their Lincoln Center debut at Alice Tully Hall on December 19. Trinity Wall Street’s seasonal offerings continue with the launch of the first annual Twelfth Night Festival, created in collaboration with many of New York City’s leading early-music ensembles: the Green Mountain Project, TENET, Les Sirènes, and the Sebastian Chamber Players. The festival’s inaugural season (Dec 26 – Jan 6) is framed by the six cantatas that make up J.S. Bach’s exuberant Christmas Oratorio and also includes the Vespers of 1640 by Monteverdi.

Today, Handel’s Messiah is a perennial holiday favorite that reliably draws sellout crowds. In the United States, Trinity Wall Street was instrumental in pioneering the oratorio: Trinity Wall Street presented the second American performance in 1770, and also played a part in the New World premiere, given eight months earlier and just blocks away as a fundraiser for a former Trinity Church employee. Now Wachner keeps the venerable tradition alive, supported by the Trinity Choir, with its “voices so pure they suggest a seraphic chorus beyond the human sphere” (New York Times), and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, one of New York’s finest period-instrument ensembles. Last season, the New York Times observed:

“In his first Messiah with the superb Trinity Choir and the newly-established Trinity Baroque Orchestra, [Wachner] began to put his stamp on the work.… He succeeded admirably, drawing a crystalline texture from his 24-voice choir, which is notable for its bright, pure soprano sound…. As in years past, the soloists in the Trinity Messiah were drawn from the chorus, and…there were affecting solo performances…. The orchestra, filled with well-known period-instrument players …performed commandingly.”

Given Trinity Wall Street’s long and rich association with the work, crowned by this recent success, it is fitting that it is Messiah with which Trinity is due to make its first Lincoln Center appearance on December 19.

Celebrating its commitment to early music, Trinity Wall Street launches the first Twelfth Night Festival this season. Punctuating the festival are the six cantatas of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, performed by Wachner, the Trinity Choir, and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra. The New York Times reports that “musical and acoustical forces had combined to transcendent effect” earlier this year, when Wachner led a “moving performance” of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the Trinity Choir, Trinity Youth Chorus, and Trinity Baroque Orchestra, with “spine-tingling” results. The six Christmas Oratorio cantatas will be presented in Trinity Wall Street’s “Bach at One” series, which – in historic St. Paul’s Chapel – returns the Baroque master’s sacred vocal music to its original liturgical setting, and is free and open to the public (Dec 26 & 27; Jan 2 & 6). Part I, on December 26, will be coupled with Bach’s uplifting motet Magnificat, complete with Christmas interpolations.


6 years ago |
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Her New Production of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia Opens at Houston Grand Opera, Feb 3, 2012


A brief conversation with Arin Arbus:

Q: How did the opportunity to direct Britten’s Rape of Lucretia at Houston Grand Opera – your debut opera production – come about?

AA: HGO’s previous General Director, Anthony Freud, contacted me. He came to New York City and saw my production of Othello at the Theatre for a New Audience, and later he came and saw my production there of Measure for Measure. He called and suggested I consider doing Britten’s Rape of Lucretia in Houston, knowing that I had never directed an opera before. I listened to the music, which I was hearing for the first time, and quickly came to love it. Lucretia has a reputation for being a problematic piece dramaturgically. Some people find the ending unsatisfying. After Measure for Measure, which is commonly thought as one of Shakespeare’s “problematic” works, perhaps he thought I was a good match for the piece.

Q: What about the opera first struck you and made you decide to accept the invitation?

AA: I responded to the music and to the characters of course. I also responded to the male/female conflict in it – that’s of great interest to me. Anthony convinced me that directing an opera wouldn’t be as terrifying as it first seemed.

Q: What kind of background did you have in music? Did you ever direct a work of musical theater, or any other works with a strong musical component?

A: I sang in a choir for eight years, and all of the straight plays I’ve done always have music in them. But I’ve never done an opera or musical, so this is totally new to me.

Q: Did you have classical music in your background?

AA: Well, I sang in high school and college choirs. I went to an all-girls’ Catholic high school and would go to an all-boys’ school to sing because they needed girls for their productions. I went to Bates College in Maine and was in a choir there as well. In both choirs we did mostly religious music. (After that I went to the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture in Greenwich Village, which was in Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s original studio on West 8th Street.)

Q: And was classical music something you heard in your household growing up?

AA: Well, my dad used to play the piano and his room was underneath mine, so I grew up listening to him play many different things. I loved being in a choir and wish I had time to sing in one now. There’s something about choral music that really touches me. It’s like the most civilized activity that man is capable of: it has tremendous beauty, coordination, discipline, and the need for people to be unified. Singing Mozart’s Requiem, one of my favorite works, was an unforgettable experience, but in no way at all am I an expert on classical music.

Q: New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini recently wrote that even the most accomplished theater directors sometimes get intimidated when working in the realm of opera, thus blunting the impact of their productions. Do you find yourself feeling any more trepidation, or special anxiety, preparing for your work on your first opera than you might be feeling if you were getting ready for some other theater project?

AA: Well, I feel nervous about everything – so I’m used to that! Sure, doing an opera makes me nervous because I’ve never worked in this form before. But there’s no doubt something very daunting about doing Shakespeare’s plays! Those works have been interpreted many, many times by great people, so I guess there’s actually a similar level of intimidation for me in taking on an opera.

Q: Your work with a theater company of inmates at Woodbourne Correctional Facility – a medium security prison in upstate New York – has gotten some attention. In a feature by Kate Taylor in the New York Times, you said, “It’s while making theater with this group of prisoners that I feel the most free.” How might your work in a prison impact this Britten project?

AA: I just finished a workshop on King Lear in Woodbourne, so I’m not currently working on a project there, but there’s more of this kind of work for me in the future. I’ve learned a lot about Shakespeare from the men in prison, and while that work might not specifically relate to this Britten work, to me it’s all the same sort of thing: I like going into new places and working with people that I don’t usually come in contact with. So I feel very lucky to work with prisoners, and then to come in touch with classical actors, and now with opera singers. In each place I learn a great deal from the people I meet, and all of that goes into my work.


6 years ago |
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First CD features Piano Sonatas Nos. 5, 11, 12 & 26


Pianist Jonathan Biss has described the task of recording all 32 of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata’s as a pianist’s “Mount Everest”. He has begun his own ascent with the first volume of Piano Sonatas Nos. 5, 11, 12 and 26 to be released on Onyx Classics today, January 9. The cycle of sonatas will be spread over nine CDs to be released over the next nine years.

In his liner notes for the inaugural recording, Mr. Biss describes the 32 sonatas as “32 masterpieces, 32 distinct structures, 32 fully realized, often awe-inspiring, always unique emotional universes. As individual works, each is endlessly compelling on its own merits; as a cycle, it moves from transcendence to transcendence, the basic concerns always the same, but the language impossibly varied.”

Thirty-one-year-old Mr. Biss says the project’s lengthy span is due to him being reluctant to record the sonatas until he has performed each of them live, giving him the opportunity to study and live with them for a period of time before committing a performance to a recording. To date, he has performed 18 of the sonatas live. Mr. Biss says he doubts that a pianist ever feels truly ready to embark on recording, or performing, the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas, but he feels that at this stage in his career, he is ready to begin the journey: “No matter when I started, recording the complete Beethoven Sonatas was always going to be daunting. But given that I've now been working on this music for 20 years, and that not a day goes by when its beauty, grit, and sheer force of personality fail to take hold of me, I felt that now was as good a time as any. The challenge remains enormous, but the elation in playing Beethoven is like no other feeling and makes the challenge well worth it.

The first volume in the cycle was recorded with Grammy Award-winning producer David Frost at Purchase College , New York in May 2011. Throughout the nine-year project, Mr. Biss will post videos about the project and his thoughts on each of the sonatas and where they fit in the Beethoven canon on his Web site, www.jonathanbiss.com.


6 years ago |
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“…a lively celebration of Benedetti’s Italian roots, shot through with some laser-sharp pyrotechnics…” – BBC Music Magazine


For her Decca Classics debut album, violinist Nicola Benedetti makes her first recording of baroque violin repertoire. Recorded in Edinburgh, Italia celebrates Benedetti’s Scottish-Italian heritage as she plays virtuoso Italian masterpieces, accompanied by the leading chamber orchestra of her native Scotland, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Italia will be released on January 24, 2012.

The album includes both popular highlights of the baroque repertoire as well as some overlooked gems. Benedetti includes one concerto from Vivaldi’s enduring masterpiece, The Four Seasons, as well as Tartini’s Devil’s Trill. In addition the generous selection ranges from the sparkling virtuosity of the opening Vivaldi Concerto Grosso Mogul, to the poignant lament of the Veracini Largo and the lyrical beauty of the two arrangements of Vivaldi vocal works, including the haunting Nulla in mundo pax sincera, and an additional concerto by Tartini.

In her previous recordings Benedetti has concentrated principally on mainstream Roman­tic concertos. Turning to the baroque era involved a new way of thinking, not just about the music, but also about the violin technique appropriate to play it. The issue of baroque style has evolved dynamically over the past three decades or so, and for Benedetti it was essential to find an approach that would feel true to her inner convictions, as well as suiting current trends regarding historical accuracy.

“I started studying baroque playing about three years ago, mostly in Bach,” she says, “and to get to grips with the style I played a few early Italian and French sonatas, but at first I felt I needed more time. ‘Early music’ is such a difficult world to enter – for a long time it seemed that there were so many rights and wrongs: ‘This style is correct, that style isn’t’ ... But today this is one of the areas of performance that is in fact the most free. There has been so much diversity in the way people have performed the music that we’ve almost arrived at a point – at least in the UK – where many different approaches are accepted.”

Nicola Benedetti will be performing:
    Cork Ireland on Dec 15th with City of Cork Symphony Orchestra
    City Hall, Cork, Ireland
    Ludwig van Beethoven : Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61

    San Francisco on Dec 31st with San Francisco Symphony
    Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA, United States, 94102
    Pablo de Sarasate : Zigeunerweisen Op. 20

    Amsterdam Netherlands on Jan 8th with Mantova Chamber Orchestra
    Het Concertgebouw, Concertgebouwplein 2-6, Amsterdam, Netherlands, NL 1071 LN
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart : Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219

    Santa Ana on Feb 2nd thru 4th with Pacific Symphony
    Segerstrom Hall at OCPAC Mesa, CA, United States, 92626
    Max Bruch : Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor Op 26

    Tuerkenfeld Germany on Feb 8th with Munich Symphony Orchestra
    Herkulsessaal ohannes
    Brahms : Double Concerto in A minor for violin and cello solos and orchestra, Op. 102



6 years ago |
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eighth blackbird enjoys a happy relationship with the Grammys, having won a nomination and two awards, including the one for “Best Chamber Music Performance,” in 2008. Now nominations for the 54th Grammys are in, revealing that the new-music sextet has drawn away from the pack once again with a full three nods – one for “Best Small Ensemble Performance” among them – for Lonely Motel: music from “Slide.”

Released in September by Cedille Records, Lonely Motel features music from Steve Mackey and Rinde Eckert’s Slide, the genre-defying new music-theater piece that eighth blackbird commissioned and premiered as the centerpiece of the 2009 Ojai Music Festival*. As Tim Munro, the sextet’s flutist, explains:

“This project has been a decade-long labor of love for eighth blackbird, and we are excited that the Grammy Academy members love Steve Mackey and Rinde Eckert’s crazy, fascinating, passionate work as much as we do. What an honor!”

The three nominations for the disc are in the following categories: “Best Small Ensemble Performance,” “Best Contemporary Classical Composition,” and “Best Engineered Album, Classical.” (David Frost also received a nomination as “Producer of the Year, Classical”, acknowledging his work on several projects including Lonely Motel.)


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A widely anticipated debut recital at Carnegie Hall on December 15 is among the highlights of countertenor Iestyn Davies’s remarkable autumn, which saw the U.S. release in October of his most recent recording, Porpora Cantatas, a solo album on the Hyperion label that is already a sensation in Europe, and rave reviews for his Metropolitan Opera debut in Rodelinda in November. Named 2010’s Royal Philharmonic Young Artist of the Year and described as having “one of the most glorious countertenor voices in the world today” (Independent – UK), the British singer will perform at Carnegie Hall with pianist Kevin Murphy, recreating much of their Phillips Collection program in Washington, DC, on December 4. At Carnegie Hall they will add the world premiere of folksong arrangements by New Yorker Nico Muhly, alongside works by Britten, Purcell, and Bach. Muhly’s opera, Two Boys, was recently given its debut at English National Opera, consolidating his reputation as an “important artist” (New York Times). The Washington Post raved about the December 4 recital: “It was clear from the first notes, that Davies has an absolutely superb voice – supple, agile, beautifully controlled and effortless throughout its entire range.”

In 2012, Davies will make his first Lyric Opera of Chicago appearance in another Handel role debut, portraying Eustazio in Rinaldo. Directed by Francisco Negrin and co-starring David Daniels, the production opens on February 29.

Davies’s Met debut was a landmark both for him and the company: it was the first time a British countertenor had graced its stage. He brought a “potent and beautifully balanced voice to Unulfo in Handel’s Rodelinda,” said The New Yorker. The Classical Review praised him as “a winning actor … and a beautiful musician, too, negotiating the never-ending runs in Sono I colpi della sorte and the tricky intervals in Fra tempeste funeste with both precision and a delectable lilt.”

The New York Times explained the absence of British countertenors on the Met stage until Davies: “The countertenor movement was born in England, where historically castrati were a high-priced import and [Baroque] composers like Handel were obliged to be fairly flexible.” More recently, a resurgence of interest also originated in Britain, with 20th-century legends like Alfred Deller and James Bowman bringing the male falsetto voice back from church choir obscurity and once more onto the concert platform. In 1988, the American Jeffrey Gall became the first countertenor to sing a major role at the Met, understudying for Marilyn Horne in Handel’s Orlando. Subsequent productions have featured other exponents of the countertenor’s art, yet to date the nation that founded the tradition still remains unrepresented at the Met.


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The London Symphony Orchestra performs two concerts in January featuring music by Thomas Adès, one of Britain’s leading composers. On 10 January the LSO, conducted by Antonio Pappano will perform dances from his chamber opera Powder Her Face, which Adès conducted with the LSO at the Barbican in 2006. Following the exploits of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, Powder Her Face was written in 1995 and has been performed worldwide. The work is part of an all-British programme which also features Walton’s Viola Concerto with soloist Antoine Tamestit and Elgar’s Symphony No. 1.

There is a free pre-concert performance of music by Sir William Walton at 6pm in the Barbican Hall given by artists from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

Adès himself conducts the London Symphony Orchestra on 15 January in a performance of his own ‘In Seven Days’ for piano and orchestra (performed by Nicolas Hodges), and the orchestral work Tevot. Premiered in 2007 by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Tevot is a one movement symphony scored for an enormous orchestra, whose name comes from the Hebrew word for ‘ark’ or ‘vessel’.

‘In Seven Days’ follows the story of creation in the book of Genesis and was originally performed as a multimedia piece with accompanying moving images by video artist Tal Rosner. Mahler’s song cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn with tenor Toby Spence completes the programme.

There will also be an LSO Discovery Day from 10.00am-5.30pm on Sunday 15 January exploring the music of contemporary British composers. The event will begin at Barbican Hall in the morning and move to LSO St Luke’s in the afternoon.

Tuesday 10 January 2012, 7.30pm, Barbican
THOMAS ADÈS Dances from 'Powder her Face'
WALTON Viola Concerto
ELGAR Symphony No 1

Antonio Pappano conductor
Antoine Tamestit viola
London Symphony Orchestra
Tickets: £10 £15 £19.50 £27 £35

Tuesday 10 January 2012 6pm, Barbican
Guildhall Artists at the Barbican
WALTON A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table
WALTON Piano Quartet

Ellie Laugharne soprano
Raphaela Papadakis soprano
Peter Foggitt piano
Bartosz Woroch violin
Adam Newman viola
Brian O’Kane cello
Thomas Besnard piano


6 years ago |
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St. Louis Symphony’s Holiday Celebration Concerts December 16-18


The St. Louis Symphony will have some expert help getting its home ready for the rest of the holiday season. Expert decorators from Macy’s Visual Department will come to Powell on Wednesday, December 14 at 1pm to help transform the hall into a true winter wonderland. As part of a special holiday partnership, a window featuring the St. Louis Symphony is also included at the downtown St. Louis Macy’s store.

The halls will be fully decked at Powell just in time for the St. Louis Symphony’s four Holiday Celebration concerts on December 16-18. The program features fantastic music from the St. Louis Symphony, favorite carols and even a special surprise or two from Santa. The holiday fun is presented by Macy’s.

Tickets may be purchased on-line at www.stlsymphony.org or by phone at 314-534-1700.

In addition, the St. Louis Symphony is offering “gift packages” for Mom, Dad and families. These special ticket deals offer some of the season’s most popular concerts at great prices and are perfect for holiday gift-giving. For more information on the ticket gift packages, visit www.stlsymphony.org


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My life has been in upheaval for the past 6 months. After graduating my post graduate studies, getting to the "next thing" took some time, during which I haven't really gotten much chance to get into the concert hall.

That changed yesterday (thank heaven!). I went to see Pacific Symphony perform Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" along with Corelli's "Christmas Concerto" last night. Wow, what a joy it was to actually sit and listen to classical music live!

I work for Pacific Symphony, so it is not appropriate for me to provide a review. What I can say is I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Live music has a way of connecting performers with their audience in a manner that's just not possible any other way.

Vivaldi, Corelli and Greig --the three composer's of the night, aren't really composers I would typically pay to hear performed. I'm more of late 20th, early 21st century music lover. There is a lot of great music from the common practice period, Bach through Mahler; it's just not my preference in terms of music. The further back you go the less likely it is for me to put it on the stereo.

Still, sitting in the concert hall last night was thrilling. It's not like listening to a recording. First of all, live performances are less perfect than recordings, because there are no chances to go back and fix them in the mix, or retake sections that didn't quite go they way they should. Still, professional musicians are professional because they take the time to ensure a quality performance every time. Depending on the concert hall, the acoustics might be off, less than what you might achieve with a 5.1 Dolby surround sound system in your living room. Yet, listening to music in a large room (i.e., concert hall) has an effect that even the best reverb can't quite recreate. Last, but most important, live performances carry with them an energy which mechanical recordings cannot capture. Musicians put their hearts into the music, and that energy floats through the concert hall; a stereo system just can't recreate that magic. It is this mixture of imperfection, experienced with live artists creating a connection that makes the concert hall so amazing.

Whether you're a baroque fan or more a late Romantic, lover of the avant-gard or high classical, prefer intimate chamber music or the full orchestra experience, there is no substitute for a live performance. If you haven't been to a concert in the last month, find a concert hall near you and go! You won't regret it.

Better yet, take someone you know who isn't a classical music fan, or perhaps likes classical music, but hasn't yet gone to a concert - TAKE THEM TO ONE! Change their life, for the better! Show them what they're missing.




Note: I was supposed to attend a concert of the LA Chamber Orchestra tonight. Unfortunately, because I'm still trying to get settled in, I was unable to attend. So, there is a mix of joy and sorrow this weekend. I did get to go to a concert, but not as many as I'd like!

Note 2: After the concert last night, my wife and I stopped to get a bite to eat. We left the restaurant at 11:30 only to discover buses in Orange Country stop around 11. There were a couple of late night buses we were able to catch getting us within a mile of our home, but it was a cold night for an after-midnight stroll. Even with the less than desirable transportation difficulties, I'm glad I went!


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Oscar® -winning composer Hans Zimmer and Grammy® Award-winning songwriter and producer Pharrell Williams will serve as music consultants for the 84th Academy Awards, telecast producers Brian Grazer and Don Mischer announced today. This will be the first time the composers have worked on the Oscar show.

"Hans is one of the most accomplished and creative film composers of our time, and Pharrell is a phenomenal songwriter with an amazing list of credits," said Grazer and Mischer. "This is an exciting and prestigious collaboration that promises to take the audience on a musical journey."

"It is a great privilege to serve the Academy in this role and to help celebrate and honor this year's incredible artistry," stated Zimmer.

"I am honored to work with my mentor and teacher, Hans Zimmer and I have wanted to collaborate with Brian Grazer on something for years," said Williams. "I cannot believe I will be joining them and their teams on the most prestigious show of the year, the Academy Awards."

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, February 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.


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