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Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
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Lyrics of most popular songs in 2014 were at second- to third-grade reading levels, according to a study by British data analyst Andrew Powell-Morse, summarized by The Guardian:


Powell-Morse, using the Flesch-Kincaid index and other readability metrics, found that country music scored slightly higher than rock or hip-hop, mainly because country songwriters use multisyllabic words such as “hallelujah,” “cigarettes” and “Mississippi.”

The most literate best-seller of 2014, “Dani California” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, boasted lyrics at a fifth- to sixth-grade reading level.
3 days ago | |
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Joe Wilson, longtime director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, maestro of the National Folk Festival (which spawned the Richmond Folk Festival and other such events across the US) and a figure instrumental in creating the Blue Ridge Music Center and The Crooked Road network of traditional country music venues in Southwest Virginia, has died at 77.

An obituary by Ralph Berrier Jr. for The Roanoke Times:

5 days ago | |
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May 21
11 a.m.-2 p.m. EDT
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Alexander Reinagle: “Miscellaneous Overture”
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä/Patrick Gallois (Naxos)

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488
Ivan Moravec, piano
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/
Neville Marriner
(Hänssler Classic)

Jean Françaix: Wind Quintet No. 1
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet (Bis)

Schumann: “Fantasiestücke,” Op. 12
Marc-André Hamelin, piano (Hyperion)

Dvorák: Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 90 (“Dumky”)
Eroica Trio
(EMI Classics)

Past Masters:
Beethoven: Symphony
No. 7 in A major
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter (Sony Classical)
(recorded 1958)
6 days ago | |
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May 14
11 a.m.-2 p.m. EDT
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Josef Suk: “Fantastiké Scherzo”
Buffalo Philharmonic/JoAnn Falletta (Naxos)

Jan Antonín Koželuh: Oboe Concerto in F major
Albrecht Mayer, oboe & director
Kammerakademie Potsdam
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Beethoven: Sonata in
C minor, Op. 10, No. 1
Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano (Bis)

Past Masters:
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A minor (“Scottish”)
London Symphony Orchestra/Peter Maag (Decca)
(recorded 1960)

J.S. Bach: “English Suite” No. 3 in G minor, BWV 808
András Schiff, piano (Decca)

Delius: “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring”
London Philharmonic/
Vernon Handley
(Classics for Pleasure)

Debussy: Quartet in G minor
Belcea Quartet (EMI Classics)

Rodrigo: “Fantasia para un gentilhombre”
Pepe Romero, guitar
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/
Neville Marriner (Philips)
15 days ago | |
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After 11 hours of deliberations and several votes, members of the Berlin Philharmonic have failed to agree on a new chief conductor. A spokesman says the musicians will meet again “within one year” to consider a replacement for Simon Rattle, who is leaving the orchestra in 2018, The Guardian’s Louise Osborne reports:


“The election seemed to lay bare divisions among the players over what direction to take,” The New York Times’ Michael Cooper and Katarina Johannsen report:

15 days ago | |
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Steven Smith conducting
with Richmond Symphony Chorus
May 9, Richmond CenterStage

The final Masterworks program of the Richmond Symphony’s 2014-15 season coincides with the 70th anniversary of VE-Day, the end of World War II in Europe. The concluding work on the program, Sergei Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, composed late in the war and first performed in January 1945, can be heard as one of the most extroverted and optimistic, if not explicitly triumphal, products of the war years.

In the first of two weekend performances, Steven Smith obtained an assertive and finely detailed reading from the orchestra, enlarged with extra strings and winds for the piece. The symphony’s big brassy and percussive episodes sounded with impressive heft, and the conductor and musicians consistently brought out the unique sound texture – brilliance in high-register strings and winds coexisting with thicker, steel-wooly tonalities rooted in low-register brass and contrabassoon – that makes this music sound simultaneously ethereal and earthy.

Smith’s close attention to details of internal balance, especially among woodwinds and the percussion section, and to realizing various special effects in string and wind playing, gave this reading greater depth and dimension – and, in the allegro giocoso finale, a clearer than usual soundstage for Prokofiev’s musical wit.

Sharing the program with the Prokofiev symphony, two vivid, if quite dissimilar, showcases for the Richmond Symphony Chorus: the “Polovtsian Dances” from Alexander Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor,” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.”

Bernstein’s settings of Psalms 100, 23 and 131, along with selected verses from Psalms 108, 2 and 133, all sung in Hebrew, employ unusual orchestration – strings with full brass and percussion sections, but no woodwinds – supporting a large chorus. A boy alto – 10-year-old Jack Rigdon in this performance – introduces Psalm 23, while a quartet of adult soloists – here, soprano Jennifer Hagen, alto Erin Stuhlman, tenor Wesley Pollard and bass Joseph Ciulla, all drawn from the Symphony Chorus – are featured in the final section.

Subject and language might suggest music in “ancient” style, but Bernstein wrote in a modern and American vernacular, at times echoing blues and Latin-accented jazz. (One of the most prominent tunes in “Chichester Psalms” was originally intended for “West Side Story.”) His setting of Psalm 2, verses 1-4 (“Why do the nations rage”) is as percussively violent as any music he ever produced; but the overall tone of the work is hopeful and pacific.

The Symphony Chorus, prepared by Erin R. Freeman, gave a characterful, borderline-theatrical performance, quite in keeping with Bernstein’s style, while the instrumental forces emphasized the brightness and animation of the score.

The orchestra and chorus held nothing back in the “Polovtsian Dances,” rendering its romantic lyrical sections voluptuously and its war cries and orgiastic dances with a frenzy that seemed uncontrolled. Actually, effective musical frenzy requires a lot of control, which Smith and his charges exercised very capably.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. May 10 at the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$78. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); www.richmondsymphony.com
17 days ago | |
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Performances by the Juilliard String Quartet and the classical comedy duo Igudesman & Joo highlight the 2015-16 season of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concerts series.

Violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo have built a wide following (largely via YouTube) for their physically manic yet wryly comic spoofs on classical music and its performance etiquette. The duo will stage its “And Now Mozart” program to open the coming Rennolds season on Oct. 10.

The Juilliard Quartet, due on Oct. 24, is celebrating its 60th anniversary in the coming season. In its current lineup, the quartet’s longtime cellist, Joel Krosnick, and violinist Ronald Copes, a member since 1997, perform with violinist Joseph Lin, who joined the Juilliard in 2011, and violist Roger Tapping, who joined in 2013.

Following an acclaimed performance earlier this season by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a different foursome from the society – pianist Gilles Vonsattel, violinist Aranaud Sussman, violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Paul Watkins – will give another concert of piano quartets, including Dvorák’s E flat major, Op. 87, on Feb. 20.

Two musicians familiar to Richmonders from their performances with the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia, violinist Jesse Mills and pianist Reiko Aizawa, will return to town with cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, with whom they comprise the Horszowski Trio, for a March 19 Rennolds program.

In the final concert of the series’ 2015-16 season, the Doric String Quartet – violinists Alex Reddington and Jonathan Stone, violist Hélène Clément and cellist John Myerscough – will be joined by pianist Jonathan Biss on April 2.

To obtain a season brochure or more information on the Rennolds Chamber Concerts, call the VCU Music Department box office at (804) 828-6776.
19 days ago | |
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A special program this week, anticipating one of the most resonant anniversaries of recent world history.

On May 9, 1945, World War II ended in Europe. Nazi Germany was crushed, but at devastating cost. The continent was in ruins. More than 32 million combatants and civilians had died, more than 6 million in the Holocaust of European Jewry. Millions were displaced from homes they would never see again.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, four of the greatest compositions inspired by the worst conflict in European history, from Russian, British, Czech and German composers; and an American work written during the war but seemingly immune to it: Aaron Copland's “Appalachian Spring,” introduced in 1944, subsequently awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music on the date that turned out to be V-E Day.

May 7
11 a.m.-3 p.m. EDT
1500-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 (“Babi Yar”)
Alexander Vinogradov, bass
men’s voices of Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir & Huddersfield Choral Society
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko (Naxos)

Past Masters:
Britten: “War Requiem”
Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano
Peter Pears, tenor
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
The Bach Choir
London Symphony Orchestra Chorus
Highgate School Choir
Simon Preston, organ
Melos Ensemble
London Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Britten (Decca)
(recorded 1963)

Past Masters:
Richard Strauss: “Metamorphosen”
Staatskapelle Dresden/Rudolf Kempe
(recorded 1973)
(EMI Classics)

Martinu: Symphony No. 3
Czech Philharmonic/Václav Neumann (Supraphon)

Past Masters:
Copland: “Appalachian Spring” Suite
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland
(RCA Victor)
(recorded 1959)
21 days ago | |
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Steven Smith conducting
with Lynette Wardle, harp
May 3, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland

Lynette Wardle, principal harpist of the Richmond Symphony and Albany (NY) Symphony (some commute!), sprang one of those rare but always welcome “where have you have been all my life?” compositions on a near-capacity audience in the season finale of the Metro Collection series.

Alberto Ginastera, Argentina’s preeminent composer (of music other than tango, anyway), drew on his country’s indigenous music but generally filtered those strains through a rather hard-edged neoclassical style. That tone of voice informs his Harp Concerto, but so does an infectious urban energy, a full and richly varied palette of impressionistic color, and, in the concerto’s central movement, an almost romantic lyricism.

Ginastera lets the harp do what harps do best – plenty of glissandos and rarified crystalline tones – but he also makes the instrument highly percussive and has it impersonate a guitar. The solo harp at times floats above a colorful and busily rhythmic orchestration; at other times, the instrument weaves through the orchestra.

Wardle masterfully negotiated the score’s many technical challenges and the harp’s shifts of tone and mood. Conductor Steven Smith led alert and animated orchestral accompaniment.

With the exception of the opening selection, the Overture to Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” the program was devoted to Spanish-accented music. The Ginastera concerto was followed by the Suite No. 1 from Manuel de Falla’s “The Three-Cornered Hat” and the Symphony in D major of Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, a short-lived Basque composer of the early 19th century.

The Falla suite, from a ballet score introduced in 1919 for a Serge Diaghilev production with scenic design by Pablo Picasso and choreography by Léonide Massine, is a brightly colored, cheerful romp, centered on a fandango. Smith and the orchestra played up its extroversion and comic touches. Bassoonist Tom Schneider played his role as lead comic voice broadly.

Arriaga’s symphony, written in Paris shortly before the composer’s death (probably of tuberculosis) a few days shy of his 20th birthday, is a mature and polished composition – not up to the standards of Beethoven or Schubert, to be sure, but better than most symphonies being produced at the time outside of Vienna. Arriaga’s craftsmanship is evident throughout, notably in the way he exploits tension between major and minor passages to give his music a dramatic edge and to keep things moving.

Smith and the orchestra delivered a warmly voiced and, where appropriate, urgently expressive account of this obscure but rewarding work.
23 days ago | |
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Richard Goode, piano
Sarah Shafer, soprano
May 2, Virginia Commonwealth University

The esteemed American pianist Richard Goode has spent much of his career serving as a mentor to young musicians, notably in 14 years (1999-2013) as co-artistic director, with Mitsuko Uchida, of Marlboro, the music school and festival in Vermont. More recently, Goode has been performing chamber concerts and recitals with young colleagues.

In the last of this season’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts at Virginia Commonwealth University, Goode performed with the young soprano Sarah Shafer, accompanying her in art-songs by Brahms, Fauré and Debussy, interspersed with his performances of solo-piano works by those composers.

Shafer, whose operatic career is blossoming rapidly, boasts a rich, robust voice whose maturity belies her age. She brings a palpable sense of drama to her performances. These qualities enhanced some of the repertory she chose for this program – Brahms’ “Auf dem Kirchhofe” (“In the Churchyard”), for example, and in a contrasting vein, “Ariettes oubliées,” Debussy’s settings of six poems of Paul Verlaine.

In more intimate or conversational pieces, however, Shafer’s delivery was simply too theatrical. Toning down to the scale of art-song doesn’t come naturally to many opera singers; they tend to inflate or “oversell” songs. There was a good deal of this is Shafer’s performance – but also evidence, in two pieces by Fauré, “Les Berceaux” (“The Cradles”) and “Après un Rêve” (“After a Dream”), that she grasped the distinction between art-song and operatic aria.

Goode has long been recognized as a master of Austro-German classical and romantic repertory, and his treatments of three numbers from Brahms’ Op. 76 set, the capriccios in F sharp minor and B minor and Intermezzo in A flat major, lived up to that high repute.

His performance of Fauré’s Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 63, emphasized the composer’s romanticism over his proto-impressionism – Goode made the piece sound almost like Gallic Schumann. In three of Debussy’s piano preludes, Goode’s showed gratifying sensitivity to subtleties of color and articulation, but also a touch of rhythmic brittleness.
24 days ago | |
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