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Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
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John Renbourn, the English guitarist whose “folk-baroque” performances and recordings with the group Pentangle and on his own introduced the folk-music audience to early music antecedents, has died at 70.

An obituary by The New York Times’ Jon Pareles:

27 days ago | |
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Virginia Opera
Andrew Bisantz conducting
March 27, Richmond CenterStage

Verdi’s “La Traviata,” the work with which Virginia Opera made its debut in 1975, concludes its 40th anniversary season on a very high note. From casting and direction to scenery and costumes, this production is almost faultless.

Soprano Cecilia Violetta López, portraying Violetta, the Parisian courtesan turned self-sacrificing lover, and tenor Rolando Sanz, as Alfredo Germont, the young man with whom Violetta falls in love, boast powerful, flexible voices. Their ability to bring nuance to character and emotion makes their duets fully entwined musically and dramatically, as well as bringing more than brilliance to their solo arias. López’s acting is comparably nuanced.

Malcolm Mackenzie, as Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, who persuades Violetta to abandon her lover for the sake of family honor, ultimately to bitterly regret his success, brings far more dimension to this character than audiences normally see and hear. Mackenzie establishes his presence and authority as the paterfamilias in a big, commanding baritone, then reins it in most effectively in Giorgio’s Act 2 duet and the Act 3 death-scene ensemble.

With leads of such quality, this hardy perennial of operatic melodrama cuts much deeper than usual.

The supporting cast – Courtney Miller (Flora), Ashley Kerr (Annina), Cullen Gandy (Gastone), Andre Chiang (Baron Duphol), Matthew Scollin (Marchese d’Obigny) – and chorus live up to the leads’ standards of vocalization and characterization.

Stage director Lillian Groag crafts a straightforward “Traviata” whose drama is driven by story and music, and never over-driven. In the ball scenes, Groag shows her mastery at getting a crowd to genuinely act. The only real directorial intervention on traditional staging is a foursome of white-gowned ghost figures, simultaneously evoking Violetta’s glamorous past and tragic fate.

Visually, this co-production of Virginia Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera adheres to the decorous 19th-century French Empire style of a traditional “Traviata,” with some helpful post-modern modifications, chiefly a brighter color palette and skeletal structural elements that make the set look less claustrophobic than the typical representation of a Parisian salon.

Conductor Andrew Bisantz, leading a pit orchestra drawn from the Richmond Symphony, realizes the pathos in Verdi’s score to striking effect, while giving free rein to festive and dramatically charged sequences – too free, occasionally, in the first of two Richmond performances, as brassy stretches of orchestration overbalanced voices.

Virginia Opera “La Traviata” repeats at 2:30 p.m. March 29 at the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20.33-$105.93. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX). The run concludes with performances at 8 p.m. April 11 and 2:30 p.m. April 12 at the Sandler Arts Center, 201 S. Market St., in Virginia Beach. Tickets: $19-$89. Details: (866) 673-7282; www.vaopera.org
31 days ago | |
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March 26
11 a.m.-2 p.m. EDT
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Nielsen: “Maskarade” Overture
Danish National Orchestra/Sixten Ehrling (Audiofon)

Haydn: Quartet in D major, Op. 76, No. 5
Carmina Quartet (Denon)

Past Masters:
Dvorák: Serenade in E major
Royal Philharmonic/
Leopold Stokowski
(Newton Classics)
(recorded 1975)

Peter Warlock: “Capriol” Suite
Royal Philharmonic/Barry Wordsworth
(Royal Philharmonic Masterworks)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major
Minnesota Orchestra/
Osmo Vänskä (BIS)

Sidney Lanier:
“Wind Song”
Paula Robison, flute
Samuel Sanders, piano (Arabesque)

Poulenc: “L’Eventail de Jeanne” –
Orchestre National de France/Charles Dutoit (London)

“Les Boréades” Suite
Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen (Philips)

Poulenc: “Aubade”
Pascal Rogé, piano
Orchestre National de France/Charles Dutoit (London)
1 month ago | |
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Music from digital sources – streaming services and downloads of recordings – accounted for nearly two-thirds of sales of recorded music in 2014, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

For the first time last year, music streaming subscriptions accounted for more revenue than sales of compact discs. Both continued to be outpaced by purchases of digital downloads.

As tabulated by RIAA, streaming revenue was $1.87 billion. CD sales brought in $1.85 billion. Download purchases, which dipped last year, still accounted for $2.58 billion.

Vinyl-disc and tape purchases, not tabulated separately, apparently nudged “physical” music sales to a larger share of the market than streaming, judging by the pie chart in this report from cnet’s Joan E. Solsman:


(via www.artsjournal.com)
1 month ago | |
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In the last hour of the program, a special guest: Daniel Leibovic, the Richmond-born pianist, now studying at Yale University, who will play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor with the University of Richmond Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Kordzaia conducting, on April 8 at UR’s Modlin Arts Center. While discussing the concerto and the young pianist’s musical activities and aspirations, we’ll sample Rachmaninoff’s Rachmaninoff: two of his 1919 Ampico piano rolls in digital realizations and his celebrated 1929 recording of the Second Piano Concerto with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

March 19
11 a.m.-2 p.m. EDT
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Handel: “Il pastor fido” Suite (1734 version)
Tafelmusik/Jeanne Lamon (Sony Classical)

Haydn: “The Seasons” – “Spring”
“Song of Joy”
Genia Kühmeier, soprano
Werner Güra, tenor
Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)

Vaughan Williams:
“The Lark Ascending”
Hilary Hahn, violin
London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis (Deutsche Grammophon)

Past Masters:
Smetana: “Má Vlast” (“My Fatherland”) –
“From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests”
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik (Mercury)
(recorded 1952)

Schumann: Symphony
No. 3 in E flat major (“Rhenish”)
Staatskapelle Berlin/
Daniel Barenboim (Teldec)

Dag Wirén: Serenade,
Op. 11
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner (Decca)

Past Masters:
Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2
Étude-tableau in B minor, Op. 39, No. 4
Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ampico piano roll (Telarc)
(recorded 1919; 1996 realizations by Wayne Stahnke)

Past Masters:
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor
Sergei Rachmaninoff, piano
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
(RCA Victor)
(recorded 1929)
1 month ago | |
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For his 1977 “Star Wars” score, “John Williams all but lifted the core idea . . . from the scherzo of Erich Korngold’s Symphony in F sharp minor, written 25 years earlier,” notes Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed. By the reasoning of the court judgment last week that “Blurred Lines,” a song by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, plagiarized Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” would Korngold’s heirs have a claim against Williams?

“Out of this lawsuit, which is essentially a spat by millionaires about money, the court has attempted to regulate the rules of musical composition,” Swed writes. Citing examples of composers “borrowing” the music of others from medieval to modern times, the critic declares: “So-called creative thievery isn’t just the privilege of pop musicians; it is the God-given right of all musicians and the very basis of Western music.”


Swed makes a persuasive case, but probably not one that would prevail in the US legal system.

A savvy composer today is best-advised not to borrow from, or even arguably approximate, any music not in the public domain – i.e., published since 1923.

(via www.artsjournal.com)
1 month ago | |
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James B. Stewart, writing for The New Yorker, examines in depth the crises in finance, artistic direction and labor-management-board relations that almost led to a shutdown last fall at the Metropolitan Opera, and continue to plague the largest performing-arts institution in the U.S. A very sobering read:

1 month ago | |
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Richard Spece conducting
with Marshall University Fife & Drum Corps
March 13, Monumental Church

Mannheim Rocket, Richmond’s new period-instruments orchestra, launched itself with several flourishes in one of the few public spaces in this country whose age matches the vintage of classical-period music and the instruments on which it was first heard.

Performing in Monumental Church, designed by the pioneering American architect Robert Mills and completed in 1814, the 24-piece orchestra of gut-strung fiddles, narrow-bore woodwinds, valveless “natural” horns and trumpets and kidskin-headed timpani delivered a highly assertive reading of Beethoven’s First Symphony, vividly showcasing the very different sonorities and tone colors of pre-modern orchestral instruments.

Curious thing about these early instruments: Their tone is thinner, more dry and less refined or “rounded” in sound than their modern descendants; but collectively they often seem to project more strongly, even aggressively. Some of the difference can be attributed to playing technique, especially stronger accenting; greater clarity and speed in quick figurations also boosts the energy level.

Slashing accents, hard drumbeats, more prominently audible wind and brass parts and high contrasts between loud and soft playing drove Mannheim Rocket’s Beethoven First. The piece, which when played by a modern orchestra tends to sound like a rambunctious cousin of Haydn and Mozart, here sounded like a pre-echo of the more grandly scaled, expressively epic symphonies that Beethoven would produce a few years later.

The ensemble’s performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, had a similar in-your-face presence and intensity, although indelicacies of tone production, balance and ensemble were more audible.

I sat in different parts of the church for the two symphonies, closer to the orchestra for the Mozart; so the differences I heard in performances of the two works were probably as much due to the acoustical peculiarities of this octagonal, domed, highly resonant space as to the different demands made on musicians by the two composers and how these musicians met those demands.

The string sections of the ensemble were minimal by modern standards – three each of first and second violins, two each of violas and cellos, one double-bass; but they maintained balance with winds in even the loudest passages, and carried tunes with more lyricism and warmth than might have been expected.

Mannheim Rocket’s conductor, Richard Spece, a clarinetist whose has played in period-instruments ensembles for two decades, showed a firm grasp of the music at hand and the capacities of the instruments in his band. His choices of when and when not to take repeats at times seemed unusual – the finale of the Mozart, for example, was about as long as the first movement; but repeats when taken were expressively differentiated enough to warrant the repetitions.

The symphonies were preceded by a set of early American, British and French marches and popular tunes, played by the Marshall University Fife & Drum Corps. Performing in Colonial-period uniforms, the ensemble produced an exhilarating sound that was room-filling and then some, nearing but not crossing the line to the deafening.

The corps’ director, Wendell Dobbs, credited by Spece as a prime instigator in the organization of Mannheim Rocket, traded fife for flute to play in the orchestra.
1 month ago | |
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The performance by eighth blackbird and the Sleeping Giant composers’ collective of the new work “HandEye” on March 16 at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center has been recast as a workshop “sneak preview” of four segments of the work, with the performers seeking feedback from the audience.

Tickets already issued must be exchanged for general-admission seating, with limited seating capacity. Ticket exchanges will begin at 6 p.m. outside the Modlin Center’s Jepson Theatre. The workshop begins at 7:30 p.m.

A performance of the complete “HandEye” will be scheduled in the 2015-16 season.

For more information, call the Modlin Center box office at (804) 289-8980.
1 month ago | |
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Critics at The New York Times speculate on prospective successors to Alan Gilbert as music director of the New York Philharmonic – attempting, it seems, to create a groundswell for the Finnish composer-conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, formerly music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and more modest rumbles for David Robertson of the St. Louis Symphony and Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony:


The Guardian’s Tom Service, meanwhile, offers more detached ratings of prospective successors to Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonic:


The Berlin musicians, who elect their chief conductors, will hold their first round of voting on May 11.

The New York Phil’s executives and board probably will be searching and dickering with candidates and their agents for some time.
1 month ago | |
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