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Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
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One of the standard-issue explanations for the decline/impending doom of classical music is that in recent generations attention spans and tolerance for complexity have been in decline, and have fallen off the cliff among young people (not to mention, ahem, some adults) in the 140-character age of social media.

Alan Davey, controller (i.e., general manager) of BBC3, the network’s classical radio service, begs to differ:

“Young people’s brains aren’t experiencing a backward evolution. Their ability to articulate points of rhythm, melody and the flow of words in musical genres they have made or developed themselves prove that, as human beings, our urge for musical expression and facility lies deep. Young people are not afraid of things that need to be worked through. Complexity, curiosity and adventure is the new counter-culture,” Davey writes for The Guardian:


(via http://www.artsjournal.com)

After three years working among college students at WDCE-FM, the University of Richmond’s radio station, and sampling what this admittedly high-end slice of the under-25 population listens to, I agree with Davey, but with reservations and qualifiers – some of which he implicitly acknowledges in the examples he uses to support his argument.

Young people are not alienated by classical music – the very young, in fact, are as receptive to it as to any other music, as their tastes have not been overly affected by peer pressure and commercial signals.

Many young adults, I’ve found, have a good deal of curiosity about this genre, but their curiosity doesn’t lead them along the traditional music-appreciation path. Many start with a contemporary composer, contemporary specialty ensemble or rock musician influenced by classical music, and listen their way “backward” into the standard repertory – Reich to Bach, not the other way around.

As with most aspects of contemporary culture, context and branding counts for as much as content – arguably more. This is why so many classical musicians and presenters are staging concerts in nightclubs, brew-pubs and other settings in which younger audiences feel more at home than they would sitting silently in the dark in a concert hall. And performers are tailoring what and how they perform to these new venues.

For years I’ve observed, here and elsewhere, that there’s really no telling anymore what people listen to. The old indices of listener preference – sales charts of recordings, ratings of radio stations, what record companies choose to release and promote – are increasingly irrelevant when more and more people program “their” music via services such as Spotify and websites such as YouTube, whose range of musical choices is more or less unlimited and often not neatly segmented by format.

It’s instructive to read the comments on any given classical selection on YouTube. Like as not, they’ll range from “the definitive recording of this piece is from Sviatoslav Richter’s 1957 Prague recital” to

The younger you are, the more likely you are to be a grazing listener, sampling all kinds of music – including, yes, classical music.
14 days ago | |
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The Richmond Symphony is one of 21 US orchestras to receive grants from the American Orchestras’ Future Fund, awarded by the League of American Orchestras with support from the Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation.

The two-year grants to large and medium-sized orchestras mostly support educational programs and innovative efforts to attract new audiences and perform outside traditional concert spaces and formats.

The Richmond Symphony was awarded an $80,000 grant to support community outreach and audience-building initiatives, including its Big Tent outdoor concerts and VIBE after-school music program. The orchestra’s grant application also cited its Rush Hour casual mini-concerts at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Casual Fridays talks and performances at Dominion Arts Center.

The orchestras receiving funds “were chosen for their ability to influence a positive future for the art form. They are making significant and exciting investments in organizational learning and innovation,” Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, said in a statement announcing the grants.

David Fisk, the Richmond Symphony’s executive director, credited supporters of the initiatives for which it received the grant, including the City of Richmond, Richmond Public Schools, Hardywood, Bon Secours and other business, foundation and individual donors.

The $4.5 million American Orchestras’ Future Fund will make a second round of two-year grants next year.
18 days ago | |
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May 10
noon-3 p.m. EDT
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Sibelius: “Finlandia”
YL Male Voice Choir
Minnesota Orchestra/
Osmo Vänskä

Serenade for strings
in E major, Op. 22
Daniel Myssyk

Introduction and Allegro appassionato, Op. 92
Jan Lisiecki, piano
Orchestra dell’Accademia
Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/
Antonio Pappano
(Deutsche Grammophon)

“Symphonies of
Wind Instruments”
Berlin Philharmonic/
Pierre Boulez
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Serenade in B flat major,
K. 361 (“Gran Partita”)

Past Masters:
Sonata in A minor,
D. 821 (“Arpeggione”)
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Benjamin Britten, piano
(recorded 1968)

Napoléon Henri Reber: Symphony No. 4 in G major
Le Cercle de l’Harmonie/
Jeremie Rohrer
19 days ago | |
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The Emerson String Quartet will open a pared-down season of four offerings in Virginia Commonwealth University’s 2017-18 Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concerts.

The Emerson, marking its 40th anniversary this year, will perform on Oct. 14.

Other artists booked for the coming season are Leon Fleischer, the eminent American pianist who will be celebrating his 90th birthday next year, and his wife and piano-duo partner, Katherine Jacobson, performing at VCU on Jan. 28; the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, appearing on Feb. 17 during its final US tour; and pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson, whose trio marks its 40th anniversary in 2017, closing the 2017-18 Rennolds series on March 17.

Programs will be announced later.

All concerts will begin at 8 p.m. Saturdays, except for the Fleisher-Jacobson recital at 3 p.m. on a Sunday, in Vlahcevic Concert Hall of VCU’s Singleton Arts Center, Park Avenue at Harrison Street in Richmond’s Fan District.

Subscription ticket packages are $110 for adults, $90 for seniors, VCU employees and members of the VCU Alumni Association. Single tickets will be $35 for adults, $32 for seniors, VCU employees and Alumni Association members.

For ticket orders or more information, call the VCU Music Department box office at (804) 828-6776 or
e-mail musictix@vcu.edu
20 days ago | |
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May 6, Virginia Commonwealth University

The finest string quartet I’ve heard in years played the most challenging of Beethoven’s quartets with near-perfect technique and extraordinary intensity in the season finale of VCU’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts.

The Miró Quartet – violinists Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violist John Largess and cellist Joshua Gindele – played Beethoven’s Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131, with a degree of concentration and expressive force that a listener would be lucky to experience once in a lifetime. This was the fifth time I’ve heard the piece performed live; none of the other four came remotely close to this.

What was so special about it?

Technically, the four musicians produced a faultless balance of distinct but thoroughly complementary voices – essential in a work often driven by interplay among solo instruments.

This balance was achieved in part by a nowadays-unconventional placement of instruments: violinists facing each other in front, with the cellist behind the first violin and the violist behind the second violin. This clarified Beethoven’s exchanges between violins, and also gave unusual weight to the full ensemble, as the cello and viola were projecting toward the audience rather than toward the violins, as they would in the usual seating of a string quartet.

It sounded as if the musicians were playing a matched set of instruments. They weren’t, but they were playing with matched ears regarding tone production – rich but not plush, tightly focused in pitch, rather woodsy even at the most brilliant – that proved ideal for the Beethoven, music of epic conception, highly complex construction and, ideally, a measure of sonic grit. (That grit is what eludes most ensembles in the late Beethoven quartets.)

Interpretively, the Miró grasped the complexities and their context in the narrative of this music. Op. 131 is in seven movements, played straight through, with a couple of pregnant pauses; it should sound and feel like an outpouring of overlapping ideas striving toward a single emphatic end. That’s how it came across in this extraordinary performance.

The program’s opening selection, Haydn’s Quartet in D major, Op. 20, No. 4, was an excellent prelude to the Beethoven. Haydn, who invented the classical string quartet, normally produced elegantly tuneful, carefully formatted constructs, not without the quirky touches that enliven his symphonies but with more subtle or tightly controlled quirks.

This early(ish) quartet, from a set of six written in 1772, departs from Haydn’s usual format, most famously in the Hungarian dance that takes the place of the usual third-movement minuet, but more notably in an adagio that sends a minor-key theme through a sequence of elaborations, each led by a single instrument that one-ups its predecessor in expressive intensity. The cumulative effect of this movement pre-echoes what Beethoven made of the somber tune that haunts Op. 131.

The Miró’s treatment of that adagio nicely balanced Haydneseque style with Beethovenian portent.

As a contrasting centerpiece, the group played five of the dozen miniatures that Dvorák arranged for string quartet from “Cypresses,” an early song cycle. (Violist Largess helpfully filled in the unrequited love story behind the work in introductory remarks, and the lyrics of the five songs were printed in the program book, for those whose poetic tolerance extends to mid-19th century romantic yearning-amid-nature verse – mercifully, not necessary for appreciation of the music.)

The Miró found the right tone of voice for the naïve lyricism of the young Dvorák, leavened by the more sophisticated instrumental writing of the mature composer.
20 days ago | |
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The Richmond Symphony Chorus will hold auditions for new members from 6:30-9:30 p.m. May 30 and June 26 at Epiphany Lutheran Church, Monument Avenue at Horsepen Road.

The chorus, directed by Erin Freeman, rehearses weekly on Tuesday evenings from late August through early May at Dominion Arts Center, with additional rehearsals during performance weeks.

In the 2017-18 season, the Symphony Chorus will perform in Mozart’s Mass in C minor in November, Handel’s “Messiah” and the “Let It Snow!” pops concerts in December, Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy” and selections from Undine Smith Moore’s “Scenes from the Life of a Martyr” in February, and a new work by Mason Bates in May. The Bates work also is scheduled to be recorded after the concert.

For information on the audition process and access to preparation materials, call (804) 788-4717 or visit http://www.rschorus.com/auditions
22 days ago | |
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Virginia Opera will stage its first productions of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Samson and Delilah” and Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in its 2017-18 season.

The company will continue its survey of Giacomo Puccini’s operas with a production of his only American-themed work, “The Girl of the Golden West.” The season concludes with Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

Rachele Gilmore, a soprano has performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, will make her Virginia Opera debut as Lucia. Others in principal roles include Derek Taylor as Samson, Katharine Goeldner as Delilah, Jill Gardner as Minnie in “The Girl of the Golden West,” Heather Buck as Tytania and Matthew Burns as Bottom, both in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Adam Turner, Virginia Opera’s resident conductor, will lead the Saint-Saëns and Britten, with Andrew Bisantz conducting the Puccini and Ari Pelto conducting the Donizetti.

Productions are staged at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Arts Center in Richmond and the Center for the Arts of George Mason University in Fairfax.

Subscription ticket prices are $64.56-$372.72 in Norfolk, $66.36-$359.80 in Richmond. Subscription prices and information for Fairfax will be announced later.

For more information, call (866) 673-7282 or visit http://vaopera.org

Performance dates, venues and casting:

Sept. 29, Oct. 1 and 3 (Norfolk)
Oct. 7 and 8 (Fairfax)
Oct. 13 and 15 (Richmond)
Saint-Saëns: “Samson and Delilah”
Adam Turner conducting
Derek Taylor (Samson)
Katharine Goeldner (Delilah)
Michael Chioldi (High Priest)
Paul Curran, stage director
in French, English captions

Nov. 10, 12 and 14 (Norfolk)
Nov. 17 and 19 (Richmond)
Dec. 2 and 3 (Fairfax)
Puccini: “The Girl of the Golden West”
Andrew Bisantz conducting
Jill Gardner (Minnie)
Roger Honeywell (Ramerrez, alias Dick Johnson)
Lillian Groag, stage director
in Italian, English captions

Feb. 9, 11 and 13 (Norfolk)
Feb. 17 and 18 (Fairfax)
Feb. 23 and 25 (Richmond)
Britten: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Adam Turner conducting
Heather Buck (Tytania)
Matthew Burns (Bottom)
David Blalock (Lysander)
Michael Shell, stage director
in English, English captions

March 23, 25 and 27 (Norfolk)
April 7 and 8 (Fairfax)
April 13 and 15 (Richmond) 
Donizetti: “Lucia di Lammermoor”
Ari Pelto conducting
Rachele Gilmore (Lucia)
Joseph Dennis (Edgardo)
Kyle Lang, stage director
in Italian, English captions
22 days ago | |
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Thomas Wilkins, a Norfolk native and former associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, has been appointed professor of music (orchestral conducting) at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University.

Wilkins will continue to serve as music director of the Omaha Symphony through the 2021-22 season, after which he will become music director emeritus. He also is principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in Los Angeles and holds the Germeshausen Family and Youth Conductor Chair of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

While conducting in Richmond (1989-94), Wilkins also was on the music faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He subsequently served as resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Florida Orchestra of Tampa Bay. He has guest-conducted many leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, and the Baltimore, Dallas, Houston and Cincinnati symphonies.

Wilkins is a graduate of Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music in Winchester and the New England Conservatory in Boston.
25 days ago | |
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Richmond ranks 20th among large metropolitan areas in the US in the 2017 Arts Vibrancy Index Report of Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research.

The report cited Richmond for its concentration of museums, frequency and accessibility of performing arts attractions, and for grassroots and collective arts ventures.

“Richmond scores in the top 10 percent of cities on arts providers, arts dollars and government support,” write the authors of the report, Zannie Giraud Voss and Glenn Voss, with Natalie Crane and Jennifer Armstrong. “It has a unique way of blending classic and contemporary, southern heritage with progressive art
. . . honoring the past but making space for the future.”

The index rates communities on “demand, supply and public support for arts and culture on a per capita basis.” Its ratings take into account the number of artists, arts organizations and culture-related businesses, earned revenue such as ticket sales and admission fees, contributions to non-profit arts groups, compensation of artists and arts groups’ staffs, and state and federal funding of cultural activities.

Richmond, Pittsburgh (No. 16) and Rochester, NY
(No. 19), had fallen out of the large-city top 20 in the previous report, released in 2015. All three are among the communities that, by the index’s metrics, have the most vibrant arts activity and support, those with populations either below 300,000 or between 1 and 3 million. (Greater Richmond’s 2015 population is listed as 1.27 million.)

The only other Virginia localities earning a top-20 listing were those in Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, ranked No. 1 among large metro areas.

The index’s ratings of other large population centers generally considered major cultural hubs: New York City-Jersey City, NJ-White Plains, NY, No. 2; greater San Francisco, No. 3; Nashville, No. 4; Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN, No. 5; Boston, No. 6; Los Angeles, No. 7; the Maryland suburbs of DC, No. 8; Seattle, No. 10; Philadelphia, No. 11; Denver, No. 14; Chicago, No. 15.

The Arts Vibrancy Index Report can be read here: http://www.smu.edu/~/media/Site/Meadows/NCAR/NCAR_ArtsVibrancy_04-17.pdf
25 days ago | |
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May 3
noon-3 p.m. EDT
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Johann Nepomuk Hummel: “Freudenfest” Overture
London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley

Symphony No. 2
in B flat major
Anima Eterna Orchestra/
Jos van Immerseel
(Zig Zag Territories)

Bernhard Molique:
Oboe Concertino
in G minor
Heinz Holliger, oboe
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/
Eliahu Inbal
String Quintet in A major
The Nash Ensemble

Past Masters:
Octet in E flat major, Op. 20
Jascha Heifetz,
Arnold Belnick,
Israel Baker & Joseph Stepansky, violins
William Primrose &
Virginia Majewski, violas
Gregor Piatigorsky & Gabor Rejto, cellos
(recorded 1961)
(RCA Red Seal)

Johann Joachim Quantz:
Flute Concerto No. 3
in G major
Emmanuel Pahud, flute
Kammerakademie Potsdam/
Trevor Pinnock
(Warner Classics)

Trio in C major, Op. 87,
for oboe, clarinet and bassoon
Les Vents Français
(Warner Classics)

Mozart: Symphony No. 27 in G major, K. 199
Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
(L’Oiseau Lyre)
26 days ago | |
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