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Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
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Alice Herz-Sommer, an esteemed pianist specializing in Chopin, a friend of Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler, and a survivor of the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp, has died in London at the age of 110. Believed to have been the oldest survivor of the Holocaust, she continued making music until shortly before her death.

An obituary by The New York Times’ Margalit Fox:


The New Yorker’s Alex Ross recounts his visit with Herz-Sommer last summer:


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Herz-Sommer performing Chopin, at age 108, is the last of a set of videos of elder pianists assembled by Igor Toronyi-Lalic for The Spectator (UK):


(via Arts Journal)

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Slate movie critic Dana Stevens reviews “The Lady in Number 6,” Malcom Clarke’s film on Herz-Sommer, “pretty much a lock,” in Stevens’ view, to win an Academy Award for best documentary short subject:


ADDENDUM (March 3): “The Lady in Number 6” won an Oscar.
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Feb. 27
1-3 p.m. ET
1800-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Past Masters:
Louis Hardin (Moondog): “Minisym #1”
studio orchestra/Louis Hardin (BGO)
(recorded 1969)

Haydn: Symphony No. 35 in B flat major
Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood (L’Oiseau Lyre)

Schumann: “Carnival Scenes from Vienna,” Op. 26
Piotr Anderszewski, piano (Virgin Classics)

James P. Johnson: “Drums,” “Charleston”
Leslie Stifelman, piano; Frederick Boothe, tap dancer; Concordia Orchestra/Marin Alsop (Nimbus)

William Grant Still: Symphony No. 2 in G minor (“Song of a New Race”)
Detroit Symphony/Neeme Järvi (Chandos)

Adolphus Hailstork: “O Praise the Lord,” “Crucifixion”
McCullough Chorale/Donald McCullough (Albany)
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Dale Brumfield, writing for Richmond’s Style Weekly, recalls Monroe Rosenfeld, the son of a 19th-century Richmond tobacconist who grew up to be a songwriter and music journalist who popularized the term “Tin Pan Alley” for the New York haunts and musical style of popular tunesmiths:

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The first Richmond appearance in 25 years by the stellar violinist Joshua Bell, an all-Duke Ellington orchestral-choral program and performances of Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony (No. 2) highlight the 2014-15 season of the Richmond Symphony.

The coming season also will feature a pops program with New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Richmond’s No B.S. Brass Band, and a special presentation of “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II.”

Other special concerts include a Jan. 27, 2015, commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and other Holocaust death camps (staged in partnership with the Virginia Holocaust Museum and Weinstein JCC), and a May 25, 2015, program marking the end of the American Civil War (supported by the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission).

In addition to Bell, who will play Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, guest artists for 2014-15 include Richard King, principal French horn player of the Cleveland Orchestra (in Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1); Adam Golka, the prize-winning Texas-born pianist (Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto); conductor Tito Muñoz, recently named music director of the Phoenix Symphony; Ukrainian-born pianist Stanislav Khristenko (Mozart’s Concerto in D minor); soprano Michelle Areyzaga and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Feinstein (Mahler’s Second Symphony); and narrator Charlotte Blake Alston (Michael Gandolfi’s “Pinocchio’s Adventures in Funland”).

Three principals of the Richmond Symphony will perform as soloists: concertmaster Daisuke Yamamoto (Sibelius’ Violin Concerto), bassoonist Tom Schneider (Peter Schickele’s Bassoon Concerto); and harpist Lynette Wardle (Ginastera’s Harp Concerto).

Music by living composers, in addition to the Schickele concerto, include a commissioned work by University of Richmond-based Benjamin Broening and pieces by Jennifer Higdon and Marta Ptaszynska.

Major orchestral repertory includes the fourth symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Schumann, Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, Brahms’ Third Symphony, Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony (No. 36), Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” Suite and “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, Beethoven’s Second Symphony, J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 3 and three works by Respighi, “The Pines of Rome,” “The Fountains of Rome” and “Trittico Botticelliano.”

The Richmond Symphony Chorus will perform in the Mahler “Resurrection” Symphony, Handel’s “Messiah” and the “Let It Snow!” holiday pops program, Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” and the “Polovtsian Dances” from Borodin’s “Prince Igor,” and selections from Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts,” the latter also featuring the One Voice Chorus and The St. Paul’s Baptist Church Chorus.

Other dates, including the popular casual “Rush Hour Concerts” at Richmond CenterStage, will be announced later.

Announcing the new season earlier today at Richmond CenterStage, Steven Smith, the symphony’s music director, said that in programming “we look for many, many ways to interact with many, many different audiences,” singling out the all-Ellington program as a showcase of “one of the great American composers . . . in the context of the Masterworks series.”

Another spur to audience diversity is “Soundwave,” a new offering of subscriptions to the full Masterworks series for college-age listeners at a cost of $25. Discounted subscriptions (including a “Compose Your Own” package from all mainstage series) and single tickets are available for seniors, youths and groups.

For more information, call the symphony’s patron services desk at (804) 788-1212, or visit www.richmondsymphony.com

Dates, programs and artists for the 2014-15 symphony season:

Steven Smith conducting unless listed otherwise
8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets
Subscriptions: $86-$457
Single tickets: $10-$78

Oct. 18-19 – Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) (Michelle Areyzaga, soprano; Jennifer Feinstein, mezzo-soprano; Richmond Symphony Chorus).

Nov. 8 – Marta Ptaszynska: “Lumen;” Richard Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1 in E flat major (Richard King, French horn); Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4.

Jan. 17-18 – Jennifer Higdon: “Blue Cathedral;” Brahms: Symphony No. 3; Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Adam Golka, piano).

Feb. 14 – Duke Ellington: “The Three Black Kings,” “Night Creature,” “Harlem,” selections from “The Best of the Sacred Concerts” (One Voice Chorus, The St. Paul’s Baptist Church Chorus, Richmond Symphony Chorus).

March 7 – Tito Muñoz conducting. Beethoven: “Egmont” Overture; Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 (Stanislav Khristenko, piano); Schumann: Symphony No. 4.

April 18-19 – Benjamin Broening: commissioned work TBA; Sibelius: Violin Concerto (Daisuke Yamamoto, violin); Elgar: “Enigma” Variations.

May 9-10 – Borodin: “Polovtsian Dances” from “Prince Igor;” Bernstein: “Chichester Psalms” (Richmond Symphony Chorus); Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5.

conductors TBA
8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 7), Carpenter Theatre
Subscriptions: $86-$261
Single tickets: $10-$78

Sept. 27 – “ABBA – The Music.”

Dec. 6-7 – “Let It Snow!” (Richmond Symphony Chorus).

Jan. 31 – Preservation Hall Jazz Band with No B.S. Brass Band.

Feb. 28 – “Wicked Divas” (vocalists TBA).

Steven Smith conducting
3 p.m. Sundays, Blackwell Auditorium, Randolph-Macon College, 204 Henry St., Ashland
Subscriptions: $68
Single tickets: $20

Oct. 5 – Cimarosa: “The Secret Marriage” Overture; Stravinsky: Concerto in E flat major (“Dumbarton Oaks”); Respighi: “Trittico Botticelliano;” Mozart: Symphony No. 36 (“Linz”).

Nov. 16 – David Diamond: “Rounds” for string orchestra; Peter Schickele: Bassoon Concerto (Tom Schneider, bassoon); Beethoven: Symphony No. 2.

Jan. 11 – J.S. Bach: “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 3; Stravinsky: “Pulcinella” Suite (1949 version); Mozart: Serenade in E flat major, K. 375; J.C. Bach: Sinfonia in D major.

May 3 – Rossini: “The Italian Girl in Algiers” Overture; Ginastera: Harp Concerto (Lynette Wardle, harp); De Falla: “The Three-Cornered Hat” Suite No. 1;  Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga: Symphony in D major.

conductors TBA
11 a.m. Saturdays, Carpenter Theatre
Subscriptions: $28 ($24 for children)
Single tickets: $12 ($10 for children, students)

Oct. 25 – “Beethoven Lives Upstairs.”

Jan. 24 – Michael Gandolfi’s “Pinocchio’s Adventures in Funland” (Charlotte Blake Alston, narrator).

March 21 – Gregory Smith’s “Orchestra Games.”


Sept. 20 (8 p.m., Carpenter Theatre) – Steven Smith conducting. Smetana: “The Moldau;” Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor (Joshua Bell, violin); Respighi: “The Pines of Rome,” “The Fountains of Rome.” (Tickets: $25-$125)

Nov. 23 (time TBA, Siegel Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Broad and Harrison streets) conductor TBA. “Come and Play,” Richmond Symphony and community musicians. (free)

Dec. 13 (7:30 p.m. Carpenter Theatre) – Steven Smith conducting. Handel: Messiah” (soloists TBA, Richmond Symphony Chorus). (Tickets: $20-$50)

Jan. 27 (time TBA, Carpenter Theatre) – Steven Smith conducting. Program TBA commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and other Holocaust death camps. (Ticket prices TBA)

Feb. 13 (7 p.m., The St. Paul’s Baptist Church, 4247 Creighton Road) – Steven Smith conducting. Duke Ellington: “The Three Black Kings,” “Night Creature,” “Harlem,” selections from “The Best of the Sacred Concerts” (One Voice Chorus, The St. Paul’s Baptist Church Chorus, Richmond Symphony Chorus). (Ticket prices TBA)

May 16 (6 p.m., Altria [formerly Landmark] Theater, Main and Laurel streets) conductor TBA. “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II.” (Tickets: $25-$60)

May 25 (time TBA, Carpenter Theatre) – Steven Smith conducting. Program TBA commemorating the end of the American Civil War. (free)
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with Richmond Symphony Chamber Chorus
Erin R. Freeman conducting
Feb. 23, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland

The marketers of live classical music in this country make a number of assumptions about what does and doesn’t sell tickets. Near the top of the “doesn’t” list is English music other than Handel’s “Messiah.” Also scoring high (that is, low) is baroque music other than “Messiah” and Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

So, for the weekend’s chamber-orchestra concerts, highlighted by Handel’s “Coronation Anthems,” sung by members of the Richmond Symphony Chorus and led by Erin R. Freeman, the orchestra’s associate conductor and choral director, the symphony promoted . . . Mozart’s Symphony No. 34.

Those in the near-full house attending the Ashland performance may have gone home humming a tune from the Mozart symphony; but more likely they were recalling the chorus concluding the third Handel anthem, “The King Shall Rejoice,” which Freeman smartly positioned as the finale of the set. To top off a Handel choral show on a balmy afternoon, you could hardly improve on a jaunty number whose refrain is “Ha! Ha! Hallelujah.”

Mozart’s sublime choral miniature, “Ave verum corpus,” a late addition to the program, which the choristers sang lined up in the aisles of Blackwell Auditorium, proved to be an inspired start, too.

Three of the four anthems, which Handel produced in a hurry for the coronation of English King George II in 1727, are relatively obscure. The first and shortest of the set, “Zadok the Priest,” with its all-but-shouted refrain of “God save the King!” (or Queen, as the case may be), has been performed at every coronation since it was written. Its text has been used since the coronation of King Edgar, a century before the Norman Conquest.

In this performance, “Zadok the Priest” made its customary strong impression; but the longer, multi-part choruses that followed – “Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened,” “My Heart Is Inditing” and “The King Shall Rejoice” – generated more interest with their higher contrasts of mood and more elaborate interplay of choral and instrumental voices. The minuet “Upon Thy Right Hand,” from “My Heart is Inditing,” was probably the musical highlight of the set.

The chamber chorus of about 30 voices sometimes lacked the heft to project over the orchestra – standing on the stage floor, rather than on risers, behind the band didn’t help – but compensated in expressiveness and attention to musical detail. Vocal-instrumental balance was better in “Ave verum corpus,” not suprisingly since the singers were just a few feet from most listeners and since Mozart’s orchestration of the piece is much less extroverted than Handel’s in the anthems.

And the top-billed Mozart symphony? Freeman introduced this three-movement work, Mozart’s last symphony before leaving his hometown of Salzburg to try to make it in the musical big time of Vienna, as an instrumental pre-echo of his later operas, particularly “The Marriage of Figaro.” Whatever the musicological merits of this argument, this short symphony is richly tuneful and nicely contrasts high-spirited outer movements with a proto-romantic central andante.

In her last classical subscription program before vacating the post of associate conductor in Richmond – she takes over the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus next season – Freeman obtained spirited, sonorous performances from voices and instruments alike.
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Virginia Opera
Adam Turner conducting
Feb. 21, Richmond CenterStage

“Ariadne auf Naxos,” the comic opera that Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannstahl produced as a follow-up to their greatest hit, “Der Rosenkavalier,” is a show-within-a-show that almost inevitably comes across as two shows, and wildly mismatched ones at that. But, then, mismatch is the crux of this creation.

A wealthy parvenu’s lavish dinner party is to be followed by a mythological opera, and then comic turns by a commedia dell’arte troupe. (Oh, and fireworks.) The evening is running a bit long, so the master decides to have the tragedy of Ariadne, abandoned by Thesus to pine her life away on a desert island, performed simultaneously with the comic cavorting.

Act 1 is the backstage set-up for this theatrical train wreck – much wailing and drama queenery from the outraged composer and his opera singers, with sneering and giggling counterpoint from the rowdy show folk. Act 2 gives us the preposterous results onstage.

Virginia Opera’s current production, designed by Andrew Lieberman and directed by Sam Helfrich, dispenses with much of the subtle give-and-take of Hofmannstahl’s text and takes its broadly humorous cues from Strauss’ colorful score. This show kits out the comic players as if they were a grunge-rock band, then gives them quasi-Busby Berkeley dance routines. Ariadne’s desert island is represented by a sleep sofa and tilted floor lamp with potted palms. These and other touches garnish the surreality of the story with visual dada.

The contrast between the two acts is underlined by the decision to stage Act 1 in English and Act 2 in German.

At strategic points in both acts, Strauss injects the kind of nobly wistful, long-lined melodies that made “Rosenkavalier” so well-loved. In Act 2, there are several fine samples of this composer’s distinctive writing for multiple female voices (at least one of which also serves as a keen parody of Wagner).

These scenes are the highlights of this show, thanks to the voices of Christina Pier (as the diva singing Ariadne), Audrey Luna (Zerbinetta, star of the comic troupe) and Stephanie Lauricella (the composer). Pier and Lauricella have the warm, hefty, soulful Strauss style well in hand. Luna sets off the needed sparks dashes with her coloratura vocalizing, and adds flesh and blood to her character’s show-girl persona.

Amanda Opuszynski, Courtney Miller and Jessica Julin are in fine voice, individually and collectively, as the trio of nymphs who hover around (and psychoanalyze) Ariadne.

In the most prominent male role, Ric Furman (Bacchus) nicely contrasts the boy-toy tenor offstage character with the soulful rescuer of Ariadne in the opera. Edwin Vega exudes sly good cheer as the Dancing Master. Jake Gardner (the Music Teacher) and Mike Schaeffer (the Major Domo) sing straightforwardly and act broadly, not inappropriately for these characters.

Virginia Opera generally draws on the Virginia Symphony or Richmond Symphony for its pit orchestra. As both are giving concerts this weekend, a group billed as the Bel’ Aria Ensemble, whose roster includes Karen Johnson, former concertmaster of the Richmond Symphony, and several other members of the orchestra, performs on these Richmond “Ariadne” dates. Adam Turner, Virginia Opera’s resident conductor, takes over from Garrett Keast, who led earlier performances in Norfolk and Fairfax.

In the first of two Richmond performances, Turner was a steady, attentive musical director. The orchestra sounded rather thin, especially in the strings, but also well-attuned to Strauss’ orchestral voice.

Virginia Opera’s run of “Ariadne auf Naxos” concludes with a performance at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage. Tickets: $29-$111. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); www.vaopera.org
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Feb. 20
1-3 p.m. ET
1800-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Satie: “Real Flabby Preludes (for a Dog)”
Pascal Rogé, piano (Decca)

Ravel: Quartet in F major
Soovin Kim & Jessica Lee, violins; Jonathan Vinocour, viola; Soo Bae, cello (Marlboro Recording Society)

Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor
Zuill Bailey, cello; Roanoke Symphony/David Stewart Wiley (Telarc)

J.S. Bach: “English Suite” No. 6 in D minor, BWV 811
Murray Perahia, piano (Sony Classical)

Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622
Martin Fröst, clarinet; Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Peter Oundjian (BIS)

Satie: “Three Distinguished Waltzes of a Jaded Dandy”
Pascal Rogé, piano (Decca)
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Escher String Quartet
Jason Vieaux, guitar
Feb. 15, Virginia Commonwealth University

Chamber music does not get much more fun than Luigi Boccherini’s Quintet in D major, the “Fandango,” for guitar and string quartet, the biggest crowd-pleaser, if not the highlight, of a Rennolds Chamber Concerts program by the Escher String Quartet and classical guitarist Jason Vieaux.

(At least that was the printed order of billing. Much of the audience, I suspect, would have preferred to see the guitarist given top billing.)

The musicians drew great jollity and swagger from the Boccherini’s namesake final movement – all that was missing (sorely) was castanets. The first two movements of the quintet struck me as a bit too measured in tempo and careful in articulation and accenting, sounding elegant but short on verve and spontaneity.

The program opened with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2, which proved to be a showcase of the Escher’s strengths. This work encapsulates the voices that Mendelssohn assumed in his greatest works – stormy drama in its outer movements, quicksilver speed and lightness in its scherzo, high sentiment in its andante; and the ensemble captured all those voices in a performance of understated but revealing virtuosity.

The collective sound of violinists Adam Barnett-Hart and Aaron Boyd, violist Pierre Lapointe and cellist Dane Jonansen was not especially big or overly assertive, but highly focused and surprisingly room-filling.

Unlike the typical string quartet in classical and romantic repertory, the Escher did not treat the first violin as a default lead voice – Barnett-Hart was a presence but not an especially dominant one; and the foursome made a point of rendering internal and contrapuntal voices with exceptional clarity. The duos and exchanges of Boyd and Lapointe were some of the highlights of the performance.

Vieaux, who is becoming a regular visitor to these parts (this was his third Richmond appearance in 10 years), also joined the Escher in Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Quintet, Op. 143, a work whose prevailing neoclassical style makes room for Italianate melody (the composer was a Florentine who emigrated to Southern California before World War II) and energetic, jazzy riffs.

Vieuax’s solo cameo was Mario Giuliani’s “Grande Overture,” a sonata-form compression of the Mozart-to-Rossini style of opera overture to the voice of a solo guitar, played with appropriate lilt, wit and suavity.
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Charles Hague of the American Theater Organ Society, writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, wonders whether the Landmark Theater restoration will include restoration of its currently inoperative 1927 Wurlitzer organ:


Hague notes that this is quite an instrument. From rather dim memories of hearing it 30-some years ago, I would agree.

A local organ maven tells me that the Landmark Wurlitzer has not been regularly maintained for years, so its restoration is likely to be neither cheap nor easy.

One hopes that the current restoration’s planners and builders will treat the organ according to the Hippocratic Oath: “[A]bstain from doing harm.”

ADDENDUM (Feb. 24): The Landmark Theater, formerly the Mosque, is now the Altria Theater, formerly the Landmark Theater.
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Feb. 8, Richmond Public Library

Carsten Schmidt, packing an ornate and richly sonorous harpsichord – a Cornelis Bom instrument, dating from 2012, modeled after several Flemish harpsichords of the mid-17th century – gave a recital and tutorial to a full house in the first of two weekend performances, part of the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia’s current season, exploring “Aspects of Time.”

The time frame here was the 1650s; the place, Paris. Schmidt imagined a meeting between the French keyboard master Louis Couperin and a traveler from Vienna, Johann Jakob Froberger. Whether such a meeting ever happened is not known, but would not have been unlikely, Schmidt said.

In any event, French harpsichord style, derived from lute music, and the Central European style, more akin to organ music, began to trade influences and techniques around this time, as Schmidt demonstrated in a succession of excerpts from works by Louis and François Couperin (Louis’ nephew) and Froberger.

The setting, the Richmond Public Library’s Gellman Room, is about the same size as the rooms in which this music was heard in its time, though Schmidt noted that the typical 17th-century audience would have been much smaller.

Close proximity to the instrument exposed a range of sound textures and colors that aren’t as audible (if audible at all) in a concert hall.

Schmidt’s performances were quite expressive – he never lets this music’s often elaborate ornamentation bury a melody or rhythmic pattern – and surprising in the dynamism he conjured from a keyboard whose loudness is unaffected by touch.

Carsten Schmidt performs works by Louis and François Couperin, Froberger, Bach and others in “The French Connection,” 4 p.m. Feb. 9 in a private home in Manakin-Sabot, Goochland County. Tickets: $30 (limited seating). Details: (804) 519-2098; www.cmscva.org
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