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Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
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“Culture is kind of like a living seed and it can grow in places that are not fertile,” says one of the most prolific cultural gardeners of our time.

That would be Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist, master of crossing cultures and nicest guy in classical music, who on Oct. 7 will be celebrating his 60th birthday.

(Yes, really. Sixty.)

One of the places most in need of musical fertilization is the educational system, Ma tells Martin Steinberg in an interview published in Strings magazine:

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Alexander Paley, piano
Paley and Peiwen Chen, piano four-hands
Sept. 25, St. Luke Lutheran Church

Musical impressionism, with its shimmering colors, rarified harmonies and seemingly open-ended structures, is usually associated with Debussy, Ravel and other French composers of the early 20th century. Pianist Alexander Paley, in the opening concert of his 18th annual Richmond festival, showed that impressionism has Slavic voices, too – notably, Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978), the leading composer of modern Bulgaria.

Paley played Vladigerov’s “Sonatina concertante,” Op. 28, a work that belies its title – it’s no miniature – and probably confounded expectations of what classical music from the most southeastern of Slavic lands might sound like. Who would have expected a main theme theme in the first movement, recurring in the third, that could be a not-too-distant cousin of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square?”

The vaguely “oriental” central andantino of Vladigerov’s sonatina came closer to ethnic expectations, but proved to be an interlude in music mainly driven by moodiness and sophisticated melodic invention.

The “Sonata-Reminiscenza” in A minor, Op. 38, No. 1, of the Russian Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) was somewhat more firmly moored to its national/ethnic origins, but still unmistakably impressionistic, and through much of the piece almost stream-of-consciousness in character.

In both works, Paley devoted as much energy and concentration in illuminating detail as in passionate expression – not that there was any shortage of the latter.

With his wife and piano four-hands partner, Peiwen Chen, Paley played three pieces from the little-known canon of Franz Schubert in this medium: the “Grand Rondeau” in A major, D. 951; Allegro in A minor, D. 947; and “Eight Variations on a Theme from Hérold’s Opera ‘Marie’,” D. 908.

The allegro, known as “Lebensstürme” (“Storms of Life”), was the most satisfying of the three – surely for Chen, who had a more substantive bass line here than in the other two works, but also for the listener in that the music follows a dramatized trajectory rather than the rather obsessive mining of a pleasing but slender tune that predominates in the rondo and set of variations. Paley’s volatile pianism found a better outlet in “Lebensstürme,” as well.

Paley rounded out this opening-night program with performances of Chopin’s “Polonaise-Fantasie,” Op. 61, and the solo-piano version of George Enescu’s “Romanian Rhapsody” No. 1. In both, the pianist summoned quite explosive playing in big climaxes; but both readings also were distinguished by close attention to finer details of phrasing, rhythm and dynamics.

The Paley Music Festival continues with Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26, and chamber music of Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Saint-Saëns at 3 p.m. Sept. 27, at St. Luke Lutheran Church, Chippenham Parkway at Custis Road. Donations are requested. Details: (804) 665-9516; www.paleymusicfestival.org
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Because of the likelihood of rain, the Richmond Symphony has moved its Sept. 26 concert from Pocahontas State Park to the auditorium of James River High School, 3700 James River Road in Midlothian.

The concert, beginning at 6 p.m., will be conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Daniel Myssyk. The program includes works by Berlioz, Bernstein and others.

Admission is free.
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A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled in favor of a group of plaintiffs who maintained that “Happy Birthday,” written in the 1890s by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill of Louisville, KY, is in the public domain.

The publishing division of Warner Music acquired rights to the song in 1988 and has been collecting an estimated $2 million a year in royalties. A spokesman says the firm is “considering [its] options” following the ruling, the Los Angeles Times’ Christine Mai-Duc reports:

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A preview of the Richmond Symphony’s 2015-16 season, with Steven Smith, the orchestra’s music director, joining me in the third hour of the show.

We’ll have lots to talk about: The symphony will be marking the 150th anniversary of the births of Finland’s Jean Sibelius and Denmark’s Carl Nielsen, and performing the rarely heard “Manfred” Symphony of Tchaikovsky and the choral version of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain;” classic Americana from Copland, Barber and Charles Tomlinson Griffes; symphonies by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms and Shostakovich; and much more.

Sept. 24
10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT
1400-1700 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Mussorgsky: “Sorochinsky Fair” –
“St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain”
Anatoli Kotcherga, bass-baritone
Berlin Radio Chorus
South Tyrol Children’s Choir
Berlin Philharmonic/
Claudio Abbado
(Sony Classical)

Ravel: “Ma mère l’Oye” (“Mother Goose”) Suite
London Philharmonic/
Sian Edwards
(EMI Classics)

Past Masters:
Copland: “Appalachian Spring” Suite
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland
(RCA Victor)
(recorded 1959)

Sibelius: “The Swan of Tuonela”
Lawrence Thorstenberg, English horn
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis (Philips)

Stravinsky: Octet
Boston Symphony Chamber Players
(Deutsche Grammophon/

Past Masters:
Nielsen: Symphony No. 4 (“Inextinguishable”)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Jean Martinon (RCA Victor)
(recorded 1966)

Bartók: Divertimento – I: Allegro non troppo
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/
Pierre Boulez (Deutsche Grammophon)

Charles Tomlinson Griffes: “The White Peacock”
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton (Dorian)

Haydn: Symphony No. 92
in G major (“Oxford”) –
IV: Presto
Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen

Tchaikovsky: “Manfred” Symphony –
I: Lento lugubre - moderato con moto - andante
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko
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Is it news that the Metropolitan Opera is finally bringing the curtain down on its 124-year-old tradition of staging Verdi’s “Otello” with the tenor singing the role of the Moor in blackface – or at least bronzed-face?

Or is it news that it has taken the company 124 years to end the practice?

British actors were still darkening their faces for the Shakespeare play as recently as 1990. And when the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “The Mikado” was staged last year in Seattle with the characters made up in what a Seattle Times critic dubbed “yellowface,” it sparked “a wide-ranging discussion of whether the work was a witty satire of the British, an ugly caricature of the Japanese, or both,” The New York Times’ Michael Cooper notes in an article exploring how white performers are made to look when portraying non-white characters:

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Adam Turner, principal conductor and artistic advisor of Virginia Opera, has been selected as the first Julius Redel/Kurt Weill Conducting Fellow in a fellowship program of the Kurt Weill Foundation.

The fellowship’s namesake, Julius Rudel, led the New York City Opera from 1957-79 in its artistic heyday. He later served as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and was artistic director of the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company. Rudel died last year.

The 32-year-old Turner called his selection “an exceptional distinction for which I’m deeply honored. I look forward to the opportunities of the year ahead.” The fellowship, which carries a $10,000 stipend, enables a young conductor to assist in the preparation and performance of a music-theater work by Weill or Marc Blitzstein, an American composer active in the mid-20th century.

Turner will serve as cover conductor to John DeMain in a February 2016 Washington National Opera production of Weill’s “Lost in the Stars.”

Virginia Opera will stage Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins” next fall at the beginning of its 2016-17 season. It is scheduled to run from Sept. 30-Oct. 16, 2016 in Norfolk, Richmond and Fairfax. Having the production led by “a conductor bearing a title of Julius Rudel/Kurt Weill Conducting Fellow is an exciting opportunity for our company,” Russell Allen, Virginia Opera’s president and CEO, said in a prepared statement.
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A program for the Jewish High Holy Days, featuring the “Sacred Service” (“Avodath Hakodesh”) of Ernest Bloch, in the historic recording conducted by the composer.

Sept. 17
10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT
1400-1700 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Mozart: “Don Giovanni” Overture
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/
Neville Marriner (EMI Classics)

Beethoven: Quartet in
C sharp minor, Op. 131
Cypress String Quartet (Avie)

Golijov: “Lullaby and Doina”
Tara Helen O’Connor, flute
Todd Palmer, clarinet
Mark Dresser, double-bass
St. Lawrence String Quartet (EMI Classics)

Salomone Rossi: Psalms 128, 100, 126; sinfonias
Profeti della Quinta (Linn)

Past Masters:
Bloch: “Sacred Service” (“Avodath Hakodesh”)
Marko Rothmüller, bass-baritone (cantor)
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic/
Ernest Bloch (Rockport)
(recorded 1949)

Schubert: Impromptu in
C minor, D. 899, No. 1
Krystian Zimerman, piano
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Brahms: Symphony No. 4
in E minor
Konzerthaus Orchestra, Berlin/
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Orfeo)

Schubert: “Memnon”
(orchestration by Brahms)
Thomas Quasthoff, bass-baritone
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Claudio Abbado (Deutsche Grammophon)
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The resurgence of vinyl records – some 13 million new discs were sold in the US last year – depends largely on a limited stock of manufacturing equipment dating back to the 1970s, resulting in long delays on orders to press discs.

Because the equipment is so old, maintaining it sometimes requires making replacement parts by hand, The New York Times’ Ben Sisario reports:


UPDATE: The view from a new pressing plant – like others, using recycled manufacturing equipment – in Portland, OR, from Melanie Sevcenko for The Guardian:

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My review for the Richmond Times-Dispatch of the opening concert of this season’s Richmond Symphony Masterworks series, including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Symphony Chorus and guest artists:

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