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Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
966 Entries

In the ongoing skirmishing between the Metropolitan Opera and its employee unions over labor costs, the company has “pulled back the curtain” to detail costs of staging its $4.3 million production of Borodin’s “Prince Igor.” The Wall Street Journal’s Jennifer Maloney crunches some numbers:


(via www.artsjournal.com)
4 months ago | |
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Linz, Austria, which Adolf Hitler claimed as his hometown (his birthplace was Braunau am Inn, a town on the Austrian-Bavarian border), celebrates music that Hitler’s Nazis banned as “degenerate:”


(via Norman Lebrecht)
4 months ago | |
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Erin R. Freeman, outgoing associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, has been appointed to a new joint position as director of choral activities at Virginia Commonwealth University and director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus. She has led the chorus since 2007.

The new post is being “piloted” as a one-year,
non-tenure faculty appointment at VCU for the 2014-15 academic year.

Freeman’s future with the Symphony Chorus had been uncertain since her appointment last July as director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus.

Taking the new Richmond post means that she “will be continuing her exceptionally fine work with the [Symphony] Chorus, as well as becoming a leader in this heightened collaboration with VCU,” Steven Smith, the symphony’s music director, said in a prepared statement.

“We are delighted that Dr. Freeman will be lending her formidable talents to the VCU community, and we are excited about the potential of this new collaboration” with the symphony, said Daryl V. Harper, chair of the VCU Music Department.

In addition to new responsibilities at VCU, Freeman faces a busy 2014-15 season of performances. The Richmond Symphony Chorus will sing in Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony (No. 2), Handel’s “Messiah,” Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” the “Let It Snow!” holiday pops program and a Duke Ellington program with church and community choirs. The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus schedule includes Rachmaninoff’s “The Bells,” Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative concert and several Christmas and pops engagements.

A native of Atlanta, Freeman sang in the Atlanta Symphony Chorus under Robert Shaw’s direction, and later became a member of his chamber chorus, the Robert Shaw Singers. She came to Richmond in 2004 to conduct the Richmond Philharmonic. She was hired as the Richmond Symphony’s assistant conductor in 2006, and subsequently was promoted to associate conductor. She also led the American University Symphony Orchestra in Washington, and has guest-conducted a number of ensembles.

Freeman has degrees from Northwestern University and Boston University and a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University.
5 months ago | |
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May 29
noon-4 p.m. EDT
1600-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Glinka: “Jota aragonesa”
BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky (Chandos)

Albéniz: “Iberia” – “El Corpus in Sevilla,”
“Málaga,” “Eritaña”
Marc-André Hamelin, piano (Hyperion)

Ginastera: “Variaciones concertantes”
Richmond Sinfonia/George Manahan (Elan)

Haydn: Symphony No. 86 in D major
Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen (Philips)

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano & director
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (EMI Classics)

Beethoven: “Eroica Variations,” Op. 35
Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano (Bis)

Ravel: “Valses nobles et sentimentales”
Alexandre Tharaud, piano (Harmonia Mundi France)

Schubert: Fantasy in C major, D. 934
Jennifer Koh, violin; Reiko Uchida, piano (Cedille)

Stravinsky: “Suite Italienne”
Leonidas Kavakos, violin; Péter Nagy, piano (ECM)

Past Masters:
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
in D major
Leonid Kogan, violin
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Constantin Silvestri (EMI Classics)
(recorded 1959)

Rachmaninoff: “Étude-tableau” in E flat minor,
Op. 39, No. 5
Yuja Wang, piano (Deutsche Grammophon)
5 months ago | |
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The Dallas Morning News’ Scott Cantrell writes that young American conductors, while technically adept and attractive to audiences, too often lack a sense of phrasing, fail to understand tension and release, and otherwise don’t let music breathe:


Cantrell suggests that conducting students receive more grounding in song and dance, approximating the old European practice of putting young conductors through apprenticeships in opera and ballet.

I would add more teaching of history, and not just for young conductors. In my experience, most musicians are clueless about the societies and social currents that informed the music they play.

If you don’t know about a society’s manners and mores, aspirations and priorities, patterns of speech, pace of life, you’ll be at a great disadvantage when trying to grasp the style and subtleties of its music.

Take something as basic as tempo: Brahms, Tchaikovsky and other late-romantics frequently used the tempo indication allegro ma non troppo – fast, but not too fast. Their understanding of that pace almost certainly would differ from the way an early 21st-century composer would perceive it.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, an ordeal that radically transformed politics, society and culture in Europe and elsewhere. From our perspective, the world before that war might as well be a different planet. Classical musicians constantly take listeners to that place, but have no idea about what it was like to inhabit it. That shows in their performances.
5 months ago | |
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May 22
noon-4 p.m. EDT
1600-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Mason Bates: “Mothership”
Alex Burgoyne, saxophone; David Gonzalez Jr., trombone; Kelsey Patterson, flute;
Caleb Miller, piano
Ohio University Wind Symphony/Andrew Trachsel (John Mark Records)

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

Anna Clyne: “Prince of Clouds”
Jennifer Koh & Jaime Laredo, violins
Curtis 20/21 Ensemble/Vinay Parameswaran (Cedille)

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 16 in D major, K. 451
Robert Levin, fortepiano
Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood (L’Oiseau Lyre)

C.P.E. Bach: Cello Concerto in A minor, Wq 170
Peter Bruns, cello
Akademie für alte Musik, Berlin/Stephan Mai (Harmonia Mundi France)

Stravinsky: Concertino
Boston Symphony Chamber Players (Eloquence)

Johann David Heinichen: Concerto in F major, S. 235
Musica Antiqua Köln/Reinhard Goebel (DG Archiv)

Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko (Avie)

Past Masters:
Dukas: Villanelle
Dennis Brain, French horn; Wilfrid Parry, piano (BBC Music)
(recorded 1957)

J.S. Bach: “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047
Maurice André, trumpet; Janos Rolla, violin & director; Maxence Larrieu, flute; Bernard Schenkel, oboe
Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra (EMI Classics)

Brahms: Serenade in D major, Op. 11
(reconstruction of original version)
Czech Nonet (Praga)
5 months ago | |
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Good news on the troubled-arts-troupe front: The San Diego Opera, whose board decided in March to shut down the company, has been revived after a “crowd-funding” campaign raised $1.6 million and activated a $500,000 matching grant. It will stage three productions next season, The New York Times’ Michael Cooper reports:


A less grand, more streamlined opera company is not such a bad idea, opines The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette:

5 months ago | |
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The New York Times’ reviewers have begun to tally the disruptions-by-cell-phone that seem to have become a fixture of concerts in the city. The latest instances, in performances by Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, as reported by James R. Oestreich (scroll down in the review):


More pointed comments on the subject, written earlier in the month by Anthony Tommasini:


I briefly carried a cell phone, but got rid of it because I could barely hear callers and never could figure out how to turn off the thing. A clearly visible on-off switch apparently was too low-tech for the manufacturer. Could that be the problem in New York?

ADDENDUM: Even noisier in Berlin, a member of the audience at a Claudio Abbado memorial concert tells Norman Lebrecht:

5 months ago | |
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with soloists,
Richmond Symphony Chorus,
Virginia Symphony Chorus members
Steven Smith conducting
May 17, Richmond CenterStage

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust” is a drama meant to be read, not staged – imagined rather than seen. That being the case, Hector Berlioz’s “The Damnation of Faust,” an opera meant to be performed without costumes and sets, could be the most faithful of the many musical adaptations of Goethe’s masterwork.

The Richmond Symphony’s concert production, concluding the orchestra’s 2013-14 season, is as dramatically potent as any staged opera seen and heard here in recent years.

As he did two years ago with another Goethe-derived unstaged drama, Mendelssohn’s “Die erste Walpurgisnacht,” conductor Steven Smith shows a real gift for delivering a theatrical punch without theatrical trappings, by turning the orchestra and Richmond Symphony Chorus – this time, supplemented with singers from the Virginia Symphony Chorus – into tonal scene-painters and actors.

With a lot of help from Berlioz, of course: No composer of the 19th century, not even Wagner, was as expert in spinning story lines and creating mood and atmosphere in orchestrations, and few were Berlioz’s equal in fleshing out character and emotion in vocal lines.

Berlioz’s mastery poses formidable challenges to performers. Instrumentalists must be so fully engaged that the composer’s volatile expressive and sound effects seem to erupt spontaneously. Singers must be prepared to emote without inhibition, and often to extend their voices into extremes of volume and register – the tenor portraying Faust has to climb to countertenor elevation; the female choristers are called upon to shriek, then to join a heavenly choir a few moments later.

In the first of two weekend performances, tenor Vale Rideout proved to be a stellar Faust, tirelessly producing the stentorian yet lyrical vocal lines that Berlioz inherited from the French baroque and enhanced with romantic expressiveness. Soprano Elizabeth Bishop, as Faust’s beloved, Marguerite, was comparably expressive, if a bit plummier vocally.

Bass Andrew Gangestad started out voicing little of the insinuating quality one wants to hear in Mephistophele, but turned up the heat and intensity markedly as the character turned more overtly devilish in the later sections of the work. Bass Jason Hardy reveled in the cameo role of Brender, the coarse barroom tale-spinner in Part 2.

The chorus, prepared by Richmond’s Erin R. Freeman and Hampton Roads’ Robert Shoup, was consistently characterful and dramatically charged. The male forces sounded somewhat recessed as a chorus of rowdy boozers, but grew in volume and forcefulness in portraying demons. The women’s projection and ensemble were excellent throughout.

The orchestra, with enhanced wind, brass and percussion sections, produced torrents of sound when appropriate (as in the familiar “Rákóczy March” and the “Pandemonium” scene), but also played subtler sections, such as “Dance of the Sylphides” and “Wills-o-the-Wisp Minuet,” with gratifying deftness. Standout instrumental solos were principal violist Molly Sharp’s duet with Bishop in Marguerite’s “King of the Thule,” principal oboist Gustav Highstein’s accompaniment of the Faust-Marguerite duet and English horn player Grace Shryock’s accompaniment in the Romance.

With so many performers on the stage in this production, the string sections are pushed out from under the theater’s proscenium arch. That costs them some heft and tonal brilliance, and noticeably reduces the projection of lower-string sound.

“The Damnation of Faust,” sung in French with English captions, repeats at 3 p.m. May 18 at the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$76. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);www.richmondsymphony.com
5 months ago | |
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Richard Wagner and his sound world . . .

May 15
noon-4 p.m. EDT
1600-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Wagner: “Tannhäuser” – Overture and “Venusberg Bacchanale”
Berlin Philharmonic/ Lorin Maazel (RCA Victor)

Mendelssohn: “Die erste Walpurgisnacht”
Annelies Burmeister, contralto; Eberhard Buchner, tenor; Siegfried Lorenz, baritone; Siegfried Vogel, bass; Leipzig Radio Chorus
Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig/Kurt Masur (Berlin Classics)

Past Masters:
Wagner: “Die Meistersinger” – Act 1 Prelude
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner (RCA Victor)
(recorded 1959)

Past Masters:
Chausson: “Poème de l’amour et de la mer”
Victoria de los Angeles, soprano
Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Lamoureux/ Jean-Pierre Jacquillat (EMI Classics)
(recorded 1969)

Wagner: “Tristan und Isolde” – Prelude and “Liebestod”
Jessye Norman, soprano
London Philharmonic/ Klaus Tennstedt (EMI Classics)

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo
Järvi (RCA Victor)

Liszt: Sonata in B minor
Garrick Ohlsson, piano (Bridge)

Past Masters:
Wagner: “Götterdämmerung” – Brünnhilde’s immolation
Kirsten Flagstad, soprano
Philharmonia Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwängler (EMI Classics)
(recorded 1952)
5 months ago | |
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