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Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
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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:

http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/columnists/scott-cantrell/20140510-conductor-or-automaton-the-machining-of-american-orchestra-conductors.ece

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.
4 months ago | |
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May 22
noon-4 p.m. EDT
1600-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM
www.wdce.org

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/20/arts/music/san-diego-opera-raises-money-to-remain-open.html?ref=music&_r=0

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

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/05/19/opera-today-san-diego-rides-again-the-fat-lady-wont-go-away/
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):

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/19/arts/music/mariss-jansons-leads-the-bavarian-in-berlioz-and-shostakovich.html?ref=music

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

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/05/arts/music/philadelphia-orchestra-performs-at-carnegie-hall.html

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:

http://slippedisc.com/2014/05/disturbances-at-berlins-abbado-memorial-concert/
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
www.wdce.org

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)
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Anonymous 4, the female vocal quartet who paced the revival of medieval music in the US, will retire at the end of the 2015-16 season.

The group, whose current members are Marsha Genensky, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, Susan Hellauer and Ruth Cunningham, formed in 1986; they cut back their activities in 2004.

Tom Huizenga, on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog, reports on the singers’ future plans:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/13/311087203/anonymous-4-breaking-up-is-hard-to-do-but-theyre-doing-it
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
www.wdce.org

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 in E major
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, London/Wilhelm Furtwängler (EMI Classics)
(recorded 1952)
5 months ago | |
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Marijuana, you’ll have heard, is legal in Colorado. People like to listen to music when they’re high, so I’m told. What’s the Colorado Symphony to do? (Other than Scriabin, ASAP.)

The Denver Post’s Ray Mark Rinaldi reports:

http://www.denverpost.com/entertainment/ci_25656494/colorado-symphony-cannabis-industry-find-harmony-concert-series#ixzz30IRySTDn

UPDATE 1: Second thoughts:

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_25723815/denver-asks-colorado-symphony-call-off-bring-your

UPDATE 2: Yet another twist:

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_25753862/colorado-symphony-cannabis-concerts-will-go-by-invitation

UPDATE 3: Joel Warner reports on the concert for Slate:
 
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/05/classically_cannabis_concert_review_colorado_symphony_orchestra_s_high_note.html

(Read the fine print: That’s a photo illustration.)
5 months ago | |
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Four fruitful years for classical music . . .

May 8
noon-4 p.m. EDT
1600-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM
www.wdce.org


Hour 1: 1837

Schumann: “Kinderszenen”
Radu Lupu, piano (Decca)

Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49
Emanuel Ax, piano; Itzhak Perlman, violin; Yo-Yo Ma, cello (Sony Classical)

Chopin: Nocturne in G minor, Op. 37, No. 1
Ivan Moravec, piano (Nonesuch)


Hour 2: 1880

Brahms: “Academic Festival” Overture
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Charles Mackerras (Telarc)

Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor
Philippe Gaudin, violin
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/ Martyn Brabbins (Hyperion)

Past Masters:
Tchaikovsky: “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy-Overture
English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Britten (BBC Music)
(recorded 1968)


Hour 3: 1908

Past Masters:
Stravinsky: “Scherzo fantastique”
CBC Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky (Sony Classical)
(recorded 1962)

Past Masters:
Mahler: “Das Lied von der Erde” – “Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde”
James King, tenor
Vienna Philharmonic/ Leonard Bernstein (Decca)
(recorded 1966)

Webern: Passacaglia
Cleveland Orchestra/ Christoph von Dohnányi (London)

Ravel: “Gaspard de la nuit”
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano (London)

Ives: “The Unanswered Question”
Cleveland Orchestra/Christoph von Dohnányi (London)


Hour 4: 1944

Hindemith: “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber”
Philadelphia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch (EMI Classics)

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

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 – IV: Allegro giocoso
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin (RCA Victor)
5 months ago | |
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