Letter V
Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
1353 Entries

The New York Times’ Corrina da Fonseca-Wollheim explores the complex sound world of Ben Johnston, whose compositions, which call for the sounding of microtones that fall between the notes of the equal-temperament scale, are among the most challenging
in the musical literature. Johnston’s String Quartet No. 7, for example, requires producing more than 1,000 “microscopically distinct pitches.”

Such writing “between the cracks” creates “an open, infinite spiral, a kind of harmonic questing and adventuring that is based on natural phenomena and on pitches generated one from the next,” Sharan Leventhal, first violinist of the Kepler Quartet, which has recorded Johnston’s quartets, tells Fonseca-Wollheim.

The 90-year-old composer uses mathematical terms to describe his tuning system, which is “interrelated to the emotional meaning. But I don’t tell people what it is. It’s like abstract expressionist painting.”


Johnston’s father, also named Ben, was the boss of my father, also named Clarke, at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in the 1940s and ’50s.

ADDENDUM (May 1): The composer, via Kepler Quartet violinist Eric Segnitz, recalls that he worked as a runner for the Times-Dispatch copy desk, and that on April 12, 1945, he handed my father the bulletin reporting the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
5 months ago | |
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April 28
10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT
1400-1700 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Past Masters:
J.S. Bach: Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major,
BWV 564
Michel Chapuis, organ (United Archives)
(recorded 1967)

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218
Pamela Frank, violin
Tonhalle Orchestra, Zürich/David Zinman (Arte Nova)

Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer: “Pièces de clavecin” Book 1 – “Vertigo”
Jean Rondeau, harpsichord (Erato)

Ravel: “La Valse”
Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
(Sony Classical)

“Oiseaux exotiques”
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/
Riccardo Chailly (Decca)

Grieg: Piano Concerto
in A minor
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
Berlin Philharmonic/
Mariss Jansons
(EMI Classics)

Mason Bates: “Rusty Air in Carolina”
Mason Bates, electronica
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/
Gil Rose (BMOP/sound)

Poulenc: “Les Biches” Suite
Orchestre National de France/Charles Dutoit (London)

Haydn: Quartet in F major, Op. 77, No. 2
Takács Quartet (London)

Handel: Coronation Anthem No. 3 – “The King Shall Rejoice”
Choir of Westminster Abbey
The English Concert/Simon Preston (DG Archiv)
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The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Peter Dobrin writes about the under-appreciated, sometimes perilous art of page-turning for pianists in chamber-music concerts – soon to be an extinct art, perhaps, as more musicians turn to screening digitalized scores:


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

While we’re on the subject, belated tips of the hat to Solomon Quinn, the University of Richmond student and pianist who turned pages as Garrick Ohlsson played Elgar’s Piano Quintet with the Takács Quartet on April 15 at UR’s Modlin Arts Center; and to Ohlsson, who showed his appreciation of Quinn’s unobtrusive efficiency with an onstage handshake. A classy act, hardly ever seen by an audience.
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Late substitution duty today on WDCE-FM at the University of Richmond. Seems like a good day for music by George Frideric Handel. (Is there a bad
day for Handel?) I’ll mix familiar pieces such as “Music for the Royal Fireworks” and “Zadok
the Priest” with some undeservedly lesser-
known compositions –
the selections from “Solomon” are some of
his finest choral works –
as well as treatments of Handel’s themes by Beethoven, Brahms (via Edmund Rubbra) and Andrés Segovia.

The menuet concluding the Concerto “a due cori” in
F major should sound familiar – it’s the theme music of Letter V Classical Radio.

April 24
5-7 p.m. EDT
2100-2300 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Handel: “Music for the Royal Fireworks”
Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall (Naïve)

Handel: Suite in D minor – Sarabande (“La Folía”)
Andrés Segovia, guitar (Deutsche Grammophon)

Beethoven: “12 Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Oratorio ‘Judas Maccabaeus’ ”
(“See the conqu’ring hero comes”)
Pierre Fournier, cello
Wilhelm Kempff, piano (Deutsche Grammophon)

Handel: Concerto “a due cori” No. 1 in B flat major
English Chamber Orchestra/Raymond Leppard (Philips)

Handel: Coronation Anthem No. 1 – “Zadok the Priest”
The Bach Choir
The English Concert/David Hill (BIS)

Handel: Concerto grosso in A major, Op. 6, No. 11
Andrew Manze, violin & director
Academy of Ancient Music (Harmonia Mundi)

Brahms: “Variations on a Theme by Handel”
(orchestratation by Edmund Rubbra)
Cleveland Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca)

Handel: “Solomon” –
“Swell, swell the full chorus”
“Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”
“May no rash intruder” (“Nightingale Chorus”)
“From the censer curling rise”
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner (Philips)
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In a piece for The Washington Post, David Lat, founder and managing editor of the legal news website Above the Law, explains why it has discontinued comments from its postings: Offensive and/or irrelevant remarks, creating what’s known as the nasty effect. “[W]hen readers are exposed to uncivil, negative comments at the end of articles, they trust the content of the pieces less . . . and their views on issues become more polarized.”


I was familiar with the nasty effect (although I didn’t know it by that name) when I launched Letter V. It was the reason I decided not to enable comments on this blog.

Comments are welcome here, but they are, in blogosphere parlance, moderated. To comment or ask questions, click on “e-mail Letter V” at the upper right-hand corner and say your piece.

If it’s germaine, insightful, witty or otherwise reader-friendly, I’ll append your comment to the appropriate posting.

If it points out an error, I’ll correct the posting.

If it’s nasty or irrelevant, you’ll vent into the void.
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April 23 is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Over the centuries, no playwright
or poet has inspired more music – theatrical and film scores, symphonic tone poems, chamber music, songs, odes and more.

We’ll mark the anniversary by sampling the vast and varied repertory of Shakespearian music – 
familiar compositions by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Vaughan Williams, as well as lesser-known pieces inspired by the Bard, ranging from his time to ours.

April 21
10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT
1400-1700 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Mendelssohn: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” incidental music –
Overture, Scherzo,
Notturno, Wedding March
Orchestre des
Champs Élysées/
Philippe Herreweghe
(Harmonia Mundi)

anon.: “The Willow Song”
Meredith Hall, soprano
Jacob Herringman, lute (Philips)

Shostakovich: “Hamlet”
film music (excerpts)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/
Riccardo Chailly (Decca)

Purcell: “Timon of Athens” –
Overture & curtain tune
The Parley of Instruments/
Peter Holman (Helios)

Paul Moravec:
“Tempest Fantasy”
David Krakauer, clarinet
Trio Solisti (Naxos)

“Romeo and Juliet”
Berlin Philharmonic/Claudio Abbado
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Thomas Linley Jr.:
“A Shakespeare Ode” –
“At Shakespeare’s
happy birth”
“And now is come”
“Be Shakespeare Born”
Julia Gooding, soprano
Musicians of the Globe/
Philip Pickett (Philips)

Past Masters:
Vaughan Williams: “Serenade to Music”
Norma Burrowes, Sheila Armstrong,
Susan Longfield & Marie Hayward, sopranos
Alfreda Hodgson, Gloria Jennings, Shirley Minty & Meriel Dickinson, contraltos
Ian Partridge,
Bernard Dickerson, Wynford Evans & Kenneth Brown, tenors
Richard Angas,
John Carol Case,
John Noble & Christopher Keyte, basses
London Philharmonic/
Adrian Boult
(EMI Classics)
(recorded 1969)

Korngold: “Much Ado about Nothing” incidental music (excerpts)
Gil Shaham, violin
André Previn, piano
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Henry Rowley Bishop:
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” incidental music –
“Welcome to this place”
“Hark, hark, each Spartan hound”
“Flower of the purple dye”
“Spirits advance”
Rachel Ellliott,
Joanne Lunn & Helen Groves, sopranos
Jeanette Ager, mezzo-soprano
Mark Tucker, tenor
Musicians of the Globe/Philip Pickett (Philips)
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My review for the Richmond Times-Dispatch of cellist James Wilson and fortepianist Carsten Schmidt, playing Beethoven sonatas in a Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia program at Second Presbyterian Church:

6 months ago | |
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My review for the Richmond Times-Dispatch of the Takács Quartet with pianist Garrick Ohlsson, performing at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center:

6 months ago | |
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James Levine, battling Parkinson’s disease and plagued by repeated injuries, is giving up his post as the artistic director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The announcement was not unexpected, given Levine’s infirmities, his prolonged absences and increasing difficulties in consistently managing performances.

The 72-year-old conductor plans to continue at the Met as music director emeritus with a more limited schedule.

Levine, who has led 2,551 performances at the company since his debut in 1971, was named its music director in 1976 and artistic director 10 years later. Today’s Met is often called “the house that Jimmy built.”

Although he has worked extensively with major orchestras (Berlin, Vienna, Chicago, Philadelphia), conducted at the Salzburg and Bayreuth festivals and served as music director of the Munich Philharmonic (1999-2004) and Boston Symphony Orchestra (2004-11), Levine has devoted most of his career to the Met, raising its orchestra to international stature and introducing many works, especially from the modern period, to its repertory. He has been the conductor of choice for many of the leading opera singers of the past two generations.

The Met has not named a successor or disclosed a timetable for appointing one, leading some musicians to tell The New York Times’ Michael Cooper that they are “concerned that a long wait for a new leader could leave the company without strong artistic leadership:”

6 months ago | |
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My review for the Richmond Times-Dispatch of the Matt Ulery Trio and eighth blackbird, playing ensemble pieces by Ulery at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center:

6 months ago | |
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