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31.10.05

Classical Month in Washington (November)

Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature that appears on the first of the month. If there are concerts you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (ionarts at gmail dot com). Happy listening!

Tuesday, November 1, 12:10 pm
Noontime Cantata: Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV 174
Washington Bach Consort
Church of the Epiphany (13th and G Streets NW)

Tuesday, November 1, 7:30 pm
Miro Quartet (Beethoven, Schubert, and Shostakovich)
Freer Gallery of Art, Meyer Auditorium

Wednesday, November 2, 7:30 pm (also November 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 15, 18, and 19)
Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 5)

Wednesday, November 2, 8 pm (also November 3 to 6)
Carmen, Nine Sinatra Songs, Serenade
Washington Ballet
Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater
See the review by Sarah Kaufman (Washington Post, November 5)

Thursday, November 3, 8 pm
Jerusalem Trio with Alexander Fiterstein, clarinet [FREE]
Piano trios by Haydn and Brahms, and Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time
Library of Congress
See the review by Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, November 5)

Thursday, November 3, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony: A Norwegian Celebration, with conductor Bjarte Engeset and pianist Håvard Gimse
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 5)

Thursday, November 3, 7 pm; November 4 and 5, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Stéphane Denève and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, November 4)

Thursday, November 3, 8 pm; Friday, November 4, 8 pm
Teodor Brcko, cello, and Monika Mockovčáková, piano
Music by Francoeur, Schumann, Janáček, Martinů, and Godar
Embassy of Slovakia (3523 International Court NW)
Embassy Series
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 8)

Saturday, November 5, 11 am
Child-Centered Look-In Performance of the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
One-hour program hosted by WJLA-TV/Channel 7's Maureen Bunyan
Kennedy Center, Opera House
See the review by Mini-Critic (Ionarts, November 6)

Saturday, November 5, 5 pm
21st Century Consort, Homage (music by Arthur Benjamin, Paul Schoenfield, Nicholas Maw, and Stephen Jaffe)
Hirshhorn Museum
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, November 7)

Saturday, November 5, 8 pm
National Philharmonic: Mozart's Magic Flute (concert performance)
Kids, age 7 to 17, admitted free
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, November 7)

Saturday, November 5, 8 pm
Left Bank Concert Society: Sums and Parts
Berg, String Quartet (1910); Steven Reich, Music for Pieces of Wood (1973) and Clapping Hands; György Kurtág Jelek, Signs, Games and Messages (1989-97); Johannes Brahms, String Sextet in G Major, Op. 36 (1865)
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, November 7)

Saturday, November 5 at 8:30 p.m.
JCC Symphony Orchestra, directed by Joel Lazar
Rachel Cobb, soprano - Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs
Gildenhorn/Speisman Center for the Arts, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

Sunday, November 6, 12 pm and 1:30 pm
NSO Teddy Bear Concert: Tunes 'n' Tales
Violinist Marissa Regni and harpist Dotian Levalier
For children, ages 3 to 5, who are encouraged to bring a favorite stuffed animal
Kennedy Center Theater Lab

Sunday, November 6, 2 pm
Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
Washington National Opera, live broadcast on outdoor screen [FREE]
National Mall, near the U.S. Capitol
See the review by Jacqueline Trescott (Washington Post, November 7)

Sunday, November 6, 3 pm
Washington Chorus, Carmina Burana and Symphony of Psalms
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 8)

Sunday, November 6, 4 pm
Verdi, Macbeth
Opera Verdi Europa
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)
See the review by Grace Jean (Washington Post, November 8)

Sunday, November 6, 4:30 pm
Contemporary Music Forum (music by Robert Cogan, Pozzi Escot, Pierre Boulez, Ellen Fishman-Johnson, and Jason Eckardt)
Corcoran Gallery of Art
See the review by Gail Wein (Washington Post, November 8)

Sunday, November 6, 5 pm
Marilyn Nonken, piano [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]
Phillips Collection

Sunday, November 6, 6:30 pm
National Gallery Vocal Arts Ensemble (Gregorian chant, laude, and music by Palestrina) [FREE]
Presented in honor of Masterpieces in Miniature: Italian Manuscript Illumination from the J. Paul Getty Collection
National Gallery of Art
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, November 8)

Sunday, November 6, 7:30 pm
Joan Rodgers, soprano, Stephan Genz, baritone, and Roger Vignoles, piano
Recital of Wolf's Mörike-Lieder (VAS)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, November 8)

Monday, November 7, 7:30 pm (at An die Musik LIVE in Baltimore, on November 8, 7:30 pm)
Nicolas Dautricourt, violin, and Eric Le Sage, piano
La Maison Française
See the reivew by Gail Wein (Washington Post, November 9)

Tuesday, November 8, 7:30 pm (Magic Flute)
Wednesday, November 9, 7:30 pm (Don Giovanni)
Salzburger Marionettentheater
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Mini-Critic (Ionarts, November 9)

Tuesday, November 8, 8 pm
Madeline Adkins, violin, and Daniel Schlosberg, piano
Music by Debussy and Enescu
Embassy of Romania (1607 23rd Street NW)
Embassy Series

Wednesday, November 9, 7:30 pm
Musicians from Marlboro (Beethoven, Berg's Lyrische Suite)
Freer Gallery of Art, Meyer Auditorium
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 12)

Thursday, November 10, 7 pm; November 11 and 12, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy and violinist Ryu Goto
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 11)

Thursday, November 10, 7:30 pm
Robert McDuffie, violin, and Christopher Taylor, piano
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater (Fortas Chamber Music Series)
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, November 12)

Friday, November 11, 8 pm
Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble
Embassy of Australia (1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW)
Embassy Series

Saturday, November 12, 11 am
Baltimore Symphony: The Mystery Express
For children, age 3 and up
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun, November 12)

Saturday, November 12, 11 am and 1 pm
NSO Kinderkonzerts: Brought to You by the Letter "B" (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms)
Ages 4 and up
Carole Bean, flute; Dotian Levalier, harp; and William Wielgus, oboe
Kennedy Center, Theater Lab

Saturday, November 12, 2 pm
Alexander Kobrin, Van Cliburn Competition Winner, 2005 (WPAS)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 13)

Saturday, November 12, 8 pm
Woodley Ensemble, Masterworks of the Renaissance (Palestrina, Missa Repleatur Os Meum)
Peter Phillips, Guest Conductor
St. Peter's Catholic Church (313 Second Street SE)
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, November 14)

Saturday, November 12, 8:15 pm (also November 16, 18, 20)
Bellini, La Sonnambula (with Valeria Esposito as Amina)
Baltimore Opera
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, November 14)

Sunday, November 13, 1 pm
NSO Ensemble Concerts: Connections: History and Music (developed by NSO cellist Yvonne Caruthers)
History and music of colonial Jamestown, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the post-Civil War era, and the 20th century
Ages 9 and up
Kennedy Center, Theater Lab

Sunday, November 13, 2 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players (Mozart, Crumb, Franck)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 17)

Sunday, November 13, 3 pm; Saturday, November 19, 3 pm
Family Opera: The Barber of Seville (Lyric Opera of Chicago adaptation for children)
Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia
See the review by Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, November 15)

Sunday, November 13, 4 pm
Cathedral Choral Society: A Haven in America (Barber, Bernstein, Schoenberg, Zeisl)
With Leonard Slatkin, guest conductor, and Reilly Lewis, organ soloist
Washington National Cathedral
See the review by Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, November 15)

Sunday, November 13, 5 pm
David Korevaar, piano [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]
Phillips Collection

Sunday, November 13, 6:30 pm
Håvard Gimse, piano (music by Haydn, Franck, Chopin, and Norwegian composers) [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, November 13, 7 pm
Hilary Hahn, violin (WPAS)
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 15)

Monday, November 14, 8 pm
Concert to Honor the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate [FREE]
Orchestra of St. Luke's and Morgan State University Choir
Conducted by "the Pope's Maestro," Sir Gilbert Levine, KCSG
Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (400 Michigan Avenue NE)
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, November 17)

Tuesday, November 15, 7:30 pm
Donald McCullough, In the Shadow of the Holocaust [FREE]
Master Chorale of Washington
Library of Congress
See the review by Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, November 17)

Tuesday November 15
Washington Musica Viva (music by Mozart, Schumann, Bruch)
Benjamin Redwine, clarinet, Betty Hauck, viola, and Carl Banner, piano
Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum

Tuesday, November 15, 8 pm
Mitsuko Uchida, piano, all-Mozart program (WPAS)
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 18)

Thursday, November 17, 7:30 pm (also November 18 to 20)
Verdi, Falstaff
Peabody Opera Theater
Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, Md.)

Thursday, November 17, 8 pm; November 18 and 19, 8 pm
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater
See the review by Sarah Kaufman (Washington Post, November 19) and the other review by Sarah Kaufman (Washington Post, November 21)

Friday, November 18, 8 pm
Garth Newel Piano Quartet (music by Foote, Turina, and Schumann)
Corcoran Gallery of Art
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 20)

Friday, November 18, 8 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players [FREE]
Music by Prokofiev, Grieg, and the Mendelssohn Octet
Library of Congress
See the review by Grace Jean (Washington Post, November 21)

Friday, November 18, 8 pm
Alexander Frey, piano (A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein: Complete Piano Works)
Embassy of Austria (3524 International Court NW)
With the cooperation of the Austrian Cultural Forum
Embassy Series

Friday, November 18; November 19 and 20
Aureole (ensemble of flute, viola and harp)
Music by Debussy, Ravel, and English pastoral composers
Dumbarton Oaks (Friends of Music series)

Saturday, November 19, 7:30 pm
Celebrating Don Quixote (Manuel de Falla, Master Peter's Puppet Show, plus music by Ravel and Ibert)
Post-Classical Ensemble and Puppetsweat Theater
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Grace Jean (Washington Post, November 21)

Saturday, November 19, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony: Musical Fairytales, with conductor Kwame Ryan, Anita Krause (Judith), and Peter Fried (Bluebeard)
Ravel's Mother Goose Suite and Bartók’s Bluebeard's Castle
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 22)

Saturday, November 19, 8 pm
Carlos Prieto, cello, and Edison Quintana, piano (Songs and Dances from Mexico)
Cultural Institute of Mexico (2829 16th Street NW)
Embassy Series
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, November 21)

Sunday, November 20, 1 pm and 3 pm
NSO Family Concerts: Rip Van Winkle and Other Musical Tales
Ages 7 and up
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, November 21)

Sunday, November 20, 2 pm
Philippe Castagner, tenor
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater (Young Concert Artists series)
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, November 22)

Sunday, November 20, 3 pm
Claremont Trio (music by Beethoven, Schoenfield, and Mendelssohn)
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, Md.)

Sunday, November 20, 5 pm
Antares Quartet, clarinet quartet [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]
Phillips Collection

Sunday, November 20, 6:30 pm
Adkins-Newman Duo (Elizabeth Adkins, violin, and Edward Newman, piano) [FREE]
Music by Stravinsky, Falla, Rosza, and Franck
National Gallery of Art

Tuesday, November 22, 7:30 pm
Guarneri String Quartet (Mozart, Rorem, Mendelssohn)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater (Fortas Chamber Music series)
See the review by Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, November 24)

Tuesday, November 22, 8 pm (also November 23, 25-27)
Suzanne Farrell Ballet (Delibes, La Source; Stravinsky, Duo Concertant; Gould, Ravel)
Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater
See the review by Sarah Kaufman (Washington Post, November 24)

Friday, November 25, 1:30 pm and 8 pm; November 26, 8 pm
NSO Pops: Salute to the Silver Screen
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall

Friday, November 25, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony: Hans Graf Conducts, with violinist Baiba Skride
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 26)

Saturday, November 26, 1:30 and 3:30 pm; Sunday, November 27, 1:30 and 3:30 pm
NSO Kinderkonzerts: Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater

Saturday, November 26, 8 pm
Jaime Torres with traditional Argentine musicians
Embassy of Argentina (1600 New Hampshire Avenue NW)
Embassy Series

Saturday, November 26, 8 pm
Brian Ganz, piano
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre (Rockville, Md.)
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, November 28)

Sunday, November 27, 5 pm
Jessica Lee, violin [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]
Phillips Collection

Sunday, November 27, 6:30 pm
Awadagin Pratt, piano (music by Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt) [FREE]
National Gallery of Art
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, November 29)

Monday, November 28, 7:30 pm
The Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach (WPAS)
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, November 30)

Monday, November 28, 8 pm
JCC Chamber Music Series, performed by members of the National Symphony Orchestra
Programs selected by Leonard Slatkin
Gildenhorn/Speisman Center for the Arts, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

Wednesday, November 30, 7:30 pm
Frank Huang, violin (WPAS)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, December 1)

——» Go to Classical Month in Washington (October).

The Châtelet Ring, Part 2

Châtelet Ring, Robert Wilson, October 2005
Also on Ionarts:

The Châtelet Ring, Part 1 (October 25)
There was no lack of reviews of the Robert Wilson/Christoph Eschenbach Ring at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Christian Merlin got to write about Das Rheingold (Magie subtile des lumières L'Or du Rhin de Richard Wagner au Châtelet, October 21) for Le Figaro (my translation):
One always encounters a new Ring production with a mixture of apprehension and excitement, like the approach of a maiden voyage. This is especially true since with Bob Wilson, it's a bit of a crap shoot. Because he always creates the same staging, the only thing that matters is seeing if the work will work with his system. With Pelléas, it works. Now, we know that it works with Das Rheingold, too. As if by chance, timeless universes, with very strong symbolism. Because ultimately, to stage Wagner, there are really only two options: a very strong historical setting (no matter what exact date or transposition) or, by contrast, a purity that underscores its universality. Wilson opts for the latter and manages it, like Wieland Wagner before him, through the absence of sets: unburdened by accessories, you can concentrate on the essentials, and that is the lighting, of an unheard of subtlety, that is slipped in between the lines of the text. [...]

The other unknown quantity: Christoph Eschenbach's conducting, five years after the catatastrophe of his only Bayreuth experience. He began very well. The prelude was detailed as it rarely is, and the first scene flowed transparently. But he did not keep his distance. Rather quickly, his venial sins returned, with an often negligent placement of instruments. Why did the woodwinds never manage to attack together with him? Because of a lack of vision in the ensemble, with the winds too strong, which aggravates an unpleasant orchestral arrangement, with all the brass amassed on the right. Still, the Orchestre de Paris was far from unworthy. There was even a string sound of the first rank.
Other Articles:

Jorg von Uthmann, Wagner's 'Ring' Features Eschenbach, Singing Zombies in Paris (Bloomberg News, October 26)

Caroline Alexander, Festival d’effets spéciaux (Webthea, October 25)

Martine D. Mergeay, «La Walkyrie» au Châtelet: inaboutie (La Libre Belgique, October 25)

Marie-Aude Roux, Bob Wilson ramène à Paris la folie wagnérienne (Le Monde, October 21)

Eric Dahan, Wilson en seigneur de «l'anneau» (Libération, October 22)

Elisabeth Lebovici, Un «Ring» où se mesure un metteur en scène
(Libération, October 22)

Bertrand Dermoncourt, Wagner, seigneur de l'Anneau (L'Express, October 19)

Simon Corley, A mi-chemin (ConcertoNet.com, October 21)

Simon Corley, Great expectations (ConcertoNet.com, October 19)

Joshua Jampol, Clothes that make the character (International Herald Tribune, October 19), on costume designers at Opéra de Paris and the Châtelet
As for the cast, they were "of quality, without being unforgettable." Renaud Machart wrote the review (Un "Or du Rhin" analytique et décanté, October 21) for Le Monde (my translation):
Robert Wilson's stage adventure, in theater as in opera, is forced to the point of archetypes. The American director has certainly revived a way of staging and imagining lyric drama (he also designs the sets and lighting), before again fixing it in stone: like all artists working in a recognizable style and in a lot of places, he tends toward recycling and cut-and-paste. Much inspired by Japanese theater, reduced, mimed, using both Chinese silhouette and exaggerated lighting, his work is most suited to operas without action, to frescoes, to Greek works like Gluck's Alceste and Orphée et Euridyce, which he staged successfully, six years ago, also at the Théâtre du Châtelet.

Mihoko FujimuraFor this tetralogy, Wilson fans will love to see the cubist kimonos again, the cutting shards of light, hanging screens like the sunshades you see in airplanes, where luminous sunsets seem like an infinite variation on the paintings of Mark Rothko. As for us, we confess we were bored by this imaging of Das Rheingold, as if it had been programmed by a computer direction assistance program on a computer. The conclusion of this scenic festival will tell if Wilson's idea (already premiered at the Zurich Opera) changes at all or persists in this marmoreal and minimalistic chic.
This fall's performances include only the first two operas, with the other two to be staged in January and the complete cycle of four operas this spring. Marie-Aude Roux reviewed Die Walküre (La beauté vocale et scénique de Mihoko Fujimura domine "La Walkyrie", October 23) for Le Monde. According to her, most of the cast was rather disappointing, as was the conducting of Eschenbach. Only two singers merited her praise (my translation):
Squarely impressive, Stephen Milling's Hunding is a mean one among the mean. That he is destined to kill Siegmund in the second act does not surprise us, when even Wotan will not interfere. The voice is beautiful, deep, and broad, and the projection powerful, despite a slight lack of tone in the high range. There's a pretty bevvy of valkyries, too, but the heroine of this cast is Mihoko Fujimura's Fricka. Scenic beauty (what sense of line in her persona) and vocal beauty (what support in her line), this Fricka head of household, who phrases Wagner as if she were singing a Lied, is a genial nag. She is also a true grande dame, who demands admiration and shocks. The domestic scene where she reproaches Wotan for his sexual and emotional infidelities is of an incandescent humanity in its tragic pain of wounded pride.
Other reviewers are not necessarily as harsh on the cast or as impressed with Fujimura. My general impression from the reviews I have read so far is that the critics are disappointed by the cast and mostly puzzled by Wilson's production. Plácido Domingo will take over the role of Siegmund for the complete production in April.

UPDATE:
See also Alan Riding, Audiences Love a Minimalist 'Ring' Cycle; Critics Aren't Sure (New York Times, November 2). Much to my amusement, Mr. Riding appears to have taken a cue from Ionarts, by quoting a few snippets from reviews in Le Figaro and Le Monde. Or did I get that idea from the New York Times? I don't remember.

Boo

Pumpkin Chicks

30.10.05

Classical Week in Washington (10/30)

Classical Week in Washington is a weekly feature that appears on Sundays, in conjunction with my Classical Music Agenda at DCist. If there are concerts that you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (ionarts at gmail dot com). Plan your fall concert schedule with our Highlights of the Concert Season, Fall 2005, and Classical Month in Washington (November), or your fall opera listening with our Opera Preview, 2005–2006.

Tuesday, November 1, 7:30 pm
Miro Quartet (Beethoven, Schubert, and Shostakovich)
Freer Gallery of Art, Meyer Auditorium

Wednesday, November 2, 7:30 pm (also November 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 15, 18, and 19)
Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

Wednesday, November 2, 8 pm (also November 3 to 6)
Carmen, Nine Sinatra Songs, Serenade
Washington Ballet
Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater

Thursday, November 3, 8 pm
Jerusalem Trio with Alexander Fiterstein, clarinet [FREE]
Piano trios by Haydn and Brahms, and Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time
Library of Congress

Thursday, November 3, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony: A Norwegian Celebration, with conductor Bjarte Engeset and pianist Håvard Gimse
Music Center at Strathmore

Thursday, November 3, 7 pm; November 4 and 5, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Stéphane Denève and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall

Thursday, November 3, 8 pm; Friday, November 4, 8 pm
Teodor Brcko, cello, and Monika Mockovčáková, piano
Music by Francoeur, Schumann, Janáček, Martinů, and Godar
Embassy of Slovakia (3523 International Court NW)
Embassy Series

Saturday, November 5, 11 am
Child-Centered Look-In Performance of the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
One-hour program hosted by WJLA-TV/Channel 7's Maureen Bunyan
Kennedy Center, Opera House

Saturday, November 5, 8 pm
National Philharmonic: Mozart's Magic Flute (concert performance)
Kids, age 7 to 17, admitted free
Music Center at Strathmore

Saturday, November 5, 8 pm
Left Bank Concert Society: Sums and Parts
Berg, String Quartet (1910); Steven Reich, Music for Pieces of Wood (1973) and Clapping Hands; György Kurtág Jelek, Signs, Games and Messages (1989-97); Johannes Brahms, String Sextet in G Major, Op. 36 (1865)
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Saturday, November 5 at 8:30 p.m.
JCC Symphony Orchestra, directed by Joel Lazar
Rachel Cobb, soprano - Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs
Gildenhorn/Speisman Center for the Arts, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

Sunday, November 6, 12 pm and 1:30 pm
NSO Teddy Bear Concert: Tunes 'n' Tales
Violinist Marissa Regni and harpist Dotian Levalier
For children, ages 3 to 5, who are encouraged to bring a favorite stuffed animal
Kennedy Center Theater Lab

Sunday, November 6, 2 pm
Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
Washington National Opera, live broadcast on outdoor screen [FREE]
National Mall, near the U.S. Capitol

Sunday, November 6, 3 pm
Washington Chorus, Carmina Burana and Symphony of Psalms
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall

Sunday, November 6, 4 pm
Verdi, Macbeth
Opera Verdi Europa
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)

Sunday, November 6, 4:30 pm
Contemporary Music Forum (music by Robert Cogan, Pozzi Escot, Pierre Boulez, Ellen Fishman-Johnson, and Jason Eckardt)
Corcoran Gallery of Art

Sunday, November 6, 5 pm
Marilyn Nonken, piano [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]
Phillips Collection

Sunday, November 6, 6:30 pm
National Gallery Vocal Arts Ensemble (Gregorian chant, laude, and music by Palestrina) [FREE]
Presented in honor of Masterpieces in Miniature: Italian Manuscript Illumination from the J. Paul Getty Collection
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, November 6, 7:30 pm
Joan Rodgers, soprano, Stephan Genz, baritone, and Roger Vignoles, piano
Recital of Wolf's Mörike-Lieder (VAS)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater

——» Go to last week's schedule, for the week of October 23.

A Child of Our Time

Sir Michael TippettProgramming is likely made easier this year, considering all the milestones and birthdays that occur during the 2005-06 concert season. The obvious instance, which no orchestra or opera company on the planet has missed, is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart. Other anniversaries abound as well, including the 500th birthday of Thomas Tallis and the 80th birthday of Gunther Schuller (stay tuned for future Ionarts reports), the 100th anniversary of the premiere of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in d minor, which will be part of an upcoming NSO program, (a performance of which by the Boston Symphony with Julia Fischer would have been reviewed by Ionarts, had my car’s transmission not blown en route), the 100th anniversary of the birth of Harold Arlen (look for the Baltimore Symphony’s program in December), as well as the 100th birthday of the late Sir Michael Tippett.

The latter was revered by the Boston Symphony under the baton of Sir Colin Davies this weekend. A Child of Our Time -- Tippett’s most performed work -- an “oratorio” for full orchestra, chorus (in this case, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus), and soloists, was performed along with Mozart’s “Posthorn” Serenade No. 9 in D.

Sir Colin DavisDavies has a storied history with the BSO and Tanglewood, as well as with Tippett’s music. This performance marks the first time that the BSO has done the work since Davies introduced it to the Boston audience over 25 years ago. The piece itself is hard to accept as a whole. There is very little continuity, or dramatic interest, in the text alone (a Kristallnacht account written by Tippett with a heavily personal, Jungian slant), or the musical framework, which intermingles 20th-century tonality interspersed with African-American spirituals (what the agnostic Tippett considered a “musical metaphor” for religious emotion), and one tango, for reasons that are beyond explanation. It seems that the piece came at a time when the wartime musical community of England was in need of an emotional catharsis, and Tippett fit the bill, while, in the same vein, trying to work out his own neuroses.

Also on Ionarts:

Tippett...Tippett Good (May 7, 2005)

A Child of Our Time? (May 12, 2005)

Other Reviews:

Richard Dyer, Davis reunites with BSO for memorable 'Time' (Boston Globe, October 29)

Keith Powers, Kristallnact a `Time' for spirituals (Boston Herald, October 28)

Steve Smith, Of Our Time (Night After Night, October 30)
The BSO handled the piece deftly, with its huge fugal sections and clever orchestrations in the pared-down moments. One powerful segment, possibly the best part of the piece, came near the end of the second of three parts. The arrangement of “Go Down Moses” was attacked with a formidable block of sound from all sections. The Tanglewood Chorus impressively sang difficult sections of the piece, like the disjunct fugal moments, from memory, but the overall tone quality was flat, and the sopranos were a bit unwieldy. Tenor Paul Groves, bass Alastair Miles, and mezzo Catherine Wyn-Rogers unleashed singing that was delightful to experience, despite the tediousness of the text. Soprano Indra Thomas’s quality deteriorated when her volume diminished, and, judging from the looks she and Davies were shooting each other, as well as the obvious cues Davies was trying to give her, she was completely lost in the final minutes of the piece.

The writing in this program prominently featured the BSO’s winds, whose fluid technique and intonation were a warm indication of the power of the sections other than the formidable strings. Additional recognition must go to Charles Schlueter, the BSO’s Principal Trumpet, who sat patiently for over 30 minutes before playing 4 minutes of solo posthorn in the Mozart, an instrument (literally the one that they would play when the mail came) whose intonation seemed to require a great deal of effort.

Norway at Its Finest

The Norwegian cultural events in and around Washington, celebrating 100 years of independence, had another gem to offer this Saturday when the young Coucheron siblings (despite their un-Scandinavian name David and Julie are bona-fide Norwegians) were presented by The Embassy Series. Generally “Speech!” applies – but when Jerome Barry took on the candy-unwrapping crowd, he had my full empathy. (How some audience members still try to ‘silently’ unwrap cellophane-packaged candy over the course of five agonizing minutes is beyond me.)

Appropriately enough, the program at the beautiful Norwegian ambassador’s residence was all Norwegian – offering the three Grieg sonatas. To hear them in one sitting and chronological order is more of a delight than the same program of some other composers I can think of would be, because Grieg’s opp. 8, 13, and 45 represent three distinct phases in Grieg’s composing. Sonata no. 1 from 1865 is early Grieg. A life-affirming, youthful, and romantic work strapped unto the classical sonata form, it bubbles along and dispels all Ibsen-colored (or rather: grayed) ideas of Norwegian gloom. The second sonata, composed only two years later, already marks a new stage with Grieg. It is less free-wheeling and more economical in expression. Its fiery last movement is the ideal antidote against long, cold winter evenings for the listeners but especially the performers. The third, finally, hails from 1887 and is composed by the then 44 years old and mature Grieg. It is more ambitious yet and beautiful and grand in equal measure.

It is hard to complain about such a program – indeed pointless when presented with the passion and consummate skill the Coucheron’s brought to it – but it would have been nice, also, to get a reminder that Grieg is hardly the only Norwegian composer that knew how to write great music. Among many that deserve wider recognition and more exposure, Christian Sinding is only one. His two violin sonatas must be heard, and perhaps the Coucheron’s will turn to them in a future Embassy Series program.

Both performers, David on the violin and Julie on piano, have been showered with awards and competition placements for their solo, as well as their team work. While David had a two-year head start and perhaps a more impressive bio printed in the program, I found his younger sister to be even more impressive. The confident and warm touches that she applied to the Residence’s Baby Grand presented the instrument and Grieg in the best possible light – a warm, glowing light that never failed to embed David’s playing in the most congenial manner. The latter’s technical skills are unquestionably impressive, and accuracy was rarely less than pristine. Only his tone failed to impress on the highest level. Size might be there (it is difficult to tell in an such an intimate setting – nor is it desirable to blast away on such an occasion), but more of a burnished quality, more nuance, variation on one hand and more evenness between the beginning and end of a given note on the other would have given his interpretation the last bit of quality that makes the difference between “very good” or “impressive” and “stunning” or “utterly convincing” – to use these stock phrases from the critic's review-writing kit. Generally better in the animated passages, his performance of the Allegro animato of the second sonata, meanwhile, was little short of inspired.

A sonata performance is more than the sum of its parts (or less, on more unfortunate occasions), and energy and passion coupled with high-quality performance clearly elevated all three sonatas above single quibbles that could be had. The Coucheron’s did everyone – from the composer to Norway’s reputation to the Embassy Series, their audience and not the least themselves - a great favor. Then, however, came a miscalculation. Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasy” as an encore was a choice that may have highlighted David Coucheron’s virtuosic playing (although in fact it only exposed several weaknesses), but it was more certainly a wasted opportunity when a Sinding, Bull, Svendsen, or Halvorsen encore would have been more fitting, equally virtuosic, and more interesting. Still, it had that predictable effect on enough audience members that makes these kind of works tempting encores.

We’ve been effusive about the Embassy Series’ offers this year already (some might even say uncritical). And while the musical contributions can be uneven, the mission and purpose of these gatherings go well beyond just the musical content. This particular event, however, must be noted as another success on both counts. The Coucheron’s gave it a head start; the Norwegian Embassy’s absolutely impeccable reception afterwards sealed the deal. It may even have done so, had it been preceded by an organ-grinder recital. Other embassies should take note on how self-representation and cultural diplomacy are done best.

Corigliano Quartet at the LoC

Speeches before a concert should be considered emergency-only measures to illustrate difficult works that need context. Other than that they ought to be avoided, especially when most of the information is contained in the accompanying notes. I am afraid I’ll encounter that sort of speech many more times; to avoid writing similar introductions I will simply state the cause by writing “Speech!” Consider this review of the Corigliano Quartet’s appearance at the Library of Congress on Friday the first such occasion.

I usually don’t go to the events at the Library of Congress anymore, but with Charles’s ears contained elsewhere and with a program that included Aulis Sallinen, Elliot Carter, and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (as well as some Brahms), I simply could not resist. Aside – with that kind of a program seating was bound not to be a problem.

The Sallinen Oboe Quintet, Echoes from a Play, is a tone- and tuneful little thing. The “more than a touch of irony” that Sallinen says is concealed beneath that “overt tunefulness” escaped me entirely, but I enjoyed the work tremendously, nonetheless. Perhaps it was hiding in that beer-hall jaunty one-two–one-two pizzicato accompaniment of the lower strings. With a string quartet and superimposed oboe, the work establishes a modern-music atmosphere that other composers – Tan Dun comes to mind, although he, too, can be economical – need a few more instruments for. (Upon checking the program again, the work is not an “Oboe Quintet” but a work “for Oboe and String Quartet” – which is exactly how it sounds.) Oboist Thomas Gallant, who performed it with the Corigliano Quartet, had commissioned the work and played its world premiere 14 years ago at Ravinia.

Before the Carter, the four young members of the quartet introduced the Library of Congress’s instruments they were playing. Before I cry Speech! again, I’ll admit that their presentation of these instruments’ strengths was actually interesting. (I just don’t know why they felt compelled to praise the Library ever so effusively for lending the instruments to them: playing these instruments does the Library as much or more a favor than it is one for the Library to lend them in the first place. Consequently, virtually every artist performing there is offered that privilege.) Michael Jinsoo Lim, first violinist, gushed about the Guarneri del Gesù Kreisler violin and proceeded to voluntarily out himself as a “huge, huge fan of Kreisler.” Second violinist Lina Bahn loved ‘her’ Amati Brookings, violist Melia Watras the Stradivari Cassevetti, and Amy Sue Barston the Strad Castelbarco cello.

These musicians minus second violin but with the continued support of Mr. Gallant got together for the 2001 Oboe Quartet of Carter’s – originally written for Heinz Holliger. I am not sure how much of the just-displayed sweetness of the strings came across to the audience in that work. With the oboe in prominent position, such works tend to sound like a nervous chicken on acid. I don’t love the work, I just like it… and I would not hold it against anyone if they didn’t. If the quartet is not one of Carter’s pieces that was particular meaningful to me upon first exposure, it certainly wasn’t ugly or abrasive even by modestly conservative standards. As long as I don’t have to pretend to “understand” such works, I find them an enjoyable listening experience. The audience, filtered by the principle of self-selection, appreciated it, too – which was heartening.

Both, the Sallinen and the Carter were written as complementary pieces for the Mozart Oboe Quartet. It would have been a delight to hear the Mozart between Sallinen and Carter, but it was not to be. Not to spare oboist Gallant, however: he had plenty more lung power which he put to good use in the Coolidge Sonata for Oboe and Piano from 1947. It is an ambitious work with a mighty and earnest struggle to claim some bittersweet, some pastoral, sweeping melody. If it were infused with more musical talent, it might have succeeded, too. As it was, we heard a work that struggles audibly, mightily towards greatness (however futile), an underrated work perhaps... and balm to those ears that had been offended by the Carter. Pedja Muzijevic accompanied gallantly.

The Corigliano Quartet was united again in the Brahms, where they played the ever-gorgeous Piano Quintet in F Minor, op. 34 from 1865, with Mr. Muzijevic. He had more opportunity here to display his skill and sensitive playing. Some intonation and tone-production problems of Ms. Bahn – now on first violin with the Kreisler-fiddle – were no hindrance to a warm embrace of this music. Ms. Bartson’s cello work was the most impressive and consistent of the four, alone in making the most of her instrument’s potential. If some of this sounds overly critical, it must be said that the concert was far more than the sum of its parts. In particular because of exciting and intelligent programming, it was an utterly enjoyable evening.

The concert was the Library of Congress’s Founders Day Concert and marked the 80th anniversary of the first concert. Then it included only works of E. S. Coolidge. With its great auditorium, good artists and vibrant (usually Coolidge-free) programs, it’s no wonder the concert series is still around and well.

29.10.05

Cultural Schedule for AMS, Weekend Edition

Saturday, October 29, 7 pm (also November 2 to 19)
George Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center, Opera House

Saturday, October 29, 7:30 pm
Korean Concert Society: 25th Anniversary Concert (International Sejong Soloists)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater

Saturday, October 29, 8:30 pm; Sunday, October 30, 7:30 pm
André-Michel Schub, piano (winner of Naumburg International Piano Competition, Avery Fisher Recital Award, and Van Cliburn International Piano Competition)
Gildenhorn/Speisman Center for the Arts, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

Saturday, October 29, 8 pm
Julie and David Coucheron, piano and violin (brother and sister team from Norway, they will play all three Grieg sonatas)
Residence of the Norwegian Ambassador (3401 Massachusetts Avenue NW)
Embassy Series

Saturday, October 29, 8 pm
National Philharmonic (Haydn, Creation, with tenor John Aler)
Music Center at Strathmore

Saturday, October 29, 8 pm
Timpano et Choro - Music for Choir and Percussion (Dallapiccola, Davison, Bernstein)
Cantate Chamber Singers
Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church (Bethesda, Md.)

Saturday, October 29, 8 pm
The Master Chorale of Washington: Duruflé and Brubeck
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall

Sunday, October 30, 11 am
Holy Eucharist (Choir of Men and Boys or Men and Girls)
Washington National Cathedral (Episcopalian)
Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues NW
(202) 537-6200

Sunday, October 30, 12 noon
Solemn Mass with professional choir
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic)
Fourth Street and Michigan Avenue NE (Metro: Red Line, Brookland/CUA)

Sunday, October 30, 3 pm
The Choral Arts Society of Washington: Handel's Alexander's Feast
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall

Sunday, October 30, 3 pm
Sarah E. Geller, violin, and Vladimir Valjarevic, piano (music by Schumann, Szymanowksi, Franck)
An die Musik LIVE (Baltimore, Md.)

Sunday, October 30, 4 pm
Choral Evensong
Washington National Cathedral (Episcopalian)
Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues NW
(202) 537-6200

Sunday, October 30, 5 pm
Gerard Reuter and Gayle Martin Henry, oboe and piano [FREE, with admission to museum]
Phillips Collection

Sunday, October 30, 6 pm
Puccini, Il Tabarro, and Mascagni, Cavalleria Rusticana
Washington Concert Opera
Lisner Auditorium

Sunday, October 30, 6:30 pm
Paul Galbraith, guitar (music by Mozart, Ravel, Bach, and Ponce) [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, October 30, 7 pm
Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel (Mozart and Schubert)
George Mason University, Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)

28.10.05

Report from AMS

As I wrote on Thursday, I have been attending the national meeting of the American Musicological Society here in Washington. The program committee has been, I think, fairly controlled in the selection of papers (.PDF file) this year, but there are always far more papers I would like to hear than I actually can. As everyone knows about these sorts of conferences, hanging out in the hall and talking to people is at least as important as listening to scholarly papers. However, I have heard some interesting ideas expressed at the meeting, and some of them may be worth writing about here.

On Thursday, I attended the session on Medieval and Renaissance Topics, where David Schiller from the University of Georgia read a paper on the music chanted during the anointing of English kings during the coronation ceremony. It was traditional to sing the antiphon Unxerunt Salomonem Sadoc sacerdos et Nathan propheta, so much so that even Handel used that text in his famous anthem for the coronation of King George II, Zadok the Priest. It has been sung at just about every English monarch's coronation ever since, including that of Queen Elizabeth II. However, for a period after Henry II had Thomas à Becket murdered, the coronation ordo called instead for a different chant, Deum time et mandata ejus observa, meaning "Fear God, and observe his law," which emphasizes that the monarch himself is subject to the law like anyone else. The paper itself did not really answer the questions it needed to, but I was struck by the presenter's decision to ask the audience to sing Deum time, from a facsimile of the Sarum antiphoner. The AMS national meeting is probably one of the few occasions on which someone could ask a group of people spontaneously to sightread from the old musical notation in a medieval manuscript and expect success. We sounded pretty good, I must say.

Available from Amazon:
available at Amazon
Anonymous 4, Love's Illusion: Music From The Montpellier Codex 13th Century
The second paper in that session was much better, presented by Susannah Clark from Merton College, Oxford. It was a detailed analysis of the finer points of the 13th-century motet Joliement / Quant voi la florete / Je suis joliete / APTATUR, from the Montpellier Codex. You can hear this piece yourself on an excellent recording by Anonymous 4, Love's Illusion. A few years ago, the performer and scholar Christopher Page published a book about text and musical performance in the Middle Ages. He had a lot to say about the motet genre, music that was exceedingly sophisticated and almost too packed with artificial layers of allusion to be appreciated in a single performance. (For example, the piece Clark dissected has three different French texts, mixed with Latin in places, over a repeating Latin cantus firmus, and it appears to cite portions of a trouvère melody.) Who wrote this music and who listened to it are still very much at issue in musicological discussion today, and Clark had several interesting points to make about it.

This morning, I heard an excellent paper in the session on Chant as an Expression of Identity, by Barbara Haggh on the Office of St. Jean de Réôme. With her usual encyclopedic knowledge of archival materials, she gave a thorough analysis of the web of notational and source-related questions surrounding this office. I then switched over to my other main area of interest for a paper in one of the 18th-century sessions. Jacqueline Waeber, a Swiss musicologist who now teaches at Trinity College in Dublin, gave a brilliant reassessment of Rousseau's comic opera Le Devin du Village, and its relationship to the low comic style of Italian theater. Rousseau was in so many ways a dissembler, and she has shown the changes the Rousseau made to his score, after the events of the Querelle des Bouffons, because he wanted to recast his work in the light of his new championship of Italian musical style. Lionel Sawkins made a very funny comment about whether in 250 years music historians would be giving as much attention to Cats, which is just about as serious a work of music theater as Rousseau's trifle.

I remained in the French Baroque for the afternoon, when I caught two papers on music derived from the Biblical story of Jephthah, in a session called Representing Politics and Religion in the Seventeenth Century. Beverly Stein of California State University, Los Angeles, analyzed Carissimi's excellent Latin oratorio on the story in terms of a theory about gender and role exchange between Jephthah and the daughter he is forced to sacrifice. I found it a rather obscure and odd way to approach the subject, but I appreciated the detail of the work. Blake Stevens, a doctoral candidate at Stanford, gave a paper about Pellegrin and Montéclair's Jephté (1732), the first French opera on a Biblical subject, which he believes draws on earlier plays and a Jesuit college intermède. Unfortunately, I had to miss the paper by Mark Everist from the University of Southampton, on Mozart's so-called "Twelfth Mass," a piece no longer accepted by Mozart specialists as having been composed by Mozart (K. Anh. 232 / C1.04). It may not be by Mozart, but in spite of the lack of a real critical edition, it continues to feed into the legend of Mozart. As we approach the hagiographical Mozart Year, it is something to think about.

Chills and Hot Flashes from Camerata Nordica

Under the animated leadership of Terje Tonneson, the Camerata Nordica presented a nicely varied program of music for strings at the Terrace Theater last Tuesday. The heart of the performance was Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, op. 10. Preceding it was Handel’s first concerto grosso from his op. 6 set and the interesting but modestly performed Sonata Jucunda in (alleged) D major by Heinrich Biber.

Biber has seen a little Renaissance lately, not the least due to the astonishing efforts of Andrew Manze, whose recording of the Rosary Sonatas won much acclaim and notice. Biber’s Sonata Jucunda for string ensemble goes far beyond the harmonic language we are used to from the 17th century. With audible folk influences, Balkan sounds are created that are akin to those in Bartók’s music from 250 years later. If all that makes for particularly pleasant listening – especially when exaggerated and thin-sounding – is another question.

The then 23-year-old Britten’s variations on a theme of his teacher are understandably one of his most popular pieces. The performance of the Camerata Nordica, benefitting from dedicated and energetic playing, showed why. Standing up, as the Swedish group performs, allows them plenty of physical exuberance, perhaps too much among a few members. Their self-attested “extreme mode of expression” and crop of young players (few, if any, can have been with the Camerata Nordica for all of its regionally illustrious 30-year history) produce a sound that values clarity (and sometimes precision) over warmth.

In the Sibelius 1928 Suite for Violin and String Orchestra, op. 117, that style resulted in a craggy sound that could not merely be described as “Nordic.” It was bereft of any burnished quality that might have gone some way in improving the experience. As if to show that tone alone is not everything in music, the concluding Holberg Suite was excellent again. On par with (although different than) the Orpheus’s recent Strathmore performance and significantly better than the Baltimore SO’s from the same venue, a month later. To hear that work well performed can never fail to lift your spirit. “Pizzicato Polkas” and other string ensemble clownery don’t achieve any lifting of spirits with me – but of course I am a bitter crank - and the audience loved it.

27.10.05

Cecilia Bartoli at the Kennedy Center

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Cecilia Bartoli's Heavenly Oratorio (Washington Post, October 28)

Richard Dyer, Cecilia Bartoli delivers irresistible arias (Boston Globe, October 24)

Anthony Tommasini, When Opera Was Forced Under the Radar (New York Times, October 21)

Joshua Kosman, Bartoli hits new heights, elevating audience as well (San Francisco Chronicle, October 8)
Most critics around the world, myself included, love Cecilia Bartoli's new CD, Opera Proibita (Cecilia Bartoli's New Disc, October 6). You can imagine my anticipation, therefore, of Wednesday night's concert in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, when La Bartoli herself appeared to sing a selection of Baroque arias, mostly from her new CD. Along with Renée Fleming's concert performance of Strauss's Daphne, this was one of the highlights of my fall, brought to the citizens of Washington by the always laudable Washington Performing Arts Society. The house was not sold out, and there were even large gaps in some sections, but Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were both there. Justice Scalia stayed through all four encores and could be seen cheering loudly, proud that evening, certainly, to be Italian-American. The nominee to join them on the bench, Harriet Miers, reportedly also loves opera (Sieglinde has a theory about that). I wondered why she was not there, too, but then the next morning, I learned where she was at 8:30 pm that night.

Additional Commentary by Jens F. Laurson:

In a dress that others have variously described as “mouthwash-colored” or – more kindly – “emerald,” Cecilia Bartoli strutted onto the stage of the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall to a surprising number of empty seats. WPAS presented her in a program that was essentially the recital she has recently recorded for Decca: “Opera Proibita,” a collection of largely unpublished castrato arias by Caldera and Scarlatti with some more familiar Handel thrown in. In each instance, these are lovely – even splendid – works; in large quantity they are at least very impressive. The effect of all these arias in a row (on disc as well as in concert, although in the latter it was broken up by instrumental pieces by Corelli, Caldara, and Handel) is akin to watching a slide show of many very beautiful Renaissance (or Baroque, as it were) paintings in swift succession.

Cecilia Bartoli, a lyric soprano in the guise of a mezzo, stunned with the incredible agility of her voice, which the audience got to marvel at over and over again. Her touches were surprisingly soft in any number of arias, only for her voice to emerge fully exuberant in the next. Her support by the 23-some original instrument musicians of the Zurich band La Scintilla was always amiable and more, if not always, well… scintillating. One would have wished for Marc Minkowski’s Les Musiciens du Louvre to accompany her, although that band would then have had to hold back quite a bit in order not to drown Ms. Bartoli’s fair-sized voice.

Cecilia Bartoli’s expressions during the performance are – how to put this kindly… - most engaged, characteristic, and indicative of her consummate identification with the music she sings; music that seems to run through her veins. It may look corny at times, but it is also genuine and infectious. She shuddered, suffered, and delighted along with and in every note of the music, even those she did not sing. If you forgot your opera glasses at home, though, don’t be to hard on yourself.

The angelic-looking Baroque oboist Jasu Moisio surely had the hearts of a significant portion of the audience’s heart beat faster during his prominent part of Handel’s Lo sperai trovar nel vero, performed in duet with Ms. Bartoli. That he also had complete mastery of his fiendishly difficult instrument only added to the reception he received from the crowd.

Handel’s Disserratevi, o porte d’Averno concluded this dazzling evening – followed by rapturous applause as the audience leapt to its feet as one. Loving both, the music and the audience’s reaction, Cecilia Bartoli delighted with four encores.
Bartoli is making this tour largely to promote her CD. However, she is also, it appears, genuinely interested in bringing her celebrity to bear on the music of sometimes neglected composers, which is the sort of thing that makes music historians' hearts go pitter-pat. Somewhat sadly, she performed this live version not with the ensemble on the disc, Les Musiciens du Louvre – Grenoble, conducted by the highly esteemed Marc Minkowski. Instead, she brought a very good group called Orchestra La Scintilla, musicians from the Zürich Opera Orchestra who specialize in early music, with whom she has worked before as well. In fact, if there is an implied contest in the program, between opera composers Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Antonio Caldara, I have to say that I was perhaps even more impressed by the mature Caldara than I was by the young Handel. Caldara was a formidable composer in the early 18th century, but the vast majority of his music is completely forgotten today.

If I had to pick a favorite aria from the CD, it would likely be Vanne pentita a piangere, Santa Eugenia's aria from Caldara's Il Trionfo dell'Innocenza. It has a beautiful ritornello, which had the most consistently beautiful sound from the orchestra the whole evening, and Bartoli thrilled with stunning pianissimo sounds. Saint Eugenia was, by legend, the daughter of the Roman ruler of Alexandria. As a virgin she dedicated herself to Christ and abhorred the thought of marriage. She fled her father's house, dressed as a man, entered an abbey as a monk, and by her virtue was appointed abbot. While she was in that guise, another woman fell in love with her, and this aria is, I believe, addressed by Saint Eugenia to her, refusing her advances and telling her to repent. Her feast day is December 25, which means that she was martyred on Christmas Day, and that is what tradition records, that she was beheaded on that day in 262. Her body was interred in the Apronianus cemetery on the Via Latina.

A close second was Caldo sangue, Ismaele's aria from Scarlatti's oratorio Sedecia, Re di Gerusalemme. The role of Ismael, son of Zedekiah, the last king of Jerusalem, was probably written for a castrato. Ismael sings this aria at the moment of his death, at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, who murders him to exact revenge on Zedekiah. (Although the Old Testament specifies that Zedekiah saw all of his sons killed, before he was himself blinded, the Book of Mormon has a story about one of Zedekiah's sons, Mulek, who managed to escape the execution. After Jerusalem was destroyed, he supposedly led a few followers all the way to North America.) As Ismael watches his blood trickle away, Bartoli and the orchestra literally faded, morendo al niente in the exquisite final ritornello. I also enjoyed Si piangete pupille dolenti, Francesca's aria from another of Caldara's 40-some oratorios, Santa Francesca Romana. Saint Francesca was a Roman married woman who lived in the 15th century -- she was not even canonized until 1608 -- and she was a remarkable example of charity. She directed her followers out of her home in Rome, the Tor de' Specchi, which became the motherhouse of her new order and still exists in Rome today.

Cecilia Bartoli met all of my expectations, and it was a special pleasure to get to shake her hand after this incredible performance. If you cannot experience this music live, at least do yourself a favor and go buy the CD. Caldara is worth discovering.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Brubeck

Brubeck by Tasic Dragan
Eighty-five years young! When he gets behind the piano he appears very young for sure. The Dave Brubeck Quartet will perform The Mass, an original composition by Mr. Brubeck, this Sunday, October 30th, in the The Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University. Dave will be accompanied by The Baltimore Choral Arts Society and the renowned Morgan State University Choir, all guided by the able baton of my good friend, Choral Arts director Tom Hall.

26.10.05

Cultural Schedule for the AMS

By training, I am a musicologist. As luck would have it, the American Musicological Society is holding its annual national meeting right here in Washington this year, for which I have been a member of the Local Arrangements Committee. This means that for the next four days, I will be spending a lot of time listening to papers -- here is the final program (.PDF file) -- and helping our very busy chairwoman put out any logistical fires that may arise. I will have some reports for you on what interesting things obsess musicologists these days, as well as some information for the attendees.

The AMS DC Web site has an approved concert schedule, but it seems like a good idea to offer a few supplementary resources here at Ionarts. Here are the musical events scheduled, as far as we know, for today and tomorrow. Our weekend edition will appear on Saturday morning. Below, also find a list of recommended museum exhibits available during the meeting, mostly related to music, supplemented by a complete list of Cultural Points of Interest in Washington.

Thursday, October 27, 5:30 pm
Choral Evensong
Washington National Cathedral (Episcopalian)
Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues NW
(202) 537-6200

Thursday, October 27, 7:30 pm
Ying Quartet (music by Tan Dun, Debussy)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater

Thursday, October 27, 8 pm (open dress rehearsal, $10); Friday, October 28, 8 pm; Saturday, October 29, 8 pm
Marc Blitzstein, Regina (conducted by Kate Tamarkin)
Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Catholic University
Hartke Theatre (tickets: $10, $15)

Friday, October 28, 8 pm
Corigliano Quartet with Thomas Gallant, oboe, and Pedja Muzijevic, piano (Coolidge, Carter, Sallinen, Brahms)
Founder's Day Concert [FREE]
Library of Congress, Coolidge Auditorium

Friday, October 28, 8 pm
King's Singers and Sarband
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)

Friday, October 28, 8 pm; Saturday, October 29, 8 pm; Sunday, October 30, 3 pm
Dan Hurlin, Hiroshima Maiden (Bunraku puppet show), with music by Robert Een
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, Md.)

Art Exhibits during AMS

This is certainly not a complete list, but it is a choice selection of exhibits you can see during your visit to Washington this week. For further information, see our list of Cultural Points of Interest in Washington.

Kennedy Center
2700 F Street NW
(800) 444-1324 or (202) 467-4600

National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Avenue NWNational Gallery of Art (6th Street and Constitution Avenue NW)Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
7th Street and Independence Avenue SW
  • National Museum of American History
    14th Street and Constitution Avenue NWFreer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
    Jefferson Drive and 12th Street SW/1050 Independence Avenue SWLibrary of Congress
    Second Street and Independence Avenue SE (Metro: Blue/Orange Capitol South)Baltimore Museum of Art
    10 Art Museum Drive (Baltimore, Md.)Walters Art Museum
    600 North Charles Street (Baltimore, Md.)

  • New Operas in the News

    Jerry Bowles at Sequenza 21 mentioned a new opera that will be performed at Tufts University this spring. Nancy and Tonya: The Opera is -- yes, that's right -- about the figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, who became infamous when the latter's associate clubbed the former's knee. Elizabeth Searle wrote the libretto, and Tufts graduate student Abigail Al Dorry composed the music.

    A few days ago, I mentioned (Russian National Orchestra, October 24) the new opera in the works from gazillionaire composer Gordon Getty. It's on Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, and the Russian National Orchestra "premiered" a few excerpts at a private concert in Moscow last week.

    Robert Levine's article (7 composers and a 1st-time librettist, September 22) for the New York Times reported on the new opera Seven Attempted Escapes from Silence, premiered at the Berlin Staatsoper, which I should have mentioned last month but didn't. The libretto is by novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, and the music was contributed by seven different composers, sections that were actually staged by seven different directors. This all took place in an unusual venue, the industrial storage facility underneath the Staatsoper, not its stage. Shirley Apthorp's article (Safran Foer's Opera Libretto Gets Mangled in Berlin Production, September 26) for Bloomberg News adds an interesting perpspective to the work. I will see if I can drum up some more reviews, to give a better idea of what it was like.

    All I can say about the next one is "Huh?" Tom Service reports in The Guardian (Opera babes, October 25) on Glyndebourne's youth opera project, trying to bring 18- to 30-year-olds to an interest in opera. It's a new touring opera called Tangier Tattoo, and Service spoke with members of a rock band who saw it. The music is by John Lunn, and the libretto is by Stephen Plaice. Service describes it as "a tale of drugs, sex, terrorism and skin decoration, subjects that emerged from focus groups as the most likely to turn on the target audience." How did the rock band react?

    The Suffrajets and I pile back into our minibus. Reactions are still mixed. "The singing does my head in," Gemma says, "and I don't understand why they couldn't just speak the words. It would have worked better that way." Claire is still the voice of optimism: "The only thing that didn't work was the music. There weren't any good tunes. If the songs had been really amazing, you'd be like, guns and bikinis and motorbikes and amazing songs! That would have been brilliant." Alex disagrees: "It seemed insulting to my intelligence. It was a bit young for me. I know what real opera is like, and most people my age will know what opera is, and therefore they're going to look at it and think that wasn't the real thing." Vicky says: "They've tried to take things from TV, and things from musicals and films, and put them all together. People don't understand what to make of it."
    Toward the end of the article, Service says that "they all agree that they would rather have seen a conventional opera than something they felt was trying to be a film." Hmm, imagine that. Yes, I think opera already has enough shocking material as it is. There is no need to tramp it up, for heaven's sake.

    25.10.05

    Embroidered Memories

    Memories of SurvivalA while back, in a post (Water Water Everywhere, October 7, 2004) about the American Visionary Art Museum, I mentioned an incredible exhibit of embroidered images by Esther Nisenthal Krintz, documenting her Holocaust experience. Her family loaned the work to AVAM for two years, during which time it became one of the most popular and moving exhibits.

    There is now an illustrated book, Memories of Survival, by Esther Nisenthal Krintz and Bernice Steinhardt, Esther's daughter(Hyperion).

    [W]hile the panels speak of an almost unfathomable loss and horror, they also stand as one woman's testimony to hope, endurance and the unquenchable passion to bear witness.
    Publishers Weekly (October 10, 2005)
    Bernice Steinhardt will give a lecture in The Great Hall at The Cooper Union, on Wednesday, November 9th, 6:30 to 7:30 PM, followed by a short film by Lawrence Kasdan. Here is a .PDF file containing a poster of the event.

    Takács with Hurdles


    Getting to the National Gallery of Art in the nick of time is not advisable. Especially not if you don't like the idea of getting roughed up by security guard L. Jones. After being barked at, accused of lying, having my ID inspected twice, my guest refused entry, and being held up long enough to assuredly miss the beginning of the Haydn "Emperor" Quartet, op. 76, no. 3, I got to listen to the remainder from behind the curtains outside the West Garden Court. On the other side played the Takács quartet.


    Also on ionarts:

    Takács Marathon, Part II (October 17, 2005)

    Takács Addiction (October 4, 2005)

    Where's My Takács? (March 10, 2005)

    Amazing Audial Alliteration: Borodin, Bartók, Beethoven (October 17, 2004)

    Dip Your Ears, No. 8: Béla Bartók, The Six String Quartets, Takács Quartet (August 5, 2004)
    There was serene beauty in the dampened sound of my national anthem - not only the playing (to the extent that one could tell) but also in the way the music trickled through from the other room. And although I hardly recommend the experience as such, it added an intriguingly melancholic character to that second movement (Poco adagio, cantabile) that went some way in calming my senses.

    Borodin's second quartet in D major I last heard a year ago when the Takács gave a moving rendition at the Corcoran the day after the Corcoran's Chairman of the Board, Otto J. Ruesch, had passed away. I haven't sat in the back of the NGA's venue in a while. It is a healthy corrective and reminder that the sound is not as bad as we often complain: it's much worse. The tubby accoustic turned the (avowedly excellent, as trustworthy sources with better seats assured me) Borodin into a mush that belied the quality of the source. I wonder if the William Nelson Cromwell and F. Lammont Berlin Concerts - despite a glorious and prestigious 64-year tradition at their present location - might ever be moved into the larger and more appropriate space of the NGA's East Building Auditorium.


    available at Amazon
    L.v.Beethoven, Late String Quartets + op. 95,
    Takács Quartet
    Decca

    Beethoven's op. 127 was the second half's offering, and you can't ask for much more than that. Having meandered a couple yards up, I had now a tree in front of my nose, but the sound was much better. So much better, indeed, that it allowed for judgement of the quartet's performance. At least since the Alban Berg Quartet, almost every quartet plays Beethoven with technical precision unheard of just half a century ago. The cold perfection of that approach is the Emerson Quartet who also added a smidgen aggression to the mix. Fairly agressive playing has since become the norm, too... not always to Beethoven's benefit. In the Takács you can hear all these trends, but thankfully they are either put in the service of the music (their usually perfect intonation and execution) or capped at a reasonable level. They stay on that side of energetic playing that is still called "vivacious" and "vibrant," not agressive. That they also have a soft side came out in the Adagio ma non troppo e molto cantabile, the first movement's first part. Violist Geraldine Walther, judging from the Beethoven, is starting to really fit in "with the boys" - it will be interesting to hear their gain in cohesion when they return to Washington for a concert at the Corcoran Gallery on March 31st.

    Presto towards the finale. The Takács may be very good in the slow movements of op. 127, but they are superb when it gets a bit faster. (That's just one reason why it is nice to have a 'warmer' set of quartets next to the Takács - preferably the Vegh's second.) The finale itself sounded slightly rushed but lived up to the high expectations, still. The crowd met the performance with unanimous standing ovations.