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31.12.05

Would You Like Some Mozart with Your Centerfold?

available at Amazon
W. A. Mozart, Violin Concertos, Sinfonia Concertante, A. S. Mutter, Y. Bashmet / LPhO
Which composer better to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Anne Sophie Mutter’s (ASM) public debut with than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (WAM)?! It is only fitting that Deutsche Grammophon’s latest photo-booklet of her come with two Mozart discs attached. I’ll be the first one to admit that the eight pictures distributed on the in- and outside of the disc and booklet are hot. If ASM posed for the German Playboy, the magazine would sell more copies than when they got “Ice Princess” Katharina Witt to bare it all. But enough with the silly (if true) comments: how is her Mozart, the second time around?

The promotional DVD sent out a few months ago that presents DG’s Mozart Forever celebration in honor of Mozart's 250th birthday allows for some insights into the Anne Sofie Mutter Mozart Project. Mme. Previn is shown during rehearsals of the violin concertos and the Sinfonia Concertante, with long-time collaborator Lambert Orkis in excerpts of what will be a recording of the complete violin sonatas and in a recording session of the late piano trios where she teams up with hubby André (on a regular Steinway) and one of her protégés, the youngish Munich cellist Daniel Müller-Schott.

It shows her conducting and playing with the London Philharmonic (“an orchestra with almost chamber-like qualities” and “a formidable first desk that allows [her] to fulfill her vision of these concertos”) as well as playing snippets of the other works and much of her musing about Mozart and her collaborators. The latter tend to be relegated to nodding, agreeing, and asking questions to answers that Frau Mutter had already written down and memorized. None of this is very filling nor terribly probing, but it is very slick and well done and was only to be a teaser, anyway – showing this unabashedly gorgeous violinist (in her 40s, after all) from her various best sides. Yes (and forgive me if I cannot resist the cheap pun), she is one ‘hot mama’. For pictures to prove that point, check here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here for a small selection of samples.

[Edit: The excerpts talked about in the following paragraph were just an impromptu performance for the video; the actual recordings were made under proper conditions and with Previn playing a Steinway. See also "A.S.Mutter in Mozart".]
The excerpts from the sonatas cannot, must not, be the finished product – since they sound god-awful. The tangy and creaky Mozartflügel may not ever be gotten to sound good (everything that is bad about the fortepiano, none of its merits), but the stringent violin sound frequently off pitch (sparing vibrato on steel strings doesn’t help) makes listening even to half a minute of excerpts grating. Even if much improves, how this odd demi-period style - neither fish nor fowl - is supposed to compete against either Manze-Egarr (HMU) or Podger-Cooper (Channel Classics – now on their second disc of what is going to be a complete set) I do not know. Among non-period style recordings it will compete – complete as it will be – against Barenboim/Perlman, which is a tall order, too. If you are looking just for some of those sonatas, of course, I can only repeat the highest of praise for the Steinberg/Uchida recording on Philips, which I have heaped on that recording - including in the Best Recordings of 2005 overview.

In the trios there is not much that one can tell from the samples. Her musical companions get ASM’s lavish praise, and the issue should bring some deserved main-stream attention to Müller-Schott, who lovingly recorded Raff’s cello works and can also be heard in the Khachaturian concerto, where he shares disc space with Arabella Steinbacher’s rendition of the violin concerto. The reference in the trios is still the Beaux Arts Trio on Philips, and the original instrument recordings with the Mozartean Players on Harmonia Mundi’s budget label Classical Express make for two very delightful discs that are true bargains.

The concertos are now available as the first batch of these recordings – and I’ve been listening to them on and off over a few months. Mozart was of course the composer with which ASM launched her career – K211 in her first public recital and K216 in her famous Salzburg debut under her mentor, Herbert von Karajan. Thanks to Yuri Bashmet’s excellent contribution, we also get the Sinfonia Concertante but not – lamentably if understandably – the apocryphal Adelaide Concerto, which has been proven a (delightful) Marius (not Henri) Casadesus-composed fraud.

'ASM'How her interpretation of the Mozart concertos actually sounds? Well, it’s very… personal. This Mozart has ‘Ego’ written all over it. She arrives upon the scene of concerto no. 2 (K211) like a wild cat thrown into from above, claws ready. And this kitten has attitude, and that is established in almost every note. There are little touches, flourishes, and aggressive new lines that have “Mutter” written all over them. There are even times where she out-nadia-salerno-sonnenbergs Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, although I grant Mutter more judiciously chosen (and constant) tempi.

I don’t know exactly how I feel about the D major concerto (no. 4, K218) where the playing has an electrifying, high tension. It’s exciting, certainly, with extra trills and thrills – but perhaps in the same way as swimming in a pool with an electric eel might be. Alertness everywhere in that Allegro. ‘Alertness’ say some, ‘self conscious’ might come to mind for others. The little touches here and there, the shudders (immaculately precise, all of them) are awe-inspiring but will have purists and many other violinists cringe… and the latter not for jealousy, so much, as for the blatant and gratuitous virtuosity in a work that has natural beauty to offer that (one might think) should suffice. Undeniable, however, is the thrill that that playing can induce in all others, and it is done in undeniably better taste (and executed with more skill) than a lot of other interpreters’ willful appropriations of the music in front of them. The tender-footed Andante cantabile is as sung by a tiny, skillful bird. A completely self-assured bird. The all too carefully phrased solo passage at 5:40, however, might be pushing it. The rock-solid rhythm of the Rondeau: Andante grazioso is splendid and had me catch myself tapping my foot all along. Somewhere above it Mutter trills on forever, precision once again being her calling card. The Allegro in the G major concerto (K216) is fresh and refreshingly brisk, the Adagio of the same concerto rolls out at a pace that borders ponderous. The E-flat major Sinfonia Concertante’s Andante whines a little too much in the solo passages, but the collaboration between Mutter and Bashmet produces a delightful result and Bashmet’s intelligent viola contribution can take a good share of the credit.

This Mozart impresses on many occasions but leaves me unsure if Mozart is the playground where I most want to be impressed. I think that I might prefer just to be delighted (like on Baiba Skride’s recording). Still, I can’t dismiss this CD as much as the combination Mutter/Mozart would have had me be inclined to. Parts of these concertos are plain fun (one eye laughing, one eye crying) and too well done to be scoffed at. If WAM’s contribution to this disc is the primary reason for its success, ASM at least does not stand in the way much. The purist will be horrified, the casual listener delighted. This record, at the very least, beats that worse-than-awful Tchaikovsky recording she recently put out, and we are glad to see standards rise, again.

DG 0005078-02

Opera Preview 2006

This is not a complete list of opera around the world, of course, only a selection of operas this season that interest me. For another perspective on the season, see Curtain goes up on 2005-2006 Opera season (International Herald Tribune, September 3). For the fall part of this year's season, go back to my Opera Preview, 2005–2006.

JANUARY
Bedrich Smetana, The Bartered Bride
Conducted by Charles Mackerras, staged by Francesca Zambello
January 6 to 20
Royal Opera House at Covent Garden
See the reviews compiled by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, January 13)

A Mozart Celebration (excerpts of historic Met radio broadcasts of Mozart operas)
Saturday, January 14, 1:30 pm
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

John Carbon, Benjamin (on life of Benjamin Franklin, premiered in 1987)
January 19 to 21 (in honor of 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth)
Roschel Performing Arts Center, Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, Pa.)

Osvaldo Golijov, Ainadamar
January 22, 24, and 26
Lincoln Center, Rose Theater (New York, N.Y.)
See my comments on the Santa Fe Opera production this summer (Summer Opera: Ainadamar in Santa Fe, August 2, 2005)

Franco Alfano, Cyrano de Bergerac
January 26 to March 16
Metropolitan Opera
On the Met radio broadcast on Saturday, February 4, 1:30 pm
See the review by Bernard Holland (New York Times, January 28)

Mozart, The Abduction from the Seraglio (semi-staged)
January 26 to 28
National Symphony Orchestra
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the double review by Robert R. Reilly and Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 27)

Piotr Tchaikovsky, Mazeppa
January 24 to February 7
Opéra national de Lyon

Adolphe Adam, Le Torédor ou l'Accord parfait (opéra comique based on Feydeau)
January 29
Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne

Bohuslav Martinů, Juliette
January 31 to February 16
Directed by Richard Jones
Opéra national de Paris


FEBRUARY
Stravinsky, Oedipus Rex
February 4 to 16
L'Opéra de Montréal
This production has been CANCELLED for financial reasons (see this article).

Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier
February 4 to March 11
Susan Graham and Anne Schwanewilms
Lyric Opera of Chicago

Alessandro Scarlatti, Cain overo Il Primo Omicidio (sacred divertissement, 1707)
February 6 to 11
Musiciens du Louvre—Grenoble
Opéra de Lyon

Smetana, The Devil's Wall
February 7 to 25
Prague National Theatre

Richard Danielpour, Margaret Garner
February 10 to 26
Opera Company of Philadelphia

Handel, Hercules (oratorio version, staged)
February 14 to 19
Les Arts Florissants, directed by William Christie
Brooklyn Academy of Music

Korngold, Die tote Stadt
February 17 to 25
Deutsche Oper (Berlin)

George Frederick Handel, Xerxes
February 18 to 26
Pittsburgh Opera

Ned Rorem, Our Town [WORLD PREMIERE]
February 24 and 25, March 3 and 4
Adapted by J. D. McClatchy from Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play
Indiana University Opera Theater

Christoph Willibald Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice
February 25 to March 26
David Daniels and Isabel Bayrakdarian
Lyric Opera of Chicago


MARCH
Tchaikovsky, Mazeppa
March 6 to 30
Conducted by Valery Gergiev
Metropolitan Opera
On the Met radio broadcast on Saturday, March 18, 1:30 pm

Pascal Dusapin, Faustus, the Last Night [WORLD PREMIERE]
March 7 to 18
Libretto, in English, derived from Christopher Marlowe
Opéra de Lyon

Schubert, Fierrabras
March 8 to 12
Zurich Oper, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst
Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris)

Jake Heggie, Dead Man Walking
March 11 to 19
Baltimore Opera

Giorgio Battistelli, Prova d'Orchestra (1995)
Libretto based on the film by Federico Fellini
March 12 to 28
De Vlaamse Opera (Antwerp/Ghent)

Wolfgang Rihm, Jakob Lenz (1978)
Libretto based on the play by Georg Büchner
March 15 to 19
Théâtre de la Monnaie (Brussels)

Ludwig van Beethoven, Fidelio
March 20 to April 13
Metropolitan Opera

John Adams, Nixon in China
March 25 to April 1
Portland Opera

Wagner, Das Rheingold
March 25 to April 14
New production directed by Francesca Zambello (beginning of complete Ring cycle)
Elizabeth Bishop as Fricka
Washington National Opera

Kaija Saariaho, Adriana Mater [WORLD PREMIERE]
March 30 to April 18
Conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, directed by Peter Sellars
Opéra national de Paris

Alban Berg, Wozzeck
March 31 to April 13
Canadian Opera Company (Toronto)


APRIL
Benjamin Britten, The Turn of the Screw
April 1 to 9
L'Atelier lyrique de l'Opéra de Montréal

Francesco Cavalli, La Calisto
April 2 to 12
Directed by Ivor Bolton and staged by David Alden
Véronique Gens, Dominique Visse, Kobie van Rensburg
Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich)

Rossini, Tancredi
April 2
Washington Concert Opera (Lisner Auditorium)

Bohuslav Martinů, Greek Passion
April 13 to June 7 (6 performances)
Conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek
Prague National Theatre

Jean-Philippe Rameau, Platée
April 14 to May 6
Choeurs et musiciens du Louvre Grenoble, Mark Minkowski
Opéra national de Paris

Richard Danielpour, Margaret Garner
April 20 to 23
Opera Carolina (Charlotte, N.C.)

Alessandro Scarlatti, Telemaco
April 26 to 30
Opéra-Comique (Paris)

Monteverdi, L'Incoronazione di Poppea
April 29 to May 12
Susan Graham, Frederica von Stade, Nathan Gunn
Houston Grand Opera


MAY
Handel, Rodelinda (Renée Fleming and Andreas Scholl)
May 2 to 19
Metropolitan Opera
On the Met radio broadcast on Saturday, May 6, 12:30 pm

Verdi, Simon Boccanegra
May 3 to June 1
Opéra national de Paris

Purcell, Dido and Aeneas
May 11 to 15
Les Arts Florissants, directed by William Christie
Wiener Festwochen (in Vienna)

Richard Wagner, Parsifal
May 12 to 18
Metropolitan Opera

Rossini, L'Italiana in Algeri
May 13 to 30
Olga Borodina and Juan Diego Flórez
Washington National Opera

Handel, Alcina (1735)
May 14 to 28
Opéra de Lyon

Bartók, Bluebeard's Castle
Schoenberg, Erwartung
May 26 to June 17
Royal Opera House at Covent Garden

Elliot Goldenthal, Grendel [WORLD PREMIERE]
May 27 to June 17
Directed by Julie Taymor
Los Angeles Opera


JUNE 2006
Michel van der Aa, After Life [WORLD PREMIERE]
Libretto by Hirokazu Kore-Eda
June 2 to 9
De Nederlandse Opera (Amsterdam)

Shostakovich, Lady Macbeth of Mzensk
June 2 to July 2
Conducted by Mariss Jansons
De Nederlandse Opera (Amsterdam)

Kurt Weill, One Touch of Venus (1943)
June 1 to 11
Opéra de Lyon

Kurt Weill, Der Jasager/Der Neinsager (1930)
June 7 and 10
Opéra de Lyon

Kurt Weill, Der Lindberghflug and The Seven Deadly Sins (1933) (June 24 to July 4)
Opéra de Lyon

Gluck, Iphigénie en Tauride (June 8 to July 10)
Choeurs et musiciens du Louvre Grenoble, Mark Minkowski, with Susan Graham
Opéra national de Paris

Bartók, Bluebeard's Castle
June 10 to 16
Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Pierre Boulez, with Jessye Norman
Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris)

Schoenberg, Moses und Aron
June 28 (opening of Munich Opera Festival)
Conducted by Zubin Mehta
Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich)

30.12.05

Classical Month in Washington (January)

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!

Wednesday, January 4, 7:30 pm; Wednesday, January 18, 7:30 pm; Wednesday, January 25, 7:30 pm
Andrew Luse, piano
Mansion at Strathmore

Thursday, January 5, 7:30 pm
Lawrence Brownlee, tenor, with Howard Watkins, piano
Vocal Arts Society
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, January 7)

Thursday, January 5, to Saturday, January 7
NSO Pops: Golden Age of Black and White
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Friday, January 6, 8 pm (pre-concert discussion with Robert Aubry Davis, 6:30 pm); Saturday, January 7, 8 pm
Monteverdi and Palestrina
Folger Consort, with Philip Cave, Barbara Hollinshead, Rosa Lamoreaux, François Loup, Drew Minter, and Rob Petillo
Washington National Cathedral
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, January 7)

Saturday, January 7, 1 pm and 2:30 pm
NSO Tunes 'n Tales: Teddy Bear Concert
Kennedy Center Family Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson and Gilligan (Ionarts, January 9)

Saturday, January 7, 1:30 pm
Donizetti, L'Elisir d'amore
Ruth Ann Swenson and Ramón Vargas
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

Saturday, January 7, 8 pm
National Philharmonic: Vivaldi's Four Seasons
Sandra Meei Cameron, Violin
Music Center at Strathmore

Sunday, January 8, 1 pm and 3:30 pm
NSO Ensemble Concerts, Connections: Science and Music (for children, ages 9 and up)
Kennedy Center Family Theater

Sunday, January 8, 4 pm
Randall Scarlata, baritone, and Jeremy Denk, piano
Foundation for the Advancement of Education in the Sciences
Landon School Mondzac Performing Arts Center (Bethesda, Md.)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, January 10)

Sunday, January 8, 5 pm
Twelfth Night: A Celebration of Epiphany and the Winter Solstice
Armonia Nova (Constance Whiteside, director)
Historic Christ Church (Old Town Alexandria, Va.)

Sunday, January 8, 5 pm
Hayk Arsenyan, piano
Phillips Collection

Sunday, January 8, 5:30 pm
Pinchas Zukerman and Zukerman Chamber Players
The Sidney and Charlton Friedberg Concert
Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, Md.)

Sunday, January 8, 6:30 pm
National Gallery Orchestra (José Serebrier, guest conductor)
Viennese New Year Concert
National Gallery of Art
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 11)

Sunday, January 8, 7:30 pm
Choral Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Choral Arts Society
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, January 10)

Tuesday, January 10, 7:30 pm
Dryden String Quartet
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Tuesday, January 10, 7:30 pm
Mozart Celebration (includes quintet for piano and winds and the K. 452 clarinet sonata)
Washington Musica Viva (with Ben Redwine, clarinet, and soprano Elizabeth Kluegel)
Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum (Bethesda, Md.)

Thursday, January 12, 7 pm; Friday, January 13, 8 pm; Saturday, January 14, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with conductor James Conlon
Mozart's Linz Symphony and Wagner's Die Walküre, Act I
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Robert R. Reilly (Ionarts, January 13)

Thursday, January 12, 8 pm; Friday, January 13, 8 pm; Saturday, January 14, 11 am
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Marin Alsop and pianist Piotr Anderszewski Leon Fleisher
Music by Rouse, Dvořák, Mozart
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 13)

Saturday, January 14, 1:30 pm
A Mozart Celebration (excerpts of historic radio broadcasts)
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

Saturday, January 14, 7 pm; Sunday, January 15, 7 pm
Vive Mozart! (selection of classic arias from Mozart's operas)
Opera Bel Cantanti
La Maison Française

Saturday, January 14, 7:30 pm
Christina Jennings, flute, with pianist Lura Johnson
The Mansion at Strathmore

Saturday, January 14, 8 pm
JCC Symphony Orchestra, with Vassilis Varvaresos, piano (Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 1)
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

Sunday, January 15, 3 pm
Richard Spece, clarinet and Alexander Paley, piano
The Mansion at Strathmore

Sunday, January 15, 3 pm
Modern Musick, with Barbara Hollinshead, mezzo-soprano
Handel Cantatas and Concertos
St. Mark's, Capitol Hill

Sunday, January 15, 5 pm
Mark Crayton, countertenor and James Janssen, harpsichord piano
Phillips Collection
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, January 19)

Sunday, January 15, 6:30 pm
Howard University Choir (J. Weldon Norris, conductor)
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, January 15, 7:30 pm
Vassilis Varvaresos, piano
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

January 17 to 22
National Ballet of Canada
Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater
See the review by Sarah Kaufman (Washington Post, January 19)

Wednesday, January 18, 8 pm
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone (WPAS)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 20)

Thursday, January 19, 7:30 pm
Pedja Muzijevic, piano
Turkish-influenced music by Mozart, Liszt, Gurdjieff, Hummel, and Tajcevic
Freer Gallery of Art

Thursday, January 19, 8 pm
BSO at Strathmore: The Art of Picasso
With Stefan Sanderling, conductor, and Manuel Barrueco, guitar
Program includes Stravinsky's Pulcinella
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, January 21)

Thursday, January 19, 7 pm; Friday, January 20, 1:30 pm; Saturday, January 21, 1:30 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Lorin Maazel, and mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus Nancy Gustafson
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 20)

Thursday, January 19, 7:30 pm
Cello Octet Conjunto Ibérico
The Mansion at Strathmore

Friday, January 20, 8 pm
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Charles Dutoit, conductor)
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)
See the review by Gail Wein (Washington Post, January 23)

Friday, January 20, 8 pm (Corcoran Gallery of Art)
Saturday, January 21, 7:30 pm (La Maison Française)
Klavier Trio Amsterdam with Roger Tapping, viola
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 22)

Friday, January 20, 8 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
Wolf Trap, The Barns

Friday, January 20, 8 pm; Saturday, January 21, 8 pm; Sunday, January 22, 8 pm
Paolo Pandolfo, viola da gamba (music by Antoine Forqueray)
Dumbarton Oaks (Friends of Music)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, January 23)

Saturday, January 21, 1:30 pm
Mozart, Die Zauberflöte
Eric Cutler and Nathan Gunn
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

Saturday, January 21, 2 pm
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano (WPAS)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 23)

Saturday, January 21, 7 pm; Sunday, January 22, 7 pm
Axelrod Quartet (Mozart quartets, K. 458, 428, 387)
National Museum of American History (Renwick Gallery)

Saturday, January 21, 8 pm
Conjunto Ibérico (cello octet)
Dumbarton Church (3133 Dumbarton Street NW)
See the review by Gail Wein (Washington Post, January 23)

Sunday, January 22, 2 pm
Jennifer Check, soprano (Young Concert Artists series)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the reviews by Charles T. Downey and Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 24)

Sunday, January 22, 3 pm; Tuesday, January 24, 8 pm; Thursday, January 26, 8 pm
Osvaldo Golijov, Ainadamar
Lincoln Center, Rose Theater (New York, N.Y.)
See the review by Anthony Tommasini (New York Times, January 24)

Sunday, January 22, 4 pm
Kuss String Quartet
Foundation for the Advancement of Education in the Sciences
Landon School Mondzac Performing Arts Center (Bethesda, Md.)

Sunday, January 22, 5 pm
David Bowlin, violin
Phillips Collection

Sunday, January 22, 6:30 pm
National Gallery Orchestra (Otto Werner-Mueller, guest conductor)
All-Mozart program
National Gallery of Art

Tuesday, January 24, 7:30 pm
Natalia Gutman, cello, Slava Moroz, violin, and Dmitri Shteinberg, piano
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 26)

Thursday, January 26, to Saturday, January 28
Mozart, The Abduction from the Seraglio (semi-staged)
National Symphony Orchestra
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Robert R. Reilly and Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 27)

Thursday, January 26, 7:30 pm
Misha and Cipa Dichter, piano (Fortas Chamber Music series)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Grace Jean (Washington Post, January 28)

Thursday, January 26, 8 pm
Lieder by Mozart and Salieri
Elisabeth von Magnus, mezzo-soprano, and Markus Vorzellner, piano
Embassy of Austria
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, January 28)

Friday, January 27, 11 am and 8 pm
BSO at Strathmore: A Morning/Evening with Bach (BSO Chamber Group)
Baroque showcase
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun, January 28) and the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, January 30)

Friday, January 27 (Mozart's 250th birthday), 8 pm; Saturday, January 28, 8 pm
Minetti String Quartet (Mozart and Schubert)
Embassy of Austria
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, January 29)

Saturday, January 28, 1:30 pm
Mozart, Così fan tutte
Magdalena Kožená, conducted by James Levine
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

Saturday, January 28, 7:30 pm
Kelly Smith, soprano
The Lyceum (Alexandria, Va.)

Saturday, January 28, 8 pm
Scott Reiss Memorial Concert/Hesperus Benefit
St. Columba's Episcopal Church (4201 Albemarle Street NW)
With Tina Chancey, Rosa Lamoreaux, Bruce Hutton, Zan MacLeod, and others

Saturday, January 28, 8 pm
Hilliard Ensemble, with bass Robert Macdonald (Gombert program)
Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, VCU School of the Arts (Richmond, Va.)
See the review by Clarke Bustard (Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 30)

Sunday, January 29, 3 pm
Jean and Kenneth Wentworth, piano, four hands (all-Mozart program)
National Academies of Sciences
See the review by Grace Jean (Washington Post, January 31)

Sunday, January 29, 5 pm
Sara Daneshpour, piano
Phillips Collection

Sunday, January 29, 5:30 pm
Renaud Capuçon, violin, and Gautier Capuçon, cello
The Piatigorsky Memorial Concert
Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, Md.)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, January 31)

Sunday, January 29, 6:30 pm
Paratore Brothers Piano Duo
Music by Strauss, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky
National Gallery of Art
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, January 31)

Sunday, January 29, 7:30 pm
Robert Belinic, classical guitar
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

Monday, January 30, 7:30 pm
James Conlon, in conversation with Joe Banno, about operas on Shakespeare
Words on Will lecture series
Folger Shakespeare Library (201 E. Capitol Street SE)

Tuesday, January 31, 7:30 pm
Calder Quartet (WPAS)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 1)

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

Shh! You'll Trip Lebrecht's Wire!

An article (Poll reveals classical ignorance, December 30) from BBC News today has the goods on the British and their knowledge of classical music. Puccini composed The Marriage of Figaro? Elgar was not English? So said those polled about classical music by Sky Digital's ArtsWorld. Fortunately, two of three of those polled thought that classical music should be taught in British schools. Judging from the polling data, I think that is a must, yes.

Jacques Brel Officially the Greatest Belgian

Also on Ionarts:

Modernism in Knokke-le-Zoute (August 6, 2005)

Ionarts ♥ Belgium (March 18, 2005)

The Marquesas (September 24, 2003)

When it comes to popular song, give me words in French, from the 1930s to the 70s. The best of the best, perhaps, is not even French, a Belgian named Jacques Brel. Well, Belgium is 175 years old this year, and they have apparently looked back at nearly two centuries of history as an independent country and made their choice. As reported in an article (Le choix des Belges, December 21) by Jean-François Lauwens for Le Soir, there was one of these "people's choice" elections on RTBF, the French-language national radio and television network in Belgium. Who was the "plus grand Belge de tous les temps," in the opinion of a mass audience of francophone Belgians? It was, I am happy to say, Jacques Brel (my translation):
You can say what you want, but Belgium is still very much a Catholic country. For their Grootste Belg [Greatest Belgian] on VRT [the Flemish-language network], the Flemish voted for Fr. Damien and Abbé Daens. Tuesday night, during the final round of "The Greatest Belgian" on RTBF, the French-speaking public chose a battle between three personalities: a beatified churchman (Damien), a king so Catholic that he abdicated rather than agree to a law legalizing abortion (Baudouin), and someone who made fun of priests and the church, nevertheless known as « abbé Brel ».
Brel was apparently in third place until the final two hours of voting, when 30,000 votes came in for him. Another article (Non, Jacques, t'étais pas tout seul, December 22) by Pierre-François Lovens was published in La Libre Belgique. As I mentioned in this post in 2003, I did indeed buy, while in France, the special new collection of Brel songs that includes the five tracks Brel recorded for his final album but did not include. As far as I can tell, that new album is not available in the United States, but you can order it from Amazon.fr. I never wrote a review of the new songs, but they are worth having, I assure you.

29.12.05

Cédric Tiberghien, Bach Keyboard Partitas

available at Amazon
J. S. Bach, Keyboard Partitas 2-4, Cédric Tiberghien, piano (released October 11, 2005)
Harmonia Mundi HMC901869
The 30-year-old French pianist Cédric Tiberghien has given a lot of concerts and made a lot of recordings for someone his age. Having spent some time listening to his latest recording, released this past October (listen to some sound samples), it's easy to see why. He has extraordinary facility of technique, impressive power, and a daring sense of sound and texture. His upcoming concert schedule is full of engagements, but only in Europe. He has apparently made at least one appearance in the United States, at Carnegie Hall in November 2000.

Tiberghien takes all of the repeats in the three partitas he selected, but with no ornamentation, which misses the whole point of a Baroque repetition. In fact, there appear to be few changes in articulation or shading either. In the allemande of the second partita (C minor, BWV 826), the only real changes I noticed were some 32nd notes in the first section that he slightly flubbed the first time through and got right the second time. That trend continues through pretty much the whole CD. The sarabande here is taken at a droopy pace that does the piece, already somewhat sphinxian, a disservice. He may have chosen the tempo to offer the greatest contrast with the dry, crazed rendition of the rondeau that follows it, as well as the marvelously delineated three voices of the driven capriccio that concludes this partita.

The third partita (A minor, BWV 827) opens with a two-voice fantasia, to which Tiberghien applies the same dry and rhythmic treatment, one of the qualities I very much admire about some of Glenn Gould's Bach. In the partitas (explained very well by musicologist Yo Tomita), the change of name appears to have liberated Bach from the stricter compositional style of the "suites," and he mixes in all sorts of movements with more traditional dances. At the same time, amid pieces that have a more orchestral sensibility, the allemande of this partita retains the lute-like stile brisé, negotiated with great finesse by Tiberghien. However, in some of the faster movements like the three-voice gigue, while Tiberghien's technique is always impressive, it also communicates a harshness of touch that is occasionally troublesome.

Oddly, Tiberghien gives a more pianistic than orchestral performance of the French ouverture of the fourth partita (D major, BWV 828), up through the final page or so, when he extends the pedal point A a couple measures beyond what Bach wrote in the score. Another inexplicably slow tempo and full repeats extend this allemande to a length of 11:37, quite pénible. After the first listening, I usually skipped most of it to get to the charming courante, which is full of verve. The sarabande is even more lifeless than the allemande, stretched out to 7:37. Since it's a rounded binary form, you hear that opening two bars of the A section four times, and there's only so much Tiberghien can do to make it interesting at this tempo, except make it slower and more fragile, which is essentially what he does, to soporific effect.

There is some great playing on this disc, and Tiberghien is clearly a talent. However, I cannot imagine myself really returning to this disc again and again, and it would be pretty low on my list of renditions of these pieces. I have heard better things about his 2003 disc, Beethoven: Variations pour Piano, also from Harmonia Mundi.

28.12.05

Joseph McLellan Dead

Even on vacation, I still do my newspaper reading, and the sad news came to me today -- in an article by Tim Page (A Good Ear, and Heart, December 28) for the Washington Post -- that Washington classical music critic Joseph McLellan died on Monday. Page has some interesting things to say about McLellan's critical stance, which was, as we have noted here before, not particularly critical. He loved listening, and he did a lot of it over his long career. May he rest in peace.

“Munich” – A Real Tragedy Followed by Aesthetic Blunder

Since Ionarts' eyes and ears in Hollywood, Todd E. Babcock, does not contribute as much as we would like, we'll have to sneak other voices in on film. This review comes from George A. Pieler, who attended a pre-screening of Munich two weeks ago. Mr. Pieler would just be another boring Washingtonian Think-Tanker who writes about economics and international relations - but fortunately for us he has an overdeveloped aesthetic sense, is a Bruckner afficionado, and loves French Baroque opera. That's hitting the Ionarts trifecta, making his comments on this film very welcome, indeed. After reading his review I feel like I have already seen the film, back when it was good and still titled One Day in September.

Munich 1972
Can the Western nations ever fight terror effectively? Violence begets violence; the cycle of revenge is relentless and soul-destroying; and terror can never be defeated by turning the methods of the terrorists back against them. These, if any, are the lessons Steven Spielberg seeks to teach us in Munich, his well-crafted and finely acted cinematic essay on the Israeli response to the massacre of its athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

They are also the lessons taught by most really good Hollywood westerns. Yet the best of those westerns have a narrative momentum and lack of pretention that far outstrip Spielberg’s attempt at profound reflection on the price civilized society pays for waging war on terror itself. This extremely able director and his Munich production team seek to serve up complex moral ambiguities but only deliver clichés lacking the dramatic focus that could bring them to life.

Although the public has been warned that Munich is about the retaliation for the Munich massacre, not the massacre itself, it is surprising how ill-defined this pivotal event in Western relations with the Middle East comes across in the film. Yes, scenes from it are revisited over and again during the film, but the actual events of the 1972 Olympics, which brought premeditated terror against innocents into the West’s consciousness as never before, are left strangely vague and imprecise. The motivations of the Palestinian terror squad dispatched to Munich come across as a generic outgrowth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than the precisely calculated effort by the Palestinian leadership to raise their status in Western diplomacy following the expulsion of Palestinian militants from Jordan by King Hussein (beginning in September, 1970, hence “Black September”).

Thus the moral and political conflicts in Munich crystallize around the Israeli operatives dispatched to "bring the perpetrators to justice" by identifying, tracking, and assassinating them. The team leader, Avner, starts his mission with commitment and skill, mingled with trepidation, but ends so thoroughly rattled and conflicted about the justice of his cause that he withdraws completely, terrified his family will be targeted in the next cycle of terror. The lesson Munich offers here is that violent responses to terror will always have collateral damage: some targets of retaliation may be innocent, and any person of conscience will recoil from the task of assassination, no matter how just the cause. This, after all, is what distinguishes war on terror from battlefield combat, where at least the sides are defined and the rules well established.

The Spielberg vision of the war on terror, loosely based on the known facts (not all known for certain to this day) of Israel’s post-Munich retaliation campaign, is that violent response may always be morally unacceptable. He goes so far as to put in Avner’s mouth the very contemporary notion that the Munich perpetrators should be captured and tried with hard evidence “like Eichmann.” But the Eichmann capture and trial was itself extra-legal by contemporary standards and divided both liberal and Jewish opinion in the 1960s: read Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem if you doubt it. If the moral dilemmas of terror, espionage, and covert action could be easily resolved with judicial niceties, then the U.S. trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers would have been the last word on the subject, and 9/11 never would have happened.

That’s just not the way the modern world works. While we may work towards the day when a controlled, clean, legalistic system of justice for dealing with terror will obviate the need for violent response, governments today have to deal honestly and realistically with the options before them: targeted retaliation, as in Munich, military-style response against the interests backing the terrorists, or doing nothing. Spielberg seems to lead us towards the last option, rejecting the moral compromises the Israelis made in favor of a breathtaking moral vacuum that gives us no guidance as to how to act.

Dramatically flawed by repetition and slow pacing, Munich nevertheless merits a look for its deep insights into the thinking of contemporary Western liberals. Not only are there no easy answers, there are no answers at all. The preview audience at the screening I attended responded enthusiastically only to a post-viewing panel comment to the effect that we can never defeat terrorists by adopting their tactics. An easy answer to be sure. That comment (I protect the commenter’s identity out of respect) speaks volumes about the liberal mentality, sweeping indiscriminate terror against civilians (the Munich massacre) into the same moral universe as targeting the terrorists themselves for retaliation. As Munich shows, both sets of actions cause horrendous collateral damage, carelessness, and a degree of indifference to human suffering. Yet to give them moral equivalence is to paralyze nations and peoples who are victims of terror into inaction, surely a recipe for spreading terrorism far and wide.

Terror and its consequences, geopolitical, moral, and personal, is one of the most complex problems on the world stage in the 21st century. Steven Spielberg and his able collaborators have made a sincere effort to dramatize those complexities in Munich but fail to rise above the level of cliché (and at great length to boot). One question wholly unaddressed in the film is the most obvious one: does terrorism work? Many historians today think the Munich massacre was highly effective in that sense, elevating the Palestinian cause in global awareness and beginning the process of giving Palestinians diplomatic recognition. The true lesson of Munich may be that successful terror is less morally troubling than terror fought with aggressive means, which inevitably demands moral compromise from the defenders of civilization.

If so, then since 9/11 the United States and most of the world have been on the wrong track. Most Americans would disagree, and they should disagree with Munich as well.

Vacation

A Loner in SpadesWe are visiting family back in Michigan, and that means that we got here, had dinner, and watched the kids open their last few Christmas presents. Then we did the important things, like watching the Red Wings serve Dallas their vitals on a platter and, this being Michigan, sitting down to a family session of euchre at the dining room table.

There won't be any concert reviews this week, at least not from me, but we do have Classical Month in Washington (January) ready and some prewritten content to be posted for your daily dose of Ionarts. I brought some recordings along for reviewing, which I might get to if there is a long afternoon with children napping. Then again, an afternoon nap never hurt adults either, as far as I know. I may be going with some friends to watch the college hockey Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena. I miss my home state: if you want to pay with Canadian currency, there is a Canadian will call at Joe Louis, of course, for our neighbors to the north.

27.12.05

Vaison-la-Romaine

Ancient theater, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vasio)I lived in France and have been on extended visits to several different regions, so I think I know the country fairly well. I should just stop thinking that, because I am always learning about places that I need to visit. Most recently added to my list is a Roman site, about to undergo a major restoration, described in an article by Sophie Latil (Vaison-la-Romaine : un théâtre si vivant, December 17) in Le Figaro (my translation and links added):

The stone steps of the ancient theater of Vaison-la-Romaine are covered with black gashes, indelible marks of the running water that has worn them away for two thousand years. Lichen has grown on the columns, irrevocably attacking the stone brought from Mont-Ventoux. "Leaving the monument in this state would be to condemn it to destruction," says Jean-Christophe Simon, curator of historic monuments at the Direction des affaires culturelles (Drac) in Aix-en-Provence.

In the first century, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vasio) was the capital of the Vocontii, a tribe of Celtic origin settled in the region stretching from Valence to Digne. The theater, judging by its architecture, dimensions, decoration, and materials used, gives witness to the ancient town's prosperity and is one of the rare structures visible today of the monumental city once found on the La Villasse and Puymin sites. Its construction goes back to the first century with renovations throughout the second century.
There are mosaics that were discovered at the site, and they will be restored, too. The restoration work has been planned so that it will not disturb the Choralies singing festival, which happens every three years in Vaison-la-Romaine, next scheduled for 2007. The Romans built a small bridge over the Ouvèze River in Vasio, too, which is still there.

Peau d'âne

Available from Amazon:
cover
Peau d'âne (Donkey Skin, 1970), Jacques Demy, music by Michel Legrand
The wonder of Netflix continues. They may not have all the French movies I want to watch in their collection, but they have a lot of them. I like the films of Jacques Demy, and I recently watched their copy of his bizarre, kitschy fairy tale, Peau d'âne. Demy stayed fairly close to his source, Charles Perrault's short story of the same name (in English, Donkey Skin), about a princess who is hidden from her own father by her fairy godmother, who disguises the princess in a donkey skin. It is not a story that has made it into the average American child's standard collection of fairy tales. However, Demy transforms the story into something quite different, by adding details that modernize and update it, while also keeping it close to Perrault's original. (The story also fascinated novelist Pierre Loti as a child.)

Also on Ionarts:

Michel Legrand Interview (August 26, 2005)

La Deneuve in Cannes (May 13, 2005)

Le Jazz in Saint-Germain (May 8, 2005)

Agnès Varda, Jacquot de Nantes (February 19, 2005)

Pierre Loti's Toy Stage (December 31, 2004)
Demy's most wonderful invention is the quirky character of the Fée des Lilas, the Lilac Fairy, who is the princess's godmother. The role was played by Delphine Seyrig, the Franco-Lebanese actress seen also in Truffaut's Baisers volés, Buñuel's Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie, and many other films. This fairy godmother is flighty, blonde, beautiful, elegant, vain, and obsessed with decorum and appearances. She reminds me a lot of Madame Emery -- Catherine Deneuve's mother, played by Anne Vernon -- in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. Something happened between the Lilac Fairy and the king in Peau d'âne that made her angry, but neither will tell the princess about it. In the end of Demy's version, after she has hidden the princess away for most of the film, the fairy godmother ends up married to the king.

The modern world creeps in to the fairy tale through the Lilac Fairy, who seems to come from the future or has at least visited our time. She makes a reference at one point to "une pille" (a battery) but then tells the princess, who doesn't understand, not to worry about it. At the princess's marriage at the end, she and the king arrive, mysteriously, in a helicopter. When the king is trying to woo his own daughter, convinced that she is the only princess more beautiful than his recently deceased wife (fulfilling her final wish, that he marry only something more beautiful than she), he reads from the books of poetry that the Lilac Fairy brought him from the future. At least one of the poems I recognized as the work of Guillaume Apollinaire, from his poem L'Amour:
L'anneau se met à l'annulaire
Après le baiser des aveux
Ce que nos lèvres murmurèrent
Est dans l'anneau des annulaires
Mets des roses dans tes cheveux.
The costumes in this film, it's true, are the worst kind of kitsch, a Disney vision of the Renaissance. However, it is so beautifully shot, much of it on location at Chambord and a few other châteaux in the Loire Valley. There are several scenes of Catherine Deneuve, in her donkey skin, running through the woods, slowed down just enough to appear to float but not enough to seem truly like slow motion. These scenes are not narrative, only about showing something beautiful. Michel Legrand's music is good but not as memorable as Les Parapluies de Cherbourg or Les Demoiselles de Rochefort.

26.12.05

2006 Concert Preview

Washington, it is never too early to start planning your concert life in the New Year. Here are some dates to pencil in on your calendar.

Mariss JansonsVISITING ORCHESTRAS:
We are looking forward to visits by several orchestras this winter and spring, beginning with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on January 20, led by conductor Charles Dutoit, at the George Mason University Center for the Arts in Fairfax. On February 13, renowned conductor Mariss Jansons will arrive with his new group, the Royal Concertgebouw, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, sponsored by Washington Performing Arts Society. The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields comes to Strathmore on February 26, with violinist Gil Shaham as their guest conductor. Back to back with that concert, on February 27, the Jerusalem Symphony with Leon Botstein, conductor, will show up at Strathmore. The program includes music by Martinů, Copland, and Prokofiev. On March 10, you could hear the Russian National Orchestra, the group created by Mikhail Pletnev (see my post from October 24) at the George Mason University Center for the Arts, if you can stand the trip out to Fairfax.

However, the big kahuna arrives the following day, on the afternoon of March 11, when James Levine brings the Boston Symphony Orchestra to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, hosted by WPAS. The program includes Elliott Carter's Three Illusions for Orchestra and Peter Lieberson's Neruda Songs, sung -- hopefully -- by the composer's wife, the incomparable Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Frank heard this program at its premiere in Boston. A few weeks later, on March 27, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Kurt Masur will be at the Kennedy Center, with Britten's Simple Symphony and Khachaturian's D minor violin concerto. On the afternoon of April 22, it will be the San Francisco Symphony's turn at the Kennedy Center, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, again hosted by WPAS. This exciting program includes Debussy's Jeux, Berg's Lulu Suite, Wagner's music for Siegfried's Rhine Journey from Götterdämmerung, and the Adagio from Mahler's tenth symphony, with soprano Celena Shafer, whom we have praised before.

Helmut RillingWASHINGTON ORCHESTRAS:
Both the major orchestras in the area have full seasons, but a few events stand out as particularly important. From April 13 to 15, renowned German conductor Helmuth Rilling will lead the National Symphony Orchestra -- his first appearance at that podium -- in a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, with the University of Maryland Concert Choir and the Children’s Chorus of Washington. From April 27 to 29, Mstislav Rostropovich will return to lead the NSO in a marvelous program including Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Op. 33a, and Dutilleux's Correspondances (2003), the latter with soprano Dawn Upshaw, in her first appearance with the NSO.

The same weekend -- April 27, 28, and 30 -- guest conductor Carlos Kalmar will lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a program including John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2003. This particular concert will be presented only at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, not at Strathmore. I, for one, look forward to the chance to hear this piece performed live. The BSO will also host violinist Julia Fischer on the weekend of May 25 to 27, to play Beethoven's violin concerto on a program with the Shostakovich first symphony.

EARLY MUSIC:
The major event of the spring for me is the March 19 concert of viola da gamba player Jordi Savall and his group Hesperion XXI, at Shriver Hall on the campus of Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The program is a survey of folias and pasacalles from 16th- and 17th-century Spain. Unfortunately, the compulsory trip to Charm City will preclude my attendance at another March 19 concert, by Cleveland's Baroque orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, in an all-Bach program at the National Academies of Science. Finally, Giuliano Carmignola is now directing the Academy of Ancient Music, who will give a concert on April 5 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park.

VOCAL MUSIC:
The Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences will present a recital on January 8 by baritone Randall Scarlata. Mostly, I want to hear this concert because Scarlata's accompanist will be Jeremy Denk, who is also a blogger. Bass-baritone Alan Held -- who was impressive in Samson et Dalila last season -- will give a recital on February 3 at Wolf Trap, with pianist Kim Pensinger Witman, who directs the Wolf Trap Opera Company and writes a blog about the experience. Dame Felicity Lott will give a recital with pianist Graham Johnson in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on February 9.

Meredith MonkOn the afternoon of February 12, we look forward to hearing tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt with Opera Lafayette in a program of Rameau airs at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park. That event could not be more different from the February 25 appearance of Meredith Monk and her Vocal Ensemble for The Impermanence Project, at the George Mason University Center for the Arts in Fairfax. We don't want to miss that. We had to miss Ian Bostridge's recital here in Washington this fall, but we will have another chance on March 10, when he will perform at the Library of Congress with pianist Julius Drake and the Belcea Quartet.

OPERA:
The Kirov Opera (or Mariinsky Theater) will be in residence at the Kennedy Center, with Valery Gergiev conducting. They will give a few performances of Puccini's Turandot (February 19, 23, and 25) and Wagner's Parsifal (February 21 and 26). After that, we will be making a trip up to Baltimore Opera to see their production of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking (March 11 to 19). Then, from the operatic backwaters, Washington Concert Opera will present what promises to be a beautiful concert version of Rossini's Tancredi (April 2). Speaking of concert versions, Leonard Slatkin will conduct the National Symphony Orchestra and a cast of mostly local singers in a semi-staged performance of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio (January 26 to 28).

Washington National Opera's spring season offers several promising productions, beginning with the first installment of Francesca Zambello's new Ring cycle, with Wagner, Das Rheingold (March 25 to April 19). The chance to hear Elizabeth Futral as Adina makes the next production, Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, a whole lot more attractive (April 1 to 17). Both May productions are of interest, too. First, one of the rarer operas of Mozart, La Clemenza di Tito (May 6 to 27). Finally, another less thrilling choice in the repertory, Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, offers what is probably the best cast of the season in Olga Borodina, Juan Diego Flórez, and Lyubov Petrova (May 13 to June 3).

For those willing to travel a little bit farther out of the immediate area, Ionarts recommends the latest production of Richard Danielpour's new opera, Margaret Garner, at Opera Company of Philadelphia (February 10 to 26), which we are hoping to catch. (If you miss it there, there will be another production from Opera Carolina in Charlotte, from April 20 to 23.) Despite my best efforts, we still do not have any staged Baroque operas here in Washington this winter or spring. This means we will be trying to go up to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see William Christie's group Les Arts Florissants in a staged performance of Handel's oratorio version of Hercules (February 14 to 19). It would be a lot of opera in February, but there is a production of Handel's Xerxes at the Pittsburgh Opera (February 18 to 26), which we want to see, too.

PIANISTS:
There is a critical mass of pianists giving recitals in the Washington area this winter and spring, too. On February 7, Alfred Brendel will play in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, sponsored by WPAS. He will perform sonatas by Haydn and Schubert, as well as some obligatory pieces by Mozart. WPAS is also bringing Roberto Cominati to the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater for his Washington area debut on March 18. He will play a challenging program including lots of Debussy and Schumann's Carnaval.

Perhaps most exciting in this category is the March 29 recital by Murray Perahia at Strathmore, also hosted by WPAS. No announcement yet about what he will play. This is closely matched by the piano celebration at Shriver Hall at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, which will host Krystian Zimerman on April 7, Leon Fleischer -- using both hands on the Schubert B-flat sonata -- on April 8, and Fazil Say -- somehow performing Stravinsky's Rite of Spring -- on April 9.

Maurizio PolliniNot enough yet? In the later spring, Lang Lang -- who was well reviewed here at Ionarts, with the NSO on December 1 -- will give a recital on April 13 at Strathmore, again thanks to WPAS. Back at Shriver Hall, Angela Hewitt -- last heard at the National Gallery two years ago -- will play a recital on May 14, with the great combination of a Rameau suite, a Bach partita, and a Brahms sonata. In the same week, on May 17, Ionarts favorite Maurizio Pollini -- who thrilled both Ionarts music critics in October 2004 -- will return to the area, this time playing a recital at Strathmore for WPAS.

OTHER INSTRUMENTALISTS:
Pinchas Zukerman brings his Zukerman Chamber Players for a concert at Shriver Hall, up in Baltimore (January 8). Zukerman comes to Washington for a recital, with his friend Itzhak Perlman, of music for two violins or violin and viola, at the Kennedy Center (April 24). We'll obviously have to go back to Baltimore on March 31, for the recital by violinist Vadim Repin and pianist Nikolai Lugansky at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. No one will want to miss the chance to hear Yo-Yo Ma play classical music for a change, when he performs three of the unaccompanied Bach suites on April 4, to what will surely be a sold-out crowd at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

The Klavier Trio Amsterdam will join forces with violist Roger Tapping for two performances in Washington: January 20 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and January 21 at La Maison Française. Tapping's former group and Ionarts favorite, the Takács Quartet, will play at the Corcoran on March 31.

Farther afield, the Jerusalem Quartet will perform on April 22 and 23 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, out in Rockville, a venue we have been meaning to attempt to visit. We should be able to go there, since we will hopefully make the trip farther out to Baltimore to hear the fraternal duo of violinist Renaud Capuçon and cellist Gautier Capuçon -- young talents championed by none other than Martha Argerich, with an unusual program, too -- at Shriver Hall on January 29. We will most likely be back at Shriver Hall to hear the Vienna Piano Trio, too, on February 26, whose program includes a trio arrangement of Schoenberg's gorgeous Verklärte Nacht.

MISCELLANEOUS:
Dance is not one of our major concerns here at Ionarts, but we are hoping to see the Mark Morris Dance Group at the George Mason University Center for the Arts, in Fairfax, on February 10 and 11. Also, because we like to laugh, we are very happy to report that Peter Schickele's lecture at the Library of Congress -- what a conjunction! -- that was cancelled on its original date of December 7 has been rescheduled for February 17.

La Fleming's Christmas Show

When I wrote about Renée Fleming's CD Sacred Songs (see the sidebar for my comments), I noted that for a CD coming out in the Christmas shopping season it didn't have a lot of Christmas music on it. At the time, I wrote that the CD is not packaged as a Christmas CD, so I overlooked it. However, now that I have seen the PBS broadcast of La Fleming's Sacred Songs and Carols, I have to make this observation again. Christmas, like the blob, has tended to engulf a lot of sacred music that really has nothing to do with it. Yes, the Ave Maria text -- in settings by Bach-Gounod or Schubert, which are familiar favorites -- is laudatory of the mother of God, but it is not really proper to Christmas.

In the same vein, the "Laudamus te" is from the Latin Mass Ordinary (specifically, the Gloria), the most generic text of the entire Catholic service, sung at all feasts. At least the Mozart setting of that text (from the Mass in C Minor) is just generic, while the "Panis Angelicus" movement from César Franck's Mass in A Major is specifically intended for a feast other than Christmas. Thomas Aquinas composed this Latin poem (see the Latin text, and the English translation) as part of the chant texts for the new feast of Corpus Christi, and it is about the wonder of the transubstantiation, that point in the Mass when mere bread becomes, according to Catholic belief, the body of Christ. It comes at the end of the Franck Mass because the text was also traditionally sung at Benediction, when a congregation is blessed with the sign of the cross, traced by a priest holding the consecrated host in a monstrance. As a Catholic, I am happy if La Fleming wants to sing about the transubstantiation, but it has nothing to do with the feast of Christmas.

25.12.05

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

We have been enjoying the excellent, largely thankless, and certainly unpaid work of Ionarts contributors for most of the time we've been here: Todd Babcock (since October 2003), Jens Laurson (since December 2003), Mark Barry (since December 2003), Frank Pesci (since September 2005), and a handful of guest contributors. Guys, your Christmas bonuses are in the mail. Bonnes fêtes de la fin de l'année!

Fra Angelico, Nativity, fresco in the Convento di San Marco, Florence, 1440-41Vagis, infans, caeli heres,
in praesepe reclinatus,
riges gelu, Dei proles,
jumentorum hospes factus,
strictus fascium rigore
doles artuum languore,
Noe!

Aestus frigorum ardore,
fanem raves luges ore,
carnis aspro more nascens,
gemitus dolorum ferens
poenas multas peccatorum
mira sorte gaudiorum.
Noe!


You are crying, baby and heaven's heir,
lying in the manger,
you are stiff with cold, song of God,
made the guest of farm animals,
tightly bound in swaddling clothes,
limbs aching with pain.
Noel!

In the pain of winter's cold,
you suffer the pain of hunger,
born into the bitter folly of the flesh,
wailing with your pains, bearing
the many sufferings of sinners,
as a wondrous cause of joy.
Noel!

- Text of Salve, salve, puellule, a motet by Giacomo Carissimi

Merry Christmas to All!

road pigAh, not even Tiny Tim could have helped us today. We were driving back to Monte Cristi for Christmas Eve, gassed up the Suzuki, drove to the outskirts of town, and the car died. Not to worry, we'll get another. In a cab back to the hotel we stopped for roast pig. It's the traditional Christmas Eve feast, and it's prepared at roadside pits all over (that's our cab driver on the right).

When we got back to the hotel, we asked the chef to fix it up for us with fried bananas, pineapple, and rice. It was fabulous! Merry Christmas to everyone and much peace and great art in the new year.

24.12.05

Over the River and Through the River

Ionarts globe-trotting correspondent Mark Barry continues his visit to the Dominican Republic.

suzukiOver the river and through the river we go. Never ones for the road well traveled, we left Monte Cristi and headed east to the resort area of Puerto Plata, the back way. Three hours of rocky potholed roads and often no road. Over the mountains through plantations and beautiful small villages with brightly painted houses and chapels. Pig roasting on the side of the road over fire pits and goats being skinned for Christmas dinner. Not wild about eating goat, but the pig sure smelled great.

After a few hours of driving on some pretty hairy roads, thank you little Suzuki SUV, we came to the end of the road, literally. It ended at a river bank. A small improvised ferry takes mopeds over but not cars. No turning back, it’s late in the day. A big burly guy on horseback with the biggest machete I’ve ever seen pointed us down river, we followed. He took his horse into the river and motioned to me to drive in, pointing out the shallow path along the way. My girls have never been more quiet. Slipping and sliding on the rocky bottom we drove thru 2 to 3 feet of water for about 50 yards. After landing on the other shore I got out and profusely thanked the burly man and gave him a big tip. We still had many miles of mud and ruts to go but the river was the adventure of the day.