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31.5.12

Gidon Saks, Contradictions

available at Amazon
Handel, Saul, R. Joshua, L. Zazzo,
G. Saks, Concerto Köln, RIAS Kammerchor, R. Jacobs
It would be hard to forget the loathsome Hagen incarnated by Gidon Saks, in Washington National Opera's Götterdämmerung in 2009, all the more remarkable because it was a concert performance. It seemed likely that the Israeli-born bass-baritone would bring the same magnetic presence to his recital of art songs for Vocal Arts D.C. last night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Of course, opera singers do not necessarily make good song recitalists, and it was not that surprising that Saks had varied success in a program that had its ups and downs.

Saks was at his best in a set of songs by Shostakovich, set to poems in English and composed in 1942. The poetry, alternately edgy and banal -- a Walter Raleigh sonnet about the ingredients of hanging, a Shakespeare sonnet about the desperation of the creative life (the line "art made tongue-tied by authority" must have resonated with Shostakovich), ballads by Robert Burns, and a nursery rhyme (an absurdist miniature playing on the insipid description of military concerns) -- is matched to music in an often sparing, bleak style, and the combination engaged the best side of Saks's imagination. The same was true of Gerald Finzi's Let Us Garlands Bring, a setting of poems by Shakespeare that is all too often heard in voice student recitals (I have accompanied them in that sort of setting more than once). Shakespeare's verse already has its own complicated music, making putting it to music fiendishly difficult, but along with Britten, Finzi had the greatest success. Again, brilliant text and unusual music brought out the best in Saks and in his accompanist, Roger Vignoles, who was at his most assured and exciting in these two sets.


Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Gidon Saks’s brilliant and idiosyncratic singing performance (Washington Post, June 1)

Donald Rosenberg, Stepping out of the ensemble: Opera singers Brewer, Saks plan solo recitals for Art Song Festival (Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 20)
An opening Handel set was less felicitous, unexpected given that Saks has recorded Handel with some fine ensembles: perhaps the pairing with the smaller sound of the piano brought out the nervous, overlarge side of his voice, leaving the runs a little fuzzy and his tone too stressed when he tried to compress it. A high point came in a surprise appearance by National Symphony Orchestra principal horn player Martin Hackleman, who played the horn part in "Va tacito e nascosto" from Giulio Cesare in Egitto. In a side note, it was announced that Hackleman will be retiring from the NSO at the end of next this season -- as it turns out, the first in a number of announcements of impending personnel changes at the local band (more on that later) that will be one of the lasting marks of the Christoph Eschenbach era. Songs that encouraged Saks's more melodramatic side took him too far over the top in many ways. John Musto's Shadow of the Blues elicited some exaggerated American vernacular and off-pitch tone; Jacques Ibert's Don Quichotte made for an awfully robust sound for the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance. A set of "Victorian Parlor Songs" were really from the Edwardian era, the sort of thing the characters in Downton Abbey might sing or play on the newfangled Victrola. This sort of sentimental old song has intrigued many singers, including Christine Brewer, but it works best with a more reserved style of performance, something more natural rather than dramatic. The choice of Sondheim for encores was another miscalculation along the same wrong path.

SVILUPPO:
Patricia O'Kelly, the Managing Director of Media Relations for the NSO, has informed me that Martin Hackleman, the orchestra's principal horn player, has resigned, not retired, effective at the end of this season.

Classical Music Agenda (June 2012)

Over the summer months, a sleepy time for classical music in Washington, there may not always be enough going on for us to have even ten concerts to recommend. That is not the case next month, as the otherwise dormant city will be livened up by a few festivals in the neighborhood. We will also have some picks for summer festivals around the country, including some of the places Ionarts will travel to this summer.

MUSEUMS AND CHAMBER MUSIC:
The free concert series at the National Gallery of Art continues through the first weekend of July, and the first one in June will feature the JACK Quartet (June 3, 6:30 pm), in the East Building's auditorium. This exciting and distinctive group will play music by Roger Reynolds and student composers from the University of California in D.C. Tickets: FREE, no reservation required.


Also free is a concert on the Steinway Series at the Smithsonian American Art Museum by American Century Music (June 10, 3 pm). The program, as the group's name implies, features American music, composed by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Rebecca Clarke, William Schuman, and Robert Palmer. You can obtain a ticket in the G Street Lobby starting thirty minutes before the concert. Tickets: FREE.

The June Chamber Festival returns to the Kreeger Museum this month (June 8, 12, and 15, all at 7:30 pm). The American Chamber Players, who have shuffled their membership again after some troubles last year, offer unusual pieces for various chamber combinations, in the Great Room designed by Philip Johnson, one of the most intriguing places to hear music in the city. Music by Mozart, Kuhlau, Roussel, Smetana, and four-hands pieces by Debussy and Schubert are on the menu. Tickets: $35.

OLD MUSIC:
The biennial Washington Early Music Festival returns this summer (June 2 to 30), with a selection of concerts and workshops by historically informed performance ensembles of all kinds, mostly based in the Washington area. All of the concerts, hosted in the lovely acoustics of several churches throughout the city (and Arlington), offer beautiful music, but we give special emphasis to the concert by the Baltimore Consort called The Ladyes Delight (June 3, 3 pm) at St. Matthew's Cathedral; a concert devoted to the anniversary of Joan of Arc by the Suspicious Cheese Lords (June 22, 8 pm) at St. Mark's Episcopal Church; and a screening of Lon Chaney's silent film The Hunchback, with medieval music performed by Hesperus (June 30, 8 pm), also at St. Mark's. Tickets: $20.


available at Amazon
Silfra, H. Hahn, Hauschka
NEW MUSIC:
Silfra, the new collaboration between violinist Hilary Hahn and prepared piano player Hauschka (AKA Volker Bertelmann), came out last week. This unusual duo's tour to promote the album makes a local stop in an unexpected venue, The Birchmere in Alexandria (June 18, 7:30 pm). The style of music, largely improvised (at least initially), hovers between rock drive and New Age meditation. Tickets: $54.

Two silent film screenings with live music got our attention this month, both on the same day. The historical performance ensemble Hesperus provides the score for The General (1926, Buster Keaton), a free screening at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (June 9, 1 pm). Later that afternoon, the Cantate Chamber Singers perform the world premiere of a new score by Andrew Earle Simpson for The Wind (1928, directed by Victor Sjöström), at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring (June 9, 3 pm).


Philip Glass, b. January 31, 1937
ORCHESTRA:
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra continues playing into this month, including a performance of a notable world premiere: Philip Glass's new work for orchestra Overture for 2012 (June 17, 7 pm) at Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Commemorating the anniversary of the War of 1812, the performance will be augmented with a selection of other patriotic music by composers American and otherwise. Since it is indoors, we do not expect any cannons to be fired.Tickets: $15.

June is also the month for the National Orchestral Institute, a three-week apprenticeship for young orchestral musicians at the University of Maryland. The students have the chance to work with star conductors -- this year, Alan Gilbert, Leonard Slatkin, and Asher Fisch will visit, and some of the rehearsals will be open to the public -- and to perform a broad range of music, both for orchestral and chamber arrangements. Highlights include a kid-oriented free concert of Peter and the Wolf (June 24, 3 pm), two Mahler performances with Asher Fisch and mezzo-soprano Stefanie Irànyi (June 27 and June 30), and the New Lights concert (June 28, 8 pm), in which the students are encouraged to experiment with new music and new performance ideas.

OPERA FESTIVALS:
The Castleton Festival, the month-long series of concerts on and around the summer estate of conductor Lorin Maazel in Rappahannock County, Virginia, kicks off this month, with an opening concert featuring mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves (June 22, 7:30 pm). In the festival's short history, this year features the least exciting selection of operas on the roster -- Rossini's Barber of Seville and Bizet's Carmen -- plus some orchestral and recital events. Tickets: $20 to $120.

The Wolf Trap Opera festival offers many of the same attractions, just at a somewhat shorter drive from the city and without the veteran hands of Lorin Maazel at the podium. The young singers brought on by the company this season will get a crack at Mozart's Don Giovanni (June 29 to July 5). It is hardly an adventurous choice, but it will easily sell out its run of performances in the smaller venue at the Barns. Tickets: $35 to $75. During the opening weekend of that run, the New York G&S Players will return to the big venue at Wolf Trap, the outdoor Filene Center, for a production of The Pirates of Penzance (June 29 and 30). Tickets: $12 to $50.

30.5.12

Bolshoi's 'Coppélia'

For those of us who grew up in the last century, the great Russian companies represented the gold standard of classical ballet, and perhaps none more so than the company from the Bolshoi Theater. The tradition in Moscow and St. Petersburg, home of the Kirov (now known as the Mariinsky Theater), went back to the heyday of Russian classical dance, the era of Marius Petipa, and the Soviet era had clamped down on any possibility of change or innovation, or so the train of thought went. As Alastair Macaulay pointed out earlier this month, in the New York Times, the idea that what the Bolshoi or Mariinsky now presents is exactly what Marius Petipa choreographed is absurd -- or any other company at any other point in time. Choreography is an impossibly fluid thing, rarely notated with great precision and likely to change from performance to performance according to the differences in dancers' bodies and trends in movement.

The Bolshoi has arrived in Washington this week, the latest visit to the area after Le Corsaire in 2009 and Cinderella in 2007. The Bolshoi is on a "Great Tour" of North America at the moment, following up on performances of Swan Lake in Toronto and Don Quixote in Ottawa with its revival of Coppélia, which opened last night for a week of performances at the Kennedy Center Opera House (it was featured in one of the company's live simulcasts last year). It is a light-hearted work, at least as it is staged here -- the choreography is credited to Marius Petipa and Enrico Cecchetti, updated by Sergei Vikharev in a production that debuted in Moscow only in 2009, with handsome sets by Boris Kaminsky and colorful, folk-dress costumes by Tatiana Noginova (watch it on Youtube: Act I, Act II, Act III) -- not nearly as dark as the E.T.A. Hoffmann stories from which it is drawn. The story is set in a village in Galicia, a province now partly in Poland and partly in Ukraine, and concerns a peasant girl, Swanilda, and Franz, the young man she wants to marry, until he seems to be smitten with the mysterious daughter of the local eccentric toymaker, Dr. Coppélius. Taking advantage of a dropped set of keys, Swanilda and her friends break into the toymaker's house and learn that the mysterious girl is one of several complicated automatons -- and they save Franz, tricked by the toymaker, who wants to transfer his soul into the girl to make her come to life.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, Created in 1870, ‘Coppelia’ is the freshest ballet around (Washington Post, May 31)

Alastair Macaulay, Recreating Lost Instants in a Reconstructed Ballet (New York Times, May 31)

Paula Citron, Bolshoi steps up the dancing in Swan Lake (Toronto Globe and Mail, May 16)
The piece is a good fit for the tiny, bouncy Nina Kaptsova, promoted to prima ballerina at the Bolshoi this year. She is a bundle of energy in the folk-inflected dances she has with Frantz (one can only hope the poor boy has an inkling of what a handful she will turn out to be), and even better when she pretends to be the mechanical girl in her plan to save Frantz. The joke of the ballet star as wind-up doll works equally well as it does for a coloratura soprano, in Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, for example, although women in general may be offended. When Swanilda "becomes a real girl" in the second act, Dr. Coppélius (a lanky, winking-eyed Alexey Loparevich) offers a mirror for her to admire her own beauty, and she immediately launches into a series of willful tirades. Vanity and capriciousness are the qualities that distinguish women, after all. Rising soloist Artem Ovcharenko had a pleasing innocence as Frantz, although the strength and evenness of his solo numbers were not up to Kaptsova's standards. The corps de ballet was in top form -- unified, graceful, moving as one -- in the "Dance of the Hours" at the start of the third act and gave plenty of folksy zest, in pairs, to the famous mazurka and other folk dances in the first. Of the solo dances in the Act III divertissement, Anastasia Stashkevich (Dawn) and Anna Tikhomirova (Folie) were most striking.

In the pit, Igor Dronov elicited some beautiful sounds from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, if not a completely coherent reading of Léo Delibes's bubbly score. The music, often heard in excerpts in the concert hall, is given a forceful, Russian-accented reading, with a forlorn violin solo by concertmaster Oleg Rylatko in the Act I ballade and a lovely Act III viola solo. There is another striking moment in the first act, an example of how dance and music and be so perfectly joined, a set of variations on a Slavic theme, in which the evolution of steps, for Swanilda and her eight friends, reflects the formal movement of the music, with moments both scintillating and melancholy (an exquisite fourth variation with solo clarinet). This may not be a production or a cast to rave about, but it is a worthy resuscitation of one of the classics of the ballet canon.

This performance will be repeated several times through June 3, in the Kennedy Center Opera House, with different casts of dancers.

Notes from the 2012 Dresden Music Festival ( 9 )

Festival Orchestra Premiere - Glitter and Be Gay





I am in beautiful Dresden – home of my favorite sweet, the Dominostein (aka The Poor Man's Belgian Chocolates)1 – for the annual three-week Music Festival that has taken place since 1978. After Mozart-joys, Malkovichean divertissement, Bach despairs and delights, Thielemann’s Bruckner, a triple-bill of violinists, a Princess’ opera re-premiere, and a rare Honegger treat, it was time for the premiere performance of the spanking new Dresden Festival Orchestra.

The band – assembled from HIP orchestras all around Europe, with Giuliano Carmignola as deluxe concertmaster and Ivor Bolton as music director– is so new, it still had that new orchestra smell. That manifested itself in the inability to give encores – demanded by a roaring crowd – beyond repeating movements from what had just been performed… courtesy the perfect equivalence of repertoire and works presented.

The Dresden Festival Orchestra is vaguely placed in the early tradition of the Dresden Court Chapel which ultimately became the modern-day Staatskapelle Dresden. Its history bears riches for uncountable concerts to come, being associated with composers, violinists, and directors like Heinrich Schütz, Johann Georg Pisendel, Jan Dismas Zelenka (the “Dresden Bach”), Johann Paul von Westhoff, Johann David Heinichen, Johann Adolph Hasse, and Johann Gottlieb Naumann.

29.5.12

Notes from the 2012 Dresden Music Festival ( 8 )

Honegger Delights





I am in beautiful Dresden – home of the oldest paddle steamer fleet– for the annual three-week Music Festival that has taken place since 1978. After Mozart-joys, Malkovichean divertissement, Bach despairs and delights, Thielemann’s Bruckner, a triple-bill of violinists, and a Princess’ opera re-premiere it was time for a Gergiev sighting, a time-honored event that has become a tradition at music festivals around the world, sometimes – purportedly – concurrently.

available at AmazonA.Honegger, Cello Concert et al.,
C.Poltéra / T.Ollila / Malmö SO
BIS



available at AmazonR.Strauss, Ein Heldenleben,
Christian Thielemann
DG

At the Semper Oper with his Mariinsky Orchestra, Gergiev first churned out the concert version of Béla Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin. Magically, with a few incoherent flicks of his wrist, the orchestra’s wheels started whirring right away, and the winds and brass were variously taking bites out of the music. Soon director and band were making a stupendous noise… a racket high-octane, low on character. It set the stage for what is one of the few classical pieces that can make you feel sticky afterwards: A good interpretation will see blood, sweat, and not-tears on the floor, once the titular Mandarin his been climactically dispatched. This particular one was rich in body liquids, and any lack of nuance didn’t bother me.

It bothered me much more in the official meat of the event, Strauss’ Heldenleben which occupied the concert’s second half. The result was a superficially appreciable but a disoriented mess – the thing that happens if you have all the notes but are lacking a map. If they had played the Alpine Symphony, they would have gotten to a peak alright, and with valleys all around to hear about it loud and clear. Alas it would have been the wrong summit.

Apart from outright baffling rhythmical choices and some shoddy ensemble work, it seemed the players’ lack of empathy for phrasing that tanked Strauss. Each phrase in Strauss (much like Mahler or any classical music that relies on folk inflections), however sappy, is densely filled with emotional content that leans one way or the other. Like Nietzschean aphorisms, they present keys to much bigger universes of flavor than cannot be contained in the notes (or letters) alone. Mere correct playing of what’s in the score can’t begin to tell the story.

That left the highlight of the evening right where the Festival Intendant Jan Vogler might have wanted it to stay: On his performance of the Arthur Honegger Cello Concerto. Or rather: the performance of the Honegger Cello Concerto, because it really wasn’t so much Jan Vogler’s playing that was the main ingredient of selective delight, but his programming of it. His performance betrayed the many hours spent in the office, organizing the Festival. But with his resonant full tone, rich in the lower registers and a bit like a baying elk, Vogler took the lyrical, beautiful concerto out for a ride that affirmed its would-be status as a 20th century masterpiece if only it were better known. The concerto takes a beautiful bent through realms of calm, then energetic-stubbing, then relentlessly angular, and finally the lyrical again. Along its way the 1929 concerto hits upon an easy elegance that won’t be heard again until certain film scores of the 40s or 50s. Programming and performing it was a musicians’ job, and if the number of those who appreciated it was a little smaller than that of those who loved the Strauss, there is the likely probability that they appreciated it all the more.





Picture of Gergiev & Vogler courtesy Dresden Music Festival, © Oliver Killig

28.5.12

Classical Month in Washington (August)

Last month | Next month

Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature. 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!

August 3, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Stravinsky, The Rake's Progress
Wolf Trap Opera
Barns at Wolf Trap

August 4, 2012 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Memorial Concert for Susie Kim
National Association of Professional Asian American Women
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

August 5, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
Stravinsky, The Rake's Progress
Wolf Trap Opera
Barns at Wolf Trap

August 9, 2012 (Thu)
7 pm
National Youth Orchestra of Canada [FREE]
Shostakovich, tenth symphony
Music Center at Strathmore

August 11, 2012 (Sat)
7 pm
Stravinsky, The Rake's Progress
Wolf Trap Opera
Barns at Wolf Trap

August 12, 2012 (Sun)
4 pm
Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor
Opera International
Music Center at Strathmore

Notes from the 2012 Dresden Music Festival ( 7 )

Operatic Repremiere





I am in beautiful Dresden – birthplace of the coaster– for the annual three-week Music Festival that has taken place since 1978. After Mozart-joys, Malkovichean divertissement, Bach despairs and delights, Thielemann’s Bruckner, and a triple-bill of violinists, it was time for the re-premiere of a royal opera.

Princess Amalie of Saxony (1794-1870) was by all accounts an eager student of music and a successful writer of light plays. Her tutors included Carl Maria von Weber (only eight years her senior), and you could read his diary entry about his royal student in any number of ways: “[Princess Amalie] has a beautiful talent and admirable diligence.” Once you’ve heard her long-lost opera “La casa disabitata” (The Uninhabited House), a one-act Farsa unperformed for 177 years, you’re more likely to know how he might have meant it.

There’s nothing wrong with the very charming overture in which the Princess strings together a series of well-formed conventional phrases. At their best they amount to occasional touches of Spohr, within otherwise plain classical flair. The “Phrase-A, repeat – Phrase B, repeat – Phrase A, Phrase B, repeat, repeat” approach is not unusual for music of her time – or rather music before her time, since the prudent rest is like lesser Cimarosa all the way home, and if there was any hint Rossini in there, it wasn’t the good kind. Easily patronized, darling stuff this is; a pleasant 100-minute divertissement that would go down well if iced drinks were served during the performance and if one could lounge on comfy ottomans. The Russian archive that still owns the vocal parts (they were ‘protected’ from Germans after World War II) only allowed one concert-performance (broadcast on August 11th on Deutschlandradio Kultur), but then maybe it’s enough to dig this uninhabited house out only every 177 years.

The Italian libretto, written by the Princess, is a little clunky. In the name of efficiency, I’ll try to convey its lack of eloquence by rhyming the synopsis:


This flat, so says a sign, is free!
The People gather mightily,
“Just how”, they wonder, “can this be?
Should I say yes, the joke’s on me??”


Eu•stich•io studied Lit-Ra-Ture,
And nat’rally he is rather poor.
“Free”! It’s what I can afford!
And my old wife will be on board.


A caveat: A ghost lives here!
E. has a gun, so what the hell,
He deftly manages his fear…
'Til midnight rings the bell.


Callisto, butler, saucy chap,
Followed orphan-rescue with kid-nap,
He locks her up and feeds her Schnitzel,
He’s, if you will, an early Fritzl.


The girl, her name’s Anetta,
Won’t marry him, that cad.
Raimondo would be so much bettuh,
(He’s the owner of the pad.)


At night Anetta runs away,
And after some discussion can convey,
She’s not a ghost per se,
Euastchio takes her on her way.


Sinforosa (wife, no money, aged)
Feels jealously enraged.
Callisto shows - as ghost disguised...
Gets shot, found out, and then despised.


The scheme is up, the truth emerges
A happy-end ensues for all
Raimondo and Anetta satisfy their urges –
And Eustichio: He gets rent-control!

The Dresden Chapel Soloists under Helmut Branny did their merry best and the cast of singers was overqualified throughout: Ilhun Jung, the eager, brazen baritone as Don Raimondo, the ever professional bass-baritone Allen Boxer as Callisto, the delightfully goofy, light baritone Matthias Henneberg with his clean, strong, dramatically anodyne voice in the main part of Eutichio, Anja Zügner’s bright and chirpy Annetta, Tehila Nini Goldstein’s Sinforosa, whose melted into her bits of music and was a real pleasure on the ears, and everyone else. The atmosphere was helped considerably by the surroundings of the Summer Palace in Dresden’s Großer Garten, easily the most charming of the many venues that the Dresden Festival uses.

Classical Month in Washington (July)

Last month | Next month

Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature. 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!

July 1, 2012 (Sun)
2 pm
Rossini, Barber of Seville
Castleton Festival

July 1, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
Mozart, Don Giovanni
Wolf Trap Opera
Barns at Wolf Trap

July 1, 2012 (Sun)
6:30 pm
New York Opera Society [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

July 4, 2012 (Wed)
8 pm
A Capitol Fourth [FREE]
National Symphony Orchestra
U.S. Capitol, West Lawn

July 5, 2012 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Adam, Giselle
Paris Opera Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

July 5, 2012 (Thu)
8 pm
Mozart, Don Giovanni
Wolf Trap Opera
Barns at Wolf Trap

July 6, 2012 (Fri)
1:30 and 7:30 pm
Adam, Giselle
Paris Opera Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

July 6, 2012 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Bizet, Carmen
Castleton Festival

July 7, 2012 (Sat)
1:30 and 7:30 pm
Adam, Giselle
Paris Opera Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

July 7, 2012 (Sat)
2 pm
Beethoven, Ninth Symphony
Castleton Festival

July 7, 2012 (Sat)
7 pm
Mozart, Don Giovanni
Wolf Trap Opera
Barns at Wolf Trap

July 7, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Santiago Rodriguez, piano
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 7, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Puccini, La Bohème (concert performance)
Castleton Festival
Hylton Performing Arts Center (Manassas, Va.)

July 7, 2012 (Sat)
8:15 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Music of John Wiiliams
Wolf Trap, Filene Center

July 8, 2012 (Sun)
1:30 pm
Adam, Giselle
Paris Opera Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

July 8, 2012 (Sun)
2 pm
Bizet, Carmen
Castleton Festival

July 10, 2012 (Tue)
9 am
William Kapell Competition, Preliminary Rounds
Clarice Smith Center

July 11, 2012 (Wed)
9 am
William Kapell Competition, Preliminary Rounds
Clarice Smith Center

July 12, 2012 (Thu)
9 am
William Kapell Competition, Preliminary Rounds
Clarice Smith Center

July 12, 2012 (Thu)
8 pm
Evening with Leon Fleisher
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 13, 2012 (Fri)
3 pm
William Kapell Competition, Semifinal Solo Rounds
Clarice Smith Center

July 13, 2012 (Fri)
5:45 pm
Simpson, The Outcasts of Poker Flat
Fringe Festival

July 13, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Bach, Brandenburg Concerti
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

July 13, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Gloria Cheng, piano
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 14, 2012 (Sat)
11 am
Seminar with Gloria Cheng [FREE]
Contemporary piano playing techniques
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 14, 2012 (Sat)
3 pm
William Kapell Competition, Semifinal Solo Rounds
Clarice Smith Center

July 14, 2012 (Sat)
7:45 pm
Simpson, The Outcasts of Poker Flat
Fringe Festival

July 15, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
William Kapell Competition, Semifinal Solo Rounds
Clarice Smith Center

July 15, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
Piano Society of Greater Washington [FREE]
Calvary Lutheran Church (Silver Spring, Md.)

July 15, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
From Bel Canto to Can Belto
Wolf Trap Opera, recit with Steven Blier
Barns at Wolf Trap

July 15, 2012 (Sun)
6 pm
NSO Summer Music Institute Orchestra [FREE]
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

July 17, 2012 (Tue)
2 pm
Semifinal Chamber Music Rounds
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 17, 2012 (Tue)
8 pm
Vijay Iyer, piano
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 18, 2012 (Wed)
2 pm
Semifinal Chamber Music Rounds
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 18, 2012 (Wed)
8 pm
Jeremy Denk, piano
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 19, 2012 (Thu)
8 pm
Richard Egarr, fortepiano
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 20, 2012 (Fri)
7:30 pm
C.A.T.S. Vocal Recital
Castleton Festival

July 20, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Anton Kuerti, piano
Music by Beethoven
William Kapell Competition
Clarice Smith Center

July 21, 2012 (Sat)
3 pm
C.A.T.S. Vocal Recital
Castleton Festival

July 21, 2012 (Sat)
7 pm
Jennifer Koh, violin
Castleton Festival

July 21, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Simpson, The Outcasts of Poker Flat
Fringe Festival

July 21, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
William Kapell Competition, Final Round
With Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Clarice Smith Center

July 22, 2012 (Sun)
2 pm
C.A.T.S. Spectacular (Opera scenes)
Castleton Festival

July 22, 2012 (Sun)
3:30 pm
Simpson, The Outcasts of Poker Flat
Fringe Festival

July 27, 2012 (Fri)
8:30 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Holst, Planets (with HD film)
Wolf Trap, Filene Center

July 28, 2012 (Sat)
6 pm
Simpson, The Outcasts of Poker Flat
Fringe Festival

July 28, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Haydn, Harmoniemesse [FREE]
UMd Summer Chorus
Clarice Smith Center

July 28, 2012 (Sat)
8:15 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Beethoven, ninth symphony; Bruch, Scottish Fantasy
With Nicola Benedetti, violin
Wolf Trap, Filene Center

July 29, 2012 (Sun)
6 pm
NSO Summer Music Institute Orchestra [FREE]
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

July 29, 2012 (Sun)
6 pm
Aaron Diehl, piano
Washington International Piano Festival
School of Music, Catholic University

July 31, 2012 (Tue)
8:30 pm
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
Wolf Trap, Filene Center

Requiescant in pace

We wish a peaceful Memorial Day to our American readers. Continuing with our remembrance of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, here is an excerpt from the Libera Me movement of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, with Fischer-Dieskau and Peter Pears singing and the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. The text is Wilfred Owen's poem Strange Meeting: "I mean the truth untold, / The pity of war, the pity war distilled."

27.5.12

Notes from the 2012 Dresden Music Festival ( 6 )



I am in beautiful Dresden – birthplace of the (mass produced) tea bag– for the annual three-week Music Festival that has taken place since 1978. After Mozart-joys, Malkovichean divertissement, Bach despairs and delights, and Thielemann’s Bruckner, it was time for a day of variety with, depending how you count, up six concerts.

All You Can Hear


It started with the “All You Can Hear” event at Dresden’s convention center. A promising and interesting concept with Kristian Järvi, the MDR Symphony Orchestra and the (strangely German) Baltic Youth Philharmonic (BYP)… an series of performances that vaguely suggested an open floor plan, a variety of different concerts (orchestral and chamber) to chose from, and active exploration on the part of the visitor who paid a one-time fee of 20,- got a stamp, and was then free to roam.

Except that when you got there, assuming you found the place on your first attempt, there was hearty little roaming, no open floor plan, and no concurrent concerts to hear. Reality proved pernickety on this first attempt at an ambitious and vastly intriguing concept and in the end it turned out a succession of regular concerts in semi-suitable spaces that no one was allowed to enter late, and during which people sat still to reverently listen to the music (including full observance of the ironclad “don’t-clap-between-movements-even-when-it’s-obvious-that-the-first-movement-is-eliciting-applause” rule)… only that they sat in rafters in a convention center hall, rather than on the cushioned seats of a concert hall.

Give the project thick carpets, creak-free seating, curtains instead of doors, parallel musical events, more open minds, and willing, enthusiastic, inexpensive participants (the BYP seems a good place to start) and something wonderful might come of that yet in years to come. The mixed audience was already there, from different social and economic strata, including a legion of tots that were ill advisedly fitted with little DIY-garden-hose French horns. Instruments that proved wonderfully effective in the reverberant halls. “Toooot, tooooooot!” they went, though far enough from the hermetically sealed concert spaces, to do any damage beyond the nerves of innocent bystanders and regretful mothers.


Palace of Culture?




If falling short of its own ambitions, the “All You Can Hear” thing was at least an opportunity to hear a fine Korngold Violin Concerto with Vadim Gluzman (and BYP), a really quite stupendous Beethoven Eighth with the MDR SO, all under Kristian Järvi, and the realization that for all its aesthetic limitations and acoustic difficulties, the convention’s center halls make a better venue for an orchestral concert than the city’s official performing space, the concert hall of the 1969 architectural and ideological sin of the Kulturpalast, Dresden’s “Palace of Culture”. Since the place, home of the spirit of Walter Ulbrich, is unfathomably protected as a listed landmark site, only a merciful fire might one day help the Dresden Philharmonic to a concert hall that underscores, not undermines its value.

There might be better orchestras in smaller cities, and better ‘second’ orchestras in bigger cities. But by that mix of quality and reputation that make the amorphous status of an orchestra, the Dresden Philharmonic is easily the best ‘junior orchestra’ of a city the size of Dresden. That knowledge didn’t help during Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with an engaged Vadim Repin and Markus Poschner conducting, because you couldn’t hear very much from the seats I had, and what I heard sounded as seductive as Tango-dancing by numbers. Whether the thing ever came together on stage is questionable, if so, it didn’t reach me. A pity, too, because the preceding Coriolan Overture somehow did, and that was a most enjoyable performance. Not the fresh and exciting quality of the MDR’s convention center Beethoven, but well played and with enough promise to make the prospect of staying for Beethoven’s Seventh attractive.

Bartók Beneath the Conveyor Belt




Still, with the third movement of Prokofiev not getting better even as it was encored, it seemed prudent to move on to Volkswagen’s Transparent Factory, the spotless, Canadian maple hardwood floor production facility for VW’s Phaeton luxury sedan. It’s a fascinating place and even if the sales numbers for the Phaeton were better than they are, it’s understandable that VW – a main sponsor of the Festival – is very eager to show the place off in imaginative ways.

It’s certainly memorable to hear a program of Moldavian - Hungarian - Romanian folk-influenced works amidst five-and-a-half ton luxury vehicles in various states of un-finish, hanging on telescoping trapezoids from the ceiling’s conveyor belt. The mind raced to future productions of Die Walküre or the possibilities to stage B. A. Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten. Instead the Kopatchinsky family turned up, famous violinist daughter Patricia (with a terrific Beethoven Concerto as part of her ever-increasing discography) up front, violinist mother Emilia and the cimbalom playing father Viktor in tow. A dapper buddy on double bass provided for the groove in Eastern European, Moldovan folk music larks that opened and closed the recital. I find the charade of really letting lose in such a concert, as properly suggested by such music, always an awkward affair. Especially in front of a (German) classical music audience… But there was no denying that it brought fresh air into a recital that came close to suffering from anoxia at several points.

Not during the Bartók Romanian Folk Dances though; those were played as well as I’ve ever heard. Partly thanks to Mihaela Ursuleasa’s pianism, but mostly because it was endowed by Kopatchinkskaja with the requisite seediness, that bit of musical lace that alluringly, suggestively hangs half of one shoulder… the complete confidence of knowing what she was doing, the ability to do it, and a thankfully shameless joy in sharing it. Which is really just the roundabout way of suggesting that it was authenticity that made the Bartók.1

György Kurtág’s Eight Duos for Violin and Cimbalom (op.4) tested my love for Kurtág, its pp glissandi softer sounding than the factory’s incessant AC. Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane – even in such a coy and wicket-wily performance – is a work I’ve always suspected of appealing more to violinists than their audiences, and while George Enescu’s Third Violin Sonata (on Popular Romanian themes) is one of the great works of its kind, I wish that the composer had made two sonatas from it. The first movement opens with a magnificent lilting lament but in connection with the Andante sostenuto it punishes any lack of concentration on the listener – before the third movement, just as long but subjectively brief, injects much-needed oxygen back into the affair.





1 As opposed to the airs other performers might put on when emulating such music’s spirit, which causes little more than vicarious embarrassment. There are various musical examples (Dieskau as Pappageno comes to my mind), but really the best analogy are male Russian figure skaters after the collapse of the Soviet Union who bought leather trousers and rocked out on ice, to cringe-worthy effect and music ranging from Bill Haley to Tom Jones. Or the most brilliant counter-cultural film maker of East Germany, Gregor Voss, and his first trip to the West.

In Brief: Still Missing DFD Edition

Here is your regular (overflowing) Sunday selection of links to online audio, online video, and other good things in Blogville and Beyond.

  • Listen to a Schubert recital by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Sviatoslav Richter, recorded in Salzburg on August 29, 1977, followed up with some excerpts from Fischer-Dieskau's recordings (Wolf, Britten). [France Musique]

  • Another tribute to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau from Radio France with some rare recital performances (Festival Pablo Casals in Prades, July 1955; Mahler's Kindertotenlieder with the Orchestre National de l'ORTF and Georg Solti, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 1964) and recordings. [France Musique]

  • Round out your Fischer-Dieskau fix with the tribute from Austrian radio: Fischer-Dieskau in the title role of Verdi's Macbeth, with Grace Bumbry and Wolfgang Sawallisch at the podium of the Vienna Philharmonic, recorded in Salzburg in 1964. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Paul Agnew conducts (and sings with) members of Les Arts Florissants in a complete performance of Claudio Monteverdi's third book of madrigals, at the Cité de la Musique -- also available as audio only. [Medici.tv]

  • From the Wiener Festwochen 2012 at the Theater an der Wien, Omer Meir Wellber conducts the Arnold Schoenberg Chor and the ÖRF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien in a performance of Verdi's La Traviata. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Watch the Orchestre de Paris, under the baton of Paavo Järvi, play music by Nielsen (the overture to Maskarade), Shostakovich (the second piano concerto, with Alexander Toradze), and Grieg (the incidental music for Peer Gynt) -- embedded here. [Cité de la Musique Live]

  • Live from that interesting season of the Opéra Comique, a performance of Marco Stroppa's opera Re Orso, with the Ensemble Intercontemporain and conductor Susanna Mälkki -- the world premiere on May 19. [France Musique]

  • Most of the films critics thought would be big at Cannes this year were, with the one surprise setting everyone atwitter being Jeff Nichols's new film Mud, leading the American films in competition. [Le Figaro]

  • Pianist Bertrand Chamayou joins conductor Tugan Sokhiev and the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse on tour in Buenos Aires, at the Teatro Colón, with an all-French program of music by Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, and Berlioz. [Medici.tv]

  • A second concert by the same forces, also in Buenos Aires, features music by Musorgsky, Liszt, and Chopin. [Medici.tv]

  • From the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Jérémie Rhorer conducts the early music ensemble Le Cercle de l'Harmonie in a performance of Mozart's Così fan tutte, with a cast led by Camilla Tilling and Michèle Losier. [France Musique]

  • Selections of music by Joseph Woelfl, a composer celebrating a bicentenary this month. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Rare performances of the Te Deum and Mass in D of Jean Gilles, a Baroque maître de chapelle at Toulouse Cathedral, with the chamber choir Les éléments and Les Passions, Orchestre Baroque de Montauban, under the baton of Jean-Marc Andrieu. [France Musique]

  • Vladimir Jurowski conducts Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmila from Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, recorded last November. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • At the Concours Reine Elisabeth, 26-year-old Russian violinist Andrey Baranov took the top prize in the violin competition. The local audience was rooting for Marc Bouchkov, the only Belgian to make it to the finals, but he did not place. Runners-up, in order, were Tatsuki Narita (Japan), Hyun Su Shin (South Korea), Esther Yoo (U.S.A.), Yu-Chien Tseng (Taiwan), and Artiom Shishkov (Belarus). [La Libre Belgique]

  • You can watch videos of the performances by the finalists in Brussels, and listen to a lot more from the competition. [Concours Reine Elisabeth]

  • Christoph Prégardien conducts the Nederlands Kamerkoor and Le Concert Lorrain in a performance of Bach's St. John Passion, with Andreas Scholl, Dietrich Henschel, and others. [France Musique]

  • More Bach from this past Holy Week, the St. Matthew Passion, with the Chœur d’enfants de la Maîtrise de Paris, the Chœur Arsys Bourgogne, and Les Talens Lyriques, under the direction of Pierre Cao, from the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. [France Musique]

  • Even more Bach, Cantus Cölln performs all six of Bach's motets in Gerona. [France Musique]

  • An all-Beethoven concert by the Belcea Quartet, from the Wiener Konzerthaus. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Cartoonist Georges Wolinski has donated a vast number of his papers and drawings to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, in advance of a major retrospective on his work there next month. In preparation for the celebration, Wolinski has published a memoir, in graphic novel format, called Le pire a de l'avenir. [Le Point]

  • Kurt Masur leads the Orchestre National de France in a concert to benefit Amnesty International at the Théâtre du Châtelet, playing Shostakovich's first symphony and Tchaikovsky's violin concerto with Sarah Nemtanu. [France Musique]

  • From the Wiener Musikverein, as part of the Wiener Festwochen 2012, Angelika Kirchschlager performs a recital with cellist Gautier Capuçon and pianist Helmut Deutsch. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Fabien Gabel leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in a rare concert in the main hall of the Musée d'Orsay, including Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and La Mer and two pieces by Sibelius. [France Musique]

  • The Opéra de Nice just staged Alessandro Scarlatti's Tigrane (Naples, 1715). Raphaël de Gubernatis took it in, along with a tour of the Baroque architecture of the city. It was not the music director there, Washington National Opera's own Philippe Auguin, who conducted, but Gilbert Bezzina, director of the Ensemble Baroque de Nice, which did the honors in the pit, with a staging directed by Gilbert Blin. [Le Nouvel Observateur]

  • Ensemble Masques performs rare Baroque music by Biber and Schmelzer in the Liechtenstein Museum. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Stefan Parkman directs the Chœur de Radio France and friends in a concert of music by Debussy, Hindemith, Satie, and Poulenc, in the Basilique Sainte-Clotilde. [France Musique]

  • The Steude Quartett performs music by Cherubini, Korngold, and Beethoven, also as part of the Wiener Festwochen 2012. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

I've Seen Things -- and Got Soaked

So much to see, so little time: add a few monsoon-like downpours and you have perfect gallery hopping. Why is there always wind to eat my umbrella? I think there could be a painting in this.

Many good painting shows to see this month, some closing this week. Kathryn Lynch's simplified paintings of dogs and those that follow behind them at Sears Peyton -- funny stuff. More simple joy with Katherine Bradford's super cruise ships and super heroes at Edward Thorp, Superman Responds!

With new paintings and a new dealer, Friedrich Petzel, I'm a fan of Dana Schutz's crazy wildness. A series of small paintings of people yawning are great -- even more simplified forms.


There never seems to be an end to the late great Alice Neel's body of work: I'm forever coming across new images. David Zwirner is showing a selection of late portraits and still lifes through June.

Ok, I'm vulnerable: I get painter crushes. While attending a few Thursday night openings I spotted Alex Katz and his muse, Ida, checking out Nicole Wittenberg's work at Freight + Volume (I gushed and shook hands -- I know). Another crush I have is for Chantal Joffe's juicy, dripping goodness at Cheim Reed. The big beautiful baby in a white dress is fabulous.

A few more shows to see this month: Nicole Eisenman's prints have eclipsed her painting, for me -- lithographs, woodcuts, etchings, and monotypes, all at Leo Koening. I got to meet paintress and FB friend Janice Nowinski at her opening at Bowery Gallery, and it was nice to finally meet her and her wonderful small, washy figure paintings -- totally worth waiting for the slowest elevator in Chelsea.


Lastly, just when you think you know everything, The Steins Collect at the Met is loaded with the great art and artists the family collected and befriended and, best of all, the stories. Where would Matisse and Picasso have been without them? Many works in the exhibit are from private collections and rarely seen by the public. If the weather permits, which it did not for me, the Met's rooftop space has a space-age Skylab-esqe sculpture by artist/engineer Tomás Saraceno. From what I gather, it's pretty interesting and fun to crawl through. That will be my next visit.

Hint: the tourist crowds in the city are insane, so plan ahead to avoid the masses at both the Met and MoMA -- and bring your umbrella.

26.5.12

The Unnecessary Orphan and the Canadians!

One of the most important openings happened this past week in Philadelphia, the reinvention of the Barnes Foundation. I was unable to attend the press preview so I can't provide an opinion. Of the reviews I have read so far many find the building impressive and full of light, even going so far as to claim the art is now free! I will get there at some point and will then share my own take.

As you may know I have not been supportive of the move of Dr. Barnes's collection. With all its issues the move was a drastic over-reaction and frankly morally and legally questionable. The collection is now branded and the gift shop is open - see for yourselves.


Opening this week at Mass MoCA is Oh, Canada. The exhibit is billed as the first comprehensive survey of contemporary Canadian art in decades, a major undertaking for curator Denise Markonish. She scoured nearly every province and made over 400 studio visits to organize this exhibit. I was there this past Thursday, and a lot of work still needed to be installed or completed to pull it off by Saturday. Some very interesting work from a distance. I wish them luck with the install and look forward to returning.

I did get to see Michael Oatman's all utopias fell, which is not open during the winter months. Oatman has perched an old airstream trailer high above the old boiler room building, surrounded by spent and tattered parachutes -- re-entry from another time and place. A Lost in Space remake, Buck Rogers, or Gilligan's Island -- unfortunately, no one is home but all the gadgets are buzzing and the music is on. Maybe they'll be there when I return for the Oh, Canada exhibit.


To get to all utopias fell visitors must make their way through the old boiler room building, and it's one of the most stunningly beautiful spots at the museum. This hulking rusted corpse, once the life blood of the former factory, has the feel of an ancient organ that comes to life when the wind blows through the open walls.

Notes from the 2012 Dresden Music Festival ( 5 )

Dresden's Bruckner and their Thielemann




I am in beautiful Dresden – birthplace of the coffee filter – for the annual three-week Music Festival that has taken place since 1978. After Mozart-joys, Malkovichean divertissement, Bach despairs and delights, it was time for a concert of the Dresden Staatskapelle – the musical crown jewel of this musically well endowed city – under their new music director Christian Thielemann.

The intelligent program that night took place at the Summer Palace in Dresden’s Großer Garten where Pierre-Laurent Aimard performed a clever medley of Schubert, Kurtág, Liszt and Ligeti. But sometimes brains are not as important as looks – or rather sound – and Thielemann in Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony with his orchestra is too promising, too beautiful, to centrally “Dresden”, and ultimately too prestigious to miss. Especially when the point of the stay in Dresden is to get a big whiff of Saxonia.

Pathetic, Peter Gelb?


Peter Gelb, and with him the Metropolitan Opera, enjoyed “an 8-hour New Coke/Coca-Cola Classic day” last week… an inadvertent (yet perfectly predictable) PR debacle about alleged censorship. The background is best provided by Dan Wakin in the New York Times, here. Shortly after that came the turn-around (well covered here and here and here) – although Gelb’s “I think [!] I made a mistake” (emphasis mine) confession will hardly undo much of the damage.

When it comes to art, I love boldness – which includes, as its main ingredient, bold failure. Performances that do not try something new or don’t take risks fail by default. This is a much more maddening failure than even the worst performance (or production) that had ambitions either unmet or fatally flawed, but tried.

It is in that sense that I rather admire, from afar, Peter Gelb’s efforts (whether successful or not) to drag the Met into the 20th [sic] century. At least he does something about the staid and stale reputation of the house, at least he shakes a few things up, dares change. I even like that he’s got a pronounced commercial side about him. Art is a product, a special one perhaps, but one that needs selling. (Quality control is another matter.)


I can understand how infuriating ignorant, stupid, or most commonly: lazy negative reviews can be. Even I, perfectly uninvolved with the criticized productions, can get physically ill reading the narrow-minded shlock that parades around as a review yet merely boils down to (and sometimes even admits as much): “This is not how it was done when I grew up, therefore Yuckatypoo!” (Watch for the words “Regietheater” and “Eurotrash” as signifiers of diminished intellectual activity.)

I can also understand the temptation of wanting to do something about such (or in fact any) criticism… were I only in a position to do so.

That’s as far as I can go with Peter Gelb, re: the recent hubbub of trying to strong-arm the Met-affiliated magazine Opera News into being less critical of the mothership. But the criticism of the Met’s productions, specifically but not exclusively its Ring, goes well beyond the narrow minded kind of criticism. And much more importantly, anyone who cannot resist the temptation of squelching criticism (of any kind) only because they can, has no business being in the job Peter Gelb is in. It touches uncomfortably on basic artistic and social principles. The “Free Speech” thing might be overblown, since the Met certainly has the right to bully other economic actors around – and the immediate backlash showed, if anything, how resilient the freedom of opinioneering still is, when properly irritated). And Gelb’s actions are outrageous not primarily for being wrong principally, but for being so counterproductive to the goals he ought to be wanting to achieve.

Even if this latest of several attempts to use the Met’s weight for the purpose of soft self-censorship hadn’t blown up in the institution’s face, it would still have served it all. Honest and sincerely critical reviews are an essential part of a thriving artistic environment. Reviews that hedge, and ache to be friendly, and are all ‘uncritical sunshine’ meanwhile, are worse than no review. They are tedious to read, easy to see through, and dismissed – eventually – even by the densest reader. No artist (since Kubelik) has really ever been severely torpedoed by (undeserved) bad reviews. But arts criticism has already been damaged by shills and PR texts masquerading as honest journalism. To think that expressing (occasional or recurring) negative opinions is harmful to an institution like the Met is spectacularly misguided. They are, in their own small way, part of the essence of vital arts. Vitality, after all, is to-and-fro. Not relying on a sad bunch of yes-men and women.

Then again, Gelb also reminded Opera News readers that they are not an independent magazine and that their reviews of the Met really shouldn’t be expected to be fair and unbiased in the first place (even if they were). Their continued coverage of the Met (perhaps ‘a little more careful now’, or, less likely, with increased vigor) is a small, gratifying victory for the magazine’s readers and perhaps other institutions that Gelb will think twice about trying to convince to alter the tone of their coverage, but it won’t make Opera News an inherently independent objective source.

None of this alters the fact that the duty to distinguish between a shill and sufficiently independent reviews (never mind the actual quality of the writing or expressed opinion) still lies with the reader. In that sense Gelb’s Opera News moment, including the backlash, was about choice, not quality control or editorial independence.

25.5.12

Oundjian with the BSO


Tenor Nicholas Phan
Anton Bruckner's setting of the Te Deum, premiered in 1886, needs an ally at the podium to help it win over listeners. The composer's friend and biographer, August Göllerich, recounted a famous anecdote about attending a pretty awful performance of Berlioz's operatic setting of the Te Deum in Vienna with Bruckner. After leaving the performance, in a secular concert hall, Bruckner reportedly shared his thoughts about the work, with his strongest criticism being that the work was "not very ecclesiastical." Not that Bruckner's Masses and the Te Deum do not have their more operatic moments, but Bruckner's approach to sacred music was, by contrast, extremely ecclesiastical. As scholar Paul Hackshaw has put it, Bruckner was "the most important composer since Johann Sebastian Bach to spend almost his entire professional life in the employ of the church," beginning as a choir boy with the Augustinian monks at the Stift Sankt Florian. He published the Te Deum with the Bach-like inscription "Omnia ad maiorem dei gloria," and the work ends with a monumental fugue, a tour de force that is one of the most important contrapuntal achievements of the 19th century, not a particularly contrapuntal age.

Which is all a way of saying that Bruckner's Te Deum can be a bore, leading many conductors to juice up the tempos, exaggerate the tone of declamation from liturgical to hysteric. Such was the approach of guest conductor Peter Oundjian, last heard in the area when he led the National Symphony Orchestra in 2005 (we missed his 2009 appearance in Baltimore), when he led the work, in its first-ever performance by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, at Meyerhoff Hall on Thursday night. A rather fast tempo in the opening was hard to accept as "Feierlich" (solemn), although the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, standing in mixed formation in the chorister seats above the stage, gave the work plenty of "Kraft" (strength). A good thing, since the piece is mostly a choral show, and they sang it with force and beauty, down (up) to the high C in the sopranos on the final chord. The fugue -- with subtle irony, Bruckner composed rather complicated counterpoint for the concluding lines, repeated several times, "O Lord, I have hoped in you, let me never be confounded" -- made up for the rushed feeling in other places, grand and with an eye on eternity.

Part of the problem was that the Te Deum, rushed through in just slightly over twenty minutes, served as a sort of overture to the main course, yet another performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony. The BSO last performed the piece only in 2009, but it will almost always sell out a hall, so it is hard to resist over-programming it -- and equally hard to make a performance distinctive. Oundjian actually did that in some ways, applying the same sort of insistence as he had in the Bruckner, keeping the tempo of the first three movements on the fast side (the scherzo's trio was a delightful romp), so much so that concertmaster Jonathan Carney had some vigorous head-nodding to do to keep the violins on track with Oundjian at the opening of the slow movement. Oundjian, a violinist by training (formerly a member of the Tokyo Quartet), kept the strings in the background at many points, allowing the woodwind parts, often working over themes in motivic bits, to percolate to the top of the texture (one noticeable gaffe, somewhere in the winds, marred the central section of the third movement).


Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, BSO’s Ninth Symphony not perfect, but it still stirs the blood (Washington Post, May 28)

Tim Smith, Peter Oundjian leads Baltimore Symphony, Choral Arts in Beethoven, Bruckner (Baltimore Sun, May 25)
The famous choral finale was just as urgent, with the cellos and basses almost frenetic in their recitative section, until the introduction of the new theme, which was ruminative and slow, picking up triumphantly in tempo when the brass took it up. The janissary section was a tangy, sharp-footed march, punctuated by the robust blaat of the contrabassoon. In a beautiful effect, the chorus sang some sections of the piece from memory, and it is hard to overstate the emotional impact of all of those faces looking out at you instead of at their scores as they belt out Schiller's ecstatic poetry. Oundjian had a mixed bag of soloists for both pieces, with bass Morris Robinson like a growling linebacker and tenor Nicholas Phan doing a bang-up job filling in for an indisposed Brandon Jovanovich -- the tenor has a fairly central part in both the Bruckner and the Beethoven, and Phan is to be commended for taking on that heavy responsibility, his achievement being more on the side of subtle beauty than that of heroic strength. The female half of the quartet, especially soprano Joyce El-Khoury in a disappointing BSO debut, was mostly evanescent and overwhelmed by the mass of sound from the rest of the stage.

This concert will be repeated tonight and Saturday night (May 25 and 26), at the Meyerhoff and Strathmore, respectively.