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28.2.13

'Hedda Gabler' in Modern Oslo

The Nordic Cool festival is heating up at the Kennedy Center, and while we will be focusing mostly on the classical music events -- the National Symphony Orchestra's program with Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto is this evening -- there are theater and dance events we would love to cover if there were more days in the week. One that fit into my schedule was the Wednesday performance of Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, staged by the National Theater of Norway in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. What might have been a negative for some was actually a draw for me: the chance to hear the play (well, most of it) in the original Norwegian, with a supertitle machine providing an English translation.

Norwegian-American director Peer Perez Øian, in his updated adaptatation, has streamlined Ibsen's play, or gutted it, depending on your point of view. To get at the heart of the conflict, he has left intact only the five most important characters: gone is all mention of Jørgen's aunts (both Juliane and the never-seen invalid Rina), as well as the servant, Berta. Some of the content of Jørgen's dialogue with Juliane in the first act is contained in the most substantially altered portion of this adaptation, the introduction that situates the return of the newly married Tesmans -- Jørgen and Hedda -- from their extended honeymoon. Other than some slight altering of later lines, however -- instead of in photo albums, the honeymoon pictures were shown on a smartphone, for example -- most of the rest of the dialogue is straight from Ibsen. The only regrettable addition was the use of a turntable playing 60s tunes, with the characters dancing to it.


Other Articles:

Peter Mark, From Oslo, a most eccentric ‘Hedda Gabler’ (Washington Post, February 28)
The updating -- especially the removal of Jørgen's extended family (his two aunts raised him when his parents died) and the convention of a house with servants -- allowed this production to be much more open about the sexual tension at the heart of the drama. Jørgen, played here by the handsome Mattis Herman Nyquist, was much less an obvious target for scorn, perhaps egotistical and less intellectually sharp but far from the vexing loser he is in some productions. Thea Elvsted (Tone Beate Mostraum, pretty but also fragile) and Ejlert Løvborg (lumbering, bestubbled Jørgen Langhelle) were on the same social level as the Gablers, just ruined by a bad marriage and drink. As Brack, the tall, bald Christian Greger Strøm seemed less a legal presence and more of an interloping neighbor, and all the performances were subtle, with volumes of meaning packed into each 'Yes', 'No', or 'Perhaps'.

When the actors were not involved in a scene, which took place on a revolving set with drops resembling parts of Oslo's National Theater itself, they were generally seated at the edges of the proscenium, observing the play. The approach made Hedda (played with an edge by K. Andrea Bræin Hovig, pictured above) -- one of the more complex women ever conceived for the stage -- even colder than she might otherwise be, beautiful, judgmental, cruel, willing to crush her husband's rival even while she is attracted to him, seemingly more than to her husband. One memorable moment came when Bræin Hovig, passing through the house, sat down on the arm of the seat directly in front of me. Perez Øian's direction added reflective moments to allow us to contemplate each degree of her betrayal, and how it leads to her own undoing, with Ejlert allowed to linger on the stage, a silent but condemning ghost.

The next major theater event in the Kennedy Center's Nordic Cool festival will feature Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theater in the U.S. premiere of Fanny and Alexander (March 7 to 9), a stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's Oscar-winning feature film. Many other theater events are also on the schedule.

Les Percussions Claviers de Lyon at La Maison Française

The French ensemble Les Percussions Claviers de Lyon offered a delightfully idiosyncratic tribute to Claude Debussy at La Maison Française Tuesday night. As their name indicates, these five players specialize in keyboard percussion, and they filled the stage with marimbas, vibraphones, and other mallet instruments in various sizes, along with some non-pitched ones like cymbals and a tam-tam. Most of these were absent from Western music in Debussy’s time, and he never wrote for them. Nonetheless, their sound is surprisingly apt for his music. In fact, the composer had been deeply inspired by an Indonesian pitched percussion ensemble, or gamelan, at the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition.

The concert featured two sets of Debussy arrangements by Les Percussions’s artistic director Gérard Lecointe, alongside two pieces by contemporary composers inspired by Debussy. First were two of his three Nocturnes, scaled down from their original symphonic scoring, followed by four of the twenty-four Préludes enlarged from solo piano. Lecointe’s arrangements artfully transmuted Debussy into a strange, sugared atmosphere of tinklings and rumblings and purrs. The first nocturne, Nuages, usually conjures up the gloomy, wooded setting of Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande, which he was composing at the same time. In the hands of Les Percussions, the wood became a trippy Candy Cane Forest, by turns whimsical, hilarious, and vaguely frightening. The players kept it at a hushed dynamic, letting the music’s many delicate colors come through. Fêtes depicts a festive procession, described by Debussy as a “dazzling fantastic vision”; here it was more like a slightly demented puppet parade. While some might object to this treatment of Debussy, I don’t think it served to distort his music so much as to bring out certain elements already existing within it. The weirdness is Debussy’s, and it’s conceivable he would have used these instruments himself had he known them.

The two contemporary pieces were more inspired by Debussy in spirit than slavish stylistic imitations. They shared his fascination with nonwestern musics: Rigodon, by François Narboni (b. 1963), evoked the complex clangor of gamelan, while Thierry Pécou (b. 1965) paid homage to Mexican marimba traditions with L’arbre aux Fleurs. In structure, both pieces recalled minimalist works by Steve Reich, often employing the same pitched percussion, built from the layering of rhythmic pulses that repeat and then morph into other patterns kaleidoscopically. They also both went on too long and covered too much ground to maintain much cohesion as artistic statements, but they were so hypnotically enjoyable that this could be forgiven. Pécou’s piece featured an interlude on the Aztec teponaztli, a shallow wooden drum. It ended the night dramatically, with all five players gathered around a single marimba in the manner of Mexican folk performers, hammering out diabolically difficult rhythms as one.

The next concert we are looking forward to at La Maison Française is a recital by harpsichordist Christophe Rousset (April 12, 7:30 pm), followed by a recital at the Library of Congress (April 13, 2 pm).

27.2.13

On Forbes: Two Cents About Classical Music For $100


Riffing off the 2011 ionarts posts »Classical music for $100«, »Classical music for $100: "The Second $100 Dollars"«, and »Classical Music for $100: Music History Survey« which are in turn riffing off Tyler Cowen's original post (Marginal Revolution, George Pieler and I have tackled the subject of classical music for our Forbes column which we hope to spin out over a series of articles that focus on anything from the changing nature of the classical music business to questions about digital rights management and ownership. And it will, of course, include "The List". Because we love lists. And because it's been amended and attempts were made to make it iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify compatible.

[Yadda-yadda... This] beautifully frames two key aspects of the classical music world today: availability and affordability. Classical (ditto jazz) is a fascinating niche industry annually pronounced dead but more alive than ever. It’s just changing in all possible kinds of ways, at different speeds, in different countries. Pricing, production, distribution, listening and purchasing habits, even the very medium itself and its long accepted norms (like album playtime, the concept of ‘album’ itself etc.) change or vanish.

Let’s focus just what Cowen and Guglielmo touch on: price, medium, and the idea of “essentials”.

Now that Tower Records and the HMV Shop are history, how do we consumers determine price?

Continued here, at Forbes.com

Víkingur Ólafsson, Easy Listening



Charles T. Downey, Pianist presents dreamy, snoozy images of ‘The North’
Washington Post, February 27, 2013

available at Amazon
Debut, V. Ólafsson
(mp3)
“Nordic Cool,” the name of the Kennedy Center’s cultural festival this year, evokes many characteristics of the world’s northern regions: its vastness, its emptiness, its frigidity, its silence. Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson took Glenn Gould’s cryptically autobiographical thoughts on this “Idea of North” as the basis of an odd recital, “The North Is a State of Mind,” that he performed at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Monday night.

As it turned out, this wan and bloodless program, consisting mostly of dreamy music dreamily played, was more like “Nordic Mellow.” Olafsson has a delicate touch at the keyboard and chose mostly sedate, less challenging fare to highlight that aspect of his playing, his sense of rubato mostly focused on slowing down. [Continue reading]
Víkingur Ólafsson, piano
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater


26.2.13

Alexander Melnikov @ Phillips

available at Amazon
Shostakovich, Piano Concertos 1/2, A. Melnikov, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, T. Currentzis
We looked forward to hearing Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov in person, after years of admiring his recordings, and the chance came on Sunday afternoon, with his recital at the Phillips Collection. In many ways, it was a barnburner of a concert -- featuring three of the most demanding composers in some of their most difficult pieces -- but in other ways it was Melnikov's subtlety at the keyboard, when he did not have to be walloping it, that stood out the most. This kind of program, with exceptionally loud music from an exceptionally powerful player, may force the Phillips to reconsider, at least in some cases, this season's decision to move the piano to the center of the room, with seating all around it. Having the instrument that close to a wall, and the wall that close to listeners' ears, only made matters worse. At least in the former location, at the far end of the hall, beyond a sort of archway, there is some distance for the sound to travel.

Schumann's Symphonic Etudes have rarely sounded as convincing as they were in Melnikov's hands. Melnikov played all of the movements originally published by Schumann, including the two non-variation etudes (3 and 9) that the composer later removed from the work. He also interpolated the last two of the lost variations that Schumann did not allow to be included, which were later published by Brahms, placing them between Etudes 7 and 8. Melnikov, while not a historically informed performance (HIP) specialist by any means, has done some interesting work with historical instruments, as in his recording of the Brahms sonatas, and with performance practice scholarship. He played much of the Schumann with little to no sustaining pedal, including the third movement (Vivace), which made the right-hand violin-like figuration dry and spiky. While the fast movements pushed the envelope of velocity with astounding accuracy and excitement, the slow movements were intensely espressivo, wisps and tendrils of music slowly unfurled. The finale was just about as astonishing as we have ever heard it (played by Yuja Wang, among others), with even the loudest chords expertly voiced rather than just hammered.


Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Pianist Alexander Melnikov embodies what’s best about Phillips recital series (Washington Post, February 26)
Like Yuja Wang, Melnikov paired the Schumann with Prokofiev's gigantic, terrifying, ear-splintering sixth sonata, giving it so much power in the barbaric first movement, all thorns and daggers, and seeming possessed in a powerful, demonic finale. The second movement was genteel by comparison, a suavely pedaled, not at all grotesque Allegretto, and a dreamy slow movement, not quite as varied in touch at the soft end of the spectrum as I remember Evgeny Kissin's Prokofiev. In between came a tumultuous, rhapsodic performance of Scriabin's B minor fantasy, op. 28, matched at the end by a Scriabin encore, the Poème, op. 32, no. 1. "I hate playing loud," Melnikov said as he introduced the encore, obviously aware that the bombastic program could be too much in the small room. We did not hate hearing it.

The next concert at the Phillips Collection will feature violist Matthew Lipman and pianist Nimrod David Pfeffer (March 3, 4 pm).

25.2.13

'Black Gigantic Butterflies'



Charles T. Downey, 21st Century Consort’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ lacked only an audience
Washington Post, February 25, 2013

available at Amazon
Schoenberg, Pierrot lunaire (German and English versions), L. Shelton, Da Capo Chamber Players
One of the most influential works of modern music celebrated its centenary this season. Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” an unforgettable atonal song cycle that premiered in October 1912, shattered conventions about how composers treat the human voice. The 21st Century Consort marked the occasion with a performance of the work Saturday at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, for a regrettably small audience.

Soprano Lucy Shelton, who made an excellent recording of the work 20 years ago, gave an authoritative, engaging, even fun rendition of the vocal part, entirely from memory and aided by a microphone. In Schoenberg’s signature Sprechstimme, a rhythmically notated form of recitation, Shelton purred, pattered, hissed, hooted, screamed and growled her way through 21 symbolist poems by Albert Giraud with polished German diction, in a translation by Otto Erich Hartleben. [Continue reading]
21st Century Consort
Arnold Schoenberg, Dreimal sieben Gedichte aus Albert Girauds 'Pierrot lunaire' ("Three times Seven Poems from Albert Giraud's 'Pierrot lunaire'"), op. 21 (Andrew Porter's English translation)
Bruce MacCombie (1943-2012), Elegy
Stephen Albert (1941-1992), To Wake the Dead
Smithsonian American Art Museum

SEE ALSO:
Paul Mathews, ‘Pierrot lunaire’: A spry centenarian (Washington Post, March 30)

Anne Midgette, Music review: Eighth Blackbird at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, April 4)

24.2.13

Awards Season

You may be watching the Academy Awards tonight, so here are some thoughts on this year's best achievements in film. Lincoln is still leading the Ionarts poll for Best Picture of the Year, but our vote would go to Life of Pi, an excellent film we would also like to see get awards for Cinematography (Claudio Miranda), Directing (Ang Lee), Film Editing (Tim Squyres), Music--Original Score (Mychael Danna), Production Design, Visual Effects, and Writing--Adapted Screenplay (David Magee). (Writing--Original Screenplay should go to Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for Moonrise Kingdom.) Best Actor in a Leading Role should go to Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln; Emmanuelle Riva should win Best Actress in a Leading Role for Amour, which should also win Best Foreign Language Film. (Marion Cotillard was overlooked in the latter category for her striking work in Rust and Bone.) Although Alan Arkin was the best part of Argo, the award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role should go to Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master, while Anne Hathaway seems a lock as Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Les Misérables, which should also probably win Best Costume Design but not Best Makeup and Hair, which should go to those amazing dwarves in The Hobbit (not reviewed). For Best Animated Feature Film, we liked Brave (not reviewed), and Searching for Sugar Man (not reviewed) for Best Documentary Feature, Fresh Guacamole for Best Animated Short, and Curfew for Best Live Action Short.


Further thoughts on the films nominated by the Academy for Best Picture this year:
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild (not reviewed)
Django Unchained (not reviewed)
Life of Pi
Les Misérables
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

In Brief: Lent II Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio, online video, and other good things in Blogville and Beyond. (After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast.)


  • Watch this weekend's concert by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, led by Jukka-Pekka Saraste, playing music by Elliott Carter (Two Controversies and a Conversation for piano, percussion, and chamber orchestra), Stravinsky (Movements for Piano and Orchestra), Bartók (Dance Suite), and Janáček (Sinfonietta), with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Colin Currie as soloists. [Cité de la Musique Live]

  • For your Lenten reflection, watch Peter Dijkstra lead a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Munich, with the Bavarian Radio Choir, Concerto Köln, and the Regensburger Domspatzen. [ARTE Live Web]

  • If you missed it the first time around on BR-Klassik, here is the performance of Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie from Munich, with Mariss Jansons conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Cynthia Miller on Ondes Martenot, recording last month (see the review by our own Jens Laurson). [France Musique]

  • From the Opéra Comique, a performance of Reynaldo Hahn's operetta Ciboulette (1923), with Laurence Equilbey leading the Orchestre de l'Opéra de Toulon Provence Méditerranée (audio stream may not be available until Monday). [France Musique]

  • More Reynaldo Hahn with this 1973 recording of his musical comedy O mon bel inconnu (1932-33) by the Orchestre lyrique de l’ORTF under Claire Gibault. [France Musique]

  • Yet more Hahn, in a recital by soprano Véronique Gens and pianist Susan Manoff, recorded in 2010 in Bulle, Switzerland. [France Musique]

  • From the Opera National de Versailles, a performance of François-Joseph Gossec's opera Thésée (1782), featuring the Chœur de Chambre de Namur and the ensemble Les Agrémens, under the direction of Guy Van Waas. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a performance of Handel's opera Radamisto, with Rupert Enticknap (Radamisto), Florian Boesch (Tiridate), Sophie Karthäuser (Polissena), and Patricia Bardon (Zenobia) in the cast, plus the Freiburger Barockorchester under conductor René Jacobs, recorded in January at the Theater an der Wien. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • A recital by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and pianist David Zobel, from last summer's Schwetzinger Festspiele. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt sings Britten's Les Illuminations and Serenade, with horn player Benoit de Barsony and the Orchestre des Pays de Savoie, under the baton of Nicolas Chalvin, plus some Mozart. [France Musique]

  • From the Mozartwoche Salzburg earlier this month, the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg under Pablo Heras-Casado and with cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, plus the Ensemble Intercontemporain under George Benjamin with the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Listen to a performance of Donizetti's La Favorite, recorded on February 7 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, starring Alice Coote, Marc Laho, and Ludovic Tézier. [France Musique]

  • From the Utrecht Early Music Festival last summer, Collegium 1704 performs sacred music by Jan Dismas Zelenka, including the Missa omnium sanctorum ZWV 21. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Violinist Alina Ibragimova is soloist and director of the Academy Of Ancient Music in a concert of music by Bach, Vivaldi, and Biber in Ludlow's Assembly Rooms. [France Musique]

  • A recital by cellist Sol Gabetta and pianist Bertrand Chamayou in Barcelona, with music by Schumann, Beethoven, Shostakovich, and others. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • From the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, a program of music by Dvořák, Mendelssohn, and Sibelius (first symphony) from the Orchestre National de France under conductor Vassily Sinaisky, with violinist Julian Rachlin. [France Musique]

  • Some early music by Johann Philipp Krieger and contemporaries, performed by Hamburger Ratsmusik, directed by Simone Eckert and with soprano Ulrike Hofbauer, recorded back in 2010. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Listen to a recital by violinist Kirill Troussov and pianist Alexandra Troussova, with music by Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Wieniawski, from the Auditorium du Louvre. [France Musique]

  • Gianandrea Noseda leads the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, with Leif Ove Andsnes as the soloist in Beethoven's third piano concerto, plus Strauss's Aus Italien, recorded last November. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • In honor of French pianist Dominique Merlet (who shared first prize with Martha Argerich at the Concours international d'exécution musicale de Genève in 1957), listen to some archival recordings of his performances from the 1950s and 1970s. [France Musique]

  • Ferenc Fricsay leads the RIAS Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir in Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio, recorded back in 1949 in Berlin. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

23.2.13

Christoph von Dohnányi Takes the Reins at the NSO

The National Symphony Orchestra is back from what was, by all accounts, a successful tour of Europe and Oman. For their first concerts here this month, the musicians welcomed back conductor Christoph von Dohnányi, for his first guest appearance since 2006. The German conductor, celebrated especially for his years leading the Cleveland Orchestra, is now in his 80s, but he seemed energetic and in control at the podium (at the end of an active month of guest conducting), in a fine program that paired the modern and the Romantic, heard on Friday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Although the NSO recently played an orchestration of Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder by Hans Werner Henze, it had apparently not played a single piece of the celebrated German composer's music until von Dohnányi led this performance of the Adagio, Fugue, and Maenads' Dance, a distillation of music from his opera The Bassarids. In this mythological work, the ruler of Thebes, Pentheus, tries to ban the cult of Dionysus from his city, only to be tricked by the god into disguising himself as a woman, taking part in the frenzied celebrations in honor of the god, and ultimately being torn to pieces by the crazed Maenads, among whom are his own mother and sister. The music is quite beautiful, with Romantic turns of melody and opulent orchestration (especially some memorable bits for alto saxophone and enough percussion to stun a small cat -- at full bore, the piece makes a lovely racket), with the climaxes shaped carefully by von Dohnányi, the musicians following him closely. The orchestral version concludes with the Maenads' Dance, a wild rumpus of sound that begins with a sudden outburst and ends with the death of Pentheus, personified in an ardent cello solo.


Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, NSO program of Henze and Brahms is a feast for the ears from the Fatherland (Washington Post, February 22)

Zachary Lewis, Christoph von Dohnanyi revisits Henze and Mahler with Cleveland Orchestra (Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 22)

Jeremy Eichler, With a sage guide, a tour of a cathedral in sound (Boston Globe, February 15)

David Wright, Dohnányi, Lupu and BSO contrast modest Mozart with bold Bruckner (Boston Classical Review, February 15)

David Weininger, Dohnanyi back with a well-crafted program at BSO (Boston Globe, February 8)

Anthony Tommasini, Prometheus, Raw and Fiery (New York Times, February 1)
Next up was an overplayed favorite, Mendelssohn's E minor violin concerto (op. 64), last heard just a few months ago from Anne-Sophie Mutter at the NSO season opener. This time the soloist was French violinist Renaud Capuçon, last heard with the NSO in 2007 (and in a chamber music concert in 2010). The piece was marked by some disagreement between Capuçon, who seemed to want to push the fast tempos very fast, and von Dohnányi, who sometimes put the brakes on in the tutti sections, while keeping his beat in line with his sometimes erratic soloist. It made for an exciting, impetuous, adrenaline-fueled, slightly seat-of-one's-pants performance, with the highlight in a melancholy, not lingering middle movement.

The last time von Dohnányi was here, in 2006, he conducted the first Brahms symphony. Justly renowned for his Brahms -- in recordings with the Cleveland Orchestra (classic) and also the Philharmonia Orchestra (good) -- von Dohnányi led a magisterial performance of the fourth symphony (E minor, op. 98), opening the first movement with a tempo not too slow, allowing the halting melody to sigh over a surging accompaniment, making the whole piece smolder rather than blaze. Thanks to von Dohnányi's containment of sound and control of tempo, this was an expression of somber, even stifled passion, just the way I like my Brahms, with a subtle, heart-meltingly sweet second movement (fine sounds from the horns) and energized but not overly fast third movement, with seamless transitions. The confidence heard from the NSO, a few clunkers in the oboes and horns in the Brahms aside, seemed to flow from the assured hand at the helm, creating a forceful and noble finale, based on the chaconne with which Bach concluded his Cantata 150. Here the piece had a tidal pull, abating slightly for the gentle flute solo and somber low brass moments but flowing implacably to its end.

This concert repeats this evening (February 23, 8 pm) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Dip Your Ears, No. 126 (Venice by Night)

available at Amazon
A.Vivaldi et al., "Venice by Night"
A.Chandler / La Serenissima et al.
Avie 2257

Since hearing Adrian Chandler’s Vivaldi release “The French Connection” ("Best of 2009 Almost List") – as immediately and thoroughly charming a Vivaldi disc as I’ve come across –I’m keeping my ears peeled for his new releases. Not only is his period troupe La Serenissima formidable, Chandler proves particularly adept at mixing and matching works so that sameness and routine are never tempted to creep in. On “Venice by Night”, forty minutes of Vivaldi are interspersed with 18th world premiere recordings of 18th century arias, concertos, and sinfonias of Venetian composers Pollarolo, Veracini, Lotti, and Porta: A gorgeous collection marked by gentle sincerity, accuracy without aggression, unobtrusive liveliness, and confident calm.

Kaija Saariaho @ Phillips

The Leading European Composers series at the Phillips Collection hosted a composer truly worthy of the name on Thursday evening. We have been admirers of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's music for some years, particularly the operas L'Amour de Loin and Adriana Mater but also the instrumental music we have heard. Prizes have been coming her way, and when rewards line up with merit, it is heartening news. She came to Washington with a group of young musicians from the Canadian Opera Company's Ensemble Studio, with whom she had worked on a program of her music in Toronto last year.

The program brought together mostly vocal music, much of it connected in some way with L'Amour de Loin, beginning with Lonh (From Afar, 1996), set to texts by the troubadour Jaufré Rudel, the opera's main character. Soprano Jacqueline Woodley was incandescent in this stately cantillation, the mystical sounds of her voice echoed in the electronics (assisted by Darren Copeland), a combination of recorded sounds that gave the feel of temple bells in a sort of garden. One of the highlights of the Phillips series is hearing the composer speak about the music being performed, and Saariaho spoke about the musical influence she took from the modal melodies of Rudel, which she noted down from a manuscript of his poetry in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Woodley brought many of the same strengths -- flexibility, surety of intonation, impassioned tone -- to Quatre Instants, a song cycle Saariaho composed for Karita Mattila in 2002 (the same performer for whom she wrote her most recent opera, Émilie). The poetry, in a French text by Amin Maalouf, Saariaho's regular collaborator, is a semi-operatic monologue by a woman tormented by memories of a doomed but ineluctable union. The opening song's image of the woman as a boat adrift is echoed in the piano accompaniment, with an obsessively rocking half-step that pervades the piece. The second song introduces the line "Le remords me brûle" (I burn with remorse), repeated obsessively in a half-spoken ostinato, itself answered by sighs on an open "Ah!" vowel. The piano bristles with repeated motifs, like anxious trills, repeated notes, flurrying patterns, and (perhaps too many) disorienting glissandi. It is a sound world unlike any other.


Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, At Phillips, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho exposes the human psyche (Washington Post, February 23)
The most straightforward piece was a ballade for piano, composed for Emanuel Ax in 2005, in a style that seemed in line with Chopin's take on the genre, with a melancholy melody spun out of murmuring accompaniment figures and spectral pedal effects, performed effectively by pianist Elizabeth Upchurch. The final piece on the program took us back to what sounded like an earlier style for Saariaho, a section of Grammaire des rêves, from 1988, in which two interlaced voices alternately sing and speak overlapping excerpts of poetry by Sylvia Plath. Soprano Mireille Asselin and mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb took Saariaho's description of the piece -- as a depiction of a person split in two, with interlocking thoughts jumbled together -- to heart, adding movements that made them come together at one music stand, clasp one another as they gasped for breath, and move apart again.

We will be back at the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon for the recital by pianist Alexander Melnikov (February 24, 4 pm) playing music by Schumann, Scriabin, and Prokofiev.

22.2.13

Ionarts-at-Large: Mahler With Mehta and Angel Blue


“Angel Blue”, it turns out, is not the name of a stripper. The lady in question is a Miss Southern California (& Miss California 1st runner up, 2006) and—more surprising and more significantly—the soprano of this  Thursday (February 21st) evening’s Mahler Symphony No.2 with the Munich Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. The gorgeous Plácido Domingo victim protégé did well, with her sweet, heavy timbre and rather heavy (a little too heavy) vibrato. With Mihoko Fujimura she had a veteran mezzo at her side who unassumingly outshone her. It has been a while since I last heard Fujimura (in 2008 as Kundry both in Vienna and Bayreuth), where I found her singing-acting truly outstanding. But even just singing, her Urlicht and the soli in the Resurrection finale, were beautiful, unforced, and unmannered, with enormous presence and touching immediacy. The Philharmonic Chorus had a fine hour, too, in this third of three performances, especially the hushed first entry, where only one or two growling basses stuck out from a crepuscular whole, tender.

Zubin Mehta of course has given Mahler fans one of the finest recordings of the Second Symphony in the catalog. They year was 1975, and young Zubin was a firebrand of unusual background who made his name in conservative Vienna blowing away cobwebs and setting the classical music world aflame: The Dudamel of his time, if you wish: dashing, but with rather sexier hair than the Dude’s frizz-mop. Mehta has settled down a bit since, and his performances appear more on the routine, pretty, bland side, not daring or exciting. He’ll turn in a mean Mahler, though, on a good day (as on December 2008, Bavarian State Orchestra), and still very decent Mahler when things are a little awry (as on September 2010, MPhil).

As if to contradict the unkind stereotype I just tried laid out, Mehta opened the first movement with electric, detailed low strings and took a real bite out of a first movement. Only timid intervention from the horns protected it from accusations of perfectionism. Mehta led with clear economic gestures and his focus on real pianissimos nearly forced the cough-happy audience into silence. There was a sense of deliberation in all movements, but not always the tenaciousness of the first: Mehta didn’t take the audience by the lapel through the surges and lulls of the Symphony, he invited it to come along if it felt like it. If Mehta—presumably—was following a long line; I couldn’t always detect it, no doubt due to a shortcoming entirely of my own, and certainly to my own detriment. Still: the last movement of the glorious Second Symphony shouldn’t feel like a succession of “get-there-already” moments, merely dotted with ingenious moments. Came the rousing finale, though, I was happily on board again. Any lingering disgruntlement is Mehta’s fault for having set the standard so high himself.

For Your Consideration: 'The Master' and 'Life of Pi'

In the "never thought I would see that made into a movie" category in the Best Picture competition this year are two excellent films, either of which I would be fine with winning Best Picture of the Year on Sunday. The Master, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, actually cannot win Best Picture, since it was not nominated for that award, but I included it in our poll -- voting in the sidebar continues until 6 pm on Sunday, just before the Academy Award ceremony -- and it has done quite well so far.

The movie officially has nothing to do with the life of the founder of Scientology. The story follows a charismatic preacher, Lancaster Dodd (not L. Ron Hubbard), with science fiction ideas about a new religion, which he established in the 1950s (when Scientology was founded) after a stint in the U.S. Navy. Dodd, played with monomoniacal selfishness by Philip Seymour Hoffman (fully deserving of the nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role), preys on the wealthy for their money and on the downtrodden for their slavish devotion to him. Closest to him are Freddie Quell, a bad-news WWII veteran with post-traumatic stress and a slew of other mental problems (the unclassifiable Joaquin Phoenix, in one of the great, disturbing, soul-baring non-performances of all time), and Dodd's wife, Peggy (sickly sweet but overprotective as played by Amy Adams).

21.2.13

Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Opens Nordic Cool

Diplomats and other officials from the Nordic countries gathered at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday night to inaugurate this year's geographically oriented cultural festival, Nordic Cool. The Kennedy Center's halls will host performances by Nordic theater troupes, dancers, and musicians through March 17, a series of events kicked off by a short program -- a sort of musical Smörgåsbord -- performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in the Concert Hall. On the outside of the building, the blue lighting -- which I took to be glacier blue when I first saw it -- was completed by green lasers imitating the shapes of the aurora borealis, a light installation called Northern Lights, created by Jesper Kongshaug. On the grounds out front, the majestic wooden sculptures of Juha Pykäläinen's Elk Towers stride towards the entrance.

Fresh off a concert at Carnegie Hall last weekend, music director Sakari Oramo led the RSPO in five pieces by composers representing the main Nordic countries. Finland received the most obvious choice, Sibelius's tone poem Finlandia, to open the concert with a bang. Oramo took time with the ominous opening brass chords, waiting until the fast section to let the piece roll, shaped into a to-the-hilt rendition of cinematic scope. Iceland was represented by the most unexpected selection, the Njáls Saga Scherzo, a movement from the first symphony by Jón Liefs (1899-1968, pictured above). The so-called "Saga Symphony," the piece is a programmatic evocation of characters and episodes from Icelandic epic poetry, and this movement depicts the quest of a hero, Kári Sölmundarson, to avenge the murder of his wife's family. In a rollicking 6/8 meter, the dance is unsettled by metric shifts, burbling winds (delightful bassoons, especially), col legno strikes in the strings, and metallic anvil or sword strokes -- a joyful slaughter.

Sweden and Denmark had more conventional fare, beginning with Hugo Alfvén (1872–1960), representing his native Sweden with his yearning, standard-Romantic song Så tag mit hjerte ("So Take My Heart"), and Edvard Grieg's Solveig's Song from Peer Gynt. Swedish soprano Inger Dam-Jensen brought an ardent and present tone to these lovely songs, only a slightly overactive vibrato not quite suited to floating the long melisma that ends each stanza of the Grieg song, especially its high, fragile final note. Our tour of the north ended in Denmark, with the most substantial piece on the program, Carl Nielsen's fourth symphony ("Det uudslukkelige"). I wrote about the piece extensively when Christoph Eschenbach Thomas Dausgaard brought it back into the repertory of the National Symphony Orchestra in 2011, and frankly was hoping to hear another of Nielsen's symphonies, heard too infrequently in these parts.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Nordic Cool at Kennedy Center opens with potluck (Washington Post, February 21)

Zachary Woolfe, A Grab Bag of Sound (New York Times, February 18)
If Asteroid DA14 had come 17,000 miles closer to us earlier this month, so this symphony's program assures us, life would bloom again out of destruction. Oramo's frenetic conducting style informed this somewhat jangling rendition, with its large outbursts, disjointed dotted-rhythm motifs, growling violas, but also super-soft string sounds and tender scherzo, leading to a slow movement that began with what seemed like an ancient incantation. Of course, the insect-buzzing textures that open the fourth movement lead to the most famous dueling timpani passages in the symphonic literature, which did not disappoint in this version. Only some occasional dolorous tuning in the woodwinds detracted from a fine outing for the RPSO. An encore of Alfvén's Vallflickans dans (Shepherd Girl's Dance) capped off the concert, played without intermission so that the well-heeled guests could proceed to enjoy another kind of Smörgåsbord at a white-tie dinner.

The Nordic Cool festival has too much on offer for one person to hear, but we plan to cover concerts by pianist Vikingur Ólafsson (February 25), violinist Pekka Kuusisto with the NSO (February 28 to March 2), and a recital by mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter (March 4), as well as the production of Hedda Gabler by the National Theater of Norway (February 26 to 27).

20.2.13

For Your Consideration: 'Argo' and 'Zero Dark Thirty'

At the time of this writing, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is leading the Ionarts Poll for Best Picture of the Year (in the sidebar). That may be how it turns out at the Academy Awards this weekend -- the navel-gazing ceremony at which the film industry decides what were its best (most successful) efforts in the past year. Two other films may be competitive in the popularity contest for Best Picture, both ripped from recent headlines and playing like potboiler page-turners.

These movies, as enjoyable as they are to watch, do not feel like great films, more like stylish docudramas than artistic achievement. Ben Affleck's Argo tells the astounding story of the daring rescue of a handful of American diplomats who managed to walk out the back door of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was stormed by revolutionary Iranians. They holed up in the residence of the Canadian ambassador, until the Central Intelligence Agency dreamed up a crazy scheme to get them out of Iran. In a twist almost too incredible to believe, a CIA specialist created a back story about a Star Wars knockoff movie crew scouting locations in Iran, assisted by real-life movie professionals in Hollywood, then went into Tehran to lead the diplomats out, passing them off as part of the film production team. That much is public knowledge, but only recently since the details were declassified, published in an article in Wired by Joshuah Bearman and the book The Master of Disguise by Tony Mendez, the CIA exfiltration expert played by Affleck in the film.

19.2.13

Kožená, Bestiary of the Exotic



Charles T. Downey, Magdalena Kozena at Shriver Hall
Washington Post, February 19, 2013

available at Amazon
Love and Longing (Ravel, Dvořák, Mahler), M. Kožená, Berlin Philharmonic, S. Rattle
(2012)
The things that make a good song recital happen can be as elusive as alchemy. Part of it is the choice of songs, part is the singer’s ability to narrate in music as if simply reciting poetry, and part is the pianist’s ability to set the scene. All three of these elements came together in the recital by Magdalena Kozena on Sunday at Shriver Hall, the Czech mezzo-soprano’s first in the area since 2009.

By most vocal standards, Kozena’s voice is not extraordinary; it has a pretty but relatively small tone that tends to sound forced at extremes of dynamic and range. Her wide-eyed storytelling was key to bringing off this unusual program of rarely heard song sets, in which she conveyed the rambling thoughts of children (Mussorgsky’s “The Nursery”), the obsessions of birds and insects (Ravel’s “Histoires Naturelles”), and the shrieks and quirks of Slovakian folk song (Bartok’s “Village Scenes”). Kozena could float these vocal lines — most straightforwardly in Rachmaninoff’s six Op. 38 songs — with ease and confidence, with virtuoso pianist Yefim Bronfman providing the color at the keyboard.
[Continue reading]

18.2.13

Hilary Hahn, Again with the Encores



Charles T. Downey, Violinist Hilary Hahn’s new encores served as musical dessert at Kennedy Center
Washington Post, February 18, 2013

available at Amazon
Bach, Solo Violin Partitas, H. Hahn
Encores come in a few standard shapes and sizes: the ardent, lyrical cantilena; the short, vapid bit of pure virtuosity; something more enigmatic or contrapuntal. Violinist Hilary Hahn wanted to expand her range of encore choices, so she commissioned a set of new encore pieces from composers around the world. Her recital on Saturday night, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, featured the Washington premieres of some of them.

The encore has a special place, offered by the performer as a gift to the listener and sometimes mentioned but generally not reviewed by critics. It is often a way for musicians to play music they normally would not include in a serious program, as a guilty pleasure. It is not necessarily something one associates with new music that might not sit well with all listeners, and that is the challenge facing Hahn’s project. [Continue reading]

SEE ALSO:
Lawrence Budman, Hilary Hahn mixes old and new with supreme artistry (South Florida Classical Review, February 15)

Joshua Kosman, Hahn at the Herbst, Shaham at Davies (San Francisco Chronicle, February 10)

Jeff Dunn, Hilary Hahn Shines Light on Delicacies (San Francisco Classical Voice, February 9)

17.2.13

In Brief: Lent I Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio, online video, and other good things in Blogville and Beyond. (After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast.)


  • Christophe Rousset directs Les Talens Lyriques and musicians from the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles in a rare performance of Antonio Sacchini's opera Renaud ou la Suite d'Armide (1783) at the Opéra Royal de Versailles, one of the works I wrote about in my doctoral dissertation. [France Musique]

  • Listen to Schumann's orientalist oratorio Le Paradis et la Péri (1843), based on the romance Lalla Rookh by Thomas Moore, in a rare performance featuring La Chambre Philharmonique and the chamber choir Les Éléments, conducted by Emmanuel Krivine, plus soprano Rachel Harnisch and tenor Topi Lehtipuu, among others. [France Musique]

  • Watch the modernized production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut from Brussels, directed by Mariusz Trelinski. [De Munt]

  • Musicians from Les Arts Florissants, under William Christie, accompany soprano Emmanuelle De Negri and baritone Marc Mauillon in French Baroque music influenced by Italy. [France Musique]

  • You can watch Les Violons du Roy perform symphonies by Mozart and Henri-Joseph Rigel, plus keyboard concertos by Bach and Mozart with pianist Alexandre Tharaud, who also treats the audience to a Scarlatti sonata for an encore. [Medici.tv]

  • Paul McCreesh conducts a performance of Handel's Agrippina at the Vlaamse Opera in Ghent, with a cast headed by Ann Hallenberg and Renata Pokupic. [France Musique]

  • Tugan Sokhiev conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in the first symphony of Brahms, plus music by Mendelssohn and Dvořák (the violin concerto with soloist Akiko Suwanai) [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • In Lucerne, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts sacred music by Handel and Bach with the Arnold Schoenberg Chorus and Concentus Musicus Wien and soloists Anna Prohaska, Elisabeth von Magnus, Jeremy Ovenden, and Christiane Oelze. [France Musique]

  • The Szymanowski Quartet performs music by Haydn, Szymanowski, and others, including a new work by Simone Movio, at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Watch Leonard Slatkin at the podium of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, performing Beethoven's first and sixth symphonies and the Egmont overture. [Medici.tv]

  • If you missed yesterday's radio broadcast of the Met's performance of Verdi's Rigoletto, here it is again. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Quatuor Parisii with some classic recordings and a concert they performed in January at the Salle Gaveau in Paris. [France Musique]

  • A concert of medieval music performed by La fonte musica under lutenist and director Michele Pasotti. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • At the Théâtre du Châtelet, Neeme Järvi conducts the Orchestre National de France in music of Mozart, including the fifth violin concerto with Arabella Steinbacher as soloist, and Sibelius's third symphony. [France Musique]

  • Ronald Zollmann conducts the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra in music by Bohuslav Martinů, plus Ravel's piano concerto for the left hand with soloist Frank Braley. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • You can watch Yuri Temirkanov conduct the Orchestre de Paris in a program of music by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Musorgsky, with cellist Alisa Weilerstein as soloist. [Cité de la Musique Live]

  • Lorin Maazel conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in the Ring Without Words, recorded last year at Carnegie Hall. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • From last year in Geneva, a concert by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, with violist Elçim Ozdemir and pianist Lars Vogt as soloists, in music by Berlioz, Beethoven, and Chopin. [France Musique]

  • Nicholas McGegan conducts the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, with soloists Katia Labèque and Marielle Labèque, in music by Poulenc and Mozart. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Pianist Denis Matsuev, violinist Vadim Repin, and friends perform chamber music by Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich in Paris last month, plus a recital by Matsuev from the 2011 Verbier Festival. [France Musique]

  • Mezzo-soprano Dagmar Peckova, the Eve Quartet, and friends perform an unusual selection of composers in Prague. [France Musique]

  • A concert of songs by Reynaldo Hahn by young singers from the Académie de l'Opéra Comique. [France Musique]

  • More young musicians with a recital by the Quatuor Ardeo, with music by Haydn and Bartók. [France Musique]

  • A new production of Verdi's Nabucco from La Scala in Milan, starring Leo Nucci. [YouTube]

  • From 2001 at La Scala, a production of Verdi's Un Giorno di Regno. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

16.2.13

Celebrating Wagner's 200th

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is on a roll this month. After a fine program centered on the Sibelius second symphony last week, conducted by Hannu Lintu, Marin Alsop led an all-Wagner program last night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, the first of three concerts this season marking the 200th anniversary of the composer's birthday. Playing a whole evening of opera excerpts, perhaps especially operas by Wagner, is a risky venture: you may lead some in the regular symphony-going crowd to stay away (there were a few complaints heard last night), but you may also gain many opera-minded listeners, especially Wagner lovers (a few German conversations were also overheard). Anyone who loves Wagner's music will want to hear this program, especially since the voices on offer are generally well worth hearing.

At the top of that list is a voice more or less new to these ears, American dramatic soprano Heidi Melton, who was heard as the Third Norn in the Metropolitan Opera's Ring cycle. It is a big voice but one that is being wisely used, conserving some energy in a smooth, ecstatic Liebestod, from Tristan und Isolde, on the first half, forcing Marin Alsop at the podium to hold back the orchestra in proportion to her sound, but opening up for the climaxes of the first act of Die Walküre in the second half. Melton's diction and handling of Wagner's vocal demands have benefited from her recent work in Karlsruhe and Berlin, and the rich, buttery tone was always a pleasure to the ear. Although Isolde did not seem quite as comfortable for her, she was an incandescent Sieglinde, a role that she sings this season in Berlin. Fresh off what many thought a career-altering performance as Alberich in the Met's Ring cycle, Eric Owens made a wily, spiteful Hunding here, a smoky-toned voice giving vitriolic punch to this supporting role. As Siegmund, Brandon Jovanovich had a ringing, heroic tone that carried easily over the amassed orchestral sound. Although the top was not always fully sure and Winterstürme felt a little disjointed, he hit the mark at the climactic moment, the shouts of "Wälse! Wälse!".


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Trio of Americans make BSO’s all-Wagner program shine (Washington Post, February 18)

Tim Smith, The Baltimore Symphony delivers vivid Wagner program (Baltimore Sun, February 16)
If there was a deficiency in this performance, it was the conducting of Marin Alsop, whose default setting seems to be over-excited agitation. This caused a few ensemble alignment problems in the concert opener, the prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, with her jangling, dancing gestures seeming to communicate slightly different beats to different parts of the orchestra (she started the piece on the slow side but then seemed to want it to go a little faster). The BSO's sound, though, was grand and glowing, a wall of string sound, backed up by heraldic brass (only some high-profile awkwardness in the low brass -- the Wagner tubas, I think -- detracted), with a percolating woodwind section in the middle. The piece served its ultimate purpose as an overblown show-opener, but even the loudest textures, with a little more fine-tuning, can be more effective with more thoughtful balancing. Greater patience would likely have served the prelude to Tristan well, too, but Alsop is not one to linger over things, meaning that much of this most luxuriant music felt a little rushed. That impatient, impetuous approach did make the introduction to Die Walküre satisfyingly frenetic.

This program repeats this evening at Strathmore (February 16, 8 pm) and tomorrow afternoon in Baltimore (February 17, 3 pm).

Dip Your Ears, No. 125 (Gottfried von Einem)

available at Amazon
G.v.Einem, Piano Concerto, Medusa Suite, Orchestral Pieces,
Rodgers, Berlin, Gershwin et al.,
K.Lifschitz / Vienna RSO
C.Meister
Orfeo 764091

There was a time when the Swiss-Austrian-German composer Gottfried von Einem (1918-1996) was performed by all the great orchestras, from Los Angeles to Berlin to Tokyo. Somehow that was not enough for repertoire-traction. Once you hear his Piano Concerto—commissioned by Dimitri Mitropoulos, dedicated to Alma Mahler-Werfel—you won’t believe Konstantin Lifschitz’ is the first modern recording of it. It’s a spunky late-Romantic thing that tinkles through three movements, just a little less lyrically than Ravel’s concerto. The orchestral music speaks the same modern-yet-tuneful language, most seductively the “Night-piece” which Eugene Ormandy commissioned, but never performed; his and the Philadelphia audience’s loss.

15.2.13

Classical Music Agenda (March 2013)

There is no shortage of concerts to hear in March. The Nordic festival at the Kennedy Center continues, Washington National Opera begins its spring season, and a number of visiting musicians will share the city's stages with local ones. We could easily have chosen twice as many performances, but here are our Top Ten picks for the month, with a couple extras.

available at Amazon
Schubert, Piano Sonata, D. 845, Wanderer Fantasy (inter alia), P. Lewis
(2012)
SCHUBERT:
We lead with two extraordinary concerts devoted to the music of Schubert, all the more extraordinary because they are free. The first will feature English pianist Paul Lewis, who has been working his way through the complete piano works of Schubert on disc, with generally fine results. He will get to put the relatively new piano in the Library of Congress's auditorium through its paces (March 2, 2 pm). Tickets: FREE. If you cannot secure a reserved ticket, show up early to wait on line for an unclaimed seat.

The other free concert, sponsored by Shriver Hall at the Baltimore Museum of Art, will feature violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien (March 16, 3 pm) playing violin/piano music by Schubert. You can hear some of the same program that they will play, recorded on January 20 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. Tickets: FREE.


available at Amazon
Schubert, Lieder, A. S. von Otter, B. Forsberg
MAHLER:
After a year-long Mahler-free diet, I was ready for the binge that began with this week's first symphony from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. It continues next month, beginning with Christoph Eschenbach leading the National Symphony Orchestra in the Blumine movement, excised by the composer from the first symphony (March 7 to 9). The program also includes mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter in Schubert songs, plus a performance of Mozart's Requiem Mass (ed. Franz Beyer). Bonus: von Otter begins the week with a recital, partnering with pianist Bengt Forsberg, consisting of songs by Scandinavian and French composers, in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Tickets: $10 to $85 (NSO); $45 (recital).

The Mahler binge really gets under way when the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra performs the seventh symphony, paired with Britten's Arthur Rimbaud song cycle Les Illuminations (March 9, 8 pm), at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park. Tickets: $25.

Washington Performing Arts Society provides the final part of the Mahler binge, when they present the San Francisco Symphony performing the ninth symphony (March 23, 8 pm) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Michael Tilson Thomas conducts. Tickets: $35 to $105.


available at Amazon
J. Widmann, String Quartets, Leipziger Streichquartett, J. Banse
CONTEMPORARY:
For some more recent music, there is the excellent Leipzig String Quartet, presented by the Candlelight Concert Society in Columbia, Md. (March 2, 8 pm). The program, in addition to Brahms, includes music by Philip Glass, Tan Dun, and Jörg Widmann. Tickets: $30.

Ilan Volkov leads the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in an appearance at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall next month (March 4, 7:30 pm). It will feature U.S. premieres of pieces by Vilmarsson (bd) and Thorvaldsdottir (Aeriality), as well as Sibelius's Four Legends from the Kalevala and Garrick Ohlsson in Grieg's piano concerto. Tickets: $10 to $64.

OPERA:
We are fairly sure that you will want to hear the pairing of Angela Meade's Norma and Dolora Zajick's Adalgisa in the new production of Bellini's Norma next month (March 9 to 24), mounted by Washington National Opera. We will have more to report on it after it opens. Tickets: $25 to $300.

ALSO:
The Beethoven Orchestra Bonn will tour through the area next month, with a stop at George Mason University's Center for the Arts (March 9, 8 pm). In addition to Beethoven's seventh symphony, the orchestra will play the composer's fourth piano concerto, with Louis Lortie as soloist. Tickets: $30 to $60.

Also on the WPAS series is a recital by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter (March 12, 8 pm) at Strathmore. She will play music by Mozart, Schubert, and Saint-Saëns, plus Lutoslawski's Partita. Tickets: $40 to $105.

DANCE:
This month's lagniappe is the visit of the New York City Ballet to the Kennedy Center Opera House (March 26 to 31), performing two mixed-repertory programs with live music by the New York City Ballet Orchestra. Both the company and the orchestra, if some recent reviews are to be believed, are experiencing problems these days, so we want to see what that is all about. Tickets: $25 to $95.

14.2.13

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Be My Valentine

available at Amazon
Mahler, Symphony No. 1, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, M. Jansons
(2007)

available at Amazon
Bartók, Violin Concertos, J. Ehnes, BBC Philharmonc, G. Noseda
(2011)
The much-anticipated visit by Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, presented by Washington Performing Arts Society on Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, was one of the most important concerts of the month. Each of this beloved ensemble's appearances in Washington -- 2010, 2008, 2006, to name just the last few -- have been valuable listening. This orchestra has a warm, perfectly balanced and unified sound, and they make music subtly, that is, they will not play mp when p is what is called for and what will do. This meant that the two long pieces on offer this week -- Bartók's second violin concerto and Mahler's first symphony, but sadly not also the second program of Strauss's Death and Transfiguration and Bruckner's seventh symphony they will play tonight at Carnegie Hall -- sounded at times like completely different ensembles were playing them, both of them excellent but with vastly different sorts of colors at their disposal. They have been doing what they do for 125 years this November -- the institution has scores of the Mahler symphonies marked up by Willem Mengelberg and Mahler himself -- and long may they reign.

We last heard this Bartók concerto from the National Symphony Orchestra and Midori in 2007, but in the hands of Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos and conductor Mariss Jansons it seemed like a different piece. (Bartók's dedicatee, Zoltán Székely, premiered the concerto with the Royal Concertgebouw in 1939, under the baton of Willem Mengelberg.) We last heard Kavakos in 2009, having missed his 2011 appearance with the NSO. Since then he has resigned as artistic director of Camerata Salzburg, perhaps putting his conducting career (happily) on the back burner, and he acquired the "Abergavenny" Stradivarius of 1724 (in 2010). Both the instrument and the player -- Kavakos had an abscess removed from his back in 2009, a situation that required him to drop out of the National Symphony Orchestra's tour of Asia -- sounded in top form, with a rich, biting tone right from the opening solo bars of this alternately modern-vicious, folk-innocent, and curiously Hollywood-sugar concerto. Jansons kept an elegantly flexible rubato free and yet clearly aligned between soloist and orchestra, and Kavakos added that mercurial element of the best soloists. Bartók exceeded himself in the endless variation of orchestration: insect-buzzing night music, braying glissandi, low brass and percussion rumbles, evanescent strings.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, An orchestra’s practiced perfection (Washington Post, February 14)
Jansons has recorded Mahler 1 with a few different ensembles, including the RCO and the Oslo Philharmonic -- I listened most to his version with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BR-Klassik) this week. Jansons did not rush the piece too much, like other conductors (Gergiev, London SO), but he did not make a point of over-solemnizing it either, like others (Honeck, Pittsburgh SO). The opening of the first movement had an air of suspended mystery, but animated by spontaneous bird calls and bubbling brass fanfares, with consummate control of the dynamic spectrum from Jansons and his musicians, the suave and velvety softness making the big crescendi even more thrilling. He helped give the Ländler a slightly tipsy, pompous quality, with gutsy slides in the strings and raucous, cackling horns, and a Bruder Martin theme that did not plod (we have heard the third movement played much slower) but that joined perfectly with the contrasting sections (including a tender lullaby middle section), so that one almost did not notice the shifts between them. The Finale was appropriately dramatic and stormy, showing off the RCO as the well-oiled machine that it is, all intonation and attacks spot on. It is a rare and welcome experience, as a critic who has heard this piece so many times, to have this interpretation cause moments of honest horripilation. It was a grand way to remedy my total lack of Mahler in 2012.

The next concert in the WPAS series will feature violinist Hilary Hahn (February 16, 8 pm), a program in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall that includes pieces from her encores project.