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31.5.14

'Midsummer' Music from the BSO

available at Amazon
Mendelssohn, Ein Sommernachtstraum, La Chapelle Royale, Collegium Vocale Gent, Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, P. Herreweghe
(Harmonia Mundi, 2012)
In the past year A Midsummer Night's Dream has appeared in these pages in many different guises: in the opera by Benjamin Britten, in the ballet by Frederick Ashton, soon in a different ballet by George Balanchine, and even in its original version by Shakespeare. This week the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop are getting in on the fairy game, with a semi-staged, abridged version of the play accompanied by the ethereal overture and incidental music of Felix Mendelssohn, heard last night in the Music Center at Strathmore. The idea is not exactly new, but it brings to mind many possibilities for opportunities to revive rarely performed scores of incidental music with the plays they were composed to accompany: Goethe's Egmont (Beethoven), Shakespeare's The Tempest (Sibelius), Ibsen's Peer Gynt (Grieg), Alphonse Daudet's L'Arlésienne (Bizet), or Aristophanes' The Wasps (Vaughan Williams). A theater with an orchestra pit would be the ideal venue, making it possible to combine an actual production of the play with a space for the orchestra to perform the complete score.

The BSO provided an exquisite performance of Mendelssohn's score, in spite of being arranged toward the back of the stage and with sections of the orchestra separated from one another in unusual ways. This allowed the woodwinds to be at the front of the center part of the orchestra for a change, to create a central playing space around Alsop's podium, but it also created a few balance issues between the violins and the lower strings far away. Even so, as with last week's concert, the BSO was in top form, again especially the violins who were feather-light on the many filigree passages, even the ultra-fast Scherzo, and a top-notch horn solo in the Nocturne. The women of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society provided an evanescent background in the choral numbers, especially "Ye spotted snakes," with fine solo work from airy-voiced soprano Ying Fang and the more robust mezzo-soprano of Julie Boulianne.


Other Articles:

Tim Smith, Baltimore Symphony, Folger Theatre present vivid 'Midsummer Night's Dream' (Baltimore Sun, May 31)

Joan Reinthaler, 'Midsummer Night's Dream' with music at Folger Theatre (Washington Post, May 31)

Rebecca Ritzel, BSO and Folger collaborate on unique staging of ‘Midsummer’ (Washington Post, May 28)

Marin Alsop's Guide to Mendelssohn's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (NPR, May 24)
A group of seven actors, several of them regulars at the Folger Theater and each taking more than one role, gave an impression of Shakespeare's play, heavily excerpted and sewn together with a rather unfortunate narration. It was not the ideal solution, but it worked well enough and kept the focus on the musical score, most of which was performed without any theatrical business at the same time to distract from it. John Bolger was a strangely non-menacing Oberon, all hunched over, which made Linda Powell's Titania even more spiteful by comparison. With Spencer Aste's Puck not all that memorable either, it was easy for the four lovers and Rude Mechanicals, especially the gangling Helena and monotone Snout of Kate Eastwood Norris, to steal the show. Edward Berkeley's minimal staging featured a few atmospheric lighting plans (designed by Donald Thomas), and some branches, with colored lights, suspended from the ceiling gave the sense of the enchanted forest.

This performance repeats tonight and tomorrow, at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

30.5.14

Myths, Minotaurs, and Muses

Just lock me away with a pile of Picasso etchings and aquatints: for a few weeks anyway, I would get hungry. Scary creatures, mythological tales and of course being Picasso, lots and lots of sex: it's the best. You can immerse yourself in some fifty of the artist's printed wonders now through August 3 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in an exhibit called Picasso Prints: Myths, Minotaurs, and Muses.

Few artist have ever tormented a plate, working, reworking, and gouging some more, as Picasso did, although the aquatints, with their painterly fluidity, are some of the best here. Woman with a Tambourine will steal your heart.

29.5.14

Vivaldi Edition: 'L'incoronazione di Dario'

available at Amazon
Vivaldi, L'incoronazione di Dario, A. Dahlin, S. Mingardo, D. Galou, Accademia Bizantina, O. Dantone

(released on May 27, 2014)
Naïve OP30553 | 173'54"
All of the opera releases in Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition, which will eventually contain recordings of all of Antonio Vivaldi’s operas as found in the composer's manuscript collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino, will receive mention here at Ionarts -- most recently in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The latest one, L'incoronazione di Dario, stands out, however, for the beauty of its score and unusual libretto (in an edition put together by Stefano Aresi for Act I and Giovanni Andrea Secchi for Acts II and III). The story concerns the succession of Darius I to the throne of Cyrus as ruler of the Persian Empire. The libretto by Adriano Morselli is based on historical events but highly fanciful in its details, and at the time Vivaldi set it, for a premiere at the Teatro Sant'Angelo in Venice in the carnival season of 1717, it was already more than thirty years old and in a style regarded as old-fashioned. According to this recording's booklet essay by Frédéric Delaméa, Vivaldi consciously took the libretto's lead and wrote in a style that was a tribute to the previous century of Venetian opera, with a greater mixture of comic and serious and less reliance on da capo arias.

The opera opens dramatically with the ghost of Cyrus telling his daughters, Statira and Argene, to stop their mourning for him. Darius, who intends to take the throne, avoids what could easily have become a civil war by intervening in the conflict between two other pretenders, Arpago and Oronte, by suggesting that Statira's choice in marriage may decide the succession to the throne of Persia. (Darius's marriage to Cyrus's actual daughter, Atossa, is indeed part of what helped him rise to power.) The role of Statira was created for a contralto, and Sara Mingardo brings a fine chest voice to the role, her transparency of tone fitting with a character presented as not all that bright, leading even her servant Flora to mock her. Statira's tutor, the philosopher Niceno (here the slightly wobbly baritone Riccardo Novaro), repeatedly admires her "caro simplicità," although he is not able to make her see that he is also in love with her, even when he dedicates a cantata to her, which she sings in the beautiful aria "Ardo tacita amante" in Act I, with its obbligato viola all'inglese.

Swedish tenor Anders J. Dahlin is a refined but powerful Dario, even adding a fine high C# to the end of "Placami la mia bella" in Act II. Mezzo-soprano Delphine Galou is a savvy and lovely Argene, the scheming younger sister who tries to win Dario for herself but loses, ending up punished for her deceit. The role's delights include a rather brilliant and funny letter-writing scene, where Argene dictates a letter to Dario, trying to get him to understand that she is in love with him, throughout which he remains just as oblivious as Statira. The women further down the cast list are also pleasing, beginning with the sort of boyish sound of mezzo-soprano Lucia Cirilla as Oronte, a role created by a soprano castrato (in the lovely "Non mi lusinga," for example). Light soprano Sofia Soloviy has a nice turn as the other suitor, Arpago, originally a soprano trouser role, while Roberta Mameli gives a fluttery, sweet quality to the very pretty music of Alinda, who is betrothed to Oronte, including the charming pastoral aria "Io son quell'augelletto" and the tragic "A me ceppi? A me catene?." The musicians of Accademia Bizantina, all playing historical instruments, play with refinement and polish, with especially fine accompaniment of recitatives, with some passages played only by theorbo and much variety of instrumentation. This easily supplants the only previous recording, by the Ensemble Baroque de Nice, now out of print (Harmonia Mundi, 1986).

All the Possibilities, Layer of Mystery: Winogrand at NGA

She has been caught off guard. One moment an attractive young woman was walking along, window shopping, engaged in her own thoughts, enjoying a cone of ice cream -- then surprise! Was she the innocent she appears to have been? or a murderess, leaving a trail of headless men in her wake?

She became an iconic image, one of my favorites by the photographer Garry Winogrand, whose exhibit is up until June 8 at the National Gallery of Art. Winogrand never cared for the processing of his film, preferring to be out traveling the country, shooting. Much of his work was never processed or seen. There are sixty freshly printed images in this exhibit being shown for the first time.

28.5.14

À mon chevet: 'L'amica geniale'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
The boundaries of the neighborhood faded in the course of that summer. One morning my father took me with him. Since I was enrolling in high school, he wanted me to know what public transportation I would have to take and what route when I went in October to the new school. It was a beautiful, very clear, windy day. I felt loved, coddled, to my affection for him was added a crescendo of admiration. [...]

We spent the entire day together, the only one in our lives, I don't remember any others. He dedicated himself to me, as if he wanted to communicate in a few hours everything useful he had learned in the course of his existence. He showed me Piazza Garibaldi and the station that was being built: according to him it was so modern that the Japanese were coming from Japan to study it -- in particular the columns -- and build an identical one in their country. But he confessed that he liked the old station better, he was more attached to it. Ah well. Naples, he said, had always been like that: it's cut down, it's broken up, and then it's rebuilt, and the money flows and creates work. [...]

He took me on Via Costantinopoli, to Port'Alba, to Piazza Dante, to Via Toledo. I was overwhelmed by the names, the noise of the traffic, the voices, the colors, the festive atmosphere, the effort of keeping everything in mind so that I could talk about it later with Lila, the ease with which he chatted with the pizza maker from whom he bought me a pizza melting with ricotta, the fruit seller from whom he bought me a yellow peach. Was it possible that only our neighborhood was filled with conflicts and violence, while the rest of the city was radiant, benevolent?

He took me to see the place where he worked, in Piazza Municipio. [...] We went to the city hall, he greeted this person and that, everyone knew him. With some he was friendly, and introduced me, repeating yet again that in school I had gotten nine in Italian and nine in Latin; with others he was almost mute, only, indeed, yes, you command and I obey. Finally, he said that he would show me Vesuvius from close up, and the sea.

It was an unforgettable moment. We went toward Via Caracciolo, as the wind grew stronger, the sun brighter. Vesuvius was a delicate pastel-colored shape, at whose base the whitish stones of the city were piled up, with the earth-colored slice of the Castel dell'Ovo, and the sea. But what a sea. It was very rough, and loud; the wind took your breath away, pasted your clothes to your body and blew the hair off your forehead. We stayed on the other side of the street in a small crowd, watching the spectacle. The waves rolled in like blue metal tubes carrying an egg white of foam on their peaks, then broke in a thousand glittering splinters and came up to the street with an oh of wonder and fear from those watching. What a pity that Lila wasn't there. I felt dazed by the powerful gusts, by the noise. I had the impression that, although I was absorbing much of that sight, many things, too many, were scattering around me without letting me grasp them. My father held tight to my hand as if he were afraid that I would slip away.

-- Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, pp. 136-38 (translation by Ann Goldstein)
I read this pseudonymous Italian author's Days of Abandonment earlier this year, thanks to critic James Wood, who singled out her Neapolitan trilogy as among the best books he read last year. This is the first volume of that trilogy, and I am inhaling it in much the same way as I did her earlier book. Ferrante, whoever she is, grew up in Naples, where this book unfolds, and it follows an extraordinary friendship between the increasingly classics-oriented narrator, who is named Elena (Ferrante apparently studied classics), and an even more brilliant friend she calls Lila. The city of Naples and their violent neighborhood are drawn with concise and vivid lines. This passage struck me for two reasons, because I was reminded of my own growing up, beginning to see the world beyond my childhood home, and because my own daughter is approaching adolescence.

27.5.14

Tan Dun, «The Tears of Nature» with Martin Grubinger, Krzysztof Urbanski et al.




 

 Tan Dun, «The Tears of Nature»
Concert for Percussion and Orchestra (2012)

Martin Grubinger (percussion) / Wiener Symphoniker / Krzysztof Urbanski

Performed on Friday, April 25th, 2014 at the Grosser Saal of the Wiener Konzerthaus ¶



26.5.14

Ray Chen Debuts with BSO

available at Amazon
Mozart, Violin Concertos and Sonata, R. Chen, Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra, C. Eschenbach
(Sony, 2014)

available at Amazon
Tchaikovsky / Mendelssohn, Violin Concertos, R. Chen, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, D. Harding
(Sony, 2012)
Reviews of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have become less and less common in these pages, because the programming of their concerts in the last few years has been disappointingly repetitive. Not to rehash this point, made several times in recent posts, but it occurred to me again with the group's latest concert, heard on Saturday night in the Music Center at Strathmore. The combination of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto and Rachmaninov's second symphony did not exactly sweep me off my feet, although it was likely calculated to please the audience, who responded to both pieces as expected. Perhaps not coincidentally, the BSO's program notes have stopped listing the last time that the orchestra played the pieces on their programs, which in most cases is quite recently. What I had forgotten in all the time since the last BSO concert I reviewed -- last September -- was how good this orchestra sounds, section for section smoother and more unified than their colleagues at the Kennedy Center, especially in the violins. What a shame that they are playing classical music's greatest hits with such disappointing frequency.

Ray Chen launched his career with decisive wins at the Menuhin and Queen Elisabeth Competitions, in 2008 and 2009, respectively. For the last few years he has made the rounds of the local recital venues, including Dumbarton Oaks (2013), the Embassy Series (2012), and the Young Concert Artists series at the Kennedy Center (2009). This was his local orchestral debut, although given that he has just released a Mozart CD with Christoph Eschenbach, Chen's appearance on the NSO young artists series (unofficial) is likely around the corner, although not not next season. Alas, he did not quite have the Tchaikovsky concerto fully in his hands, mostly because of some intonation issues and harshness of tone high on the E string (including the crucial flautando notes in the solo part, which were not all there), possibly because he seemed to be trying to squeeze as much sound as he could from the instrument. The husky growl of the G string and overall big, juicy tone on the 1702 "Lord Newlands" Stradivarius, on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation, were gorgeous, though, as was his often melting legato, especially in the second theme of the first movement and the Canzonetta. An encore, Paganini's 21st caprice, showed effortless technique.


Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Rousing Baltimore Symphony concert with conductor Hans Graf, violinist Ray Chen (Baltimore Sun, May 23)

Robert Battey, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra welcomes musicians new and old at Strathmore (Washington Post, May 26)
The real star of the evening was guest conductor Hans Graf, conductor laureate of the Houston Symphony (where he will soon be succeeded by Andrés Orozco-Estrada), who was just as expert and self-effacing as in his previous appearances in the area, with the NSO in 2012 and 2008 and with the BSO. In the Tchaikovsky he helped guide the orchestra in a superlatively sensitive accompaniment of the soloist, with craftsmanship down to the least important parts of the score. Graf also made the best of Rachmaninov's second symphony, the hour-long work on the second half, in which I at least feel every minute of its length. The BSO played it beautifully, with a minimum of soupy rubato, except perhaps in the saccharine third movement, falling short of the last performance in these ears, by Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.

Next week's concerts from the BSO will feature Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, with parts of the play performed by actors (May 29 to June 1).

25.5.14

In Brief: Memorial 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.) Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.


  • Watch a concert of improvisations by pianist Gabriela Montero, recorded at the Montreal International Musical Competition. [Medici.tv]

  • More music from Félicien David, Le Désert, Ode-symphonie en trois parties, from 1844, with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris and Accentus, plus the fifth piano concerto of Saint-Saens with Bertrand Chamayou as soloist. [France Musique | ARTE Video]

  • A performance of Ferdinando Bertoni's L'Orfeo from Ferrara, with the Orchestra da Camera Lorenzo da Ponte and Coro Accademia dello Spirito Santo, starring Vivica Genaux and others. [ORF]

  • Watch some of the performances from the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. [ARTE]

  • Listen to music of Lutoslawski, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky from the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, perfored by the Orchestre National de France and violinist Joshua Bell. [France Musique | ARTE Video]

  • Listen to a performance of Offenbach's Les Contes D'Hoffmann, starring Yosep Kang, Daniela Fally, and others at the Wiener Staatsoper. [ORF]

  • A song recital by soprano Mojca Erdmann and pianist Gerold Huber, with music of Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and Richard Strauss, recorded last March at the Festival Klangraum Waidhofen. [ORF]

  • Lionel Bringuier conducts the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra in music of Dukas, Tchaikovsky, and Berlioz (Les nuits d'été with soprano Véronique Gens). [France Musique]

  • A performance of Bach's St. John Passion with the Orkest van de Achttiende Eeuw and Cappella Amsterdam, conducted by Daniel Reuss, recorded in Utrecht. [Avro Klassiek | Part 2]

  • Live from the Wigmore Hall, the English Concert plays Handel and Vivaldi's Four Seasons. [BBC3]

  • Soloists from the Orchestre National de France perform Le conte fantastique by André Caplet. [France Musique]

  • Watch pianist Lars Vogt, violinist Christian Tetzlaff, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff perform the complete piano trios of Brahms, recorded at the Auditorium du Louvre. [Medici.tv]

  • Violinist Vadim Repin joins the Vienna Symphony for Prokofiev's second violin concerto, with Lionel Bringuier also conducting music by Debussy, Stravinsky, and Kodály. [ORF]

  • The ensemble Prague Modern perform music by Dai Fujikura (b. 1977), Messiaen, Miroslav Srnka, and Johannes Maria Staud, under conductor Pascal Gallois. [France Musique]


  • Listen to a performance of Verdi's Rigoletto from Brussels, starring Dimitri Platanias, Arturo Chacón-Cruz, and Simona Saturova. [RTBF]

  • The Kammerorchester Basel plays Tchaikovsky's Serenade for String. [Avro Klassiek]

  • The Halle Choir and Orchestra play Brahms's Nanie and Mahler's 9th Symphony. [BBC3]

  • Harpsichordists Bob van Asperen and Olivier Baumont give a tribute to the memory of Gustav Leonhardt, with a performance of Bach's Art of the Fugue. [France Musique]

  • The Orkest van de Achttiende Eeuw and conductor Kenneth Montgomery perform Beethoven's fifth piano concert, with fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, recorded in Amsterdam. [Avro Klassiek]

  • Listen to violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann and the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, under conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste, perform music by Shostakovich and Mahler. [RTBF]

  • Rafal Blechacz joins the Vienna Symphony for Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and music of Beethoven, including the second piano concerto and the Egmont overture. [ORF]

  • Listen to the English Music Festival, live from the abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames. [BBC3]

  • A recital by violinist Gil Shaham and pianist Akira Eguchi, with music by Schubert, Prokofiev, Avner Dorman, and Beethoven. [ORF]

  • Music of Bach and Telemann performed by L'Atelier de Musique Moderne, the Maîtrise de Caen and others. [France Musique]

  • From Amsterdam, violinist Vilde Frang and violist Nils Mönkemeyer play Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with the Kammerorchester Basel. [Avro Klassiek]

  • From the Festival de Pâques in Deauville, music by Bruch, Mendelssohn, and Brahms performed by violist Antoine Tamestit, pianist Nicholas Angelich, and friends. [France Musique]

  • The Strada Quartet performs music of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev at the Festival de Pâques in Deauville. [France Musique]

  • Listen to the recording of Donizetti's La Favorite made in Bologna, starring Luciano Pavarotti, Ileana Cotrubas, and others. [ORF]

24.5.14

The Lush, Gooey Passion of Chaim Soutine

Most painters I know get all gooey when Chaim Soutine's work is mentioned. The lush gooeyness of his paint has something to do with it, but more importantly the passion and exuberance of his regime is what most inspires such awe.

Life in Death: Still Lifes and Select Masterworks of Chaim Soutine is a small exhibit, just sixteen paintings, of grand importance, up now at Paul Kasmin Gallery's alternate space on 27th Street in Chelsea. Kasmin's space is small but museum quality and a perfect venue for an intimate experience with these rarely seen paintings.

To see these works on loan from private collections and not for sale, several artists were visiting the gallery on the day I was there, just a nose length away, inhaling the lush paint of this crazy wonderful artist. Soutine will do this to us. His brush was loaded with medium soaked paint and he worked fast. The slaughtered poultry seems fresh even to this day.


23.5.14

Iveta Apkalna @ KC


available at Amazon
L'amour et la mort (Widor, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Fauré), I. Apkalna
(Oehms, 2011)
Charles T. Downey, Latvian organist shows pedal power at the Kennedy Center
Washington Post, May 23, 2014
This season the Kennedy Center instituted a concert series to put the new pipe organ in the Concert Hall, donated by the Rubenstein Family, through its paces. The last concert of the series fell to Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna, who played a varied and demanding program on Wednesday evening.

Old and new were paired on the first half, with three improvisation-like “Evocations” by Thierry Escaich, the organist at the church of St.-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris, interspersed with more traditional pieces by J. S. Bach. The tempestuous second “Evocation,” with its roiling ostinato C in octaves in the pedal, led nicely into Bach’s C minor passacaglia and fugue (BWV 582), in which the same note is the foundation of the bass pattern. Apkalna showed off her pedal feet more in ... [Continue reading]
Iveta Apkalna, organ
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

There was not space in the review to mention that, for an encore, Apkalna played the famous Toccata by Charles-Marie Widor, from the Organ Symphony No. 5 (F Minor, Op. 42, No. 1).

PREVIOUSLY:

The Seine for the People!

The city of Paris has had many transformations. Some of the most striking are along its lifeline, the river Seine. During the nineteenth century barge traffic and tow paths lined the banks, along with taverns and even floating bath houses.

The tow paths turned into roadways filled with car traffic in the following century, blocking access for the public's use and enjoyment. Now with the completion of the Berges de Seine, the waterfront of Paris, as in many cities, is being reclaimed for the people!


The Berges de Seine is an extensive and well thought out project featuring a floating botanical paradise, small shipping containers converted into pop-up cafes and shops, and even places to take a nap. There are a variety of rotating art exhibitions and an extensive schedule of live entertainment, workshops, and classes.

Don’t feel comfortable riding a bike through the streets of Paris? The mile or so stretch from the Musée d'Orsay to the Pont de l'Alma, has walking, jogging, and biking lanes, and Parisians are taking advantage of the river once again in droves.

22.5.14

Classical Music Agenda: June 2014

Summer is upon us, meaning that the concert calendar is going to get pretty light around here. Here are a few things you will want to hear in the month of June.



SYMPHONY:
Happily, the schedules of both major local orchestras extend into the summer. Beethoven's ninth symphony is not something I would normally recommend, but Marin Alsop has put together a nice slate of soloists for her latest performances of the work with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (June 5 to 8): Angela Meade, Jennifer Johnson Cano, Dimitri Pittas, and James Morris. Somewhat oddly, the piece will be paired with On the Transmigration of Souls, the 9/11 memorial piece by John Adams.

Bruckner in the summer? Yes, please -- the National Symphony Orchestra will perform the Austrian composer's eighth symphony, plus four of his Latin motets (June 12 to 14), to be performed by the University of Maryland Chamber Singers.

Of course, June is the month for the National Orchestral Institute (May 29 to June 28), at the Clarice Smith Center, featuring a series of chamber and orchestra concerts performed by young musicians. The three big orchestra concerts will be conducted this summer by James Ross (including Edgard Varèse's Amériques), Christopher Seaman (Britten's Four Sea Interludes), and Leonard Slatkin (Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis). There will also be children's concerts (Peter and the Wolf) and a chamber orchestra concert, where the musicians perform without a conductor.


OPERA:
The Washington National Opera concludes its season with the latest performance from its American Opera Initiative, with the premiere of Huang Ruo's An American Soldier (June 13 and 14), in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

Opera Bel Cantanti will perform Ravel's delightful L'enfant et les sortilèges (June 27 to 29), at the Randolph Road Theater in Silver Spring.

The Wolf Trap Opera Company's season kicks off with Handel's Giulio Cesare (June 27 and 29, July 1) in the Barns at Wolf Trap.

When Lorin Maazel conducts Puccini, it is good, so the opening opera at the Castleton Festival, Madama Butterfly, gets a recommendation (June 28 to July 20). We hear that Maazel, who has had to cancel several recent engagements, is resting at Castleton. For the moment, he is still scheduled to conduct at the Festival.

OTHER:
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, who had to cancel a recital earlier this season, will finally perform it this month (June 17), in the Music Center at Strathmore.

Finally, it has been quite a season of Midsummer Night's Dream, in various forms, which is going to end with the Pennsylvania Ballet performing George Balanchine's choreography of the story (June 6 to 8), with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra performing Mendelssohn's overture and incidental music.

See the complete calendar after the jump.

The Wiener Klaviertrio in Onslow, Gredler, and Dvorák




 

 Exerpts from:
George Onslow, Piano Trio No.7, op.20 in D-Minor (1822)
Michael Gredler, «Funk for Piano Trio» (2011) (World Premiere Performance)
Antonín Dvorák, «Dumky-Trio» op.90 in E-Minor (1890-1891)
Wiener Klaviertrio:
Bogdan Božovic (violin), Matthias Gredler (cello), Stefan Mendl (piano)
Performed on Tuesday, März 18th, 2014 at the Mozart-Saal of the Wiener Konzerthaus ¶



21.5.14

'Giselle' from the Bolshoi


David Hallberg (Albrecht) and Svetlana Zakharova (Giselle) in Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet (photo by Elena Fetisova)

Washington has had no shortage of Giselle performances in the last decade, from the Mariinsky Ballet (twice, in 2006 and 2011), the Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris in 2012, and the Washington Ballet just last year. Here it is again on the stage of the Kennedy Center Opera House, where it opened last night, in the 1986 updating by Yuri Grigorovich from the Bolshoi Ballet (watch on YouTube), which last made the trip from Moscow to Washington two years ago. One could be excused from feeling a little "Giselled out," especially given that all of these Russian and French companies dance choreography based on that of Marius Petipa, with only minor differences among them. It does not help that the Bolshoi's artistic director Sergei Filin told the Washington Post's Sarah Kaufman that the choice of what ballet to perform at the Kennedy Center is not his to make -- "The decision is based on ticket sales," he said. Ugh.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, Bolshoi Ballet’s uncommonly intimate ‘Giselle,’ at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, May 22)

---, Bolshoi Ballet’s Sergei Filin, nearly blind but unbowed: ‘The dancing, I see perfectly’ (Washington Post, May 17)

---, Spring Preview Dance: Bolshoi Ballet will bring ‘Giselle’ to the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, January 31)

Laura Cappelle, Giselle, La Sylphide, The Little Mermaid, Stanislavsky Theatre, Moscow (Financial Times, April 22)

Alastair Macaulay, Bolshoi’s ‘Giselle,’ Geared to Virtuosity and a Vocal Audience (New York Times, April 6)
Certainly one can always tolerate another Giselle if the leads are danced as beautifully as they were by prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova and the company's relatively new principal David Hallberg, formerly of American Ballet Theater, in his first performance in the U.S. since he joined the Bolshoi. They are gorgeous together, well matched in height, line, and temperament, and this seemed to seal the relationship of their Giselle and Albrecht, characters who are united in the story through the act of dancing. The coy dialogue of instruments in the music of their first duet matched perfectly with their corresponding gestures of reaching out and pulling back, both shy and yet emboldened, a scene that is recalled poignantly several times in the score. Hallberg was strong, able to face down Hans the gamekeeper with his eyes, and in the second act, transformed into a spirit, Zakharova looked like something made out of vapor, after having become mentally unstrung in the mad scene (an effect that an errant raising of the curtain just before intermission half-spoiled). Her Giselle did not supplant that of Diana Vishneva in my estimation, but it came close.

The Act I divertissement, the harvest festival, is a rather rustic affair in this production, complete with jangling tambourines and matching the somewhat sketchy set backdrops with their autumn yellow smears. It serves, if anything, to highlight the special nature of the two leads and their beautiful dancing. The Bolshoi's corps de ballet danced with precision and ghoulish coldness in the second act, the stage bathed in cold blue light, led by a frowning and vengeful Ekaterina Shipulina as the Queen of the Wilis. The Bolshoi's music director, Alexander Kopylov, did the honors at the podium, his gestures not always keeping the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra turning on a dime together through the tempo adjustments. That he rushed through some of the music, like the introduction to Act I, did not help. The brass were heraldic and unified in the hunting scenes, the strings less so, including some groans and grunts in the viola solo during the pas de deux.

This performances will be repeated, with different casts, through May 25 in the Kennedy Center Opera House. The only performance with the cast reviewed here, on Thursday night, is already sold out.

20.5.14

Solid Form: Mapplethorpe-Rodin

I see things like they were sculptures. It depends on how that form exists within the space.
-- Robert Mapplethorpe
I never gave Robert Mapplethorpe much respect. I liked some of his imagery but saw it mostly as exotic and sensational. I’m coming around after seeing him paired with Auguste Rodin.

There is a Mapplethorpe retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, through July, which I have yet to see. The Musée Rodin has organized an exhibit of 102 of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, alongside fifty of Rodin’s sculptures.

The pairing was a bit of an enlightenment for me. Both artists sought the same chiseled human form, one in clay and stone, the other through highly stylized, black and white photography. Rodin searched for grace, spontaneity, and fluidity in unforgiving materials, while Mapplethorpe was the epitome of control, with no spontaneity whatsoever.

The similarities are striking. The tension in the forms, the flow of drapery, and the consideration of the figure in space gave me a new awareness of an erotic sensuality in Rodin’s figures and a deeper understanding and respect for Mapplethorpe.

Tanya Bannister @ Phillips


available at Amazon
Clementi, Piano Sonatas, T. Bannister
(Naxos, 2006)
Charles T. Downey, Pianist Tanya Bannister at the Phillips Collection
Washington Post, May 20, 2014
Pianist Tanya Bannister has formidable technique and a thoughtful approach to programming a recital. Trained in London, at Yale and in New York, her fingers rarely erred in a recital inspired by the influence of Handel on Beethoven, heard at the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon. What did not always come through was a love of sound, a willingness to explore a broad range of tones and colors, as her touch at the keyboard was too consistently sharp and biting.

This harshness was in evidence in Bannister’s overemphasis of the melodic line in Handel’s Suite in F, HWV 427, balanced by... [Continue reading]
Tanya Bannister, piano
Phillips Collection

SEE ALSO:

19.5.14

Christopher Maltman: Truly, truly, truly a Masterpiece.

Christopher Maltman (Photo [excerpt] © Pia Clodi)


Monday, April 7th, Christopher Maltman took a couple minutes just hours before his recital at the Mozart-Saal to chat about the great, elusive, «Notturno» by Othmar Schoeck:


 Monday, April 7th, Christopher Maltman took a couple minutes just hours before his recital at the Mozart-Saal to chat about the great, elusive, «Notturno» by Othmar Schoeck:


C.M.:
How do you know the Schoeck «Notturno»?



jfl:   I know it from Klaus Mertens’ recording which was one of the... well, it wasn’t the first recording. The first one, I think, was Fischer-Dieskau with the Cherubini Quartet, and I’m not sure if it ever made it unto CD. [It had, actually, and copies are hard, but not impossible, to find. Edit: Twitter informed us that the first recording was F-D with the Juilliard Quartet, actually, and that recording has never made it onto CD.]


So it was it recorded for vinyl and was never digitally mastered or came back out again? I looked for it, because I was certain that Fischer-Dieskau would have recorded it. But I couldn’t find it anywhere and then I looked on some websites and godknowswhat and I saw that he had recorded it but couldn’t find a copy to listen to. Which is a bit sad.

But there is of course the Mertens recording, a gorgeous new one with Stephan Genz and the Leipziger Streichquartett and the Gerhaher recording...


That’s the one I listened to, actually. Which is beautiful.


It’s great... except the Rosamunde Quartet lets him down a bit.But it was him that I first talked about the «Notturno» with at length, well before he knew he’d get a chance of recording it...


Yes, it’s not easy to do the piece. It was only when this opportunity at the Konzerthaus was presented to me, where they as much as said: “Look, what would you like to do.” And I said: “I would like to do the Schoeck «Notturno».” And they looked at me and said: “OK – what’s that?” So I said: “Well, it’s a fantastic song cycle for low voice and string quartet.” But fortunately they gave me sort of carte blanche to decide what I wanted to do. And it’s so hard to get opportunities like that. It’s so hard to get concerts like this. They come up, for me, once every two or three years. And I really am so pleased that I had got the opportunity to do this piece. Because the more I worked on it and the more looked at it and the more I got inside it, I think it’s absolutely Schoeck’s best composition. It’s a towering piece of music.


[The backstage dummy alarm rings]
Oh my Lord, what noise is that?

[The backstage alarm voice says soothingly: “Windstille. Windstille”, which suggests that no one will burn, after all.]

Certainly the piece that’s furthest removed from the relatively conservative tonal language that Schoeck usually delves in...


Exactly.


...like the pieces for baritone and string orchestra… what are they called?


«Elegie». Yes, completely. And whereas that, as the songs, is much more – I would say: Strauss-inspired, this is very much more Berg... Schoenberg... and much more forward-looking and a much more experimental piece.


Well, at the time it wasn’t particularly forward looking...


No, no. But for him. But for Schoeck it was.

On paper «Notturno» is an atonal piece, but really, it’s romantic... I love to dig out the comparison of this to Berg
Opus 1, the Piano Sonata. When you just play the notes, it sounds like modern pling-plang. When you let it breathe, when you just wait long enough, eventually the notes will come and it attains this wistful, late-romantic Viennese coffee house air… And that’s a bit with the Schoeck, too, I think. Ultimately it’s a romantic piece.

Oh, absolutely. And it’s hard... the closing section of it which completely and utterly sort of Hollywood and tonal and gorgeous and harmonic. But then the third movement is very bleak and hard and strange and tonally quite challenging. Quite challenging for everybody, actually. But nevertheless, Joe Middleton
[the pianist for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five mystical songs, not on duty in the Schoeck] sat in. I said: “Well, look... would you mind? I know you want to get off”, because he was obviously very tired, “but would you mind just simply sitting in for the first movement.” Of course [Maltman chuckles] the first movement is like 17 minutes long... “But would you mind sitting in so that we can have an idea of balance and everything?” And I said: “Look... you don’t have to stay. I know how tired you are.” And after the first movement I asked him: how is it. He said: “The balance is great, it’s working very well.” And I thanked him and told please not to think that he had to stay. But he went: “No, no, no, no... I really want to!” And at the end he said: “Gosh, it’s an amazing piece!” And he was expecting it to be much more difficult to listen to. Much more difficult as an audience member. But he really enjoyed it, first time he heard it.


Well, I think it is difficult for a lot of people and that it’s fair to say that.


Yes.


I’ve seen people walk out in the middle of a good performance, actually, and not inconspicuously between songs either, but right in the middle, creaking on the wooden floor, every step of the way. Quite sad. Six, seven of them.


Really? Wow!


I don’t know how it might have been, if the Rosamunde Quartet had pulled a bit more of its weight... but they were on their way out and you could hear it. And indeed, shortly thereafter they disassembled. But that brings me to a point, namely that the idea of «Notturno» being a romantic piece is very much tied to the work of the string quartet. That it’s in good part their job to keep those long lines, suspended...


Yes, absolutely. And I absolutely love it. But from a sort of poetry point of view, as well... the poems of the [Nikolaus] Lenau poems, for one: The second movement is very much more descriptive than the first, for example. But there is one of the four poems in the first movement that is very straight forward and descriptive. And the rest of it is very much sort of impressionistic. It almost reminds me of French poetry. It’s not what you would consider to be empirical German poetry. It’s very much sweeps of color and mood... and then a sort of slightly enigmatic statement at the end. And very much less "I feel this and I want to do that and I need to go there and I need to do this". The whole piece, I think, without a very clear vision of it should be and without a very clear vision of the things sort-of top to tail... I mean: You can get slightly lost in these, as you say, incredibly long meandering lines that the piece has. But I absolutely love it. Love it. I think it is great.

And I am going to try my hardest to get us another concert to do it. Hopefully Wigmore will take it. Because it has huge similarities as well to... there’s a Finzi cycle called «By Footpath and Stile» – again, string quartet and baritone. It’s settings of [Thomas] Hardy. It’s not as long as this. It’s probably around 26, 27 minutes or so. But there are moments… It was written in the late teens... 1917, 1918 something like that. It certainly wasn’t into the twenties. But there are sections in [the «Notturno»] that I am convinced that Schoeck must have heard the Finzi. Absolutely convinced of it.


I love Finzi, but that work I’ve never even heard of that work.


Well, yes – it’s never done.


Is there a recording out?


Yes, there is. With Roderick Williams, on Naxos. It’s a beautiful piece, but again it’s slightly problematic, because the Hardy is extremely dark and extremely... in the same way as this is, really.

The «Notturno» really goes to the threshold of pain...


Totally. Totally. And he cycles basically between love and death all the way through – well, mostly death [he laughs]. But the same as Hardy, Schoeck has to go elsewhere. Away from the Lenau, and he finds it in that last [Gottfried] Keller poem, which points to hope. And in the Finzi, Hardy also still has this... hmmm... there is still this thread of hope within him. There is still this slightly kind of positive thought going around his head. There is a poem that is in «By Footpath and Stile» that goes something like this…


available at Amazon
O.Schoeck,Notturno
Stephan Genz, Leipziger Streichquartett
m|DG

DE | US | UK | FR


available at Amazon
O.Schoeck,Notturno
Christian Gerhaher, Rosamunde Quartet
ECM

DE | US | UK | FR

available at Amazon
G.Finzi,By Footpath & Stile et al.
Roderick Williams, Iain Burnside
Naxos

DE | US | UK | FR



Maltman recites "The Oxen", one of the six poems of the cycle, from memory:


Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.

"Now they are all on their knees,"

An elder said as we sat in a flock

By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures

As they dwelt in their strawy pen,

Nor did it occur to one of us there

To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave

In these years! Yet I feel,

If someone said on Christmas Eve,

"Come; see the oxen kneel,

In the lonely barton by yonder coomb

Our childhood used to know,"

I should go with him in the gloom,

Hoping it might be so



Hardy is so full of this doubt, darkness, and despair for the world. Yet he still has this silver thread of childlike hopefulness within him that sustains him through everything. And I feel that that Keller-poem is the golden thread at the end for Schoeck. Again, it’s child-like, just gazing up at the stars saying: I hope that when I go I am just going to be one of them and that I will drift off through the galaxy and that will be lovely, thank you very much. After, you know, everything winding down and drawing to a close – and it is exactly the same in the Hardy. There is this one huge poem which is all about how he wanders through a graveyard and he looks at the trees and the bushes and the plants. And he wonders which person which tree has fed off. Whose juices made what tree... So the Oak was old Squire Audeley Grey and this creeping vine was a beautiful lady and all of this kind of stuff. And again the transformation of nature into death or the coming of winter and all of these thoughts also appear in the Lenau.


Musically, another thing that «Notturno» reminds me of is Schoenberg’s «Hanging Gardens».


I don’t know it, actually.

There’s a sense of suspense and fragility and bleakness in that, also with the Stefan George text, that I also find in the «Notturno». The Belcea Quartet thought it might be a nice evening to do the «Notturno» and then the Hanging Gardens and maybe, if they have a soprano join them, the Berg Lyric Suite.


Oh yeah, of course. Gosh, that would be... that would be a tough sell for everybody, as well. [He laughs as he rolls the idea round in his head, moving from excitement to amusement at the audacity of the idea.] But going back to the «Notturno»: You are right, it’s another world, especially from «Elegie», which I have never performed, but I have heard and I have listened to recordings of.


They might be pocket-size Strauss... not the «Four Last Songs», exactly, but still wonderful music. If he had written it 50 years earlier, he would have gotten all the credit he was due.


But that’s the point, though, isn’t it? It’s slightly derivative, at that stage.


Well, I’m not sure I would call it derivative… I certainly don’t feel in the position to do so, with that work. I know, yes, there are composers who have composed in a general style like that before. But there are composers that have composed things, say, five years after Strauss, probably much more derivative, literally and listening-wise, than Schoeck. He could have still have been – and I think he was – perfectly original within that language. And it still sounds original enough for me to listen to.


Yes. Absolutely. I didn’t mean that to be disparaging of Schoeck. Just meaning that he was slightly dialing into a sound world that was already there.


It certainly explains the neglect at the time: Too conservative for the avant-garde and too modern for the conservatives. Stuck between these worlds...


Completely. But if you look later, it’s interesting that that’s sort of where Britten was, in terms of being a composer. The avant-garde composers of the day just thought he was disgustingly old fashioned.


And Britten would not have had the same career if he had not composed in the Anglophone world, which strikes me as having been more tolerant of that ‘deviation’.


Probably not, yes.


In a way Britten didn’t truly arrive in continental Europe as a regularly played, taken-as-serious composer until a decade or two ago. Jean-Guihen Queyras, the cellist, was with IRCAM, the Institut de Recherche-something-something... Pierre Boulez’ outfit. So he was among the hard core of avant-gardists. And when Harmonia Mundi asked him to do his first recording, he elected to do the Britten Cello Suites. And he said that at the time, that was the single most offensive thing that he could possibly record [Maltman starts a credescendo-ing laugh] to upset everyone in his circuit. For a Frenchman, a modern music maven, to record this rubbish. Which of course we know now as great music.


Yes, and speaking of great music: This is truly, truly, truly [he stabs the score of «Notturno» with his finger, repeatedly] truly, truly a real masterpiece. I think it is an absolute masterpiece. I think it is an absolutely brilliant piece and the more I get into it, the more I get into it, the more I want to sing it.

 



À mon chevet: 'Stoner'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
[William Stoner] had no friends, and for the first time in his life he became aware of loneliness. Sometimes, in his attic room at night, he would look up from a book he was reading and gaze in the dark corners of his room, where the lamplight flickered against the shadows. If he stared long and intently, the darkness gathered into a light, which took the insubstantial shape of what he had been reading. And he would feel that he was out of time, as he had felt that he was out of time, as he had felt that day in class when Archer Sloane had spoken to him. The past gathered out of the darkness where it stayed, and the dead raised themselves to live before him; and the past and the dead flowed into the present among the alive, so that he had for an intense instant a vision of denseness into which he was compacted and from which he could not escape, and had no wish to escape. Tristan, Iseult the fair, walked before him; Paolo and Francesca whirled in the glowing dark; Helen and bright Paris, their faces bitter with consequence, rose from the gloom. And he was with them in a way that he could never be with his fellows who went from class to class, who found a local habitation in a large university in Columbia, Missouri, and who walked unheeding in a midwestern air.

In a year he learned Greek and Latin well enough to read simple texts; often his eyes were red and burning from strain and lack of sleep. Sometimes he thought of himself as he had been a few years before and was astonished by the memory of that strange figure, brown and passive as the earth from which it had emerged. He thought of his parents, and they were nearly as strange as the child they had borne; he felt a mixed pity for them and a distant love.

Near the middle of his fourth year at the University, Archer Sloane stopped him one day after class and asked him to drop by his office for a chat. [...] Sloane leaned forward until his face was close; Stoner saw the lines on the long thin face soften, and he heard the dry mocking voice become gentle and unprotected.

"But don't you know, Mr. Stoner?" Sloane asked. "Don't you understand about yourself yet? You're going to be a teacher."

Suddenly Sloane seemed very distant, and the walls of the office receded. Stoner felt himself suspended in the wide air, and he heard his voice ask, "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Sloane said softly.

"How can you tell? How can you be sure?"

"It's love, Mr. Stoner," Sloane said cheerfully. "You are in love. It's as simple as that."

-- John Williams, Stoner, pp. 15-18
I had heard of this book before, but a recent piece by Tim Kreider for The New Yorker reminded me to read it. As a novel about the travails of a college instructor, it has something in common with Lucky Jim, but Kingsley Amis's book is mostly about the frustrating idiocy of the academy. Williams's description of the intense experience of Stoner's inner life with books is so poignant, and not coincidentally it has the second circle of Dante's Inferno for a backdrop, a place where the lust for reading, apparently the same as reading about lust, is punished. When one finds oneself so benighted, so smitten, by literature or another discipline, one has no choice but to consign oneself to an earthly eternity immersed in it. This is indeed how we become teachers.

18.5.14

In Brief: Mid-May 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.) Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts Mozart's Così fan tutte at the Theater an der Wien. [ORF]

  • Listen to rare performances of Victorin Joncières's Le dernier jour de Pompéi (1869) and Félicien David's Herculanum. [France Musique]

  • Semyon Bychkov conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in the world premiere of Franz Schmidt's second symphony and Time Recycling by René Staar. [ORF]

  • It's time for the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, this year for voices. Have a listen to the competitors. [RTBF]

  • Music of Purcell from Les Arts Florissants, led by Paul Agnew. [France Musique]

  • Giovanni Antonini leads the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, Il Giardino Armonico, and soloists in Bach's cantata Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir and Handel's Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo. [RTBF]

17.5.14

NSO New Moves

Some of the great scores of music history were made to accompany dancing. All too often, musicians and conductors play these without thinking about the choreography that went with them, something that has become evident to me in the last ten years, thanks to the chance to review a lot of ballet. Even so, when one cannot see these dances live -- some of these ballets are rarely mounted, after all -- there is the invaluable resource of Internet video, where many original choreographies, or reconstructions of them, can be viewed. The first thing that musicians and conductors, faced with one of these ballet scores, should do is to watch such videos, to get an idea of the movements that went with the music they are going to play. This is the strongest idea -- or it could have been -- behind the National Symphony Orchestra's New Moves series, a trilogy of concerts that may not have succeeded on all points but is ultimately the latest evidence of Christoph Eschenbach's willingness to embrace innovative programming.

The music selected for the first two of these concerts did not interest me all that much, but the third program, heard and seen last night, offered the strongest combination, still with some reservations. Sadly, scores that instantly come to my mind in this context, like Debussy's Jeux or Satie's Parade or Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat or Stravinsky's Pulcinella or Les noces, were not included. For the third concert, guest conductor Thomas Wilkins led two pieces that were rarely heard contemporary pieces not particularly associated with choreography. Michael Daugherty's Red Cape Tango, the conclusion of the Grammy-winning but not all that interesting Metropolis Symphony, has the rhythmic ostinato of the Habanera, complete with castanets, but is so repetitive that it grows tired about half-way through. Daugherty incorporated the first couple phrases of the Dies Irae, a long sequence whose later melodic material could have added some much-needed variety. The Sinfonia No. 4 ("Strands"), co-commissioned by the NSO from Washington-born composer George Walker, seemed even less about dance, a rather monochromatic wash of dissonant clusters that seemed to go nowhere, partly due to the pedestrian conducting of Wilkins, whose left hand generally did little other than mirror his baton hand, orderly but not revealing much else.


Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, Jessica Lang Dance, waltzing delightfully with Leila Josefowicz and the NSO (Washington Post, May 17)

Anne Midgette, NSO’s ‘New Moves’ festival closes with Jessica Lang and Leila Josefowicz (Washington Post, May 17)

---, NSO New moves and UMd 'Appalachian Spring' join dance with orchestras (Washington Post, May 2)

---, NSO festival aims for fusion of symphony and dance at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, May 8)

Robert Battey, National Symphony Orchestra's New Moves symphony + dance mini-festival (Washington Post, May 12)
The final piece on the first half, Copland's Appalachian Spring, was made for a choreography by Martha Graham. Seeing it danced live transformed the way that I hear that score, and anyone studying or playing it should watch it. The NSO played only the suite for full orchestra, which is another removal from the music's origins in dance, but even these selections are often boring without the story of the ballet and Graham's movements. The absence of dance was already felt in the first half, but it became glaring by comparison with the second half, for which the Jessica Lang Dance company gave the premiere of their director's new choreography, Scape, to the accompaniment of the violin concerto of John Adams. The soloist was Leila Josefowicz (pictured), who has performed the composer's work for electric violin, The Dharma at Big Sur, with both the NSO and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in recent years. Adams completed the violin concerto in 1995 1993, after which it was used for a choreography by New York City Ballet's Peter Martins. The music percolates with energy, with unusual sounds contributed by two synthesizers (whose players were seated near the conductor's podium) and a range of percussion instruments.

Lang's choreography went against the grain of the music for the most part, opening slowly with the nine dancers -- five women and four men, costumed in pajama-like outfits of soft colors, rarely featured in solos -- appearing in the chorister seats above the stage. In that location, movements were constrained, and almost no gestures seemed to have been inspired by the antic, creeping music, except when the soloist's cadenza corresponded with the disappearance of all but one of the group. As the dancers took the stage, extended out from where the orchestra sat by a platform bathed in icy blue-purple light, space-music sounds again seemed not to match with the clumping and spreading actions of the dancers, including some impressively long lifts. Only in the return of a more manic tempo in the third movement did the choreography seem related to the music, taking elements from various popular dances. Lang's style is abstract rather than narrative, recalling other choreographers' work without really adding up to its own character, but one might describe the story, if there had to be one, as the process of bodies being awakened by music, gradually taking on its pulses and gestures.

This concert repeats tonight, at 8 pm, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Final Thoughts on WNO 'Magic Flute'


Eri Nakamura (Pamina) and Anna Siminska (Queen of the Night)
in The Magic Flute, Washington National Opera (photo by Scott Suchman)
The Washington National Opera's production of Mozart's Magic Flute has almost reached the end of its run. I have written about the production and the singers heard at the first performance and added some thoughts on some of the cast's alternate singers heard at the second performance. Thursday night's performance offered the chance to hear the last two singers in the cast.

Polish soprano Anna Siminska was indisposed at the second performance, when she was to have taken over the Queen of the Night from Kathryn Lewek. She went on on Thursday night and gave an accomplished if not immaculate rendition of the role's two dastardly arias, her dramatic stage presence enhanced by an accented pronunciation of the English words. The top notes were a little unreliable in both cases, although one had to admire her composure after she took a tumble to the floor in the middle of Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen, after appearing to trip on the hem of her costume. With a helping hand from her Pamina, Eri Nakamura (who went on for an indisposed Maureen McKay), she stood back up without missing a beat and finished the aria.

The odd alteration schedule was in the role of Sarastro, with four early performances given to Soloman Howard and the rest to another American bass, Jordan Bisch, in his WNO debut. He was less stiff in the role, although not as solid vocally as Howard, taking some time for his voice to settle and not as resonant overall. First and second impressions of the rest of the cast remained largely the same, with the pleasing exception of the three ladies, who seemed to have improved their ensemble balance, with the lower two voices sounding a little more contained, thus stretching the first soprano into less strain. In the orchestra, the many fine solos by the flute stood out for praise, too. The video design and costumes did not become less distracting, and the English adaptation grated more on my ear. If you want to remind yourself of what the text is really like, as I did, here is the German text and a literal English translation.

Two performances of this production remain, tonight and tomorrow, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.