Classical Music News of the Week, March 25, 2017

Bach Week Festival Announces Lineup for 2017 Edition, April 28, May 5 & 7

Josefien Stoppelenburg
The Bach Week Festival has announced the lineup for its 44th annual edition, featuring concerts in Evanston and Chicago, Il.

Chicago-area concert artists of national and international stature will make their Bach Week debuts this season, including soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg of Wilmette, Il, who is making her festival debut April 28. She has sung at the Arizona Bach Festival, the Boulder Bach Festival and with the St. Louis Bach Society and Cincinnati Bach Ensemble.

Also making her Bach Week debut April 28 is mezzo-soprano Susan Platts of Evanston. The British-born Canadian singer is a favorite of revered German choral conductor Helmuth Rilling, a founder of the Oregon Bach Festival, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, and other Bach academies. She has performed with Rilling on numerous occasions.

Globe-trotting Chicago harpsichordist Jory Vinikour, who performs recitals across Europe and North America, will make his first Bach Week appearance May 7. Early Music America magazine recently hailed him as "the Renaissance man of Baroque music."

Acclaimed artists from out of town will include returning Bach Week favorite, pianist Sergei Babayan of the Cleveland Institute of Music, mentor to some of today's highest-profile young pianists (including Russian phenomenon Daniil Trifonov); and a Bach Week newcomer, pianist Grace Fong, a former Babayan student with her own successful concert and recording career. Both will perform at the May 5 Bach Week concert in Evanston, Il.

In a first for the festival, a highly select group of singers from Evanston Township High School will sing in the Bach Week Festival's finale concert May 7 at North Park University in Chicago, alongside the Bach Week Festival Chorus, the North Park University Chamber Singers, and members of the acclaimed professional chamber choir Bella Voce. According to Bach Week Festival's music director and conductor Richard Webster, this is the festival's first collaboration with a high school music department.

Single-admission concert tickets are $30 for adults, $20 seniors, $10 students. Subscriptions to all three festival concerts are $80 for adults, $50 for seniors, and $20 for students. Tickets can be purchased online at bachweek.org or by phone, (800) 838-3006. For general festival information, phone 847-269-9050 or email info@bachweek.org.

--Nathan J. Silverman Co. PR

Free Concert Friday, April 21 at High School Choir Festival
The combined vocal force of 1,000 high school students from 30 Southland schools can be heard in a free concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Friday, April 21 when the Los Angeles Master Chorale presents the 28th Annual High School Choir Festival. The 1,000-voice Festival choir will be led by Artistic Director Grant Gershon in a varied program that features works by this year's guest artist singer/composer Moira Smiley. Smiley will also teach the massive choir body percussion to accompany one of her songs.

The performance is open to the public and free to attend. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets can be reserved in advance now at lamasterchorale.org. A select number of tickets will also be available on the day of the concert.

In addition to the 1 PM Festival concert, the day will include a performance by the 16-member Los Angeles Master Chorale Chamber Ensemble in Walt Disney Concert Hall conducted by Assistant Conductor Jenny Wong at 11 AM. This performance is a professional showcase for the students and is also open to the public to attend. Tickets are required for this free event and can be reserved at lamasterchorale.org.

--Jennifer Scott, LA Master Chorale

The Wallis Presents Celebration of Three Extraordinary Piano Concerts
The grand piano takes center stage this spring as the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts presents a piano celebration of extraordinary concerts that will feature both established and emerging artists including thirteen pianists across three evenings performing on the Bram Goldsmith Theater stage. Jean-Yves Thibaudet and fifteen young musicians from the Colburn School begin the first of the concerts on March 29, followed by Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin on April 26--prior to their New York concert at Carnegie Hall--and finally, the Los Angeles debut of the emerging British star Benjamin Grosvenor on April 30.

"We are thrilled to present these four top pianists in the Bram Goldsmith Theater, whose acoustics are beautifully designed for intimate performances of this caliber," said Paul Crewes, The Wallis' Artistic Director.

"The Wallis is fortunate to have an extraordinary Steinway & Sons grand piano gifted to us by Marilyn Ziering for these rare concerts," said Rachel Fine, The Wallis's Managing Director.  "Steinway & Sons Beverly Hills is a formidable partner and we're grateful for the additional beautiful piano they've provided to ensure these striking and memorable concerts."

Single tickets are now available for $25 – $99. Subscriptions are available for purchase starting at $79. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TheWallis.org, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Ticket prices subject to change.

--Sarah Jarvis, The Wallis

Congratulations to Academy Alumnus Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen
American Bach Soloists are thrilled to let you know that countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen, a participant in the 2015 ABS Academy, has been named a Winner in the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Finals held today in New York City's Metropolitan Opera House. The Grand Finals Concert was hosted by Renée Fleming, a 1988 National Council Winner, and featured Nicola Luisotti conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra as each finalist performed two arias.

Praised by the San Francisco Chronicle as a "vocal powerhouse" and for the "expressive depth" of his singing, and acclaimed for his "soaring, otherworldly voice" by the Houston Chronicle, Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen is quickly making his mark in the worlds of opera and early music. In his breakout 2016-2017 season, in addition to being named a Grand Finals Winner (as well as being named the Audience Choice Award Winner in the Eastern Region) in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, he is the First Prize Winner in the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition, and winner of the Irvin Scherzer Award as a Finalist in the George London Foundation Competition. His season also includes concerts with the Newberry Consort in Chicago and Operamission in New York City. In the summer of 2016, Aryeh participated in the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera, and in the summer of 2017, Aryeh will join Wolf Trap Opera as a Studio Artist.

For more information, visit americanbach.org

--American Bach Soloists

"Dudamel Conducts Tangos Under the Stars" with the LA Phil
Gustavo Dudamel accents the colors, rhythms, and passion of music by leading composers from Argentina in this invigorating evening under the stars on "Dudamel Conducts Tangos Under the Stars" with the LA Philharmonic -- recorded at the Hollywood Bowl in August - coming to Great Performances Friday, March 31 at 9 p.m. on PBS.

With guitarist Angel Romero, bandoneon player Seth Asarnow, and dancers from Tango Buenos Aires, maestro Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in works by the Astor Piazzolla, once described by Stephen Holden in The New York Times as "the world's foremost composer of tango music," symphonic composer Alberto Ginastera (who was Piazzolla's teacher), and film score composer Lalo Schifrin ("Mission Impossible"), a friend of the late Piazzolla.

Newly filmed interviews with Dudamel, Schifrin and Romero are interspersed throughout the musical program, together with archival footage of Piazzolla.

For more information, visit http://pressroom.pbs.org/Programs/g/GREAT-PERFORMANCES/4202-Dudamel-Conducts-Tangos.aspx

--Harry Forbes, WNET

California Symphony Performs World Premiere May 7 of New Dan Visconti Cello Concerto
Music Director Donato Cabrera leads the California Symphony in the world premiere of the newly-commissioned cello concerto, Tangle Eye, by its current Young American Composer-in-Residence, Dan Visconti, with soloist Inbal Segev on Sunday, May 7 at 4 pm at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

The Israeli-American cellist, now based in New York, is a champion of contemporary music, and performs as a soloist with a Bay Area orchestra for the first time in the Orchestra's May 7 season finale. This is Visconti's final work as a Young American Composer-in-Residence with the Orchestra; his residency ends this year. The California Symphony also performs Bruckner's Symphony No. 6 for the first time in its 30-year history, and the program opens with Beethoven's Coriolan Overture.

Cabrera, Visconti and Segev are also offering a free public introduction to Tangle Eye on Wednesday, May 3 at 7 pm, in Live! from the Library – Fresh Ink: New Music at the Walnut Creek Public Library. The three will introduce and discuss the music and the collaborative process, and Segev will perform short excerpts to illustrate the musical concepts.

For more information, visit www.californiasymphony.org

--Jean Catino Shirk, Shirk Media

Angela Hewitt: Bach Odyssey at 92Y
On April 4, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt returns to 92Y's Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC, with "Angela Hewitt: Bach Odyssey," a four-season-long exploration of Bach's keyboard works in their entirety. The award-winning musician performs every keyboard work of J.S. Bach in a series of 12 recitals across the world, making her New York appearances exclusively at 92Y. In her third and final concert of the season, which closes the first year of this ambitious concert series, Ms. Hewitt presents a selection of Bach's virtuosic sonatas and partitas.

Ms. Hewitt's career has been filled with accolades. She was named 'Artist of the Year' at the 2006 Gramophone Awards, and in 2015 she promoted to a Companion of the Order of Canada.

For more information, visit https://www.92y.org/event/angela-hewitt-bach-odyssey-3.aspx

--Xi Wang, Kirshbaum Associates

On Site Opera Announces New Executive Director Piper Gunnarson
On Site Opera is excited to announce the appointment of its new Executive Director, Piper Gunnarson. A seasoned nonprofit arts administrator, Piper has extensive experience in theater administration for organizations spanning all manifestations of the art form, including classical plays, new work, musicals, and children's theater.

Says Piper of the appointment: "On Site Opera has earned such a sterling reputation for its visionary and invigorating approach to opera production. I am beyond excited and truly honored to get to work with Eric, Geoff, and the Board in charting the next course for this inspiring company."

For more information, visit www.osopera.org

--Ely Moskowitz, Unison Media

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers with 2 Premieres at 92Y
"Fantasia: Evening of Fantasy"
Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 7:30PM
 92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

Anne Akiko Meyers, violin
Akira Eguchi, piano

Beethoven: Violin Sonata in D major, Op. 12, No. 1
Arvo Part: Fratres  
Einojuhani Rautavaara: Fantasia (New York premiere of arrangement for violin & piano, written for Ms. Meyers)
Ravel: Tzigane   
Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium (New York premiere of arrangement for violin & piano, written for Ms. Meyers)
Jakub Ciupinski: Wreck of the Umbria for electronics (written for Ms. Meyers)

For more information, visit http://www.92y.org/event/fantasia-evening-of-fantasy

--Xi Wang, Kirshbaum Associates

Music Schools Issue NEA Statement
The Chicago Consortium of Community Music Schools is an alliance of several music and educational institutions in the Chicago area. As leaders in the arts, we are compelled to comment on the recent federal budget proposal put forth by the Trump administration, which completely eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). We urge our elected officials to reject this proposal and fight to maintain, or even increase, funding for the NEA.

There is no doubt that federal support for the arts is a wise investment. Our country's artists and arts educators enable us to celebrate creativity. The more we access the arts, the more opportunities we have for intellectual and aesthetic growth. Children especially benefit through arts education, building their brains and developing a confidence that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

In addition, investment in the arts yields huge economic dividends. Funds from the NEA generate more than $600 million in additional matching funds. Arts and culture is a $730 billion industry that represents 4.2% of the nation's GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs. The arts are not elitist. Their economic and programmatic impact touches people in all 50 states, including U.S. military veterans benefitting from highly effective arts therapy.

We thank our elected officials for their past support for the arts and arts education. But we are also watching closely and counting on them to lead the effort to maintain and strengthen the NEA.

--Susanne Baker, Director
Community Music Division, DePaul University

Maazel Conducts Wagner, Volumes 1 & 2 (CD review)

Waltraud Meier, mezzo-soprano; Lorin Maazel, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. RCA 09026-63143-2 and RCA 74321-68717-2.

Yes, there was life after Karajan. Even without its former maestro fussing about, the Berlin Philharmonic still had a gorgeous, deep-throated sonority about it. Although at the time of these recordings, 1998-2000, Claudio Abbado was leading the Berlin orchestra, their playing under the late Lorin Maazel (1930-2014) nevertheless sounded effortless, creating a monumentally big, full, rich sound. In fact, the BPO sound appears so together, it is like listening to a single great instrument playing rather than a hundred instruments in unison. RCA have captured the orchestral sonics in warm, smooth, slightly soft dimensions, very easy on the ear and, if anything, adding to the grand scale of the proceedings. The acoustics are nothing like the bright glare presented on so many early digital releases in the same venue under Karajan.

Lorin Maazel
The performances, too, are on an appropriately lofty plane, coming close to but not quite realizing the grandeur or fervor of my favorite Wagner interpretations under Otto Klemperer (EMI), Bernard Haitink (Philips), Erich Leinsdorf (Sheffield), or Leopold Stokowski (HDTT or RCA), but they're close.

Maazel opens with a huge rendition of the Tannhauser Overture, leading into a revised edition of the "Venusberg-Bacchanale." There follows a quite exciting version of Der Fliegende Hollander Overture; then a sweet and noble Act I Prelude to Lohengrin; and a dynamic Gotterdammerung "Funeral March." The first disc concludes with the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde and finally "Isoldes Liebestod" sung by mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier.

OK, Maazel is quite a good Wagner conductor, but note that Klemperer and his Philharmonia players convey both size and greater urgency in these works, and they were recorded by EMI with better definition and available at mid price, albeit on several discs. For a single collection, though, this new Maazel album is a fine effort and an easy recommendation.

As I said about Maazel's first volume of Wagner music with the Berlin Philharmonic, there was definitely life after Karajan. In the second volume, sold separately, the BPO continued to sound more mellifluous, more imposing, more majestic than almost any orchestra in the world, made to appear all the more so given RCA's ultrasmooth, ultra-velvety sonics. With Maazel's unusually broad view of tempos and knack for grandly emphasizing a point, the result is Wagner on an even loftier level than usual.

Oddly, given their prominence, the two opening pieces I thought were the weakest interpretively. The Rienzi Overture is slow to the point of plodding, and the Lohengrin Act III Prelude never really catches fire. But then Maazel comes into his own with the Faust Overture, which combines cool deliberation with fiery execution. Next, his Die Meistersinger Prelude comes off with appropriate ebullience and aplomb, followed by the centerpiece of the album, the Siegfried Idyll, delicate and pensive, the famous birthday gift from Wagner to his wife, Cosima. The program concludes with Maazel's best performance of the lot, "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" from Gotterdammerung. It allows the conductor to exhibit freely his baronial, dramatic flair while maintaining a fair degree of control.

Maazel is a fine conductor who grew into the role of elder statesman gracefully, though losing some of the spark that once marked his conducting. I find Haitink, on a similarly comprised, mid-priced Philips recording with the Concertgebouw, more to my liking for his greater spontaneity. Otto Klemperer on a pair of mid-priced EMI issues is equally noble yet displays more individualism; and his EMI engineers provided a shade more sonic transparency. Still, these discs will not disappoint Maazel's fans, and it's hard to fault the Berlin players in anything they do.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:




Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Bartok: Violin Concerto No. 2. Augustin Hadelich, violin; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Norwegian Radio Orchestra. Avie Records AV2323.

First, you might not know the disc's soloist. The talented young German-Italian violinist Augustin Hadelich very nearly had his career ended in a 1999 fire that damaged much of his hands and face. After recovering, he continued his musical education, going on to win numerous competitions and awards, including a Grammy, perform with many of the world's leading orchestras, and record over half a dozen albums.

Second, you might be wondering about the disc's coupling. Mr. Hadelich writes, "The combination of Mendelssohn and Bartok may seem strange at first, and it is certainly unusual. However, as often happens with contrasting pairings, there are more similarities between Mendelssohn and Bartok than one might expect, and the character and style of each work are made clearer and have more impact when one hears them side by side. According to the popular clichés, Mendelssohn was the happy romantic and Bartok the tortured soul. There is some truth to that: I would say that Mendelssohn was overall an optimist...and Bartok more of a pessimist. Indeed, when one examines the music more closely, things are much more complex!" Hadelich then goes on to explain each work's complexities, but, unfortunately, he never persuaded me to see the connections among them too well. Oh, well, it's in hearing Hadelich playing the two concertos that one will either agree or disagree with his choice of pairing.

Third, you might ask, Why do I need another recording of two such well-traveled classics? Here, things become a little trickier. If every performer interpreted a piece of music exactly the same way as every other performer, we would have no need for multiple recordings in our collections. It would be as though robots had played the music, note for note the same as everybody else. But, no, that's not the way it works. All performers put a little something of themselves in a piece of music. Too much and the performance may sound distorted and perhaps more than a bit egotistical. Too little and the performance may sound bland, undistinguished, even lifeless. With Hadelich, the Bartok sounds the more convincing, the Mendelssohn a bit too hurried in the important opening movement, thereby losing some of its charm.

Augustin Hadelich
Anyway, the German composer and musician Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) premiered his Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 in 1845; it would be his last big orchestral work. From the very outset we can hear Hadelich's virtuosic command of the violin; he sounds as though he could play anything, anywhere, anytime with consummate ease. However, he also appears to rush through parts, negating some of Mendelssohn's enchanting appeal. In the first movement, at any rate, Hadelich seems intent on display over emotion. This is not to say the music suffers badly, only that it doesn't appear as characteristically charismatic as it does under performers like Perlman, Szeryng, Chee-Yun, or Heifetz, the latter taking the tempos even faster than Hadelich but somehow making them seem more emotionally affecting.

Fortunately, Hadelich is in form in the slow central movement, which sounds quite lyrically balanced, and the finale, which catches more of Mendelssohn's sprightly heart than Hadelich's handling of the first movement did. In addition, the soloist provides an effectively smooth and graceful transition into the last movement with the composer's little intermezzo-like passage. So, all's well that ends well.

Hungarian composer and pianist Bela Bartok (1881-1945) wrote his Violin Concerto No. 2 in 1937-38, and during his lifetime people simply knew it as the "Violin Concerto" because his earlier violin concerto (now known as No. 1), written decades earlier and put aside, would not get published until 1956. As Hadelich reminds us in a booklet note, it was the Hungarian violinist Zoltan Szekely who asked Bartok to write a violin concerto, and Bartok replied, no, he'd rather write a theme and variations for violin and orchestra. As it turns out, the composer wound up doing both: the concerto is really a piece that while embracing the usual three-movement structure actually contains a set of variations in the second movement and then in the final movement a variation of the first.

Hadelich handles all of this with a refined grace, which is perhaps the interpretation's only point of contention, given that Bartok wrote it at a time of increasing fascist rule in Europe, generally reflected in some of the music's pessimism. So Hadelich's rendition of the score isn't quite as pointed as some others you may have on your shelf. Nevertheless, under the guidance of Hadelich and Maestro Harth-Bedoya, the music finds its rightful place, in part dark and melancholy, in part spontaneous and singing.

Producer Andrew Keener and engineer Thomas Wolden (LAWO Classics) recorded the concertos at the Concert Hall, NRK Radio, Oslo, Norway in June 2014. As with almost every Avie recording I've had the pleasure to listen to this one sounds terrific: Very lifelike, with a warm ambience enhancing the natural bloom of the instruments. The soloist remains in front of the orchestra but at a realistic distance, meaning he is not in our face. What's more, the solo violin sounds truthful in size, not spread across the speakers. The orchestral accompaniment is vivid enough without being forward or bright. It's a triumphant sonic achievement all the way around.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa