Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who was music director of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra) for 19 years (1960-79) and led Britain’s Hallé Orchestra of Manchester and the German Radio Orchestra of Saarbrücken-Kaiserslautern for lengthy tenures, has died at 93.
He had been among the oldest still-active conductors, routinely working on lengthy and demanding scores such
as the symphonies of Bruckner and Shostakovich, until suffering a stroke in November and another earlier this month.
Skrowaczewski, born in Lwów, Poland, was chief conductor of a succession of Polish orchestras in the 1940s and ’50s. He first worked in the US in 1958, invited by George Szell to conduct the Cleveland Orchestra, after winning the Santa Cecilia Competition for Conductors in Rome two years earlier.
As music director, then conductor laureate, in Minneapolis, he conducted the Minnesota Orchestra each year for 56 seasons.
During and after his Minnesota years, he guest-conducted many of the world’s leading orchestras, among them the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic. He also conducted at the Metropolitan Opera and Vienna State Opera.
From the ’40s onward, Skrowaczewski frequently programmed works by contemporary composers, and was himself an accomplished composer.
He amassed a large discography. Among his most celebrated recordings was a cycle of the Bruckner symphonies with the Saarbrücken-Kaiserslautern orchestra.
An obituary by Jenna Ross from the Star Tribune of Minneapolis:
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Monday, February 20, 2017
noon-3 p.m. EST
WDCE, University of Richmond
J.C. Bach: Sinfonia in G minor, Op. 6, No. 6
alte Musik Berlin/
“The Unanswered Question”
Michael Sachs, trumpet
Christoph von Dohnányi
Symphony No. 5 in C minor
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/
Quartet in D minor,
Emerson String Quartet
Joseph Martin Kraus:
Symphony in C sharp minor
Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110
Symphony No. 2 in C major
with Wu Man, pipa
Feb. 19, University of Richmond
Wu Man, the most widely recognized player of the pipa, the Chinese lute, joined the Shanghai Quartet in a program of traditional and contemporary music from China, and several works by Chinese-American composers.
The pentatonic musical scale used in most Chinese music, as well as the country’s instruments and expressive techniques, differ from those of European and American music, but don’t sound as exotic or alien to Westerners as they did several generations ago.
That’s not just due to the rapid recent growth of multiculturalism. Western curiosity about Asian cultures, including Asian music, dates back centuries. Plus, some families of instruments are similar regardless of their countries of origin. Lutes look and sound much like one another, whether they’re called lutes, mandolins, balalaikas, ouds or pipas.
How they’re played also can vault over continents and centuries. As Wu Man played the traditional Chinese “Xi Yang Xiao Gu” (“Flute and Drum Music at Sunset”) and the Central Asian “Kui: Song of Kazakhstan,” it was not too much of a stretch to imagine those pieces adapted for an Appalachian stringband – assuming you could find a mandolinist nimble enough to pull off her speedy fingering and exceptionally light touch at the quietest volume.
Regrettably, they were the program’s only samples of her solo playing. Playing with the Shanghai, as she did in Tan Dun’s Concerto for pipa and string quartet, a suite from Zhao Jiping’s film score for “The Red Lantern” and two folk-song arrangements by Yi-Wen Jiang, the quartet’s second violinist, the pipa virtuoso became part of an ensemble, often playing a supportive or coloristic role.
Both the film-score suite, arranged by the composer’s son, Zhao Lin, and Jiang’s arrangements of “Butterfly Lovers” (perhaps the most familiar of all Chinese folk songs in the West) and “Yao Dance,” are substantially Westernized.
The rhythms and phrasing of the Chinese melodies are moderated for Western ears, and the tone of bowed strings, singly and collectively, is much the same as one would hear in a European-romantic string quartet. The lead violin parts, played by Weigang Li, sounded especially lush and lyrical – probably thanks in equal parts to the arrangers and to the string-friendly acoustic of Camp Concert Hall in the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center.
The Chinese accents of Tan Dun’s concerto are less diluted, but still show the influences of Western modernist-classical style. Zhou Long’s “Song of the Ch’in,” in which the string quartet evokes the sound of a Chinese zither, is even more authentically Chinese in character. Long’s quartet was securely under the players’ fingers – it has been part of the Shanghai’s repertory for two decades. Interestingly, the foursome’s only non-Chinese member, cellist Nicholas Tzavaras, sounded especially expert in producing zither-like tones and figures.
Wu Man and two members of the quartet, violinist Jiang and violist Honggang Li, were music-school classmates in their youths, and the five players’ mutual regard and respect for one another’s musicianship was audible throughout the program.
The more idiomatically Chinese the music sounded, though, the better they played.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
with James Jacobson, timpani
Feb. 19, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland
Many authoritative figures have made ill-considered remarks about Beethoven’s music. The prize-winner may be Robert Schumann’s characterization of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B flat major as “a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants.”
While slender in length aside Beethoven’s nearly hour-long Third (“Eroica”) Symphony, slender in portent compared with the Fifth Symphony, even conceivably Greek in terms of its classical symmetry (à la Mozart and Haydn), the Fourth is no maiden. Short, sturdy, hard-hitting and fast on its feet, it’s more like a ninja.
The Richmond Symphony’s performance of the Fourth in its latest Metro Collection concert certainly punched above its weight. Conductor Steven Smith drew from the chamber-scaled orchestra a forceful, flexible and propulsive reading that made the piece sound as big in sound and spirit as the better-known, odd-numbered Beethoven symphonies.
The Beethoven Fourth followed two novelties, Bruce Adolphe’s “Tryannosaurus Sue: A Cretaceous Concerto,” a musical fable with narration on the life and times of a dinosaur, and Johann Carl Christian Fischer’s Symphony in C major.
Fischer’s opus would be a garden-variety mid-18th century rococo sinfonia were it not scored with eight obbligato kettle drums, played in this performance by the orchestra’s timpanist, James Jacobson.
Wielding period-appropriate hard-headed sticks, which produce real drumbeats rather than the percussive rumbles that timps so often contribute to 19th-century orchestrations, Jacobson stylishly and exuberantly amplified the martiality of Fischer’s score, a rather well-mannered member of the family of “battle” music that stretches from the late Renaissance to modern times. Jacobson added some extra rambunctious merriment in a couple of cadenzas.
“Tyrannosaurus Sue,” the imagined biography of a critter whose skeleton greets visitors to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, set to music by the composer best-known for his “Piano Puzzler” features on public radio’s “Performance Today,” is fancifully noisy as its protagonist, played by a trombonist (here, the symphony’s Zachary Guiles) squabbles at mealtimes and fights to the death with other prehistoric carnivores, portrayed in turn by clarinet (David Lemelin), bassoon (Thomas Schneider) and French horn (James Ferree).
Fight scenes aside, the piece is a sophisticated homage to musical modernism, indebted especially to Stravinsky but also nodding toward other 20th-century masters and the melange of atonalism, neoclassicism, impressionism, primitivism, dada, cabaret and jazz, plus a few other exotic spices, in the musical stew cooked by composers over the past century.
The symphony’s performance was suitably savory.
Feb. 18, Virginia Commonwealth University
In the latest Rennolds Chamber Concerts program at VCU’s Singleton Arts Center, the Montrose Trio gave one of the finest chamber-music performances in recent Richmond seasons in a delectable if debatable interpretation of an early masterpiece by Brahms.
The Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 8, is an early masterpiece that was substantially reworked in middle age, Brahms in his 50s reining in some of the excesses of Brahms in his 20s. But only some: The revised trio is still the expressively volatile work of a young composer, venting the same passions, with the same kinds of musical mood swings, as he did in his early piano sonatas.
The Montrose – pianist Jon Kimura Parker and two alumni of the now-retired Tokyo String Quartet, violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith – treated this moderated Brahms to further moderation.
Like many musicians today, they read the composer’s tempo markings as carrying the unwritten addendum “but slower,” turning allegro con brio into a pace more like allegro ma non troppo, adagio more like largo. They planed off rough edges, smoothed transitions, tamed outbursts.
They did all this as beautifully as it could be done. Individual playing was as close to faultless as you’ll ever hear in a live performance. Instruments sounded in perfect balance. Parker pulled off one of the toughest feats in chamber music, rendering Brahms’ piano part with clarity and robust tone but without overpowering string sound. Greensmith summoned lyrical warmth and projective impact from a cello that has the woodsy, soft sonority of a period instrument, yet held his own alongside Beaver’s markedly more brilliant-sounding violin.
The Montrose produced a collective sound that was refined but not homogenized. The listener was always conscience of three instruments wielded by three distinct musical personalities, in close accord but in their own spaces.
Their individuality was most pronounced, by design, in the brief but eventful Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 8, written by the 17-year-old Dmitri Shostakovich. This piece casts the three instruments in high relief, carrying on an animated conversation, frequently conversing on different subjects in different tones of voice and style. Parker, Beaver and Greensmith sounded eager to share those mixed trains of thought, and eavesdropping on them was a pleasure from start to finish.
Between the Op. 8s (as Parker characterized them in his introductory remarks), Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1, No. 3, came across as an agreeable if occasionally turbulent interlude.
The composer, in his early 20s when he wrote the
Op. 1 trios, couched this music more or less in the style of his principal teacher, Joseph Haydn, and a Haydnesque decorous playfulness prevails. Hints of the later C minor Beethoven of the “Pathétique” Sonata and Fifth Symphony are subtle, at least until the final movement, and the Montrose gave those pre-echoes no more than their due.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Feb. 17, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
David Goode, one of the brightest stars in the constellation of British organists, displayed a keen ear for tone color and a sure grasp of the English style of impressionism in a recital presented by the Richmond chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
That style more commonly
is termed “pastoral,” as it seems to evoke green fields, soft breezes, larks ascending and other aspects of nature. Its outdoorsiness, however, is more suggestive than illustrative – rarely do you hear water sonically represented as vividly by a Brit as it is by Debussy, for example; and in the English style there’s a deeply ruminative quality bordering on reverence, closer to nature worship (or worship amid nature) than nature sound-painting.
That was my impression as I heard Goode play Herbert Howells’ Rhapsody, Op. 17, No. 3, and Frank Bridge’s Adagio in E major. Goode’s treatment of both pieces brought out their kinship (Howells’ closer than Bridge’s) to the early 20th-century English pastoral/
A third English selection, the Prelude in E flat major of the prominent church musician William H. Harris, is firmly rooted in the Anglican liturgical tradition. It served as a useful interlude of decompression after Goode’s intense performance of an organ transcription of the Chaconne from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, originally for solo violin.
In The Bach, which opened the recital, Goode both established his virtuoso bona fides and signalled his intent to explore all the dynamic and coloristic potential of the Aeolian-Skinner organ at St. Stephen’s, recently refitted with a console that can be moved into the view of listeners.
Goode masterfully traced the rising, then receding arc of volume and expression in the Chaconne, perhaps not with the same visceral immediacy and spiritual impact that the best violinists can bring to the piece, but with much greater effect than can be heard and felt in the familiar piano transcription by Feruccio Busoni.
The organist applied comparable skill in sound-sculpting to César Franck’s Choral No. 1 in E major – a work whose contours might sound extremely subtle, going on indistinguishable, in lesser hands – and exercised his coloristic sensibilities in Liszt’s Concert Study “Waldesrauschen” (“Forest Murmurs”); Goode’s own Prelude “One thing I ask” (from Psalm 27); and “Mozart Changes” (1995), a semi-jazzy takeoff on the theme of the finale of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D major, K. 576, by the Hungarian composer Zsolt Gárdonyi.
For an encore, Goode played a dazzlingly speedy arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
Monday, February 13, 2017
noon-3 p.m. EST
WDCE, University of Richmond
Berlioz: “Benvenuto Cellini” Overture
Montreal Symphony Orchestra/
Stravinsky: “Pulcinella” Suite
Academy of St. Martin
in the Fields/
“The Cunning Little Vixen” Suite
(arrangement by Vaclav Talich)
Czech Philharmonic/Charles Mackerras
“Le Tombeau de Couperin”
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Piano Concerto No. 19
in F major, K. 459
András Schiff, piano
Camerata Academica des Mozarteums Salzburg/
Rimsky-Korsakov: “Capriccio espagnol”
Berlin Philharmonic/Lorin Maazel
Quartet in C minor,
Op. 18, No. 5
Cypress String Quartet
Symphony No. 2
in B flat major
Anima Eterna Orchestra/
Jos van Immerseel
(Zig Zag Territories)