Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday cheer from NYC

A quartet of buskers are playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 3 in a New York subway station, when along come . . .

As several commenters observe, only in New York.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Radio special

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be substituting for Mark Lederway on WDCE’s Tuesday Classics. The Christmas Eve-eve program is an all-English affair, with a complete performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” a set of carols by Peter Warlock, and Vaughan Williams’ Christmas cantata “Hodie (This Day).”

Dec. 23
noon-4 p.m. EST
1600-2100 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Handel: “Messiah”
Lynne Dawson, soprano; Hilary Summers, contralto; John Mark Ainsley, tenor;
Alastair Miles, bass
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Brandenburg Consort/
Stephen Cleobury

Peter Warlock:
“Benedicamus Domino”
“A Cornish Carol”
“A Cornish Christmas Carol”
“Corpus Christi”
“I Saw a Fair Maiden”
“As Dew in Aprylle”
“The Birds”
“Carillon, Carilla”
Margaret Cable, mezzo-soprano;
Julian Empett, baritone
Allegri Singers/Louis Halsey
Matthew Morley, organ
Rosemary Barnes, piano
Rosamunde String Quartet (Somm)

Vaughan Williams: “Hodie (This Day): a Christmas Cantata”
Elizabeth Gale, mezzo-soprano;
Robert Tear, tenor;
Stephen Roberts, baritone
London Symphony Chorus
Choristers of St. Paul’s Cathedral
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox 
(EMI Classics)

* * *

Letter V Classical Radio will not air on Christmas Day, but will return for a four-hour special on New Year’s Day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

James Erb memorial service

(Re-posted from Nov. 18)

A celebration of the life of James Erb will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 20 in Cannon Memorial Chapel at the University of Richmond.

Erb, the former music professor and choral director at the university and founding director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, died on Nov. 11.

The memorial service will include congregational singing, with music provided to those who wish to join, as well as quiet time for reflection.

Following the service, a reception will be held at River Road Church, Baptist, River and Ridge roads, near the UR campus.

Review: Chamber Music Society

James Wilson & Beiliang Zhu, baroque cellos
Dec. 16, Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter

In the beginning (or nearabouts), there was Bach in the dark: James Wilson, in one of the early installments of what would become the concert series of the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia, played three of Johann Sebastian Bach’s suites for solo cello to 150 or so patrons in a room lit very dimly by a pair of candelabras.

As part of the society’s 10th anniversary season, Wilson reprised that remarkable recital. Doubled down on it, in fact, as he and the Chinese cellist Beiliang Zhu, a winner of the 2012 Bach Competition in Leipzig, alternated in playing all six of the Bach suites – as before, with sparse lighting.

It was, as Wilson said, a presentation of music experienced rarely in a lifetime. And not surprisingly so: A nearly three-hour program of works nearly identically formatted – prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, minuet/bourée/gavotte, gigue – for a single instrumentalist, distantly visible to most of the audience, sitting in the dark in a spacious church sanctuary, is almost as challenging to the listener as playing a Bach suite is to a cellist.

A sizeable audience turned out. About half left during the second intermission, having heard the first four suites.

Wilson and Zhu played baroque cellos, his a five-stringed English instrument from the 1720s, hers a four-stringed modern reproduction (by John Terry) of a period cello. The tones and timbres of the two instruments and instrumentalists differed markedly. Zhu produced generally heftier bass and more focused high-register tones. Wilson summoned greater variety of voicings from his instrument, although with more variable intonation.

Zhu’s performance of the Suite No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009, was the evening’s showpiece. An overtly virtuosic treatment of the prelude gave way to an unusually long-lined, lyrical reading of the allemande. The closing gigue was another display of dazzling technique, although at some cost to the rhythmic “groove” of the piece.

Her borderline-romantic approach to the stylized expressiveness of baroque music – affectus, in period parlance – was displayed again in the sarabande of the Suite No. 6 in C major, BWV 1012.

Wilson, behaving like a considerate host, took on the relatively less familiar and somewhat less decorous Second, Fourth and Fifth suites.

His interpretive approach and instrumental sound cast the cello as a surrogate human voice, with differentiated chest, throat and head tones and phrasing that at times seemed translatable into German sung in a guttural Eastern accent. He sustained the dance rhythms of these pieces, even in their most elaborated or distended passages.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Letter V Classical Radio this week

Dec. 18
noon-2 p.m. EST
1700-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Corelli: Concerto in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8
(“Christmas Concerto”)
Brandenburg Consort/
Roy Goodman

Past Masters:
Wagner: “Siegfried Idyll”
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter (Sony Classical)
(recorded 1959)

Michel Corrette: Sinfonia
“de Noël” No. 5
La Fantasia/
Rolf Voskuilen
(Brilliant Classics)

Adolphe-Charles Adam: “Cantique de Noël”
(“O Holy Night”)
Depue Brothers Band
(Beat the Drum Entertainment)

Beethoven: Piano Trio in
B flat major, Op. 97 (“Archduke”)
Kyung-Wha Chung, violin;
Myung-Wha Chung, cello;
Myung-Whun Chung, piano
(EMI Classics)

Past Masters:
Mozart: Sonata
in A major, K. 526
Yehudi Menuhin, violin; Hephzibah Menuhin, piano (Membran)
(recorded 1933)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Symphony players have new contract

The Richmond Symphony and its musicians have agreed to a new four-year contract that during its course will restore income concessions the musicians absorbed under management-imposed terms in 2012.

The musicians, members of Local 123 of the American Federation of Musicians, continued to perform after cuts of about 15 percent in their total compensation, which the symphony said were necessary because of strains on the orchestra’s budget.

In recent years, demands for concessions in pay and benefits have led to lengthy lockouts and departures of musicians at the Minnesota Orchestra and Atlanta Symphony, a threat of a work stoppage at the Metropolitan Opera, and contention between musicians and management at a number of other orchestras.

The new Richmond contract calls for the symphony players to receive wage increases of 1.5 percent in 2014-15, 2.5 percent in 2015-16, 2.5 percent in 2016-17, and 1 percent in 2017-18.

Under those terms, musicians will be earning in 2016 what they had been making in 2011. In the final year of the contract, full-time section players will earn $34,210.80; assistant principals, $39,003.12; and principals, $46,007.52.

The agreement also lengthens the musicians’ working season from 38 to 39 weeks in 2017-18.

Culture tracker

NBC’s Dec. 4 telecast of “Peter Pan” drew 9.1 million viewers. Discovery Channel’s “Eaten Alive,” a documentary about very large snakes, drew 4.1 million viewers on Dec. 7.

The US population is about 319.5 million, according to the Census Bureau’s most recently published (Nov. 1) estimate.