Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mozart lost and found

The Guardian's obituary of Evelyn Barbirolli, the English oboist and widow of the conductor John Barbirolli, notes: "In 1948 she gave the first performance of the newly discovered Mozart Oboe Concerto at the Mozarteum in Salzburg." A little reminder of how many now-standard classical works were unknown not so long ago.

The obituary, by The Guardian's June Emerson:,,2248512,00.html


My take on the current state and future prospects of classical music in Richmond is in print in the Winter Arts issue of Style Weekly, online at:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Virginia Opera 2008-09

The Virginia Opera will present an exclusively Italian season of Verdi, Donizetti, Puccini and Rossini in 2008-09.

* Verdi’s "Il Trovatore," cast including Eiliana Lappalainen (as Leonora), Gustavo López Manzitti (Manrico), Nmon Ford (Count di Luna) and Victoria Livengood (Azucena), Oct. 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12 at Norfolk’s Harrison Opera House, Oct. 17 and 19 at the Center for the Arts, George Mason University, in Fairfax, Oct. 24 and 26 at Richmond’s Landmark Theater.

* Donizetti’s "The Elixir of Love," cast including Jane Redding (Adina) and Joshua Kohl (Nemorino), Nov. 14, 16, 19, 21 and 23 in Norfolk, Nov. 28 and 30 in Richmond, Dec. 5 and 6 in Fairfax.

* Puccini’s "Tosca," cast to be announced, Jan. 30, Feb. 1, 4, 6 and 8 in Norfolk, Feb. 13 and 15 in Fairfax, Feb. 20 and 22 in Richmond.

* Rossini’s "The Barber of Seville," cast including Jason Detwiler (Figaro), Steven Condy (Dr. Bartolo) and Mark McCrory (Don Basilio), March 13, 15, 18, 20 and 22 in Norfolk, March 27 and 29 in Richmond, April 3 and 5 in Fairfax.

Peter Mark, Virginia Opera’s artistic director, marking his 100th production with the company in 34 seasons, will conduct "Trovatore," "Tosca" and "Barber." Joseph Walsh, the company’s associate conductor, will lead "Elixir."

Season subscriptions are $99-$531 in Norfolk, $81-$297 in Richmond. Fairfax subscription prices will be announced later.

Details: (866) 673-7282,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dinosaurs attack

Three dozen Virginia Tech students get "pre-litigation settlement letters" from the Recording Industry Association of America about alleged illegal music downloading, Rex Bowman reports in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

"Altogether 4,400 students at 158 U.S. campuses are facing demands to pay $3,000 to $5,000 for alleged piracy," reports the British columnist Norman Lebrecht.

Lebrecht recalls asking a record-label executive 10 years ago about how the industry would cope with music file-sharing. "The response was, 'We've put the lawyers onto it.' There was no B-plan. So set was the biz in its ways, so wedded to the [compact disc], that it did not recognise the download culture until too late."

Meanwhile, Greg Kot writes in the Chicago Tribune, "the Songwriters Association of Canada is proposing a $5-a-month licensing fee on every wireless and Internet account in the country, in exchange for unlimited access to all recorded music.",1,5854932.story?track=rss

Monday, January 21, 2008

The fifth W

David Simon, creator of the cable-TV series "The Wire" and former police reporter for the Baltimore Sun, offers as clear an explanation as I've read of why newspapers, and newsgathering in general, are in decline:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Review: Richmond Symphony

Mark Russell Smith conducting
Jan. 19, First Baptist Church, Richmond

Mark Russell Smith will continue as music director of the Richmond Symphony through the 2008-09 season, but this month’s Masterworks series concerts may turn out to be the artistic culmination of his decade in Richmond.

The program is devoted entirely to the Austro-German classical and romantic repertory in which Smith has excelled. Its main attraction is the Ninth Symphony of Anton Bruckner, whose massive, austere symphonies Smith has conducted most memorably, if not always to the most enthusiastic receptions from musicians and audiences.

This Ninth is the best of Smith’s Bruckner, a performance of technical precision, intense concentration, imposing sonority, reverence and passion. This interpretation reveals the internal logic of the composer’s rocky streams of consciousness, not just making sense of movements that meander through long explications and lurch between dissimilar themes and contrasting tones of voice, but making Bruckner’s often ungainly musical syntax sound like epic sacred poetry. It also fully vents the Wagnerian sensuality of lyrical themes, a quality rarely heard in performances of Bruckner's late works.

The orchestra played keenly and sensitively in the Jan. 19 concert. A smallish complement of 40 strings held its own against oversized (and elevated) brass choirs, and eight French horns (four of the players doubling on Wagner tubas in the final adagio) sounded far more cohesive and refined than might be expected from two regular and six substitute players. Horn player Paul LaFollette, oboist Gustav Highstein and clarinetist Ralph Skiano were fluent and expressive in their solos, and flutist Mary Boodell found just the right tone for her elusive balancing act with the Wagner tubas.

Bruckner’s unfinished Ninth – he died, in 1896, while still struggling to compose a final fourth movement – was preceded by the best-known of unfinished symphonies, Schubert’s two-movement Symphony in B minor, long numbered his Eighth, now listed as his Seventh. (Its nickname notwithstanding, available evidence suggests that Schubert considered it a finished symphony; several attempts to tack on two more movements have not improved it.)

Smith and the orchestra emphasized the symphony's abundant lyricism, but not at the expense of its emotional turbulence. String and wind timbres were suitably dark, and, in a refreshing departure from the usual treatment of this frequently played piece, collective string tone was not excessively lush or sweet.

The program opens with six German dances that Mozart wrote for the court balls of Vienna in the late 1780s. Each of the first five could serve as the menuet of a garden-variety classical-period symphony. The sixth is enlivened by "Turkish" percussion – side drum and cymbals – and complementary effusions from high winds.

The program repeats at 8 p.m. Jan. 21 at St. Michael Catholic Church, 4491 Springfield Road, in Glen Allen. Tickets: $28. Details: (804) 788-1212,

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Washington National Opera 2008-09

Renée Fleming will make her debut with the Washington National Opera next season, starring in Donizetti’s "Lucrezia Borgia." The company also will stage Wagner’s "Siegfried" in advance of three full performances of the composer’s "Ring" cycle in November 2009.

The WNO’s 2008-09 season opens with Verdi’s "La Traviata" (Sept. 13-Oct. 5), and continues with Bizet’s "The Pearl Fishers" (Sept. 20-Oct. 7). "Lucrezia Borgia" (Nov. 1-17), in which Fleming alternates with Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role, will be conducted by Plácido Domingo, the company’s general director. The fall season concludes with Bizet’s "Carmen" (Nov. 8-19), starring Denyce Graves, and two Domingo-led performances of Rossini’s "Petite Messe Solennelle" (Nov. 21-22), featuring Andrea Bocelli among the soloists.

The company’s spring 2009 productions are Britten’s "Peter Grimes" (March 21-April 4), "Siegfried" (May 2-17) and Puccini’s "Turandot" (May 16-June 4).

The WNO’s cycle of "Das Rheingold," "Die Walküre," "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung" will be staged on Nov. 2, 3, 5 and 7; Nov. 9, 10, 12 and 14; and Nov. 16, 17, 19 and 21, 2009. The cast includes Alan Held (Wotan), Iréne Theorin (Brünnhilde), Gordon Hawkins (Alberich), Christopher Ventris (Siegmund), Anja Kampe (Sieglinde), Ian Storey (Siegfried), Elisabeth Bishop (Fricka), Gidon Saks (Hunding), Robin Leggate (Loge) and David Cangelosi (Mime). Heinz Fricke, the company’s music director, is slated to conduct. Francesca Zambello is the stage director of this co-production of the WNO and San Francisco Opera.

Subscriptions for the 2008-09 season are available by calling (800) 876-7372. For information on ticket packages for the 2009 "Ring," call (877) 640-7464.

More details on the coming season and "Ring" at the Washington National Opera Web site:

The bionic pianist?

In concerts today with the New York Philharmonic, Leif Ove Andsnes is playing Brahms' immense Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major twice in six hours.

Review: Interpreti Veniziani Baroque Orchestra

Jan. 18, Modlin Arts Center, University of Richmond

The eight string players and harpsichordist of the Interpreti Veniziani Baroque Orchestra of Venice put on an exceptional half a program of Italian and French baroque music – concertos by Corelli and Vivaldi and "Les Folies d’Espagne" by Marin Marais, with two movements from Vivaldi’s "Four Seasons" as encores.

The other half was not Venetian and no more than faux-baroque.

The ensemble – violinists Giuliano Fontanella, Paolo Ciociola, Guglielmo De Stasio, Pietro Talamini and Federico Braga; violist Alessandro Curri; cellist Davide Amadio; double-bassist Angelo Liziero and harpsichordist Paolo Cognolato – established their stylisytic bona fides more or less instantly in Corelli’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 4, amplifying the piece’s thin musical content with rhetorical flair and rhythmic energy.

The group’s expressive vocabulary – whiplash accents, austere lyricism, emphatic and propulsive bass lines – was applied to even better effect in Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins, string and continuo, Op. 3, No. 5, from the collection "L’Estro Armonico," with Ciociola and De Stasio as the featured duo, and the Concerto, RV 575, for two violins, viola, cello, strings and continuo.

Cellist Amadio, the high-octane driving force of the ensemble’s rhythm section, was showcased at speed and with an almost frenzied brilliance, in Marais’ set of variations on a follia, a Portuguese dance, which the French composer mischaracterized as Spanish.

The balance of the program was, for some reason, given over to one of Fritz Kreisler’s mischievous closet-compositions (a Preludio and Allegro that the early 20th-century violin virtuoso passed off as the work of the Italian baroque composer Gaetano Pugnani), Johan Halvorsen’s hoary arrangement of Handel’s Passacaglia for violin and cello (and, here, accompanying strings) and Pablo de Sarasate’s 1878 gypsy fantasy "Zingaresca." All were well-played, although the Sarasate would have benefited from sharper rhythmic inflection.

The real-baroque half was a useful object lesson in the high spirits, and a rhythmic character not unlike that of 1920s-vintage "hot" jazz, that music of this era needs to really come alive.

Friday, January 18, 2008


My profile of Leonid Prymak, the former Richmond Symphony violinist, now a promoter and sales agent for the instruments of Italian violin-maker Vittorio Villa, is in print in Style Weekly, online at:

Symphony receives $500,000 gift

The Robert G. Cabell III and Maude Morgan Cabell Foundation has donated $500,000 to the Richmond Symphony Foundation in support of the orchestra's mainstage Masterworks Series in honor of the late Edmund A. Rennolds Jr.

Rennolds, who died in 2006, was a founder of the orchestra and longtime member of the Richmond Symphony and Richmond Symphony Foundation boards. Performances of the Verdi Requiem on March 14, 15 and 17 will be staged in his memory.

The Cabells established their foundation in 1957 to support arts and culture, historic preservation and higher education in the Richmond area and elsewhere in Virginia.

Jarrett wins Nissim Prize

Jack Jarrett, a former Virginia Commonwealth University music professor and onetime assistant conductor of the Richmond Symphony, has won the $5,000 ASCAP Foundation Rudolf Nissim Prize for "autumn too long," a setting of the poetry of e.e. cummings for soprano and orchestra.

Jarrett, who after leaving VCU taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston, is vice president of research and development of Notion Music, Inc., where he is principal designer of the NOTION line of music software products.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Review: Richmond Symphony Pops

with Great American Music Ensemble,
Greater Richmond Children’s Choir,
Doug Richards conducting
Jan. 12, Landmark Theater, Richmond

Doug Richards, the longtime jazz-master At Virginia Commonwealth University, marshalled one of the largest instrumental ensembles heard at a Richmond Symphony concert in years – a nearly full-size orchestra to supplement his Great American Ensemble, a 15-piece jazz orchestra – plus the 40 voices of the Pro Arte Choir, senior component of Hope Armstrong Erb’s Greater Richmond Children’s Choir, to introduce one of his most ambitious compositions, "Expansions on ‘A Maré Encheu’."

This "whale," as he termed it, is born of a minnow: Heitor Villa-Lobos’ brief piano setting of "A Maré Encheu," a traditional tune sung by children in Villa-Lobos’ native Brazil. (VCU commissioned Richards’ piece for "Experiencing Villa-Lobos," a festival of composer’s music to be staged in March.)

Given the tune’s Brazilian origin and Richards’ inclination toward Latin American rhythms – heard elsewhere in this program in his settings of Vernon Duke’s "April in Paris" as a tango and Jerome Kern’s "Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine" as a samba – one might have expected "A Maré Encheu" to emerge as a Latin fantasia. In fact, the quarter-hour "Expansions" grew as much from Richards’ roots as from those of the song.

If forced to characterize the piece in a couple of words, I would choose the words "impressionist" and "blues" – the former for the vast palette of tone colors that Richards summons from reed, brass and percussion instruments, the latter for his harmonic and rhythmic template. His work clearly echoes the long-form pieces of Duke Ellington, a lineage acknowledged in this program’s opening selection, Ellington’s three-movement masterpiece "Night Creatures."

The heart of "A Maré Encheu," an extended drum solo, played by GAME’s drummer, Harold Summey, is couched in an Afro-Latin dialect; so are the choral riffs on the children’s song. The winds, however, blow the tune out of its native latitude, toward ports of modern jazz and Euro-American orchestration; in that, Richards follows a route somewhat like the one taken by Villa-Lobos.

That’s a first impression of the piece, tempered by the detail-unfriendly acoustics of the Landmark Theater and by the audial information overload of hearing "A Maré Encheu" at the end of a very eventful 2½-hour program.

The preceding 2¼ hours showcased Richards’ highly imaginative, sometimes quirky, takes on a succession of jazz standards, ranging from Ellington ("I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good," "I’m Just a Lucky So and So," "Sophisticated Lady") and George Gershwin ("Our Love Is Here to Stay," "They All Laughed") to Irving Berlin ("Blue Skies"), Fats Waller ("Ain’t Misbehavin’ "), Ray Henderson ("Bye, Bye, Blackbird") and Glenn Miller, who, in the hereafter, is either chuckling or sputtering over Richard’s prismatic arrangement of Joe Garland’s "In the Mood."

Sharon Clark, a Washington-based singer blessed with a smoky mezzo and unusually subtle rhythmic sensibility, was featured in half a dozen selections, most effectively in "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "Ain’t Misbehavin’."

Saxophonists Marty Nau and Luis Hernandez and trumpeters John D’earth and Rex Richardson soared in numerous solos, Richardson arguably grabbing solo honors in a grand tour of trumpet technique in W.C. Handy’s "Aunt Hagar’s Blues" (a movement from from Richards’ "Intercontinental Concerto," introduced last year in Melbourne, Australia).

And the Pro Arte choristers reprised a couple of arrangements Richards wrote for them (in exchange for piano lessons from Erb), including a "Bye, Bye, Blackbird" that promises to have legs as well as wings, becoming a staple of the children’s-chorus repertory.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Assessing Slatkin

The Washington Post's Tim Page argues with himself about Leonard Slatkin's direction of the National Symphony:

Fortepiano vs. pianoforte

In The New York Times, Bernard Holland reviews Robert Levin, playing an early 19th-century Graff fortepiano, and Claude Frank, playing a modern Steinway, in Schubert's Sonata in B flat major:

You can try this at home: Malcolm Bilson on fortepiano (Hungaroton 31590), Stephen Hough on modern piano (Hyperion 67027).

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Do blondes have more culture?

The Barbie doll is enlisted to interest children (little girls, presumably) in classical music, The Independent reports:

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

'The Death of Old Media'

A fascinating, often bewildering, exchange between Michael Hirschorn of the VH1 cable network and Jon Fine of Business Week, on the proliferation of new electronic media and the steep decline of old media:

Memo to people who keep saying, "I don't use computers:" Get over it. Time's up. (Actually, time was up about five years ago; now, time's REALLY up.)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Milwaukee taps de Waart

Edo de Waart, the widely traveled Dutch conductor, has been named music director-designate of the Milwaukee Symphony. He succeeds Andreas Delfs, who will leave the orchestra after the 2008-09 season.

The 66-year-old de Waart, onetime oboist and assistant conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, has directed the Rotterdam Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Sydney Symphony and Netherlands Opera. Since 2004 he has been chief conductor and artistic director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Next season he will become chief conductor of the Santa Fe Opera, replacing Alan Gilbert, the next music director of the New York Philharmonic.

After winning the Dmitri Mitropoulos Conducting Competition, de Waart served in 1965-66 under Leonard Bernstein at the NY Phil as one of two assistant conductors. The other was Jacques Houtmann, later music director of the Richmond Symphony.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


My profile of Richmond-bred composer Zachary Wadsworth, recent winner of the ASCAP-Lotte Lehmann Foundation Art Song Competition for Young Composers, is now in print in Style Weekly, online at:

In the same issue, my review of the new disc of Beethoven's First and Sixth symphonies by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra:

This just in! Oh, wait . . .

A sensational story in the the New York Daily News, with the requisite tabloid ingredients – sex, crime, death, a cop (supposedly) asking "who done it?" and a crazy foreign perp – plus it’s about classical music, which, as every tabloid reader knows, is weird, decadent and altogether sinister:

Just one little problem: It happened 82 years ago.