Art of the States has launched "Exploded View," an ongoing feature in which composers guide listeners through their works.
The first in the series features John Harbison discussing his String Quartet No. 3 (1993), with a performance by the Lydian String Quartet. Access it and future installments at:
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
I couldn't make it to the Richmond Symphony's May 27 concert at the Kennedy Center, the orchestra's first appearance at the Washington venue since 1991.
Here's Patrick Rucker's review in The Washington Post:
And Walt Amacker's review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Monday, May 26, 2008
The Virginia Commonwealth University Summer Masterworks Chorale, directed by Rebecca Tyree, will begin rehearsals on June 16 for a performance of Dvořák’s Mass in D major on July 10 at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Richmond.
The chorus, established as a summer ensemble for VCU students, also is open to singers from the Richmond community. For details on joining, call Tyree at (804) 828-1360 or go to the chorus' website:
Musicologists are examining three scores, which they believe may be copies of previously uncatalogued works by Mozart, found in the archives of the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, Poland:
Thursday, May 22, 2008
The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation has awarded the Richmond Symphony two grants, totaling $750,000.
A $500,000 matching grant to the Richmond Symphony Foundation Endowment's Mary Morton Parsons Foundation Education Fund will support the orchestra's educational and outreach activities.
A $250,000 grant will support expenses related to the orchestra's return to the renovated Carpenter Theatre (the former Carpenter Center) in the downtown Richmond CenterStage project, scheduled to occur in the fall of 2009.
* * *
Norfolk's Virginia Symphony has been awarded $17,500 in the second round of the National Endowment for the Arts' Access to Artistic Excellence grants. The funds will support the Harmony Project of ensemble performances, workshops and educational activities with churches and historically black colleges in the Hampton Roads region.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
A cat makes an unexpected appearance at an Israel Philharmonic concert:
In case your Yiddish is rusty, Zubin Mehta's reference to the cat coming in by "the schnorrer's entrance" implies that fluffy is a freeloader. If Mehta finds a dead mouse at the door of his dressing room, serves him right.
(via Alex Ross)
Brent Baldwin, Brandon Reynolds and I graze the fertile fields of Virginia's summer music festivals, in print in Style Weekly, online at:
Friday, May 16, 2008
Mark Russell Smith conducting
with Mason Bates, composer-electronica; Edgar Meyer, double-bass
May 16, Second Baptist Church
Mason Bates, the Richmond-bred composer and electronica artist, returns to his hometown this weekend to reprise his "Rusty Air in Carolina," introduced two years with the Winston-Salem (NC) Symphony. The piece, scored for large orchestra and digitally and electronically produced sound effects and rhythms, is a tone poem evoking a summer night in the American South.
"Rusty Air" was the first of a string of orchestral-electronica pieces written in recent years by Bates, a 31-year-old graduate of St. Christopher’s School who went on to study at Columbia and the Juilliard School and now is completing doctoral study at Berkeley. The three-part work combines fairly literal representations of insect and bird noises heard after dark and toward dawn with a densely textured, blues- and jazz-inflected orchestral score.
Electronic and acoustic-instrumental media intersect most closely in the first section, as flutes, harp and percussion echo the chirping of katydids. As the piece progresses, electronica are employed for what Bates calls "ambient clouds of sound," enhancing orchestral sound effects, such as muted brass and fluttering on flutes and other winds, to suggest a humid climate. Syncopated riffs and broadly expressive tunes reinforce this music’s sense of place.
Bates shares the first of this program with Edgar Meyer, the reigning virtuoso of the double-bass. Meyer’s own Concerto in D major (1993), like "Rusty Air," is rooted in the American vernacular, only at the higher elevation of hill country, where fiddle tunes dominate the soundscape.
Accessibly rustic as it is, Meyer’s concerto is much more sophisticated than most exercises in classical-popular "crossover" music. It is structured as a classical concerto; its orchestration is fully fleshed out, colorful and contrapuntal. It often sounds like an American cousin of the tuneful neoclassical works of Respighi or Rodrigo. And it offers plenty of opportunities for its composer and soloist to showcase his remarkable technique.
Meyer makes the bull fiddle a true bass violin, as lyrical, flexible and – yes – brilliant as the other members of the highbrow string family. He plays at a fiddler’s full speed with all of a fiddler’s bag of tricks, and produces notes that are fully rounded and dead-center in pitch.
Before playing his concerto, Meyer delivered a fluent and extroverted rendition of the 19th-century double-bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini’s Concerto No. 2 in B minor, music from the same period and in much the same style as the concertos of Mendelssohn and Chopin.
Conductor Mark Russell Smith and the orchestra, after ably negotiating the divergent demands of Bates, Meyer and Bottesini, complete the program with Brahms’ First Symphony. This is a kind of musical bookend in its timing: the featured work in Smith’s main audition-in-concert prior to his appointment in 1999 as the Richmond Symphony’s music director, now concluding his last subscription concert of his last full season with the orchestra. (He conducts three programs next season, as the first six of nine conductors audition to succeed him.)
The Brahms First remains a showpiece for Smith, but his approach to the piece has evolved in a decade. His tempos this time are markedly more brisk, especially in a blisteringly intense first movement, and romantic touches such as ritards and string portamento are more sparing and more subtly applied.
In the first of three weekend performances, oboist Gustav Highstein, clarinetist Ralph Skiano, French horn player Joy Branagan and concertmaster Karen Johnson were highly expressive in their solos, and timpanist James Jacobson was both crisply rhythmic and richly sonorous.
French horns were seated among other brasses, and their collective weight and volume at times were too much for the strings in the Second Baptist Church sanctuary’s bright acoustic. Balances presumably will differ in other venues.
The program repeats at 8 p.m. May 17 at First Baptist Church and 8 p.m. May 19 at St. Michael Catholic Church. Tickets: $20-$50. Details: (804) 788-1212; www.richmondsymphony.com
Thursday, May 15, 2008
The Virginia Commonwealth University Music Department has extended to May 23 the deadline for registration in its Summer String Camp, an intensive program for students entering grades 6 to 12 this fall. The camp runs from July 6-12 at Maggie Walker Governor's School in Richmond.
For details on curriculum, registration and fees, call the VCU Music Department office at (804) 828-1166 or visit:
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The Library of Congress has added 25 more titles to its National Recording Registry, a collection of audio recordings it rates as most "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant," bringing the registry up to 250 selections.
Headline new entries are Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album of 1982, the sampler of sounds of Earth launched on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, the original cast recording of Lerner & Loewe's "my Fair Lady" (1956) and New York Mayor Fiorella La Guardia reading the comics during a 1945 newspaper strike.
The only classical title among the latest selections is Rosa Ponselle's rendition of "Casta diva" from Bellini's "Norma," recorded in 1928-29. Previous classical selections in the registry include George Gershwin's 1924 recording of "Rhapsody in Blue;" Sergei Rachmaninoff playing his Piano Concerto No. 2 with Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra (1929); Igor Stravinsky conducting the New York Philharmonic in his "Rite of Spring" (1940); Henry Cowell's New Music Quarterly Recordings series, 30 discs of contemporary works recorded between 1934 and 1949; Harry Partch's "U.S. Highball (a Musical Account of a Transcontinental Hobo Trip)" (1946); and Glenn Gould's 1955 recording of Bach's "Goldberg Variations."
Also on the registry: William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech, re-created on a 1921 disc; the radio dramatization of "War of the Worlds" by Orson Welles' Mercury Theater (1938); Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" (1952); Chuck Berry's "Roll Over, Beethoven" (1956); Alexander Scourby reading the King James version of The Bible (1966); and Firesign Theatre's "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers" (1970).
The full National Recording Registry can be found here:
The Virginia Symphony and its assistant conductor, Matthew Kraemer, have won a $10,000 grant from the Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation, David Nicholson reports in The Daily Press:
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Odell Hobbs, the longtime Richmond chorusmaster and former chairman of the Virginia Union University music department, has died at the age of 71.
Dr. Hobbs, a scholar of the Negro spiritual and African-American classical, folk and church music, was a graduate of Howard University and Catholic University of Washington.
He taught at Langston University in Oklahoma from 1960-66 and was interim director of the Tuskegee Choir of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama from 1960-62. He joined the Virginia Union faculty in 1966 and founded its music department a year later. He served as the department's chairman and director of the Virginia Union Concert Choir until 1991, when he joined the faculty of Florida A&M University and became director of the Florida A&M Concert Choir. After his retirement, he returned to Richmond.
In later life, Dr. Hobbs directed The Choral Society of St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, VA, conducted instructional workshops and led several community choirs in the Richmond area.
Dr. Hobbs was a 2005 recipient of Catholic University’s Alumni Achievement Award for outstanding accomplishments in his field.
Monday, May 12, 2008
The Richmond Symphony Chorus, directed by Erin Freeman, will hold auditions for the 2008-09 season from 6:30-9:30 p.m. July 1.
The chorus rehearses from 7:30-10 p.m. Tuesdays. Next season’s repertory includes Handel’s “Messiah” and the holiday-season “Let It Snow” pops concert, Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” and Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.” A chamber ensemble from the chorus will sing Haydn’s “Little Organ” Mass.
Prospective members must submit applications by May 31. Applications may be obtained by calling (804) 788-4717, ext. 109. More information is available on the Richmond Symphony’s website, http://www.richmondsymphony.com/
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Ruben Zavenovich Vartanyan, the Russian-born conductor who since 1992 had led the Arlington Symphony and its successor, the Arlington Philharmonic, and conducted the Williamsburg Symphonia from 1993 until 2003, has died at the age of 71.
Vartanyan, a native of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and graduate of Moscow Conservatory, assisted Herbert von Karajan at the Vienna State Opera and Vienna Philharmonic and Kirill Kondrashin at the Moscow Philharmonic. He was principal conductor of the Armenian State Symphony from 1967 until 1971, when he was named principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Bolivia.
He fell afoul of Soviet authorities after refusing to spy on Bolivia’s government. The Brezhnev regime allowed him to return to conducting at Moscow’s Bolshoi Opera in 1980. During a 1988 guest-conducting engagement in Bolivia, he defected and emigrated to the U.S., settling in Northern Virginia.
Vartanyan taught at Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music in Winchester and George Mason University in Fairfax. He guest-conducted the Richmond Symphony in 1991.
Vartanyan’s obituary in The Washington Post:
Friday, May 9, 2008
Mark Russell Smith conducting
Karen Johnson & Madison Vest, violins
May 9, Bon Air Baptist Church
The Richmond Symphony’s four-part Bach Festival has been a mixed bag, programmatically and executionally, but this weekend’s finale marks a satisfying peak on both counts.
Throughout the series, the orchestra has see-sawed between "historically informed" Bach, fast-paced with low-vibrato strings and period-styled phrasing and ornamentation, and a more measured pace and the kind of modern instrumental sound applied to repertory from Mozart to Shostakovich.
This time the ensemble splits the difference stylistically, with an ornate Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, its "Air on a G String" rendered as a brisk near-siciliano and other dance movements with similarly folksy inflections, and a more richly toned reading of the Concerto in D minor, BWV 1043, for two violins, strings and continuo.
In the first of three weekend performances, Karen Johnson, the symphony’s concertmaster, and Madison Vest, a 13-year-old prodigy making her second appearance with the orchestra, were assertive, technically assured and nicely contrasting solo voices, Vest’s second violin a shade warmer and more throaty than Johnson’s brilliant first. The respective violin sections followed their tonal leads, and the full string orchestra played with animation and transparency.
Some musicologists rate tone color as incidental or irrelevant in Bach. Conductor Mark Russell Smith and the symphony players disregarded that highly debatable bit of wisdom in the suite, playing up coloristic contrasts between high and low strings and between strings and trumpets to consistently fine effect.
The symphony's strings gave a warm and well-balanced, if occasionally intonationally shaky, account of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ "Bachianas brasileiras" No. 9, the last of the Brazilian composer’s homages to Bach and one of the most rhythmically striking of the set.
A 15-piece ensemble made good-humored and generally fluent work of Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9, a prismatic condensation of late-romantic motifs and rhetorical gestures that often sounds like a less than affectionate parody of a Richard Strauss tone poem – "Ein Heldenleben" for marionettes, maybe.
The program repeats at 7 p.m. May 10 at the Chicago Building, St. Paul’s College, in Lawrenceville, and 3 p.m. May 11 at Blackwell Auditorium, Randolph-Macon College, in Ashland. Tickets: $20-$38. Details: (804) 788-1212; http://www.richmondsymphony.com/
Gustavo Dudamel, the 27-year-old conducting sensation who becomes music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009, will appear twice in Washington next season, leading the Israel Philharmonic and the orchestra from which he emerged, the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.
Dudamel's concerts highlight the 2008-09 season of the Washington Performing Arts Society, the leading presenter of major classical touring artists in the mid-Atlantic region.
The WPAS schedule for the Kennedy Center in Washington:
* Oct. 4 – New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel conducting. Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 3, Symphony No. 4.
* Oct. 11 – Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), Camerata Salzburg. Bach: Violin concertos Nos. 1-2, Concerto for two violins (second violinist TBA); Tartini: "The Devil's Trill."
* Nov. 15 – Vadim Repin (violin), Nikolai Lugansky (piano). Debussy: Sonata for violin and piano; Stravinsky: Divertimento for violin and piano; Beethoven: Sonata No. 9 for piano and violin ("Kreutzer").
* Nov. 18 – Israel Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel conducting. Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 ("Italian"); Brahms: Symphony No. 4.
* March 1 – Evgeny Kissin (piano). Program TBA.
* March 25 – Frederica von Stade (mezzo-soprano), Samuel Ramey (bass-baritone), Martin Katz (piano). Works by Copland, Berlioz, Offenbach, Gershwin, Rodgers & Hammerstein, others.
* March 28 – London Symphony, Valery Gergiev conducting. Prokofiev: Symphonies Nos. 1 ("Classical") and 6; Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 (Alexei Volodin, piano).
* April 6 – Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel conducting. Program TBA.
* May 2 – Louis Lortie (piano). Chopin: Etudes (complete).
* May 4 – Pittsburgh Symphony, Manfred Honeck conducting. Richard Strauss: "Death and Transfiguration;" Haydn: Cello Concerto in C major (Alisa Weilerstein, cello); Beethoven: Symphony No. 7.
* June 3 – Philadelphia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit conducting. Ravel: Piano Concerto for left hand; Liszt: "Totentanz" (Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano); Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances; Ravel: "La Valse."
The WPAS schedule for the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, MD:
* Oct. 14 – Andras Schiff (piano). Beethoven: Sonatas Nos. 22, 23 ("Appassionata"), 24, 25, 26 ("Les Adieux").
* Oct. 29 – Maurizio Pollini (piano). Program TBA.
* Nov. 2 – Midori (violin), Charles Abramovic (piano). Bach: Sonata in E minor for violin and clavier; Shostakovich: Sonata for violin and piano; Respighi: Sonata in B minor for violin and piano.
* Feb. 26 – London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski conducting. Rachmaninoff: "Isle of the Dead;" Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major (Leon Fleisher, piano); Ligeti: "Atmospheres;" Richard Strauss: "Also sprach Zarathustra."
* March 3 – Joshua Bell (violin), Jeremy Denk (piano). Program TBA.
* March 11 – Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Silk Road Ensemble. Program TBA.
* March 22 – Olga Kern (piano). Program TBA.
* March 29 – Richard Goode (piano). Program TBA.
* April 8 – Krystian Zimerman (piano). Program TBA.
* April 17 – Tokyo String Quartet, Lynn Harrell (cello). Haydn: Quartet in G major, Op. 76, No. 1; Beethoven: Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4; Schubert: String Quintet.
Subscription and ticket information: (202) 785-9727; www.wpas.org
The Columbus (OH) Symphony will stop paying its musicians and lay off its administrative staff at the end of May. The orchestra has canceled its summer pops concerts and "most likely its 2008-09 season, scheduled to begin in October," The Columbus Dispatch reports:
The 57-year-old orchestra had been running high deficits in recent years – a $1.4 million shortfall on a $12.5 million operating budget this year – and had reached an impasse with its musicians over a plan to reduce the roster of full-time players and shorten the season.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Mark Russell Smith, the outgoing music director of the Richmond Symphony, has been named music director of the Quad Cities Symphony, beginning in the 2008-09 season, when he will conduct five of six concerts in the orchestra's classical series.
Smith, who concludes his Richmond tenure next season with pre-Christmas performances of Handel's "Messiah" and spring programs of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" and Mahler's Ninth Symphony, began last fall as artistic director of orchestral studies at the University of Minnesota and director of new music projects at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
His wife, Ellen Dinwiddie Smith, is a French horn player in the Minnesota Orchestra, and the family resides in Minneapolis.
The Quad Cities Symphony is based in Davenport, IA, and also performs in Moline and Rock Island, IL.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The Greater Richmond Children's Choir, directed by Hope Armstrong Erb, will hold auditions for the 2008-09 season on May 20 and 31 and June 7 at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 8 N. Laurel St., next to Richmond's Landmark Theater.
The ensemble also plans a summer camp from Aug. 18-22, following its summer tour of China.
GRCC maintains five choirs at various skill levels for singers friom ages 8 to 18. No audition is needed to join the entry-level Treble Choir. Financial aid is available.
To schedule an audition or obtain more information, call (804) 201-1894.
The choir's website: http://www.grcchoir.org/
Monday, May 5, 2008
Riccardo Muti will be the next music director of the Chicago Symphony. The conductor and orchestra signed a five-year contract, beginning in the 2010-11 season, calling for him to appear for at least 10 weeks per season and to lead tour performances.
The 66-year-old Italian succeeded Eugene Ormandy at the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1980 and stayed for 12 years. Muti was music director of La Scala for 19 years until an artistic-political dispute prompted his resignation three years ago.
Daniel J. Wakin reports on Muti's Chicago appointment in The New York Times:
The Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein analyzes the Muti appointment:
(Check out the video of news reader mispronouncing "Muti" and soundless footage of orchestra and chorus conducted by Leonard Slatkin.)
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Ian Buruma profiles Tan Dun, the superstar Chinese composer, in The New York Times:
Saturday, May 3, 2008
May 2, Bon Air Presbyterian Church
May 3, Virginia Holocaust Museum
It may be repetitious and banal to say that this country is a cultural "melting pot," the product of many ethnic groups and histories. Demonstrate that with music, however, and the fact becomes fascinating and full of surprises.
James Wilson’s Richmond Festival of Music, devoted this year to American chamber music and art-song from the colonial to the contemporary, spent its final weekend exploring the diverse musical cultures that contribute to American music today. Two programs featured works drawn from African, Latin, Amerindian, Japanese, Chinese and Jewish traditions, as well as the "Great American Songbook" of mid-20th century Tin Pan Alley and musical theater.
The May 2 concert opened with violinist Diane Pascal and pianist Carsten Schmidt playing three miniatures: a bolero in mid-19th century style by the Bostonian Charles C. Perkins; a sentimental lament akin to a spiritual, from the "Southland Sketches" of Henry T. Burleigh, the black musician whose songs inspired Antonin Dvořák; and “Gamin,” an energetic, bluesy movement from the Suite for violin and piano (1943) by William Grant Still, the most prominent African-American composer of the mid-20th century.
Pianist Lori Piitz also delved into African-American tradition, playing the barcarolle and "Juba" from "In the Bottoms" (1913), a ragtime-inflected suite by R. Nathaniel Dett, a composer who spent much of his career as the choirmaster of Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia.
Alongside those pieces were "Chinese Ancient Dances" (2004), adaptations of an ox-tail dance and Persian-influenced Hu Xuan dance from the Tang dynasty by the Chinese émigré Chen Yi, in which clarinetist Laura DeLuca and pianist Schmidt reveled in special effects and impersonations of Asian instrumental sounds; and the Cello Sonata (2007) of John Hilliard, a Virginia composer inspired in this music by art and crafts of Japanese Okinawa.
Cellist Wilson and Schmidt, who introduced the Hilliard sonata at last summer’s Staunton Music Festival, reprised it here with satisfyingly lyrical treatment of the two "arias" in the first movement and simmering energy in the finale.
The most striking work on the program was Gabriela Lena Frank’s "Las Sombras de los Apus" (1999), a tone poem for four cellos based on the mythological Peruvian apus, a mountain spirit who sets off earthquakes and avalanches when not placated by humans. The differently tuned instruments, played here by Wilson, Carl Donakowski, Alan Richardson and Philip Borter, create a wide range of tonal effects and sound in complex counterpoint, rarified harmonics and passages of near-synchronization. The piece is very dense, yet quite delicate – certainly one of the most remarkable chamber works written in the past decade.
Mezzo-soprano Leslie Mutchler and pianist Gabriel Dobner, who had sampled the songbook of Stephen Foster in the festival’s April 29 concert, returned on May 2 for a set of songs by George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin and Kay Swift. Mutchler adopted a seductively torchy tone in Gershwin’s "I’ve Got a Crush on You" and Berlin’s "What’ll I Do?" enhanced by a slower-than-usual tempo.
The May 3 concert, titled "Remember and Celebrate," was devoted largely to song settings of poems from the Holocaust, in wildly contrasting tones of voice.
"Poems from the Holocaust" (1995-98) by the Richmond composer Allan Blank joins three tragically wistful poems from "I Never Saw a Butterfly," a collection from children at the Terezin concentration camp, sung in English, with more overtly mournful treatments of "Toys" by Abrahan Sutzkever and "Close Your Precious Eyes" by Isaiah Spiegel, sung in Yiddish. Mutchler, accompanied by double-bassist Anthony Manzo and pianist Schmidt, was an eloquently somber voice in the two large pieces.
"Camp Songs" (2001) by Paul Schoenfield sets five scathingly sarcastic poems by Aleksander Kulisiewicz, a Polish inmate of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Kulisiewicz’s bitter, scatological verses, in Polish garnished with German, are given acidic, ironic treatment by Schoenfield, a Cleveland-based composer who draws heavily on klezmer and other Jewish vernacular styles.
Mutchler and baritone David Newman sang "Camp Songs" a good deal straighter than the composer probably intended – both the words and musical style cry out for a cabaret singer’s treatment. Clarinetist DeLuca, violinist Pascal, cellist Wilson, double-bassist Manzo and pianist Piitz compensated nicely in the ironic humor departrment.
The program opened with DeLuca, Pascal, Wilson and Schmidt playing the four-movement, klezmer-accented Divertimento that David Schiff arranged from "Gimpel the Fool," his 1979 opera on the story by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
The dean of Southwark Cathedral has banned "Jerusalem," the quintessential English anthem (music by Hubert Parry, words by William Blake), from services because, he says, "it is not in the glory of God."
"At least we now know which part of Church of England the Dean doesn't understand," Julian Lloyd Webber writes in the Telegraph: