Thursday, December 31, 2009

Music for stressed ears

Tinnitus, the persistent ringing in the ears commonly resulting from overexposure to high-volume music and other loud noises, may be treatable by "custom-tailored notched music treatment," German researchers report. Katherine Harmon sounds out this potential breakthrough in Scientific American:

Levine's eye

The New York Review of Books catalogues the work of its longtime caricaturist, David Levine, who died recently. In the music section, note his varying perspectives on Igor Stravinsky:

If you go there, be prepared to spend some time.

(via Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'Fortuna' favored

"O Fortuna," the chorus that opens and concludes Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," has been named Britain's "most listened to classical piece," at least among recordings, by the BBC:

Not this version, I'm guessing:

(Hit refresh before playing, so sound and pictures are in sync.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Following yonder star

Thanks to Jim Lowery for identifying this as "The Magi from the East," a woodcut by Gustav Doré.

Silent night? Not usually . . .

Mike Gruss of The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk turns up two descendants of Josef Mohr, the composer of "Silent Night." Richard Mohr and his son, Josef, run a bowling alley in Nags Head, N.C.:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A decade's best

Many music critics are assembling tops-of-the-decade lists of performances, so I thought I should do the same.

Revisiting live performances of classical music in and around Richmond during the aughts – the weirdly esoteric moniker with which the decade of 2000-09 has been saddled – was a pleasant diversion on a snowy night. It also proved to be a nostalgic and contemplative exercise for me, as it covered my last seven years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and my first three as an independent blogger.

Most of the decade lists I’ve seen are top tens, a venerable format – and a usefully economical one in a time of shrinking space in print media. Space constraints not being much of a concern in this digital realm, however, I saw no reason to limit myself to 10, or even 20, performances. As it turns out, my list runs to 57.

The decade has coincided with Mark Russell Smith’s tenure at the Richmond Symphony, so this also turned into a compilation of the most memorable performances led by the orchestra’s fourth music director.

It was a banner decade for pianists: Ivan Moravec, Sonia Rubinsky, Stephen Hough, André Watts, Alexander Paley, Krystian Zimerman, Angela Hewitt, Leon Fleisher, Marc-André Hamelin, Yuja Wang, Jeremy Denk and Pascal Rogé headed the most impressive lineup of keyboard talent Richmond has heard since the 1930s and '40s, when the likes of Rachmaninoff and Moiseiwitsch frequently performed here. Making this keyboard feast even more remarkable, much of it occurred during years in which the logistics of performing in church sanctuaries prevented the symphony from engaging more than a handful of piano soloists. That void was filled very nicely by the University of Richmond's Modlin Center, Virginia Commonwealth University's Rennolds Concerts and Paley's annual festival.

These are performances that I attended. One thing or another kept me away from a number of concerts that I had anticipated with high hopes, and that probably should be counted among the decade’s best musical events.

Like all such lists, this one is affected by personal preferences and aversions, no matter how hard the list-maker tries to be "objective." (I didn’t try very hard.)

My timeline of classical-music events to remember in Central Virginia over the past decade:

Nov. 18, 2000 – Mark Russell Smith, the symphony’s recently arrived maestro, demonstrates his mettle in large-scale choral music as he leads the orchestra and Richmond Symphony Chorus in one of the most challenging examples of the genre, Benjamin Britten’s "War Requiem," at the Carpenter Center.

Dec. 16, 2000 – Anonymous 4 makes its Richmond debut in its popular medieval-Christmas program "On Yoolis Night," at St. Giles Presbyterian Church.

Feb. 2, 2001 – German chanteuse Ute Lemper idiomatically, and very sensually, guides her audience through Weill & Brecht and other vintage Berlin cabaret music, at the University of Richmond.

April 27, 2001 – Brazilian pianist Sonia Rubinsky makes a sparkling local debut with Smith and the symphony in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, at the University of Richmond.

May 26, 2001 – the Hampden-Sydney Music Festival marks its 20th anniversary with Olivier Messiaen’s "Quartet for the End of Time," played by pianist Edward Auer, clarinetist Ethan Sloane, violinist Charles Castleman and cellist Peter Rejto.

June 12, 2001 – Arnold Steinhardt, first violinist of the Guarneri Quartet, and pianist Reiko Aizawa join the Shanghai Quartet in Chausson’s voluptuous Concert for violin, piano and string quartet, at the University of Richmond.

Sept. 14, 2001 – In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Richmond Symphony and Symphony Chorus, with pianist Joanne Kong and mezzo-soprano Martha Slay, present a program, including Beethoven’s "Choral Fantasy" and Brahms’ "Alto Rhapsody," that powerfully affirms the Western culture targeted by the terrorists. As post-9/11 flight restrictions leave Mark Russell Smith stranded in Minnesota, Eckart Preu, in his third week as the symphony’s associate conductor, leads the concert, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Sept. 22, 2001 – More affirmation in a tragic month, as Smith leads the symphony and its chorus in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a benefit for the American Red Cross, at the Carpenter Center.

Oct. 20, 2001 – Smith and the symphony present the first in a decade-long survey of the late Bruckner symphonies in a Wagnerian reading of the Seventh, at the Carpenter Center.

Nov. 9, 2001 – Smith and the symphony contrast Mozart’s "Linz" Symphony (No. 36) with more compact and knottier symphonies of Schoenberg and Webern, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Nov. 10, 2001 – The great Czech pianist Ivan Moravec returns to Virginia Commonwealth University for a program of Chopin, Debussy and Janáček, composers in which he has no living interpretive peer.

Jan. 18, 2002 – Linda Maguire ably negotiates the most tongue-twisting narrating gig in classical music, reciting Edith Sitwell’s text for William Walton’s "Façade" with Preu and the symphony, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Feb. 15, 2002 – Violinist Joseph Silverstein leads the symphony, with Smith in a cameo role as cellist, in Schoenberg’s "Transfigured Night" and works by Mozart, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Feb. 8, 2003 – James Wilson’s short-lived ChamberFest at Virginia Commonwealth University hits a high note as Michael Friedmann narrates Schoenberg’s "Ode to Napoleon," alongside works of Beethoven and Zelenka.

Feb. 24, 2003 – Smith and the symphony perform Dvořák’s "New World" Symphony at the Carpenter Center with rich sonority and plenty of soul, rivaling a Washington performance a week later by the Vienna Philharmonic. Really.

Sept. 13, 2003 – André Watts delivers an unusually crystalline, almost Mozartian, performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Smith and the symphony, at the Carpenter Center.

Nov. 7, 2003 – Smith and the symphony play the arguably greatest of the Mozart symphonies, the “Prague” (No. 38), and the Oboe Concerto of Bohuslav Martinů, with Michael Lisicky as the soloist, at Randolph-Macon College.

Nov. 15, 2003 – English pianist Stephen Hough gives thoughtful yet stunning performances of Lizst, Hummel and Chopin, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Feb. 13, 2004 – Symphony musicians, grouped into chamber ensembles, deliver deeply satisfying readings of Brahms, Varèse, Villa-Lobos and Zelenka, at Randolph-Macon College.

Feb. 14, 2004 – The Paris Piano Trio and Ysaÿe Quartet conduct a clinic in French string-playing and interpretive styles in a program of Beethoven, Ravel and Chausson, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

March 22, 2004 – Peter Phillips leads his vocal ensemble, the Tallis Scholars, with members of the James River Singers and University of Richmond choristers, in Thomas Tallis’ 40-part (!) motet "Spem in Alium," twice in a single concert, at the University of Richmond.

March 30, 2004 – Olivier Latry, titular organist of Notre Dame in Paris, wraps up a largely French program with masterful demonstrations of organ improvisation, at River Road Church, Baptist.

May 22, 2004 – Smith leads the symphony in a deeply resonant Mahler Fifth Symphony, at the Carpenter Center.

Aug. 15, 2004 – The Richmond Chamber Players revel in wind-powered chamber works of Mozart, Poulenc, Nielsen and Paul Schoenfield, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Sept. 18, 2004 – Smith and the symphony, with pianist Norman Krieger, accentuate the French accents of Gershwin, Barber, Copland and Bernstein, at the Carpenter Center.

Sept. 24, 2004 – Liszt’s Sonata in B minor proves to be just a warmup for pianist Alexander Paley, who goes on to play a set of encores that amount to a third half of a program, at First English Lutheran Church.

Nov. 8, 2004 – Polish-born pianist Krystian Zimerman gives exemplary and exploratory performances of Mozart, Chopin and Ravel, at the University of Richmond.

Feb. 20, 2005 – Christopher Falzone, the onetime piano prodigy from Chesterfield County, comes home to play Mozart’s "Coronation" Concerto (No. 26) with Smith and the symphony, while Jonathan Friedman, the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, gives the first of several drolly costumed performances of Michael Daugherty’s "Dead Elvis," at the University of Richmond.

Oct. 28, 2005 – Smith and the symphony plumb the spiritual depths of Bruckner’s epic Eighth Symphony, at Second Baptist Church.

Nov. 29, 2005 – Tenor William Ferguson returns to his old school, St. Christopher’s, for a program of French and American songs (including one by his old classmate, Mason Bates) that crackles with personality.

Dec. 13, 2005 – Near-darkness intensifies the musical experience as James Wilson plays three of Bach’s suites for solo cello in a room lit only by candlelight, at Second Presbyterian Church.

April 5, 2006 – Leon Fleisher, the great American pianist sidelined from two-hands performances through what would have been his peak performing years, gives an inspiring program of Schubert, Bach and Stravinsky, at the University of Richmond.

April 8, 2006 – French-Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin lives up to his virtuoso reputation, and then some, in a program devoted largely to Liszt’s finger-busting opera paraphrases, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

April 21, 2006 – Smith and the symphony gives Sibelius’ Second Symphony almost Brucknerian treatment, in a program also featuring violinist Jennifer Koh playing Bruch, at Second Baptist Church.

Dec. 1, 2006 – Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt brings unusual clarity and color to a program of Bach, Rameau, Mozart and Beethoven, at the University of Richmond.

Feb. 23, 2007 – To mark the retirement of James Erb, founder of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, Smith leads a richly reverent Brahms "German Requiem," further distinguished by the contributions of baritone Richard Zeller, at Second Baptist Church.

April 20, 2007 – Violinist Jessica Lee, another onetime hometown prodigy, returns to play Vaughan Williams’ "The Lark Ascending" with Smith and the symphony at Bon Air Baptist Church; that and Copland’s "Appalachian Spring" prove to be fitting elegies for the victims of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech a few days earlier.

April 24, 2007 – Jos van Veldhoven leads the Netherlands Bach Society in an austere and profound performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor, at the University of Richmond.

May 18, 2007 – Karen Johnson, the symphony’s concertmaster, delivers one of the best of her annual concerto performances in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, while Smith leads the orchestra in a deliciously high-calorie account of Richard Strauss’ orchestral suite from "Der Rosenkavalier," at Second Baptist Church.

Oct. 19, 2007 – The Virginia Opera stages the most theatrically persuasive production of its challenging five-year exile in the cavernous Landmark Theater, as Peter Mark conducts Offenbach’s "The Tales of Hoffmann."

Oct. 26, 2007 – To mark the symphony’s 50th anniversary, Smith, the orchestra and pianist Jeremy Denk re-create the 1957 opening night program, highlighted by Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and Mendelssohn’s "Scottish" Symphony (No. 3), at the University of Richmond. The sole remaining veteran of that debut concert, violinist Elizabeth Moore, plays one of her last dates with the orchestra.

Nov. 7, 2007 – eighth blackbird, the new-music sextet in residence at the University of Richmond, plays the atmospheric, culture-crossing music of Stephen Hartke, including the premiere of "Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays."

Nov. 12, 2007 – In what’s likely to be remembered as the most impressive local debut by a young musician in living memory, Chinese-born pianist Yuja Wang joins the Shanghai Quartet in Schumann’s Piano Quintet and plays solo works by Ravel, Scriabin and Gluck, at the University of Richmond.

Jan. 19, 2008 – Smith and the symphony take to heart the passions of the two greatest unfinished symphonies, Schubert’s Eighth and Bruckner’s Ninth, at First Baptist Church.

March 1, 2008 – French pianist Pascal Rogé explores Chopin and his music’s resonations in works by Fauré, Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

March 15, 2008 – Smith leads the symphony and Symphony Chorus in a dramatic yet deeply spiritual Verdi Requiem, at First Baptist Church.

March 26, 2008 – eighth blackbird premieres the Double Sextet of Steve Reich and "singing in the dead of night" by Julia Wolfe, David Lang and Michael Gordon, at the University of Richmond; the Reich subsequently is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music.

March 27, 2008 – Sonia Rubinsky, following a couple of Mozart concerto performances with the symphony, returns for a Virginia Commonwealth University festival of music by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, playing his knotty but thrilling piano piece "Rudepoema."

April 12, 2008 – James Wilson’s Richmond Festival of Music introduces Richmonders to Amy Beach’s too-rarely-heard Theme and Variations for flute and string quartet, with Richmond Symphony flutist Mary Boodell leading the ensemble, at Second Presbyterian Church.

April 25, 2008 – George Manahan, who preceded Smith as music director of the symphony, plays to his interpretive strong suit in a program of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, Debussy’s "La Mer" and, with Karen Johnson, Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, at Second Baptist Church.

April 29, 2008 – The Richmond Festival of Music’s American series hits another peak as pianist Carsten Schmidt, violinist Diane Pascal and cellist James Wilson give a rip-roaring account of Charles Ives’ Piano Trio, at Second Presbyterian Church.

May 16, 2008 – Richmond-bred composer Mason Bates introduces his old hometown to orchestral electronica in his "Rusty Air in Carolina," played with Smith and the symphony, at Second Baptist Church.

April 19, 2009 – Wilson’s festival turns to the baroque, and in a program of Telemann, Frederick the Great, Leclair and Couperin, introduces us to the German violinist Florian Deuter, perhaps the most fluent and passionate practitioner of "historically informed" fiddling this town has ever heard, at First Unitarian Universalist Church.

May 16, 2009 – Smith concludes his nine-year tenure as the symphony’s music director with a majestically austere performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, at First Baptist Church.

Aug. 23, 2009 – Pianists George Manahan and John Walter and percussionists James Jacobson and Montgomery Hatch shake the earth, or at least the Bon Air Presbyterian Church Sanctuary, with Bartók’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion.

Oct. 19, 2009 – Veteran cellist Lynn Harrell joins the Shanghai Quartet in a darkly lyrical, heartfelt account of Schubert’s Quintet in C major, at the University of Richmond.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Symphony names resident composer

The Richmond Symphony has appointed composer D.J. Sparr to a residency in which he will write works for the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as working with students and participants in the symphony's interactive composition class.

Sparr, who grew up playing guitar, has worked in contemporary art-music, jazz and American vernacular musics. He is an alumnus of the Baltimore School for the Arts, the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan. His works have received a number of awards, including the $10,000 prize grand in the BMG/Williams College Young Composers Competition for his "Wrought Hocket."

“I want students to know that they’re part of the future of music,” Erin Freeman, the Richmond Symphony's associate conductor and director of its education initiatives, said in a statement announcing Sparr's appointment. “It’s important for young musicians to play both masterworks and new works," Freeman said. "Our collaboration with D.J. will allow students to explore contemporary compositions.”

Sparr's residency runs through June 2011.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Symphony narrows search to three

The Richmond Symphony has narrowed the field of music-director candidates from nine to three: Alastair Willis, who conducted the opening program of the 2009-10 season, and Marc Taddei and Steven Smith, who conducted audition concerts last season.

"We are committed to doing the right thing in the right way," Joe Murillo, president of the symphony board, said in a statement. "To that end, it seems only fair, before the final decision is made, to offer the leading candidates from 2008-09 the same opportunity afforded to those who have appeared in 2009-10, to conduct the symphony in our new home," the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage.

"Hearing the leading candidates in the new hall is crucial to the conclusion of this process," added David Fisk, the orchestra’s executive director and a member of the 10-member music-director search committee. According to Fisk, the searchers will focus on "the quality of performance a new music director will elicit from our musicians, and on [his] connection to our audience."

Taddei will return to conduct Jan. 16-17 Masterworks concerts, featuring the Mussorgsky-Ravel "Pictures at an Exhibition," Prokofiev’s "Lieutenant Kijé" Suite and Borodin’s "Polovtsian Dances." Smith will conduct the Feb. 27-28 Masterworks program, including Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Berlioz’s “Le Corsaire” Overture and Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto with pianist Jon Nakamatsu. (The Shostakovich is a program change, taking the place of Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony.)

The new music director is now expected to be selected in time for him to conduct an April 24 gala featuring violinist Gil Shaham.

Erin Freeman, the orchestra’s associate conductor and interim artistic advisor, will conduct Masterworks programs of Feb. 6-7 and March 20-21. Jacques Houtmann, the symphony’s second music director (1971-87), will return to conduct the final Masterworks concerts of the season on May 16-17.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What makes a Strad a Strad?

Strad, it seems. New research on the violins of Antonio Stradivari finds no secret ingredient in the varnish, knocking down one set of theories about why the instruments sound so exceptional. Stradivari's mixture of oil and resins is "a very basic recipe," Philippe Échard of Paris' Musée de la Musique tells The New York Times' Henry Fountain:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Not dead yet

As Mark Twain might say, reports of the compact disc's demise are greatly exaggerated – or, at least, a bit premature. The top-selling debut recording in the U.S. during the past week, "I Dreamed a Dream" by Susan Boyle, the Scottish hausfrau-next-door turned international singing sensation, sold more than 700,000 copies, 94 percent of them CDs.

"Ms. Boyle’s sales are a reminder of a large and often forgotten audience: older listeners," writes The New York Times' Ben Sisario:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Washington National Opera cuts back

The Washington National Opera will cut its operating budget from $32 million to about $26.5 million, eliminate eight staff positions and limit its 2010-11 season to five productions as it tries to secure itself financially.

"With this lower budget and reduced number of operas, WNO takes a step away from the international level to which it has aspired, particularly since Plácido Domingo took over," Anne Midgette reports in The Washington Post:

December 2009 calendar

Classical performances in and around Richmond, with selected events elsewhere in Virginia and the Washington area. Program information, provided by presenters, is updated as details become available. Adult single-ticket prices are listed; senior, student, group and other discounts may be offered.


* My picks: In the spirit of the season, it’s all good. Especially noteworthy, though, is the premiere of Virginia composer Adolphus Hailstork’s "The Gift of the Magi" by JoAnn Falletta and the Virginia Symphony, with soloists, choruses and dancers, Dec. 13 at Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Arts Center in Newport News and Dec. 15 at Regent University Theater in Virginia Beach. . . . And a "Messiah" with a big difference: The Edwardian-nouveau orchestration that Eugene Goosens prepared for Thomas Beecham in the 1950s, resurrected by the National Symphony, Dec. 17-20 at Washington’s Kennedy Center.

Dec. 1 (8 p.m.)
Vlahcevic Concert Hall, Singleton Arts Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Park Avenue at Harrison Street, Richmond
Choral Arts Society & Women’s Chorus
Rebecca Tyree directing
Commonwealth Singers
John Guthmiller directing
Vocal Chamber Ensemble
program TBA
(804) 828-6776

Dec. 2 (7:30 p.m.)
Camp Concert Hall, Modlin Arts Center, University of Richmond
University Orchestra
Alexander Kordzaia conducting
Kabalevsky: Violin Concerto in C major (first movement)
Natalia Sanders, violin
Barber: Violin Concerto (second movement)
Jessica Clough, violin
other works TBA
(804) 289-8980

Dec. 3 (8 p.m.)
Vlahcevic Concert Hall, Singleton Arts Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Park Avenue at Harrison Street, Richmond
VCU Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Myssyk conducting
Weber: "Oberon" Overture
Frank Martin: Ballade for flute and orchestra
Melanie Libbey, flute
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 ("Scottish")
(804) 828-6776

Dec. 3 (7 p.m.)
Dec. 4 (1:30 p.m.)
Dec. 5 (8 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Litton conducting
Rimsky-Korsakov: "The Snow Maiden" Suite
Jennifer Higdon: Piano Concerto (premiere)
Yuja Wang, piano
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 ("Winter Dreams")
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 3 (7:30 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Trio Solisti
Mendelssohn: Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66
Piazzolla: "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires"
Paul Moravec: Passacaglia
Mussorgsky: "Pictures at an Exhibition" (Trio Solisti arr.)
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 3 (8 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
Angela Hewitt, piano
Bach: "Goldberg Variations"
(202) 785-9727 (Washington Performing Arts Society)

Dec. 4 (8 p.m.)
Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets
Richmond Symphony
Erin Freeman conducting
Handel: "Messiah" (abridged)
Hyunah Yu, soprano
Jennifer Rivera, mezzo-soprano
William Ferguson, tenor
Jason Hardy, baritone
Richmond Symphony Chorus
(800) 982-2787 (Ticketmaster)

Dec. 4 (8 p.m.)
Vlahcevic Concert Hall, Singleton Arts Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Park Avenue at Harrison Street, Richmond
Performers TBA

VCU Music Department Holiday Gala
Program TBA
$5; proceeds benefit Hospital Hospitality House
(804) 828-6776

Dec. 4 (8 p.m.)
Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Dec. 12 (8 p.m.)
Paramount Theater, 215 E. Main St., Charlottesville
Virginia Glee Club
Virginia Gentlemen
holiday program TBA
(434) 924-3984

Dec. 4 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 6 (2 p.m.)
University Chapel, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Virginia Women’s Chorus
Christmas Candlelight Service
Britten: "A Ceremony of Carols"
other works TBA
(434) 924-3984

Dec. 4 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 6 (2 p.m.)
Center for the Arts, George Mason University, Fairfax
Virginia Opera
Joseph Walsh conducting
Donizetti: "The Daughter of the Regiment"
Manon Strauss Evrard (Marie)
Gennard Lombardozzi (Tonio)
Todd Robinson (Sgt. Sulpice)
Josepha Gayer (Marquise de Birkenfeld)
David Barron (Hortensius)
Dorothy Danner, stage director
in French, English captions
(888) 945-2468 (

Dec. 4 (8 p.m.)
Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, First Street at Independence Avenue S.E., Washington
St. Lawrence String Quartet
Haydn: Quartet in C major, Op. 54, No. 2
John Adams: String Quartet
Ezequiel Viñao: String Quartet (premiere)
Free; tickets required
(703) 573-7328 (Ticketmaster)

Dec. 5 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 6 (3 p.m.)
Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets
Richmond Symphony Pops
Erin Freeman conducting
Richmond Symphony Chorus
Richmond Boys Choir
"Let It Snow!"
(800) 982-2787 (Ticketmaster)

Dec. 5 (1:30 and 3 p.m.)
Dec. 6 (1:30 and 3 p.m.)
Kimball Theatre, Merchants Square, Williamsburg
Williamsburg Symphonia
Janna Hymes conducting
"Santa Comes to Town"

(757) 229-9857

Dec. 5 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 6 (3:30 p.m.)
Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Charlottesville & University Symphony Orchestra
Michael Slon conducting
University Singers
David Colwell, violin
Stephanie Nakasian, vocals
"Family Holiday Concert"
works by Vivaldi, Handel, others
(434) 924-3984

Dec. 5 (2 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Plamena Mangova, piano
Scriabin: Sonata No. 9 ("Messe noire")
Scriabin: six études
Chopin: Nocturne No. 1 in B major, Op. 62
Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
Ravel: "Pavane pour une infante défunte"
Ravel: "Alborada del gracioso"
Ravel: "La Valse"
(202) 785-9727 (Washington Performing Arts Society)

Dec. 6 (4 p.m.)
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 520 N. Boulevard, Richmond
Richmond Choral Society
Thomas Williams directing
Chris Martin, organ
Anastasia Jellison, harp
"Christmas with the Richmond Choral Society"
$12 in advance, $15 at door
(804) 967-9878

Dec. 6 (5 and 8 p.m.)
Cannon Memorial Chapel, University of Richmond
Christmas Candlelight Service: Service of Lessons and Carols
(804) 289-8980

Dec. 6 (8 p.m.)
Shaftman Performance Hall, Jefferson Center, 541 Luck Ave., Roanoke
Roanoke Symphony
David Stewart Wiley conducting
Handel: "Messiah" (abridged)
Adelaide Muir-Trombetta, soprano
Tara Bouknight, alto
John Hugo, tenor
Wayne Kompelien, bass
Roanoke Symphony Chorus
John Hugo directing
(540) 343-9127

Dec. 7 (7 p.m.)
Atrium, James Center, 1051 E. Cary St., Richmond
Richmond Philharmonic
Robert Mirakian conducting
"Home for the Holidays"
Donations accepted
(804) 673-7400

Dec. 8 (7:30 p.m.)
First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1000 Blanton Ave. at the Carillon, Richmond
Richmond Festival of Music:
Christina Day Martinson, baroque violin
Mary Boodell, traverse flute
Ulysses Kirksey, viola da gamba & baroque cello
James Wilson, baroque cello
Carsten Schmidt, harpsichord
"Baroque by Candlelight: a Tale of Four Cities"
Handel: Trio Sonata in B minor
Purcell: Fantazia No. 2 in three parts
Geminiani: Cello Sonata in D minor
Domenico Gabrielli: Ricercar No. 5 for solo cello
Vivaldi: Sonata in A major from "Il Pastor Fido"
Bach: Chaconne from Partita in D minor for solo violin
Telemann: Quartet in D major ("Paris")
(804) 519-2098 (Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia)

Dec. 8 (7 p.m.)
Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Donald Loach conducting
"Messiah" Sing-In
(434) 924-3984

Dec. 8 (7:30 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Ray Chen, violin
Noreen Polera, piano
Tartini: Violin Sonata in G minor ("The Devil’s Trill")
Franck: Sonata in A major
Bach: Sonata in A minor, BWV 1003, for unaccompanied violin
Sarasate: Introduction and Tarantella
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 9 (7:30 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Remus Azoitei, violin
Eduard Stan, piano
Enescu: Sonata in A minor (torso)
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Brahms: Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100
Enescu: Sonata in A minor, Op. 25
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 10 (7:30 p.m.)
Wilton House Museum, 215 S. Wilton Road, Richmond
Richmond Festival of Music:
Christina Day Martinson, baroque violin
Mary Boodell, traverse flute
Ulysses Kirksey, viola da gamba & baroque cello
James Wilson, baroque cello
Carsten Schmidt, harpsichord
"Baroque Français"
Marin Marais: "Sonnerie de Ste. Genevieve du Mont de Paris"
Couperin: "Concert Royal" No. 1
Michel Pinolet de Montéclair: Concert in A major for two treble instruments
Jean Baptiste Barrière: Cello Sonata in B minor
Telemann: Quartet in D major ("Paris")
harpsichord pieces TBA
(804) 519-2098 (Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia)

Dec. 10 (7 p.m.)
Dec. 11 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 12 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 13 (7 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Pops
Marvin Hamlisch conducting
Michele Ragusa, soprano
Jonathan Ansell, tenor
Afro Blue vocal ensemble
Emma Resmini, flute
Michael Levick, actor
"Happy Holidays!"
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 10 (8 p.m.)
Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, First Street at Independence Avenue S.E., Washington
Diaz Trio
Rodrigo Ojeda, piano
Dohnányi: Serenade in C major, Op. 10, for string trio
George Rochberg: Sonata for violin and piano
Beethoven: String Trio No. 1 in G major, Op. 9
Free; tickets required
(703) 573-7328 (Ticketmaster)

Dec. 11 (8 p.m.)
Paramount Theater, 215 E. Main St., Charlottesville
The Canadian Brass
holiday program TBA
(434) 979-1333

Dec. 11 (7:30 p.m.)
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 300 W. Frederick St., Staunton
Richmond Festival of Music:
Christina Day Martinson, baroque violin
Mary Boodell, traverse flute
Ulysses Kirksey, viola da gamba & baroque cello
James Wilson, baroque cello
Carsten Schmidt, harpsichord
"Baroque Français"
Marin Marais: "Sonnerie de Ste. Genevieve du Mont de Paris"
Couperin: "Concert Royal" No. 1
Michel Pinolet de Montéclair: Concert in A major for two treble instruments
Jean Baptiste Barrière: Cello Sonata in B minor
Telemann: Quartet in D major ("Paris")
harpsichord pieces TBA
(804) 519-2098 (Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia)

Dec. 11 (8 p.m.)
Salem Civic Center, Boulevard Roanoke
Roanoke Symphony
David Stewart Wiley conducting
Roanoke Symphony Chorus
John Hugo directing
Roanoke College Children’s Choir
Kimberly Davidson directing
Salem Choral Society
Aaron Garber directing
Mill Mountain Ringers
George Dyer, tenor
"Holiday Pops Spectacular!"
(540) 343-9127

Dec. 12 (7 p.m.)
Chesterfield Towne Center, Huguenot Road at Midlothian Turnpike, Richmond
Dec. 13 (3 p.m.)
Virginia Center Commons, Washington Highway (U.S. 1 north), Glen Allen
Central Virginia Wind Symphony
Mike Goldberg directing
Curnow: "Fanfare for Christmas"
Swearingen: "Aventura"
Sousa: "Northern Pines March"
arr. Philippe: "Mamma Mia!" highlights
Herbert-Rogers: "March of the Toys"
arr. Moss: "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
arr. Holcombe: "Festive Sounds of Hanukah"
arr. Long: " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas"
Anderson: "Sleigh Ride"
arr. Ployhar: "Christmas 'Pop' Sing-A-Long"
Anderson: "A Christmas Festival"

Dec. 12 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 13 (3 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
National Philharmonic
Stan Engebretson conducting
Handel: "Messiah"
Danielle Talamantes, soprano

Victoria Livengood, mezzo-soprano
Robert Baker, tenor
Leon Williams, baritone
National Philharmonic Chorale
(301) 581-5100

Dec. 13 (4 p.m.)
Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road, Richmond
"Messiah" sing-along
Anne Carr Regan conducting
Karen Floyd Savage, soprano
Heather Jones, mezzo-soprano
Tracey Welborn, tenor
Kurt Negaard, bass
Pamela McClain, harpsichord
Stephen Henley, organ
Donation requested
Rehearsal at 1 p.m. Dec. 12
(804) 272-7514

Dec. 13 (7 p.m.)
Ferguson Arts Center, Christopher Newport University, Newport News
Dec. 15 (8 p.m.)
Regent University Theater, Virginia Beach
Virginia Symphony
JoAnn Falletta conducting
Adolphus Hailstork: "The Gift of the Magi" (premiere)
Handel: "Messiah" (abridged)

Amy Van Roekel, soprano

Kirstin Chavez, mezzo soprano
Jonathan Boyd, tenor
Lester Lynch, bass-baritone
Todd Rosenleib Dance
Virginia Symphony Chorus
Virginia Children’s Chorus
(757) 892-6366

Dec. 14 (7 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
Choral Arts Society of Washington
Norman Scribner directing
Janice Chandler Eteme, soprano
Carol Ringers of St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church
Nancy Cappel directing
Washington Symphonic Brass
Phil Snedcor directing
"Joyeux Noël"
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 17 (7 p.m.)
Dec. 18 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 19 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 20 (1 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Orchestra
Rossen Milanov conducting
Handel-Goosens: "Messiah"
Elza van den Heever, soprano
Meredith Arwady, contralto
Jason Collins, tenor
Eric Owens, bass-baritone
Washington Chorus
Julian Wachner directing
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 18 (8 p.m.)
Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, First Street at Independence Avenue S.E., Washington
Parker String Quartet
Haydn: Quartet in C major, Op. 20, No. 2
Dutilleux: "Ainsi la nuit"
Beethoven: Quartet in E flat major, Op. 127
Free; tickets required
(703) 573-7328 (Ticketmaster)

Dec. 19 (8 p.m.)
American Theatre, 125 E. Mellen St., Hampton
Brandon Wood, tenor
"I’ll Be Home for Christmas"
(757) 722-2787

Dec. 19 (2 p.m.)
Sandler Arts Center, 201 S. Market St., Virginia Beach
Dec. 19 (8 p.m.)
Chrysler Hall, 201 Brambleton Ave., Norfolk
Virginia Symphony
conductor TBA
holiday pops program
(757) 892-6366

Dec. 19 (8 p.m.)
Paramount Theater, 215 E. Main St., Charlottesville
Oratorio Society of Virginia
L. Thomas Vining directing
"Christmas at The Paramount"
(434) 979-1333

Dec. 19 (1 p.m.)
Dec. 21 (7 p.m.)
Dec. 22 (7 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
Washington Chorus
Julian Wachner directing
"A Candlelight Christmas"
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 20 (5 p.m.)
All Saints Episcopal Church, River and Parham roads, Richmond
All Saints Choir of Men and Boys
Andrew Koebler directing
Festival of Lessons and Carols
(804) 288-7811

Dec. 23 (7:30 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
Washington Chorus
Julian Wachner directing
"A Candlelight Christmas"
(301) 581-5100

Dec. 31 (8:30 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
"New Year’s Eve at the Kennedy Center"
National Symphony Orchestra members

Murry Sidlin conducting
Gershwin: "Rhapsody in Blue"
Leon Bates, piano
works by Johann Strauss II, John Williams, Copland, Bernstein, Nicolai, others
dancing in Grand Foyer at 11 p.m.
(800) 444-1324

Monday, November 30, 2009

Baring (almost) all

Nathan Gunn, a onetime college athlete, now a leading "barihunk" (baritone + hunk), mulls the art of singing in public with your clothes off. "There's a shift in opera where physicality is very important – not only how you act but how you look," Gunn tells the Los Angeles Times' Irene Lacher:,0,2702052.story

Friday, November 27, 2009

Review: 'Daughter of the Regiment'

Virginia Opera
Joseph Walsh conducting
Nov. 27, Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage

The Virginia Opera’s current production of Donizetti’s "La Fille du régiment" ("The Daughter of the Regiment") is Manon Strauss Evrard’s show. This company’s star voice in recent years, the soprano commands the stage and soars some distance above other voices; and when she’s absent, one awaits her return impatiently.

As Marie, a foundling adopted by the troops of Napoloeon’s 21st Regiment as their "daughter" (and laundress, barber and bootblack), Evrard is strappingly tomboyish, even in love scenes and laments. Her vitality is such that you wonder whether she’ll throw her beloved, Tonio, over her shoulder and march off to bliss at the end. (No such luck.)

In the first of two Richmond performances, Evrard handled her role’s abundant, often florid tessitura and its many big, high notes capably if not always in secure pitch. A few of her big finishes verged on shrieks. She also – involuntarily, it seemed – overbalanced the male principals, Gennard Lombardozzi (as Tonio) and Todd Robinson (Sulpice, the regimental sergeant). Robinson compensated with physical gesture; Lomardozzi never quite made it into the foreground.

Josepha Geyer (the Marquise of Berkenfeld) and Jenni Harrison (the Duchess of Krakenthorp) took on their overstuffed-dowager roles with good humor; Geyer and David Barron (Hortensius, the Marquise’s manservant) added some nice comic vocal touches.

This production is conducted by Joseph Walsh, the Virginia Opera’s associate artistic director and chorusmaster; so it wasn’t too surprising that the chorus, especially the men who populate the regiment, made a stronger than usual impression. So did the small pit orchestra of Virginia Symphony musicians, with excellent solos from French horn player David Wick, English horn player George Corbett and cellist Rebecca Gilmore.

Dorothy Danner, the stage director, opts for a physical production, but apportions the comic shtick unevenly, leaving a lot of choristers and supernumeraries taking up space to no particular effect for what seem to be long stretches. (If everyone were cavorting, chaos might ensue; but Danner might have taken a few more chances.)

The set appears to be recycled from spare parts – you might recognize the corduroy hillsides from Carlisle Floyd’s "Susannah" a couple of years ago – and other production elements are pretty basic.

A repeat performance begins at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Carpenter Theatre. Tickets: $29-$99. Details: (866) 673-7282 (Ticketmaster). Fairfax performances are at 8 p.m. Dec. 4 and 2 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Center for the Arts, George Mason University. Tickets: $44-$98. Details: (888) 945-2468 (;

Rogé gives back

Pascal Rogé, the French pianist, will perform next week with the North Carolina Symphony for no fee after the financially struggling orchestra found it couldn't afford to pay him. His wife, pianist Ami Rogé, will join him in performances with the orchestra on Dec. 3 in Southern Pines and Dec. 4-5 in Raleigh.

"[I]deally, concerts are about love of the music and love for the audience. It's nice to be able, for once, to do a concert for the real reason," Rogé tells Rob Christensen of The News & Observer:

'Emotional education'

David Brooks, The New York Times op-ed columnist, rarely writes about music. But he quite perceptively writes about the "emotional education" he received from the songs and concert performances of Bruce Springsteen. (I'm a little older than Brooks. My emotional education through music began with Otis Redding; and, thanks to my career path, has continued under the tutelage of a wide variety of composers and performers.)

Brooks' piece is well worth reading:

Shopping list

This being "black Friday," the perversely named official starting day of the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice shopping season, I thought I should suggest some of the best boxed sets of classical recordings for gift-giving (or, maybe more likely, treating yourself).

The most lavish set on the market this year is "Yo-Yo Ma – 30 Years Outside the Box" (Sony Classical 752307), a 90(!)-disc collection containing virtually every piece ever written for the cello, as well as a great deal that wasn’t originally (Paganini caprices, Cole Porter tunes), played by Yo-Yo Know Who with colleagues ranging from pianist Emanuel Ax to Yang Wei, the pipa (Chinese lute) player who recently performed with the Richmond Symphony. About two-thirds of the 400+ selections are classical, including a number of contemporary pieces that Ma commissioned and/or premiered; the rest chronicles his Silk Road Ensemble excursions into Asian music and his various crossover ventures. The set lists at $790; Arkiv Music is selling it "for a very limited time" for $500.

(I’m quoting, and rounding, prices from Arkiv Music – – which, I’ve found, has the largest inventory and generally the lowest prices among online retailers of classical CDs. But Smokey Robinson’s mama told him he’d better shop around, and you might do the same.)

Nearly as big a box (55 discs), less lavishly priced ($150), is "111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon" (DG 001341002). These discs (sleeved with original cover art) sample the major names on the label’s roster, with some emphasis on currently working artists. Standard European repertory; nice mix of orchestral, vocal and chamber music. The earliest of these recordings date from the 1950s.

Now that we’ve stuffed Bigfoot’s stocking, on to more practical gift suggestions:

* The Beethoven symphony cycle of Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra (BIS 1825/6, five discs) has been praised to the heavens by every critic on the planet – yours truly included, although I could do without the over-enunciating chorus and rather militant quality of this "Ode to Joy" – and BIS’s high-definition recordings are state-of-the-art or Da Bomb or whatever superlative is favored these days by audiophiles. (They sound very good on little speakers, too.) Purchased one disc at a time, this cycle would run you close to $100. The boxed set goes for $37.

* DG has issued two "Martha Argerich Collections," one of solo-piano recordings (DG 001190702, eight discs, $33), the other of concertos (DG 001319202, seven discs, $37). Argerich is the greatest living pianist (really); so both collections are highly recommended, the solo set a couple or three notches above the concerto set. (Argerich has done her best chamber-music recordings for EMI Classics, which apparently hasn’t big-boxed them yet. Maybe next Christmas.)

* Yuja Wang, who may be the greatest living pianist when we check back around 2040, released her debut album, "Sonatas and Études" (DG 001253402, $11) earlier this year. Wang has dazzled audiences wherever she’s played – twice so far at the University of Richmond, to which she returns with the Shanghai Quartet on Feb. 14 – both with her virtuosity and a musicality that few performers in their 20s have developed. This disc is a genuine piano recital in its stylistic variety (Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin, Ligeti), and a journey of discovery both in its programming and in the ways that Wang treats these pieces. Her exceptionally clarified, almost Mozartian, treatment of Ravel’s "La Valse" can be heard and seen on the DVD "Verbier Festival Highlights 2008" (Euroarts 3078178, $20), alongside performances by Argerich, Menahem Pressler, Joshua Bell, Gaudier Capuçon and Salvatore Accardo, among others.

* Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic have just toured the U.S. playing Brahms, just as their Brahms symphony cycle (EMI Classics 67254, three discs, $27) hit the market. The concerts have received glowing reviews, the recordings less so. If I were buying a box of Brahms symphonies, it would be the Kurt Sanderling-Dresden Staatskapelle set (RCA 130367, three discs, $19), excellent interpretations, suitably burnished and properly paced, very listenable (re?)masterings of early 1970s analogue stereo recordings. I can highly recommend Rattle and the Berliners playing the Schoenberg orchestration of Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor and, with Daniel Barenboim, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, on a DVD, "Europa-Konzert at Athens" (Euroarts 2053658, $22), videotaped and digitally recorded in 2004 at the amphitheater at the foot of the Acropolis.

* While we’re on the subject of Europa-Konzerts, the Berliners’ annual trips to striking locales around the continent, I should mention the 2001 edition from Istanbul (Euroarts 2051229, $17.50), with Mariss Jansons conducting. The venue is the 6th-century Byzantine church of Hagia Eirene (St. Irene), a magically stark setting that makes one of the best available recordings of Berlioz’s "Symphonie fantastique" even more desirable. The program also includes very fine performances of Haydn’s "Surprise" Symphony (No. 94) and Mozart’s Flute Concerto in D major, with Emmanuel Pahud as soloist.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

H.C. Robbins Landon (1926-2009)

As the 200th anniversary year of Joseph Haydn nears its end, the composer's premier modern advocate, H.C. (Howard Chandler) Robbins Landon, has died at the age of 83.

A Boston-born musicologist who spent his career mostly in Europe, Robbins Landon wrote several definitive books on Haydn (as well as countless articles and liner notes for recordings) and advised generations of artists about performing the composer's music. He also conducted research and wrote on other composers and music of the classical period.

He was a leading player in the historical forensic research that identified the likely cause of Mozart's death in 1791 (prognosis: kidney failure), and prepared new performing editions of a number of classical works, notably Mozart's "Idomeneo" and Requiem.

His obituary, in The Telegraph:

Robbins Landon's "infectious enthusiasm for the subject under discussion, coupled with an encyclopedic memory and almost recklessly fluent delivery, allowed him to engage lay audiences in a way that few scholars are able," Barry Millington writes in The Guardian:

So you want to be a music critic?

All you need to know, in one easy gulp, from John Adams:

(via Alex Ross)

POSTSCRIPT: Almost all. Adams forgot "intensity." Gotta have that.

Marsalis' symphony finished

Wynton Marsalis' "Blues Symphony," whose premiere by the Atlanta Symphony has been delayed several times, is indeed finished, says Jonathan Kelly, who works for Marsalis as a copyist. Kelly has "the full score of the Blues Symphony complete with all seven movements." In a January concert, "the piece is not being played in [its] entirety because of a lack of rehearsal time," the copyist tells Pierre Ruhe at artscriticATL:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CD, R.I.P. (con't.)

Charles Arthur, posting on The Guardian’s Technology Blog, reports that Linn, the Scottish audio manufacturer, has given up on CD players. Buyers of Linn’s pricey components "have moved, with alacrity, to hard drive-based systems – its DS ‘streaming players’ – that allow them to encode their entire CD collection in order to play any track at will" . . .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Martin Strother (1949-2009)

Martin Strother, the bass who has been one of the ubiquitous voices of Richmond for decades, has died at 60. He taught at Virginia Union University, Virginia State University and the University of Richmond, and sang in numerous concerts and music-theater productions, including one of the earliest revivals of Scott Joplin's "Treemonisha."

His obituary, by Ellen Robertson in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Rattle and Berlin, consummated

Simon Rattle, the onetime Wunderkind English conductor, builds a durable relationship with the "liberated" Berlin Philharmonic, Mark Swed writes in the Los Angeles Times:,0,2433019.story

Friday, November 20, 2009

How was Sibelius on the accordion?

Britain's Independent reports on a newly unearthed letter revealing that Edward Elgar was a laughably bad trombone player:

Possibly related riddle:

Q: What is a gentleman?

A: Somebody who knows how to play the trombone, but doesn't.

Many more instrument jokes here:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Come & Play'

The Richmond Symphony's "Come & Play," in which community musicians play alongside members of the symphony, will be staged on Nov. 22 at Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center, Broad and Harrison streets. A rehearsal will run from 2:30 to 5 p.m. with a public performance at 6 p.m.

Erin Freeman will conduct the gathered musicians in pops and light-classical selections, including excerpts of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" and Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story."

Registration fees are $5 for students and participants 22 and younger, $10 for those over 22. There is no admission charge to hear the 6 p.m. concert.

Proceeds from the event will go toward instrument purchase and maintenance in the Richmond Public Schools through the Symphony @ School program.

For more information, call the symphony office at (804) 788-4717, or visit

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Festival in three parts

The Richmond Festival of Music, the chamber-music series devised and directed by cellist James Wilson, will preview its spring 2010 edition with events in December and February.

"Winter Baroque" programs, played on period instruments, will be staged on Dec. 8 and 10. Concerts on Feb. 25 and 26 will feature the Biava Quartet, winner of the Naumburg Chamber Music Award and active on the international concert and festival circuit.

The February events and the festival's three programs on April 18, 20 and 22 will focus on music of Brahms, Dvořák and their protégés and contemporaries.

Performers in the December concerts, in addition to Wilson, are violinist Christina Day Martinson, concertmaster of the Boston Baroque orchestra; Mary Boodell, principal flutist of the Richmond Symphony, playing a baroque-style traverse flute; Richmond-based viola da gamba player and baroque cellist Ulysses Kirksey; and harpsichordist Carsten Schmidt.

The Feb. 25 concert will feature the Biava Quartet and Wilson with Molly Sharp, principal violist of the Richmond Symphony; the Biava will perform on Feb. 26.

Performers in the April concerts include Wilson, Schmidt (playing piano), violinists Diane Pascal and Erin Keefe, violinist-violist Lily Francis, violist Roger Tapping, double-bassist Anthony Manzo and pianist Gabriel Dobner.

The Dec. 10 and Feb. 26 events are galas, with limited seating and tickets priced at $50. Single tickets for other concerts are $25. Series tickets for the three April concerts are $70. (Senior and student tickets are discounted, except those for the galas.)

Details: (804) 519-2098 (Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia);

Dates, places and programs for the winter concerts and spring festival:

Dec. 8 (7:30 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1000 Blanton Ave. at the Carillon) – "Baroque by Candlelight: a Tale of Four Cities." Handel: Trio Sonata in B minor; Purcell: Fantazia No. 2 in three parts; Geminiani: Cello Sonata in D minor; Domenico Gabrielli: Ricercar No. 5 for solo cello; Vivaldi: Sonata in A major from "Il Pastor Fido;" Bach: Chaconne from Partita in D minor for solo violin; Telemann: Quartet in D major ("Paris").

Dec. 10 (7:30 p.m., Wilton House Museum, 215 S. Wilton Road) – "Baroque Français." Marin Marsais: "Sonnerie de Ste. Genevieve du Mont de Paris;" Couperin: "Concert Royal" No. 1; Michel Pinolet de Montéclair: Concert in A major for two treble instruments; Jean Baptiste Barrière: Cello Sonata in B minor; Telemann: Quartet in D major ("Paris"); harpsichord pieces TBA. (Repeated at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 300 W. Frederick St., Staunton.)

Feb. 25 (7:30 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church) – Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 18; Dvořák: String Sextet in A major, Op. 48.

Feb. 26 (7:30 p.m., Ellen Glasgow House, 1 W. Main St.) – Haydn: Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5; Ginastera: Quartet No. 1; Brahms: Quartet in C minor, Op. 51, No. 1.

April 18 (4 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church) – "Master Pieces." Brahms: Piano Trio in C major, Op. 87; Heinrich von Herzogenburg: "Variations on a Theme of Brahms;" Henry T. Burleigh: "Southland Sketches;" Dvořák: Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 87.

April 20 (7:30 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church) – "Brahms Goes Dancing." Johann Strauss II: "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" (Wilson-Schmidt arr.); Brahms: Hungarian dances TBA; Bach: Klavier Concerto in F minor; Brahms: Viola Quintet in G major, Op. 111.

April 22 (7:30 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church) – "The Bohemian Soul." Dvořák: two waltzes; Josef Suk: "Meditation on the St. Wenceslas Hymn;" Vitezslav Novak: work TBA; Dvořák: Bass Quintet in G major, Op. 77.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The next maestro

So, 14 months after the auditions began, we’ve heard from all nine of the conductors seeking to become the fifth music director of the Richmond Symphony. Announcement of the choice is expected by the end of the year.

Whom would I choose? I’m not saying.

This is the third time I’ve observed a music-director search by this orchestra. During those that led to the appointments of George Manahan in 1987 and Mark Russell Smith in 1999, I was a full-time journalist following the process closely. I spent a lot of time interviewing candidates face-to-face, sitting in on their rehearsals and sounding out musicians and orchestra insiders, here and elsewhere, on their work.

This time, as a semi-retired blogger, I’ve limited my exposure to these conductors almost entirely to their work in concert. Here’s what I had to say about each after attending a performance:










As it happens, most of the big pieces they led don’t especially move me. (I think I know a good performance of Russian romantic music from a bad one, but I have to really work at it.) Most candidates made their most positive impressions on me in music that only obliquely hints at what they would make of the core symphonic repertory. I’ve gotten a sense of how they assemble programs, but not of what more than a couple of them might do with a Brahms Fourth or Beethoven Seventh, let alone a Verdi Requiem or "La Mer."

To a listener anticipating a steady diet of such music – and I don’t see this orchestra straying too far from standard rep – all nine remain mystery men.

Fortunately, it seems the right sleuths are on the case.

* * *

Of the 10 members of the committee that conducted the music-director search, and has interviewed the finalists and monitored their work in rehearsals and concerts – and whose recommendation the symphony board probably will ratify – five are musicians in the orchestra. (A sixth, David Fisk, the symphony’s executive director, is an active pianist.)

In this search, unlike the last two, the orchestra’s musicians enjoy numerical parity with the board and community members on the panel. Good: The people who have performed under the direction of these conductors have the most reliable impressions of their musicality, personality and leadership skills. Several of the "civilians" have indicated that they will defer to the musicians in assessing the conductors artistically. I hope the players’ views on personality and leadership are given added weight, too.

The other key qualifications for this job are the social and media skills required for fund-raising and outreach. I haven’t had a long conversation with any of the nine – we’ve exchanged sometimes lengthy e-mails; and, aside from a few phrases in those e-mails, I haven’t heard how any candidate would pitch the symphony to its patrons and the public.

Other factors that should count in the choice: How well-connected are these conductors? Have they developed close working relationships with soloists and composers – especially the young up-and-comers who are the most likely to perform with and have their compositions played by an orchestra of this size? And how are these conductors rated on the grapevine of orchestral musicians? Would those who have played for them recommend them to colleagues who might audition to fill vacancies in this orchestra?

Manahan is the template on these scores. He came to Richmond with a lot of positive buzz, having networked extensively and constructively with composers and orchestra players; and the Richmond Symphony basked in his reflected glow, attracting more notice in the wider musical world than regional orchestras typically do. The Virginia Symphony has reaped similar rewards with JoAnn Falletta as its music director.

There’s a flip side to connectedness, though, which could be seen during Manahan’s later years in Richmond and can be seen in Falletta’s ongoing tenure in Hampton Roads: As conductors in growing demand, he wasn’t, and she isn’t, solely focused on their Virginia orchestras. But the age of the one-orchestra maestro died with George Szell and Eugene Ormandy, decades ago.

I wouldn’t give too much extra credit to a conductor who commits to move his principal residence and relocate his family to Richmond. I would, however, consider the difficulties he might have in traveling between Richmond and other cities in which he lives and works. Air connections are better than they used to be, but this is still not the easiest place to fly into.

* * *

That’s a very full plate of considerations to weigh in choosing a music director. The decision is being made at a time when orchestras and other fine-arts institutions are under unprecedented financial stress, and must convince a new generation of listeners in a more culturally diverse climate that a symphony orchestra is still central to a community’s musical scene. The temptation to choose a conductor who connects with the public and is persuasive with donors, regardless of how he interacts with musicians out of public view, can be hard to resist.

The music director is an orchestra’s primary public face, and having an attractive face with an engaging – ideally, charismatic – personality is important, maybe crucial, in this environment. Definitely crucial, though, is the music director’s determinative role in producing the product that the orchestra sells: the music. However photogenic or articulate conductors may be, their success, and their orchestras’, ultimately hinge on the quality of music-making.

That’s why the musicians’ opinions are the ones that should count most. It looks as if they will this time, so I see no good reason to kibbitz the selection.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT: "Egalitarian" is not a word commonly used to describe symphony orchestras, or classical music generally; but the public auditions that smaller U.S. orchestras conduct in choosing music directors are remarkably open, almost democratic. The nitty gritty occurs out of public view; but the interested public knows that auditions are under way (and can listen and watch more critically if it chooses to), has opportunities to meet the conductors, and is invited to comment on them. If that public gravitates toward one or two contenders, its opinion may not be decisive, but certainly will count.

Is there are more open executive-recruitment process than the hiring of a music director by a regional or smaller American orchestra? I can't think of any, other than the election of public officials.