Monday, January 31, 2011

Einstein and music

Now making the rounds in Britain, "Music of the Spheres," a program by violinist Jack Liebeck, pianist Katya Apekisheva and Brian Foster, a physics don at Oxford University, on the more than supportive role that music played in the life and work of Albert Einstein.

The thinking behind the project, plus some delightful anecdotes of Einstein the amateur violinist – "You know, Albert, your trouble is that you can't count," Fritz Kreisler is said to have told him – as reported by Jessica Duchen in The Independent:

John Barry (1933-2011)

John Barry, the composer of film music best-known for his scores for the James Bond movies, has died at the age of 77. In addition to the Bond films, the composer, born John Barry Prendergast, scored and won Academy Awards for "Born Free," "The Lion in Winter," "Out of Africa" and "Dances with Wolves."

An obituary by Haroon Siddique in The Guardian:

Review: Richmond Symphony

Steven Smith conducting
Jan. 30, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland

The piccolo is the soprano of the flute family, and among the highest-pitched of orchestral instruments (a few percussion instruments reach into higher registers). Although it's not a huge presence in most orchestrations, the piccolo sounds prominently in even the most dense scoring. That may be one reason so few composers have written for solo piccolo with orchestra. Among those few, Antonio Vivaldi produced the best-known example in his compact Concerto in C major for piccolo, strings and continuo.

Ann Choomack, the Richmond Symphony's third flutist and piccolo player, was featured in the Vivaldi in the orchestra's Metro Collection program over the weekend. In its fast outer movements, the piece is basically an exercise in technique and timing for the soloist; its central slow movement offers the only opportunities for really expressive playing. Choomack exploited those opportunities in a moodily lyrical performance, and handled the speedier technical demands with precision and alertness.

Vivaldi's mastery of nature evocation and impersonation, so vividly displayed in his "Four Seasons," is curiously absent in the Piccolo Concerto – there's nothing especially birdsy or beesy in either the solo writing or orchestral accompaniment. Perhaps to compensate, conductor Steven Smith followed the Vivaldi with Ottorino Respighi's "Gli uccelli" ("The Birds"), a suite evoking the sounds of the dove, hen, nightingale and cuckoo.

"The Birds" is one of Respighi's works in "ancient" style, a modern take on the baroque orchestral suite. Its modernity is most audible in the colorful, highly accented "Hen," which Smith and the orchestra played up to fine effect. Other movements, with less evocative or more predictable effects, received more routine readings. That was generally true, too, of their performance of a suite of four fantasias by Henry Purcell, originally for a consort of viols, heard here in a modern string orchestration by Walter Goehr.

The acoustics of Randolph-Macon College's Blackwell Auditorium tend to produce rather opaque bass sound; that was especially pronounced in the Purcell and in Ravel's "Pavane pour une infante défunte" (literally, "Pavane for a Dead Princess" – more accurately, "Pavane for a princess in the now-dead past"). The Ravel received a graceful and suitably moody performance, but its tone colors were mostly shades of brown.

The most challenging work on the program, for musicians and listeners alike, was "Variaciones concertantes" (1953) by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera. This piece occupies a special place in the Richmond Symphony's history: It was the highlight of the most widely circulated of the orchestra's recordings, a 1989 disc with then-music director George Manahan on the Elan label, and several of the principals in that session still play with the symphony. Their familiarity with the score, and conductor Smith's attention to detail, were evident in this colorful, glowing performance.

The marketing premise of the Richmond Symphony's Metro Collection is to draw in new patrons with bargain-priced chamber-orchestra concerts close to home in the suburbs. Smith has tweaked that with programs giving listeners thematically linked samplers of varying eras and styles of orchestral music. The result is a showcase in miniature of all an orchestra can do – a rare case of less really being more.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Orchestra woes: a survey

In Louisville, whose symphony orchestra is two months into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, The Courier-Journal's Elizabeth Kramer surveys the financial and organizational woes of orchestras across the country:

Milton Babbitt (1916-2011)

Milton Babbitt, the pre-eminent American composer of the serial school, has died at the age of 94. An obituary by The New York Times' Allan Kozinn:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Anthem angst

The Wall Street Journal's Matt Moffett examines attempts to rewrite or replace national anthems in several countries, focusing on one man's effort to relieve Peru of its "epic downer of a national anthem" . . .

The Peruvian, Julio César Rivera Dávalos, deserves a note of commiseration from the folks who tried, without success, to find a replacement for James Bland's "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny/Virginia" as the state song.

From the Virginia experience, I've concluded that a successful anthem inhabits the sweet spot between a hymn and a drinking or athletic fight song. That space is pretty narrow, and it usually has eluded those who would compose and select anthems.

The piano on the sandbar

How did the baby grand piano wind up on a sandbar in Florida's Biscayne Bay?

Kind of like the way pianists get to Carnegie Hall, it turns out: Practice, practice, practice.

"Why?" gets you a more complicated answer.

The apparently definitive tale, from the Miami Herald:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Serenading the 'enemy'

At the White House state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao, pianist Lang Lang played "My Motherland," a popular Chinese song first heard in a 1956 film about a battle during the Korean War. The film's protagonists were Chinese troops; the enemy forces were American.

Some are calling call Lang Lang's choice an insult to the U.S. The pianist says he chose the tune

"for the beauty of its melody," Paul Richter reports in the Los Angeles Times:,0,52927.story

As if the U.S.-China relationship weren't complicated enough . . .

Monday, January 24, 2011

More tops

Bachtrack, the online classical-music listing service, compiles its lists of most performed composers and works and busiest conductors in 2010:

About as few surprises as we found in the top 10 composers list of The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini.

The 21st-century concert hall?

The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott visits New World Center in Miami Beach, Frank Gehry's new concert hall for the New World Symphony, and marvels at the hall's incorporation of theatrical and multimedia components:

A concert hall for 21st-century sensibilities? Perhaps. With seating for just under 800, a hall reflecting the audience-drawing power of orchestras in the new century? Hope not.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fame: cautionary tales

From ground zero of Dudamania – the burgeoning fame of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, driven as much by media exposure as by musicality – the Los Angeles Times' Mark Swed contemplates the rewards and hazards of celebrity for classical musicians:,0,3648055.story

Friday, January 21, 2011

VSO cuts worktime, salaries

Musicians of the Virginia Symphony have agreed to a new four-year contract that cuts two weeks from their annual worktime, reduces the orchestra's full-time roster from 54 to 48 and initially trims salaries. The Hampton Roads-based orchestra is carrying a debt of $1.8 million, Teresa Annas reports in The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk):

Learning curve

John Adams' "Nixon in China" opens Feb. 2 at New York's Metropolitan Opera. In a post describing the Met ("sort of the Pentagon or General Motors of classical music") and preparations for the company's first production of his best-known stage work, the composer writes: " 'Nixon' requires a kind of video-game alertness and attention that only familiarity with the music can give, and that familiarity will have to establish itself in a very short span of time." . . .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Opera going under center's wing

The Washington National Opera, which is running a debt of some $12 million and has cut back on the number and scope of productions in recent seasons, has agreed to become an affiliate of the Kennedy Center, The Washington Post's Anne Midgette reports:

Affiliation means that the Kennedy Center will oversee the opera company's administration and financial affairs, similar to the arrangement that the center and the National Symphony have maintained since 1986.

Plácido Domingo, who has been the Washington National Opera's general director for 15 years, will leave the post at the end of this season.

As of July 1, "[p]rogramming decisions will be made jointly by Michael M. Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center, and a new artistic leader for the opera, to be hired by Mr. Kaiser and the opera's board," The New York Times' Kate Taylor reports:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Virginia Opera 2011-12

The Virginia Opera will mount its first production of Verdi's "Aïda" to open its 37th season, and will give its first performances of a work by Philip Glass: "Orphée," a jazz-inflected opera inspired by Jean Cocteau's 1949 film.

The 2011-12 season also will feature revivals of Engelbert Humperdinck's fairy tale opera "Hansel and Gretel," last staged by the Virginia Opera in 1980, and the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta "The Mikado," last presented by this company in 2001.

"Aïda," the most visually spectacular of the Verdi operas, will be produced in collaboration with the Richmond Ballet. Other casting and production information for the coming season, the first since Robin Thompson took over as artistic advisor to the Virginia Opera, will be announced later.

Performances will be at Norfolk's Harrison Opera House, the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage and the Center for the Arts at George Mason University in Fairfax.

The performance schedule for 2011-12:

* "Aïda" – Oct. 1, 5, 7 and 9 in Norfolk; Oct. 14 and 16 in Fairfax; Oct. 21 and 23 in Richmond.

* "Hansel and Gretel" – Nov. 12, 16, 18 and 20 in Norfolk; Nov. 25 and 27 in Richmond; Dec. 2 and 4 in Fairfax.

* "Orphée" – Jan. 28 and Feb. 1, 3 and 5 in Norfolk; Feb. 10 and 12 in Fairfax; Feb. 17 and 19 in Richmond.

* "The Mikado" – March 10, 14, 16 and 18 in Norfolk; March 23 and 25 in Fairfax; March 30 and April 1 in Richmond.

For ticket-subscription information, Hampton Roads and Richmond patrons may call the Virginia Opera box office at (866) 673-7282; Northern Virginia patrons may call GMU's Center for the Arts at (703) 993-2787.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: Richmond Symphony

Steven Smith conducting
Jan. 15, Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage

Kelley Nassief, the versatile and well-traveled American soprano, made favorable impressions in performances with the Richmond Symphony in 2000 (Mendelssohn's "Elijah") and 2006 (Mozart's Requiem); but her burnished musicality and expressive mastery are far more evident in this weekend's "Evening at the Opera" program.

She is smartly cast in Ravel's song cycle "Schéhérazade" and arias from operas by Dvořák, Puccini and Francesco Cilea, all of which display her voice's melding of soprano brilliance with mezzo warmth and heft.

The Ravel is a showcase of the tonal nuance that the French language brings to vocal music, and Nassief luxuriated in all those luscious and piquant vowels in the first of two weekend concerts. The three songs also require close collaboration between the solo voice and orchestra; Nassief’s duet with flutist Mary Boodell in "The Enchanted Flute" was one of many instances of the singer listening to and complementing the instrumentation. Conductor Steven Smith kept Ravel's colorful and eventful orchestration reined in sufficiently to complement Nassief. It was an altogether treasurable performance.

Nassief was no less fluent and characterful in her three solo arias, "O Silver Moon" from Dvořák's "Rusalka" (which shivers my timbers like no other opera aria), "O mio bambino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" and "Io son l'umine Ancella" from Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur." All three are bittersweet and yearning in character, and Nassief showed that this point on the vocal-emotional spectrum is one to which she is finely attuned.

The Richmond Symphony Chorus was featured in opera choruses by Bizet, Beethoven and Verdi. Not surprisingly, the choristers made more of the two Verdi choruses – "Va pensiero" (or the chorus of Hebrew slaves) from "Nabucco" and the "Triumphal March" from "Aïda," both fairly free-standing works – than of "O welche lust" from Beethoven's "Fidelio" and the chorus of the cigarette girls from Bizet's "Carmen," which aren't so easily detached from the music surrounding them.

The women of the chorus projected plenty of character in the "Carmen" excerpt and the full ensemble was richly soulful in "Va pensiero."

Into these vocal proceedings Smith inserted the rousing Prelude to "Carmen" (source of the "Toreador’s Song"), the Intermezzo from Act 3 of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" and the Prelude to Verdi's "La Traviata." It's always a treat to hear these pieces played at symphonic scale (i.e., with more strings than can fit into an orchestra pit), and these readings stroked all the right senses.

The program opens with the "Four Sea Interludes" from Benjamin Britten's opera "Peter Grimes." Britten composed relatively little symphonic music, so these pieces were lifted out of the narrative and strung together to form a quasi-tone poem. The tone of this poetry is dark and rather indistinct – "Peter Grimes" is a dark tale, and the East Anglian composer pictures the sea and sky as gray meeting gray; but this music's unsettled barometric pressure and introspective, sometimes claustrophobic, turbulence give it considerable, if understated, dramatic power.

Since taking over as the symphony's music director last year, Smith has made several rewarding forays into the British repertory. Making a convincing case for these moody bits of Britten were the best evidence yet that this conductor has an ear for this music, which has waited far too long for exploration by this orchestra.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Carpenter Theatre, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $17-$72. Details: (800) 982-2787 (Ticketmaster);

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cary's video reprises

One of the highlights of most recent Richmond Symphony seasons has been a solo turn by Neal Cary, the orchestra's
principal cellist and a prominent teacher of the instrument.

Most recently, in November's Masterworks concerts, Cary was featured in the rarely performed Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor of Camille Saint-Saëns.

Shortly afterward, he recorded a video performance with pianist Charles Staples:

Cary also has recorded a video lesson on the piece:

A video of Cary's performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto, with Akiko Fujimoto and the William & Mary Symphony Orchestra, is here:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Opera: split and difference

Seven weeks after his ouster from the Virginia Opera, Peter Mark has launched Lyric Opera Virginia, which will produce three staples of the opera repertory, "La Traviata" and abridged versions of "Carmen" and "The Magic Flute," plus the musical "The King and I," in a debut season beginning in the fall. A similar mix is planned in two subsequent seasons.

The new company will perform in Hampton Roads, Richmond and Northern Virginia, where the Virginia Opera already stages four productions per season.

This is good news for those who didn't want to lose the impresario-conductor responsible for establishing professional opera in these parts. (The Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted Mark as saying, "I'm the one people look to for opera in the state of Virginia.") It's also good news for fans of classic Broadway, professional-grade productions of which are not plentiful. Devotees of the art form will welcome the prospect of more opera – assuming there will be more operas, as opposed to rival productions of the same operas.

Anne Midgette of The Washington Post characterized Mark's new venture as "revenge" on his former company. Whatever satisfaction he gets from not being run out of town, there's no good to come of an organizational grudge match.

It already promises to be a scramble for dollars. Covering the projected first-year budget of Lyric Opera Virginia while sustaining the Virginia Opera's current budget adds up to something like $8 million. That's not an implausible sum – the orchestras of Richmond, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia collectively raise and spend more; but it's a lot more money than opera has generated here in the past.

In the short term, both opera companies will be dependent for ticket sales and contributions on the same pool of patrons. Will they be more generous? Split the difference? Vote for or against Mark with their checkbooks?

Can Virginia's three population centers muster audiences for music-theater as conceived by Peter Mark and for music-theater as not conceived by him? Hard to say: His productions haven't faced much competition. The nearest alternatives, the Washington National Opera and visiting troupes at the Kennedy Center, are pricey and require a long, hard drive of downstate Virginia patrons. More than a few Virginia operaphiles regularly attend the Metropolitan Opera, at the cineplex if not at Lincoln Center, and some travel to the major European houses; they presumably have different expectations of "Tosca" at La Scala and "Tosca" at home.

I would like to think that there's an audience here for repertory that Mark has rarely produced: pre-Mozart (and historically informed Mozart); Slavic (Dvořák, Mussorgsky, et al.); 20th-century European (Janáček, Berg, Shostakovich, Britten); American opera other than "Porgy and Bess."

Much of that would be a tough sell to Virginia's "traditional" opera audience, conditioned for 36 years to Mark's repertory choices.

A company, however, could mount several seasons of familiar works that Mark has not done – Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov," Verdi's "Aïda" and "Falstaff," Dvořák's "Rusalka," Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," Wagner's "Tannhäuser" and "Die Meistersinger," Tchaikovsky's "Queen of Spades," Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier," Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" – without taxing the ears and sensibilities of even the most conservative patrons.

In time, and with smart productions, those patrons might be responsive to modern works such as Janáček's "The Cunning Little Vixen" and "Jenůfa," Britten's "Peter Grimes" and Samuel Barber's "Vanessa," and to early opera, especially comedies such as Handel's "Xerxes," Rameau's "Platée" and "The Beggar's Opera." They might be pleasantly surprised by some contemporary American fare: Mark Adamo's "Little Women," Tobias Picker's "Emmeline," André Previn's "A Streetcar Named Desire," Jake Heggie's "Moby-Dick."

No question, there's plenty for two opera companies to do.

Shortly after the Virginia Opera fired Mark, the company's general director, Gus Stuhlreyer, said it would spend the next 18 months exploring artistic and organizational options. It hired as its artistic advisor Robin Thompson, formerly with the New York City Opera, a troupe known for exploratory rep. Some City Opera vibes could be just what the Virginia Opera needs. Mark's continued presence on the scene could reinforce perceptions that his old haunt needs a new sound and look.

If there's a satisfactory answer to the $8 million question, if the two companies can avoid duplicating repertory, if they behave collegially rather than antagonistically . . . the ifs keep on coming . . . then this split could significantly widen the vista, and perhaps enlarge the audience, of opera and musical theater in Virginia.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mark's new venture

Peter Mark, whose 36-year career at the Virginia Opera ended with his dismissal in November, is organizing a new company, Lyric Opera Virginia, which is to stage a mixture of popular operas and musicals.

In its first season, beginning next fall, Lyric plans to present Verdi's "La Traviata," a condensed (or "jewel box") version of Bizet's "Carmen" and the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "The King and I" in Virginia Beach, Newport News, Richmond and Northern Virginia, and to take a shortened version of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" on tour.

The company projects an operating budget of $2.5 million, reports Elisabeth Hulette of The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk):

Among Lyric Opera Virginia's backers are several former Virginia Opera board members, the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Kristen Green reports:

In launching the new company, Mark is "taking his revenge" on the Virginia Opera, The Washington Post's Anne Midgette writes:

Pop quiz

"How Musical Are You?" asks the BBC, not rhetorically. The Beeb has put up an online, interactive test to get an answer, if maybe not the answer:

In this test of a person's musicality, devised by researchers at Goldsmiths University of London for BBC3, the taker is asked to group very brief snippets of pop music and jazz by style, to determine whether pieces are played on or off the beat, to play the beat with the spacebar of a computer keyboard (this takes some getting used to), and to detect changes in melody at different pitches, as well as answering questions about personal background and the role music plays in one's life. It takes 15 minutes or so.

My results: high in musical perception, enthusiasm and curiosity, medium in emotional connection, low in "social creativity," or making music with others.

The Guardian (UK) put Hallé Orchestra cellist Simon Turner, composer Michael Berkeley and John Moore, drummer and guitarist of the rock band Jesus and Mary Chain, to the test. Their results (scored numerically, unlike the BBC's online scoring):

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pecking order

Something to do while waiting to fill out bracket sheets for the NCAA basketball tournament . . .

The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini sets out to list the top 10 composers of Western classical music, narrowing the time frame to "since the late Baroque" and narrowing eligibility to exclude those, such as Gershwin, whose works and reputations were not purely "classical."

Bach, it seems, gets a bye:

For the other nine, Tommasini will poll readers following a refresher course:

This looks like harmless fun; but it also could be a revealing glimpse at today's "elite" cultural values.

Some performance halls built in the late-19th and early 20th centuries – the old Lyric Opera House in Baltimore is an example in this region – are decorated with busts or gilded names of composers then considered the greats. A surprising number of those enshrined are largely forgotten today. (Heard any Meyerbeer lately?)

The tastemakers of classical music – music directors, impresarios, critics, academics, ultimately audiences – are fickle. Tastes evolve, sometimes devolve, and expectations of the musical experience can change significantly from one generation to the next.

Over the past 50 years, Mozart and Mahler have become pervasive; the reputation of Sibelius has risen, while that of Prokofiev has faded. Schubert is now better known for "Death and the Maiden" than for the "Unfinished" Symphony. Plus all those once rarely heard baroque and modern composers whose works are now staples of the concert hall and opera house.

I'll be looking to see whether Tommasini's readers select any 18th-century figure other than Bach and Mozart, any modern other than Stravinsky, any composer not from Germany, Austria, Italy, France or Russia. Bonus points or demerits for virtuoso instrumentation or theatricality?

Once he concludes this venture, Tommasini would do us all a favor by disclosing the top also-rans – say, Nos. 11-20. That list that could offer more insight than the top 10 about the music we hear and the music we miss.

POSTSCRIPT: Soho the Dog (aka Matthew Guerrieri) offers The Top Ten Composers That Will Never Appear Anywhere Near The New York Times' Top Ten Composers List:

CODA: Tommasini unveils his top 10. No real surprises, unless you count Verdi outranking Wagner:

Edgar Schenkman, the founding conductor of the Richmond Symphony, said some 50 years ago that the three most underrated composers were Handel, Haydn and Dvořák. Still true, it seems. None made Tommasini's cut.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Gerald Morgan Jr. (1923-2011)

Gerald Morgan Jr., who died earlier this week at the age of 87, was best-known to a generation of Richmonders as the proprietor of Jerritt & Morgan, a store that sold records (remember them?), sheet music and other musical goods.

The shop was one of the places where the city's musicians and their audience most frequently met one another "off duty," and the shopkeeper made it a welcoming place for those encounters.

For those of us blessed or cursed to be record collectors, Jerritt & Morgan was especially welcoming. The owner was himself an enthusiastic collector, always ready to recommend new or obscure discs to enhance his customers' collections, or satisfy their curiosity.

The store was not the only, or even principal, contribution that Morgan made to music in Richmond, and beyond. He was a longtime, major donor to the Richmond Symphony and other performance groups; and he was a mentor, spiritual and material, to performers and composers.

The commission for Judith Shatin's "Jefferson, in His Own Words," premiered last March by the Illinois Symphony, conducted by Karen Lynne Deal, whom Morgan assisted early in her career, was one of many such projects that he took on over the years, and one of fairly few in which his role was quite so public. As a rule, he preferred to quietly ensure that musical projects worth doing got done.

In dedicating to Morgan the premiere performances of the Shatin piece, Deal wrote: "Without his friendship and help, I surely would not have had the opportunities that I have had or the life changing experiences I have enjoyed." She spoke for more people than she knows.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Birth daze

It’s now officially OK for pianists to not play something by Robert Schumann and/or Frederic Chopin in every performance. Their anniversary year is past. This year, pianists will be expected to play something by Franz Liszt (born 1811).

Emphasis on already familiar works by canonical composers during round-numbered anniversary years has become a herd behavior, and it’s gotten pretty lame.

Schumann and Chopin are central to the piano repertory; not much of their worthwhile music languished awaiting 2010. Mozart’s greatest hits hardly needed a special year in 2006. Mahler’s symphonies and symphonic song cycles are regularly essayed by orchestras, so performances of them in 2010 (centenary) and 2011 (100th anniversary of death) have been and will be . . . special? How, exactly?

More worth celebrating are anniversaries of composers whose works are not part of the standard repertory, or who maintain a toehold with one or two pieces. These are not as widely marked as those of brand-name composers. Last year marked the centenaries of Samuel Barber and William Schuman, but neither got anything approaching the amount of program time given to Schumann and Chopin.

In addition to being the Liszt and dead-Mahler year, 2011 is the centenary of Gian-Carlo Menotti, which may produce more performances than usual of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" but probably not of "The Saint of Bleeker Street." And this year is the sesquicentenary of Edward MacDowell, the American composer whose piano music occasionally might garnish all that Liszt.

This year’s round-numbered anniversaries of compositions include:

* The 100th of Debussy’s "The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian," Nielsen’s Violin Concerto, Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony, Ravel’s "Valses nobles et sentimentales" and Bartók’s "Duke Bluebeard’s Castle."

* The 150th of Brahms’ First and Second piano quartets and "Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel."

* The 200th of Beethoven’s music for "The Ruins of Athens" (source of the familiar "Turkish March") and Weber’s opera "Abu Hassan" and First and Second clarinet concertos.

* The 250th of Haydn’s cycle of "Morning," "Noon" and "Night" symphonies (Nos. 6-8) and Gluck’s "Don Juan" ballet music.

* The 300th of Handel’s opera "Rinaldo."

Aside from some understandable attention-seeking by clarinet soloists, I’m guessing there’ll be no anniversary rush to program any of that music.

Loads of Liszt, though.

Speaking of whom, pianist Stephen Hough, writing for The Guardian (UK), offers a useful overview of Liszt the man, the popular sensation and the musical visionary:

January 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/youth, group and other discounts may be offered.

* In and around Richmond: Pianist Russell Wilson plays Haydn, Schumann, Schubert and Chopin, Jan. 9 at Bon Air Presbyterian Church. . . . Steven Smith conducts the Richmond Symphony in a Masterworks series program of Britten, Ravel and more with soprano Kelley Nassief and the Richmond Symphony Chorus, Jan. 15-16 at Richmond CenterStage, and leads a Metro Collection chamber-orchestra program of Purcell, Vivaldi, Respighi, Ravel and Ginastera, Jan. 28 at KingsWay Community Church in Midlothian, Jan. 30 at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland. . . . Violinist Susanna Klein and cellist Hannah Holman play works by Bach, Handel, Kodály and former Richmonder Heather Stebbins, Jan. 22 at Virginia Commonwealth University. . . . eighth blackbird and friends survey chamber and vocal music of Arnold Schoenberg, Jan. 26 at the University of Richmond.

* Notables: This month’s big star visitations are by soprano Renée Fleming, Jan. 8 at Washington’s Kennedy Center, and violinist Joshua Bell, Jan. 26 at the Music Center at Strathmore in DC’s Maryland suburbs. . . . Violinist Chee-Yun joins the National Philharmonic for Vivaldi’s "The Four Seasons," Jan. 8-9 at Strathmore, and plays the Walton Concerto with Christopher Zimmerman and the Fairfax Symphony, Jan. 15 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax, Jan. 16 at the Hylton Arts Center in Manassas.

. . . Marin Alsop conducts the Baltimore Symphony in Philip Glass’ "Icarus at the Edge of Time" and music of John Williams and Mark-Anthony Turnage, Jan. 15 at Strathmore. . . . Christoph Eschenbach conducts the National Symphony in Peter Lieberson’s "Remembering JFK (An American Elegy)," featuring Richard Drefuss as narrator, and Gershwin’s Concerto in F with pianist Tzimon Barto, Jan. 22-24 at the Kennedy Center. . . . Leah Partridge, a young soprano on the Metropolitan Opera roster, sings in an Opera Roanoke-sponsored recital, Jan. 23 at the Jefferson Center.
. . . Philippe Entremont leads the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie in Brahms, Richard Strauss and Mozart’s Concerto for two pianos, with Eschenbach and Sebastian Knauer as soloists, Jan. 29 at GMU’s Center for the Arts.

Jan. 1 (2 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
The Strauss Symphony of America
Guido Mancusi conducting
Anita Lukács, soprano
Zsolt Vadász, tenor
National Moravian-Silesian Ballet
International Champion Ballroom Dancers
"New Year’s Concert 2011: Salute to Vienna"
(301) 581-5100

Jan. 7 (8 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
The Yale Glee Club
The Whiffenpoofs of Yale
Whim’n Rhythm of Yale
John Eaton, piano
program TBA
(301) 581-5100

Jan. 8 (8 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
Renée Fleming, soprano
Hartmut Höll, piano
program TBA
(202) 785-9727 (Washington Performing Arts Society)

Jan. 8 (8 p.m.)
Jan. 9 (3 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
National Philharmonic
Piotr Gajewski conducting
Vivaldi: "The Four Seasons"
Chee-Yun, violin
Tchaikovsky: Serenade in C major for strings
(301) 581-5100

Jan. 9 (4 p.m.)
Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road, Richmond
Russell Wilson, piano
Haydn: Sonata in F major, Hob.: XVI:29
Schumann: “Faschingsschwank aus Wien," Op. 26
Schubert: “Moments musicaux," Op. 94, No. 1
Schubert: Impromptu in E flat major, Op. 90, No. 2
Chopin: Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op. 39
Donation requested
(804) 272-7514

Jan. 9 (2 p.m.)

Frying Pan Farm Park, 2709 W. Ox Road, Herndon
Virginia Virtuosi
Nancy Jin, violin
Tiffany Richardson, viola
Mark Bergman, double-bass
"Rhythm Around the World," family program
works by Mozart, Elgar, Richard Strauss, others
(703) 437-9101

Jan. 9 (2 p.m.)
The Mansion at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
Luis Pares, piano
Berg: Sonata No. 1
Debussy: four preludes from Book 1
De Falla: “Fantasia Baetica”
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5
(301) 581-5100

Jan. 10 (8 p.m.)
Jan. 11 (8 p.m.)
Kimball Theatre, Merchants Square, Williamsburg
Williamsburg Symphonia
Janna Hymes conducting
DJ Sparr: "Catch That Catch Can"
Rodrigo: "Concierto de Aranjuez"
Jason Vieux, guitar
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral")
(757) 229-9857

Jan. 13 (7 p.m.)
Jan. 14 (8 p.m.)
Jan. 15 (8 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Orchestra
Kirill Karabits conducting
Silvestrov: Elegy
Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 2
Sergey Khachatryan, violin
Sibelius: Symphony No. 1
(800) 444-1324

Jan. 14 (8 p.m.)
The Barns at Wolf Trap, Trap Road, Vienna
The Peabody Trio
Sofia Gubaidulina: "Dancer on a Tightrope" for violin and piano
Mendelssohn: Piano Trio No. 1 in G minor, Op. 49
Alfred Schnittke: "Stille Musik" for violin and cello
Brahms: Piano Trio No. 2 in A major, Op. 87
(888) 945-2468 (

Jan. 15 (8 p.m.)
Jan. 16 (3 p.m.)
Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets
Richmond Symphony
Steven Smith conducting
Britten: "Four Sea Interludes" from "Peter Grimes"
Ravel: "Schéhérazade"
opera arias, choruses TBA
Kelley Nassief, soprano
Richmond Symphony Chorus
(800) 982-2787 (Ticketmaster)

Jan. 15 (8 p.m.)
Center for the Arts, George Mason University, Fairfax
Jan. 16 (8 p.m.)
Merchant Hall, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas
Fairfax Symphony
Christopher Zimmerman conducting
Bernstein: "Candide" Overture
Walton: Violin Concerto
Chee-Yun, violin
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World")
(888) 945-2468 (

Jan. 15 (7:30 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Vocal Arts DC:
Robin Tritschler, tenor
Graham Johnson, piano
Schubert: "Die schöne Müllerin"
(800) 444-1324

Jan. 15 (8 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop conducting
Mark-Anthony Turnage: "Ceres"
John Williams: "Star Wars" Suite
Philip Glass: "Icarus at the Edge of Time"
(877) 276-1444 (Baltimore Symphony)

Jan. 16 (2 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
Beethoven: Quintet in E flat major for piano and winds
Beethoven: Sonata for horn and piano
Schumann: "Three Romances" for violin and piano
Mendelssohn: String Quintet No. 2
(800) 444-1324

Jan. 16 (6:30 p.m.)

West Garden Court, National Gallery of Art, Sixth Street at Constitution Avenue NW, Washington
Bruno Nasta, violin
David Niethamer, clarinet
Jonathan Nazdin, double-bass
Danielle Hahn & Ronald Chiles, piano
Milhaud: Suite for violin, piano and clarinet, Op. 157b
Stravinsky: "L'Histoire du Soldat" ("The Soldier's Tale")
"The Petite Sweet Suite" (arrangements of songs by Gershwin, Cole Porter, others)
(202) 842-6941

Jan. 17 (7:30 p.m.)
Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 8 N. Laurel St., Richmond
Greater Richmond Children's Choir
Hope Armstrong Erb directing
Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church Choir
Elizabeth Melcher Davis directing
Riverview Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir
Ronald Coles directing
"A Celebration of Unity Concert, in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."
Donation requested
(804) 359-5628

Jan. 21 (8 p.m.)
Ferguson Arts Center, Christopher Newport University, Newport News
Jan. 22 (8 p.m.)
Chrysler Hall, 201 E. Brambleton Ave., Norfolk
Jan. 23 (2:30 p.m.)
Sandler Arts Center, 201 S. Market St., Virginia Beach
Virginia Symphony
JoAnn Falletta conducting
Barber: Symphony No. 1
Orff: “Carmina burana"
Amy Cofield Williamson, soprano
Scott Williamson, tenor
Keith Phares, baritone
Virginia Symphony Chorus
(757) 892-6366

Jan. 22 (2 p.m.)
Gellman Room, Richmond Public Library, First and Franklin streets
Richmond Music Teachers Association members
program TBA
(804) 646-7223

Jan. 22 (8 p.m.)
Vlahcevic Concert Hall, Singleton Arts Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Park Avenue at Harrison Street,. Richmond
Susanna Klein, violin
Hannah Holman, cello
works by Bach, Handel, Kodály, Heather Stebbins
(804) 828-6776

Jan. 22 (8 p.m.)
Carpenter Theatre, Richmond Center Stage, Sixth and Grace streets
Richmond Symphony Pops
Erin R. Freeman conducting
The Contours featuring Sylvester Potts
"Celebrating 50 Years of Motown"
(800) 982-2787 (Ticketmaster)

Jan. 22 (8 p.m.)
Ferguson Arts Center, Christopher Newport University, Newport News
Marvin Hamlisch, piano & composer
Heather Parcells & Paul A. Schaefer, vocalists
"An Evening with Marvin Hamlisch"
(757) 594-8752

Jan. 22 (2 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Sofya Gulyak, piano
Schubert: "Drei Klavierstücke," D. 946
Chopin: Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor ("Funeral March")
Franck: Prelude, Chorale and Fugue
Fauré: Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 36
Ravel: "La Valse"
(202) 785-9727 (Washington Performing Arts Society)

Jan. 22 (8 p.m.)
Jan. 23 (1:30 p.m.)
Jan. 24 (7 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach conducting
Peter Lieberson: "Remembering JFK (An American Elegy)"
Richard Dreyfuss, narrator
Bernstein: "Fanfare for Inauguration of JFK"
Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story"
Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F
Tzimon Barto, piano
(800) 444-1324

Jan. 22 (8 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
Brian Ganz, piano
all-Chopin program
(301) 581-5100

Jan. 23 (4 p.m.)
Vlahcevic Concert Hall, Singleton Arts Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Park Avenue at Harrison Street, Richmond
Robinson Guitar Duo
program TBA
(804) 828-6776

Jan. 23 (2:30 p.m.)
Shaftman Performance Hall, Jefferson Center, 541 Luck Ave., Roanoke
Opera Roanoke:
Leah Partridge, soprano
pianist TBA
program TBA
(540) 982-2742

Jan. 23 (2 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Amit Peled, cello
Eli Kalman, piano
Henry Eccles: Sonata in G minor
Britten: Suite No. 3 for solo cello
Schumann: "Fantasiestücke," Op. 73
Sulkhan Tstintsadze: "Five Pieces on Folk Themes"
Beethoven: Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69
(202) 785-9727 (Washington Performing Arts Society)

Jan. 24 (8 p.m.)
Roanoke Performing Arts Theatre, Orange Avenue at Williamson Road
Roanoke Symphony
David Stewart Wiley conducting
Ravel: "Bolero"
Grieg: "Peer Gynt" (excerpts)
Nino Rota: Bassoon Concerto
Elizabeth Roberts, bassoon
Mendelssohn: Scherzo from "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"
Wagner: "Tannhäuser" Overture
(540) 343-9127

Jan. 24 (7:30 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Young Concert Artists:
Aleksandr Haskin, flute
Steven Beck, piano
Clarke: "The Great Train Race" for solo flute
Bach: Sonata in E major, BWV 1035
Mozart: Andante in C major, K. 315
Doppler: "Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise," Op. 26
Dutilleux: Sonatine for flute and piano
Kornakov: Sonata for flute and piano
Taktakishvili: Aria from Sonata for flute and piano
Clarke: "Zoom Tube" for solo flute
(800) 444-1324

Jan. 26 (7:30 p.m.)
Camp Concert Hall, Modlin Arts Center, University of Richmond
eighth blackbird
Karin Brown, violin & viola
Emily Riggs, soprano
Paul Hanson & Joanne Kong, piano
Mike Davison, trumpet
Anastasia Jellison, harp
Schoenberg: String Trio
Schoenberg: "Herzgewaechse"
Schoenberg: "Weinachtsmusik"
Schoenberg: "Nachtwandler"
Schoenberg-Webern: Chamber Symphony No. 1
Schoenberg-Webern: "Five Orchestral Pieces"
Free; tickets required
(804) 289-8980

Jan. 26 (8 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
Joshua Bell, violin
Sam Haywood, piano
Brahms: Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100
Schubert: Fantasy in C major, D. 934
Grieg: Sonata No. 2 in G major, Op. 13
(202) 785-9727 (Washington Performing Arts Society)

Jan. 27 (8 p.m.)
St. Bede Catholic Church, 3686 Ironbound Road, Williamsburg
Jan. 28 (8 p.m.)
Regent University Theater, Virginia Beach
Jan. 29 (8 p.m.)
Chrysler Hall, 201 E. Brambleton Ave., Norfolk
Virginia Symphony
Bob Bernhardt conducting
Copland: "Four Dance Episodes from 'Rodeo' "
Copland: "Our Town"
Gershwin: "An American in Paris"
Cole Porter: "Within the Quota"
Gershwin: Lullaby for strings
Gershwin: "Rhapsody in Blue"
Robert Thies, piano
(757) 892-6366

Jan. 27 (7 p.m.)
Jan. 28 (8 p.m.)
Jan. 29 (8 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach conducting
Berg: "Three Pieces for Orchestra"
Beethoven: Triple Concerto
Nurit Bar-Josef, violin
David Hardy, cello
Lambert Orkis, piano
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
(800) 444-1324

Jan. 28 (8 p.m.)
KingsWay Community Church, 14111 Sovereign Grace Drive, Midlothian
Jan. 30 (3 p.m.)
Blackwell Auditorium, Randolph-Macon College, 205 Henry St., Ashland
Richmond Symphony
Steven Smith conducting
Purcell: Fantasia
Vivaldi: Concerto in A minor for piccolo and orchestra
Ann Choomack, piccolo
Respighi: "Gli uccelli" ("The Birds")
Ravel: "Pavane pour une infante défunte"
Ginastera: "Variaciones concertantes"
(800) 982-2787 (Ticketmaster)

Jan. 29 (7:30 p.m.)
Phi Beta Kappa Hall, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg
Williamsburg Symphonia
Janna Hymes conducting
Valentina Lisitsa, piano
program TBA
(757) 229-9857

Jan. 29 (8 p.m.)
Center for the Arts, George Mason University, Fairfax
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie
Philippe Entremont conducting
Richard Strauss: "Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks"
Mozart: Concerto in E flat major, K. 365, for two pianos and orchestra
Philippe Entremont & Sebastian Knauer, pianos
Brahms: Symphony No. 4
(888) 945-2468 (

Jan. 29 (2 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Till Fellner, piano
Haydn: Piano Sonata in C major, Hob.: XVI:50
Schumann: "Kinderszenen"
Liszt: "Années de pèlerinage: deuxieme année: Italie"
(202) 785-9727 (Washington Performing Arts Society)

Jan. 29 (8 p.m.)
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Juanjo Mena conducting
Haydn: Symphony No. 85 ("La Reine")
Roberto Sierra: Sinfonia No. 4
Brahms: Violin Concerto
Augustin Hadelich, violin
(877) 276-1444 (Baltimore Symphony)

Jan. 30 (3:30 p.m.)
Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Aaron Hill, oboe
Adam Carter, cello
other artists TBA
Beethoven: Trio in B flat major, Op. 11
Schumann: "Fantasiestücke," Op. 73, No. 1
(434) 924-3376

Jan. 30 (2 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Metropolitan Opera National Council: Middle Atlantic Region Auditions
program TBA
$25 (tickets on sale Jan. 7)
(800) 444-1324