Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best of 2008

My picks of the year's best recordings and Richmond area performances of classical music, and the picks of my fellow music critics at Style Weekly (including the band that made Hilary Langford want to "run away naked with the gypsies"), now in print and online at:


And with that, 2008 is a wrap at Letter V. Best wishes for the year to come. Dress warmly if you're going out on New Year's Eve – another one of those 30-degree temperature drops, to the low 20s, is forecast from afternoon to overnight.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kaiser: Emergency for the arts

Michael Kaiser, president of Washington's Kennedy Center, says arts groups are "quickly and rather quietly falling apart," as the economic downturn creates a "perfect storm" of depleted ticket sales, declining contributions and decimated endowments.

"We need an emergency grant for arts organizations in America, and we need legislation that allows unusual access to endowments. Washington must encourage foundations to increase their spending rates during this crisis, and we need immediate tax breaks for corporate giving," Kaiser writes in The Washinton Post:


Sunday, December 28, 2008

A new game for highbrows

Art-musicians find a lucrative new outlet in . . . video games.

Producers of the games pay composers $1,000 or more per minute of music, Vivien Schweitzer reports in The New York Times. "[S]chools like the Berklee College of Music in Boston have started game scoring classes." Performers, from the concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the new-music chamber group Alarm Will Sound, get into the game.

“If Beethoven were alive today, he’d be a video game composer,” says Tommy Tallarico, a leading light in the new genre. Garry Schyman, who composed the score for BioShock, says producers "are craving strong statements" in the games' soundtracks. Spooky atmospherics à la Bartók and vintage Penderecki-style tone clusters are especially in demand:


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Youth competitition winners

Tommy Carpenter, an 18-year-old cellist from Charlottesville, has won the Richmond Philharmonic's first Concerto Competitition. Carpenter receives $200 and will perform with the orchestra on March 15 in the first movement of Dvořák’s Concerto in B minor.

Annika Jenkins, a 14-year-old violinist from Virginia Beach, and Elise Linder, a 15-year-old cellist from Charlottesville, tied for second place. Each receives $100. Brendan Elliott, a 14-year-old violinist from Newport News, receives $50 for his third-place finish.

Two violinists won honorable mentions: Mariette Southard, 14, of Mount Crawford, and Delaney Turner, 13, of Mechanicsville.

Twenty-five musicians aged 11 to 18 entered the competition. The judges were Robert Mirakian, music director of the Richmond Philharmonic and director of orchestral studies at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, and Daniel Myssyk, music director of the Ensemble Instrumental Appassionata and director of orchestral studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Woeful perspective

As the recession has put many U.S. arts groups in positions ranging from dicey to defunct, here's a bit of schadenfreudisch perspective from Italy:

Three of the country's 14 opera companies are in receivership, and all have been warned that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government considers the arts a "luxury." Teatro San Carlo in Naples has cut its opera season from six to three productions. La Scala in Milan may have to decide whether to "keep paying wages and not have enough to put on a production [or] cut people and produce less opera or operas not as they were meant to be," a musicians' representative tells Christine Spolar of the Chicago Tribune:


Ives the entrepreneur

Charles Ives' reputation, newly filtered through Gayle Sherwood Magee's "Charles Ives Reconsidered," "has metamorphosed from [that of] eccentric uncle into cagey impresario and entrepreneur . . . a master salesman who recognized that, at particular moments, nuttiness would sell," composer David Schiff writes in The Nation:


Monday, December 22, 2008

Birthday bambino

Happy 150th birthday to Giacomo Puccini, or at least to the many admirers of the great opera composer and the singers who've built careers on his music. In The Guardian, Tom Service makes one of the more novel arguments in favor of Puccini: Arnold Schoenberg was a fan:


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brendel's coda

Pianist Alfred Brendel's final concert in Vienna, reviewed by Alan Rusbridger in The Guardian:


Friday, December 19, 2008

Hailstork receives King commission

Adolphus Hailstork, the composer based at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, has been commissioned by the Alabama Symphony, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Alys Stephens Center to write a work for "Reflect and Rejoice," a concert staged annually to honor Martin Luther King Jr. The work is expected to be introduced in 2011, Michael Huebner reports on his blog for The Birmingham News:


Unanswered questions

Slate, the online magazine, has an invaluable (or, at least, habit-forming) feature called The Explainer. Now it's running a poll on which so-far unanswered question received this year most deserves answering:


Two of the questions are musical:

* "Why does some music make you want to shake your butt?"

* "Is it just me, or do all national anthems the world over, no matter how rich and exotic the culture, seem to sound like European marching-band music? Wouldn't one expect China's national anthem be more 'plinky'? Shouldn't Iraq's national anthem sound a little more 'Arab-y'?"

Alas, it appears The Explainer won't be answering those questions. Nurturing sorts will want to assure the 11-year-old that she's not likely to be sucked into a black hole (in the Bermuda Triangle, per another query, or elsewhere). And the prohibitive favorite among voters to date: "Why don't humans have a mating season?"

I voted for butt-shaking music, just to see how The Explainer would deal with it.

Inaugural notes

Political reportage lacking at least one instance of bollixed musical terminology is, these days, a squandered opportunity. (The late R.W. "Johnny" Apple of The New York Times was, I believe, the last musically literate political reporter. Campaigns routinely began "rising to a crescendo" once Apple was no longer covering them.) So we shouldn't be too surprised to read, on Marc Ambinder's political blog for The Atlantic . . .


. . . that at the presidential inaugural ceremonies for Barack Obama, "John Williams will conduct Itzhak Perlman on the violin and Yo-Yo Ma on the cello." This, after "Aretha Franklin sings Obama onto the podium."

Hmm. After a round of Googling, we learn (via McClatchy Newspapers' Washington Bureau) that Perlman, Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Gabriela Montero will play a selection by "composer-arranger" Williams. Still not clear whether the composer-arranger will beat time or deliver cues for the quartet.

Of course, whatever Williams and friends perform would be an anticlimax if Obama actually is sung onto the podium – wafted on wings of song? – by Aretha.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Witness for the plaintiff

Robert Finn, the retired music critic of the The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, weighs in on the paper's removal of Donald Rosenberg from reviewing concerts by the Cleveland Orchestra:

"Don Rosenberg was simply doing his job," Finn writes in an e-mail to a former colleague. "Whether you or I agree with him is quite beside the point. The main issue is that he was demoted for doing what he was hired to do. The [Plain Dealer] cannot claim that he is incompetent – after all, they are allowing him to review all sorts of other musical events. The only issue is that the orchestra management wanted him silenced and they got their wish."

Rosenberg has filed suit against the newspaper for age discrimination (he's 56) and against leaders of the orchestra's parent organization for defamation.

via Roldo, Romenesko

NY Phil musicians pan Kaplan

Living up/down to their reputations for skewering conductors they don't respect, musicians of the New York Philharmonic go after Gilbert Kaplan, an amateur who conducts only Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony (No. 2) and led the orchestra in the Dec. 8 concert marking the 100th anniversary of the work's New York premiere.

The concert, a benefit for the musicians' pension fund, played to a full house and was reviewed favorably.

Daniel J. Wakin samples the players' vitriol in The New York Times:


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Virginia Symphony loaned $500,000

The financially troubled Virginia Symphony, which had said it would seek a $1 million loan from the Norfolk Economic Development Authority, requested and won approval from the authority's board for a $500,000 loan.

The funds should stabilize the orchestra through July 31, the end of its fiscal year, Blair Wimbush, the orchestra's board chairman, tells Teresa Annas of The Virginian Pilot:


Monday, December 15, 2008

Virginia Symphony: payday blues

Awaiting word on its request for a $1 million loan from the Norfolk Economic Development Authority, the Virginia Symphony eyes the mid-December payday for its musicians and staff, nearly $67,000 short of what it needs to make payroll.

Why the chronic deficits? A meager endowment, yielding just 3 percent of the orchestra's income (compared with 10 percent at the Richmond Symphony), Teresa Annas reports in The Virginian Pilot:


On Brendel's retirement

British pianist Imogen Cooper salutes her onetime teacher, Alfred Brendel, on his retirement from the concert stage. "He has always had a tremendous sense of vocation, a mission to transmit what he knows and what he feels," Cooper writes in The Guardian:


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review: Richmond Festival of Music

Dec. 11, Wilton House Museum

Cellist James Wilson, violinist Erin Keefe, violinist-violist Catherine Cho and a couple of dozen patrons of Wilson’s Richmond Festival of Music fit themselves into the Upper Passage (second-floor hallway) of Wilton, an 18th-century mansion in Richmond’s West End, for the annual holiday "Classics by Candlelight" recital presented by the festival's parent organization, the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia.

Listeners might have imagined they were seated inside Wilson’s cello, such was the volume and presence of a program of string trios by Beethoven, Schubert, Borodin and Carl Reinecke. The European salons in which these pieces were originally played were two or three times larger than this space, and early 19th-century fiddles (and fiddlers) didn’t project as powerfully as modern ones.

Performing under a microscope, so to speak, the threesome played with remarkable refinement – Cho’s viola and Wilson’s cello were so sonically and tonally integrated they sounded like a single instrument – and with consistently well-judged instrumental balances.

The program's showpiece was Beethoven’s Trio in G major, Op. 9, No. 1, for violin, viola and cello, a Haydnesque vehicle for sturdy tunes and well-schooled counterpoint that ends in a thrillingly speedy presto movement. Schubert’s Trio in B flat major, D. 471, a single allegro movement, also recalls classical style, but with harmonic touches of the mature composer. Violinist Keefe, violist Cho and cellist Wilson played both with ears attuned to the pieces’ transitional, classical-romantic characters.

Cho switched to violin for Borodin’s "Trio on a Russian Theme," a miniature rhapsody on a soulful melody, played with unalloyed but unindulgent romantic spirit.

Not surprisingly, the problem child of the evening was the Trio in C minor, Op. 249, for violin, viola and cello by Reinecke, a contemporary of Brahms and friend of Robert and Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt. In these tight quarters, Reinecke’s plummy late-romantic score was overwhelming except in its quietest passages, which are infrequent. Humidity from a day-long downpour led to tuning problems, which made the piece’s textures denser and its chromatic harmonies unintentionally dissonant.

Wilson, Keefe and Cho will repeat the "Classics by Candlelight" program at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at Wilton House Museum, 215 S. Wilton Road. Tickets: $50. They will be joined by flutist Mary Boodell for a recital at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road. Tickets: $25. Details: (804) 519-2098; www.cmscva.org

Philharmonic receives NEA grant

The Richmond Philharmonic has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support Discover the Orchestra, an outreach program for inner-city youths. Cellist Andre Gaskins will be the featured artist in the program.

Critic sues Cleveland newspaper, orchestra leaders

Donald Rosenberg, the longtime music critic removed by The Plain Dealer of Cleveland from reviewing the Cleveland Orchestra in September, has filed suit against the newspaper and its editor for age discrimination and the orchestra's parent organization and several of its officers for defamation, WCPN reports on its Web site:


Details from the Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith, who interviewed Rosenberg on events leading to the lawsuit:


The New York Times' Daniel J. Wakin on the Rosenberg case:


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pay to play

A "digital music strategist" linked to Warner Music Group is proposing a system for collecting monthly royalty fees, to be added to college tuitions, that would give students legal access to music via the Internet. This pay-to-play model could be extended to all consumers. Details from Wired magazine blogger Eliot Van Buskirk:


Carter on Carter

In an interview with Stuart Isacoff in The Wall Street Journal, Elliott Carter, the patriarch of American composers, who turns 100 on Dec. 11, discusses a rigorous compositional style that has earned him great respect but, until recently, not much love:


Another profile of Carter, from Matthew Guerrieri in The Boston Globe:


The New York Times' Daniel J. Wakin reports on Carter's centenary concert at Carnegie Hall:


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Baltimore Opera files for Chapter 11

The Baltimore Opera has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, cancelling its two remaining 2008-09 productions with no ticket refunds and releasing singers from contracts for next season. The company, which traces its roots to the 1930s, had amassed a deficit of about $800,000 on a projected operating budget of $6 million, Tim Smith reports in the Baltimore Sun:


UPDATE: The Sun's Smith examines the Baltimore Opera's bankruptcy filing, which reports accumulated debts of at least $1.2 million, including unpaid parking fines in New York City and a bill for $19,500 from a spa in Milan, Italy:


Monday, December 8, 2008

Beethoven for conspiracy theorists

Just the thing to quicken the pulse – "Angels and Demons" set to music:

Alas, born too soon
to fly in black helicopter
or join Trilateral Commission

Jan Swafford tells the tale of a grubby prodigy in provincial Germany, groomed for success by erstwhile secret overlords of humanity, online at Slate:


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Magnificent obsession

In The New York Times, Matthew Gurewitsch profiles Gilbert Kaplan, the financial analyst-turned-musicologist who more than 40 years ago discovered Mahler's Second ("Resurrection") Symphony, "felt like a bolt of lightning had gone through me," and subsequently has made a career of conducting Mahler 2 and nothing but Mahler 2:


Norman Lebrecht's take on Kaplan, plus a review of the conductor's centenary performance of the Mahler Second with the New York Philharmonic:


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Review: Richmond Symphony

Mark Russell Smith conducting
Dec. 5, Second Baptist Church

In the first of three sets of concerts in his final season as the Richmond Symphony’s music director, Mark Russell Smith leads the most stylish and dynamic reading of Handel’s "Messiah" that the orchestra and Richmond Symphony Chorus have presented in years.

In the first of two performances, Smith set generally brisk, at times very speedy, tempos, with sharp accents and marked contrasts of volume. The quartet of solo voices – soprano Awet Andemicael, countertenor David Walker, tenor William Ferguson and baritone Philip Cutlip – and the symphony’s principal trumpeter, Rolla Durham, ornamented melody lines elaborately.

All this was in line with "historically informed" high-baroque performance practice. Whatever one thinks of these techniques, and how judiciously or freely they should be applied, they certainly enlivened what otherwise might turn into a routine run-through of a Christmas perennial.

To my ears, Cutlip and Andemicael had the surer grasp of baroque vocal stylization, and generally showed good judgment in elaborating on melodies. The soprano air "I know that my Redeemer liveth," for example, has an austere beauty that doesn’t need operatic dressing up, and Andemicael imparted a sense of simple wonder in her interpretation. The bass number "Why do the nations rage so furiously together," on the other hand, benefits from the full-blown dramatic treatment that Cutlip gave it.

Ferguson, a Richmond-born singer who has returned frequently to sing "Messiah" with the symphony, was very sparing in baroque-isms, opting to treat his solos more as songs than arias. (This, too, is historically informed – some early editions of "Messiah" identified solo numbers as songs.) While not lacking in theatricality – his "Thou shalt dash them in pieces" was emphatic and stirring – Ferguson was at his best in more intimate, narrative sections such as the recitative "Comfort ye, my people."

Walker, a male alto with extensive experience in baroque opera and oratorio, produced finely rounded tones but tended to swallow consonants. His melodic ornamentation also took some eccentric turns.

The Richmond Symphony Chorus, prepared by Erin Freeman, was outstanding, not just in the big showpieces "For unto us a child is born," "Hallelujah" and "Worthy is the Lamb," but also in the subtler "His yoke is easy" and "Since by man came death." The choristers’ ensemble and negotiation of counterpoint were consistently fine; and when they punched out big exclamatory lines, the effect was truly thrilling.

A repeat performance begins at 8 p.m. Dec. 8 at St. Michael Catholic Church, 4491 Springfield Road in Glen Allen. Tickets: $30. Details: (804) 788-1212; www.richmondsymphony.com

Friday, December 5, 2008

Virginia Symphony mulls bankrputcy, requests loan from Norfolk agency

The Virginia Symphony is asking for a $1 million loan from the Norfolk Economic Development Authority. The orchestra says it may be not be able to cover the next paychecks for its 76 musicians and is contemplating filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

This comes two days after the Norfolk-based orchestra, which began the season with a $1.5 million deficit and has exhausted its line of credit, announced 20 percent reductions in staff salaries and cancellation of several spring concerts in an effort to cut $500,000 from its current operating budget of $6.5 million.

Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, calling a $1 million loan of public funds "beyond what would be prudent," instead proposes a short-term $500,000 line of credit, Teresa Annas reports in The Virginian Pilot:


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cool instruments, warm sound

Norwegian composer Terje Isungset crafts and performs on instruments made of ice, including a trumpet made from a 2,500-year-old piece of glacial ice. The sound of ice instruments is "surprisingly warm," Isungset finds. The Guardian has the story, plus an audiovisual sample:


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Virginia Symphony cuts back

The Norfolk-based Virginia Symphony will cut the salaries of 27 staff members by 20 percent, cancel three to five spring concerts and cut other costs to trim $500,000 from its 2008-09 operating budget of $6.5 million.

Pay will not be reduced for the orchestra's 72 musicians; but JoAnn Falletta, its music director, is among those taking the 20 percent salary cut.

The Virginia Symphony ended last season with a $1.5 million deficit. It has raised $1.15 million this fall, an increase from fund-raising in fall 2007. Other anticipated donations have not materialized as the economy has soured, however, and the orchestra's line of credit is exhausted, Carla Johnson, its executive director, tells Teresa Annas of The Virginian Pilot of Norfolk:


In addition to presenting concerts from Williamsburg to Virginia Beach, the Virginia Symphony provides musicians to the Virginia Opera for three of the four productions it stages each year in Norfolk, Richmond and Fairfax. (Musicians from the Richmond Symphony perform as the opera's pit orchestra for the fourth production.)

The Virginia Opera, also based in Norfolk, has made two cuts totaling $1 million from its budget level of last season. It now projects a budget of $4.8 million for 2008-09. Next season the company will reduce from five to four the number of performances it stages in Norfolk, while continuing with two performances each in Richmond and Fairfax.

The Richmond Symphony, which ended the 2007-08 season with a $21,000 surplus on a $4.75 million operating budget, anticipates maintaining about the same budget in 2008-09, and so far is "weathering" the economic downturn, says David Fisk, its executive director.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The (inevitable) YouTube Symphony

Sooner or later, this had to happen: YouTube, the ubiquitous roll-your-own-video platform, is now soliciting classical musicians to submit video auditions for a place in a YouTube Symphony Orchestra.

"[T]he world will select the best of you" – i.e., a panel of judges and YouTube viewers will vote on aspirants – "to perform at New York City's Carnegie Hall in April 2009," according to the project's Web site:


Jaundiced advice: Look cool. Play well. In that order.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Guarneri cancels VCU concert

The Guarneri Quartet’s Feb. 28 date at Virginia Commonwealth University is the latest in a string of performances in the ensemble’s farewell tour to be canceled as the group’s second violinist, John Dalley, undergoes treatment for cancer.

The trio of pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson will replace the Guarneri in VCU's Rennolds Chamber Concerts series. The time and date remain the same: 8 p.m. Feb. 28 in Vlahcevic Concert Hall of the Singleton Arts Center, Park Avenue at Harrison Street in Richmond.

The program will include Beethoven’s Trio in D Major, Op. 70, and Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67.

Tickets issued for the Guarneri will be honored at the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson concert. If they choose not to attend, ticket-holders should contact the VCU Music box office to return or exchange tickets. Tickets are $32, and may be ordered by calling the box office at (804) 828-6776.

Classical improv

In The Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Alter writes about pianist Robert Levin, cellist Matt Haimovitz and other classical instrumentalists reviving the long-lost art of improvisation:


Oddly, Alter neglects to mention organists, who continued to improvise after the practice died out elsewhere in classical music.

December 2008 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.

SCOUTING REPORT: In the spirit of the season . . . it’s all good.

Dec. 1 (7 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
Canadian Brass
Holiday program TBA
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 2 (7:30 p.m.)
Ferguson Arts Center, Christopher Newport University, Newport News
Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra
Keith Lockhart conducting

“Holiday Pops”
(804) 262-8100 (Ticketmaster)

Dec. 2 (7:30 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Vocal Arts Society:
Susan Platts, mezzo-soprano
Brett Polegato, baritone
Program TBA
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 3 (7:30 p.m.)
Camp Concert Hall, Modlin Arts Center, University of Richmond
University Orchestra
Alexander Kordzaia conducting
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488
Doris Wylee-Becker, piano
Schubert: Symphony No. 8 (“Unfinished”)
(804) 289-8980

Dec. 4 (8 p.m.)
Vlahcevic Concert Hall, Singleton Arts Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Park Avenue at Harrison Street, Richmond
VCU Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Myssyk conducting
Commonwealth Singers
John Guthmiller directing
Women’s Chorus & Choral Arts Society
Rebecca Tyree directing

Lisa Edwards-Burrs, soprano
Poulenc: Gloria
Works by Debussy, Franz Doppler
(804) 828-6776

Dec 4 (8 p.m.)
Chrysler Hall, 201 E. Bremelton Ave., Norfolk
Dec. 7 (2:30 p.m.)
Ferguson Arts Center, Christopher Newport University, Newport News
Dec. 10 (8 p.m.)
St. Bede Catholic Church, Ironbound Road, Williamsburg
Dec. 20 (8 p.m.)
Regent University Theatre, Virginia Beach
Virginia Symphony
JoAnn Falletta & Robert Shoup conducting
Handel: “Messiah”
Soloists TBA
Virginia Symphony Chorus, Robert Shoup directing
(757) 892-6366

Dec. 4 (7 p.m.)
Dec. 5 (1:30 p.m.)
Dec. 6 (8 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Orchestra
Itzhak Perlman conducting
Bach: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV 1041
Itzhak Perlman, violin
Mozart: Symphony No. 35 (“Haffner”)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”)
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 5 (11:45 a.m.)

Cannon Memorial Chapel, University of Richmond
Bruce Stevens, organ
Grant Hellmers, choirmaster
Recital and participatory carol sing
(804) 289-8980

Dec. 5 (8 p.m.)
Second Baptist Church, River and Gaskins roads, Richmond
Dec. 8 (8 p.m.)
St. Michael Catholic Church, 4491 Springfield Road, Glen Allen
Richmond Symphony
Mark Russell Smith conducting
Handel: “Messiah”
Awet Andemicael, soprano

David Walker, countetenor
William Ferguson, tenor
Philip Cutlip, baritone
Richmond Symphony Chorus, Erin Freeman directing
(804) 788-1212

Dec. 5 (8 p.m.)
Vlahcevic Concert Hall, Singleton Arts Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Park Avenue at Harrison Street, Richmond
VCU Symphonic Wind Ensemble

VCU String Ensemble
VCU Percussion Ensemble
VCU Jazz Orchestra II
Commonwealth Singers
VCU Guitar Ensemble & Community Guitar Ensemble
Holiday Gala, benefitting Hospital Hospitality House
(804) 828-6776

Dec. 5 (8 p.m.)
Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Virginia Glee Club
Frank Albinder directing
68th Annual Christmas Concert
(434) 924-3984 http://artsandsciences.virginia.edu/music/performance/events/index.html

Dec. 5 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 6 (8 p.m.)
University Chapel, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Virginia Women’s Chorus
KaeRenae Mitchell directing
Candlelight Concerts, works TBA
(434) 924-3984

Dec. 5 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 6 (2 p.m.)
Center for the Arts, George Mason University, Fairfax
Virginia Opera
Joseph Walsh conducting
Donizetti: “The Elixir of Love”
Jane Redding (Adina)
Joshua Kohl (Nemorino)
Stephen Hartley (Belcore)
Todd Robinson (Dr. Dulcamara)
Allison Pohl (Gianetta)
Dorothy Danner, stage direction
in Italian, English captions
(703) 218-6500 (Tickets.com)

Dec. 6 (8 p.m.)
Landmark Theater, Main and Laurel streets, Richmond
Richmond Symphony Pops
Erin Freeman conducting
Richmond Symphony Chorus, Erin Freeman directing

Greater Richmond Children’s Choir, Hope Armstrong Erb directing
“Let It Snow,” holiday program featuring Christmas carols, works by Handel, Bach, Bizet, Victor Herbert, Irving Berlin, Leroy Anderson, others
(804) 788-1212

Dec. 6 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 7 (3:30 p.m.)
Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Charlottesville & University Symphony Orchestra
University Singers
Michael Slon conducting
Family Holiday Concerts, works TBA
(434) 924-3984

Dec. 7 (3 p.m.)

Chester United Methodist Church, 12132 Percival St.
Chester Community Chorus
Joshua Wortham directing
Ashley Huffman, harp
"Sounds of the Season" works include Britten's "Ceremony of Carols"
Donation requested
(804) 748-6006

Dec. 7 (4 p.m.)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 520 N. Boulevard, Richmond
Richmond Choral Society
Thomas A. Williams directing
Christmas program of Lessons and Carols
Eric Whitacre: "Lux Aurumque"
Kirke Mechem: "The Seven Joys of Christmas"
Christmas spirituals
Rev. Margaret Watson & Rev. Alonzo Pruitt, readers
(804) 967-9878

Dec. 7 (5 and 8 p.m.)
Cannon Memorial Chapel, University of Richmond
University of Richmond Schola Cantorum & Women’s Chorale
Jeffrey Riehl & David Pedersen directing
Christmas Candlelight Service of lessons and carols
(804) 289-8980

Dec. 7 (3 p.m.)
Shaftman Performance Hall, Jefferson Center, 541 Luck Ave., Roanoke
Roanoke Symphony
David Stewart Wiley conducting
Roanoke Symphony Chorus
John Hugo directing
Handel: “Messiah” (Part 1, “Hallelujah” Chorus)
Corelli: “Christmas” Concerto
John Young Oh, violin
(866) 277-9127

Dec. 8 (7 p.m.)
James Center Atrium, 1051 E. Cary St., Richmond
Richmond Philharmonic
Robert Mirakian conducting
“Home for the Holidays,” works by Tchaikovsky, Bach, Vaughan Williams, Leroy Anderson, others
(804) 673-7400

Dec. 9 (7:30 p.m.)
American Theatre, 125 E. Mellen St., Hampton
Empire Brass
Christmas program TBA
(757) 722-2787

Dec. 9 (8 p.m.)
Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Donald Loach directing
"Messiah" Sing-in
(434) 924-3984

Dec. 11 (7:30 p.m.)

Wilton House Museum, 215 S. Wilton Road, Richmond
Dec. 12 (7:30 p.m.)
Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road, Richmond
Dec. 13 (7:30 p.m.)
Wilton House Museum, 215 S. Wilton Road, Richmond
Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia:
James Wilson, cello
Catherine Cho & Erin Keefe, violins
Mary Boodell, flute
"Classics by Candlelight," works by Beethoven, Schubert, Borodin, Reinecke, others
(804) 519-2098

Dec. 11 (7 p.m.)
Dec. 12 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 13 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 14 (7 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Pops
Marvin Hamlisch conducting
“Happy Holidays!” program TBA
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 13 (2 p.m.)

Gellman Room, Richmond Public Library, First and Franklin streets
Richmond Boys Choir
Billy Dye directing
Holiday program TBA
(804) 646-7223

Dec. 13 (4 p.m.)
Westover Hills United Methodist Church, 1705 Westover Hills Boulevard, Richmond
Greater Richmond Children’s Choir
Hope Armstrong Erb directing
“Peace on Earth,” program of Christmas music and readings
Donation requested
(804) 232-1769

Dec. 13 (7 p.m.)
Chesterfield Town Centre, Midlothian Turnpike at Huguenot Road, Midlothian
Dec. 14 (3 p.m.)
Virginia Center Commons, Washington Highway (Route 1 north), Glen Allen
Central Virginia Wind Symphony
Mike Goldberg conducting
Reed: “A Festival Prelude”
Reed: “Rushmore”
Handel-Sartorius: “Royal Fireworks Music”
Sousa: “Black Horse Troop”
Dorsey-Carey: “Oodles of Noodles”
Al Regni, saxophone
Anderson: “Sleigh Ride”
Christmas carols & sing-along
(804) 342-8797

Dec. 13 (8 p.m.)
Paramount Theater, 215 E. Main St., Charlottesville
Virginia Glee Club
Frank Albinder directing
68th annual Christmas Concert
(434) 979-1333

Dec. 13 (7:30 p.m.)
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington
Left Bank Concert Society
Elliott Carter: “Caténaires” (2006)
Elliott Carter: “Intermittences” (2005)
Elliott Carter: “Two Diversions” (1999)
Laura Schwendinger: “High Wire Act” (2005)
Dominick Argento: “Six Elizabethan Songs” (1963)
Schoenberg: “Verklärte Nacht”
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 14 (4 p.m.)
Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road, Richmond
Chamber orchestra & audience-participation chorus
Anne Carr Regan conducting
“Messiah” Sing-along
Karen Floyd Savage, soprano
Heather Jones Holland, mezzo-soprano
Tracy Welborn, tenor
Kurt Negaard, bass
Pamela McClain, keyboard
Stephen Henley, organ
scores available
Donation requested
(804) 272-7514

Dec. 14 (4 p.m.)
Lewis Ginter Botannical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Ave., Richmond
Greater Richmond Children’s Choir
Hope Armstrong Erb directing
“Festival of Holidays,” family concert with sing-along
(804) 201-1894

Dec. 14 (3:30 p.m.)

Martin Luther King Performing Arts Center, Charlottesville High School, 1400 Melbourne Road
Charlottesville Municipal Band
Steve Layman directing
86th annual Holiday Concert, program TBA
(434) 245-2410

Dec. 15 (7:30 p.m.)
Elizabeth B. Davis Middle School auditorium, 601 Corvus Court, Chester
Chester Wind Symphony
Jon Schoepflin directing
Holiday program TBA

Donation requested
(804) 477-7429

Dec. 15 (7 p.m.)
Dec. 20 (1 p.m.)
Dec. 24 (1 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
Choral Arts Society of Washington
Norman Scribner directing
Kelley Nassief, soprano

Christmas program TBA
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 15 (8 p.m.)
Sidney Harman Hall, Harman Arts Center, 610 F St. NW, Washington
Daniel Müller-Schott, cello
Angela Hewitt, piano
Bach: Gamba Sonata No. 2 in D major, BWV 1028
Bach: Gamba Sonata No. 3 in G minor, BWV 1029
Beethoven: Sonata No. 4 in C major, Op. 102, No. 1
Beethoven: “Seven Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ ”
Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102, No. 2
(202) 785-9727 (Washington Performing Arts Society)

Dec. 18 (8 p.m.)
Chrysler Hall, 201 E. Bremelton Ave., Norfolk
Dec. 19 (8 p.m.)
Ferguson Arts Center, Christopher Newport University, Newport News
Virginia Symphony
JoAnn Falleta conducting
Todd Rosenlieb Dance
Rimsky-Korsakov: Polonaise from “Christmas Eve Suite”
Korngold: Prelude and Serenade from “The Snowman”
Corelli: “Christmas” Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 (“Winter Dreams”)
(757) 892-6366

Dec. 18 (7 p.m.)
Dec. 19 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 20 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 21 (1 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Orchestra
Martin Haselböck conducting
Handel: “Messiah”
Christine Brandes, soprano
Carlos Mena, countertenor
Steve Davislim, tenor
Joshua Hopkins, baritone
Master Chorale of Washington, Donald McCullough directing
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 20 (3 & 8 p.m.)
Paramount Theater, 215 E. Main St., Charlottesville
Oratorio Society of Virginia
L. Thomas Vining directing
“Christmas at the Paramount”
Mack Wilberg: “Gloria in Excelsis”
Berlioz: “The Shepherd’s Farewell”
Other works TBA
(434) 979-1333

Dec. 20 (8 p.m.)
Center for the Arts, George Mason University, Fairfax
Christopher Parkening, classical guitar
Jubilant Sykes, baritone
Holiday program TBA
(888) 945-2468 (Tickets.com)

Dec. 20 (4 p.m.)
Dec. 22 (5 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
The Washington Chorus
Julian Wachner directing
Coral Cantigas
Diana Sáez directing
Annandale Singers
Christmas program TBA
(800) 444-1324

Dec. 31 (8:30 p.m.)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington
National Symphony Orchestra members
Murry Sidlin conducting
“New Year’s Eve at the Kennedy Center”
Enescu: “Romanian Rhapsody” No. 1 (excerpt)
Rossini: “Semiramide” Overture
Rimsky-Korsakov: “Capriccio espagnol” (excerpts)
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto (finale)
Elisabeth Adkins, violin
Johann Strauss II: “Tales from the Vienna Woods”
Dvořák: Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, No. 8
Suppé: “Die leichte Kavallerie” Overture
Rodgers & Hammerstein: “Some Enchanted Evening” from “South Pacific”
Rodgers & Hammerstein: “Soliloquy” from “Carousel”
Tom Meglioranza, vocalist
Copland: “A Lincoln Portrait” (excerpt)
(800) 444-1324

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Review: 'The Elixir of Love'

Virginia Opera, Joseph Walsh conducting
Nov. 28, Landmark Theater, Richmond

A lot of comedy is rooted in cruelty, and Donizetti’s "The Elixir of Love" may be the prime example of the cruelty joke in the opera repertory. Every principal character is a cynical, manipulative dirtball, with the sole exception of the male romantic lead, the love-struck bumpkin Nemorino, who, naturally, is the butt of all the jokes. And when all the highjinks have ensued, everyone lives happily ever after – even Nemorino, who has inherited a pile of money and the bride of his dreams, although we may safely guess that he won’t keep either any longer than she can help.

So goes one of the reputedly frothiest of comic operas. To the credit of Dorothy Danner, director of the current Virginia Opera production, this time the froth does not obscure the vinegary taste of the show. Aside from Joshua Kohl’s Nemorino, the characters’ egos are as fully inflated as the golden balloon that drifts over the stage, their insincerity as overripe as the grapes hanging from the ornate gold frame around which scenic designer Eduardo Sicangco built his set.

Characterization generally overrode vocalization in the first of two Richmond performances of this production. Kohl was a strong presence with a clear but youthfully unpolished voice. Jane Redding, as Adina, the dismissive object of Nemorino’s affection, spent much of the evening emphasizing coloratura over melody or projection; she found her balance in time for the lovers’ climactic love scene.

Stephen Hartley, as the self-absorbed Sergeant Belcore, and Todd Robinson, as the greedy quack Doctor Dulcamara, turned in satisfyingly comic characterizations, although they growled as much as they sang and tended to lag behind the beat in patter numbers.

The Virginia Opera Chorus was in good form theatrically – Danner kept the troupe moving and divertingly occupied in cartoonish fashion – and in better than usual form as a vocal ensemble.

Joseph Walsh, the company’s associate conductor, led a nicely animated performance by members of Hampton Roads’ Virginia Symphony, with an especially soulful solo from bassoonist Laura Leisring.

A repeat performance of "The Elixir of Love" begins at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Landmark Theater, Laurel and Main streets in Richmond. Tickets: $22.50-$87.50. Details: (804) 262-8003 (Ticketmaster); www.vaopera.org

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chattanooga suspends opera

The recessionary hits keep coming: The Chattanooga (TN) Symphony & Opera Board, facing an accumulated deficit of $1.1 million, suspends opera productions for the 2009-10 season.

The Chattanooga Symphony will enlarge its concert schedule to compensate; but "we are . . . not at a place where opera as we are currently offering it is sustainable,” Molly Sasse, the organization's executive director, tells the Chattanooga Times Free Press:


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ego at play

The Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky bails out of concerts with the Boston Symphony because his name isn't displayed as prominently as he would like in promotional materials. That forces the Boston Symphony's assistant conductor, Julian Kuerti, to step in, consequently canceling an Edmonton Symphony concert in which he was to accompany his father, pianist Anton Kuerti:


Thomas Adès, head-on

"I used to look a little bit to the left and the right of the music and I would often come at the music from the side. Now I kind of try to attack it head on,” Thomas Adès, the much-lauded, 37-year-old English composer ("Powder Her Face," "Asyla," "The Tempest"), tells Lawrence A. Johnson in the South Florida Classical Review:


Monday, November 24, 2008

Slump hits arts in Baltimore

More recessionary fallout for the arts: The Baltimore Opera barely covers expenses of this month's production of Bellini's "Norma," the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra cancels a January date, and the Baltimore Symphony faces precipitous drops in its endowment fund and ticket sales. Tim Smith reports in the Baltimore Sun:


Richard Hickox (1948-2008)

Richard Hickox, one of the leading interpreters of British music and choral and operatic repertory, died Nov. 23 in Cardiff, Wales.

The 60-year-old conductor, founder of the City of London Sinfonia, music director of Opera Australia and associate guest conductor of the London Symphony, is most widely known for leading more than 300 recordings.

Hickox fell ill during a session of recording Gustav Holst's "Choral Symphony," and subsequently died of an apparent heart attack, The Guardian reports:


Fine arts for London's young

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, calls for giving the city's youths more exposure to high culture, including opportunities to learn to play musical instruments.

"Too often, it is presumed that young people will only like art that they can immediately relate to. . . . There's been a kind of inverse snobbery about culture," Munira Mirza, Johnson's chief of arts and culture strategy, tells The Guardian:


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Review: Richmond Symphony

Erin Freeman conducting
Nov. 21, Bon Air Baptist Church

The second of installment of the Richmond Symphony’s Haydn Festival is titled "Haydn Meets Beethoven." Good marketing – Beethoven is a name that sells tickets – and literally true in that symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven are presented alongside each other. But the real point of the program is to present Haydn’s music in historical and stylistic context.

Erin Freeman, associate conductor of the orchestra, presented one of the earliest of Haydn’s 104 numbered symphonies: No. 7 in C major ("Le Midi"), the central work in a trilogy titled "Morning," "Noon" and "Night," and an example of the young Haydn (29 when he introduced the trilogy in 1761) as a voice in the transition between baroque and classical styles. This symphony is studded with instrumental solos, duets and trios, in the manner of a baroque concerto grosso; the adagio, its most striking movement, echoes the recitative-aria form of opera and expresses itself with the stylized emotion (affectus) that early classical (or "rococo") composition inherited from the baroque.

Preceding "Lei Midi" were a pair of sinfonias in the three-movement, fast-slow-fast form first used in opera and oratorio overtures and subsequently written as stand-alone orchestral pieces. Representing the theatrical roots, the brooding Sinfonia from Johann Josef Fux’s 1716 oratorio "Il Fonte della Salute aperto dalla Grazia nel Calvario" ("The Fount of Salvation, Opened through Grace on Calvary"); representing the orchestral branches, Carl Phillipp Emanuel Bach’s virtuosic, percolating Symphony No. 11 in C major, third of his six "Hamburg" symphonies of 1773.

As Freeman explained in onstage comments during the first of two presentations of this program, Fux was a de facto teacher of Haydn and many other composers of the classical period by way of "Gradus ad Parnassum" ("Steps to Parnassus"), a text on composition that Fux published in 1725. C.P.E. Bach, the most prolific son of Johann Sebastian Bach, was known for spicing up classical style with quirky figures and unexpected outbursts, a practice that Haydn adopted to even more memorable effect.

Freeman led animated readings of the three early classical pieces. Violinist Karen Johnson, cellist Neal Cary, double-bassist Paul Bedell and flutist Mary Boodell reveled in their cameos; the extended duet by Johnson and Cary in the Haydn symphony’s operatic adagio was especially satisfying. The orchestra's string sections made fine work of their quick-time figures.

Early classical music, however, does not sell itself. Played "straight," it trundles along agreeably and, mostly, forgettably. To make a real impression, it needs interpretive intervention – sharp accenting, dramatic crescendos, high contrast between loudness and quiet, assertive pathos in minor keys – practices that composers of the time didn’t write into their scores because they assumed that performers would employ them. Freeman and the orchestra, playing these pieces as they lay on the page, did not project them convincingly.

They might have taken a cue from the work on the other half of the program: Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, perhaps the clearest echo of 18th-century style and expressive techniques that the composer (a onetime student of Haydn) produced in maturity. The dynamism and dramatic punch that were missing in the Haydn, Bach and Fux came surging out of the Beethoven.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Sept. 23 at Blackwell Auditorium, Randolph-Macon College, 205 Henry St. in Ashland. Tickets: $25. Information: (804) 788-1212; www.richmondsymphony.com

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Soothing souls of unsavage beasts

Elephants are calmer after listening to classical music, British researchers find:


Cats, not so easily pacified, insist on lap time, I find.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Virginia Opera pares budget

The Virginia Opera is cutting its 2008-09 operating budget from $5.3 million to $4.8 million in response to decreased revenue during the economic downturn. The Norfolk-based company, which also stages its productions in Richmond and Fairfax, had already trimmed this season's budget from the 2007-08 level of $5.8 million.

The opera company is reducing general operating expenses, reconfiguring some educational programs and adjusting its rehearsal schedules, said Gus Stuhlreyer, its general director and CEO. “While the show must go on, it would be irresponsible of us to pretend we can conduct business as usual,” he said in a prepared statement.

Noting that this season's opening production, Verdi's "Il Trovatore," drew larger audiences but earned less revenue than the 2007-08 opener, Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann," Stuhlreyer said that many patrons "are choosing seats in lower-priced sections . . . and we have to adjust for that.”

Earlier this month, the Virginia Opera announced a 2009-10 season with four performances at Norfolk's Harrison Opera House, down from five in previous seasons. The company will continue with two performances in Richmond – returning to the Carpenter Theatre (formerly the Carpenter Center) in the new Richmond CenterStage complex after five seasons at the Landmark Theater – and two performances at George Mason University's Center for the Arts in Fairfax.

Virginia Symphony still in the red

Two months after reporting a $1.5 million deficit, Hampton Roads' Virginia Symphony has begun cutting concerts and otherwise trimming its $6.5 million budget. "We haven't received any major new gifts that have moved us forward," F. Blair Wimbush, the orchestra's board chairman, told The Daily Press of Newport News:


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Review: Richmond Symphony

Steven Smith conducting
Nov. 15, First Baptist Church

Samuel Barber and Igor Stravinsky are not names commonly associated with "ancient music," but the ears don’t lie: Barber, the American neoromantic, concluded his "Second Essay for Orchestra" with a clear echo of old English modal hymnody; and Stravinsky, the Russian neoclassicist, filled his "Symphony of Psalms" with resonations from the oldest liturgical chants.

Steven Smith, the third of nine candidates for music director to audition to conduct Masterworks concerts with the Richmond Symphony, brought out the antique qualities of the Barber and Stravinsky while clearly etching the harmonic modernism of these works (dating from 1942 and 1930, respectively) and italicizing their woodwind writing, where much of their instrumental discourse occurs.

Smith brought a comparable focus to Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, exposing far more of the work’s inner lines in brass and low strings than one normally hears in this work.

The Stravinsky is the most challenging piece of the program, both musically and logistically. Its orchestration omits violins, violas and clarinets, compensating with oversized complements of flutes, oboes, bassoons and trumpets; about a dozen of the instrumentalists in these performances are freelancers supplementing the orchestra’s regular roster of musicians.

In the concert at First Baptist Church, the Richmond Symphony Chorus was split in two and sang from balconies on either side of the orchestra. This division and elevation of the chorus gives it a hovering quality in any music, and Stravinsky’s more finely grained choral sound compounded that effect.

Smith generally maintained appropriate balances between chorus and orchestra. The choristers, prepared by Erin Freeman, chanted solidly and produced more rarified tonalities quite strikingly. The orchestra’s wind sections sounded unrefined, at times tentative – not surprising among musicians who don’t regularly perform with one another, taking on a piece that really requires an ensemble of solo-quality wind players playing chamber music within an orchestration.

The conductor obtained more satisfying results in the Barber’s active and often intricate wind passages, concentrated in the essay’s central section. The symphony strings were robustly lyrical in the opening section’s main theme (a cousin of Barber’s famous Adagio), and the full ensemble made nobly sonorous work of the hymn-like finale.

Schubert’s Ninth, the "Great C major," is one of the prime examples of this composer writing at "heavenly length." Clocking in at about 50 minutes, this symphony can seem even longer thanks to the composer’s repetition and very methodical development of themes. The variety in Schubert’s orchestral writing lies deep in its innards, in flourishes and echo effects that only a very attentive conductor will expose.

Smith, happily, is such a conductor. Although he chose fairly moderate tempos, the performance did not turn into a laborious read through long paragraphs. Judicious phrasing, attention to dynamics and emphasis on internal details, especially in ornamentation of wind and brass figures, kept the performance moving and kept it from too obviously retracing the same steps.

French horn player Paul LaFollette, oboist Gustav Highstein and clarinetist Ralph Skiano were solo voices of distinction.

The program repeats at 8 p.m. Nov. 17 at St. Michael Catholic Church, 4491 Springfield Road in Glen Allen. Tickets: $28. Details: (804) 788-1212; www.richmondsymphony.com That concert will be broadcast live on WCVE (88.9 FM).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Beethoven's new best friends

Norman Lebrecht reports on a survey by the German Orchestral Association, which identified "561 professional orchestras in the world, working 31 weeks a year with enough players for a Beethoven Fifth." Of those, 133 were in Germany, 50 in the United States. Ranking third, with 43 ensembles currently performing and six more being organized, was China:


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Virginia Opera 2009-10

In its 35th season, the Virginia Opera will stage productions of Puccini's "La Bohème," Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment," Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and the Gershwins' "Porgy and Bess."

Opening nights at Norfolk's Harrison Opera House will move to Saturdays, and the company will reduce its Norfolk runs from five to four performances. Richmond performances on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons will return to the Carpenter Theatre (formerly Carpenter Center) in the new downtown Richmond CenterStage complex. Northern Virginia performances, also on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, will continue at the Center for the Arts, George Mason University, in Fairfax.

The Virginia Opera's 2009-10 performance dates:

* "La Bohème" – Oct. 3, 7, 9 and 11 in Norfolk; Oct. 16 and 18 in Fairfax; Oct. 23 and 25 in Richmond.

* "The Daughter of the Regiment" – Nov. 14, 18, 20 and 22 in Norfolk; Nov. 27 and 29 in Richmond; Dec. 4 and 6 in Fairfax.

* "Don Giovanni" – Feb. 13, 17, 19 and 21 in Norfolk; Feb. 26 and 28 in Fairfax; March 5 and 7 in Richmond.

* "Porgy and Bess" – April 10, 14, 16 and 18 in Norfolk; April 23 and 25 in Fairfax; April 30 and May in Richmond.

Casting for the productions will be announced later.

Subscriptions for next neason are available to Norfolk and Richmond patrons by calling (866) 673-7282, and to Fairfax patrons by calling (703) 993-2787. Subscription rates will rise after Dec. 1.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Symphony Chorus auditions

The Richmond Symphony Chorus will audition prospective members from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Dec. 16. Candidates must submit applications by Nov. 21.

To request an application, call (804) 788-4717, Ext. 109. Details: www.richmondsymphony.com

The chorus rehearses from 7:30-10 p.m. Tuesdays at Grace Baptist Church.

Monday, November 10, 2008

No 'Ring' in D.C.

The economic downturn has claimed its first high-profile victim in this region's arts scene: The Washington National Opera indefinitely postpones staging Wagner's "Ring" cycle, which was to have highlighted its 2009-10 season, The Washington Post reports:


Multimedia Berlioz

The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini reviews "The Damnation of Faust," Hector Berlioz's "dramatic legend," in Robert Lepage's new high-tech production at the Metropolitan Opera:


Martin Bernheimer's review in The Financial Times:


A high-definition video of the production will be screened at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Regal Virginia Center Cinema in Glen Allen. Tickets: $18. Details: (804) 261-4994; http://www.fandango.com/regalvirginiacenter20_aaepq/theaterpage?date=12/3/2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mortier bails out

Gerard Mortier has quit before staging his first production as general director of the New York City Opera, dissatisfied with a $36 million annual budget for the financially strapped institution.

“I cannot go to run a company that has less than the smallest company in France. You don't need me for that," Mortier tells Daniel J. Wakin of The New York Times:


George Manahan, the former Richmond Symphony music director, now in his 12th year as the City Opera's music director, was to have been a key figure in Mortier's planned emphasis on modern and contemporary operas.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Review: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

with Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Tõnu Kaljuste conducting
Nov. 3, University of Richmond

Opening their current North American tour, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra divided their program between works of two Estonia's most prominent composers, Arvo Pärt and Toivo Tulev, and Vivaldi's "Beatus vir" for double choir and two orchestras.

Tulev's "Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!" (2006), an a cappella choral piece, balances soprano calls and lower-register responses from the full ensemble. A chant-like theme runs interference through spiky harmonies that seem to shade the rejoicing with spiritual ambivalence. Although the piece has been in this choir's repertory for two years, this performance sounded tentative, with stray patches of ragged ensemble.

The choir and orchestra followed the Tulev with three pieces by Pärt, in which the chorus and orchestra sounded audibly well-versed.

"Ein Waldfahrtslied" ("Pilgrims' Song") is a setting of Psalm 121 ("I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help") that echoes Schubert in an ominously rustic orchestration. The chorus sings monotonally, but expressively.

"L'abbé Agathon," the tale of an abbot tested by the Angel of the Lord disguised as a roadside leper, has been enlarged from its original setting for soprano and eight cellos to an orchestrated piece with soprano and baritone soloists (portraying the leper and abbot) and a narrating chorus. The orchestration calls for largely vibrato-free strings, often sounding like an antique consort of viols.

"Da pacem Domine," one of Pärt's shorter and more accessible liturgical works, is slow-motion steady state music with traditionally "churchy" harmonies voiced in long-note sighs by chorus and orchestra.

"Beatus vir" is one of Vivaldi's most brilliant church compositions, full of swirling, fast-paced figures and exuberant vocal writing. Kaljuste led a brisk and strongly accented performance, nicely balanced among the four sections of singers and instrumentalists.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thriving after surviving

Soprano Dawn Upshaw dives back into the challenges and rewards of contemporary music, following a year of treatment for breast cancer that she describes as "interesting and great and rotten and all of the above”: