Monday, May 29, 2017

Letter V Classical Radio this week

May 31
noon-3 p.m. EDT
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Ravel: “Menuet antique”
Berlin Philharmonic/Pierre Boulez
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Johann Bernhard Bach:
Overture-Suite No. 1
in G minor
Bach Concentus/
Ewald Demeyere

for violin and piano
Viktoria Mullova, violin
Bruno Canino, piano

Quartet in C major,
Op. 59, No. 2 (“Razumovsky”)
Miró Quartet
(Miró Quartet Media)

John Adams:
“Absolute Jest”
St. Lawrence
String Quartet
San Francisco
Symphony Orchestra/
Michael Tilson Thomas
(SFS Media)

Dvořák: “Scherzo capriccioso”
Cleveland Orchestra/
Christoph von Dohnányi

Piano Concerto in D major
Joanna MacGregor, piano
English Chamber Orchestra/
Stuart Bedford

Past Masters:
Rossini: “La gazza ladra” Overture
Royal Philharmonic/Colin Davis
(recorded 1961)
(EMI Classics)

Saturday, May 27, 2017


May 26, Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Considering that the 17th century was one of the key periods of transition in Western art music – a time when Renaissance style evolved into baroque style, when the violin family began to supplant viols (alongside innovations in winds and keyboards), when secular instrumental compositions began to rise to parity with vocal works – the music of that century is essentially a black hole for most listeners.

Quick: Name a prominent composer of the 1600s whose music is heard regularly. If the only names that spring to mind are Henry Purcell and Johann Pachelbel, and the only titles are a trumpet voluntary that Purcell didn’t write and Pachelbel’s Canon, you’re a pretty mainstream classical music listener.

It’s safe to assume that the composers represented in a program by the baroque ensemble ACRONYM, making its Richmond debut at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, were unknown to most everyone in the audience. Edwin Huizinga, the lead violinist of this 12-member ensemble of strings with keyboards (harpsichord and portative organ), said the group has quite likely given the US premieres of much of the music in this concert and on the group’s recordings.

The program, titled “From Venice to Vienna,” sampled the works of three generations of composers who took the style of Giovanni Gabrieli, leading light of the Venetian School, and developed it into a template, or rough draft, of the mature baroque style.

The composers were employed in the courts of the Habsburg Archduke, later Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, first in Graz, later in Vienna, and of his successor, Ferdinand III. These monarchs, whose reigns saw the rise of Protestantism under Martin Luther and John Calvin, the resulting Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Thirty Years War and the Ottoman Turks’ second Siege of Vienna, must have needed all the musical diversion they could get.

Pieces by Giovanni Priuli and Giovanni Valentini, both pupils of Gabrieli, sounded like instrumental echoes of their teacher’s vocal church music, although some of the harmonic leaps of Valentini’s Sonata à 4 (“Enharmonic”) would have knocked mitres askew at San Marco.

Pieces from the next generation, by Antonio Bertali and Alessandro Poglietti, pre-echo the binary slow-fast sonata form perfected in the 18th century by Domenico Scarlatti in his hundreds of keyboard sonatas. By the third generation, of figures such as Johann Rosenmüller, Adam Drese and Johann Christoph Pezel, there are clear intimations, in form and instrumental voicings, of Vivaldi, Telemann and other masters of the high baroque. (And in Clemens Thieme’s Sonata à 8 in C major, a serviceable alternative to the Pachelbel Canon.)

ACRONYM, whose name is an acronym for Albino-Squirrel Consort Radiating from Oberlin to New York, Mostly (i.e., the musicians are alumni of Oberlin College & Conservatory, which in 2014 chose an albino squirrel as its mascot, and are now mostly based in New York), translates its sense of fun in nomenclature to its music-making.

I’ve rarely seen musicians playing with such deep grounding in musicology and instrumental technique display as much spontaneity and delight in performing. If I had seen them without hearing them, I might have thought I was looking at an exotically instrumented string band at a hoedown.

Several appeared to savor their ornate surroundings, too, gazing up at the cathedral’s Italianate baroque arches and dome as they played.

The violinists exploited the resonance of the space in these pieces’ many long, tapered notes and sudden dynamic shifts. The cellist and viol players coped with an acoustic that reflected softer, more woodsy tones in dense, woolly clusters of sound.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Spare Air this weekend

The Atlantic Crossing of songs and dances, from England, Scotland and Ireland to America.

May 28
7-9 p.m. EDT
2300-0100 GMT/UTC
WDCE-FM, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

trad. English: “Greensleeves to a Ground”
Jordi Savall, viol
Hesperion XXI

trad. Anglo-Appalachian:
“Fair Margaret and Sweet William” (Child No. 74)
“Lord Bateman” (Child No. 54)
Custer LaRue, vocalist
Mary Anne Ballard, viol
Mark Cudek, cittern
Ronn McFarlane, lute

trad. English:
“Nottamun Town”
trad. Anglo-Appalachian:
“The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night”
Brian Kay, vocalist & dulcimer
Amanda Powell, vocalist
Apollo’s Fire/Jeannette Sorrell

Turlough O’Carolan:
“Carolan’s Rambles to Teague”
“Fairy Queen”
“I Am Asleep”
“Bridget Cruise”
“Carolan’s Dream”
“I Am Asleep and Don’t Waken Me”
Caitriona O’Leary, vocalist
The Harp Consort/
Andrew Lawrence-King
(Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)

trad. Scottish:
“Scots, Wha Ha’e”/
“Bruce’s Address”/
“Saw You My Hero”
William Hite, vocalist
Boston Camerata/Joel Cohen

trad. Irish/Scottish:
“Farewell to Ireland”/“Highlander’s Farewell”
Susanna Perry Gilmore, fiddle
Apollo’s Fire/Jeannette Sorrell

trad. Scottish-American: “Scotland”
William Hite & Joel Fredericksen, vocalists
Boston Camerata/Joel Cohen

anon.: “God Save the Queen”
(arrangement by Benjamin Britten)
Chorus of East Anglian Choirs
English Chamber Orchestra/
Benjamin Britten

anon. American:
“The Rights of Women”
Margaret Swanson, vocalist
Harvard University Choir
Boston Camerata/
Joel Cohen

John Stafford Smith:
“The Anacreontic Song”
The Hilliard Ensemble/Paul Hillier
(Harmonia Mundi)

Smith: “The Star Spangled Banner”
(19th century arrangement)
Empire Brass Quintet
(Musical Heritage Society)

Henry Clay Work:
“The Ship That Never Returned”
Maybelle Carter, vocalist
The Carter Family

David G. George:
“The Wreck of the Old 97”
Lester Flatt,
vocalist & guitar
Earl Scruggs,
The Foggy Mountain Boys

Work-Jacqueline Steiner & Bess Lomax Hawes: “M.T.A.” (“The Man Who Never Returned”)
Kingston Trio

Stephen Foster: “O Susanna!”
trad. Irish: “Pretty Peg”/“Far from Home”
Brian Kay & Ross Hauck, vocalists
Susanna Perry Gilmore, fiddle
Apollo’s Fire/
Jeannette Sorrell

“Rodeo” – “Hoedown”
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/
David Zinman

trad. Appalachian:
“Pretty Betty Martin”/
“Katy Did”/“Red Rockin’ Chair”
Tina Bergmann, vocalist & hammered dulcimer
Amanda Powell, vocalist
Apollo’s Fire/Jeannette Sorrell

Stephen Foster:
“Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”
“Hard Times Come Again No More”
Thomas Hampson, vocalist
Jay Ungar, violin
Molly Mason, guitar
David Alpher, piano

trad. Scottish-Sorrell: “Sugarloaf Mountain”
Apollo’s Fire/Jeannette Sorrell

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Symphony gets $500k challenge grant

The Richmond Symphony has received a $500,000 grant from the Cabell Foundation, contingent on the symphony raising a matching sum in new and increased donations over the next 12 months.

The one-to-one grant from the Cabell Foundation, a longtime supporter of the orchestra, “gives the symphony a powerful tool to leverage new and increased funding from those who wish to support our growing commitment to artistic excellence and the Richmond community,” said David Fisk, executive director of the symphony.

Upon completion of the challenge, the foundation will give $500,000 to the Richmond Symphony Foundation, increasing the Cabell Fund for Artistic Excellence to $1 million. The fund supports recruitment and retention of musicians and administrators.

The matched funds the symphony raises will help support projects in its 60th anniversary 2017-18 season and initiatives and programs associated with the orchestra’s 2020 Strategic Plan.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Letter V Classical Radio this week

Sampling new and recent recordings of piano music, with works by Chopin, Schubert, Bach, Mozart, Enescu and Ginastera.

May 24
noon-3 p.m. EDT
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Chopin: “Fantasy on Polish Airs,” Op. 13
Jan Lisiecki, piano
NDR Elbphilharmonie/Krysztof Urbański
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Enescu: Suite No. 2, Op. 10
Charles Richard Hamelin, piano

in A flat major, Op. 61
Maurizio Pollini, piano
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Impromptu in F minor, D. 935, No. 1
Shai Wosner, piano

Sonata in A major, D. 959
Jorge Federico Osorio,

Impromptu in F minor,
D. 935, No. 4
Shai Wosner, piano

J.S. Bach: “French Suite” No. 5 in G major, BWV 816
Murray Perahia, piano
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Piano Concerto No. 21
in C major, K. 467
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Havana Lyceum Orchestra/
José Antonio
Méndez Pardón
(Sony Classical)

“Danzas Argentinas,” Op. 2
Tania Stavreva, piano

Friday, May 19, 2017

Spare Air this weekend

Meandering from the medieval to the modern, from central and eastern Europe to Britain and America . . . 

May 21
7-9 p.m. EDT
2300-0100 GMT/UTC
WDCE-FM, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Orff: “Carmina burana” – “O Fortuna”
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/
Robert Shaw

anon. (13th century):
“Carmina burana” –
“O Fortuna”
Boston Camerata/
Joel Cohen

anon. (14th century):
“Stella splendens”
Hesperion XX/
Jordi Savall

anon. (13th century):
“La quarte Estampie Royal”
Hesperion XXI/
Jordi Savall

Neidhart von Reuental: “Meie din liechter schin”
Hermann Oswald, vocalist
Ensemble Unicorn

“ ‘Carmina burana’ Fantasy”
Sandy Bull, banjo

anon. (14th century):
“Cantio Prima declinatio”
Schola Gregoriana Pragensis/David Eben

Jan Jirásek: “Missa Propria”
Boni Pueri Boys Choir/
Jiří Skopal

anon.: 2 Bulgarian chants
Ensemble Bulgarika (Catalyst)

(Collection Uhrovska, 1730):
“Praambulum I”
“Visel som”
“Ach ma myla”
C 298
“Ksobassu Nota”
(arrangements by
Matthias Maute)
Ensemble Caprice/
Matthias Maute

Concerto in E minor, TV 52:1
Matthias Maute &
Sophie Larivère, recorders
Ensemble Caprice/Matthias Maute

anon. (19th century):
“Cili’s Kale Bazingns”
“Bughici’s Tish Nign”
“Gut Morgn”
“Unzer Toyrele”
Cili Schwartz, vocalist
(Koch International Classics)

David Lang:
“World to Come”
Maya Beiser, cello
(Koch International Classics)

Charlottesville Symphony taps Rous

Benjamin Rous, who has served as resident conductor of the Virginia Symphony since 2010, has been named music director of the Charlottesville Symphony at the University of Virginia.

He succeeds Kate Tamarkin, who retired this season after 11 years with the ensemble.

Rous, who is a violinist, violist and keyboard player, was guest principal second violinist of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, working under the direction of Claudio Abbado and Daniel Harding, and performed with the Arcturus Chamber Ensemble in the Boston area. He has guest-conducted a number of orchestras, including the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, the Buffalo Philharmonic and the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa. He is the faculty conductor of the Greenwood Music Camp in Massachusetts.

With the Virginia Symphony, Rous has conducted pops and young people’s concerts as well as programs in the Hampton Roads orchestra’s classical series.

A graduate of Harvard University and the University of Michigan, Rous will join the University of Virginia music faculty as he takes over the Charlottesville orchestra.

Highbrows duke it out

Nadia Sirota plays referee in “New Music Fight Club,” a look back at the conflict between academic serialists and the then-young rebels of the 1970s and ’80s – among them, her father, Robert Sirota – in the Meet the Composer series on Q2, an online podcast from New York’s WQXR radio:


Monday, May 15, 2017

Letter V Classical Radio this week

Exploring classical style as it flowered in the late 18th century, a couple of familiar works – Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” Haydn’s Symphony No. 102 – and an assortment of discoveries, including one of the most unusual pieces of the period, Paul Wranitzky’s “Grande Symphonie charactéristique,” a musical play-by-play of the French Revolution and the outbreak of the Revolutionary Wars.

May 17
noon-3 p.m. EDT
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Josef Mysliveček:
Overture No. 2 in A major
Concerto Köln/
Werner Ehrhardt
(DG Archiv)

Thomas Linley Jr.:
Violin Concerto in F major
Mirijam Contzen, violin
Bavarian Chamber Philharmonia/
Reinhard Goebel
(Oehms Classics)

Serenade in G major, K. 525
(“Eine kleine Nachtmusik”)
Die Kölner Akademie/
Michael Alexander Willens

William Herschel:
Symphony No. 2
in D major
London Mozart Players/
Matthias Bamert

C.P.E. Bach:
Cello Concerto in A minor, Wq 170
Peter Bruns, cello
Akademie für alte Musik Berlin/Stefan Mai
(Harmonia Mundi)

Symphony No. 102
in B flat major
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/
Marc Minkowski

Józef Elsner:
“Sultan Vampum” Overture
Opole Philharmonic/
Bogusław Dawidow

Pedro Étienne Solère:
“Concerto espagnol” in B flat major
Dieter Klöcker, clarinet
Prague Chamber Orchestra/
Milan Lajcík

Paul Wranitzky:
“Grande Symphonie charactéristique”
in C minor
(“On the Peace with
the French Republic”)
NDR Radio Philharmonic/Paul Griffiths

Indiana orchestra taps Hymes

Janna Hymes, music director of the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra, has been named music director of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, an Indiana ensemble of professional and volunteer musicians. She was among 130 applicants for the job.

Hymes, who has led the Williamsburg orchestra since 2004, also is music director of the Maine Pro Musica Orchestra, which she founded in 2008. She formerly was music director of the Maine Grand Opera, associate conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and resident conductor of the Charlotte Symphony.

As she takes over in Canton, Hymes will continue in her Williamsburg and Maine posts. Last year she renewed her contract in Williamsburg through the 2018-19 season, the orchestra’s 35th. A number of the Williamsburg Symphony’s musicians also are members of the Richmond Symphony.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Richmond Symphony reviewed

My review for the Richmond Times-Dispatch of the Richmond Symphony’s final Masterworks series concert of the season, a program of Brahms, Elgar and John Knowles Paine with cellist Gary Hoffman as guest soloist:

Spare Air: a radio tryout

During the University of Richmond’s summer break, WDCE-FM has some spare air, two hours of which I propose to fill with a different take on classical radio programming – some contemporary or “alt-classical” pieces, some early music, some folk and traditional music, some music that defies classification. This evening we’ll see how it works. After that . . .
stay tuned.

May 14
7-9 p.m. EDT
2300-0100 GMT/UTC
WDCE-FM, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

A. Marcus Cagle: “Soar Away”
Word of Mouth Chorus

Caroline Shaw:
“Partita for 8 Voices”
Roomful of Teeth
(New Amsterdam)

Elder Duncan Dumas: “White”
Word of Mouth Chorus

anon.:“My heartly service”
Custer LaRue, vocalist
Baltimore Consort

Bryce Dessner:
“Murder Ballades”
eighth blackbird

Tomaso Antonio Vitali: Chaconne in G minor
Jessica Lee, violin
Reiko Uchida, piano

Antonio Bertali: Sonata à 3
Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/
Jan Willem de Vriend
(Challenge Classics)

Arcangelo Corelli:
Sonata in D minor,
Op. 5, No. 12 (“Follia”)
– Adagio
“Folia Variations” for solo harp
2 improvisations
on the Folia bass
Stephen Stubbs,
baroque guitar & chittarone
Milos Valent, violin
Erin Headley, viola da gamba
Maxine Eilander, harp

“My Johnny Was a Shoemaker”
“Westron Wynde”
“Scarborough Fair”
John Renbourn, guitar
Don Harper, viola
Tony Roberts, flute

Moondog (Louis Hardin): “Gygg”
Moondog & ensemble
(Roof Records)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Grazing the classics

One of the standard-issue explanations for the decline/impending doom of classical music is that in recent generations attention spans and tolerance for complexity have been in decline, and have fallen off the cliff among young people (not to mention, ahem, some adults) in the 140-character age of social media.

Alan Davey, controller (i.e., general manager) of BBC3, the network’s classical radio service, begs to differ:

“Young people’s brains aren’t experiencing a backward evolution. Their ability to articulate points of rhythm, melody and the flow of words in musical genres they have made or developed themselves prove that, as human beings, our urge for musical expression and facility lies deep. Young people are not afraid of things that need to be worked through. Complexity, curiosity and adventure is the new counter-culture,” Davey writes for The Guardian:


After three years working among college students at WDCE-FM, the University of Richmond’s radio station, and sampling what this admittedly high-end slice of the under-25 population listens to, I agree with Davey, but with reservations and qualifiers – some of which he implicitly acknowledges in the examples he uses to support his argument.

Young people are not alienated by classical music – the very young, in fact, are as receptive to it as to any other music, as their tastes have not been overly affected by peer pressure and commercial signals.

Many young adults, I’ve found, have a good deal of curiosity about this genre, but their curiosity doesn’t lead them along the traditional music-appreciation path. Many start with a contemporary composer, contemporary specialty ensemble or rock musician influenced by classical music, and listen their way “backward” into the standard repertory – Reich to Bach, not the other way around.

As with most aspects of contemporary culture, context and branding counts for as much as content – arguably more. This is why so many classical musicians and presenters are staging concerts in nightclubs, brew-pubs and other settings in which younger audiences feel more at home than they would sitting silently in the dark in a concert hall. And performers are tailoring what and how they perform to these new venues.

For years I’ve observed, here and elsewhere, that there’s really no telling anymore what people listen to. The old indices of listener preference – sales charts of recordings, ratings of radio stations, what record companies choose to release and promote – are increasingly irrelevant when more and more people program “their” music via services such as Spotify and websites such as YouTube, whose range of musical choices is more or less unlimited and often not neatly segmented by format.

It’s instructive to read the comments on any given classical selection on YouTube. Like as not, they’ll range from “the definitive recording of this piece is from Sviatoslav Richter’s 1957 Prague recital” to

The younger you are, the more likely you are to be a grazing listener, sampling all kinds of music – including, yes, classical music.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Symphony receives innovation grant

The Richmond Symphony is one of 21 US orchestras to receive grants from the American Orchestras’ Future Fund, awarded by the League of American Orchestras with support from the Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation.

The two-year grants to large and medium-sized orchestras mostly support educational programs and innovative efforts to attract new audiences and perform outside traditional concert spaces and formats.

The Richmond Symphony was awarded an $80,000 grant to support community outreach and audience-building initiatives, including its Big Tent outdoor concerts and VIBE after-school music program. The orchestra’s grant application also cited its Rush Hour casual mini-concerts at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Casual Fridays talks and performances at Dominion Arts Center.

The orchestras receiving funds “were chosen for their ability to influence a positive future for the art form. They are making significant and exciting investments in organizational learning and innovation,” Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, said in a statement announcing the grants.

David Fisk, the Richmond Symphony’s executive director, credited supporters of the initiatives for which it received the grant, including the City of Richmond, Richmond Public Schools, Hardywood, Bon Secours and other business, foundation and individual donors.

The $4.5 million American Orchestras’ Future Fund will make a second round of two-year grants next year.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Letter V Classical Radio this week

May 10
noon-3 p.m. EDT
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Sibelius: “Finlandia”
YL Male Voice Choir
Minnesota Orchestra/
Osmo Vänskä

Serenade for strings
in E major, Op. 22
Daniel Myssyk

Introduction and Allegro appassionato, Op. 92
Jan Lisiecki, piano
Orchestra dell’Accademia
Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/
Antonio Pappano
(Deutsche Grammophon)

“Symphonies of
Wind Instruments”
Berlin Philharmonic/
Pierre Boulez
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Serenade in B flat major,
K. 361 (“Gran Partita”)

Past Masters:
Sonata in A minor,
D. 821 (“Arpeggione”)
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Benjamin Britten, piano
(recorded 1968)

Napoléon Henri Reber: Symphony No. 4 in G major
Le Cercle de l’Harmonie/
Jeremie Rohrer

Sunday, May 7, 2017

VCU Rennolds Concerts 2017-18

The Emerson String Quartet will open a pared-down season of four offerings in Virginia Commonwealth University’s 2017-18 Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concerts.

The Emerson, marking its 40th anniversary this year, will perform on Oct. 14.

Other artists booked for the coming season are Leon Fleischer, the eminent American pianist who will be celebrating his 90th birthday next year, and his wife and piano-duo partner, Katherine Jacobson, performing at VCU on Jan. 28; the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, appearing on Feb. 17 during its final US tour; and pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson, whose trio marks its 40th anniversary in 2017, closing the 2017-18 Rennolds series on March 17.

Programs will be announced later.

All concerts will begin at 8 p.m. Saturdays, except for the Fleisher-Jacobson recital at 3 p.m. on a Sunday, in Vlahcevic Concert Hall of VCU’s Singleton Arts Center, Park Avenue at Harrison Street in Richmond’s Fan District.

Subscription ticket packages are $110 for adults, $90 for seniors, VCU employees and members of the VCU Alumni Association. Single tickets will be $35 for adults, $32 for seniors, VCU employees and Alumni Association members.

For ticket orders or more information, call the VCU Music Department box office at (804) 828-6776 or

Review: Miró Quartet

May 6, Virginia Commonwealth University

The finest string quartet I’ve heard in years played the most challenging of Beethoven’s quartets with near-perfect technique and extraordinary intensity in the season finale of VCU’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts.

The Miró Quartet – violinists Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violist John Largess and cellist Joshua Gindele – played Beethoven’s Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131, with a degree of concentration and expressive force that a listener would be lucky to experience once in a lifetime. This was the fifth time I’ve heard the piece performed live; none of the other four came remotely close to this.

What was so special about it?

Technically, the four musicians produced a faultless balance of distinct but thoroughly complementary voices – essential in a work often driven by interplay among solo instruments.

This balance was achieved in part by a nowadays-unconventional placement of instruments: violinists facing each other in front, with the cellist behind the first violin and the violist behind the second violin. This clarified Beethoven’s exchanges between violins, and also gave unusual weight to the full ensemble, as the cello and viola were projecting toward the audience rather than toward the violins, as they would in the usual seating of a string quartet.

It sounded as if the musicians were playing a matched set of instruments. They weren’t, but they were playing with matched ears regarding tone production – rich but not plush, tightly focused in pitch, rather woodsy even at the most brilliant – that proved ideal for the Beethoven, music of epic conception, highly complex construction and, ideally, a measure of sonic grit. (That grit is what eludes most ensembles in the late Beethoven quartets.)

Interpretively, the Miró grasped the complexities and their context in the narrative of this music. Op. 131 is in seven movements, played straight through, with a couple of pregnant pauses; it should sound and feel like an outpouring of overlapping ideas striving toward a single emphatic end. That’s how it came across in this extraordinary performance.

The program’s opening selection, Haydn’s Quartet in D major, Op. 20, No. 4, was an excellent prelude to the Beethoven. Haydn, who invented the classical string quartet, normally produced elegantly tuneful, carefully formatted constructs, not without the quirky touches that enliven his symphonies but with more subtle or tightly controlled quirks.

This early(ish) quartet, from a set of six written in 1772, departs from Haydn’s usual format, most famously in the Hungarian dance that takes the place of the usual third-movement minuet, but more notably in an adagio that sends a minor-key theme through a sequence of elaborations, each led by a single instrument that one-ups its predecessor in expressive intensity. The cumulative effect of this movement pre-echoes what Beethoven made of the somber tune that haunts Op. 131.

The Miró’s treatment of that adagio nicely balanced Haydneseque style with Beethovenian portent.

As a contrasting centerpiece, the group played five of the dozen miniatures that Dvořák arranged for string quartet from “Cypresses,” an early song cycle. (Violist Largess helpfully filled in the unrequited love story behind the work in introductory remarks, and the lyrics of the five songs were printed in the program book, for those whose poetic tolerance extends to mid-19th century romantic yearning-amid-nature verse – mercifully, not necessary for appreciation of the music.)

The Miró found the right tone of voice for the naïve lyricism of the young Dvořák, leavened by the more sophisticated instrumental writing of the mature composer.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Symphony Chorus auditions

The Richmond Symphony Chorus will hold auditions for new members from 6:30-9:30 p.m. May 30 and June 26 at Epiphany Lutheran Church, Monument Avenue at Horsepen Road.

The chorus, directed by Erin Freeman, rehearses weekly on Tuesday evenings from late August through early May at Dominion Arts Center, with additional rehearsals during performance weeks.

In the 2017-18 season, the Symphony Chorus will perform in Mozart’s Mass in C minor in November, Handel’s “Messiah” and the “Let It Snow!” pops concerts in December, Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy” and selections from Undine Smith Moore’s “Scenes from the Life of a Martyr” in February, and a new work by Mason Bates in May. The Bates work also is scheduled to be recorded after the concert.

For information on the audition process and access to preparation materials, call (804) 788-4717 or visit

Virginia Opera 2017-18

Virginia Opera will stage its first productions of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Samson and Delilah” and Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in its 2017-18 season.

The company will continue its survey of Giacomo Puccini’s operas with a production of his only American-themed work, “The Girl of the Golden West.” The season concludes with Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

Rachele Gilmore, a soprano has performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, will make her Virginia Opera debut as Lucia. Others in principal roles include Derek Taylor as Samson, Katharine Goeldner as Delilah, Jill Gardner as Minnie in “The Girl of the Golden West,” Heather Buck as Tytania and Matthew Burns as Bottom, both in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Adam Turner, Virginia Opera’s resident conductor, will lead the Saint-Saëns and Britten, with Andrew Bisantz conducting the Puccini and Ari Pelto conducting the Donizetti.

Productions are staged at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Arts Center in Richmond and the Center for the Arts of George Mason University in Fairfax.

Subscription ticket prices are $64.56-$372.72 in Norfolk, $66.36-$359.80 in Richmond. Subscription prices and information for Fairfax will be announced later.

For more information, call (866) 673-7282 or visit

Performance dates, venues and casting:

Sept. 29, Oct. 1 and 3 (Norfolk)
Oct. 7 and 8 (Fairfax)
Oct. 13 and 15 (Richmond)
Saint-Saëns: “Samson and Delilah”
Adam Turner conducting
Derek Taylor (Samson)
Katharine Goeldner (Delilah)
Michael Chioldi (High Priest)
Paul Curran, stage director
in French, English captions

Nov. 10, 12 and 14 (Norfolk)
Nov. 17 and 19 (Richmond)
Dec. 2 and 3 (Fairfax)
Puccini: “The Girl of the Golden West”
Andrew Bisantz conducting
Jill Gardner (Minnie)
Roger Honeywell (Ramerrez, alias Dick Johnson)
Lillian Groag, stage director
in Italian, English captions

Feb. 9, 11 and 13 (Norfolk)
Feb. 17 and 18 (Fairfax)
Feb. 23 and 25 (Richmond)
Britten: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Adam Turner conducting
Heather Buck (Tytania)
Matthew Burns (Bottom)
David Blalock (Lysander)
Michael Shell, stage director
in English, English captions

March 23, 25 and 27 (Norfolk)
April 7 and 8 (Fairfax)
April 13 and 15 (Richmond) 
Donizetti: “Lucia di Lammermoor”
Ari Pelto conducting
Rachele Gilmore (Lucia)
Joseph Dennis (Edgardo)
Kyle Lang, stage director
in Italian, English captions

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Indiana University taps Wilkins

Thomas Wilkins, a Norfolk native and former associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, has been appointed professor of music (orchestral conducting) at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University.

Wilkins will continue to serve as music director of the Omaha Symphony through the 2021-22 season, after which he will become music director emeritus. He also is principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in Los Angeles and holds the Germeshausen Family and Youth Conductor Chair of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

While conducting in Richmond (1989-94), Wilkins also was on the music faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He subsequently served as resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Florida Orchestra of Tampa Bay. He has guest-conducted many leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, and the Baltimore, Dallas, Houston and Cincinnati symphonies.

Wilkins is a graduate of Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music in Winchester and the New England Conservatory in Boston.

Richmond No. 20 on arts index

Richmond ranks 20th among large metropolitan areas in the US in the 2017 Arts Vibrancy Index Report of Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research.

The report cited Richmond for its concentration of museums, frequency and accessibility of performing arts attractions, and for grassroots and collective arts ventures.

“Richmond scores in the top 10 percent of cities on arts providers, arts dollars and government support,” write the authors of the report, Zannie Giraud Voss and Glenn Voss, with Natalie Crane and Jennifer Armstrong. “It has a unique way of blending classic and contemporary, southern heritage with progressive art
. . . honoring the past but making space for the future.”

The index rates communities on “demand, supply and public support for arts and culture on a per capita basis.” Its ratings take into account the number of artists, arts organizations and culture-related businesses, earned revenue such as ticket sales and admission fees, contributions to non-profit arts groups, compensation of artists and arts groups’ staffs, and state and federal funding of cultural activities.

Richmond, Pittsburgh (No. 16) and Rochester, NY
(No. 19), had fallen out of the large-city top 20 in the previous report, released in 2015. All three are among the communities that, by the index’s metrics, have the most vibrant arts activity and support, those with populations either below 300,000 or between 1 and 3 million. (Greater Richmond’s 2015 population is listed as 1.27 million.)

The only other Virginia localities earning a top-20 listing were those in Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, ranked No. 1 among large metro areas.

The index’s ratings of other large population centers generally considered major cultural hubs: New York City-Jersey City, NJ-White Plains, NY, No. 2; greater San Francisco, No. 3; Nashville, No. 4; Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN, No. 5; Boston, No. 6; Los Angeles, No. 7; the Maryland suburbs of DC, No. 8; Seattle, No. 10; Philadelphia, No. 11; Denver, No. 14; Chicago, No. 15.

The Arts Vibrancy Index Report can be read here:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Letter V Classical Radio this week

May 3
noon-3 p.m. EDT
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Johann Nepomuk Hummel: “Freudenfest” Overture
London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley

Symphony No. 2
in B flat major
Anima Eterna Orchestra/
Jos van Immerseel
(Zig Zag Territories)

Bernhard Molique:
Oboe Concertino
in G minor
Heinz Holliger, oboe
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/
Eliahu Inbal
String Quintet in A major
The Nash Ensemble

Past Masters:
Octet in E flat major, Op. 20
Jascha Heifetz,
Arnold Belnick,
Israel Baker & Joseph Stepansky, violins
William Primrose &
Virginia Majewski, violas
Gregor Piatigorsky & Gabor Rejto, cellos
(recorded 1961)
(RCA Red Seal)

Johann Joachim Quantz:
Flute Concerto No. 3
in G major
Emmanuel Pahud, flute
Kammerakademie Potsdam/
Trevor Pinnock
(Warner Classics)

Trio in C major, Op. 87,
for oboe, clarinet and bassoon
Les Vents Français
(Warner Classics)

Mozart: Symphony No. 27 in G major, K. 199
Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
(L’Oiseau Lyre)