No, I promise I will not overwhelm you with a whole lot of musicological gobbledigook about Tristan and Isolde and The Meaning of Life. This is a consumer alert, not Introduction to Wagner 101. And there won’t be a quiz.

The Metropolitan Opera (aka The Met) opens its season in less than two weeks with a new production of Richard Wagner‘s oh-so-hard-to-pull-off Tristan und Isolde. Unless you are a tried and true Wagnerian you need to be reminded that this is not an operatic walk in the park.  Neither for the singers nor for the listeners.

And, at NEARLY FIVE HOURS RUNNING TIME of which four are just music and one hour is taken up by two thirty minute intermissions THIS OPERA IS NOT FOR THE UNIITIATED.
Which begs the question…

First things first. T & I is so very, very, very difficult to cast that for a while, back in the 80’s and for a period of fifteen or so years the MET pulled it off its schedule. There had been a long list of vocal mishaps, with wannabe Tristans and not-quite-ready-for-the-big-time Isoldes bitting the operatic dust half-way through this grueling operatic triathlon that the whole thing became a futile exercise and an embarrassment.

Well, first look at the running time: four hours (ballpark) of stentorian singing at the top and bottom of the singer’s range, competing against an augmented orchestra that can number close to one hundred players, singing in an opera house that can range on the average upwards of 3,000 seats (the MET has 3,800) in which microphones are considered a criminal offense.

Should I go on?

And then there is that thing called tradition, which in Opera can amount to a curse. Some of us have been going to the opera longer than some of our  readers have been alive. That usually means that along with wonderul memories comes heavy baggage.

I can hardly get into a conversation with opera fans that will not include someone rattling off a long list of who he or she heard back when in the 1950 opening of the Upper Slavovian Opera House. 

And in the case of Wagner and, especially, Wagnerian singers, one will inevitably hear the names of Lauritz Melchior, Set Svanholm, Jon Vickers, Siegfried Jerusalem, Jess Thomas and how they don’t make them like that anymore.

Singing Wagner, especially his killer roles, calls for a huge voice, superhuman stamina and keen intelligence. The intelligence part has to do with knowing how to pace yourself as a singer, when to pull out the stops and when to pull back. Sing at full throttle all the time and trouble looms ahead.

But, lucky us, the MET has found a robust Australian by the name of Stuart Skelton. The singing Aussie has been making a name for himself in the operatic world singing all sorts of impossible Wagnerian parts, after graduating from our very own CCM thirty years ago.

Tristan und Isolde opens the Met season in a new production by Mariusz Treliński in a matter of days and with a top-notch cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme as the doomed lovers, surrounded by bass René Pape as King Marke, Ekaterina Gubanova as Brangäne and Sir Simon Rattle conducting.

The MET season opened this past Monday September 26 and soon opera fans accross the country will be able to sit in comfort, just a few feet away from a movie screen and for a mere $20 watch a show that would set one back several hundreds of dollars if one were lucky enough to find a ticket to the MET in NYC.

And that would not include air fare and hotel and meals in the Big Apple.

Here in Cincinnati you can catch the MET HD presentation of T&I on several movie screens on Saturday October 8 at noon.

Which movie screens? That’s your homework. That and listening to the You Tube links I’ve posted:
1) Stuart Skelton sings the Love Duet  from Tristan und Isolde with soprano Heidi Melton (in English!)
2) Nina Stemme sings the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde

And to bone up on the plot, just google it.

See you at the Opera!

Rafael de Acha





Kimberly and I are going to see THEY WERE YOU

THEY WERE YOU is a musical revue featuring the most memorable songs from the musicals of the song-writing team of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt.

If that doesn’t ring a bell, then try to remember Try To Remember the hit song from Schmidt and Jones’ beloved musical, The Fantasticks, which just happens to have been the longest running musical show in American theatre history.

Come see the show and celebrate Celebration and the fact that the temperature inside CCM’s COHEN STUDIO THEATRE will be nowhere near 110 in the Shade, even when the fabulous cast kicks up their heels…and while you think about it, say to yourself in gratitude for living in Cincinnati with all this arts stuff going on all the time: “My Cup Runneth Over” and, finally, if someone asks you if you are planning to catch one of only FIVE performances at CCM this coming week starting on Wednesday and running through Saturday, be sure to answer I Do, I Do!!!

This production represents the first comprehensive revue ever put together featuring Jones and Schmidt’s work, and after CCM’s Musical Theatre Guru Aubrey Berg is finished with his sure-to-be brilliant staging and choreographer Katie Johannigman has gotten everyone in dancing shape, the show is in the hands of musical director Steve Goers and six phenomenally talented singing-dancing-acting performers: Gabe Wrobel…Emily Fink…Stavros Koumbaros…Aria Braswell…Karl Amundson…Michelle Coben


See you at the show!

Rafael de Acha



And now, just in, from Navona Records (, comes Mi Palpita Il Cor, an elegant new release featuring music by Steffani, Sammartini, Handel, Telemann and Rameau.

This Baroque banquet features the members of the west coast group Musica Pacifica, a renowned ensemble specializing in Baroque music. The five members of the group’ play ancient or replicas of old instruments in their work, and the sound they produce is as authentic as you will ever hear.

The ensemble is led by Judith Linsenberg, who plays the soprano, alto and tenor recorders and the rare voice flute, used nowadays as a substitute for the transverse flute. She is a master of all her instruments and an ideal equal partner in all five of the compositions featured in the album

Elizabeth Blumenstock is the group’s fine violinist, playing in this recording a 1660 Guarnieri. Josh Lee plays the viola da gamba with a fullness not usually associated with this delicate instrument. John Leonti doubles with flexibility on guitar and theorbo. Charles Sherman provides solidly continuous support on the continuo with a double manual harpsichord.

The five musicians are, in a word, superb.

Joining Musica Pacifica, the Canadian soprano Dominique Labelle ( is impressively featured in three cantatas that provide many of the album’s delights. She is first heard in Guardati, o core, a short cantata by the Italian composer, singer, priest and diplomat Agostino Steffani. Labelle sings it very beautifully, with a sure command of the Italian, paying close attention to the subtleties of the text, a bittersweet commentary on the joys and pains of love.

Like other musicians born in Italy long before the unification of that country, Giuseppe Sammartini had to journey abroad to find fame and fortune in 18th century Europe. Settling in England, Sammartini wrote extensively for his primary instrument, the oboe as well as for other woodwind instruments. In his Sonata in B Minor for two instruments, Sammartini uses a free-wheeling four-movement format replete with dance rhythms. The ensemble’s Judith Linsenberg and Elizabeth Blumenstock use their recorder and violin respectively to bring to life the charming composition.

In Handel’s early solo cantata for alto, Mi palpita il cor, Dominique Labelle dives flawlessly into the vocal hurdles of the piece, singing the pastoral text about the perils of love with a light touch that yet never skims over the surface of the composition, instead mining all along for emotional depth.

Georg Phillip Telemann’s Quartet in G Major offers the ensemble’s members countless opportunities to play to the hilt a little collection of dance pieces in the Galant style of the French High Baroque.

Rameau’s cantata Orphée features soprano Labelle in top form, singing idiomatically Rameau’s music and honoring the emotional intricacies in the French text about the legend of Orpheus.

Unlike so many baroque specialists, Labelle sings with a plumy tone, judiciously using vibrato when it best serves the music but never subjecting the listener to the disembodied tone of other early music specialists. Hers is a beautiful full lyric soprano voice and the results of her approach along with the superb accompaniment by Musica Pacifica are most satisfying.

As customary with Navona Records, the engineering is top-notch and the album’s packaging, accompanied by insightful program notes is first class.

Rafael de Acha






I share this personal story to give voice to the unheard stories still to be told of many immigrants fleeing their homelands and coming to our country. I thought this post was appropriate to my blog, Rafael’s Music Notes, even though it is not about music. This real life story is about how I, one of many Cuban immigrants came to this land and how in a small way and with the help of many added a little to the long list of accomplishments of so many others among the people of my country of birth. Let us not close our ears or our doors to others in need of refuge.refugees

A Little Refugee Story

I was 17, alone, with a cardboard suitcase and $5 in my pocket.
There was a Cuban Refugee Center located in the building of the Miami News newspaper, which had generously opened up its lobby to accommodate the overflow of humanity pouring out of the planes that carried hundreds of Cubans coming from the neighboring island week-in, week-out.

I marched into the building and, after standing in line for hours on end, asked a lady behind a desk if I could receive any help. She asked to see my passport and promptly informed me that 17-year old Rafael Jorge de Acha was going to get help from the Cuban Refugee Center.

Without hesitation and, within minutes, I became another item in the long list of Cubans seeking help from Miss Liberty, to whom I gave my poor and tired and huddled self in exchange for a bag that contained tomato soup, rice, black beans, crackers, powdered milk, instant coffee and little else.
The next job was to find a place to live.

A young Cuban fellow with the unlikely name of William Bush ran into me at the Refugee Center. Both being in the same refugee boat that was now beginning to take water, we headed up Biscayne Boulevard in search of a place that we could rent with our collective funds – $10.

The farther up one went, the less safe the area. We walked on, as the afternoon slowly turned into evening and of the few doors that had a Vacancy sign up front many were slammed on our faces the moment our Cuban accents were heard. There were even some NO CUBANS signs on some houses.

A good Samaritan finally turned up – a kindly old lady with a Middle-European accent who offered to take us in, not only for the evening but as permanent (or as permanent as we wanted) residents of a converted garage in the back of a home where the other residents in addition to her and now us were several cats and a couple of overfed dogs. Rent to be paid whenever.

After Bill Bush and I had settled into our newly-found quarters we celebrated our success with a feast of tomato soup, black beans, rice and crackers.

A little while after we had stuffed ourselves there was a knock on the door. Frau Wonder-heart was at our door with a plate of cookies and a quart of milk. All we could do was to bow in gratitude like idiots. We quickly fell asleep.

The following morning we awoke rather late to deal with Reality in CAPS. All we had been allowed to take out of Cuba was $5. Find work or perish was the order of the day. Wearing my best and only nice shirt and pants I set out and down Biscayne in the direction of the Cuban Refugee Center, haven for the lame, the hungry, the halt and the jobless. Miami in those days was a small town suddenly dealing with the influx of thousands of Cubans coming in every week. Jobs were few to be had.

I encountered the same lady behind the same desk only a little worse for wear. She lamely asked if I knew anyone in the United States. “Well, yes, I do”, I hesitantly replied.

During the heady days of 1959 many American students – the liberals and the merely curious – had come to Havana to see for themselves what the miracle of Castro’s revolution had in store. It was then that I met Marty and Muffy Pierce, graduate students at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The Pierces and I had corresponded since we had met in Havana, where I had shown them around. Would they, I wonder, sponsor me to come to Minneapolis?

The Cuban Refugee Center would pay for the trip. One-way. The Center was anxious to relocate all incoming Cubans to wonderful exotic places like North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Idaho. No New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, please. Minneapolis was a stretch. I phoned the Pierces and, yes, they would sponsor me. In February of 1961 I flew with a one-way ticket from Miami to Minneapolis.

And that became my first American home away from home.



Where am I going in the next few weeks?

Not quite in full swing, the arts season is getting off to a lively start, so lively, in fact, that it becomes a challenge to the culture vulture as much as to the casual arts attendee. What should I see this week? What’s out of the ordinary…off the beaten-path…outside the proverbial box?  Or by contrast: what’s up this week that will not make me have to think? Hey, I just want to be entertained! Something light, please!

So many choices…so little time….Whether you are a gourmet or a grazer when it comes to the arts, here’s a sampling of the stuff up ahead, some of which you may want to put on your plate for sampling.

Wagner, Wagner, Wagner

Unlike Dim Sum or Tapas some of the samplers coming our way are pretty large portions.

Like Wagner. If you were going to enter the Indianapolis 500 with the idea of seriously competing to win you wouldn’t drive up to the registration desk in your Toyota.

Same goes for singing Wagner. You need an ATV (all terrains voice) capable of singing for hours on end at both ends of the range and at full throttle, and one that should sound fresh and ready to have a go at it again at the end of operas that on the average can go well past four hours in running time.

When the MET sets out to do a production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, it makes sure it has not one but two dramatic sopranos and two dramatic tenors on tap to sing these two most grueling of all roles of the entire Wagnerian canon. Why two of each? Well, Wagnerian operas tend to cause singers to cancel performances due to vocal fatigue. So, just in case.

The MET has hired two fatigue-proof veterans to star as the ill-fated young lovers. Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, ( who just turned 51) headlines the cast as Isolde and Australian tenor Stuart Skelton (a mere 48) is her Tristan. Surrounding them, the supporting cast includes German megastar bass René Pape as King Marke.

English maestro Sir Simon Rattle will pace six of the eight scheduled performances. Polish stage director Mariusz Trelinski is responsible for the modernistic production which has received acclaim already after being seen in Baden Baden earlier this year.

T & I opens at the MET on September 26, but, unless you can fly there and pay a king’s ransom for a pair of tickets, your best bet is to catch the MET HD presentation on Saturday October 8, starting at noon and running until approximately 5 pm. Here in Cincinnati there are several venues that show those MET presentations. I like the easy to find Cinemark, in Oakley.

And in Cincinnati you can find Wagner at your disposal for a fraction of what you would pay if you had to travel to New York or even to Chicago, where the Chicago Lyric Opera begins a four-opera cycle this year with Das Rheingold, the prologue to Des Ring der Nibelungen.

The Wagner Society of Cincinnati ( co-presents with the Queen City Chamber Opera ( on Friday, October 21 at 8:00 pm and again the following day at 3:00 p.m., the third act of Wagner’s Siegfried, third of the Ring Cycle operas.

Of the four, Siegfried is the most compact, calling for neither chorus nor a Rhine River on stage nor even flying warrior maidens on winged horses. What it does need is five solid singers and a committed conductor to whip up the whole thing into shape. And word has it that the young maestro Isaac Selya has been doing just that with his previous operatic outings. As for the singers, you can sample some of the sounds of the still young and fresh voiced cast on You Tube.

Singing all over Cincinnati

Tuesday September 20 at 8 pm in the Werner recital hall of the College Conservatory of Music, mezzo-soprano Mary Stucky and guitarist/lutenist Rodney Stucky present a program of vocal rarities that includes a brace of songs composed by the great Spanish poet-playwright-musician Federico Garcia Lorca. As with most CCM events this one does not require reservations and will only cost you the amount you pay for parking in the underground garage at CCM. Try that in New York or Chicago.

Wednesday October 5 at 8 pm will take a few of us on a sentimental walk down memory lane when CCM’s future Musical Theatre stars are featured in They Were You a salute to the songs of the team of Schmidt and Jones, creators of the world’s longest running musical, The Fantasticks. The show plays four more performances. Admission is free. Reservations are required. Tickets become available at noon on Monday, Oct. 3. Please call 513-556-4183 to reserve. Limit two tickets per order.


The CSI is not a government agency but an exciting new venture that dedicates itself to the rare art of the Art Song. Led by Samuel Martin, its Founder and Artistic Director, the Cincinnati Song Initiative ( opens its first season at the Weston Gallery on Sunday October 16 at 3:00 pm with a concert featuring the songs of American composers Stephen Foster, Charles Ives, William Grant Still, Undine Moore, Ned Rorem and Libby Larsen. Some of the names may not be familiar to some, but those of Stephen Foster, author of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair and Beautiful Dreamer or African-American composer William Grant Still should be remembered by lovers of American music that refuses the “classical” label.

In the program, sopranos Shareese Arnold and Alexandra Schoeny and tenor Jason Weisinger will be accompanied by Matthew Umphreys and Marie France Lefevbre.

Not full yet? Then be sure to sample two more free events at CCM coming up in the next month. In a school widely rated as one of the top five music schools in the nation, CCM graduates a relatively small number of young professionals in the DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) or in the Artist Diploma programs, and that goes for instrumentalists and singers; when a musician receives a post-graduate degree at the doctoral level you can rest assured that this is a young artist on the brink of a professional career that merits watching.

One of these bright young people under scrutiny is Fotina Naumenko, a spectacularly talented coloratura soprano that recently returned from a year in Russia as a Fulbright scholar. She is presenting the first of her doctoral degree projects on Tuesday October 18 at 6:45 pm at CCM and I would not miss it for the world whatever it is she is singing.

Same goes for the fine lyric tenor Pedro Andre Arroyo, also a doctoral candidate at CCM. His recital on Friday October 28 at 5:00 pm in the intimate Werner Recital Hall will include songs by Schubert and Puerto Rican composers. Always on the go Pedro next steps on stage as a Spanish cad who breaks the soprano’s heart in the Cincinnati Chamber Opera’s production of Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve.

But more about that later, when we look at the arts in November in Cincinnati.

OUR 9-11


Our 9-11

We were about to start the final week of rehearsals of a play by Nilo Cruz at our New Theatre’s new theatre, a converted movie house with a stage no bigger than some people’s living rooms. Rehearsals had been going well, and that Tuesday was the starting point to a push full-speed ahead towards our opening night, scheduled for that Friday. We had just had a 10 ½ hours marathon technical run-through the Sunday before that had gone smoothly and were feeling happy if exhausted. The play, Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams dealt with the reconciliation of an estranged brother and sister who encounter each other in Cuba, after years of exile in the United States.

At around 8:30 that morning the phone rang. It was our Managing Director, who said in a voice that fought back tears: “Turn on the TV!”

We sat in our kitchen watching, transfixed by what was taking place in our country. After a few hours of witnessing or hearing about the horrors of that day, I got in my pickup truck and headed for the theatre, where I had the contact sheet with the names of the cast and production team, hoping to be able to reach them by phone so as to let them know that we would be suspending rehearsals until further notice.

The telephone lines were jammed and email was even worse. I drove back home, and between our managing director and us we managed to get to everyone within the next few hours. Our playwright, who was planning to fly down to Miami for the opening of his play, was the last person we could reach. He was in New York, unable to go anywhere.

I then had to make the decision to either open on Friday or postpone the play’s opening indefinitely. Somehow, in the midst of the surrounding chaos I was reminded of what the English faced during the Blitz of London in World War II and of their courage in the face of possible annihilation: they kept the theatres of London going. If an air raid siren sounded, an unscheduled interval would be taken and the audience and cast and crew would repair to the basement of the theatre or to the nearest Tube station to then resume the play or show, once the all-clear was sounded.

We reconvened the cast and production team that Thursday and had a run-through of the play on the night that would have been our invitational preview just before opening. And open we did, on Friday, with a capacity audience that wanted  to forget for a couple of hours the tragedy that continued to develop outside our theatre’s four walls..

The play’s two central characters had a final scene in which brother and sister again reunited sit in an open field somewhere outside Havana looking at the night sky. The final line of the play was chilling in its unplanned relevance to the week’s events: “When I was a little girl, Mother always told me to beware of planes up in the sky.”

After the line was spoken, the sound of an overflying plane was heard, part of the production’s sound design mapped out weeks before. The stage lights then dimmed slowly. The audience sat in silence for what may have been more than a moment before it broke into applause.

That day I learned something about the healing power of theatre.


owen_meany_2Is he really the Messiah?

A Prayer for Owen Meany, adapted from John Irving’s novel by Simon Bent. At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (  now through October 1, 2016.

Adapted from John Irving’s novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, now on stage at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, is an ambitious theatrical tale about faith, fidelity, friendship, fate and the perils of baseball.

Set in a dystopian small town America in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the play skewers American mores and manners, as the good and the bad of us all are coolly vivisected in this comic drama by English playwright Simon Bent. The play is sardonic, much of its dialogue foul-mouthed and many of its characters recognizable, even if the situations they are placed in are often the stuff of nightmares.

Playwright Bent, inspired by novelist Irving takes swipes at the Kennedy years, the Vietnam War, Catholicism and a host of other national and religious icons. Does it take an Englishman to debunk so much that was phony about small-town US of A in the hopeful 1950’s and the ensuing troubled 1960’s?  Those who read the novel may be able to vouch for the faithfulness of this adaptation to the original, but the story with its twists and turns and its back and forth changes of tone from farcical absurdity to tragic reality is there:  childhood bond becomes a lifelong friendship between two guys, the foursquare John and the…off-kilter Owen, born in a virgin birth in wedlock because his Mom and Dad did not “do it.”

The Playhouse in the Park production seems to still be finding itself (on opening night) with sluggish pacing and technical glitches, but as the show settles into its run, things will surely smooth out.

There’s much to like in this staging, above all the clear overall vision of director Blake Robison. James Kronzer’s dreamscape of a set transforms itself via minimal furniture and prop changes into interiors, basketball courts, cemeteries and a dozen other locales. Mark Barton’s lighting is spotlight-on and lights flatteringly David Kay Mickelsen’s period-perfect costumes. The terrific sound design by Matthew M. Nielson takes the audience on a walk down memory lane with 50’s and 60’s golden oldies.

The play rests squarely on the shoulders of Sean Mellott in the title role and Jeremy Webb as his lifelong friend. Both actors turn out very good performances that smoothly straddle comedy and tragedy. Mellott and Webb and a cast of fourteen other superb actors playing close to thirty named roles keep things moving through well over two hours plus of stage time.

Is Owen Meany, a geek with a funny falsetto for a voice a candidate for a Messianic Second Coming? Well…you’ll have to see the play.

Rafael de Acha





There’s a kid in Cincinnati doing some pretty amazing work. He’s not getting paid for it: not in dollars, anyway, but he is earning the intangible currency that comes to the kindhearted. His name is Adam Sella.

Adam is the President of the Walnut Hills High School STAR.

STAR stands for Students Together Assisting Refugees.

Here’s Adam, in his own words: “My experience as a NSLI-Y scholar in Rabat, Morocco, last summer was a turning point in my life. Apart from learning Arabic and enjoying the Moroccan culture, I met amazing people, from fellow American scholars to local Moroccans. One thing I did not anticipate was that I would become so passionate about helping refugees in my community.”

Adam came home with his mind churning with ideas. He had read about the horrors and deprivation that refugees from other nations have endured. How could he, a high school student help? Adam reached out and at first met with indifference or just plain cluelessness. He pushed on. Adam started a club in his high school (Walnut Hills) and named it STAR: Students Together Assisting Refugees. That’s just the start of what will be a huge thing.

Take 5 minutes and go to to learn more about this extraordinary young man and his initiative to help at the local level a couple of hundred refugee families. The kids in STAR have volunteered as mentor-tutors for refugee children, have organized donation drives, and now have begun to expand their reach. Soon this will be a nation-wide movement.

On October 18th at 7:30 PM in Walnut Hills High School there will be a concert. CSO members Timothy Lees, Kathryn Woolley, Christian Colberg, Ilya Finkelshteyn and Randolph Bowman will donate their services to raise funds for STAR. For $30 ($10 if you are a student) you can listen to beautiful music and help a most worthy enterprise.

If you can’t make the concert but would like to help, email Adam ( and find out where to send your contribution.

Adam Sella. Make a mental note of that name. You will be hearing it again in years to come.

Rafael de Acha


…you want to study…WHAT!?


…you want to study…WHAT!?

From accounting violations to its use of the dangerous herbicide Roundup, a name for the dangerous carcinogenic agent glyphosate, to the embarrassment of CEO Hugh Grant and former CFO Carl Casale having to pay back about $3 million and $700,000 in bonuses, respectively, to its legal battles with farmers involving suits and countersuits, Monsanto is a nasty dying giant that according to many sources will not survive.

But they keep running “feel good” ads: “We work Together Here”…”We Dream Here”…”We grow ideas here”…”Count the Benefits”…”It’s Hard Work Raising 24 million jobs”…”Friendly Soil”…Talk to some of the farmers we know in the small Ohio town where my wife grew up and you’ll hear some not so friendly reactions to those ads that try to sell them on how they – farmers and Monsanto – can work together.

An ad campaign that extols the young man who switched from a career as an actor to a job as a botanist or the young ballerina who ditched out of the life of a ballet dancer and got a nice corporate job as an engineer is just deceitful advertising. Again, like Monsanto above and like so many large corporations, Wells Fargo has been immersed in countless legal troubles. The $16 billion in legal expenses that Wells Fargo has had over the past several years may cost them a lot more than just dollars.

There’s a connection between the two one-paragraph stories above: they’re both about corporate greed and deceitfulness at any cost – usually at the expense of the worker who produces their product – Monsanto’s pesticides – or performs their services – Wells Fargo’s banking, mortgage, investing, credit card, insurance, and financial services. Those services and products depend on us – the consumer – for their success and on the marketing departments to be sold. When there is a bad ad that causes a negative reaction, heads roll, apologies are made but the next day it is back to funny business as usual.

A very well-written article by Steven Pearlstein a Professor of Public Affairs at George Mason University ( ) brilliantly debunks all the myths put forth by my generation (post-Depression Baby Boomers) about job security and why a liberal arts education is a road to nowhere (has anyone not heard Donald Trump go on about that in one of his recent ramblings?)

Mr. Pearlstein offers lots of facts and figures to substantiate his views on why a good liberal arts education is good for anyone in whatever career is their ultimate goal. As he states in very clear terms, one can find as many unemployed or under-employed lawyers and engineers as one will encounter free-lance actors, singers, dancers, writers, painters and directors who now work, now pound the pavement looking for their next gig.

One thing is certain: I have met in a fifty-year career in the arts many happily employed and unemployed artists of all disciplines. The secret is finding your path and doing what you love. Many of our parents and grandparents did not have that chance. Let’s not ruin things for the generation of college-bound young men and women who should have the opportunity to choose what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

Rafael de Acha




September 1, 2015 Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. Eckart Preu, conductor. Joshua Roman, cello.

Tonight’s Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra concert brought its 2016 season to an ending that felt more like a rebirth.

Miguel del Águila’s Conga-Line in Hell is described by its composer as “…the visual image of an endless line of dead people dancing through the fires of hell…humorous, sarcastic, grotesque and terrifying…” Del Águila’s Conga morphs into a handful of driving Latin rhythms only to return to the carnival street dance that gives the composition its title. But ultimately his Conga overstays its welcome and ends up sounding like so much movie music.

In Daníel Bjarnason’s Bow to String a chaotic beginning makes melody struggle to be heard while the upper strings play with no vibrato on their highest registers or else impatiently tap on their instruments with their bows, and all the while the solo cello waits to play a melody as if assuring us that all will be well again. Bow to String is a brief piece that runs approximately five minutes. It was five minutes that felt like all eternity, even in spite of the gorgeous playing of Joshua Roman.

Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite in its chamber orchestra version for thirteen instruments brought to the evening a welcome mood of bucolic serenity and American charm. Even the lively movements of the suite, playfully whimsical in their rhythms were mined for their intrinsic lyricism in what may just be the finest performance of Copland’s composition this reviewer has ever heard. Here Eckart Preu drew sounds from the CCO musicians that have not always been there this season: utterly clear, perfectly pitched, flawlessly articulated – proof that a strong leadership will draw the very best from a very fine group of musicians.

Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 is widely regarded as one of the great concerti for this noblest of instruments: a three-movement composition played without pause, as if in a single-movement. Conceived as a calling card piece for none but the finest of cellists, it opens boldly with the soloist asserting himself on the very first measure and meeting the orchestra head on in an intensely orchestrated Allegro. The music quiets down for a Minuet in which the cello sings a melody redolent of the Classical era. The third and final movement introduces an additional melody that evidences Saint-Saëns inexhaustible inventiveness.

Joshua Roman played the concerto elegantly, boldly and flawlessly, conquering all its technical hurdles without any difficulty. The young cellist is a major artist well on his way to a great career.

To close, the orchestra played Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 in D Major, a work first performed during a visit by the young composer to the French capital. Orchestrated more fully than his other symphonies, this Paris symphony showcased the musicianship and musicality of the CSO musicians.

Eckart Preu is an immensely talented conductor, one capable of moving with ease from the cutting edge sounds of del Águila and Bjarnason to the Americana of Aaron Copland and then on to the Gallic Romanticism of Saint-Saëns and, finally, impress with an exquisite Mozart performance.

This concert concludes the 2016 season by reminding us of how fortunate it is for us to have not one but two great orchestras in our town. But, beyond that, of the two, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra has been reborn into a very fine ensemble, and that is more than cause for celebration.

What lies ahead now is the choice of Music Director for this worthy member organization of the music scene in Cincinnati, one who will lead it into the next chapter of its musical life.

After hearing tonight’s performance I know who my choice would be.

Rafael de Acha