The improbable love affair between movie director Mack Sennet and silent screen diva Mabel Normand is CCM’s Musical Theatre Department’s next foray. The music is by Jerry (Mame, Hello Dolly, Cage aux Folles) Herman, Aubrey Berg directs, the CCM students (remember they are practically professional) sing, act and dance up a storm, and the show is MACK AND MABEL. It is a randy, off-the-beaten-Broadway path, in your face show. It runs at CCM, March 2 through 5. Evenings at 8 p.m. and matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets: $31 and $35 (on Broadway that would set you back three times that much…)

Call 556 4183 to reserve.

Michael Feinstein sings “I Won’t Send Roses” from Jerry Herman’s 1974 Broadway musical “Mack & Mabel.”




Yesterday, from ten in the morning until well past four in the afternoon, 28 young singers competed for five different awards. Along with cash prizes ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 that also carried with them full tuition scholarships, the awards also provide an additional $5,000 given to those singers entering the pre-professional Artist Diploma program.

Three judges sat in the panel that heard each of 28 competitors sing two arias each: the soprano Benita Valente, a Metropolitan Opera star and a highly respected concert artist, was joined by Stephen Lord, Artistic Director of the Michigan Opera Theatre, and Roberto Mauro, Music Director of the Canadian Opera Company. Grateful thanks to them.

At the end of the auditioning process, the judges conferred and proceeded to announce their decision to the participants and some of the audience that stayed to learn the results.

Soprano Nicolette Book won the Corbett Award with I Want Magic from Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Depuis le jour from Charpentier’s Louise.

Soprano Caitlin Gotimer received the Italo Tajo Memorial Award singing two Mozart arias: Come scoglio from Cosi fan tutte and Pamina’s aria from The Magic Flute.

Mezzo-soprano Chelsea Duval-Major was the singer chosen by the panel for the Andrew White Memorial Award. She offered O mio Fernando from Donizetti’s La Favorita and the Letters aria from Massenet’s Werther.

Karis Tucker, a mezzo-soprano earned the Seybold-Russell Award with Parto! Ma tu ben mio from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito and Adalgisa’s Prayer from Bellini’s Norma.

The John Alexander Memorial Award was given to baritone Eric Heatley after a performance of Silvio’s arioso from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and Arlecchino’s serenade from Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three collaborative pianists played for the auditions: Lydia Brown, Marie-France Lefebvre, and Donna Loewy. Heartfelt thanks to all three. Thanks to Robin Guarino for doing all the behind the scenes work that is involved in getting these auditions up and running. Thanks to William McGraw for his elegant handling of the introduction to the proceedings.

Congratulations to the winners and to all of the other participants who made the decision of the judges a challenging one.

And, above all, posthumous thanks to Italo Tajo, to Andrew White, to John Alexander, to Patricia and Ralph Corbett for making their love of music live in perpetuity through these awards.

Thank you to Trude Seybold, who was there today supporting the young talents with her indispensable presence.

Rafael de Acha






Music by John Williams, Gernot Wolfgang, Bruce Broughton, John Mackey, Michael Daugherty.
North Texas Wind Symphony Eugene Migliaro Corporon, Conductor

John Williams’ FOR THE PRESIDENT’S OWN is, in the words of its composer, a “salute” to the Air Force band, of which he was once a member. It is, to these ears, vintage Williams: big, bold and brassy stuff, like a fanfare that extends itself past the conventionally accepted stopping off point though never running out of steam.

Gernot Wolfgang tells three stories in music in his compelling Three Short Stories. The first is a pull out all the stops big band showstopper, appropriately titled Uncle Bebop. The second, Rays of Light musically evokes what happens when random, isolated shafts of light fall upon different things – instruments in this case, that are afforded both solo and small ensemble moments within the larger landscape of the composition. It is a moody, nocturnal, evocative piece that taps the various members of the ensemble to full advantage. Latin Dance is the composer’s third story. It is told in this context bin a full out, hip-swinging mix of salsa and Latin jazz gestures. Wolfgang’s language is essentially tonal but he does not shy away from either melody or dissonance to make his points.

Bruce Broughton invites the listener of In The World of Spirits to imagine “a movie without the screen” in his program-free, energetically-inventive composition, inspired by Native American folklore.  

John Mackey’s The Ringmaster’s March is a deliriously energetic three-minute tour de force that gets one to think wistfully about the pre-Cirque de Soleil, sawdust three-ring wonders of a now long-gone past.

Winter Dreams has within it more than a whiff of exoticism, with its use of moody modal scales and isolated passages of soli for the woodwinds. But the exoticism of this enchanting music is not foreign but rather that of the paintings and lithographs of Grant Wood and their depiction of bleak Iowa winter landscapes depicted in this composition with eerie stillness.

John Mackey states – whether tongue-in-cheek or in earnest – that he writes the music and his wife, Abby titles it. Wine Dark Sea is a literary leitmotif that one finds often repeated in The Odyssey referring to the Aegean that provides the setting for more than one of Homer’s classics. It is an apt title to the episodic tone poem that occupies the last three tracks of Inventions. And due to its inexhaustible inventiveness, Wine Dark Sea never overstays its welcome, even when clocking in at over thirty minutes running time.

The North Texas Wind Symphony is beautifully led by Eugene Migliaro Corporon and excellently recorded here on this GIA CD (1004).

John Williams, Gernot Wolfgang, Bruce Broughton, John Mackey, Michael Daugherty: five American composers from as many generations here explore the challenges of writing for the woodwind ensemble with felicitous results. More please!

Rafael de Acha





Navona Records (NV 6079). Recorded June 20 and 21, 1969 at the Angel Studios in London, UK.

Producer: Kresimir Seletkovic; Engineer: Steve Price

Here’s Moonkyung Lee playing the third movement of the Violin Concerto in D r

Navona Records either surprises the listener by bringing out unusual repertoire – a CD of works for piccolo, for example – or by highlighting young performers on the rise, as is the case with their all-Tchaikovsky CD featuring the enormously talented Korean violinist Moonkyung Lee.

The first track of the album is given to the D Major Violin Concerto – a daunting challenge for any but the most valiant of violinists. I confess not to know whether or not Tchaikovsky indicated any metronome markings on this or any other of his scores, but rather doubt it. One is used to most violinists taking the first and third movements of this concerto at warp speed, even at the risk of loss of clarity and cleanliness of articulation.

Ms. Moonkyung does not fall into any tempo traps, opting instead for a measured approach to the Allegro Moderato of the first movement and the Vivacissimo marking of the third, which allows for graceful transitions in and out of the slower sections that Tchaikovsky positions within each of them. The middle Canzonetta: Andante is taken at a leisurely pace though never a lax one, and the results are satisfying. Ms. Moonkyung  is a sensitive and sensible player that regales the listener with lyrical playing that spares any grandstanding. Yet, when the Big Moments come around, the Korean violinist is ready to deliver the needed fireworks.

The Meditation in D Minor is a midcareer work filled with heartfelt melody and sentiment. It comes from opus 42, titled “Remembrances of a beloved place” Moonkyung Lee gives it an impassioned and delicate rendition. The Bb Melancholy Serenade is perhaps more familiar to more concertgoers. It is, much like the Meditation a one-movement piece with the musculature of a concerto, and in it the Korean violinist excels, giving the CD a lovely closing.

The London Symphony Orchestra, led by Miran Vaupotić provides solid support to Ms. Moonkyung’s world class playing.

May we hope for more from this wonderful artist?

Rafael de Acha





In the facile world or recorded music, ratings, awards and celebrity cult it’s rare to find intelligent thinking and inspired music-making. Anyone who cares for jazz music that transcends self-imposed limits should have a listen at LINES ABOVE, Rick VanMatre’s terrific CD of compositions by himself and Kim Pensyl.

Soulfully played by an ensemble featuring Aaron Jacobs on bass, Tom Buckley on drums, Rusty Burge on vibraphone and both composers, Kim Pensyl on piano and Rick VanMatre on soprano and tenor saxes and wooden flute, the CD is a joy to listen to.

The Summit Records release (DCD608) is cleanly engineered, edited, mixed and mastered by Kim Pensyl at Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music Jazz Recording Studios, classily packaged and produced by both Pensyl and VanMatre, and given enlightened program notes by VanMatre, who finds his inspiration in sources as diverse as the evocative artwork of Anna Socha, Rick’s wife and muse, in Man Ray’s experimental films and artwork and also – based on this CD liner notes – in western and eastern philosophies.

The sound of the ensemble assembled for this recording is flawless. Kim Pensyl’s playing is clear, free-flowing, technically beyond reproach. Rick VanMatre’s command of his three instruments nothing short of impressive, as in Solstice of Another Age, when he switches from wooden flute to sax without effort. Rusty Burge’s work at the vibraphone is virtuosic but always with not himself but the music up front. Tom Buckley’s agile ability on drums allows him to place himself in the background when called for and then rip into a fusillade of rhythms that bring to the mind the playing of Cuban conga players, as happens in Ray’s Return. Aaron Jacobs is rock solid on bass, always providing the foundation for everything happening in all eight tracks and stepping up to the plate with a lyrical solo in Pensyl’s I Had You In Mind.

VanMatre’s compositions occupy the first six of eight tracks on the CD. His creations straddle the worlds of  “classical” music and contemporary jazz, balancing both with seriously strong compositional technique and imagination. Pensyl’s style, on the other hand, as one listens to I Had You In Mind sounds like pure, cool, laid-back, easy-sounding, artfully-written jazz. But then, he turns the corner with Coming Back To Yesterday, a composition that begins with a recitative-like sax solo that then morphs into a race to the finish between Rusty Burge’s vibraphone and the rest of the ensemble. Luckily they meet at the end in the quiet finale of this lovely composition.

Ashes is a somber piece, and it took a great deal of courage to give it the closing track. This is eerie, meditative, contemplative, haunting music. The ensemble gives it a stunning reading. Dedicated to Jadwiga and Tadeusz, the composition is a profound meditation on loss, on cruelty, on rage and on the ultimate cleansing and redemptive power of music.

Rafael de Acha

Lines Above is available from              





IMPROVISATORY MINDS is in a ‘cut to the chase’ description on the CD’s cover, “a collective of composers… (that) present classical concert music informed by a jazz perspective.”  

In nine tracks, composers Ed Neuemeister, Michel Patteson, Bevan Manson, and Dennis Dreith showcase their individual styles in a variety of idioms that straddle concert music and jazz.

Ed Neuemeister’s String Quartet No. 2 is a scherzo that juxtaposes a singing melody in the violin to pizzicato and tremolo figurations from the strings. Neuemeister’s idiom is tonal without obeisance to a fixed key, and his inspiration as wide ranging as Beethoven (of whom we hear a passing hint) and Latin American rhythms. In Olympic Quartet, Neuemeister uses ostinato but never unnecessarily repetitive ensemble figurations alternating with solos for the woodwinds.

Michael Patterson’s Andante Cantabile establishes a tranquil mood in its opening bars: an impassioned duo for piano and violin. There is a hint of underlying turmoil when the dialogue between the two is interrupted by moments of dissonance. Then a slow return to the quiet of the opening brings the hauntingly beautiful piece to its end. Unabashedly romantic at heart, Patterson’s Piano Quintet, Movement 2 is jazzily nocturnal when the piano predominates to the accompaniment of a string quartet. Well into the movement, strings and piano engage in a rhapsodic dialogue where melodic riffs alternate with each other, as if announcing the apex of an evening of love making.

Bevan Manson‘s Switchbacko assigns to five members of a wind quintet five and a half minutes of playfulness that traverse moments of  undefined tonality with multi-tonal pointillism. Later, his tongue-in-cheek Turkey in the Star, Man turns the familiar folk ditty on its musical head. Later still, in Gotcha! the composer gives the solo clarinet a fun workout. Manson’s writing is brilliant, inventive, witty but never self-consciously clever.

Dennis Dreith’s Trio for Alto Flute, English Horn and Bass Clarinet and later, his Theme and Variations find many of the possible sonorities that can be gotten out of an unusual combinations of woodwinds. In what sounds at times like a conversation and at others like a polite argument, the first composition resolves in a musically amicable end, but not before a good dose of slides, beeps and mocking glissandos have passed back and forth among the prickly participants.  Theme and Variations begins and ends quietly, developing its theme with inventive changes of harmony and tempo.

Improvisatory Minds is a collective of four concert composers Bevan Manson, Ed Neuemeister, Michael Patterson and Dennis Dreith, who are active jazz musicians. They present performances of original chamber concert works informed by a jazz perspective, thereby promoting a unique and often neglected facet of the contemporary concert music world. The concerts also feature prominent guest composers such as Clare Fischer, Paquito D’Rivera, and Alan Broadbent. They also promote this music through clinics, educational and community outreach. This approach makes Improvisatory Minds, indeed, “four of a kind”.

Improvisatory Minds recorded this album in 2016. For more information contact:

Rafael de Acha




Calvin Simmons (April 27, 1950 – August 21, 1982) was the first African-American conductor of a major American orchestra. He had been preceded by pioneers such as Everett Lee and Henry Lewis, to name but two iconic Black conductors.

But the reason I’m posting this is not due to an anniversary or as a celebration of Calvin’s warp-speed 8 year-career.

What prompted this little homage to someone whom we cherished as a close friend from our college days is that another friend from those days, Michael Patterson premiered one of his works at CCM last night in a wonderful concert in which the Ariel Quartet collaborated with some of the finest jazz musicians in Cincinnati.

Michael, Kimberly, and Rick and Anna VanMatre and I had dinner tonight and our exchange of stories extended well past the restaurant’s closing time. And Mike reminded us that Calvin was the rehearsal pianist for the first ever directorial venture of mine at CCM in 1969.

But even more personally, Calvin and Kimberly and I became soul mates at CCM back in 1967 when Calvin, age 18 arrived at CCM like a blast of fresh air.

Calvin inhabited a realm rarely inhabited by mere mortals. He was a gangly bean pole of a guy, certifiably mad, and a genius. He could sit at the piano and play the entire score of Aida by memory, while singing in a funny voice all the parts. He could turn around and sing the part of Ko-Ko in The Mikado in a flawless Oxbridge accent.

Calvin was flunking at CCM right out of the gate because he would not practice scales for his piano boards. Italo Tajo recognized that Calvin’s was an outsized talent. Sylvia Ogden Lee and Max Rudolf did, and they absconded with Calvin when they left Cincinnati for Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute.

As things go in this crazy career of ours, we saw little of each other over the next several years: once in Philadelphia when we were there to do a Mike Douglas Show, once in San Francisco, when we were back from an engagement in the Far East or on our way to one (I forget which) and Calvin was being recognized with some major award given him by the City.

The year was 1980 or 1981, I recall, and Calvin already well on his way to a major conducting career took us aside and asked to please write to him and keep him in our radar.

It was just months after his untimely death in 1982, at the age of 32 in a canoeing accident on Lake George that we learned from our friend Nancy Markum that Calvin was gone. We couldn’t mourn his loss and I think Calvin would not have wanted us to. He would have joked about it. And so we chose to remember our good times together, most of which were filled with music and laughter. And dinner tonight brought him to mind.

One more thing I thought of after posting this: Italo Tajo’s birthday is April 25, mine is April 23, Calvin’s is April 27. All three of us hard-headed children born under the sign if Taurus. Calvin often played for my lessons with Maestro Tajo, who often took Calvin and Kimberly and me home for Italian dinners cooked by Signora Tajo that kept all of us from starvation during our college days.

Funny how those things happen and how the lives and careers of people in the arts interconnect.





Nicolai Gedda (July 11, 1925 – January 8, 2017) [

Nicolai Gedda sang well into his late seventies. He could do so fluently and idiomatically in flawless French, Russian, German, Italian, English, Czech, and Swedish.

Gedda made some two hundred recordings, making him one of the most widely recorded opera singers in history.

He was a late bloomer and had to work as a bank teller to pay for his voice lessons, but once he made his professional debut at age 26 (Swedish National Opera) he was unstoppable.

There were tenors who had more powerful voices or could sing higher or do whatever it is that makes some tenors more famous than others. But when it came to finesse, to phrasing, to elegance, to style, to musicianship, to musicality, to perfect diction in any languages in which he sang…well, he was in a class by himself.

He’s now up there in the company of other great Scandinavian singers…Birgit Nilsson…Jusi Bjoerling…Aksel Schiøtz

He will always be remembered by all who love great singing.





Listening to the MET broadcast of Rigoletto brought to mind how important it is to see Opera as much as it is to hear it. But for those of us who grew up back in the good ol’ days of MET broadcasts on the radio, with Milton Cross narrating (no HD back then, folks), not having the visual aspect of opera productions in front of our eyes is no big deal. We are used to visualizing our own stagings in our minds’ eyes.

And given a choice between Michael Mayer’s bump and grind take on Verdi’s masterpiece and my imagination’s very own, I’ll take mine any day.  

Back in the day, when we were old and solvent enough to afford buying a ticket to the MET, we grew to accept and willingly suspend our cynical disbelief when we saw the overweight Luciano Pavarotti parading around the MET stage in a costume a bit too tight or him. Nor did we mind many a matronly Gilda pretending to be a virginal 15 year old. When you had a sound like that of Joan Sutherland’s or Mirella Freni’s, all you had to do was to close your eyes and let that sound wrap itself around you.

All was not that much better back then than it is now. No Sherrill Milnes around any more..? No problem: there’s Serbian baritone Željko Lučić already occupying his shoes. Some dyed-in-the-wool opera fans will probably complain that Lučić can’t pop the high G’s and Ab’s and A’s that came so easy to Milnes in his prime. But, look, Verdi did not write any of those notes for his Rigoletto, Felice Varesi, and that did not seem to have any negative effect on either composer or singer.

No great Gilda’s today? I beg to disagree. Olga Peretyatko is a fine Gilda, even if those stunning Sutherland trills and high notes are not that easy to come by these days. And Stephen Costello has moved quickly into the big leagues, singing a terrific Duke. And he looks the part.

Andrea Mastroni, the broadcast’s Sparafucile, is just about the only basso profundo that I can think of in today’s business. His cavernal, black sound reminds me of that of the great Italian basso, Giulio Neri. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a voice like his. Good for the MET to bring this fine young artist to America.

So, where’s my beef? Well, it’s no beef but a mere observation. The MET, under Peter Gelb’s erratic leadership continues to trot out conceptual productions that, to my mind, contribute nothing to the cause of popularizing opera or to giving us, old and recalcitrant opera goers any new insights. We end up time and again with old wine in new bottles.

Frankly, I can pick up a nice bottle of a California or French vintage at my local liquor store and enjoy it in the company of like-minded good friends without having to plunk down either $25 for the HD presentation or, worse, an outrageously-priced ticket to the big house.

Rafael de Acha





Benjamin Britten wrote the roles in his operas for specific singers with whom he loved to work, foremost among them the tenor Peter Pears, who was in the original cast of Albert Herring, one of several Britten’s chamber operas that were produced by the English Opera Group in its early days. I bet Mr. Britten would have loved working with the cast of the Opera d’Arte production of his one comic opera.

Its feather-light plot concerns the May Day celebrations about to be held in Loxford, a Sussex backwater. A search for a virgo intacta to be the May Day Queen proves futile when all the village girls are found wanting in the…ahem…virginal department. Enter celibate, Mama’s boy, Albert Herring, and a motion is put forth to make him the May Day King. What ensues over the next couple of acts is a comic coming of age story. No spoiler to tell you that Albert disappears with his twenty-five quid prize only to return after a night of drunken revelry to finally assert his budding manhood and his raging hormones much to the consternation of the uptight townsfolk.

The music of this opera is not a walk in the village park. Lots of tricky passages abound, quotes of   everybody from Bach to Wagner fly by, and the orchestration for a dozen instruments – one to a part – is inventive and requires top-notch musicians to make it work. Jesse Leong proved his mettle as a conductor, leading the excellent opening night cast and the terrific orchestra with a firm hand and a very good instinct for accompanying singers.

Kenneth Shaw staged the work with finesse and a light touch that did not shy away from the underlying theme of this opera: the loneliness of those who are different from the pack, as personified by the painfully shy, secretly randy and tongue-tied Albert, sung here by the very fine tenor, Gregory Miller.

In the cast of over a dozen promising young singers, Maria Miller in the role of battle-ax Lady Billows commanded the stage with her comical timing and substantial soprano, Nancy and Sid were respectively sung and acted to perfection by mezzo-soprano, Brianna Bragg and baritone, Haydn Smith, and Elena Villalon was a charming Miss Wordsworth, with a high soprano voice that rode the top line in the ensembles with great ease.

The flexible set by Olivia Leigh, the costumes loaned to this production by Costume Gallery and the lighting by Marissa Childress, gave this Albert Herring an authentic English, turn-of-the-century look.

With Albert Herring, Kenneth Shaw’s Opera d’Arte again proves itself an indispensable member of the Cincinnati opera scene. There are two more performances, one on Saturday February 4 at 8 pm and one on Sunday 5, at 2 pm. They are sold out, BUT chances are that some folks who reserved the free tickets won’t show up. If you cannot get in, you might be able to catch something else at the same time at CCM, the Music Conservatory that never sleeps.

Rafael de Acha