An homage to artists we lost in 2019

Nearing the end of this eventful 2019 it is now time to pay homage to several artists who passed on during the past twelve months.

This selection is very subjective and tied to personal connections, many of them emotional. No, I did not know any one of these men and women personally, but in one way or another they made an impact on me ever since I started going to the theatre and to concerts in the Havana of the 1950’s.

Before moving to the United States I took my first steps as a budding actor on the stages of Cuban theatre and there I fell under the spell of actress Maria Antonia Rey, then a beautiful woman in her twenties whose looks were outshined by her larger than life acting style. She transitioned into a fine English-speaking stage, film, and television character actress when she fled communist Cuba in 1961 and came to this country.

Also from those days I cherish the memory of Alicia Alonso, a Cuban world-class prima ballerina whose tragic Giselle and playful Coppélia and her double tour de force performances as Odile/Odette in Swan Lake were proof that classical ballet can be great drama as well.

Many of us started collecting long playing records back in the day, and later still cassettes from all of which we derived enormous pleasure, especially listening to the Italian baritone Rolando Panerai.

Although I can only appreciate the singing of German soprano Hilde Zadek and the English soprano Heather Harper from their recordings, I remember seeing many live performances of soprano Jessye Norman and tenor Marcello Giordani, which I rate among the greatest memories of my opera-going life.

When it comes to instrumentalists, composers and conductors, where the visual is not essential to the performance, the recordings of pianists Jörg Demus and Paul Badura-Skoda, the songs of Michel Legrand and João Gilberto, and the conducting of Mariss Janson, André Previn, and Raymond Leppard remains as memorable as the music they conducted.

Much later, I came to admire the more-is-more work of Franco Zeffirelli, the intellectually rigorous style of Jonathan Miller, and the enormous creativity of Harold Prince. All three of these giants passed this year, but many of their productions are preserved on video, and the ones I saw live are still alive in my memory.

Not all memories are sweet and pleasant. Among those not so nice is that of that most vitriolic of critics, John Simon whose poisoned pen targeted many victims, among them my mentor Joe Papp, who once grabbed Simon by the collar in the lobby of the Public Theatre and threatened to evict him for life from any further performances at Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park. I can’t recall what ensued, but I think of Papp grabbing Simon and nearly strangling him as a real cathartic moment. May Joe rest in peace. May Simon be forever consigned to the lowest circle of Dante’s Inferno.

The passing of all these greats reminds us of the fragility and brevity of life, but their art, ephemeral as all performing arts are, reminds one that life in the arts continues past mortality .

Rafael de Acha




The three-year calendar helps keep track of week-to-week appointments, concert dates, and both social and work commitments, but does no good when one tries to look back over the year that’s about to end. And looking back is just what we’re trying to do by drafting an end-of-year account of all the good artistic things that 2019 brought our way.

So here it is, in random order, relying solely on memory, which as we all know can be faulty, so please one and all forgive me for anything or anyone I leave out.


brian cranston                   glenda jackson

Kimberly and I celebrated our 51st anniversary quietly at home, having just weeks before taken our annual pilgrimage to NYC to recharge our batteries by attending some good theatre, highlighted by two performances “for the books”: Network with Brian Cranston, and King Lear with Glenda Jackson.

Oh and there were some good meals with good friends, among them Seen and Heard-International ’s Bruce Hodges, and concert pianist Matei Varga.

We were at a Naxos breakfast announcing a comprehensive series of recordings of Brazilian classical music to which our friend Paula Mlyn invited us, and we were honored by the label’s decision to include a review of their first release: one of the 200+ reviews from our blog in the folder given to all those in attendance at the event.



In Cincinnati we continued to take in as many music events as we could possibly fit into our lives, and among those live concerts and operas we now continue to enjoy the memory of the 2019 Cincinnati Opera season highlighted by a fine Marriage of Figaro, a terrific Romeo et Juliette, and an especially good Ariadne auf Naxos on the main Music Hall stage, and in the smaller hall an intriguing new chamber opera, Blind Injustice, all of which we reviewed for

Again, in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra gave one more exciting Summermusik lineup highlighted by two appearances by the superb guitarist Pepe Romero.

The Immaculata Church in Mt. Adams filled its 2019 Chamber Music Series led by Kanako Shimasaki and Jonathan Lee with great music-making, and the Philharmonia Orchestra at CCM, led by the superb Mark Gibson triumphed time and again, as did the CCM Concert Orchestra, led by yet another first class conductor, the Malaysian-born Aik Khai Pung.

Two concerts by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra still linger in our memory, one the notoriously treacherous Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, brilliantly played by the Russian-born Kirill Gerstein with Karina Canellakis leading the CSO. The other: a powerful, soulful performance, with Louis Langrée at the helm heroically holding together Christopher Rouse’s Sixth Symphony, his final work – music that spoke of a great life well lived nearing its end.



The here today, gone tomorrow nature of live music is by nature ephemeral while recorded music can live on in the privacy of one’s home. Among dozens of CD’s and DVD’s I reviewed, the Baltimore Consort’s Sono Luminus CD The Food of Love continues to make listening to its treasure trove of Elizabethan music sheer joy.

Daniel Tarrab’s music with its jazzy riffs, its classical cadenzas, and its improvisatory flights of fancy reveal this artist’s soul in every bar of every tango of every track of Otra Mirada.

Stewart Goodyear’s brilliantly inventive Callaloo is a musical fantasy in which snippets of Trinidad’s Calypso vie for attention with a heady mix of Jamaican Mento, afro-Cuban Guaguancó, Son, Conga and Guaracha, and inter-island Soca.

Pentatones CD of American songs with soprano Melody Moore and pianist Bradley Moore makes one hard put to find enough adequate words of praise for both artists.

Two Cuban choral groups lend their voices to an intriguingly varied collection of works by international composers in the Ansonica CD, Coro del Mundo, with the all-women Ensemble Vocal Luna creating dazzling instrumental sounds with its voices, and Schola Cantorum Coralina shining in various hip-swaying settings of Cuban poetry.

Norwegian harpist Sidsel Walstad, protean in her ability to spin a long legato line with an instrument notoriously hard to master, joins forces with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, led by Miguel Harth-Bedoya delivers a memorable performance of Ginastera’s Harp Concerto in this LAWO release.

The four players in the Métier release FOUR are formidable musicians, impeccable technicians, young of age but mature in music by Eugène Bozza, Frank Bridge, Jean Françaix, Richard Rodney-Bennett, Jacques Ibert, and Claude Arrieu that is now lyrical, now outrageously humorous, and blessedly unpretentious.

In Ricciardo e Zoraide a new release of a Rossini rarity by Cmajor, Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez and South African soprano Pretty Yende in the title roles are simply perfect, with Tenor Sergey Romanovsky, mezzo-soprano Victoria Yarovaya, tenor Xabier Anduaga and bass-baritone Nicola Ulivieri all first class in other roles.

The BIS recording of the rough-hewn, big-boned 1869 original version of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov stars the young Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk, commanding yet restrained, vulnerable and ultimately heartbreaking in his Death scene.



Both Kimberly and I kept out of trouble busying ourselves with the organizing of our seven and eighth years of Music for All Seasons concerts at Peterloon, where we brought four musical events to a loyal audience that helped raise for CCM over four thousand dollars in a Silent Auction at year’s end, and a few more much-needed scholarship dollars in ticket sales during a lineup involving countless artists far too many to single out here.


Kimberly embarked on a new venture: a play-reading series at The Barn in Mariemont, which she flawlessly helmed, directing readings of plays some about visual artists: Gertrude Stein and a Companion, Alfred Stieglitz Loves O’Keefe, Painting Churches, and the closing Love Letters.

We look forward to our next series, which we hope will feature readings of new plays by our friends Michael McKeever and Mario Diament.

We continue to celebrate life with the life-giving arts while we treasure the memory of several artists who passed during 2019 who in one way or another made a mark on us personally with their life and their art, among them the majestic Jessye Norman, who famously said that “pigeonholes are for pigeons” and who by sheer example taught us all to defy those who want to limit and label art and artists.

Rafael de Acha     Rafael Music Notes   December 2019

3/8/20 Music by Women Composers

March 8, 2020, 2 pm Music by Women Composers

Music for All Seasons at Peterloon In Celebration of International Women’s Day
Ariadne Antipa, piano Yaoyue Huang, piano
Jacob Miller, piano Amber R. Monroe, soprano
Kanako Shimasaki, violin Miriam K. Smith, cello

Fanny Mendelssohn Adagio for Violin and Piano
Clara Schumann Three Romances for Violin and Piano
Teresa Carreño Three Waltzes
Nadia Boulanger Three Pieces for Cello and Piano
Agathe Grøndahl Klaverstykker   Florence B. Price Songs


5 Concerts that you will not want to miss

Five Concerts that you will not want to miss are coming up right after the holidays.

Friday January 10 at 8 pm and Saturday January 11 at 7 p.m. at Music Hall
Renee Fleming brings her glorious soprano voice to two programs with slightly different selections. On Friday she joins the CSO to perform Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. On Saturday she sings three Strauss songs with orchestral accompaniment and a group of Broadway songs. Also in both programs the rarely heard Of a Spring Morning by Lili Boulanger, and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov.
TKTS: 513 381 3300

Saturday January 18 at 8 pm and Sunday January 19 at 2 pm at Music Hall
Louis Langrée leads the CSO in a pair of concerts celebrating the orchestra’s 125TH anniversary with music that in one way or another connects with the history of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, including compositions by Duke Wellington, George Gershwin and other 20th century masters.
TKTS: 513 381 3300

Tuesday January 21 at 7:30 pm at CCM’s Werner Recital Hall
World class playing by the superb Ariel Quartet and guest artist Alexander Fiterstein will feature a Beethoven String Quartet, a Mozart Quintet, and a world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Clarinet Quintet.
TKTS: 513 556 2100

Sunday January 26 at 4 pm at Immaculata Church in Mt. Adams
Come to hear a two-year old ensemble of brilliant young musicians led by co-artistic directors Kanako Shimasaki and Jonathan Lee play, on a lighter note Haydn’s Joke String Quartet, and on a heftier note Anton Webern’s Op. 5 quartet and Arnold Schoenberg’s seminal Transfigured Night.
TKTS ARE FREE but please make a contribution.

Friday January 31 at 7:30 pm at CCM’ Corbett Auditorium.
The CCM Philharmonia presents Mahler’s massive masterpiece Symphony No. 9 in D Major, his last completed orchestral work. Whether you subscribe to the theory that this was the composer’s farewell to this world or its opposite: a celebration of life and all living things, you will be moved by music of enormous beauty and emotional depth conducted by the ever impressive Mark Gibson and played by a band of young people who play like old souls.
TKTS: 513 556 2100

Rafael de Acha