The Spanish Early Music group Música Temprana is led by Adrián Rodríguez Van der Spoel, its artistic director. A dozen pan-European singers and musicians trained in the performance practice of music of the sixteenth century make up the group, playing a variety of Renaissance musical instruments that include recorders, vihuelas, harps, bajoncillos, sackbuts, and guitars.

In the fascinating PENTATONE CD Melancolía the music of several composers of the early Renaissance – some Spanish, some Flemish – Francisco de la Torre, Juan Ponce, Pedro de Escobar, Garci Sánchez de Badajoz, Alonso de Cordoba, Cristobal de Morales, Juan de Triana and Johannes Urrede among others keeps company with music by anonymous composers arranged by Adrián Rodríguez Van der Spoel.

The wide ranging enterprise is thematically unified by texts set to the music of the Spanish Golden Age: villancicos, canciones, and romances – some courtly, some popular – on the subjects of heartbreak and unrequited love, and the ensuing melancholy present in human hearts over such earthly matters.

In the beginning of the 16th century Catholic Spain in particular dreaded the destruction of Christianity by an Ottoman invasion and thus a possible end of the then known world. Thus some among these songs comment on the plight of the human condition, and offer a measure of consolation to the faithful with assurances of a better life to come.

The performances heard throughout the album’s twenty-two tracks are exquisite, with outstanding instrumental playing by Andrés Locatelli, Anna Danilevskaia, Paulina van Laarhoven, Emma Huijsser, Beto Caserio, Matthijs van der Moolen, Anton van Houten, Victor Belmonte, and superb singing by Olalla Alemán, Luciana Cueto, Emilio Aguilar, Jan van Elsacker, and Romain Bockler.

Adrián Rodríguez Van der Spoel was the Executive Producer and co-author with Luciana Cueto of the very informative liner notes.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS


In his gentle mélodies, Venezuelan-born, French-naturalized Reynaldo Hahn fully embraced the Romantic tradition of Gounod, Bizet, Saint-Saëns, and Fauré, all but ignoring the compositional trends of a new wave of French composers eager to break new ground – Chausson, Duparc, Debussy, and the member of Les Six, even when he lived well into the fifth decade of the 20th century.

In his delicately wrought À Chloris, Le rossignol des lilas, L’énamourée, Infidélité, and Les fontaines – all faultlessly sung by the immensely gifted Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill – Hahn establishes himself as an elegant craftsmen of melodies with a talent for setting texts to music.

The Hahn songs provide a perfect introduction to Karen Cargill’s album Fleur de mon âme for the LINN label, which, enhanced by the participation of the fine collaborative pianist Simon Lepper, take the listener on a musical journey through Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis, Ernest Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle, Sérénade italienne, Le charme, Le colibri, and Les papillons; and Henri Duparc’s L’invitation au voyage, Chanson triste, Extase and Phidylé.

Members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Maya Iwabuchi, Xander van Vliet, Tom Dunn, and Aleksei Kiseliov provide a splendid string quartet accompaniment to two of the songs: the rare Calmes, aux quais deserts of Belgian composer Joseph Jongen, and Chausson’s familiar Chanson perpétuelle.

Throughout eighteen exquisitely-sung tracks, Karen Cargill displays uncommonly clear French diction, and uncompromising devotion to the text of the songs though never at the expense of clear vocalism. Above all Ms. Cargill remains serene of utterance and always in command of her ample vocal resources.

The album is clearly engineered and accompanied by an informative booklet filled with insights and intelligent translations.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS


Rafael de Acha arrived in the U.S. as a Cuban refugee in 1961. After attending CCM for opera and graduating in 1970, he directed and produced theater for more 30 years.

Personal history can turn on the smallest of events. For Rafael de Acha, CCM ’70, it occurred at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue in New York City in 1967 when he was 23 years old.

De Acha had entered the United States alone from Havana, Cuba, as a refugee, six years earlier. Through a combination of will, spirit and talent, he was now studying voice and opera on a full scholarship at the famous Juilliard School of Music. He had just returned some opera scores to the New York Public Library, when he purchased a little magazine from a street vendor’s stand. 

Two discoveries were soon made: First, de Acha had just spent the last dollar in his pocket and had no money for the subway; and second, the magazine was reporting that his idol, the acclaimed operatic bass Italo Tajo, was going to the University of Cincinnati to teach at the College-Conservatory of Music.

“I had listened to many of his records,” de Acha says. “I had a similar voice type. So I walked the 80-some blocks back to near 125th and 7th Avenue, and by the time I made it to my room at International House, my mind was made up. I was going to go to CCM and study with Tajo.”

De Acha phoned CCM just in time to secure a slot at the conservatory’s New York auditions the very next week. “I sang for them,” de Acha says. “They said, ‘Young man, why would you want to leave Juilliard, where you have a full scholarship, and come to CCM?’ They were very polite.”

The answer, of course, was Italo Tajo.

“The acceptance came later that week,” de Acha says. “Again, I received a full ride, which was the only way I could go to school. And the rest is history.”

At CCM de Acha continued his studies as a bass baritone; met his true love and future wife, Kimberly Daniel, CCM ‘70; and, with Tajo’s guidance, discovered his talent as a director. “Maestro Tajo kept saying, in his inimitable Italian accent, ‘You have a nice voice, but you are really a stage director and do not know it,’” de Acha recalls. “You see the lighting and scenery and costumes. You have a mindset of a director.’

“And God bless him,” de Acha continues, “he gave me my first opportunity to direct in the opera workshop at CCM. I began doing a scene here and a scene there, and next I did a full production of “Suor Angelica” by Puccini, and then “The Medium” by Menotti, and that began my journey. By the time I graduated from CCM, I knew directing was what I wanted to do.”

De Acha went on to build an impressive career as a director of both opera and theater. With his wife, Daniel, a coloratura soprano and voice professor, he spent 15 years “in the trenches” as a freelance director. And in 1986, the couple founded the groundbreaking New Theatre in South Florida, a region of the country they viewed as “very open to new enterprise.” Over a 20-year period, they produced classics, commissioned new works, and gave priceless opportunities to emerging actors and playwrights.

My passion was…to create a theater where people of all different ethnicities, nationalities and native languages could come to work in an artistic space where everyone is equal. 

 “Miami is often referred to as a melting pot, but I always found Miami to be more of a set of different communities,” de Acha says. “Within the Spanish-speaking community, for example, there are several different groups: Cubans, Venezuelans in exile, and so forth. My passion was – I have a cross-cultural marriage – to create a theater where people of all different ethnicities, nationalities and native languages could come to work in an artistic space where everyone is equal. That was the driving force behind the New Theatre.”

Fulfilling that mission and then some, de Acha cast actors with disabilities and actors of color in roles they never would have been given otherwise. He cast a blind actor as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, a Black actor as King Lear, an Asian actress as one of Lear’s daughters and as Desdemona. “Those were some of my proudest moments,” he says. 

Christine Dolen, former theatre critic for the Miami Herald, praised de Acha and Daniel upon their retirement from New Theatre for their profound contributions to cultural life in South Florida. “The de Achas love the classics, and when no one else would produce them, they did,” Dolen wrote. “They believed passionately that the actors on their stage should reflect the diversity of our community, so that many performers have had a chance to dazzle in roles no other theatre would give them.”

Their commission of Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics, which they premiered in 2002 in Coral Gables, was especially prescient and significant. Cruz was not yet famous, but he soon would be, as the play won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

De Acha is modest about his role in furthering Cruz’s success. “What helped Nilo achieve recognition as one of the most talented playwrights to come along in quite some time was not New Theatre, where we produced three of his plays, but his long years of hard work, which finally paid off with his winning the Pulitzer Prize – an accomplishment that would have come his way whether or not we had been there.”

A history of cultural enrichment

De Acha grew up in a musical household. His parents were fine amateur singers and guitar players; his grandfather was a collector of operatic records. At age 14, de Acha fell in love with theater when his mother gave him a copy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a bilingual English-Spanish edition. “I did not speak, read or write a word of English,” de Acha says. “But I was fascinated by the play, and little by little, I slugged my way through all five acts.” He also watched Shakespeare films with Laurence Olivier as Hamlet, Henry V and Richard III on movie screens with Spanish language subtitles.

At CCM de Acha met his true love and future wife, Kimberly Daniel, CCM ’70. Together they founded the New Theatre in South Florida. Over a 20-year period, they produced classics, commissioned new works, and gave priceless opportunities to emerging actors and playwrights.

At age 15, de Acha was the youngest actor in the resident company of Cuba’s National Theatre. Two years later, he left Cuba for the United States. He was “processed” at Miami’s Cuban Refugee Center and put in touch with the only Americans he knew, a couple he had met in Havana who were now graduate students at the University of Minnesota. “So I got a one-way ticket to Minneapolis,” de Acha says. “They were wonderful. I had been a one-person Welcome Wagon for them in Havana, and they reciprocated. You never know; what goes around comes around.”

De Acha studied in the Theatre Department at the University of Minnesota, then joined his parents in Los Angeles a year later. He was studying Romance languages in night school at Los Angeles City College, becoming fluent in French, Italian and Portuguese, when he joined the college’s choir. “People kept telling me I had a voice and I should give a vocal career a shot,” he says. “So I thought, OK, I’ll give it a shot.”

He began taking voice lessons, and when the Juilliard School scheduled West Coast auditions for its new opera theater program, de Acha signed up, never imagining that anything would come of it. A few weeks later, a letter of acceptance, full-ride included, arrived. “It was one of those things in life that redirects your journey, your course, and I went with it,” de Acha muses.

Two years later, de Acha was “redirected” again, this time to CCM. Following graduation, he and Daniel earned master’s degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music and then launched their professional careers.

In 2006, after 20 years with New Theatre, de Acha retired, and he and Daniel moved to Cincinnati, where they had family, friends and fond memories. Daniel taught voice in CCM’s Musical Theatre program for the next seven years while de Acha reinvented himself in retirement, holding onto his roots but doing something new. He has become a prolific writer of music and theater reviews and the manager of his own website, All About the Arts.

The arts will survive the COVID-19 era, de Acha believes, but he foresees a new normal “for a long time to come.” Performances will require social distancing, and many concerts and plays will be recorded and distributed online. Although ticket revenue will likely decline, he believes new audiences will be gained.

Already much artistry is available via your browser. For your pleasure, de Acha recommends two famous arias, on YouTube, that he sang when he auditioned for Juilliard and CCM as a young bass baritone: “Vecchia Zimarra” (the Coat Song) from Puccini’s La Bohème and “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” (The Catalogue Aria) from Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

After 20 years with New Theatre, de Acha retired, and he and Daniel moved back to Cincinnati.  Daniel taught voice in CCM’s Musical Theatre program and de Acha has become a prolific writer of music and theater reviews.



On one of Iceland’s radio stations there is a tradition: at noon an Icelandic song, usually a wordless lullaby or love ballad is played just before the news hour.

Icelandic violinist Una Sveinbjarnardóttir together with Tinna Þorsteinsdóttir on piano, toy piano and prepared piano has put together Last Song, a soothingly musical antidote to whatever the day’s bad news might be.

Works by contemporary Icelandic composes, including Jórunn Viðar’s Icelandic Suite, Winter by Karólína Eiríksdóttir, In a Dream and Lullaby both by Magnús Blöndal Jóhannsson, Atli Heimir Sveinsson’s Three Marian Prayers, along with Couperin’s Aubade Provençale,, Hildegard’s Anima Processional, Ole Bull’s I Ensomme Stunde, and various melodies by Monteverdi, Gluck, and Massenet provide moments of calm throughout the nineteen track of this Sono Luminus (DSL-92248) recording.



Earlier today I sat down to listen for the first time to Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10.

Written in 1937 when the composer was 24 years old, this surprisingly mature work pays tribute to Frank Bridge, mentor to the younger composer. Scored for string orchestra, the music is playful and begs to be danced to, which it got to be after its Salzburg Festival premiere, having been choreographed most recently by Twyla Tharp and long before her by Sir Frederick Ashton.

The principal theme is subtly stated once. Each of the ten variations that follow have a character of their own, which sometimes in the style of another composer portray in musical terms an aspect of the character of Britten’s beloved teacher:  his integrity, his energy, his charm, his sense of humor, his traditional values, his enthusiasm, his vitality, his sympathy, his respectfulness, his musical skills, and, in the final fugue, the loving relationship between pupil and esteemed mentor-teacher.

Britten makes superb use of the strings, writing with amazing maturity and gleeful humor, utilizing a couple of dance forms: a tongue-in-cheek Viennese waltz and a bourrée, later contrasted with an aria, a march, and even a chant.

Lennox Berkeley composed his Serenade for Strings around the same time as Britten wrote his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. The music of this brief, four movement work is essentially lyrical, elegant, quintessentially English, ending after the first three of its four movements in an elegiac Lento that signals a radical change of mood. His having resided in the Paris of the  late 1920’s inevitably must have influenced Berkeley, whose music owes much to the influence of Poulenc in its fluctuation from the giddy to the solemn in tone.

Frank Bridge’s heartfelt Lament is, as the other works in this CD are a brief and interesting composition, predating stylistically and chronologically those of the other composers featured in English Music for Strings.

Arthur Bliss wroteMusic for Strings, a colorful, vigorous composition that earned him wide recognition. At first a modernist influenced by Les Six, among others, Bliss found his place as a gifted traditionalist, one markedly different to his younger colleagues represented on this CD. He served in the Great War, wrote film music, operas, ballets, and chamber music in many of which he gave voice to the emotions elicited by his terrible experiences in the British Army. The longest of the works on this CHANDOS CD, this composition attests to the musical gifts of this unfairly underestimated artist.    

John Wilson leads the invaluable Sinfonia of London throughout the CD’s 19 tracks summoning rapturous playing from his all-string orchestral forces.

Rafael de Acha


Of the almost two dozen operas Franz Joseph Haydn – some for marionettes, some for human singers – none gave a hint of the genius for vocal writing the Father of the Symphony displayed in The Creation. Written roughly a dozen years before his death, Haydn had developed by the years 1796 to 1798 a complete command of composing for all the instruments available to him in his time as well as a gift for writing for the human voice.

In his two great oratorios – The Creation and The Seasons – and in his many sacred vocal works Haydn came to master the difficult art of setting text to music. He was right in respectfully avoiding assigning human character traits to his trio of archangel narrators in the first part of The Creation, opting instead for a neutrality in the vocal writing for Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor), and Raphael (bass) that allows both music and text to remain elevated at all times to a sober narrative neutrality, while freely adopting musical forms rooted in Classical opera and German song.

Haydn’s choral writing in The Creation is exceptionally fine as are the imaginative mastery of orchestration and tone painting that he displayed in his Clock, Military, and Drum Roll symphonies. The sweep of the ocean’s waves, the roar of beasts, the upward flights of birds are all delightfully depicted, with a hint of humor at times. At other times abstract notions, like the dark nothingness that exists before the creation of the universe in the opening Chaos gets a harmonically vague stretch that is suddenly replaced by the creation of light.

Zubin Mehta, aged 84 at the time of this recording in November of 2020, led the excellent orchestra and chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino – incidentally on the very same stage where he made his Florence debut fifty years before – while guiding his fine trio of soloists – soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, tenor Maximillian Schmitt, and baritone Michael Volle with elegance and complete stylistic assuredness.

The Dynamic  DVD was directed by Tiziano Mancini and neatly produced and annotated.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS


Dear Stanley:

I just read on the CCM website your open letter from June 3 addressed to the CCM community regarding CCM’s support for the Black community and for all people of color.

The term “people of color” is one with which many of us Hispanics with Caucasian racial roots take issue, for being wrongly included in the much-too-generalized “people of color” racial group.

My 50% Cuban-born late parents, late aunts and uncles, and most cousins have skin pigmentation no different to that of my wife, her family, and many of our Caucasian friends. On my father’s side of the family both grandparents, born in Cuba to Basque and Catalan parents were as white as my mothers’ stock of French and Catalan immigrants to Cuba.

Many of us identify as Hispanics and many as Latinos. That identification has much more to do with cultural factors than with skin color.

If I were a Hispanic with skin color tinged with brown I would wear it with as much pride as I do my Basque-Catalan-French heritage, cultural background and racial characteristics, which for Basques and Catalans and French and many Cubans of my acquaintance consist of many factors other than pigmentation.

CCM and many others of our cultural institutions are trying in good faith to catch up after years of ignorant neglect of underrepresented minorities. For your part in that you have the respect and gratitude of many Hispanics and Latinos of all hues, mine included.


Rafael de Acha

Elīna Garanča sings Wagner

Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča is featured in a recently released UNITEL video recording of a 2020 Salzburg Festival performance of Wagner’s WESENDONCK LIEDER, conducted by Christian Thielemann. The Austrian maestro leads the Vienna Philharmonic in the Felix Mottl orchestration of Wagner’s song group and in Anton Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4 in E flat major, “Romantic.”

While Richard Wagner was living in exile in Switzerland after running afoul of the German authorities in the aftermath of the 1848 anti-monarchy insurrection, he was befriended by the wealthy Otto and Mathilde von Wesendonck, who offered the composer and his wife their hospitality in a lovely cottage on their property.

Wagner was soon hard at work on his Tristan und Isolde. He also managed to find the time to write one of his most important non-operatic works: the Wesendonck Lieder, which he composed during a period of roughly eight months between 1867 and 1868.

The music of two of the five songs subtly evokes some of the passion and the intensity of Tristan und Isolde in its harmonies and in its texts; the later came from Frau von Wiesendonck, eliciting speculations of a possible romantic liaison between the composer and his patroness.

Originally written for voice and piano and later orchestrated by Felix Mottl, the writing is pure Wagner: rich with chromaticism and laden with barely contained emotion that repeatedly bubbles up in both the orchestral accompaniment and in the vocal writing.

Now in her forties and in the second decade of a major career, Elīna Garanča has risen to preeminence as the kind of singer seemingly able to take on just about any music written for her voice type. Her career has spanned a beginning as a Rossini-Mozart mezzo that quickly claimed ownership of the roles of Rosina, Angelina, Cherubino and Dorabella, to fairly recent successes in the dramatic roles of Princess Eboli in Don Carlos, Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, Delilah in Samson et Dalila and Didon in Les Troyens.

Wagner awaited, and the mezzo’s singing of Der Engel, Stehe still!, Im Treibhaus, Schmerzen, and Träume hints at things to come. Pehaps a Fricka, an Ortrud, a Kundry or a Venus await this artist sometime in the future, although for now one is content to enjoy Garanča’s unmannered vocalism, her sculptured phrasing, and the sheer beauty of her voice in many a lyric part

Christian Thielemann’s conducting is businesslike, elegant, and obliging though never subservient to his soloist. In Anton Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4 in E flat major, “Romantic” he crafts an architecturally cohesive interpretation of that composer’s most Romantic of his nine completed symphonies, drawing a perfectly balanced sound from the Vienna Philharmonic.

Michael Beyer’s video direction is superb, focusing on Elīna Garanča during the most part of the approximately 25 minute duration of the Wesendonck Lieder.

Rafael de Acha         ALL ABOUT THE   ARTS

What a slight!


A WEEK AGO… among the usual junk mail, I spotted a mailer announcing the Multicultural Awareness Council (MAC) concert series of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra that purports to “Celebrate the rich African-American and Latine (sic) culture, history and heritage of outstanding artists and composers with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops.”Among the nine concerts listed – both CSO and Cincinnati Pops – there is one featuring the Disney cartoon COCO, apparently a token homage to Hispanic musical art and artists.

The remaining eight concerts all feature a long overdue lineup of pop and classical African-American musical artists in performances of a few American composers of color mixed in with the works of Caucasian musical artists.

Some of this is happening as the September 15-October 15 National Hispanic Heritage Month comes and goes, and among the nine announced concerts only one – a Disney cartoon musical – honoring our Hispanic Heritage?

A couple of days after receiving the announcement from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra I reached out to Julia Kirchhausen, Interim VP of Communications for the orchestra. Approximately a week has gone by and, to date, no response.

You can reach her at if you wish.

Here’s a short list of Hispanic artists – some established, some up and coming – that could be featured in pops or classical concerts as part of Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond:

HISPANIC/LATINO BROADWAY AND POP TALENT: Javier Muñoz; Josh Segarra; Robin De Jesús; Krysta Rodriguez; Ricky Martin; Julieta Venegas; Juanes; Willie Colón; Jenny Rivera; Carlos Santana; Ana Villafañe; Giselle Alvarez

HISPANIC/LATINO CLASSICAL TALENT: Sonia Marie De León de Vega, conductor; Alondra de la Parra, conductor; Ileana Pérez Velázquez, composer; Yalil Guerra, composer; Elizabeth Caballero, soprano; Odaline de la Martinez, conductor; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Sandra Lopez de Haro, soprano


Korean-American cellist Jonah Kim in a memorable album of music familiar and unfamiliar

The extraordinary Korean-American cellist Jonah Kim writes in the liner notes to the CD APPROACHING AUTUMN (D3585) a warm welcome to the listener of this album, and Delos’ always insightful David Brin opens up new vistas onto the music contained in this recently-recorded CD: Zoltán Kodály’s early-career (1915) Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8, its opener, Mark Abel’s Approaching Autumn, a 2020 composition for cello and piano, and Edvard Grieg’s 1883 Sonata for piano and cello, in which the cellist is partnered by the excellent pianist Robert Koenig.

Zoltán Kodály’s Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8 clocks in at well over half an hour. As a work that features the cello as its one and only instrument it presents a challenge to both listener and player. The first must pay concentrated attention to this deeply Hungarian, melancholy, modal, folk-inflected music throughout three movements: an Allegro maestoso, an Adagio, and an intricate Allegro molto vivace.

For the player this is a technically daunting work, one that explores, in the words of the late Janos Starker, the cello “up and down”, so “down” in fact that the composer asks for the instrument that plays it to be tuned lower than the standard concert pitch of A440 in what musicians call scordatura so as to reach a note or two below the normally played lowest-most one in the average cello. There is that plus a mine field of glissandi, effects, percussive uses of the bow, contrapuntal hurdles, plucking, bending of the tone, and sounds that range from the lyrical to borderline humorous.

Kodály’s composition reveals yet another aspect of the genius of the multi-talented Hungarian educator, ethno-musicologist and composer who, along with his compatriot, Béla Bartók helped to gain a world-wide audience for the folk and concert music of their homeland. Jonah Kim dives into this music with courage underpinned by formidable technical prowess, with which he achieves a dazzling performance.

Mark Abel’s Approaching Autumn is a one-movement, 2020 composition, melodically forthcoming, harmoniously laid-out, often playful, eminently accessible, at times ruminative, unabashedly joyful at others, that offers a refreshing moment of solace after the demands  on both player and listener of the piece that precedes it on this CD. Jonah Kim and Robert Koening partner beyond perfection in this delightful work by the gifted American composer Mark Abel.

Quintessentially Romantic, folk-inspired, cantabile, dance-like, the Sonata for piano and cello, opus 36 is pure Grieg: uncomplicated, melodic, changing in moods throughout its three movements: an emotional Allegro agitato, a quiet Andante molto tranquillo, and a triumphant closing Allegro. Here, as in the previous two works in this superlative CD Jonah Kim and Robert Koening prove to be the ideal interpreters of this music, bringing to a close a memorable album of music familiar and unfamiliar.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS