Music that achieves greatness by dealing with greatness.

Jimmy López Bellido’s mysteriously evocative composition Aurora, here in its world premiere, is a bold three-movement symphonic poem inspired by the Peruvian composer’s experience of seeing Finland’s northern lights during his students days in that country.

The richly-orchestrated score gives the superlative violinist Leticia Moreno a virtuosic turn in a composition created for her and for the ever-enterprising Houston Symphony and its peerless music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada, in a CD now issued by Pentatone.

Ad Astra (Latin for To the Stars), is a five-part composition dedicated to the accomplishments of the people of NASA. The work has evocative titles for each of its movements: Voyager, Apollo, Hubble, Challenger, and Revelation, and in each the composer does not stint on melody and novel harmonies.

Above all, López Bellido has an impressively varied command of orchestration, which he summons in Ad Astra to create effects that often sound as if they came from electronic sources, rather than from the acoustic instruments of the musicians of the Houston Symphony.

Never ever imitative in his work, López Bellido creates a stunning sonic landscape that alternates tutti outbursts from the percussion and brass with delicate filigree work from the strings and surprising twists and turns from the woodwinds, beyond the never exhaustive use of orchestration.

López Bellido’s music is imbued with deep emotional intensity and keen narrative through-line that uses a purely musical language to brilliantly convey the valiant investigations of the universe by humankind, ranging from the pioneering journey into deep space of Voyager through the success of Apollo, to the inquisitive explorations of the Hubble telescope, to Challenger’ tragic explosion, and on to the unknown in Revelation.

In sum, this is music that in an extraordinary performance by the Houston Symphony led by music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada, achieves greatness by dealing with greatness.

Rafael de Acha           

ALL ABOUT THE ARTS  (c/o www.rafaelmusicnotes.com )

The Unique Voice of Algirdas Martinaitis

In the ONDINE album Seasons and Serenades – Works for String Orchestra (ODE 1398-2) we were introduced to the music of the Lithuanian composer Algirdas Martinaitis.

The artists featured – all Lithuanian – are nicely led by Modestas Barkauskas at the podium of the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra with violinist Ruta Lipinaityte and harpsichordist Daumantas Slipkus doing some musical heavy lifting throughout.

The compositions range from the orchestral suites The Three M‘art Comedy Seasons, Altizarra, Serenada panelei Europai, Rojaus paukščiai , and two French language songs exquisitely sung by soprano Asta Krikšciunaite. Throughout the album, the unique voice of Algirdas Martinaitis is present, now comedic in tone, now lyrical, at times tonally anchored, at others defiantly dissonant, quite often rhythmically hyperkinetic, never at rest, always vibrantly intriguing.

If I assume correctly, the music of this respected artist is often heard in Europe but rarely performed in our country. What a shame, for this iconoclastic composer’s works would certainly enrich the repertory of our often timid musical institutions.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Unpretentious Entertainment and Artistic Delight

Paul Schoenfeld’s dance-inspired Four Souvenirs opens the Chandos album From Brighton to Brooklyn
(CHAN 20248). It is a perfect choice to bring the listener into a world of salon pieces comfortably inhabited and brilliantly played by violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Tom Poster (www.elenaurioste.com and http://www.tomposter.co.uk)  

Elena Urioste and pianist-composer Tom Poster in their The Juke Box Album demonstrated their flawlessly idiomatic handling of all kinds of music. Now, in the Chandos album From Brighton to Brooklyn they travel musically from the Edwardian England of Frank Bridge, whose delicacy gives Elena Urioste’s singing violin the opportunity to enchant in Romanze, Cradle Song, and the album closing Heart’s Ease, to the America of Florence Price’s playful Elfentanz.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s large-scale and longer in duration Ballade in C minor, Op. 73 is nicely integrated into the album. Its Afro-English composer had a life filled with vicissitude that ended at age 37 when he notwithstanding his prolific output was nearly destitute. It is given a nobly impassioned performance by Elena Urioste and Tom Poster.

Adding one source of musical enjoyment to another and yet another, From Brighton to Brooklyn includes England’s Benjamin Britten’s Three Pieces from Suite, Op. 6 and America’s Amy Beach’s Three Compositions, Op. 40, and Aaron Copland’s Two Pieces.

From Brighton to Brooklyn offers a lineup of mostly small-scale compositions played with lots of heart and elegance by two superbly gifted artists that provide unpretentious entertainment and artistic delight.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

A delicious musical buffet

Tyler Kline, composer

Mijung An, Ariadne Antipa, Brandon Baltodano, Logan Barrett, Sarah Abigail Del Monte, Ann DuHarnet, Megan Honggokusuma, Grace Huang, Eunmi Ko, Ying Long, Christy Sallee, E-Na Song, Jescelyn Wijaya, Agnieszka Zick, pianists

A plentiful crop of fifty musical miniatures titled ORCHARD has been recently released by the NEUMA label (www.info@NeumaRecords.org) in an engagingly packaged double CD.

The creative product of American composer Tyler Kline, the charm of ORCHARD lies principally in its disarmingly unassuming character and in its refusal to have a one-fits-all label affixed to it.

As varied as the fifty fruits and spices musically portrayed in multiple ways, the many styles and concepts featured in ORCHARD variously evoke at times the folk primitivism of Bartók, at others the aleatory approach of John Cage, now the pioneering minimalism of Terry Riley, and elsewhere the sparseness of Anton Webern.

There are instances when one discerns the influence of the mockingly Gallic style of Poulenc. At one moment one is briefly deceived into thinking one is hearing the music of Debussy or maybe that of one his avant-garde predecessors. Eric Satie maybe? No, this is all Tyler Kline, a defiantly original maverick out to prove nothing other than the fact that music – contemporary new music at that – is meant to be played and listened to with no strings attached and for once enjoyed, for heavens’ sakes.

Kline’s creation gives fourteen young and gifted pianists a chance to play new music by an equally young and extremely gifted young composer. Some of the young artists get to give us tastes of exoteric produce that bears names unfamiliar to many of us: yuzu, mangosteen, datil, granadilla, horned melon, durian, sandcherry, bael, paw paw… Throughout 82 minutes of listening we feast on a mostly tropical fruit buffet rich in taste and variety – the creation of Tyler Kline (www.tylerklinemusic.com ), composer, music producer, classical radio station announcer, and the author of one of the most delicious musical buffets this listener has ever tasted.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

LAETITIA GRIMALDI’s ALBUM OF FRENCH SONG

In OMBRES, the new BIS release, the French lyric soprano Laetitia Grimaldi teams up with the Israeli-South African pianist Ammiel Bushakevitz to bring out of obscure neglect twenty-two mélodies by nine French female composers.

The songs range from the quintessentially Romantic cantilena of all five of the songs of Mélanie Bonis that begin the album, to the lively-in-tempo Villanelle of Cécile Chaminade, to the exoticism of settings by Pauline Viardot-Garcia of texts of several Russian poets.

Among the composers featured in this recording, Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Cécile Chaminade are fairly familiar to those who love French salon music, while the names of Armande de Polignac, Marguerite Beclard d’Harcourt, Mélanie Bonis, Hélène-Frédérique de Faye-Jozin, Juliette Folville, Gabrielle Ferrari and Augusta Holmès are most surprising discoveries. The lyricists – French poets for the most part- are as unfamiliar as the composers save for the name of Victor Hugo.

In lesser hands, this assemblage of esoteric pièces d’occasion conceived for the artistic salons of 19th century Paris during the days of the Belle Époque could wear thin after one too many songs permeated with the same perfumed laid-back languor.  Yet here, with a voice that could melt the hardest of hearts, an absolute command of the French style, flawless idiomatic pronunciation, and immense musicality, the results that Laetitia Grimaldi serves up in good company with Ammiel Bushakevitz, her perfect partnering pianist are simply extraordinary.

Rafael de Acha            ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Ever-challenging, ever-surprising Douglas Knehans.

Douglas Knehans’ lovely composition for solo violin and orchestra Mist Waves (2019) is in the words of its composer “…about land-based cloud and how this forms in waves, sometimes thick and predictable and at other times lightening up and revealing more to us… a metaphor for me of a type of human consciousness and how things are known and unknown to us in mixtures of known and ungraspable.”

The work was given its premiere in the original version for violin and piano by violinist Madeleine Mitchell and pianist Michael Delfin. The current orchestral version was prepared for the ABLAZE CD that features a superb rendition by the Brno Philharmonic, led by Mikel Tom with violin soloist Pavel Wallinger.

The album’s longest work is Cloud Ossuary, a three-part symphony, whose third movement features a haunting poetic text by Katarina Knehans, lovingly sung by soprano Judith Weusten.

As much of Knehans’ work, Cloud Ossuary is at first seemingly atonal though not lacking in melodic sweep, even in its most dramatic moments, like in Breathe Clouded the work’s second movement in which the strings are at first summoned to create a seamless, ethereal sound by mining the uppermost reaches of their range, at times sounding less like acoustic instruments and more like electronic devices.

A kind of perpetual motion melody rises from the lower strings to then combine with an assembly of woodwinds and muted brass in, again, a sound that mimics electronics, but one that is at once softened and made more lyrical.

Bones and All is the title of the third movement. In it the composer proves himself once more a past master of writing for the voice, setting the complex text by Katarina Knehans with perfect command of the genre. The 26-minute-long movement – the longest in the work – is filled with musical turmoil that effectively echoes the ranging emotions expressed in the text.

It is not until the very final moments of the final movement that a hard-earned peace reigns, with the words “… we sit together eating tropical fruits, shrouded by sunlight, a greenish-golden glow bouncing off my skin and refracting off their exposed bones. They cannot be touched here, things are clean, soft. We are loved by the sun, bones and all.”

Those words give closure to an impressive work by Douglas Knehans, an ever-challenging, ever-surprising musical artist.

Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

ALL ABOUT THE ARTS IN 2021

During 2021 ALL ABOUT THE ARTS (c/o www.RafaelMusicNotes.com) posted 114 articles and reviews, receiving 14,454 visits from 9,794 arts lovers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Germany, France, China, Ireland, Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Japan, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Hong Kong, Belgium, Russia, Ecuador, Argentina, Lithuania, Denmark, Austria, South Africa, Norway, Finland, India, Belarus,  Singapore, Mexico, Ghana, Greece, Taiwan, Indonesia, Ukraine, Turkey, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, Thailand, Czech Republic, Armenia, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Iceland, Latvia, Trinidad & Tobago, Luxembourg, Georgia, Chile, Slovakia, Puerto Rico, Croatia, Colombia, Estonia, Venezuela, Honduras, Barbados, Vietnam, St. Kitts & Nevis, Cuba, Mongolia, Malta, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Pakistan, Slovenia, Iraq, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Kenya, Mianmar, Panama, Guam, Faroe Islands, Vanuatu, Uruguay, Albania, Macedonia, Mauritius, El Salvador, Syria, Macau, Dominican Republic, Bahrain, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Kuwait, Gernsey, Peru, Moldova, Saint Lucia, and American Samoa.

To each and every one of our readers we say: Mille Grazie! Merci Beacoup! Vielen Dank! Muito Obrigado! ¡Muchas gracias! Multe mulțumiri! Baie dankie! Shumë faleminderit! شكرًا جزيلاً!  Շատ շնորհակալ եմ! Mnogo hvala! Много благодаря! 深谢之! Puno hvala! Mnohokrát děkuji! Mange tak! Hartelijk dank! Suur tänu! Maraming salamat! Paljon kiitoksia! დიდი მადლობა! Σας ευχαριστώ πολύ! תודה רבה! बहुत धन्यवाद! Nagyon köszönöm! Kærar þakkir! Liels paldies! Labai ačiū! Многу фала!   ᠲᠤᠢ᠌ᠯ ᠢᠶᠠᠷ ᠲᠠᠯᠠᠷᠬᠠᠵᠤ ᠪᠠᠢ᠌ᠨ᠎ᠠ ! Tusen takk! Wielkie dzięki! Благодарю! Много хвала! Veľká vďaka! Najlepša hvala! Stort tack! Çok teşekkürler! Велике спасибі! Rất cảm ơn!

WHAT SOME ARTIST FRIENDS ARE DOING THESE DAYS

For creative people in the arts – many of them free-lancers who live from gig to gig – economic stability and security are most often uncertain. Now in the midst of the current pandemic their financial challenges have increased thousand-fold.

A long-tem friend, an unemployed set designer and theatre teacher is “… mostly bored…going through the thousands of photos from my travels. I also participate in an occasional on line scavenger hunt with other artists and theater folk. It’s a lot of fun and it raises money for various causes…”

Now that the pandemic has become a world-wide crisis, freelance artists and even those previously employed by major orchestras, regional theatres and dance companies are all facing major life decisions: “Do I move in with my parents or friends or move out of the big city or even consider a career change…What can I do to survive?”

Another long-term friend – a sound designer, sounds off a somewhat positive note: Well, my work has pretty much stopped short. I haven’t been employed since mid-March (2020) … all my summer shows have been cancelled. I can’t say that I haven’t enjoyed the break however. Having months off to decompress has…allowed me to reflect on what being a freelance designer means…Now that I’ve been home with my family for so long, I see how important that is to me and I will concentrate on a better work-life balance…”.

Here is one of two musicians: “We put together a 5-day virtual violin intensive – like a camp – a crash course on music theory, violin technique, sight reading, and more! The biggest unfortunate reality for us was being unable to travel… and visit my grandparents – something (we) have done every summer of our lives. Thankfully, they are all healthy and know how to video call!”

In spite of having lost many gigs – one of them an entire concert series that she directs, this young musician is grateful for a ‘drive by’ concert that a neighbor hired her for and for the opportunity to grow a vegetable garden.

These are just some of the stories about artist friends from the world of the performing arts – a world in which almost all activities can only be pursued in conjunction with others. Solo instrumentalists need most of the time a pianist or an orchestra or at the very least another instrumentalist. A theatre designer needs a technical staff to flesh out his design concept.

A young man that we know has lost his part-time work both as an accompanist to singers and as a music librarian, on top of his work playing for various churches around town.

All of it is on hold.

A composer of our acquaintance who has made a successful living in New York for most of his working life has left the Big Apple now that work has all but dried up and has come home where rentals are cheaper and where he hopes to diversify his income by doing some part time teaching.

A bass-baritone and voice teacher has been able to continue doing his instruction on line, but most all up and coming singing gigs have vanished from his schedule. He is even contemplating the possibility of doing a recital on line. As a tenured professor in a major music conservatory he holds out the hope that a projected student production that he is slated to direct and co-produce will take place, although the school, in his words “has had to reorganize and rethink, and in some cases reprogram the entire season.”

Some stories, like the one about a pianist and her husband, a composer are compelling.

“Like many of our colleagues, we were very sad to see the cancellation and postponement of performances and projects for which we were very excited. However, we have been extremely lucky to be able to take part in projects in response to COVID-19 (such as) our own series which merges experimental video, photography, and contemporary music. This extra time has given us the opportunity to reconnect with nature, slow down our speed, and work and practice in new and rewarding ways…We both have found so much hope and imagination from our colleagues and the arts during this pandemic, and we want to share that positive message as much as possible.”

Designers, instrumentalists, singers… They all need an audience. They need Federal, State, and City assistance. They need governmental and private entities, donors, foundations, corporations to step up to help, so that the artists in our country can continue to do their work in pandemic America, to lift up our spirits and alleviate our cares and our grief.

Rafael de Acha ALL BOUT THE ARTS

RUSALKA’S WATERPROOF STAGING

Antonin Dvorak – RUSALKA

UNITEL DVD – Recorded live at the Teatro Real, Madrid, November 202

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real, conducted by Ivor Bolto

Stage Director: Christof Loy

The water nymph Rusalka (soprano Asmik Grigorian) wants to be human, especially since she saw in the distance across the lake in which she lives a handsome Prince (tenor Eric Cutle).

Her father, Vodnik, a water goblin (baritone Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev) warns her that if she assumes a human form she will then lose her voice (the worst of fates for a soprano) and that her happiness will depend on the Prince’s fidelity: should he prove unfaithful, she will be cursed.

Not heeding the warnings of her father, Rusalka asks the witch Jezibaba (mezzo-soprano Katarina Dalayman) to help her walk without the aid of a crutch. We assume this orthopedic device to be a substitution in Christof Loy’s confusing staging for the fish tails all water nymphs are supposed to have.

But I digress.

Now that Rusalka can walk barefoot and even dance en pointe (don’t ask) she is getting married after getting thoroughly groped by the ill-mannered Prince (some more of Christof Loy’s clumsy staging).

A foreign Princess (soprano Karita Mattila) manages to seduce a couple of the wdding guests (male ballet dancers) before bedding down the Prince himself, much to Rusalka’s silent displeasure.

Now that the Prince has broken his oath of loyalty to Rusalka, the curse is on. The hapless tenor is now walking with the aid of crutches (more of Christof Loy’s puzzling staging).

The witch Jezibaba now informs Rusalka that she can be given water nymph immortality by kissing the Prince. But there is one small detail: Rusalka’s kiss will kill the Prince. The Prince gets his kiss. He dies. Rusalka walks back into the lake, no longer a fish out of water.

End of the three-hour-long opera.

All of the above takes place in a set vaguely resembling a large room devoid of furniture. Rusalka spends most of the time in bed, in a white slip. The water sprite sports a three-piece suit. The time and place of the action are left up for grabs. The singing is very good. When it comes to the acting, the principals appear to have been left to their own devices. The orchestra can’t be faulted.

But the stage director…

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Zazà

What first struck me about the UNITEL CD of the Theater an der Wien 2020 production of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s lyric comedy Zazà is how very contemporary in spirit this neglected 1900 gem is.

Written just a few years after Pagliacci and preceding by decades the composer’s other equally neglected operas and operettas, this story of an ill-fated vaudeville performer is blunt, true to life, and deserving of a place in the repertory of those opera companies in search of vehicles for three first-rank leading singers who can look the part, sing Leoncavallo’s demanding music, and act with conviction.

Like Pagliacci – another opera about performers – the story of Zazà deals with the music hall star of the same name who becomes entangled in a passionate love affair with the married businessman Milio Dufresne. The fellow performer Cascart is infatuated with Zazà, but his feelings are not reciprocated by her.

The Unitel DVD features a cast of twenty-two gifted singing actors, led by the superb soprano Svetlana Aksenova, who has been building an international career in Europe, singing a repertoire that ranges from Puccini’s Tosca and Madame Butterfly to Tchaikovsky’s Lisa and Tatiana. Temperamentally suited to the character, Ms. Aksenova acts the title role with a mix of tempestuousness and sensitivity, looks like what the role is: a very pretty show business star, and sings with intensity and assurance a role that is anything but easy.

When I first read that the English baritone Christopher Maltman was featured as Cascart – an Italian baritone part long associated with the likes of Sammarco, De Luca, and Amato – I wondered if he could deliver what the role demands. More than just surprised I was impressed by Maltman’s committed handling of the challenging role, including a beautifully sung Zazà, piccola zingara and a lovely Buona Zazà del mio buon tempo.

Nicolai Schukoff plays the role of Dufresne with an edgy mix of insouciance and earnestness, handling very well the high tessitura of the part of the duplicitous Frenchman.

The remainder of the cast escels as singing actors under the precise direction of Christof Loy, in a staging enhanced by the set of Raimund Orfeo Voigt and the costumes of Herbert Barz-Murauer. Stefan Soltész beautifully leads the ORF Radio Symphony of Vienna and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir with insight into the Verismo of Leoncavallo.

Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS