Kiri Te Kanawa as Strauss’ Marschallin

36 years ago the Royal Opera House assembled a top-notch cast to star in a production of Richard Strauss’ Comedy-in-Music Der Rosenkavalier.

The cast chosen for the occasion was led by Kiri Te Kanawa, then at age 41 at the very top of her prime as the Marshallin. English mezzo-soprano Anne Howells was the Octavian, the American Barbara Bonney sang the role of Sophie, and Danish bass Auge Augland was the Baron Ochs.

The production – elegant to a fault – was directed by John Schlesinger, with scenery by William Dudley and costumes by Maria Bjornson.

The Royal Opera Chorus and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House were led by Georg Solti.

Now Opus Arte has re-released a DVD of the production, and the results are just fine.

As the aging Marschallin, Kiri Te Kanawa looks anything but superannuated, ravishing in a variety of gowns, coiffed within an inch of her stage life, and singing like a goddess come to earth. The scene between her and Octavian that ends Act I becomes in her hands a thing of wonder, and much of the Straussian recitative that threatens to wear a little thin as its stretches for minutes on end is handled by her so gracefully that it becomes as melodic as anything the composer ever wrote. The trio that she shares with her colleagues Howells and Bonney towards the end of the opera is a sung gem made all the more appealing by all three participants.

Barbara Bonney sings and acts the perfect Sophie: pert at first, then blossoming vocally and dramatically into a young girl on the brink of womanhood. Anne Howells sings and acts a reliable Octavian, lanky, agile, and funny in his several encounters with Auge Augland’s bumbling, fumbling ox of an Ochs.

The supporting roles are all evenly cast, from Dennis O’Neill’s Italian Singer to Robert Tear’s Valzacchi to Jonathan Summers’ Faninal.

Long in precision and perhaps short on inspiration, Georg Solti leads a solid performance never coloring too far outside the lines.

As a record of one of the iconic performances of the role of the Marschallin, the Opus Arte DVD is invaluable.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Wanted: Female Symphony Conductor

Something is happening in the world of concert music, and it is a very positive change. If only it took less time to happen!

A baby boomer generation of female conducting pioneers is being followed by a new group of women, many American trained, others American-born that should be stepping up onto podiums in the United States and abroad to carry the tradition of their predecessors.

Women conductors have for some time now been invited to appear as guests at symphony orchestras here and abroad, among them Portugal’s Joanna Carneiro, Mexico’s Alondra de la Parra, Taiwan’s Mei-Ann Chen, America`s Karina Canellakis, France’s Laurence Equilbey, Denmark’s Maria Balstude, Hong Kong’s Elim Chan, South Korea’s Han-na Chang and Eun Sun Kim, Lithuania’s Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Finland’s Susanna Mälkki and Dalia Stasevska, Germany’s Ruth Reinhardt, Italy’s Speranza Scappucci, New Zealand’s Gemma New, Austria’s Katharina Wincor, and Colombia’s Lina González-Granados.

Some of these women are in their thirties and early forties, old enough to have acquired substantial conducting experience and mature enough to lead their own ensembles. A few have been appointed to lead symphony orchestras here in America, though most of them have gotten the best assignments in Europe, where physical proximity between countries makes guest appearances away from their home turf viable and where compensation and benefits are far better than in the United States.

Finally positive signs are starting to show. Chinese-American Xian Zhang leads the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has just appointed Nathalie Stutzmann as its next Musical Director and Principal Conductor. But that is not nearly enough.

Some, like the Cuban-born, naturalized British Odaline de la Martinez have established themselves in diversified careers encompassing teaching and or composing and or playing diverse instruments and or leading mid-sized ensembles. Such is the case with Jeri Lynne Johnson, a Black female conductor – still a rarity these days – who leads her own Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, while in Cleveland Jeannette Sorrell helms Apollo’s Fire, both self-started initiatives to create conducting work for themselves when no other conducting work was forthcoming.

By and large changes have taken place at a snail’s pace. According to the League of American Orchestras, five years ago, out of 174 American orchestral ensembles of all sizes, less than 15 were led by women. Since then little change has taken place, at least up until now. As Baltimore’s Marin Alsop and Buffalo’s Jo Ann Falletta – both in their mid to late sixties – contemplate hanging their hats, the question lingers as to whom will replace them and the soon-to-retire Cincinnati’s Louis Langrée (60), Chicago’s Riccardo Muti (80), Minnesota’s Osmo Vanska (68), three leaders of large-sized ensembles who are stepping down from their posts.

The Indianapolis, Kansas City and Salt Lake City have recently hung conducting help wanted signs. Who, one wonders will fill those openings in the upcoming seasons. Will any number of experienced female conductors be considered for those jobs?

We will soon know the answers.

Rafael de Acha            ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

SHENG CAI PLAYS GRIEG

The Canadian label Atma Classique has just released an album available both as a CD and digitally of the pianist Sheng Cai playing music for the piano by Edvard Grieg.

The finely engineered and produced project includes the rarely heard Piano Sonata, Op. 7, a youthful work composed when Grieg was 22 years old, and the still rarely heard Ballade, Op. 24, an interesting composition structured as a theme and variations.

Sheng Cai’s pianistic technique and protean interpretive gifts more than equip him to tackle the large cornerstones of Grieg’s repertoire for the piano, but it is especially in the Scenes of a Country Life, Op. 19 and in the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46 that he demonstrates the kind of sensitivity and lightness of touch that makes for a perfect interpretation of Morning Mood and The Death of Ase.

In the livelier Anitra’s Dance and in the dramatic In the Hall of the Mountain King, Sheng Cai evidences his flair for the theatrical, reminding us that these pieces were part of the incidental music for the Henrik Ibsen play Peer Gynt.

In the three miniatures Scenes of Country Life the genius of the composer attains the goal of elevating the folk-inspired to inspiring concert music: In the mountains, Bridal Procession, and From the Carnival are as those in the Peer Gynt Suite – little gems imprinted with Grieg’s hallmark qualities: brevity, economy of means, and a flawless balance of Nordic restraint and sentiment.

Throughout the recording Sheng Cai, a welcome and notable artist proves to be the ideal interpreter of this music: elegant, assured, inspired, judicious in his choice of tempi, nuanced in his dynamics, devoid of any of the superficial flashiness that plagues so many soloists today.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

SONIDOS CUBANOS

Neuma Records has been releasing dozens of albums by composers and performers from many corners of the world for the last three decades.

Next up is Sonidos Cubanos 2 – second in a Latin Grammy-nominated series – an album that focuses on the music of five composers who are Cuban-born or of Cuban parentage.

Composed by Flores Chaviano and played by the Orquesta de Cámara de Siero, led by Manuel Paz, with Héctor Cuello as soloist on the Spanish gaita, NiFe is a tribute to the victims of a 1995 mining accident in Spain that depicts in clamorous dissonances the chaotic events of a national tragedy and their aftermath.

Ivette Herryman Rodríguez’ Memorial is a lyrical solo setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem, “When I am dead, my dearest” sung here by the crystal-clear soprano Lindsay Kesselman, with the accomplished accompaniment of pianist Oscar Micaelsson and cellist Norbert Lewandowski.

A virtual opera set in a post-USA dystopia, Sabrina Peña’s Young Libertaria depicts a young woman’s struggles as she leads a children’s army against evil corporate scientists, while Eduardo Morales-Caso ‘s Evolving Spheres employs the participation of Lorenzo Iosco and Duncan Gifford teaming up to play an inventive fantasy for bass clarinet and piano.

Performed by the superb ensemble Lontano, Odaline de la MartinezLitanies vividly recalls some of the composer’s childhood memories of growing up in Cuba.

Jagged, slicing, atonal asperity is contrasted to moments of tonality, as if the troubling aspects of one’s past struggled within one’s recollections with whatever one can hold on to for comfort.

After an opening section in which an ostinato bass line lingers on ominously, a lively syncopated passage for the woodwinds and the strings moves in to evoke Cuban dance rhythms. A hint of lyricism is heard when a cello plays a mournful passage. Then soli for bass flute and violin are juxtaposed to a bass line similar if not identical to the one that opened this intensely emotional musical walk down memory lane.  

Neuma RecordsSonidos Cubanos 2 produced by Cuban-American composer Orlando Jacinto Garcia is an invaluable sound anthology that provides the opportunity for five talented composers to share their uniquely diverse music with a larger audience, for which heartfelt applause is due Neuma Records‘ Philip Blackburn for creativity and enterprise.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

The work of a woman composer: Florence Price

In November 1943, Florence Price wrote to Serge Koussevitzky, the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, asking him to consider performing her scores “Unfortunately the work of a woman composer is preconceived by many to be light, froth, lacking in depth, logic and virility. Add to that the incident of race — I have Colored blood in my veins — and you will understand some of the difficulties that confront one in such a position.”

Koussevitzky never replied to her.

NAXOS will soon release an album of the music of Florence Price.

The Symphony No. 3 in C Minor of Florence Price is melodic, inflected with Afro-American religious melodies while embracing European tradition yet American in spirit, broadly Romantic, bluesy at times, jazzily syncopated at others. Divided into four movements – a noble opening Andante-Allegro, a slower Andante that welcomes haunting soli from the various woodwind principals, a Juba – a now lively, now sensuous dance of 19th century plantation Blacks – and a rousingly dramatic  Scherzo Finale.

The Mississippi River Suite is even more African-American in spirit and in its use of Afro-American tunes: “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Stand Still, Jordan,” “Go Down, Moses,” and “Deep River”  

Price lets us imagine a boat cruising down the Mississippi depicting scenes along the way, evoking sunrise, imitating nature, even summoning images of Native Americans, riffing jazz and blues.

Again, the incomparable ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra plays this music with complete commitment.

The Arrival of the Negro in America when first brought here as a slave…His Resignation and Faith… His Adaptation: a Fusion of his native and acquired impulses are the titles to  the three movements of Florence Price’s suite Ethiopia’s Shadow in America, a 1932 work in which Price continued her exploration of Afro-American music and its integration onto the European orchestral repertoire, here now in its world premiere.

The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra led by John Jeter gives this joyful, all-American music its utmost care in elegant and loving readings, all to prove that Florence Price’s long-overdue recognition has finally arrived.

Rafael de Acha            ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Windsync opens Matinee Musicale Cincinnati Season

WindSync can deliver one of the most pleasing sounds between heaven and earth. Its five members are Garrett Hudson, flute and piccolo; Emily Tsai, oboe and English horn; Elias Rodriguez, clarinet; Kara LaMoure, bassoon; Anni Hochhalter, French horn. They play many idoms authoritatively, elegantly, with adroit technique, and with great fun.

They opened the Matinee Musicale Cincinnati 2021-2022 series with a compelling recital tht began with a selection of Bagatelles of György Ligeti, a collection that manages to make dissonance agreeable at times, humorous at others, incorporating Hungarian folk rhythms and melodies and occasional and well-planned cacophony.

A lovely arrangement for winds of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 in E flat major led to a brief intermission, after which the five players returned to the Memorial Hall stage to feature their own arrangement of Ravel’s Bolero. They took turns at the snare drum, sustaining the constant rhythmic pattern that underpins Ravel’s composition while returning on and off to their instruments. The  tour de force earned them a well-deserved applause.

They followed Ravel’s Bolero with Valerie Coleman’s Portraits of Josephine, a jazzy and bluesy homage to the American chanteuse Josephine Baker.

Turkish composer’s Eberh Eyilmaz’s Raki Havasi is a colorful work commissioned by WindSync which brought the afternoon to a raucous close with its driving rhythm and Near-Eastern sound.

A few though not enough composers have been writing for the woodwind quintet. Nielsen, Villa-Lobos, Milhaud, Hindemith, and Barber, among some others wrote for the wind quintet, and yet arts organizations are shy about scheduling recitals by wind quintets which is all to their loss and that of their audiences.

All the more power to Matinee Musicale Cincinnati, which ever adventurous in its programming has opened with splendid results its 2021-202 recital series with WindSync

Listen to Windsync playing Jupiter from Gustav Holst’s The Planets: https://youtu.be/BSyLauxdwtw

Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Arts Organizations reach out to new audiences

For many years now the performing arts world has been confronting a troubling trend: the traditional largely Caucasian, aging, affluent audience on which symphony orchestra, concert series, theatre and opera companies have depended for a substantial portion of their ticket sales and subscription income has been steadily eroding while new, younger, fixed income, multi-ethnic audiences have yet to take the place of the older, mostly White, well-heeled one.

Statistics from a number of sources show alarming trends: the non-Caucasian segment of the population is increasing year after year and yet African-American, Hispanic and Latino audiences are not augmenting the ranks of performing arts attendees. Not only subscribers but single-ticket buyers to arts organizations continue to decline in numbers.

In an effort to address the problem, arts organizations large and small are proactively tackling the problem. Here’s what the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is up to in trying to remedy the problem.

CSO PROOF

Launched in 2019, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s CSO Proof series is an incubator for innovative concert formats.

Designed to challenge the constructs of a traditional orchestra performance, every element is up for grabs. Programs are envisioned by a variety of artistic collaborators often employing elements of theater, dance, and technology that add new dimensions of color and texture to the concert experience.

The first CSO Proof of the 2021-22 season is Anna Meredith’s ANNO, a reimagining of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, utilizing 8.1 surround audio and immersive video to create a fresh, hour-long experience of the Baroque masterpiece for string orchestra and electronics.

The second CSO Proof is Black Being¸ a co-commission from Flutronix based on a poem by Jaki Shelton Green that explores the African American female experience through the themes of fear, sacrifice, beauty, survival and strength. Composers/performers Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull will create an immersive, evening-length staged performance intended to provide a lens into black cultural realities and human conditions.

SPECIAL PROJECTS OF THE CSO

For more than two decades, Classical Roots has been a Cincinnati community staple, and what started as a small concert series in 2001 has grown into a diverse community of music lovers, united in celebration of the rich legacy of African American music and the African American experience.

The Community Mass Choir, led by Resident Conductor William Henry Caldwell, and made up of 150 singers from more than 50 churches will perform in concerts throughout the year.

On April 22, 2022, Pops Conductor John Morris Russell will conduct the Orchestra’s annual Classical Roots concert at Music Hall.

DIGITALLY STREAMED CONCERTS

During the pandemic, the Orchestra stayed connected to audiences through investing in its digital capacity, producing and live streaming more than a dozen CSO and Pops concerts as well as educational content for the learning environment.

Virtual audience attendance exceeded the capacity the Orchestra would have been able to reach in-person at Music Hall for the same time period.

Building upon that success and furthering its commitment to serve as a resource and be accessible to the widest possible audience, the Orchestra will continue to produce and stream a regular cadence of digital content and concert broadcasts in the 2021/22 season.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND LEARNING

Multicultural Awareness Council

Music Innovator William Menefield’s residency will continue into next season, and the CSO will collaborate with him to present a program of his original compositions in fall 2021

Young Peoples’ Concerts will be provided digitally in fall 2021 and will return to Music Hall in 2022.

Lollipops Family Concerts, introducing children ages 2-9 to the world of orchestral music with fun, interactive performances, will be presented digitally in the fall and will return to Music Hall in March 2022, with programs to be announced.

Each and every one of these initiatives are a good example of how to right what’s wrong without throwing out the Beethoven/Brahms baby with the bathwater.

Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Intriguingly complex and moving: the music of Orlando Jacinto García

The prolific Cuban American composer Orlando Jacinto García recorded three of his string quartets with the invaluable Amernet Quartet for METIER. The CD came to my attention as a result of his having recently received a well-deserved GRAMMY nomination.

After listening intently to the three quartets in the METIER CD I came away impressed by my compatriot’s intriguingly complex and moving compositions, to which I listened in this order: String Quartet No. 1, “rendering counterpoint”, String Quartet No. 2, “cuatro”, and String Quartet No. 3, “I never saw another butterfly.”

Orlando Jacinto García’s music defies categorization or, worse, labeling. Thus I have to resort to subjective language as I did above – “intriguingly complex and moving” – rather to musicological lingo. For the musically untrained listener this music will not begin to sound like anything you have ever heard before, that is unless you are an habitual attendee of “new music” concerts.

That said, this music dispenses with the triple tenet of Western music of the last seven centuries: there is no harmony to speak of, neither counterpoint nor melody – certainly not as one has come to understand the meaning of those three terms. Instead García spins continuous, seemingly uneventful music in which minute changes of texture and tone happen imperceptibly. In listening to these quartets the listener must commit to complete attention. If one does indeed commit, quietude settles in, and the rewards then to be derived are immense.

Whereas some of the titles that this imaginative composer assigns to his works might at first seem cryptic, that of his String Quartet No. 3, “I never saw another butterfly” elicits at once an intense emotional response from those who are familiar with Celeste Raspanti’s play of the same title, or the poem by Pavel Friedmann that inspired it. The eerie calm that pervades this one-movement, 24-minute sonic landscape is now and then bluntly interrupted by a dramatic thudding sound from the cello that, given the largely even sound of the composition sends shivers up one’s spine.

The Amernet Quartet plays this music with complete discipline and sensitivity. The engineering is exemplary. I hope that METIER will continue to record the fascinating music of this pioneering artist.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Handel’s Unsung Heroes

In the PENTATONE CD Handel’s Unsung Heroes, the instrumentalists of La Nuova Musica are placed on the same plane as the singers.

Three marvelous players – violinist Thomas Gould, oboist Leo Duarte and bassoonist Joe Qiu stand shoulder to shoulder with soprano Lucy Crowe, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice and countertenor Iestyn Davies in an array of nine arias, and shine in a variety of instrumental turns.

The three singers – countertenor Iestyn Davies, soprano Lucy Crowe, and mezzo-soprano Christine Rice are nothing short of spectacular: Iestyn Davies sets the bar high for peer countertenors, delivering two show-stopping arie di bravura from Rinaldo: Or la tromba in suon festante and Venti, turbini, prestate le vostre ali a questo pie.  

Mezzo-soprano Christine Rice’s lyric sound is perfect for Pena tiranna io sento al core from Amadigi di Gaula, ideal for Ariodante’s Scherza, Infida, and incomparable in Sta nell’Ircana pietrosa tana from Alcina.

Lucy Crowe’s dispenses warp-speed runs with aplomb and rides the high tessitura of Cleopatra’s arias from Giulio Cesare with ease, later producing a flute-like dulcet sound for Galatea’s Qui l’augel da pianta in pianta from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo.

Leading unobtrusively, accompanying the singers, and dominating the proceedings in the various instrumental passages David Bates is the ideal Handel conductor.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

SYMPHONIC SIBELIUS

SYMPHONIC SIBELIUS

A just-released SWR Classic 3 CD set features recently re-mastered studio recordings made in the late 1950’s for Deutsche Grammophon of Sibelius’ Symphonies Nos. 2, 4 and 5 and, as a bonus filler, Three Songs for Bass and Orchestra nicely sung by the late Finnish bass-baritone Kim Borg. It features the Südwestfunkorchester Baden-Baden conducted by Hans Rosbaud.

Right after the success of Finlandia, Jan Sibelius was lucky to find a patron who sponsored the still young Finnish composer to get away from the snows and months-long winter darkness of Finland by setting him up in a villa in Rapallo, Italy, where he completed his second symphony in less than a year. Sunny Italy did the usually sullen Finn a lot of good as can be discerned from the generally positive tone of the work’s first movement and the triumphant tone of its final D major Allegro.

Of his symphony Sibelius said: “My second symphony is a confession of the soul” even though some of posterity’s critics were harshly dismissive of the work, with the New York Herald Tribune’s Virgil Thomson lashing out at the Finn by describing the work as “”vulgar, self-indulgent, and provincial beyond all description.” It is doubtful that Sibelius got a copy of Thomson’s snarky commentary, but he still lobbed one at his American nemesis and all those like him when he wrote: “Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.”

The SWR Classic recording also includes the Symphony No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 63 and the Symphony No. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 82, neither of which attained the popularity of the composer’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op.43 and both of which in one way or another reflect the conflicted personality of a flawed man and erratic artist who after life-long struggles with alcohol and other personal demons fell into a thirty year silence that ended with his death.

Hans Rosbaud’s conducting does not compare well to the many recordings of this music with younger and more contemporary maestros making Sibelius’ music vibrate with excitement. If you are looking for faithful adherence to the abundant indications set down by Sibelius then this recording is for you. If you absolutely love the music of Jan Sibelius, then this recording is for you. If you are the type of collector who loves to compare recordings of the same music interpreted by different artists, then this recording is for you.

Rafael de Acha            ALL ABOUT THE ARTS