Sunday, August 16, 2015

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Serves Up Italian Favorites



By Erica Miner

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s Aug. 5 concert at the Hatch Shell proved a number of points: first, that the city can boast a large number of outstanding musicians; second, that Music Director Christopher Wilkins can gather together an exceptional ensemble of musicians, chorus and soloists; and most importantly, that Boston loves Italian opera. 

“Italian Night” in the orchestra’s summer concert series was a huge hit with the enthusiastic audience, due not only to the immensely popular favorites Wilkins adeptly programmed and performed, but also to the quality of the soloists he chose. Metropolitan Opera star baritone Stephen Powell (http://www.laopus.com/2014/01/doing-what-he-wants-to-do-stephen.html) and his wife and longtime soprano collaborator Barbara Shirvis headed a cast of singers who performed a program of Italian chestnuts sure to please. 

Powell dominated the evening and immediately took command, captivating the audience with the power and beauty of his voice. Well known for his outstanding high notes and creamy legato, he showed no strain in his flawless interpretation of the fiendishly difficult Prologue to Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. His tone production was impeccable, and his voice carried superbly in spite of the New England summer wind whipping across the stage.

 Wilkins then led the orchestra in a touching rendition of the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. If there were any dry eyes left on the lawn after that, “Dove Guardi” from Verdi’s Otello assured that the rest of the audience would become misty eyed, as Shirvis’s full-bodied soprano beautifully melded with the sounds of the Boston Landmarks One City Choir, Scott Allen Jarrett’s Back Bay Chorale and the North End Music and Performing Arts Center Youth Choir. The gifted children chosen to sing in the latter did an admirable job with Verdi’s challenging music, and charmed the audience with their pleasing personalities. 

Honking trucks, screaming ambulances and the usual disruptive cacophony of Storrow Drive did not faze Powell in the demanding “Credo” from Otello. His powerful voice cut through both the ambient noise and the heavy orchestration, and did not flag even as he next brought the villain Scarpia to life in the Act 1 finale from Puccini’s Tosca. His tones were full and lush, and his characterization, even without the advantage of costumes and sets, was thoroughly believable. Shirvis came into her own as the vulnerable Tosca, her voice full and luminous, and her interpretation dramatically convincing. One would love to hear her sing Mozart as well. Baritone David Kravitz provided excellent support with his fine rendition of the Sacristan. 

After the intermission, Wilkins changed the pace, channeling Fellini in an impressive rendering of Nino Rota’s Ballet Suite from the film La Strada. Well known for his movie scores, Rota had a long-standing collaboration with Fellini but also composed for other celebrated Italian directors such as Francis Ford Coppola and Franco Zeffirelli. The extensive violin and trumpet solos were expertly played by concertmaster Greg Vitale and principal trumpet Dana Oakes. 

Orchestra and chorus members were given their chance to shine in the Overture and beloved chorus Va Pensiero from Verdi’s Nabucco, and in the equally recognizable Triumphal March from Aida. In the latter, Boston showed its unique creativity by adding the HONK! Festival ensemble (www.honkfest.org) to the mix. The self-described “free music and dance part of activist street bands” consisting of winds, brass and percussion - invented in Boston and copied in major cities across the US and Australia - added a surprising element of funk and fun to the combined forces of chorus, orchestra and soloists. Dressed colorfully, decorated with multicolored, dazzling and flashing lights, the band started out playing on each side of the audience, marched forward and assembled in front of the stage, playing all the while. After the hugely successful Verdi chorus, the band then launched into jazzy rock hits, blasting their way into the audience’s hearts and providing a lighthearted ending to the classical-based evening.



In another innovative move, it was announced prior to the concert that live tweets, translations of the texts, plot summaries and more could be found on the Landmark website through mobile devices. Thus, in this hugely enjoyable event the Boston Landmarks Concerts brought much-loved Italian chestnuts into the 21st century, assuring that opera remains not only beloved but also relevant. More information about the Landmarks series can be found at: www.landmarksorchestra.org.

Photos used by permission of: Michael Dwyer
Erica can be reached at: eminer5472@gmail.com

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ma and Ax Channel Beethoven at Tanglewood



By Erica Miner

To witness Yo-Yo Ma in a live performance, especially for the first time, is an otherworldly experience. To see Ma and Emanuel Ax perform all five Beethoven cello sonatas in one evening at Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Shed on Aug. 9 was life changing. 

Part of Beethoven’s early role in music history was to help create a whole new technical and virtuosic paradigm for both the piano and the cello. With his two cello sonatas, Op. 5, written when he was only 25 and virtually starting out, the brilliant pianist Beethoven began to revolutionize the instrument’s role in the sonata repertoire, helping create a new technical paradigm in that form for piano with a solo instrument. At that point, Haydn and Mozart had demonstrated that the cello was more than just a worker bee for the bass line. Piano virtuosity was evolving. 

From his Op. 5 and forward, Beethoven proved that the piano was capable of concerto-like brilliance, calling upon the instrument to play with unprecedented virtuosity even in a sonata setting. After that, sonatas often bore titles with the piano having top billing: a sonata for piano and solo instrument, rather than the other way around. With his three other cello sonatas, Op. 69, and the two of Op. 102, one can track a virtual narrative of Beethoven’s compositional history - a passageway through the master composer’s life. 

The Ma-Ax duo masterfully performed that narrative. From the moment Ma took the stage, one felt transported to another realm beyond the merely musical: an altered state or level of consciousness that leaves mere mortals in its wake. That is the genius of this duo of extraordinary musicians, whose 43-year collaboration stands as the key to their staying power, as they powered through the early Sonatas No. 1 in F major and G minor, Op. 5, the middle period Sonata No. 3 in A, Op. 69, and the later Sonatas No. 4 and 5 of Opus 102. 

Once he touched his bow to the strings, Ma’s familiar, characteristic gestures made it crystal clear that his psychic connection to the instrument is so complete that physical contact seems superfluous, almost unnecessary. He is capable of spiriting tunes out of the cello in the manner of Dukas’ Sorcerer, with hardly a stroke, producing ecstatic sounds with his bow just hovering over the strings.

Yet when the music called for it he dug in aggressively and firmly with a sound that was decisive but never harsh. When he launched into the first piece on the program, Beethoven’s early Op. 5 No. 1, a sound emanated throughout the shed that humans could only begin to appreciate. 

His characteristic emotive gestures, marked by his alternately hugging the instrument and holding it at a distance, seem even more pronounced when one witnesses his brilliance in a live setting. Like a true guru who can convince everyone in an audience that he is speaking individually to each person, Ma captivated his audience with his effortless rapid-fire passagework and long, silky-smooth melodic lines. 

By sharing equally in that mastery, Ax confirmed that the rewards of such a long-standing collaboration could be great indeed by demonstrating a keen understanding of his role with impressive, though unpretentious, displays of passage work, his fingers melding with the keys in great economy of motion to produce panoplies of impeccably played notes. Watching and listening as roulades cascaded brilliantly and precisely under Ax’s fingers was a joy. Undaunted by the fiendish technical challenges, Ax never faltered in his support, blending and merging his passagework with Ma’s, whether lightning-quick in the rapid passages or soft and supple in the gentler ones. Interestingly, in a testament to the strength of their musical bond, Ma was able to perform basically with his back turned to Ax, with the latter providing support to the soloist without compromising the integrity of the difficult passages: truly a partnership worthy of the gods. 

The progression from Beethoven’s Op. 5 to his Op. 69 shows the contrasts between his early and middle period. With its subtle shifts between introspective and sweeping melodies, reminiscent of his Ghost Trio, Op. 70 No. 1, the work also evokes the brilliance of the Rasumovsky Quartets Op. 59, 74 and 96. Ma and Ax made a seamless transition between periods with their impeccable sense of style and flawless musicianship, plying the music for its contrasts of subtlety and drama. 

Beethoven takes a small leap to the edge of his late period with the Op. 102 sonatas. No.1 couples lyricism with exuberance, while No. 2 leaps further toward his final works, the late string quartets, with a fugal finale. The composer famously felt lacking in his ability to write in the form in which Bach was the consummate master; yet, for example, his Grosse Fuge Op. 130 shows an idiosyncratic brilliance that no other composer could have displayed and no other duo could render with more virtuosity, panache and sheer beauty than Ax and Ma. 

For the after-dinner liqueur to this extraordinary musical feast, the artists surprised the audience with a tantalizing encore: the slow movement of Brahms’ D minor Violin Sonata No. 3, Op. 108. Ma is famous for performing violin repertoire such as the Franck Sonata on the cello. His rendering of this exquisite Adagio to the composer’s final violin sonata was as lush as a spray of jasmine in a tropical garden, diffusing its heady perfume into the warm night air. 

Ma also showed that humor is an integral part of his partnership with Ax when he took the microphone to explain his mock guilt at having so many fewer notes to play than Ax - 38 pages to Ax’s 155, he declared somewhat gleefully - corroboration that Beethoven had accomplished his mission to boost the piano’s role in the sonata repertoire. 

Gounod called Mozart’s Don Giovanni, “A work without blemish…of uninterrupted perfection.” This evening of Beethoven with a dash of Brahms performed by Ma and Ax was a microcosm of that perfection, smaller in scope but every bit as inspiring.

Photos (public domain): masslive, inmozarts footsteps.com
Erica can be reached at: eminer5472@gmail.com

Monday, August 10, 2015

Andris Nelsons Takes Command in Tanglewood Mahler 8



By Erica Miner

Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andris Nelsons has experienced two “firsts” in the past few days: his debut conducting the Boston Pops at the Tanglewood on Parade concert on Aug. 4; and Aug. 8, his first time leading the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra – and hundreds of other performers – in Mahler’s Symphony No. 8.

This performance of Mahler’s Eighth was subtitled “The Leonard Bernstein Memorial Concert” in homage to Bernstein, who conducted the final concert of his lifetime 25 years ago on Aug. 19, 1990, in the Koussevitzky Shed. Not only was Bernstein among the young musicians who participated in the inaugural season of the Tanglewood Music Center in 1940, but also he was a major guiding force at Tanglewood over the decades since its inception, and was the first person to significantly champion Mahler’s music in this country.

Despite its massive Orchestra, Boy Choir, Opera Chorus, four sopranos, two mezzos, tenor, baritone and bass, Mahler did not endorse the name “Symphony of a Thousand” for his eighth symphony. The last of his works to be premiered in his lifetime, the composer conducted its premiere in Munich in the autumn of 1910, just months before his death the following year. Assisting him in that effort were the two immensely gifted young conductors Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, who went on to make their own impact on the 20th century musical world. In that audience was the conductor who was to premiere the work in the US six years later, Leopold Stokowski. Bernstein first emerged as a major musical force after replacing Walter in a concert with the New York Philharmonic. The circle of musical life continues.

With its two-part structure, Mahler’s monumental work mirrors the nearly double-sized orchestral forces, augmented especially in the woodwinds and brass. The unifying concept of the piece is that of the power of love to redeem human weaknesses and inadequacies. As Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony expressed these capabilities in a 19th century context, so does Mahler’s Eighth Symphony define that potential for the 20th century.

Part 1, Veni, Creator Spiritus, is based on the Latin text of a medieval Pentecostal hymn. Here Mahler conjures Wagner: the atmosphere and character of the Meistersinger Prelude, but with two choruses and solo singers, and sustaining the Das Rheingold E-flat major chord opening as a bonus. Part 2, which begins in E-flat minor, bridges the ten-century gap between the above hymn and the 19th century by recreating the final scene of Goethe’s Faust. Here Mahler delegates each singer to represent a dramatic role from the text. With highly challenging arias and harmonic similarities to Parsifal, Mahler again tips his hat to Wagner in this section, returning to noble E-flat major as the soul of Faust ascends into heaven.

The immensity of this work will test the mettle of any conductor courageous enough to hold such an immense group, not to mention an audience, in thrall. The piece is also a strenuous effort for the orchestra. The gifted young TMC musicians were up to, and surpassed, the challenge; perhaps not numbering a full thousand, but in the case of this impressively accomplished orchestral ensemble, I doubt anyone was counting. Not every maestro gets the opportunity to command such numerous musical troops; Nelsons demonstrated that he is more than worthy of such a task.



In the ebullient opening, the maestro showed unabashed joy, reflecting both Mahler’s wish to present the work as a “gift to the nation” of Austria, and the composer’s own newfound optimism at that time of his life in the limitless spiritual potential of humankind. Nelsons deftly switched to lyricism as the handpicked soloists (a dream cast, each and every one a major talent) chimed in. Throughout the evening he knitted together the complexities of the score into a nuanced, coherent whole with unflagging intensity and a clarity that was nothing short of miraculous.

The singers’ roles are equally demanding; especially for the sopranos, who remain in the high tessitura much of the time; the tenor, who is required to cut through the colossal orchestral and choral forces; and the bass, whose extreme vocal leaps require both agility and power.

The soloists dominate in Part 2, where each adopts a character name from the Goethe text. After setting the atmosphere with ethereal tremolo in the violins and mysterious pizzicato in the lower strings, Mahler recreates the melodic imitation of a medieval church motet with the woodwinds. As if out of nowhere the forces of nature explode with the full orchestra shouting out in despair with dissonant Wagnerian thunder, like a sudden Berkshire Mountain storm. Then the quicker movement begins, and with Das Lied von der Erde passion, leads up to the hushed chorus entrance.

The soloists established their vocal supremacy as of their first entrances in Part 1, but Part 2 gave them extended opportunities to shine. A strong axis of sopranos included Erin Wall, who sang with a glorious combination of sweetness and strength and whose high notes rang out over the immense orchestral and choral forces. Her full, dramatic, well-placed, technically proficient voice was a pleasure to hear. Well versed in Strauss and Wagner, Christine Goerke provided tremendous power coupled with subtle lyricism and showed her operatic roots to advantage in her joyful, transported facial expressions. When these two voices rang out in unison high C’s, the rafters seemed ready to take flight.

Similarly compelling were Mihoko Fujimura’s rich mezzo, and the floating quality of Jane Henschel’s sonorous mezzo. Both of their performances were touchingly emotional. Erin Morley’s bell-like, heavenly soprano heard from afar beautifully set up the edifying ending reminiscent of Strauss’s Frau Ohne Schatten.

The male soloists provided a perfect balance. Tenor Klaus Florian Vogt fulfilled his difficult role of capturing notes that were not only high but also sustained, and managed to float them over the orchestra and chorus. Matthias Goerne’s opulent baritone was so lush as to elicit goose bumps. Despite subito-piano leaps and difficult-to-find pitches, his voice was able to cut through heavy strings and brass in the high range. Ain Anger’s lustrous bass was full but not heavy, and displayed both agility and warmth.

The TMC Orchestra showed impressive maturity and capability in rendering Mahler’s fiendishly difficult orchestration. The youthful concertmaster’s violin solos were technically proficient, and played with great sensitivity, as were those of the principal cellist. The spectacular horn playing would have knocked Mahler’s socks off.

The chorus, alternately magical, youthful, angelic and powerful, demonstrated their full potential and gave their longtime leader, the retiring John Oliver, much to be proud of. With their immense, gorgeous sound, and their remarkable ability to sustain the difficult high notes at the end, they sounded like a Chorus of a Million.

Mahler did not hesitate to proclaim his Symphony No. 8 the pinnacle and most imposing of his symphonic works, as demonstrated by an ending where the voices become celestial and the planets and stars spin around them in a universal call to joy: an ecstatic reminder of redemption ending with mystical chorus and heavenly orchestra cycling back to an eternal, life affirming E-flat major.

This glorious performance by Nelsons and the magnificent ensembles at his command also inspired great joy for an audience lucky enough to witness this extraordinary event. Of course they went wild. What audience would not? The Koussevitzky Shed resounded with the spirit of the last seven decades, as it will, hopefully, for the next seven decades and more. Bernstein would have been proud.

Photos used by permission of Hilary Scott
Erica be reached at: eminer5472@gmail.com

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Stéphane Denève Creates the Repertoire of Tomorrow





By Erica Miner

French conductor Stéphane Denève (www.stephanedeneve.com) has come a long way from his birthplace in the border town of Tourcoing in northern France to his compelling presence with orchestras throughout the world. 

The former music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is now Principal Guest Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and chief conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, and a frequent guest conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He recently was named Chief Conductor of the Brussels Philharmonic and inaugural director of the Centre for Future Orchestral Repertoire (Cffor). I caught up with him just before his appearance with the BSO conducting in the traditional Tanglewood on Parade concert (http://www.laopus.com/2015/08/tanglewood-celebrates-75-years-of.html). 

EM: You are from Tourcoing in northern France, birthplace of composer Albert Roussel. How did you get from there to the Paris Conservatoire. What was that journey for you? 

SD: I was at the Conservatoire in Tourcoing, where I was learning piano, and chamber music, and I was very happy. I started conducting very early. My first concert was the day of my 14th birthday. And then I created my own little orchestra with young musicians from the north of France. Then I decided to go to Paris, and I did the competition to enter, which was very hard, and I just got it and it was very natural. But my real mentor was actually a Belgian teacher called André Dumortier. He was an old man, he died in 2004 at the age of 94. It was with him that I became the musician I am now and the man I am now. That said, I went to Paris quite early, and learned there. 

EM: After that you had some mentors who were very famous. 

SD: Yes, of course I was lucky enough to become a pianist of the Orchestre de Paris for the chorus, and played the piano for many great, great conductors including Solti, and he noticed me. 

EM: Just from your piano playing. 

SD: Yes. 

EM: And did he foster your baton technique? 

SD: Oh, it was more about music and not really about technical stuff. Because I think in a way technique is very individual. It’s just a way of communicating what is important. 

EM: There were a couple of others. 

SD: Yes, I was also a student of Georges Prêtre and an assistant to Seiji Ozawa, with whom I created a nice relationship. Even recently I went back to Saito Kinen, Japan, to share an opera program with him. I conducted L’Heure espagnole for him and he conducted L’Enfant et les sortilèges, a masterwork. It was wonderful. 

EM: After that you worked with John Williams, and have a very special relationship with him. 

SD: Yes, I met him for the first time in 2007 in Los Angeles. I always admired him since I was a child and of course I admired his music. And I connected very much not only with his film music but also with his concert music. Very early on, at the end of the 90s in Paris I conducted his Tuba Concerto, for instance, and other pieces, and then I met him again here in Tanglewood and was fortunate to spend more time with him. He’s a wonderful man. After my own teacher André Dumortier that I spoke about before, he’s (Williams) really the man who’s been most inspiring for me. He’s a great composer, and we are in touch now sometimes to discuss some scores. He has such an ear and is so deep and tender and generous and humble. He’s really a model for me. 

EM: He sounds like a wonderful man to work with and have such a good relationship with. 

SD: Oh yes, he’s amazing. 

EM: Finally, about your new post in Brussels and the new music.

 SD: Yes. What I just realized in the last ten years, I would say, as a musician was that what excited me the most was to work with living composers. I do believe there is a lot of music being written now, in our day, which is more accessible, emotional and melodic than there was before, since the Second World War. And it’s a great time indeed to identify which of those pieces could become the real repertoire of tomorrow, and stand the test of time. So that’s what I’m creating in Brussels. First with the orchestra we will play a 21st-century piece every concert. Never a full concert of that, just one or two pieces maximum, mixed with normal repertoire, the core repertoire. And I will also with the new Centre, CFFOR (http://www.stephanedeneve.com/about-stephane-new/brussels/) we are working right now on a big website giving the database of what exists to start with, and of course to try to help people to know what to listen to, and to identify and promote the rare pieces that become our repertoire. We are in big need, in panicking need, of new repertoire for the symphony    

S
EM: Are there any composers you prefer, that you have in mind? 

SD: Of course, but the CFFOR will be open to any style and any composer. 

EM: And any country. 

SD: And any country, of course, yes. I do have some special relationships I can name. Guillaume Connesson in France, James MacMillan in the UK, Magnus Lindberg in Scandinavia. Of course John Adams, and Peter Lieberson, John Harbison - wonderful. So I love many composers. The only thing is just that we should have a better diet of new music and have it more and have music that will please the audience and become repertoire. Voilà.

Photos used by permission of: Hilary Scott

Erica can be reached at: eminer5472@gmail.com

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tanglewood Celebrates 75 Years of Koussevitzky’s Dream



By Erica Miner 

In 1940, as war raged in Europe, beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Serge Koussevitzky fulfilled his dream of creating an academy of learning where the world’s most gifted young music students would study with esteemed members of the BSO and other distinguished artists.

Koussevitzky’s Berkshire Music Center, now named Tanglewood Music Center, opened on July 8 of that year. The impressive composition faculty included Aaron Copland and Paul Hindemith. At the head of Koussevitzky’s elite first conducting class was an outstandingly talented youth named Leonard Bernstein. During the following the years he and another brilliant student, Seiji Ozawa, became guiding lights for the Center.

Over the decades, TMC has become a symbol of unparalleled excellence in musical instruction and coaching. It’s estimated that 20 percent of the members of American symphony orchestras, and 30 percent of all first-chair players, studied at the TMC; an impressive statistic indeed. As a Fellowship student for three summers, I was blessed with the opportunity to partake in this tutelage. Even today I feel that those summers at Tanglewood comprised a significant part of my musical training, and helped prepare me for my career as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Not often does one have the opportunity to attend a single concert helmed by three different conductors, all of whom are key figures to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. On Aug. 4, 2015, capping a day of festivities in which one could watch white-clad Boston University Tanglewood Institute chorus members parading on the grounds on the way to their concert in the shed, while various TMC vocal students and chamber ensembles performed throughout, TMC celebrated its 75th anniversary with the traditional “Tanglewood on Parade” Gala Concert combining the forces of the BSO, Boston Pops Orchestra and
Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

At the helm of this evening of panoplies of classical and popular favorites were BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, frequent guest conductor Stéphane Denève and Pops Music Director Keith Lockhart. Homage was paid to some of the orchestra’s past music directors in a spectacular program emphasizing French, Russian, and American music.

For the rousing opening, Nelsons chose the Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture. Having just completed his first full season as the newly minted BSO Music Director, Nelsons clearly was in comfortable command of the orchestra, which showed a continuing bond with and affinity for the music of former music directors Pierre Monteux and Charles Munch. Nelsons’ sweeping gestures and precise baton provided only what was needed to carry along the lush melodies and stimulating rhythms, and the ensemble executed them brilliantly. Nelsons then followed with Ravel's meditative Pavane for a Dead Princess, which the orchestra performed as if in one sinuous long line of shimmering French radiance. Nelsons then transitioned into two contrasting Shostakovich pieces, with a supple, graceful rendition of the dreamy “Romance” from the suite for his film The Gadfly and a lively “Galop” from his satirical operetta Cheryomushki.

Switching gears, Denève appeared on the stage and launched into the first of three pieces paying tribute to one of the conductor’s musical heroes, iconic composer John Williams. After pleasing the crowd by applying his dynamic, impressively flamboyant technique to a virtuoso performance of Williams’ buoyant Sound the Bells!, Denève spoke charmingly of Williams and the importance of the American composer in Denève’s musical journey. “I adore John Williams!” he declared. He further demonstrated his affection in the slow movement of Williams’s Violin Concerto, a lush, evocative piece expertly played by the BSO’s Associate Concertmaster Tamara Smirnova. Denève completed the sequence with JUST DOWN WEST STREET... on the left, a new composition written and offered as a gift for TMC 75, which the conductor described as a paean to Williams’s fondness for Tanglewood. Those who share the composer’s fervor for Tanglewood surely related to this energy-filled, highly descriptive work. All in all, Denève made his mentor’s captivating music soar up and out into the perfect Berkshire night.

Lockhart took over the podium with yet another Russian pick, Kabalevsky’s Overture to Colas Breugnon. Lockhart’s longtime collaboration with the orchestra was unmistakable in the ease with which he led the ensemble: he made even this tricky Russian tour de force look easy. Then, in a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, “Ol’ Blues Eyes at 100,” Lockhart led stirring performances of several of the beloved crooner’s signature numbers: "Chicago" (Fischer-Nestico), "You Make Me Feel So Young (Myrow/Gordon-Oseer), "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" (Mann-Schwartz), and the ever popular "New York, New York" (Kander/Ebb-Byers). With each succeeding song, and especially the latter, the audience cheered their escalating approval.

Lockhart then introduced a “young guy making his debut conducting the Pops” as Nelsons returned to conduct Williams’s “Throne Room and Finale” from Star Wars. Nelsons, a native Latvian, showed astonishing insight into the composer’s unique American style, drawing yet another dazzling performance from the orchestra. The conductor’s remarkable versatility continues to impress.

As a Fellowship student at Tanglewood, I vividly remember the thrill of performing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture en masse with the combined forces of the TMC and the BSO. In this night’s dazzling rendition Nelsons was in his element. From the achingly beautiful cello playing in the opening through the crisp wind and brass in the military episodes, culminating with the power of the full orchestra in the climax, Nelsons drew one inspiring phrase after another from the orchestra and held the audience in thrall.

I would not have missed celebrating the 75th anniversary performance of the TMC with this glittering performance, capped with fireworks erupting into the starlit sky over Tanglewood. Clearly the audience felt the same.

Photos used by permission of Hilary Scott
Erica can be reached at: eminer5472@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Jennifer Higdon's Cold Mountain Has World Premiere at Santa Fe Opera

         Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn in Cold Mountain (Photo by Ken Howard)

Review by Rodney Punt

With veterans exhibiting post-traumatic stress disorder, public gun violence 
rampant, and the display of the Confederate flag newly debated, issues that 
trace their history back to the Civil War are on the front page again. The 
Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere last Saturday, August 1, of the Civil War-
themed opera, Cold Mountain, by composer Jennifer Higdon and librettist 
Gene Scheer, could not be more timely.

A dynamic stage production, dazzling score and libretto, dream cast and a 
splendidly conducted orchestra all combined to give Santa Fe Opera a second 
successful launch of a new work in a row. Co-commissioned and co-produced 
with Opera Philadelphia and Minnesota Opera, and in collaboration with 
North Carolina Opera, the opera’s first production here marks a milestone in 
scale and ambition for the company.
See full story at San Francisco Classical Voice 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

David Bennett, Part 2: New Seasons, New Concepts



By Erica Miner

EM: You don’t strike me as a person who is easily daunted.

DB: Thanks [Laughs].

EM: There’s always a lot to do. Getting everything solidified is one piece of the puzzle, but then you’re constantly trying to push the envelope. And that’s always a work in progress.

DB: Absolutely. There are so many things we haven’t started - so many things I feel are imperative, the conversation we need to begin having. I had a meeting in New York City with the Consul General of Mexico, who introduced me to the Mexican Consul General here, a very powerful presence. There’s a lot of energy about co-producing and collaborating in many ways, between cultural leaders across the board. A cultural leaders group that meets once a month, and I’m interested in starting quickly meetings with other cultural groups. Trying to make the opera company more responsive to needs of all the communities in San Diego, for instance the military community. A couple of operas have been commissioned about soldiers returning from Iraq, the Middle East, dealing with post-traumatic stress. One is going to appear at Long Beach Opera next season, and one is premiering at Saratoga in New York next month. The possibility of bringing something like that here, if appropriate, is amazing.

EM: Amazing how many composers are bringing these subjects to the opera stage. 

DB: Reaching out to the Latino communities, African-American community, LGBT community, trying to find ways we can address all of those needs. So there’s a lot to be done still. But very exciting. There’s a chamber opera, Champion, that St. Louis Opera commissioned a couple of years ago that Washington National Opera is going to do in a couple of years, about an African-American boxer and his experience in the 50s and 60s, a true story, very interesting. It’s also LGBT because he was a gay closeted boxer, Spanish-American. Someone called him a Spanish derogatory name while his opponent was weighing in and he wound up killing him in the ring. He comes out of the closet later. A lot of racial and LGBT issues and also beautiful music, written by Terrence Blanchard, a wonderful jazz musician. 

EM: It doesn’t get much more controversial than that. 

DB: Right. But also they’re good operatic works, well written, intense, taut, well-constructed libretti, a lot of good dramaturgy, dealing with all those prime issues. I’ve already started a conversation with Fort Worth Opera and Arizona Opera, about commissioning a new opera about Frida Kahlo, which I would love to bring here. It’s smaller scale, three principal singers, a chorus of 16-20. Bringing secondary roles out of the chorus and featuring our own wonderful opera chorus is another thing we have to do here. I think we could have an actual concert with them. And aside from the Symphony, partnerships with a theatre company. I’ve had baby step conversations with La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe. The art museum is interested in finding ways to collaborate. It could be as simple as a Frida Kahlo opera and a Kahlo exhibit at the same time. Or it could be producing something at the museum, finding ways to enliven galleries with actual operas as opposed to doing them in a theatre space at a museum. I’d love to stage an opera in their sculpture garden courtyard. There have got to be a million pockets inside Balboa Park we haven’t even looked at. 

EM: The Old Globe is right there. 

DB: Exactly. That’s burned into my brain, producing a Shakespearean opera, probably a chamber opera, in the Old Globe. I would love to do that. Christopher Beach said, “What about the Salk Institute, it’s such a gorgeous location, the Symphony does a concert there every year, why not stage something there?” These all are opportunities for enlivening spaces with opera that haven’t happened yet. 

EM: Are you thinking about a collaboration with L.A. Opera? 

DB: We will have a partnership with them to some degree. They have already extended their generosity to help us in any way they can. Houston in effect gave Nixon in China to us with no cost - we just had to pay the shipping here and back. Don Giovanni was given to us by Cincinnati at no cost. The opera community overall is helping us stabilize. Speaking opportunities are coming up, this fall in the La Jolla Community Center distinguished lecture series, and the Rotary Club. Perhaps an event together with Martha that involves press, a round table talking about partnerships.



EM: Getting the word out. 

DB: Yes. Showing an evolving model of how a company that’s been doing only traditional opera reinvents itself - that’s where we’re going to be headed. There are some “best practice” examples. Philadelphia, Fort Worth Opera - companies that have tried and succeeded in reinventing themselves, basically facing the same issues we had here, declining sales, over- reliance on smaller and smaller pool of donors. Trying to find a way to broaden the experience and make the civic impact of the company bigger. We’re trying to make sure that community engagement increasingly is not just about engaging those that already come - though that’s an important part of it - but to get those people interested who are not yet opera attendees. We do that in our own community conversations. We’re having one with Nic (Reveles) in September. Sometimes we think all we need to do is tell people we’re doing Tosca and Butterfly and there’s nothing else we need to say because everybody knows them - not true. Even those who do, want to be reminded how fabulous those are. We can sometimes be guilty of saying, “We need to do all this work on Great Scott because it’s a new production,” when we actually need to make the case for why Tosca and Butterfly work and why they’re so engaging.

EM: People have asked me why you’re doing two Puccini operas this year.

DB: I don't know if there’s actually a reason, other than the fact that Puccini sells. They’re all new productions. We bought Tosca from Fort Worth for nothing, so we have a nice, traditional new Tosca that was almost given to us. We’re getting Montreal’s Butterfly, which is a beautiful traditional gorgeous production. The decision might have been that the writing on the wall was terrifying and we had to have some surefire bets. But it also is a little peculiar to do two Puccini in one year [Laughs].

EM: It’s a great opportunity for new singers to make their impact. 

DB: These are all people that were booked before I came into the picture. Latonia Moore has a huge career as Aida. I haven’t heard her sing Butterfly, so it should be interesting. The Tosca, Alexia Voulgaridou, is Greek, sings all over Europe, and I’ve listened to clips on line. I’m sure she’ll be great. If you look at her biography, she sang Butterfly everywhere, then she added Tosca to her rep and did it everywhere. So she’s does a role for a while - I think we’re in her Tosca era now - but she’s sung in major opera houses and gotten great reviews, so I’m sure she’ll be very compelling. Greer Grimsley is coming back as Scarpia. That should be fabulous. 

EM: He must be. Have you seen that Facebook page, “Greer Grimsley is an Opera God”? 

DB: [Laughs] He’s amazing. I saw him last summer in Santa Fe. The voice just kind of rolls out. It’s gorgeous. Healthy, virile, big sound. 

EM: It’s all so new and exciting, and I can’t wait for September. Thank you for spending so much time with me

DB: My pleasure.

Photos used by permission of: San Diego Opera
Erica can be reached at: eminer5472@gmail.com