Saturday, August 24, 2019

La Jolla Summerfest Explores Love and Loss


Steve Uzell
REVIEW: La Jolla Summerfest
Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, La Jolla, CA

ERICA MINER 

On Tuesday, Aug. 20, the highly regarded La Jolla Music Society's Summerfest presented "Love Stories," the penultimate program of their first season at the brand-new Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, the Society’s new permanent home. Known to aficionados as “The Conrad,” the Epstein Joslin-designed Center includes a concert hall, named for founding sponsors Brenda Baker and Steve Baum, a 2000 square foot flexible performance space, a multipurpose meeting room, a spacious courtyard and offices for the Society. 

Tuesday’s concert took place in the concert hall and was dedicated to the memory of Kay Hesselink. The much-loved, devoted patron of Summerfest over the past many decades was a former chair and a member of the Board of Directors of the festival who, along with her husband John, has hosted numerous Fest artists. 

At 513 seats, the Baker-Baum Concert Hall is the perfect size for chamber music in an intimate setting, and the superb acoustics add to the effect. The venue is handsomely wrought, crafted of multiple types of wood, all burnished to a glow, and is sanctuary-like in its atmosphere, imparting an almost religious experience to the listener. The outstanding performers were without a doubt worthy of their new home. 

Also new this season is music director and Israeli pianist Inon Baratan, who chose an intriguing program to embody his theme, the power of love and its resultant suffering in music, from the perspective of four composers, two from the early to mid-romantic period and two from the late romantic. The middle two of the four pieces, which portrayed mostly idealized love, were bookended by two wrenchingly emotional works representing both fulfilled and unfulfilled love.

Inon Baratan
Marco Borggreve
The opening work, considered the ultimate in high romanticism, was Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde, in an arrangement for string sextet by violinist Sebastian Gurtler. The disarmingly ambiguous tonality begins with the famous “Tristan” chord and remains largely unresolved throughout Wagner’s opera, until the final chord of the Liebestod that ends the work. This sextet version is lavish in its writing for the strings but, as opposed to the composer’s own 16-minute condensation of his opera, Gurtler pares the piece down to a mere 11 minutes, most of which is focused on music from the prelude, with only a few moments of the climactic Liebestod included. This leaves the listener feeling somewhat incomplete. 

However, the lushness of the instrumentation and the extraordinary playing of the ensemble of hand-picked musicians who comprised the sextet more than made up for the compositional lack. Standing out among these was violinist James Ehnes, whose elegant, unforced sound and impressive virtuosity set the tone for the vibrant homogeneity put forth by the remaining players: violinist Liza Ferschtman, violists Cynthia Phelps and Richard O’Neill, and cellists Edward Arron and Clive Greensmith. If the Gurtler version felt less emotionally satisfying than the piece in its rendering with the full complement of winds and brass added to the mix, the intense beauty of the ensemble’s effulgent sounds, individually and together, was nonetheless powerful. 

Robert Schumann’s Op. 48 Dichterliebe epitomizes the very definition of romanticism in the vocal genre. Written to celebrate the joys of the intense love he had found with his beloved Clara, each of the songs set to Heinrich Heine’s poetry is a rare jewel to be enjoyed and savored, individually and together. 

Warm and attractive, with just a touch of that magical Wunderlich timbre and richness, tenor Robin Tritschler’s voice was ideally suited in timbre and range for the subtleties of Schumann’s poignant score. Pianist Jonathan Biss was much more than an able accompanist; he was a full partner in the interpretation, though sometimes to a fault when the ends of phrases were held overly long or delayed, leaving the listener hanging just a bit too long. 

A rare treat was a rendering of Clara Schumann’s Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op, 22, played with tender expression by violin virtuoso Augustin Hadelich. Having Hadelich perform these pieces is a definite bit of luxury casting. Known for his interpretations of fiendishly difficult repertoire, from Brahms and Sibelius to Ligeti, Hadelich manages to make these gentle, very intimate Schumann pieces fit him like a glove. 

Watching and listening to this extraordinary artist is like going back in time. There is something about his interpretations that evokes the violinists and composers of the 19th century. His stance, mannerisms and lush sound make the listener feel as if he or she is watching and listening to a reincarnated Joachim.

Luca Valentina
The Love Stories theme came full circle with a second sextet, Schoenberg’s Op. 4 Verklaerte Nacht, exquisitely performed by virtually the same Festival ensemble as the Wagner, with a slight change in personnel: Ehnes played second violin and Kertschman first; likewise Phelps and O’Neill switched places; and Carter Brey replaced cellist Arron. 

Schoenberg composed his tone poem at an important juncture in his musical life, when he was on a path that ultimately led him to the twelve-tone genre. Like Wagner’s Tristan, Verklaerte Nacht pushed the envelope of 19th century tonality; it was written in 1899, literally on the cusp of the 20th century, and premiered in 1903 in its original sextet version, which he later arranged for string orchestra. But unlike Wagner’s Celtic tale of tragic love, the Richard Dehmel verses on which Schoenberg’s tone poem is based portray forgiveness and hopefulness in love. 

The musicians were evenly matched, all of them strong and up to the task of executing the considerable technical demands of the piece. Their sound was homogeneous, beautifully blended and consistent; no player overwhelmed or overpowered any of the others. The two violinists’ octaves were perfectly in tune, a difficult feat to accomplish with passages that often were placed in the stratosphere. It was a performance that the composer would have been gratified to hear, and a fitting ending to an evening of sublime music making. 

  ---ooo--- 

Photo credits: Marco Borggreve, Luca Valentina, Steve Uzzell
Erica can be reached at: eminer5472@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Looking Ahead in the South Bay: Part One


Pacific Unitarian Church, Rancho Palos Verdes.

The 2019-2020 South Bay Season of Chamber Music: (1) September-December
DAVID J. BROWN

Over the last few seasons LA Opus has included numerous reviews of chamber music concerts in the South Bay area—roughly encompassing the region along the Santa Monica Bay from El Segundo and Manhattan Beach in the north to Palos Verdes Peninsula and San Pedro to the south. It seemed like a good idea to, for once, not just report on what you may have heard or missed, but to take a brief survey of what, as with previous years, promises to be a richly rewarding aural smorgåsbord for the next 10 months or so.

Robert Thies.
There are no less than four of these concert series. The most senior is the South Bay Chamber Music Society, founded in 1963 by the violinist Ruth Breytspraak (1893-1986) and pianist Sidney Stafford (1918-2010), and currently under the Artistic Directorship of Robert Thies, who has performed many times in the South Bay both as soloist and leader of his Thies Consort. The SBCMS mounts seven programs over the season in two venues: Los Angeles Harbor College, Wilmington (Friday evenings), and the Pacific Unitarian Church, Montemalaga Drive, Rancho Palos Verdes (the following Sunday afternoons).

Joint next in longevity are “First Fridays at First~fff” and “The Interludes”, both under the auspices of Classical Crossroads Inc., founded in the early 1990s by the organist Karla Devine who continues as Artistic Director. The original series in Manhattan Beach comprised short Friday recitals at noon and longer Sunday afternoon concerts. After a few name, time, and location changes, these concerts settled in at First Lutheran Church and School, Torrance, in 2013: hence “First Fridays at First~fff”. Each 35-45 minute recital, with complementary refreshments to follow, takes place there on the first Friday of each month from September to June.

First Lutheran Church, Torrance.

Karla Devine.
The longer ones, formerly “The Previews” at Manhattan Beach, became “The Interludes” with that 2013 move to Torrance. These 60-80 minute concerts, whose performers are selected annually at the Beverly Hills National Auditions, are also given as “Music by the Sea” at Encinitas Public Library on Friday evenings preceding the Saturday afternoons at First Lutheran; additionally the programs will be presented on the following Sunday afternoons in Beverly Hills' historic Greystone Mansion (“Music In The Mansion”) from January through June 2020.

Steven Vanhauwaert.
“The Interludes” typically happen on each month’s third Saturday afternoon, and the fact that the fourth series—the (relative) newcomer amongst them, having begun in 2009—slots neatly in as “Second Sundays at Two” is no lucky happenstance, due to co-ordination across these series. With another fine pianist, Steven Vanhauwaert, as Artistic Director, each “Second Sundays at Two” recital takes around an hour, and can be heard in arguably the finest acoustic of any of them—Rolling Hills United Methodist Church.

With this brief historical background out of the way, the really important thing is that, despite all four series being free of entry charge (donate what you can!), the huge pool of LA-area performing talent together with many distinguished visiting musicians ensures that the standard of performance has been and will continue to be remarkably high, as may be inferred from the following month-by-month listing. With the exception of the SBCMS concerts and a few others, the actual repertoire to be performed is announced shortly before the event. Jim Eninger’s weekly, and invaluable, Clickable Chamber Music Newsletter for Southern California will include these details as well as for many other events beyond the South Bay area.

Rolling Hills United Methodist Church.


September 2019

First Fridays at First~fff, 12:15 p.m., September 6
La Bella Vita Trio from Europe on a California tour—Italian pianist Jacopo Giacopuzzi, Danish violinist Aleksander Koelbel, and Finnish cellist Lauri Rantamoijanen—play Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50.

• Second Sundays at Two, 2.30 p.m., September 8 (note later start time for this recital only): 
Robert Thies, Gold Medal winner at the Second International Prokofiev Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia, plays Mozart's Fantasia in D minor, K. 397, and Schubert's final Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat major, D. 960.

• South Bay Chamber Music Society, 3 p.m., September 20/22: 
The Fiato String Quartet (Carrie Kennedy and Joel Pargman, violins; Aaron Oltman, viola; Ryan Sweeney, cello) play Beethoven: String Quartet No. 6 in B-flat Major, Op. 18 No. 6; Ives: String Quartet No. 1 “From the Salvation Army”; and Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73.

• The Interludes, 3 p.m., September 21: 
Award-winning pianist Nadia Azzi from the Colburn Conservatory and virtuoso saxophonist Andrew Harrison present a program of solo and duo repertoire.


October 2019 

• First Fridays at First~fff, 12:15 p.m., October 4: 
Piano trio from The Los Angeles Ensemble (Feng Bian, piano; Joanna Lee, violin; Bingxia Lu, cello).

Second Sundays at Two, 2 p.m., October 13: 
The renowned violinist Ken Aiso and his Ukraine-born pianist partner Valeria Morgovskaya play Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30 No. 3, Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas (transcribed by the composer and Paul Kochanski) and Ravel’s Tzigane.

• The Interludes, 3 p.m., October 19: 
Lukasz Yoder, piano, and Roksana Zeinapur, soprano, will present a program of solo piano and vocal works “from Bach to Weill.”

• South Bay Chamber Music Society, 3 p.m., October 25/27: 
The Hollywood Piano Trio (Inna Faliks, piano; Roberto Cani, violin; Robert deMaine, cello) play Beethoven: Piano Trio No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 97 “Archduke”; Arensky: Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32; and Haydn: Piano Trio No. 39 in G Major, Hob. XV/25 “Gypsy.”


November 2019 

• First Fridays at First~fff, 12:15 p.m., November 1: 
The cellist Eric Byers, founding member of the famed Calder Quartet, joins fellow USC Thornton alum, pianist Robert Thies.

• Second Sundays at Two, 2 p.m., November 10: 
Recital by the series Artistic Director, Belgian-born pianist Steven Vanhauwaert, Grand-Prize winner of the Los Angeles International Liszt Competition and two-time winner of the Beverly Hills National Auditions.

• The Interludes, 3 p.m., November 16: 
Members of the period band LA Camerata and the five-person ensemble Oakwood Brass share the platform for a mixed recital of “Baroque and Brass.”


December 2019

• First Fridays at First~fff, 12:15 p.m., December 6: 
A favorite of this series, the organist of Westwood Presbyterian Church, Namhee Han, returns for her 10th appearance.

• South Bay Chamber Music Society, 3 p.m., December 6/8: 
In Celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, the New Hollywood String Quartet (Tereza Stanislav and Rafael Rishik violins; Robert Brophy viola; Andrew Shulman cello) play the String Quartets No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18 No. 1; No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135; and “Grosse Fugue” in B-flat Major, Op. 133.


The second part of this round-up, covering January-June 2020, will be published in December.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

“The Most Sublime Chamber Music Work Ever Written”


l-r: Timothy Loo, Alyssa Park, Cécilia Tsan, Shalini Vijayan, Luke Maurer. Photo: Todd Mason.

REVIEW

Schubert’s String Quintet, Mount Wilson Observatory
DAVID J BROWN

Franz Schubert, supreme master of the lied, was also one of the world’s greatest composers of piano and chamber music, and in the last few months before his death on November 19, 1828, he focused on those three genres. It will probably never be possible to establish a definitive chronology for these works (Schubert also began to sketch a final symphony during this time), but on October 2 he wrote to a publisher: “Among other things, I have composed three sonatas for piano solo […] I have also set several poems by Heine […] and finally have completed a quintet for 2 violins, 1 viola and 2 violoncellos. […] Should any of these compositions by any chance commend themselves to you, please let me know.” 

Portrait of Schubert by Franz Eybl (1827).
Though the songs were indeed published (as Schwanengesang ("Swan song"), D 957) within a few months of his death, the sonatas (in C minor, D.958, A major D.959, and B-flat major D.960) did not see print for 10 years, while the quintet remained unperformed and unpublished until the 1850s. But now…? Well, if you google the phrase at the head of this review, or variants of it, odds are that you will come up with more references to Schubert’s String Quintet in C major D.956 than any other single work… by any composer. 

This view was triumphantly reaffirmed at last Sunday’s performance in the great dome of the 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson by the Los Angeles-based Lyris Quartet (Alyssa Park and Shalini Vijayan, violins; Luke Maurer, viola; Timothy Loo, 'cello), together with Cécilia Tsan, Artistic Director of the Mount Wilson concert series and Principal Cellist in the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra. And it was given a further emotional charge by being dedicated, as announced at the outset by Ms. Tsan, to the victims of that weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

While Schubert’s signature gift for memorable, bitter-sweet lyricism reaches an apogee in the Quintet, the work is also one of his greatest feats of long-range planning and formal coherence, laid out in the four-movement design that by then had become a staple of the Classical style: opening sonata structure/slow movement/scherzo-and-trio/fast(ish) finale. The work, however, is on a scale unapproached at the time by all but a few of his own and a handful of Beethoven’s, with the first movement the most spacious of all, taking around 20 minutes to play if the 154-measure exposition repeat is included (as it was here, praise be!). 

But Schubert’s genius for architecture ensures the coherence of the structure through a single tempo mark at the outset, so that dislocating speed changes are avoided and other compositional resources—elasticity of note values, phrase-shaping, harmonic restlessness, and carefully detailed dynamics—suffice to drive the movement’s hugely varied progress.

Photo: Tommy Johnson.
That single marking is Allegro ma non troppo, but the way Schubert initially stretches it over a two-measure C major chord that modulates onto a diminished seventh for two further measures, on all except the second ‘cello, makes the pace feel slower than it actually is. Ms. Park, Ms. Vijayan, Mr. Maurer and Ms. Tsan (who took the first ‘cello part) got this exactly right, in their unanimity and beautifully graded crescendo from piano to forte, and in finely calculated pacing that laid out the 30 measures or so of “slow introduction” and then proceeded into the downward-plunging staccato first theme with an oceanic inevitability that still avoided any hint of rigidity.

And then the extraordinarily spacious second subject emerges, first on the two ‘cellos against pizzicati on the other three instruments. The close accord between Ms. Tsan and Mr. Loo made this as liltingly eloquent as you could wish, but without any milking of pathos due to careful observance of that pervasive Allegro ma non troppo. In the repeat the opening crescendo chord was taken just a fraction tighter and this continued throughout, so that Schubert’s launch of the development had just the right propulsiveness.

The remainder of the movement is packed with dramatic incident: slicing, dicing, and recombining of themes, restless key changes and major/minor modulations, and often with the second ‘cello (Mr. Loo here following in the steps of some of the greatest exponents of the instrument, from Casals to Rostropovich to Yo Yo Ma) acting as a kind of commentator/ringmaster through its obsessive dotted rhythms that underscore and drive the music forward. The energy of this performance was such that it underlined the fact that this was still the music of a young man, albeit a preternaturally gifted one.

That headline descriptor “sublime” is most often applied to the Adagio slow movement, whose outer sections are of a rapt beauty that seems to halt time. Some recordings take this veeery slowly but, as with the first movement, Schubert provides just that single tempo marking which also has to accommodate, without any slamming gear change, the movement’s tumultuously disturbed central section. Here again the Lyris and Ms. Tsan, to my ears, got it just right, with an easeful flowing beauty for the opening section and then a perfectly judged plunge for the torrent into which the music abruptly rushes.

Schubert's death mask.
Perhaps even greater depths of pain could have been revealed, but there was just the right degree of implacability, driven again by the second ‘cello, Mr. Loo biting out the obsessive rising staccato triplets. Eventually the thrashing subsides and Schubert slowly and hesitantly regains the beatific mood of the opening, over a number of measures that contain far more rests than notes, all of them spaciously and scrupulously observed in this performance.

The third movement, a kind of “negative image” of its predecessor, comprises an obsessively exuberant Scherzo, marked Presto, enclosing and in extreme contrast with the most tragically introspective Trio section in the repertoire. Here perhaps more than anywhere the work earns its sometime nickname of “cello quintet” (many string quintets, such as those of Mozart and Brahms, employ pairs of violas with a single ‘cello, rather than vice versa as here). The Trio is dominated by a mournful descending line on the second ‘cello, against which its companion pulls fruitlessly, and the noticeably contrasting timbres of Ms. Tsan’s and Mr. Loo’s instruments ground out the slowly shifting harmonies and dissonances like two great millwheels turning against each other.

A review I once read of a recording of this work described the Finale as for once living up to its predecessors.” No “for once” about it here! Its ambiguous Allegretto marking notwithstanding, the Finale was fully in sync expressively with the other movements: hectic and restless, with its constant sideslips into and out of dissonance given full expression, and no let-up in the teeming moto perpetuo quality that threatens continually to become a dance of death. Schubert ends this movement, and the whole astonishing work, with a last frenzied climb to its sole triple forte, grounded in a gut-wrenching trill on the two ‘cellos, and then on the very last note a semitone appoggiatura from D-flat to C on all five instruments that in these performers’ hands stung like a dying scorpion.

In his introductory remarks at the start of the concert, Mount Wilson Trustee Dan Kohne had made the welcome request for no applause between the movements. Not only was this observed (apart from a few who prematurely thought the conclusion of the Scherzo was the end of the whole work), but after the actual end, there was an audible intake of breath and an appreciable gap of silence before applause erupted together with the, for once in southern CA wholly appropriate, standing ovation.

Bill Reichenbach.
After this magnificent account of such a masterwork, I may not have been the only listener who would happily have slipped away then and there to contemplate eternity through the filter of Schubert’s genius, amidst the mountains with a glass of cold Chardonnay to hand (yes, to make these concerts even more attractive there’s a reception with refreshments included in the ticket price between the 3 p.m. performance, which I heard, and the second one at 5 p.m.). There was, however, a short encore: an arrangement for string quintet, made specially for this concert by the trombonist Bill Reichenbach, of Scarborough Fair, which for me repeatedly recalled Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus… and none the worse for that! 

---ooo---

100-Inch Telescope Dome, Mount Wilson Observatory, Sunday 4 August 2019, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Photos: The performers: Todd Mason and Tommy Johnson; Schubert: Wikimedia Commons; Schubert's death mask: Medium Music; Bill Reichenbach: artist website. Mount Wilson: Todd Mason.


The final two concerts in the Mount Wilson summer season are: 

Sunday, September 1: Arrangements and original works for two ‘cellos by Mozart, Bach, Barrière, Offenbach and others, played by Eric Byers and Cécilia Tsan. 

Sunday, October 6: Clarinet Quintets by Mozart and Brahms, played by Pierre Génisson (clarinet), Ambroise Aubrun and Henry Gronnier (violins), Virginie d’Avezac (viola), and Cécilia Tsan (cello).

Tickets for the 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. performances for each are available here. 
Don’t miss out!



Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Dome Rings to “Sounds of the Spheres”


The Great Nebula in Orion, photographed through the 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson in 1908.

REVIEW

Premieres by Vlasse, Constantino, Babcock, Mason, and McEncroe: Mount Wilson Observatory
DAVID J BROWN

Three days after Independence Day and 13 days before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the third in this year’s series of summer Sunday afternoon concerts in the great dome of the 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory was not only buttressed by history but also shadowed by the wagging finger of terrestrial nature, public viewing sessions having been cancelled only two nights before when the dome shook during the second major Ridgecrest earthquake, its epicenter around 100 miles north. 

Thus framed and freighted, in the event all was stability and indeed harmony: this was the first demonstration of what has been pretty clear since these concerts began in 2017, that the resonant acoustic of this unique venue would be as much a gift to voices as it is to instruments. Indeed, it was a double first, as the program consisted entirely of world premieres: six new single-movement vocal works—all slow to medium-paced and located in the generic hinterland bounded by song, scena, and cantata—from five living composers writing specifically for this venue and event, the brainchild of the series’ Artistic Director Cécilia Tsan and L.A.-based French/Greek composer Danaë Vlasse.

Danaë Vlasse introduces the concert; Dan Kohne standing on the left.

As Ms. Tsan was unable to be present, Ms. Vlasse acted as M.C., and after the never-failing engineering-theater thrill of the dome opening and then rotating, she began with a warm tribute to Dan Kohne, Mount Wilson Institute Board of Trustees member and the main mover behind the Observatory’s venture into concertizing. After this, she introduced her own first piece, Neptune

The planet Neptune, photographed
from Voyager 2 during its 1989 flyby.
The restricted performing area would preclude The Planets ever being heard here, but Ms. Vlasse’s 12-minute work, to her own verses, certainly shares the same mystic/mythic space as that eponymous movement from Holst’s mighty orchestral suite. Neptune is scored for two sopranos and harp, specifically “because the voice is the most ancient of instruments and today’s scientific revelations of the cosmos are based on the work established by the ancient Greeks, whose harp (the ‘lyre’) was developed as a mathematical study of string-ratios and acoustic frequencies.” 

Given its Largo marking, and the intricate interweaving and taxing leaps of the two high-lying vocal parts, Neptune demands absolute accuracy of pitch and smoothness of timbre to come off successfully. Hila Plitmann and Sangeeta Kaur, for whom Ms. Vlasse wrote the work, had all this and more, a mutual responsiveness and tenderness of articulation that—with the devoted accompaniment of Marcia Dickstein’s harp, from the most delicate ostinato shimmer to a powerfully strummed simulacrum of thunder—gave notice that the concert was going to be something truly special.

Hila Plitmann (l) and Sangeeta Kaur (r) sing Danaë Vlasse's Neptune, with Marcia Dickstein, harp.

A. E. Housman, 1910.
After this extended first piece came four shorter items, artfully sequenced in terms both of forces required and subject. First was Anthony Constantino’s setting for soprano, violin and harp of Stars, I Have Seen Them Fall, from A. E. Housman’s collection of “More Poems” (1936). To the composer, this poem adumbrates “an introspective, existential examination of futility. A dichotomy exists within this futility; fallen stars do not detract from the beauty of the skies, but likewise, rain does not dilute the salt in the sea. We live consistently within this dichotomy and have no choice but to accept it as it is.” 

Constantino’s brief, concentrated setting opens with a whispered harp tremolo, above which the violin (played here by Reina Inui) and voice at first alternate in freely chromatic lines before coming together against an uprushing harp glissando for a single powerful climax (“It rains into the sea”) that showed Hila Plitmann’s vocal resources could encompass thrilling power as well as refined purity, when needed.

Reina Inui.
The L.A.-based composer Bruce Babcock’s connection with Mount Wilson is positively dynastic. His father was a director of the observatory, while his grandfather worked for founder George Ellery Hale, who on one occasion in 1919 invited some guests to viewing sessions where "a lone musician, carrying and playing upon a small harp […] strolled through each building and out under the quiet pines, and the echoes of his music […] struck deeply into the consciousness of all who heard.” 

Alfred Noyes, 1922.
To the historic night in 1917 of “first light” through the 100-inch telescope, Hale invited the English poet Alfred Noyes. The experience inspired his epic poem Watchers of the Sky, from which Mr. Babcock set the final lines of the Prologue. The text begins “… I sing of those who caught the pure Promethean fire…” but the music, cradled throughout on barcarolle-like repetitions from the harp, eschews incendiary fervor in favor of gentle lyricism. Promethean Fire is scored, like the Constantino, for soprano, violin and harp, and Sangeeta Kaur perfectly projected its aspirational purity, supported as before by Ms. Inui and Ms. Dickstein.

Marcia Dickstein.
The fourth composer to present his own work, Todd Mason, added to this line-up a flute, played by Rachel Mellis, for the setting of his poem Where Our Innocence Once Stood. To Vlasse’s embrace of a single celestial object, Constantino’s philosophical paradox, and Babcock’s celebration of discovery, Mason added an awestruck reaching-out to the illimitable substance and processes of the universe itself, taking in not only its grandeur but also violence in music less anchored to tonality than its predecessors in the recital. Ms. Plitmann once again demonstrated her vocal range and power in a work that I would be particularly glad to hear again.

Mark McEncroe.
The only composer not present was the Australian Mark John McEncroe, whose Into the Realm of Dark Matter gave the vocal and violin soloists a well-earned break (though not the stalwart harpist) and brought in the 14-strong Sterling Ensemble, directed by Michelle Jensen. Danaë Vlasse introduced the work on Mr. McEncroe's behalf:

“… I’m taking artistic license to interpret my impressions and my feelings at the thought of this immense ill-defined mass we call Dark Matter; for me the mere fact of its unknown substance makes it seem quietly dangerous. Dark Matter is constant and utterly enveloping, so I invite the listener to come into a state of trance, filled with a sense of intuition but never truly understanding where the music may go...”

The Sterling Ensemble.

Though the melismatic wordless vocalizing sounded beguilingly celestial in the dome (how the choral masterpieces of the Renaissance would resound here!), any sense of that “quietly dangerous unknown substance” was confined to subtle and, for me, unduly innocuous harmonic shifts, making the music’s progress a little too predictable—the only disappointment on the program.

Shea Welsh.
Early arrivals outside the dome had been treated to choral sounds wafting from the aperture far overhead and drifting like dappled aural sunlight amongst the trees—rehearsals, it turned out, for the finale, Danaë Vlasse’s Rainbow Nebulae. All the forces apart from the flute were mustered for this, with the addition of a guitar played by Shea Welsh. Again setting her own verses, “inspired by the multi-colored beauty of nebulae emerging from the blackness of space,” Ms. Vlasse’s hope that “the music and the poetry convey for you the sense of awe I feel for these massive cosmic nests of life where stars are born” was certainly fulfilled for this listener.

l-r: Michelle Jensen, Bruce Babcock, Sangeeta Kaur, Danaë Vlasse, Todd Mason,
Anthony Constantino.
Danaë Vlasse with singing bowls.
After an introduction of dark, close choral harmonies over an accompaniment—initially on guitar and then joined by the harp—which continued throughout, rhythmically unchanged but in slow flux harmonically, the main body of the piece proceeded to a radiant climax through the repetition and major/minor variations of an immediately memorable main theme shared between the violin and the two vocal soloists—Ms. Plitmann, Ms. Kaur, and Ms. Inui as ever in perfect accord, and with their colleagues. 

In other circumstances, and maybe a less totally committed performance, it might have seemed a little saccharine, but this context and location negated all reservation, leaving the audience hypnotized by its beauty. Rainbow Nebulae was the perfect conclusion… except that it wasn’t, quite. A brief encore, Song of Compassion, written for the same soloists and chorus for inclusion on an upcoming album by Sangeeta Kaur, and with the arresting accompaniment of singing glass bowls manipulated by Danaë Vlasse herself, set the seal on an afternoon of positively “I-was-there” memorability. 

 ---ooo--- 

"Sounds of the Spheres", 100-inch telescope dome, Mount Wilson Observatory, Sunday 7 July 2019, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Photos: Orion Nebula: Nautilus; Neptune: Nasa; Performers and composers: Todd Mason, Morgan Vlasse; A. E. Housman: Wikimedia Commons; Alfred Noyes: National Portrait Gallery; Mark McEncroe: Navona Records.

• With thanks to all the composers for access to their scores, and especially to Danaë Vlasse for enablement.
• The 100-inch telescope dome acoustic can be heard on the live recording of improvised Native American flute music entitled "Under the Stars”, by Joanne Lazzaro.
• Next month (Sunday August 4): one of the greatest of all chamber works, Schubert's String Quintet in C major D.956, played by the Lyris Quartet and Cécilia Tsan.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Emily Fons Thinks of Opera in New and Different Ways

Dario Acosta
INTERVIEW: Emily Fons

McCaw Hall, Seattle 
ERICA MINER

Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons’s youth belies the impressive strength and sophistication of her performances. With a lush low range and glowing top range, the Milwaukee native is equally adept in Handel and Mozart as she is in contemporary works of such composers as Jake Heggie and Jennifer Higdon. She has also performed with opera superstar Renee Fleming in Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. 

On Aug. 10, Emily returns to Seattle Opera after her 2019 debut as Laurene Powell Jobs in the Seattle premiere of Mason Bates and Mark Campbell’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Fons sings the role of Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto, in a production by Lindy Hume, who made her Seattle Opera debut directing The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory in 2017. 

Erica Miner: Welcome back to Seattle, Emily! I really enjoyed your performance as Laurene Powell Jobs. 

Emily Fons: Oh, thank you. I had a great time. 

EM: What was that experience like for you?

Philip Newton
EF: It wasn’t its premiere, so it was a little different in that respect. But Mason Bates was there and since we had added scenes and music, that feeling of figuring things out for the first time, was really neat. As a musician I love coming to old pieces that I’m unfamiliar with, but it’s so much fun being part of the creative process. The show itself, the set, the way they used those projections, the sounds coming from the pit, too—everything was so unique. It was my first time in Seattle and my first time with the Opera. Such a great group of people in the cast and creatively, our conductor Nicole (Paiement) and director Kevin (Newbury). I thought everyone worked together so well. I really enjoyed telling that story. 

EM: Your role was expanded quite a bit from the Santa Fe production for the Seattle production. 

EF: It was, which was nice, because the scenes actually move so quickly in that show that I can’t even imagine it now without the added material. It seems like everything would have flown by at lightning speed. It was nice to get a little bit more to build my character around.

Jacob Lucas
EM: As a young singer, this is pretty much your century. Do you feel a special affinity for new operas? 

EF: I do, from a couple of perspectives. We in the western musical tradition can fall in love with Mozart and the great composers when we’re first learning our technique and craft. Having done this now for 10 years, those things still have such value. But you want different artistic expression and levels of artistic value. New productions of old pieces can be really great—some great things are being done production-wise——but the older you get the more you want to tell a fresh story from a different viewpoint. New pieces give us that opportunity. It’s difficult sometimes for opera companies to program new things—they’re afraid it won’t sell, or they’re dealing with an aging subscription base and want to bring in younger audiences—but these pieces still feel like risks to them. I would rather sing a ton of new opera and have most of it fail than not do any at all. I’m always happy to take on a new piece. I’ve been lucky the pieces I’ve done. Cold Mountain was a great experience for me. I loved the character (Ruby Thewes). It’s nice to sing in our native language. If you have a really good librettist, singing in English is much better than singing a translation of another language. And to work with living composers and librettists, everybody grows in their craft. It’s only normal that people have varying degrees of success with their first opera—it’s such a composite artform to master all the elements of it. In the creative process the first time around it’s a lot to ask. So the more new opera we can put out there the better new opera will get. A lot of times because of my voice type in older pieces I’m doing pants roles. It’s nice that these new stories are being written for women, and I get to be a woman [Laughs]. 

EM: How would you describe jumping from Bates, Heggie and Higdon to Maddalena in Rigoletto? 

EF: I love that I get to jump around so much. I was just talking to my voice teacher about this. it keeps you having to think in new and different ways about how your technique can best serve you in these different musical styles and characters. One of the great things about singing is that technique is technique. Some people’s voices tend toward one genre. They can perfect that genre, but they also get used to using their voice in one very similar way all the time. I love playing with new styles and colors while trying to constantly improve the ground floor of my singing technique. I just did (Monteverdi’s) Il Coronazione di Poppea, very different from Rigoletto in terms of musical style. A lot of people think of Maddalena as a dark, contralto-y sound, not necessarily something that would typically fall to a singer of my fach [Laughs]. When Seattle asked me, I talked to my agent and voice teacher, and said, “Verdi writes so well for the voice, I don’t think there’s a problem.” I was absolutely ready to jump at the chance. Whether or not you can be heard isn’t always about the color and sound of your voice, it’s really a production thing and how well you’re using your air. And Maddalena’s character is a lot of fun. You get some of the best music in the whole show, the quartet and the storm scene. I loved listening to all the music, learning my part and getting to do something very different. I’m very excited. 

EM: Tell us about Lindy Hume’s very contemporary production. 

EF: It looks so appealing. I love how she stated what her intention was, especially in the current political climate where everybody wants to assume that every director is trying to make a statement about the president. Classic stories are classical stories, you can always draw parallels, but I think it’s really smart for her to go out there and state how the production was conceived. 

EM: How does Maddalena impact the story? 

EF: I was thinking about this, the character that comes in and goes real fast from being flirtatious in the quartet to, “Oh no, we can’t kill him, he loves me and I love him.” It’s real quick evolution [Laughs]. 

EM: Life was short in those days. 

EF: [Laughs] Right. But if she didn’t push so hard to save the Duke, Gilda would not die. So it’s pivotal that her character makes this choice. If she just went along with the plan, everything would have been fine. For a character that comes in so late—I hate to say any role is a thankless role, but her music is very much in the middle of her voice, there’s nothing grand or flashy about it. Then she kind of ruins everything [Laughs]. 

Sophia Brannon
EM: Which makes us pay more attention to her. 

EF: Exactly. I’m really looking forward to making the most of it. There’s so much fun to be had with who she is. From the looks of the production it’s going to have a modern feel and sensibility. Bringing something of my modern self to it and have that work is always enjoyable. And the relationship with Sparafucile is so much fun, too, this brother and sister situation. 

EM: Talk about dysfunctional family. 

EF: Yes [Laughs]. 

EM: Does the production have a specific location? 

EF: I read that Lindy Hume was inspired by Berlusconi when there was all the talk about his sex parties. I think it’s supposed to feel like modern-day Italy. 

EM: In a slightly different direction, you’re also committed to bringing new works to life, such as the Community Song Project. Could you give us some details? 

EF: I’ve worked with a couple of composers. Kathleen McGinther, her River Merchant’s Wife for mezzo-soprano soloist and orchestra. Then James Stevenson. I first sang his Remembering Our Fathers. They’re both wonderful people and eager to write for the voice. It’s hard on both ends to find ways to make these collaborations happen. All of our time is valuable, and money is always an issue. I just can’t say to somebody, “I want to sing some new music, please write some.” [Laughs]. We looked at getting grants to collaborate and have more music from both Kathleen and James, especially art song. At the time a photograph of a Syrian child who had drowned went viral, Jim wanted to comment in some way on the current world state of affairs. He wrote a piece called Sand inspired by that photo and other world happenings. Wanting art to help us get through tough times is really important but it’s also easy to wallow with the overwhelming amounts of bad things happening. So we talked about topics that were relevant but not so tragic. He wrote another piece for me for the Community Song Project where I sent out an online form to schoolteachers asking if they would be willing to ask their class to pick one word—friendship, peace or love—and comment what that word meant to them. Most of the text for that piece Jim drew from what those students had written. Some of them did not speak English as a first language, so it was a really interesting project. I would love to do more things like that in meaningful ways. I’m hoping to visit the school south of me, the Prairie School, and do a residency there in fall. I’m trying to make these connections. As a traveling musician it’s always so hard to find the time and the right way to do it. But we had a really good experience putting Community Song Project together. 

EM: Do you prefer performing opera over concert stage appearances, or do you like both equally? 

EF: That’s a tough call. I love concert work because I get to be onstage with the orchestra. You’re gone for a shorter period of time than with opera and it feels like you’re more of a team instead of the orchestra only coming in the last week, most of them under the stage and you don’t get to see them. I’m very interested in the quality of the production the more opera I do. The Poppea I just did in St. Louis is one of the best things I’ve ever done. The audience responded so well. That kind of experience, whether it’s opera, concert or recital, anything where I feel I’m given the best opportunity to connect with the audience, is the thing I’m happiest doing. With my characters, being as real and specific as possible, not letting any moment get wasted and drawing the audience in. Every project is so different. As long as I’m working with talented people who care, that’s what I want to be doing. 

EM: What’s coming up next after Seattle? 

EF: I’m coming home to Milwaukee, doing a recital here, then I’ll be heading to Atlanta for La Cenerentola

EM: Now there’s a role you can sink your teeth into! Emily, it was a delight to speak with you. 

EF: The same for me. 

EM: Toi, toi for Rigoletto! 

EF: Thank you! 

 ---ooo--- 

Photo credits: Dario Acosta, Philip Newton, Jacob Lucas, Sophia Brannon
Erica can be reached at: eminer5472@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Exonerated Five in San Pedro


The Central Park Five at Long Beach Opera.

REVIEW

Long Beach Opera, The Central Park Five, Warner Grand Theater, San Pedro
JIM RUGGIRELLO

I was out of town and missed the opening weekend of Long Beach Opera's The Central Park Five, but caught the penultimate performance at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro.

In many ways, this was a typical LBO production: thought-provoking and well sung, with innovative staging. But a couple of things set it apart from, and above, the rest of the company's efforts.

One was timeliness. Ava DuVernay's Netflix miniseries on the same subject, When They See Us, premiered just last month. And our president, asked to comment on the incident, made some unfortunate remarks just last week.

The story by now is a familiar one. Briefly, five teenagers were arrested for the brutal rape of a female jogger in Central Park, New York City, in 1989. Forced confessions were extracted, the boys were convicted and served sentences of between six and 13 years. In 2002, another individual confessed to the crime, his DNA matched the crime scene, and the boys were exonerated. They later sued the city and the state, and reached settlements with both.

Anthony Davis.
There's more to it, of course, than a simple recitation of events. A new word was added to the vocabulary: "wilding," which conjured up a vision of hordes of black and brown youth run amok. Inflammatory media headlines reflected, and added to, the volatile racial tensions of the times. Real estate developer Donald Trump appeared on the scene with full-page ads advocating for a return of the death penalty, and calling the teenagers "animals" and "monsters." The incident generated shock waves which resonate to this day. Composer Anthony Davis and librettist Richard Wesley were able to get a surprising number of the details of the incident, and their larger ramifications, into the opera.

Associate Professor Richard E. Wesley
Richard Wesley.
And it's not just the significance, but the quality of the work itself that also sets it apart. This was an impressive world premiere. Davis teaches at UC San Diego, and has devoted himself to creating works of social significance; Wesley teaches at NYU. Together, they have crafted a richly textured, compelling music drama that should be taken up by other companies.

Davis’ music is eclectic stylistically. He can write dissonant, dramatic passages that drive the action forward relentlessly; the end of the first act, leading up to the forced confessions, is a masterful dramatic, musical, and emotional crescendo. He can also alternate that with some really attractive straight-ahead jazz, here swingingly played by the small ensemble under Leslie Dunner. To highlight the aspects of the story that must have seemed surreal at the time, he writes spooky instrumental and electronic (a Kurzweil synthesizer is part of the ensemble) effects that chillingly capture the mood. All of the music serves the action and flows seamlessly.

Leslie Dunner.
Wesley's libretto puts words into the mouths of the boys, their parents, and the authorities that sound authentic, and capture the sense behind the words as well. In the face of relentless interrogation, the teenagers' final crumbling becomes not only understandable but inevitable, and it's difficult if not impossible to come away feeling anything but sympathy for the five, and rage at their situation.

LBO's cast was uniformly excellent. Zeffin Quinn Hollis, memorable from LBO's recent In the Penal Colony, dominated as a character called The Masque, who took on various roles, including police interrogator and a judge, and embodied white privilege and its inherent racism. He sang beautifully and acted with authority. Jessica Mamey's self-justifying D.A. was also powerfully sung, a heartless tool. Thomas Segen was a vocally strong member of the ensemble in Steve Reich’s Three Tales back in October, and here brilliantly personified Trump; he had the mannerisms down pat without descending too much into caricature.

l-r: Zeffin Quinn Hollis as The Masque, Thomas Segen as Trump, Jessica Mamey as the D. A.

The teenagers sang largely as a unit; the lively R&B-inflected number early on,"We Are the Freaks," was a highlight. Their occasional solo lines were well handled. Orson Van Gay (Raymond Santana) had many of them, and even if his vowels were oddly produced, his sound was vibrant. Nathan Granner sang movingly as Korey Wise, as did Cedric Berry (Yusef Salaam), Derrell Acon (Antron McCray) and Bernard Holcomb (Kevin Richardson). Standing out from the others were Lindsay Patterson and Joelle Lamarre as the mothers, each of whom had a brief heartfelt arietta, sung beautifully and with tremendous passion.

Andreas Mitisek.
Finally, this may be the best work LBO artistic director Andreas Mitisek has done as producer and director. His set design is effective and versatile, with panels serving alternately as doors, walls, and screens for a variety of projections; the latter include contemporaneous headlines and video, and the opening one is of those recent Trump remarks.

The staging managed to capture both the Harlem milieu, with the use of projections and jazz music, and the claustrophobia of the holding cells where the boys were interrogated separately. And it also smoothly shifted locations, including to the courtroom and to Trump Tower, without any loss of momentum. Dan Weingarten’s dramatic lighting enhanced every scene.

The theme of this LBO season is Justice, and the Five, once exonerated, did eventually receive large settlements from the city and state—events that are not referenced in this work. At the end, upon receiving their release from prison, the boys and their parents sing a joyous anthem, "The World Is Ours," and we seemingly get a happy ending. 

But there is one final image; the group turns upstage as they, and we, read a headline announcing the acquittal of the officers involved in the police shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice. 

It's a shocking, and sobering, conclusion. The shock waves still resonate.

Long Beach Opera, The Central Park Five, Warner Grand Theater, June 22, 2019, 7:30 p.m.
Images: LBO Production photos, Keith Ian Polakoff; Anthony Davis, Music Sales Classical; Richard Wesley, NYU; Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Mahler and Mozart(?) End the PSO’s 40th Season


The Pacific Symphony under Carl St. Clair in full cry in Mahler's First Symphony.

REVIEW

Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa
DAVID J BROWN

The Pacific Symphony’s 40th season came to its conclusion not with, as originally announced, Mahler’s all-choral, packed-to-the-roof, evening-filling Eighth Symphony (that experience is now promised for the end of next season) but with the more modestly-scaled but still pretty spectacular Symphony No. 1 in D major

The shorter first half was filled by another piece with a complicated history… and one that remains shrouded in probably never-to-be-resolved uncertainty. It is known, from letters to his father, that Mozart wrote a work in Paris, in 1778, for flute, oboe, horn, bassoon and orchestra, intended for performance by a visiting quartet of players. But it was never given, due, Mozart said, to chicanery between another composer and the concert promoter, who did not return his manuscript—which indeed was never seen again. 

Some 90 years later Mozart’s biographer, Otto Jahn, acquired a manuscript, not in Mozart’s hand, which was identified as his “Concertante” for oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon, with an orchestra of strings plus pairs of oboes and horns. Jahn had the score recopied by a professional copyist, and it was published in 1877 as the lost work.

Doubts about the Sinfonia Concertante's authenticity grew, however, and the majorly revised 1964 sixth edition of the Köchel catalog of Mozart’s works consigned it to its “doubtful and spurious” appendix. (To make a murky saga murkier yet, Jahn never revealed where he got that manuscript from, and after he died in 1869, it was nowhere to be found). 

On to the late 1980s, when the pianist and musicologist Robert Levin became so engaged with the mystery of the four-wind concertante that he devoted an entire book to it. He concluded that while the orchestra parts were probably spurious, the solo parts were basically genuine, with an unknown arranger recasting Mozart’s original flute and oboe parts for oboe and clarinet respectively. He then proceeded to a conjectural reconstruction of the original, with the solo parts re-reallocated back to the original quartet, and new orchestral parts based on his own deep knowledge of Mozart’s style in the late 1770s. 

The 1877-published Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon, K.Anh C14.01, is still often played, but on this occasion Carl St. Clair chose to perform what was presumably (not clarified in the program booklet) the Levin reconstruction, with Mozart's original solo line-up of flute, oboe, bassoon and horn played by respective PSO section principals Benjamin Smolen, Jessica Pearlman Fields, Rose Corrigan, and Keith Popejoy.

l-r: Rose Corrigan (bassoon), Benjamin Smolen (flute), Keith Popejoy (horn),
and Jessica Pearlman Fields (oboe). 
Given this apparent commitment to musicology’s latest attempt to recreate Mozart’s original work, rather than a fallback to the familiar but spurious version, the actual performance was curiously lackluster. Though St. Clair reduced the PSO strings to around half their full complement, his treatment of the opening tutti was quite weighty and spacious; throughout there was a lack of dynamic nuance from the orchestra (perhaps Levin’s edition, if indeed that was used, is more sparing of dynamic markings than the old version). 

That said, the solo quartet were well matched (by and large the melodic materials are shared out pretty evenly, with all four getting solo moments in the sun and every combination of duet explored), and each player seized the opportunities for heartfelt eloquence in the Adagio’s melodic writing. The Andantino con Variazioni finale, though—again despite plenty of elegant work from the soloists—never really caught fire, with even the Allegro final section remaining at stubbornly low voltage. Perhaps the fact that all three movements are in E-flat major (in no other of his concertos does Mozart have all three movements in the same key) contributes to the work’s overall blandness? Perhaps (whisper it) it’s not really Mozart after all? 

Mahler in 1892, four years before the
Symphony No. 1 reached its final form.
After the interval, it was an entirely different story. I am old enough to remember when—at least in London in the ‘60s—Mahler symphonies in the concert hall were rare enough to be sought out and relished. Now, with Mahlerdolatory past the saturation point, one’s first reaction on seeing one programmed tends to be “again?... really?” And yet, a first-rate account of one of these behemoths still has the power to get under the skin and thrill and inspire an audience, and this was just what Maestro St. Clair and the PSO at beyond-full strength gave to theirs. 

Whether or not it’s the “greatest of all First Symphonies”, as St. Clair speculated in some opening remarks (after leading hearty congratulations to the orchestra at season’s end, in particular those who have been with it since its inception 40 years ago), the symphony's start—a sustained ppp A on all the strings over seven octaves—has a uniquely vernal and premonitory magic, and it was a tribute both to Maestro St. Clair’s balancing of forces and the Segerstrom Hall’s acoustic that the lowest of those seven octaves was just barely, but audibly, touched in, due to Mahler’s allotting it to only one-third of the double-basses. 

The opening’s sense of great things to come was intensified, after soft clarinet upward burblings, by ppp trumpet fanfares beautifully distanced and articulated by the PSO section offstage, after which the amiable main theme, borrowed from Mahler’s earlier Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen, unfolded easefully and spaciously but with no lack of vigor when the exposition’s climax was reached (unsurprisingly, the repeat was not observed).

Carl St. Clair in action.
This pattern—of plenty of interpretative elbow-room combined with heft when needed, allied to playing as enthusiastically committed as it was sensitive—was maintained throughout the performance. There was much detail to be relished: a chunky, feet-stomping Scherzo; just the right degree of glissando from the violins at the start of the Trio; the ear-tickling clarity of section leader Steven Edelman’s muted piano solo double-bass at the beginning of the slow movement; a perfect sharp-intake-of-breath pause before Maestro St. Clair unleashed the storm at the beginning of the finale. 

One niggle: please can the epithet “Titan” for this symphony, used in the PSO’s pre-concert publicity, henceforth be put back to bed in the work’s early history where it belongs? The title was drawn from a romantic novel by one Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (“Jean Paul”), but Mahler dropped it after two performances of the symphony in its first, five-movement, symphonic-poem guise, and never used it again. 

In any case, the expectations “Titan” may arouse of something granitically Eroica-like sit ill—to this listener at least—with the symphony’s potent and highly original blend of nature painting, peasant dance, klezmer-inflected irony, and in the finale, extravagant rhetoric at each end of the emotional spectrum from despair at the start to bombastic triumph at the end, where it was to Maestro St. Clair’s credit that he made Mahler’s protracted roaring and trumpeting (almost) seem justified. On to the mighty Eighth this time next year! 

A standing ovation—of course...

---ooo--- 

Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Thursday June 6, 2018, 8 p.m.
Images: Orchestra and conductor: Doug Gifford; Wind soloists: Steve Dawson; Mozart: Esprit International; Mahler: Wikimedia Commons.

This review is posted later than usual, due to circumstances beyond the author's control; apologies to all concerned.