Wednesday, May 27, 2020


John Moore, SO Chorus
(Phillip Newton)

PREVIEW: Seattle Opera


Amid stay-home order, two companies team up to keep opera vibrant in the Pacific Northwest 

Self-sheltering? Missing opera? No problem. Seattle Opera has paired with local classical radio station KING FM 98.1 to bring listeners their Saturday morning opera fix with their Seattle Opera Mornings feature on KING FM

Since Saturday, April 25, opera aficionados have been treating themselves to the finest that the art form has to offer, as SO and KING have brought broadcast recordings of previous Seattle Opera performances to radio and online audiences. These exciting broadcasts will continue to be available on the radio and at https:/// every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Pacific Time through July 25.

According to General Director Christina Scheppelmann, a special agreement with the singers’ and musicians’ unions—the American Guild of Musical Artists and the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players’ Organization—are making these presentations possible. “Seattle Opera and KING FM are thrilled to be able to bring beautiful music and storytelling to our audiences’ ears,” says Scheppelmann. “Many thanks go to all the artists who make Seattle Opera what it is.”

On Saturday, June 13, the series will feature The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, which had its hugely successful west coast premiere during Seattle Opera’s 2018-2019 season. This phenomenal work, created by composer Mason Bates and librettist Mark Campbell, scrutinizes the life of the iconic tech giant, portraying key episodes in his extraordinarily complex journey. The work combines melodic and traditional music with elements of electronic music and a libretto which, according to the librettist, “places Jobs' life under a microscope without sacrificing the tech giant's deep humanity.” 

John Moore, SO Chorus
(Phillip Newton)
Campbell weighed in on the role of a librettist in the 21st century in a February, 2019, interview.

“The story comes first. Everything really starts with the librettist. We come up with the story, establish the structure.” Campbell arrived at the concept of disrupting the usual narrative creating “more of a circular story, based on the memory of this man rather than strict chronological.”

The librettist did not find the writing itself difficult as compared to portraying a man who was, and still is, iconic: in the limelight and a known quantity by practically everyone. Pushing the envelope of “the Steve Jobs we think we know,” Campbell went about pinpointing the formative events of Jobs’s life and career.

“I had to imagine it almost as fiction,” Campbell says, “To try to shake off everyone else's perceptions and create a sympathetic portrayal.”

John Moore, Emily Fons
(Jacob Lucas)

Mark Campbell
(courtesy of artist)
An integral part of Campbell’s concept consisted in starting his story with Jobs as a young child. “When you have a kid, your job is to identify what is beautiful and possibly brilliant in them, whatever they seem to like, and encourage it as much as possible,” he says. “Who knows if there's another Steve Jobs out there who will change our lives?”

Campbell’s job was, “Not to create the most comprehensive portrait…(but) one that delivers an emotional punch, and also is a damn good entertainment.” The audience will come to know the version of Jobs that he and Bates engendered. “One thing that never grows old is that opera uses a beautiful abstract form to get to the heart of a character and, through that, of the audience. That's something I never want to lose.”

Campbell definitely succeeded. Reactions were overwhelmingly positive, as reviewers and audience alike were impressed with the striking set designs and lighting, innovative music and consistently solid vocal performances, not to mention an overall subject matter and character portrayal that almost anyone over the age of two can relate to. As Bates has said, “Everybody is carrying a little bit of Steve Jobs in their pocket…(but) the real pivot in the piece is toward the human story.”

Garrett Sorenson, John Moore
(Phillip Newton)
Listeners are sure to find all of the above elements and more when they tune in to this groundbreaking performance on June 13.

Remaining performances in the series are as follows, listed with their starring performers:

June 20: Don Giovanni (2014) Lawrence Brownlee
June 27: La traviata (2017) Corinne Winters
July 11: Madama Butterfly (2017) Yasko Sato
July 18: Così fan tutte (2018) Marjukka Tepponen
July 25: Rigoletto (2019) Soraya Mafi

The financial support of listeners helps support Seattle Opera’s “At Home” series as well as sustain the company until enjoy opera as a community will be possible once again. Listeners can support Opera at Home via

“We’ve been thrilled with the listener response to Seattle Opera Mornings on KING FM,” says Scheppelmann. “These broadcasts offer a way for people to relive their favorite performances, or for any music lover to experience a great opera performance. I’m proud to say that we have future collaborations planned with KING FM, as well.”

Further information on Opera Mornings can be found on Seattle Opera’s blog.

Seattle Opera Presents
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
(Jacob Lucas)

Photo credits:Phillip Newton, Jacob Lucas
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Livestreaming Newsletter Update July 7, 2020

Protect yourself from infection,
for unaccompanied chorus,
by David Lang (b. 1963).
David J Brown

Live classical music events with audiences have ceased—a situation that looks fair to continue indefinitely—but enterprising organizations and musicians are moving to a format of recitals with no audience present but livestreamed, with recordings subsequently available via YouTube, Facebook, etc.

This Newsletter contains notifications of upcoming recitals to be livestreamed when we know about them, so that you can plan to view/listen as they happen, and lists of past events so that if you couldn't tune in at the time, you can instead access the recordings at your leisure. It is reposted on Facebook when there are updates of future live events.

Classical Crossroads, Inc.—the most active chamber music organization in the South Bay area—relies entirely on donations from attendees at its free concerts to pay the performers. If you are now enjoying Classical Crossroads' recitals livestreamed, or indeed have attended them in the past, please go to the “Donate” button here!

Summer Youth Arts Initiatives

Pacific Symphony [email protected], July 6-July 17.
The PSO's youth summer program arts-X-press, normally a one-week summer camp, has been restructured into a virtual two-week camp. The goals remain the same, "for students to explore the arts, find their voice, and take creative risks." Click here for full details.

Upcoming livestreamed recitals and recordings

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra "LACO Summerfest", Zipper Hall, Saturday, July 11, 5 p.m. PDT.
Click here for this first recital in the LACO's newly announced summer chamber music festival, to be given by Concertmaster Margaret Batjer, Principal Cello Andrew Shulman and special guest pianist Andrew von Oeyen. 

American Guild of Organists, Organfest 2020, July 20, 5 p.m. PDT—July 24,
6 p.m. PDT.
Each evening’s broadcast will premiere a new work which had been commissioned for the 2020 National Convention in Atlanta, accompanied by interviews with the composers. Click here for a trailer, and here for more information and the link.

Beethoven 250: A Serving of Beethoven, Lunchtime Concert, Thursday July 9, 12:00 p.m. PDT.
Click here for the next recital in this Colburn School series, in which Martin Beaver and Alena Hove (violins), Madison Marshall (viola) and Tianlu Jerry Xu (cello) will play Beethoven's String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18 No. 4 (1800).

Glendale Noon Concerts, Wednesday, July 15,
12:10 p.m. PDT.
Click here for this Facebook livestreamed recital, in which violinist Jacqueline Suzuki and pianist Brendan White will perform Respighi's Violin Sonata in B minor P.117 (1917).
First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica Midweek Recital, Wednesday, July 8, 12:10 p.m. PDT.
Click here, here, or here for the next recital, by Connie Sheu (guitar) and Elise Henry (flute) playing works by Golijov and Ian Krouse, plus three African-American spirituals. Previous recitals in this series can be also heard at these links.
"Resilience" program #15 by violinist Tim Fain, Saturday, July 11, 12:00 p.m. PDT.

Click here for the 15th in this series, in which Tim Fain will play works by composers we all love, as well as Kevin Puts and himself. Recordings of his previous 14 "Resilience" recitals can also be heard at this same link.

Hershey Felder: Beethoven, a Play with Music, Sunday, July 12, 5 p.m. PDT.
Presented by the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, live from Florence, Italy, Hershey Felder brings Ludwig van Beethoven to life through the eyes of the Viennese Doctor Breuning who spent his boyhood by the Maestro's side. More information and tickets here.

Live from Cadogan Hall, London, Wednesday July 8, 11.30 a.m. PDT.
The English Chamber Orchestra, directed by Stephanie Gonley, will perform Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending (1913), with Over Falk (violin), and Mozart's Symphony No. 29 in A major K. 201 (1774). More information here; the Cadogan Hall's YouTube channel is here.

Steven Vanhauwaert, Second Sundays at Two, Sunday July 12, 2 p.m. PDT.
In place of his "First Fridays at First! ~ fff" recital on April 3 at First Lutheran Church & School, Torrance, and his "Second Sundays At Two" recital on June 14 at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, this recital by pianist Steven Vanhauwaert, including works by Brahms, Busoni, and Debussy, will be livestreamed from his home.

Ongoing streamings from southern California

Delirium Musicum Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles.
Click here for links to information and videos.

Los Angeles Master Chorale: two new digital series.
Sundays at Seven and Offstage with the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The Verdi Chorus of Santa Monica's first online concert
Click here or here to access the 2018 program, "The Force of Destiny."

New Hollywood String Quartet. 2019 Summer of Brahms Weekly Video Concert Series.
Click here for recordings of performances from this festival, added weekly.

Los Angeles Philharmonic: LA Phil at Home. 
Click here to watch videos, podcasts, and interviews, read articles, learn about recordings, and sign up for new notifications. 

The Broad Stage Live at Home.
Click here for livestreamed performances, interviews and archival footage. 

LACMA Sundays Live.
Click here for concerts in this series at St. James-in-the-City Episcopal Church, Los Angeles.

Camerata Pacifica Concerts at Home! 
Weekly live broadcasts, on YouTube Live at 11 a.m. & 6 p.m., and on Facebook Live at 2 p.m.

Ken Aiso (violin/viola), Valeria Morgovskaya (piano): Livestream Home Concert, every day, 8:00-8:15p.m. PDT.
This is only available via Instagram on mobile devices (cellphones, iPad, tablet), NOT on laptops and desktop computers. To access, install Instragram app and then search for kenaiso1.

Pacific Symphony @Home. 
Click here to watch highlights from past performances, join Pacific Symphony musicians from their home to your living room or catch up on your reading on the Symphony's blog.

LA Opera At Home: Living Room Recitals.
Click here for livestream events and recordings.

First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. 
UCLA Professor of Organ Christoph Bull plays a 30-minute organ program before the morning service every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Click here for recordings of previous programs.

Previous individual events and events from individuals

Virtual AmericaFest, Saturday, July 4.
This year's event included cellist Cécilia Tsan performing solo works by J. S. Bach and Pablo Casals from the dome of the 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson. Click here for the performance itself.

Music at Saint Matthews, Friday, June 5.
Click here for pianist Robert Thies performing a program of works by Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy.

Hear Now Music Festival, Los Angeles, 2017.
Click here for cellist Cécilia Tsan playing (and speaking the words) of The Messiah, by LA composer Hugh Levick.

Rolling Hills United Methodist Church "Second Sundays at Two", May 10.
Click here for Einav Yarden's recital, recorded from Berlin.

Glendale Noon Concerts.
Click here for Ken Aiso and Valeria Morgovskaya playing Schumann and Brahms on May 20.
Click here for Maksim Velichlin's solo cello recital on May 6. 
Click here for Brendan White playing Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis on April 15.
Click here for this recital by Jonah and Robert Sirota on March 12.

A Classical Crossroads streamed-as-live concert.
Click here for the Latsos Piano Duo playing Schubert, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Joe Giarrusso. 

Dilijan Chamber Music Series: From Our Home to You, April 23.
This home concert by the Pogossian/ Manouelian family, honoring the 105th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, can be enjoyed at this YouTube link.

Violinist Jennifer Koh: "Alone Together."
Click here for videos of many short specially commissioned violin pieces.

A Classical Crossroads streamed-as-live concert, Saturday April 18. 
Trio Zagig, recorded at Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills: Click here for the Vimeo recording.

Tomasz Fechner (guitar): final DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) recital, April 11.
Click here for the YouTube recital.

Malibu Friends of Music: A Serenade to the Holy Days of Spring, Monday April 13. Click here or here for Facebook recording of this recital.

Cheng2 Duo at home in New York City, March 31.
Click here for Facebook recording of this recital.

Mak Grgić, USC Thornton School of Music Artist Diploma candidate student: all-J. S. Bach guitar arrangements, Saturday, March 28.
Click here for Facebook recording of this recital.

Aaron David Miller (organ): First Church of Christ Scientist, San Marino, Monday, March 16.
Click here for the YouTube recording of this recital.

Svetlana Smolina (piano): “The Interludes,” First Lutheran, Torrance, Saturday, March 14
Click here for the YouTube recording of this recital.

Music livestreaming, recordings, and events from worldwide sources

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts: Streaming of Music, Dance, Theater, and other performances.
• BEMF at Home: Streamings of recording highlights from past productions by the Boston Early Music Festival.
Live with Carnegie Hall: Livestreamings, recordings, and more. Carnegie Hall is also streaming via
Ariel Avant Robinson Recitals: weekly online chamber concerts.
• American Symphony Orchestra online; a new recording from the ASO archives released each Wednesday.
Bard Music West Shelter in Music Bay Area: links to upcoming livestreamed events.
Philharmonic Society of Orange County list of upcoming livestream events, doubtless containing duplications of other lists.
Bachtrack: Many on-demand streaming services listed here, some of which may be duplicated below.
Music Never Sleeps NYC.
Alex Ross: The Rest is Noise—COVID-19 live streams, a listing. 
Fisher Center at Bard College Upstreaming: Archive of performances and other events.
• Great Performances at the New York Met.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Interludes with Piano Favorites in a Virtual Recital

Svetlana Smolina at First Lutheran Church, Torrance.


Svetlana Smolina: “The Interludes” livestream, First Lutheran Church, Torrance
David J Brown

Early evening on Thursday, March 12, Jim Eninger and Karla Devine of Classical Crossroads, Inc., learned that the violinist Pavel Šporcl, who was scheduled to give three recitals over the weekend including the regular monthly “The Interludes” at First Lutheran Church and School, Torrance, on Saturday, had been unable to make the journey from the Czech Republic.

Under the current circumstances of global travel restrictions this was not exactly surprising, and given the need to avoid large gatherings it was unlikely that the concerts with audiences present would have gone ahead anyway. However, with the generous cooperation of the locally-based pianist Svetlana Smolina, who was to have partnered Mr. Šporcl, Classical Crossroads organized at this extremely short notice a replacement solo piano recital by Ms. Smolina, which was livestreamed from the church at the scheduled time.

Thus it was possible for home listeners/viewers to enjoy her 55-minute program of mostly familiar favorites from the safety of their own homes. So far as I was concerned, the sound quality was not ideal, but I am sure that the tendency for bass textures in the church’s resonant acoustic to sound a bit muddied was due far more to the small speakers attached to my computer than any deficiencies in the First Lutheran microphone set-up.

Clearly Classical Crossroads are on a learning curve with this enterprise, but it’s most heartening that they intend to livestream the remaining six concerts in their 2019-2020 season if things don't get too dire (details herehere and here), and thus give a little cheer to the community as well as employment to at least a few out of Southern California’s very large pool of talented freelance musicians who are suddenly being faced with wholesale concert cancellations and consequent loss of income.

For the record, Ms. Smolina’s warmly communicative program was as follows:
• Schumann: Widmung (Dedication), the first of the 26 songs from Myrthen (Myrtles) Op. 26, in Liszt’s 1848 solo piano arrangement (S. 566)
• Liszt: Liebesträume (Dreams of Love) No. 3 in A-flat major, S. 541, No. 3 (1850)
• Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31 (1836-37)
• Chopin: Waltz in D-flat major “Minute Waltz,” Op. 64 No. 1 (1847)
• Chopin: Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64 No. 2 (1847)
• Chopin: Waltz in E-flat major “Grande Valse Brillante,” Op. 18 (1833)
• Tchaikovsky: Final Waltz and Apotheosis from The Nutcracker (1892), in the 1978 solo piano arrangement by Mikhail Pletnev
• Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G minor, Op.23 No. 5 (1903)
• Rachmaninoff: Prelude in D major, Op.23 No. 4 (1903)
• Balakirev: Islamey, Oriental Fantasy, Op. 18 (1869, rev. 1902).

  Fortunately, the whole recital can be viewed on line here.


“The Interludes”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 3.00pm, Saturday, March 14, 2020.

If you found this review to be useful, interesting or informative, please feel free to Buy Me A Coffee!

Friday, March 13, 2020

Beethoven & Schubert: Compare, Contrast at Long Beach

l: Beethoven in 1804 or 1805, oil painting by Joseph Willibrord Mähler;
r: Schubert in 1827, sketched by Friedrich Lieder.


Long Beach Symphony at the Terrace Theater, Long Beach Performing Arts Center

Eckart Preu.
Though LBSO Music Director Eckart Preu was at pains to point out in his introductory talk for the orchestra’s March concert that Beethoven and Schubert were highly contrasted both in personality and their social interactions, the former’s sole violin concerto and the latter’s final completed symphony have one important thing in common. Each opens in a highly original and distinctive way, and as the performances showed, how these openings are handled influences fundamentally the way the music proceeds thereafter.

Take the famous drum taps that begin Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major Op. 61; they are quarter-notes (4/4 time), played piano at the tempo marking Allegro, ma non troppo (there is no metronome indication). There’s a tendency sometimes to pay more attention to the “ma non troppo” than the “Allegro,” and sometimes to quieten further the timpani, presumably in attempts to add a sense of profundity, or mystery, or epic breadth. But so pervasive is that rhythm in this movement that unless some crunching gear changes are brought in later, what is already a very long movement starts to feel interminable.

The first page of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in the composer's manuscript. The four opening
timpani beats are just discernible half-way down the left-hand system.

Stefan Jackiw.
In this performance, happily, Maestro Preu from the outset had no truck with that. The timpani beats were quiet, but crisp, and launched an orchestral exposition that was full of direction and purpose. Certainly there was the sense of a long journey getting under way, but not one whose end was unclear. In the pre-concert talk Preu had been joined by Stefan Jackiw, the soloist (their first collaboration as conductor and soloist had been all of 15 years ago), who said that the great challenge in this concerto was to balance its tendency to explore with the need to stay focused on that goal.

Even more happily, all concerned delivered on this aim. Following the powerfully propulsive orchestral introduction, Mr. Jackiw’s solo entry avoided both “look-at-me” histrionics and any undermining of the orchestra’s impetus. Instead, the balanced concentration from him, from Maestro Preu, and from the LBSO on top form, was maintained throughout, as if everyone was intently aware of Beethoven’s thoughts and following where he led.

Among many stand-out moments, particularly noteworthy were the perfect pianissimo unanimity of trumpets and timpani (after many measures’ silence) as they paved the way for the recapitulation, and then Mr. Jackiw’s delivery of Kreisler’s extraordinary first-movement cadenza (hat-tip to my LA Opus colleague Jim Ruggirello for confirming it was that one!), awash with fearsome double-stops but staying very close to the movement’s musical substance.

Theater an der Wien, where Beethoven's Violin Concerto was first performed, on December 23,
1806, by the violinist Franz Clement (1780-1842); Clement was also a composer, and his own
Violin Concerto in D, composed the year before, is well worth hearing.

In this performance one marveled again at Beethoven’s daring and originality in the Larghetto slow movement, so spare in texture from the outset and becoming yet more so as it proceeds. At an appropriately not-too-slow tempo, the violin in Mr. Jackiw’s hands seemed to be delivering whispers of ironic comment on the fragmentary variations of the opening theme as they passed by on woodwind and strings; at this speed the one ff orchestral outburst near the end seemed for once inevitable rather than a shocking intrusion, and set up a lithe, dancing account of the Rondo finale that brought the whole concerto in, tumultuously cheered, at a trim 42 minutes.

The symphony’s opening, from the first
 published edition, c.1850. After his
death the manuscript stayed with
his brother Ferdinand until Schumann’s
discovery of it in 1838 led to the first
performance, under Mendelssohn, 

in Leipzig on March 21, 1839.
If anything, the performance after the interval of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major “The Great”, D. 944 was even finer (no room for any overture with these two—by Classical norms—behemoths). As already noted, the very opening, a long theme whose elements have much to do in the ensuing movement, played on two unaccompanied unison horns, marked Andante and piano, is as remarkable and individual as Beethoven’s drum taps, but recent performance practice with it has gone in something of an “opposite” direction.

Many conductors of the mid-20th century took it very spaciously, conjuring sublime Romantic vistas, but in order to get the main exposition of the movement under way at anything like its Allegro, ma non troppo marking (or indeed faster, as was often the case) they were forced speed up a lot, despite Schubert marking no accelerando. More recently, HIP (historically informed performance) practice has taken the horns’ opening far more swiftly. This avoids the need to tread on the gas later, but inevitably loses most of the opening’s grandeur, making it seem caught in media res, almost throwaway.

Eckart Preu cunningly charted a middle course, giving the horn theme enough space not to lose its sense of epic potential, but not so slow as to necessitate any jerking into a gallop later on. Indeed, as that opening theme passed from the horns to the woodwind choir, he equally cleverly gave the strings’ accompanying pizzicato plenty of rhythmic kick, pulling the music forward and fueling the propulsive energy that went on to carry the movement through to a triumphantly vigorous final statement by full orchestra of the opening theme (and, inter alia, without much slowing—Schubert asks for none—for the glorious second subject).

I was a little concerned about how the slow movement would go, given that in Preu’s short verbal summary of the work just before he raised his baton, he characterized it as mostly cheerful and positive, in common with the work as a whole. But to me its brittle minor-key march always seems ready from the outset to stumble and fall, and the very quick Andante con moto with which it began seemed just a bit too sprightly (but shout-out for the masterly cheer-leader playing of principal oboe Rong-Huey Liu).

However, the warm counter-theme that Schubert introduces after nearly 100 measures (and with no change of tempo), was most sensitively handled, with fabulous pianissimo string playing. Thereafter the build-up to the movement’s fff climax—where Schubert seems driven to a stormy cliff-top, stopping just short on the brink of throwing himself over—had just the right tragic inevitability, with warm, ample playing from the cellos beginning the movement’s subsequent long and soulful recovery from oblivion.

Eckart Preu and the Long Beach Symphony.

Maestro Preu had noted that by the time Schubert wrote this symphony (1825-26), Johann Strauss I was a successful waltz composer in Vienna, and that the Scherzo’s Trio section could be heard as reflecting this. Certainly it swung gloriously in this performance, with the whole woodwind choir caroling and carrying the great melody on high. The long Scherzo itself was bold and vigorous and—despite an unfortunate audience yell at its conclusion in misapprehension that the symphony was over—the cumulated energy carried over and intensified throughout Schubert’s immense finale.

This movement is cruelly demanding for the orchestra, particularly for the violins who have to repeat the same insistently rhythmic four-note phrase over hundreds of measures, but the LBSO under Preu’s sure hand sustained it seemingly effortlessly. Though his omission of the exposition repeats in the outer movements and the long second repeat in the Scherzo will have eased their task somewhat, to power Schubert’s mighty cosmic engine is still a huge challenge, and in this performance of one of the world’s greatest symphonies the LBSO were the equal of any orchestra I have heard, and I mean any


Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, Terrace Theater, Saturday, March 7, 2020,
8 p.m.
Images: Beethoven: Wikimedia Commons; Schubert: Figures of Speech; Violin Concerto manuscript: IMSLP; Theater an der Wien: Kultur Pool; Stefan Jackiw: artist website; Ninth Symphony title-page: IMSLP; Eckart Preu and LBSO: Caught in the Moment.

If you found this review to be useful, interesting, or informative, please feel free to Buy Me A Coffee!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Souvenirs of Paris et al: Another Concert in Two Halves

The Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo: Felipe Pinto-Ribeiro and Rosa Maria Barrantes.


“Souvenirs” and “Paris 1900”: Barber, Lopes-Graça, and Tchaikovsky; Fauré, Poulenc, and Ravel from the Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo

Once per season, two South Bay concert series, “First Fridays at First!~fff” at First Lutheran Church and School, Torrance, and “Second Sundays at Two” at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, join hands for a full-length program divided across their locations and time-slots. Most recently the Portuguese pianist Felipe Pinto-Ribeiro shared the two platforms with violinist Corey Cerovsek (reviewed here), but for the March 2020 split recital he was joined by his Peruvian-born wife Rosa Maria Barrantes, for a piano four-hands program.

A traffic jam cost me hearing the initial item in their “Souvenirs” first half—which was indeed Souvenirs, i.e. No. 1 Waltz, and No. 5 Hesitation Tango, from Samuel Barber’s 1953 Op. 26 ballet suite in its original four-hands guise—so when I did arrive it was to unfamiliar territory: five selections from the third book of Melodias Rústicas Portuguesas (Portuguese Folk Melodies) by one of the central figures in 20th century Portuguese music, Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906-1994).

Fernando Lopes-Graça,
From the total of 14 Melodias, the Duo played No. 2 Este ladrão novo (This new thief), No. 3 Deus te salve, ó Rosa (God save you, Rosa), No. 6 Trás-os-Montes pastoral, No. 8 Canção de berço (Lullaby), and No. 4 Senhora da Póvoa (Our Lady of Póvoa). Published in 1979, these brief vignettes were arrestingly raw—by turn melancholic, wistful, aggressive, dissonant, and abrupt. I would happily have heard the entire set: anyone who is curious can listen at this YouTube link.

This “Souvenirs” first half of the two-part recital ended in entirely familiar territory, that of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, in the transcription for piano four-hands by Eduard Langer. It’s always fascinating to hear how both an arranger and performers tackle music whose sound in the mind is so indelibly orchestral. After a suitably imperious and robust March (the Duo omitted the Miniature Overture), the Sugar Plum Fairy, somewhat more sedate than usual, danced to a decent impression of Tchaikovsky’s celesta courtesy of Sra. Barrantes playing the primo part.

Then the Trépak bowled expeditiously along, and while the Arab Dance’s ostinato rhythm felt a little over-emphatic when transferred from muted lower strings to the bass of the piano, in the Chinese Dance, the transfer of its bass part from bassoons to keyboard if anything emphasized the gawky grotesquerie. The Reed Flutes were again rather sedate but elegantly pointed, and the Waltz of the Flowers swirled to a fine finish, enthusiastically applauded.

On to “Second Sunday.” The novel feature here was that the three French works on this “Paris 1900” program would be played alongside projected visuals, the latter—chosen by the Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo for a previous presentation of the same program in Moscow—being a fascinating and un-obvious selection of paintings from within a decade or three of that year.

Picasso: Violin (left); Guitar and Violin (center); Musical Instruments (right).

Thus (to take the middle item first) all three brief movements of Poulenc’s youthful Sonata for Piano Four Hands, composed in 1918 at the age of 19— the insistent hammering of the first, the Naif et Lent amble of the second, and the gadfly flitting of the finale—were skillfully dispatched by the Duo against the disjunct geometry of three 1912 Cubist studies (above) of musical instruments by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

The two other works—the original four-hands versions of Fauré’s Dolly Suite Op. 56 as opener, and Ravel’s Ma mère l'Oye (Mother Goose) Suite to conclude—were illustrated variously by Chagall, Renoir, Manet, Maurice Denis, and most notably Odilon Redon, no fewer than five of whose paintings were included. The conjunction of the chosen artwork with each of the 11 movements across the two suites ranged from straightforwardly illustrative to weirdly oblique—none more so, perhaps, than the warmly ingratiating Berceuse that opens Dolly being stared down by Redon’s disconcerting Head on a Stem (below left).

On the other hand one could clearly link the sprightly Mi-a-ou (even though the title doesn’t actually refer to a cat) with what looks like a window sill-crouching feline in Chagall’s Paris through the Window (above center), while Le jardin de Dolly could hardly be better pictured than by Renoir’s exquisite Girl with a Watering Can (above right). Similarly, it wasn’t difficult to see the Ketty-Valse (again not a cat, but the real-life “Dolly’s” pet dog) as jumping up and down at Redon’s Butterflies (below left).

Maybe it was the older-than-her-years sideways gaze of Redon’s charcoal Portrait of Mademoiselle Jeanne Roberte de Domecy (above center) that seemed to impart a certain want of tenderness in the penultimate Tendresse movement of Dolly, but Le pas espagnol, ending the suite, lacked nothing in exuberance— though it was observed with almost comical severity by the three unsmiling occupants of Manet’s The Balcony (above right).

So far, so stimulating, and there was more eschewing of the obvious for Mother Goose. Where one might perhaps have anticipated a slumberous Pre-Raphaelite image for Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant (Pavane of Sleeping Beauty) (taken quite slowly by the Duo), instead we saw the plain, almost two-dimensional trunks of Denis’s Les arbres verts (Green trees) (right), amongst which vague, white-clad figures move mysteriously.

With Petit Poucet (Little Tom Thumb), the serious childhood mien of Redon’s Portrait of Ari Redon (the artist’s son) (above right) for me perfectly matched the contained raptness of Ravel’s music, but Redon’s enigmatic portrait Closed Eyes (left) provided another distinctly oblique counterpoise to the tinkling chinoiserie and solemn gong-like keyboard effects of Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodes (Little ugly girl, empress of the pagodas).

For Ravel's two contrasted sound worlds in Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête (Conversation of Beauty and the Beast), the Duo chose Chagall’s Champ de mars (Field of Mars) (right), its conjoined visages perhaps reflecting the duality of the music. And maybe the most insinuatingly subtle visual correspondence came with the finale, where the slowly mounting cool ecstasy of Le jardin féerique (The fairy garden) found Ophelia among the Flowers, her smudged brown profile tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner of the image (below—once more by Odilon Redon), a hint perhaps that tragedy can lurk even in in a fairy garden.

Does great music need visual props? Of course not, but such stimulating choices of image, combined with skillful and sensitive accounts of the music, nonetheless set up correspondences, contrasts, and reactions that certainly added an extra dimension to the aural experience.

To conclude their recital (and with no projected artwork), the Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo returned to the piano for a tango by Piazzolla, who seems to be the No. 1 go-to guy for encores in the South Bay. 


“First Fridays at First!,” First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, March 6, 2020; “Second Sundays at Two,” Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, 2.00pm, Sunday, March 8, 2020
Photos: The performers: Leonel de Castro; Lopes-Graça: Opera Musica; Paintings: Courtesy The Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo.

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Monday, March 9, 2020

"Following Beethoven" with Levick, Mason String Quartets

Composers Todd Mason and Hugh Levick bookend the members of the Lyris Quartet (Alyssa Park, Shalini Vijayan, Timothy Loo, Luke Maurer) at the Mason Home Concert, February 22, 2020.


Lyris Quartet, Mason Home Concerts
John Stodder Jr.

Having been to several of the Mason Home Concerts—in a stylish one-story house on a quiet, tree-lined street in Mar Vista—I’d become used to host Todd Mason offering top featured ensembles, soloists, or vocalists the opportunity to perform his own works, as well as generously giving similar slots to local composers—both well-known (e.g. Eric Whitacre and John Williams) and less so—alongside the more familiar menu of Haydn, Brahms, Schubert, Bartók, Stravinsky, etc.

This concert featured the celebrated Lyris Quartet, and it closed with the premiere of Mason’s String Quartet No. 1 (2019 version). No brief sample of his work, this is a personal statement, with a strong narrative line uniting the four movements, holding the listener’s attention for 20 minutes as it unfolds its cyclical tale, challenging the musicians to explore the immense range of tonalities and colors he assembles to tell his story.

Count Razumovsky.
Raising the bar to almost impossible heights, Mason chose to have the Lyris Quartet begin the program with one of the repertoire’s great works, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59 No. 3. This masterpiece of his middle period, the third of the five string quartets he completed between 1806-10, is the last of three dedicated to Count Andrei Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador and amateur musician who commissioned them. Ever since, they have become known simply as the Razumovsky Quartets.

In his pre-concert talk, LA Opus’ managing editor, David J. Brown, talked about the revolutionary uses to which Beethoven put the string quartet format and the unparalleled expressive range that he opened up. Brown’s talk framed the evening’s performances both historically and artistically, as Beethoven’s innovations have become a kind of baseline for the string quartet experience ever since; it’s hard for us to imagine now that, in his time, the Razumovskys were deemed by some to be difficult on the ear.

Beethoven in 1804 or 1805,
painted by Joseph
Willibrord Mähler.
No. 9 is a moody work. It opens with the quartet attacking a dissonant chord with a prominently embedded diminished 5th (sometimes called “the devil’s interval”), then another similar chord, as if awakening from a bad dream. Hushed, ethereal meanderings follow, as if wandering around a dark room sorting out reality from phantoms. Beethoven is planting a flag here. Change is in the air, not just in the quartet format but also in the larger development of classical music.

With the unsettled introduction over, the first violin calls a different tune, almost restarting the piece and with a vastly more cheerful demeanor, like children skipping down a path. It has to be said how perfectly matched are the voices of the Lyris Quartet. When the vibrant new tune passed to the other players, they mirrored the first violinist Alyssa Park’s timbre precisely—a striking effect in a small venue like the Mason concert room, and the kind of musical moment one often misses in larger venues.

David Brown delivering
pre-concert remarks on the
history of the string quartet.
David Brown had noted how baroque era string quartets relied on a continuo-like bass “from which the music for the treble instruments… would be built upwards.” Those words apply perfectly to the pizzicato cello, wonderfully played by Timothy Loo, that opens the second movement with a baseline that functions like a pulse, supporting a flowing, sometimes echoing conversation among the other strings. Luke Maurer’s viola was first among equals as this brooding, richly harmonic section unfolded.

The more playful, dance-like third movement Menuetto brings the ensemble together with confident melodies. With Alyssa Park and Shalini Vijayan (second violin) perfectly matched in style, one had the feeling of a relaxing canoe trip but, knowing Beethoven, is it to the edge of an unseen waterfall? As the third movement smacks into the fourth, the change in tempo and intensity is an unexpected adrenalin rush.

The viola starts the music, this time in fugal conversation, at a frenzied pace that challenges the others to follow. By the time the cello enters, we are amidst rapids that seem right on the threshold of what is feasible with string instruments. The first violinist is perhaps the hero of this mad rush of notes, running with (or away from) the other players almost impossibly fast. Sitting five feet from them, it was captivating to hear but also to watch. Strands of broken horsehair dangled from each bow. When it ended in a flash of musical fireworks, it took a moment for the audience to catch its breath and process what it had just heard.

After a long and very well-deserved standing ovation, the audience moved to the patio for intermission, covered from a few remaining afternoon drizzles, everyone palpably buzzing from the Lyris Quartet’s energy and Beethoven’s genius. I overheard one person say “I’d heard that quartet before, but that was the first time I experienced it in my soul.”

As the show resumed, the composer of the next piece, Hugh Levick, founder of LA’s Hear Now Music Festival, joked about the difficulty of “following Beethoven.” His piece was the second movement from M.E.L.B.A. (Morning Evening Love Bears All), a four-movement quartet he described as a “love poem to my wife, Melba, and a lament for a world in which beauty, truth, and justice are laid waste by our so-immensely powerful forces of destruction.” Levick characterized the movement, Evening, as “an ungainly waltz.”

The Lyris Quartet: l-r Alyssa Park, Shalini Vijayan, Timothy Loo, Luke Maurer.

It had a whimsically mechanical quality for the first half, bringing to mind a couple having a pleasing, sometimes passionate, exchange. The “lament” begins just before the halfway point. The tempo slows to a crawl, then slows and quietens again, creating space for a soulful cello utterance followed by a conclusion full of string effects and harmonics that play like shadows in failing light. In an intimate venue like this, quiet passages and silences can be as startling as the loud parts. Levick’s movement literally faded out in front of our eyes (and ears).

Then it was time for Mason’s work. He also joked about the “intimidating shadow of Beethoven,” pointing to a pillow on the piano with that scowling face surveying the proceedings. Mason said that Beethoven was probably his biggest influence in how he writes his own music and then held up a hefty book of all the Beethoven quartets saying, “if classical music is a religion, then this might be its Bible.” In his 250th birth anniversary year, Beethoven is still shaping the evolution of music.

In the program notes Mason explained that “my First Quartet has been in the making for many years but was only recently finished and assembled in its present form.” Indeed, some of it dates back to melodies written while at Juilliard, and the long compositional gestation creates for us a life in full, seen from dual perspectives: the young composer looking forward, and the mature looking back.

Mason House, a Mar Vista concert venue.
Mason’s quartet feels like a classic journey: from innocence, conveyed by his expert use of traditional tonality in the first movement; to disorienting and increasingly stressful harmonies in the agitated, Bartók-inspired second movement; to what he calls his quartet’s “emotional heart” in the third movement. This reaches a point of near-resignation before a sudden embrace of hidden strengths, as the protagonist discovers the presence of community and a sense of life’s purpose.

The complex fourth movement, incorporating two fugues based on melodies dating from 1981, takes us on a highly cerebral journey into more abstract realms. This is challenging music; the innocent tonality of the first movement is far behind as he explores “almost every key, venturing into the shifting sands of a very chromatic landscape.” Mason empathized with the players due to the speed, complex harmony, and range of staggered entrances he requires them to make, but the Lyris Quartet was easily in its element with this kind of technically challenging material.

Shortly before the end, the first movement’s melodic texture is echoed. As if passing through the eye of a hurricane, the protagonist of Mason’s story has a moment of calm clarity, discovering something about himself in the contrast between his youthful assuredness and his struggle to master the complications of a full life. It’s a lovely moment but also a shocking one, with the force of an epiphany. And it’s over quickly. The blur of 16th notes and intensity return, but briefly, right before the curtain comes down. The story is complete, but perhaps not over. “It’s a bit like the cycle of life,” Mason said in introductory remarks. However, this “cycle of life” piece ends with our protagonist transformed and very much alive on a new path we can only glimpse.

Mason mentioned a story of one composer of Beethoven’s time who said he was going to quit composing because “Beethoven has written all the music.” Composers today, including Levick and Mason, may have the burden of “following Beethoven,” but they prove that there is still good, meaningful music to be written.


Mason Home Concert: 3484 Redwood Ave., Mar Vista, 6.00 p.m., Saturday, February 22, 2020.
Images: Razumovsky: Wikimedia Commons; Beethoven: Wikimedia Commons; The concert and venue: courtesy Todd Mason.