Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Derrick Spiva Gets 2-For-1 Premiere: In Concert, On CD

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra opened its season with a new work by Derrick Spiva called ‘Prisms, Cycles, Leaps.’
(Photo by Hannah Arista)
By Rodney Punt 
LOS ANGELES – Record high temperatures ushered in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s new season at UCLA’s Royce Hall, a serendipitous synching with the evocative climate zones of Prisms, Cycles, Leaps by composer Derrick Spiva, in a world premiere opener performance on Sept. 20. The event coincided exactly with the digital release of the same work, on the Orenda label, by a group called Bridge To Everywhere.
The L.A.based Spiva, who trained at UCLA and Cal Arts, is enjoying a weeklong residency with LACO through New Music USA’s “Music Alive” grant program. His Prisms, Cycles, Leaps embraces the modernist techniques of his teachers (a who’s who of local talent), but its character is derived from Spiva’s incorporation of diverse elements of folk music traditions from West Africa, India, Persia, and the Balkans.
Derrick Spiva's 'Prisms, Cycles, Leaps' has been recorded.
The 14-minute work left a beguiling impression of exotic colors and rhythms that included hand clapping in the percussion section and, across the stage, from two violinists. A throbbing pulse, de rigueur these days, fused together the bevy of irregular meters and the sometimes over-spiced aural mélange. After the boisterous first section, suggesting an African take on Copland’s El Salon México, the mood slackened in the second, with LACO’s sinewy double reeds evoking a kind of Hindustani hypnosis. The final section briefly refreshed the intensity before introducing a chorale-like tune that concluded with a walk down a major scale and a brass riff that evaporated with an eerily ascending whisper of the strings.
The essence of eclectic, Spiva’s Prisms, Cycles, Leaps seemed not so much a stand-alone piece as an atmospheric mood-setter for more to come. In fact it serves that purpose (listen at above right) in the album of works by Spiva that Orenda has just released.
For more of this review on Classical Voice North America, see here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A New Orchestra is Born thanks to Krzysztof Penderecki

It may seem far away but I'm sure we'll soon hear more of the young Polish musicians! Piotr Beczala also came from Poland.... 

And for the new orchestra of talents the conductor is American.

by Ewa Gorniak Morgan

We are lucky to create the Santander Orchestra!!!

Playing music together, as an orchestra, is one of the most wonderful experiences one can have. We are truly lucky. When the audience hears us playing straight from our hearts, engaged – they will return home convinced that they have just experienced the most exceptional moments of their lives. This is our common goalYou are in a unique situation: thanks to the Santander Orchestra, you are supported by many people who stand by your side and say: Conquer the world. Show your talent. This is what Maestro John Axelrod said to the young musicians who met for the first time at Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music in Luslawice.

The first meeting of the Santander Orchestra, which took place at the weekend of 19 to 21 September was both an introduction to intense orchestra workshops and the concert tour.
 Young people in Poland receive excellent technical training and their education stands at a very high level. However, they are not that good at managing their own careers. With the selection of exquisite teachers and the system of additional training, we want to first of all change the way of thinking of the young musicians, show them how many career paths are open to them in Poland, Europe and in the world, and encourage them to make a step forward, says Adam Balas, the Director of the Centre.

During this first meeting the young musicians got to know the names of the six tutors who would help them perfect their skills:
Roland Greutter (violin), the first concertmaster of the German Radio Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg; Julia Gartemann (viola), Berliner Philharmoniker; Robert Nagy (cello), leader of the cello section in Wiener Philharmoniker; Daniel Ottensamer (clarinet), soloist of Wiener Philharmoniker; Markus Maskunitty (horn), soloist of many symphony orchestras, professor at Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover; Arkadiusz Górecki (trombone), musician cooperating with Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

During the tour and concerts conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki and John Axelrod, Gábor Boldoczki will perform the composer’s Concertino for trumpet. He will also prepare the brass section of the orchestra. Moreover, the orchestra will cooperate with one of the participants of the International Chopin Piano Competition as the special soloist. The name of the person will be revealed in October, which is when the soloist will receive the special award sponsored by the Santander Orchestra and join the young musicians on their tour. All of this would not be possible without the substantial financial engagement of Bank Zachodni WBK. We feel a natural need for synergy between our business activity and investing in local communities, says Katarzyna Meissner, Public Relations Manager at Bank Zachodni WBK. When the project’s concept was being created a year ago, we wanted it to help us promote the value of teamwork, creativity and the courage to act. Today, seeing the musicians work with John Axelrod, I have no doubt that the plan succeeds.

Look out for them:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

René Barbera Strikes Another Harmonious Chord for SDO

By Erica Miner

Since the day tenor René Barbera’s North American debut recital for San Diego Opera was first announced, the anticipation has kept Facebook and Twitter buzzing. After his extraordinary  performance at SDO’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert last April ( local opera aficionados have hoped and wished to see and hear him again. 

Last night those hopes were fulfilled, as Barbera enchanted the Balboa Theatre audience with his charm, talent, and sheer polish and beauty of his voice. Every moment, every note, provided sheer joy and pleasure. No matter whether he was singing to the audience from left, right or center stage, his enormous, gorgeous sound reached every corner of the hall: a kind of tenor Surround Sound. 

Barbera has come a long way from playing a rock on stage in Hansel and Gretel, the opera that originally initiated his affection for that art form. Already a recipient of several high profile operatic awards, he has established himself as a leading tenor in the bel canto repertoire. Recently he sang for the first time two roles that helped cement his reputation as a major presence: Iopas in Berlioz’ Les Troyens (San Francisco Opera) and Giannetto in Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra (Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, Italy). 

In his gracious introductory speech on stage, new SDO General Director David Bennett praised Barbera’s talent. Barbera, who clearly is in love with opera (, validated his affection in this concert program, a delectable tasting menu of beloved Italian, French, and Spanish favorites and zarzuela, spiced with a dash of Argentinian zest. The result was a cornucopia of operatic delights. Whatever the repertoire, Barbera made it look and sound easy, producing a vibrant, effulgent tone with seemingly effortless fioratura cascading from his voice, all with crisp enunciation in whatever language. 

Fresh from the Rossini Festival, Barbera started off fearlessly, with Vieni fra queste braccia from Gazza Ladra, an aria that for a tenor is like climbing Mount Everest without a carabiner. Barbera tossed off high “D”s like they were mere croutons atop a salad, whetting everyone’s appetite for the main course. But first, as appetizers, he served up four delicious Bellini art songs, performed with sensitivity and delicacy. Listening to Barbera interpret these paeans to the joys and sorrows of love would make even those for whom this composer is not a favorite (this writer among them) an instant fan. 

The entrée came with Bizet’s heartbreakingly beautiful Je crois Entendre Encore from Les Pêcheurs de Perles. Despite the difficulty of the language and tessitura, his French diction was impeccable and he showed no sign of strain, floating the difficult high notes with exquisite delicacy, his velvety tone staying consistent from top to bottom. 

Barbera added Spanish flavor to the mix with three of Fernando Obradors’ most popular love songs, ranging from sentimental to sensuous. Barbera was utterly comfortable in the language and tone of the selections. He made optimum use of his ability to spin long legato lines in the two longer pieces and displayed his fiery temperament in the vivacious final number.

Ending the first half with Gaetano Donizetti’s Ah! Mes amis…pour mon âme from La Fille du Régiment provided a sure fire hit, and exceeded expectations for an audience that had witnessed Barbera’s performance of the work at SDO’s April concert. Having proved he could accomplish the feat with ease and aplomb, Barbera savored every moment; his gasp-worthy rendition was even better this time around. The audience’s cheers were deafening. 

Post-intermission offerings consisted of panoplies of luscious desserts, opening with Basque-Spanish zarzuela composer Pablo Sorozábal’s No puede ser. This excerpt from his most popular and operatic zarzuela La Taberna del Puerto, aka Romance Marinero (Nautical Romance), affords a tenor the perfect opportunity to show the passion and beauty of his voice and is frequently performed by the world’s iconic tenors. Barbera held his own among them, rendering the bittersweet piece with the passion of Domingo and the elegance of Kraus, rocking the audience on the sea waves of the imaginary fishing port in which the work is set. It’s no wonder that Barbera was awarded First Prize for zarzuela at Domingo’s Operalia competition in 2011. 

Barbera then  drizzled  on some 20th century piquancy with Alberto Ginastera’s Cincos Canciones Populares Argentinas. The tenor further showed his remarkable versatility in these songs, which varied from lightning fast to introspective. He followed with a generous dollop of sinfully rich whipped cream in the perennial favorite Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, which he sang as though it had been written expressly for him. 

Capping the program were sprinkles of art songs from Paolo Tosti, Reveriano Soutullo and Juan Vert, perennial crowd pleasers - Rossini's La Danza and Augustin Lara's lilting Granada - and a gigantic cherry on top: an encore of La Donna È Mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto. Barbera sang with a full, rich tone, flirtatiously playing up both the dramatic and comedic aspects of the Duke’s character. The audience ate it up and left satiated, yet hungry for more of Barbera’s exceptional artistry. 

Accompanist Cheryl Cellon Lindquist ably performed the enormous variety of repertoire and stuck to Barbera like glue - not an easy accomplishment with such a spirited performer. 

A distinguished opera aficionado once told me his criterion for judging the merit of an opera singer was whether he wished the artist to keep singing. With last night’s shining accomplishment as an example, this writer without hesitation would counsel René Barbera to keep singing.

Photos used by permission of: San Diego Opera
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

CD Review: Nelsons Shows his Love for Shostakovich

By Erica Miner

Many of us feel a special connection to one specific composer whose music has had a significant impact on our lives. For Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andris Nelsons, Dmitri Shostakovich represents that paradigm.

Nelsons’ reasons are manifold. He cites his own personal history, growing up in the former Soviet Union, as one major reason for his close link to the 20th century Russian composer. Nelsons studied conducting in St. Petersburg, Shostakovich’s birthplace. Perhaps most meaningfully, Nelsons feels that the composer’s shy, quiet character closely resembles his own and that he identifies with the composer “in a mystical way.”

Whatever his motivations, Nelsons has taken up the cause of the symphonies Shostakovich wrote during the regime of Joseph Stalin as his own personal quest: a mission to disseminate the deep meaning of these compositions as widely as possible. He has made a stunning beginning to his CD series, “Shostakovich Under Stalin’s Shadow,” with a newly minted CD of live performances with the BSO for DG of Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, op. 93, coupled with the Passacaglia from composer’s controversial opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

Stalin publicly denounced the opera as “coarse, primitive and vulgar” and censured the composer for creating a score that was purposely dissonant and muddled. This disapprobation was a pivotal event in the composer’s life, as suddenly he found not only his career threatened but also his life. The compositions that followed embodied his disillusionment with communism and its canons.

The opera’s Passacaglia is the lengthiest of four orchestral interludes, which, as in Peter Grimes, symbolize the brooding nature of the story on which they are based. From its very first violently jarring chords, the piece reflects the ghastliness of the events that take place during the opera as well as Shostakovich’s dark vision of the story’s world. Nelsons, whose recording of the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 ( displayed impressive cognizance of the personality contrasts inherent in that composer, showed an equally remarkable grasp of the psychic pain that Shostakovich drew upon to portray the agonies of the story’s characters.

Maestro Nelsons mines the power of the BSO brass and winds to the hilt to depict that fierceness, then elicits darkly menacing growls from the lower strings and draws out the lushness of the upper strings as the passacaglia builds. Hints of the composer’s fifth symphony yet to come are beautifully brought out with the dovetailing of full strings, winds, brass and percussion. Stretching the phrases toward the inexorable climax, Nelsons leaves the listener spent, hanging on the final, anguished pianissimo sighs.

The sense of freedom Shostakovich felt in creating his tenth symphony 16 years later allowed him to paint a portrait of Stalin, a now-deceased despotic leader whose ominous presence was still felt even after his death. The opening of the first movement Moderato continues the foreboding atmosphere of the previous Passacaglia. Again Nelsons encourages the strings to pour out their passion slowly and poignantly, with full emotion, mirroring the intensity of the first movement of Symphony No. 5, deftly weaving in a sinuous flute embellishment and introspective melodies from the clarinet and bassoon and utilizing the full forces of orchestra to build the tension, evoking a melody from the fourth movement of the aforementioned Sibelius symphony.

Nelsons crisply brings out the military nature of the aggressive second movement Allegro with its characteristic Shostakovich snare drum pitted against the strings, violins displaying deceptively easy virtuosity in the rapid, frantic runs in a precipitous rush to the end. In the Allegretto third movement Nelsons plumbs the textural subtleties of each individual orchestral section, intertwining humor with aggression, as if preparing for the final push to the fourth movement finale, whose brooding character continues with the Andante, which begins with gorgeously played oboe and flute solos. Again Nelsons creates a mysterious atmosphere reflecting the ever present trepidation that hung in the air even though the feared, domineering leader was no longer alive. But Nelsons clearly comprehends the significance of the lively interplay in the ensuing Allegro section, which ends on a life affirming note: sardonic rather than optimistic, but still upholding the composer’s firm knowledge that he is finally free to express his creativity as he chooses without the yolk of the leader’s stranglehold. The clouds part, and the world looks ever brighter.

As always, the orchestra sounds magnificent. Nelsons has a distinct vision as to how to bring the superb Boston sound to the surface. As his relationship with the ensemble grows closer and even more refined, together they will be unstoppable.

Future releases in this series with the BSO on DG will feature two CDs: Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 and 9 and Nos. 6 and 7.

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons: Shostakovich "Under Stalin's Shadow
Label: DG GmbH. Produced by Ute Fesquet

Photo credit:
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

CD Review: Andris Nelsons Conducts Wagner and Sibelius

By Erica Miner

In his debut CD with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, culled from live recordings, newly minted BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons ( shows a clear love for Wagner’s early success, Tannhäuser. Nelsons not only professes to have loved the opera since the age of five when his parents took him to a performance, but also claims that said performance influenced his desire to become a conductor. Thus justice was served when Nelsons performed the opera’s overture at his very first concert as music director of the BSO. 

This fifteen-plus minutes of music gleaned from the opera is challenging for any orchestra (more so for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, which then launches into almost four more hours of heavy, difficult music in the opera itself). But therein lie great musical moments that have always pleased audiences, as well as a perfect portrayal of the ideals behind the composer’s Gesamtkunstwerk, or complete work of art. 

Wagner had less regard for the technical difficulties of this overture than for the fulfillment of his Gesamtkunstwerk paradigm, but the virtuoso playing of the BSO, together with its music director’s consummate artistry, create a sublime melding of the two. Starting with the somber Andante Maestoso and transitioning seamlessly to the fiery Venusberg music, Nelsons provides an eloquent rendering. The phrasings are well defined with just the right amount of separation in the slow opening, and crisp definitions are coupled with languid, romantic yearning in the passionate Venusberg episodes, building to ecstatic climaxes, yet maintaining rhythmic exactitude. Notwithstanding the relative newness of his stint with the BSO, Nelsons already has captured the best essence of the orchestra’s sound; and in this selection, the strings shine with singular brightness. 

Likewise Nelsons’ interpretation of the Sibelius Second Symphony, Op. 43, reflects his avowed passion for Scandinavian and Slavic music. After establishing his early success with symphonic poems and as a conductor, Sibelius launched his first five symphonies in moderately quick succession. For Nelsons, having grown up in Latvia under Russian domination, there is likely a heightened connection to this particular Sibelius composition, since it was written during a period when Russian domination and repression loomed menacingly on the horizon for the Finnish nationalist movement. 

The BSO has a deep history with the music of Sibelius. Koussevitzky championed this composer’s works; Colin Davis’s complete BSO Sibelius symphony cycle is definitive for that oeuvre. Nelsons carries on that tradition and involvement with an interpretation that celebrates the programmatic contrasts intended by the composer. He plumbs the gentle, pastoral nature of the opening Allegretto for its grace and tranquility, creating an unrushed, optimistic quality and textural clarity. In the Andante, Nelsons creates mystery with great attention to the pizzicati in the strings and the low winds and brass, building to a fevered pitch as the piece progresses, yet restraining the passion to emphasize its inherent gravity. Vivacissimo is just that: lively, quick but not hurried, and the perfect tempo to display the undeniable virtuosity of the BSO strings. The Finale, joyfully announced by dazzling trumpet work, never relents, skillfully working its way toward a noble and jubilant ending. 

Maestro Nelsons’ debut CD appearance, much like his debut concert as music director, provides an exceptionally satisfying introduction to the talents of a musician who is fast becoming a legend in his chosen city and throughout the musical world. His future releases with this orchestra are greatly anticipated. 

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons: Label: BSO Classics 1401. Produced by Shawn Murphy

Photo used by permission of: Hilary Scott
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]