Thursday, December 26, 2019

Looking Ahead in the South Bay: Part 2

Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, setting for a (non-chamber music) highlight from the first
half of the season: Steven Vanhauwaert playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, with the
Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, conducted by Charles Dickerson,
in the "Second Sundays at Two" series, reviewed here.

The 2019-2020 South Bay Season of Chamber Music: (2) January-June 2020

The first half of this survey, covering September-December 2019, included a potted history of the South Bay’s three chamber music organizations and the four concert series for which they are responsible, so here I will just refer you to that previous posting for the background, and concentrate on the upcoming goodies that we can anticipate from Classical Crossroads Inc., the South Bay Chamber Music Society, and Rolling Hills United Methodist Church.

The SBCMS mounts its full-length programs on mid-month weekends at two venues: Los Angeles Harbor College, Wilmington (Friday evening), and the Pacific Unitarian Church, Montemalaga Drive, Rancho Palos Verdes (Sunday afternoon). Both are free of charge; the SBCMS welcomes donations. The pianist Robert Thies is the Artistic Director.

Classical Crossroads’ two series, the 45-minute “First Fridays at First!~fff” and the 60/80-minute “The Interludes”, both take place (again free of charge, with donations welcome) at First Lutheran Church and School, Torrance, respectively at lunchtime on the first Friday of each month and in the afternoon, typically of the third Saturday. The organist Karla Devine is Artistic Director.

The same “Interludes” programs are also given as “Music by the Sea” at Encinitas Public Library on the Friday evenings preceding the Saturday afternoons at First Lutheran, and then on the immediately following Sunday afternoons in Beverly Hills' historic Greystone Mansion (“Music In The Mansion”)—both these series with admission charges. To avoid confusion, the detailed listings below only reference the “Interludes” performances.

Finally, the one-hour “Second Sundays at Two” recitals, once again free of charge and funded by donations, slot neatly in—just when you’d expect from the series title—at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, where Charles (Chuck) Dickerson is Director of Music. The pianist Steven Vanhauwaert is Artistic Director for the “Second Sundays at Two” series.

For many of these concerts apart from those mounted by the SBCMS, the repertoire to be performed has not yet been announced; as details become available the list will be updated. For those who cannot wait and in any case would like information about chamber music performances farther afield than the South Bay, Jim Eninger’s weekly Clickable Chamber Music Newsletter for Southern California is an invaluable resource. To receive the Newsletter regularly in your inbox, go to the sign-up page to register.

January 2020

• First Fridays at First!~fff, 12:15 p.m., January 3:
Duo Apollon (soprano Anastasia Malliaras and guitarist Aaron Haas, both Beverly Hills National Auditions winners from the USC Thornton School of Music) will perform Shenandoah from Jordan Nelson’s Three Sea Shanties; Three of Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques (Nos. 1 Chanson de la mariée, 2 Là-bas, vers l’église, and 5 Tout gai!); Nos. 1 Reveilles-vous, 3 Le rossignol, and 4 Marguerite, elle est malade, from Four French Folk Songs by Matyas Seiber; Three folksong arrangements by Britten (I will give my love an apple, The Shooting of his Dear, and Sailor boy), and Schubert’s Ave Maria. This concert was reviewed here.

• Second Sundays at Two, 2 p.m., January 12:
Calder Quartet cellist Eric Byers and Chair of the Colburn Piano Faculty, Fabio Bidini, will be playing Schumann's Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, Stravinsky's Suite Italienne, and David Popper's Fantasy on Little Russian Songs Op. 43This concert was reviewed here.

• South Bay Chamber Music Society, 8 p.m./3 p.m., January 17/19:
In a tribute to Clara Schumann (1819-1896) for her bicentenary, the Thies Consort (Robert Thies, piano; Jessica Guideri, violin; John Walz, cello; Phoebe Alexander Rosquist, soprano) will perform her Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17, Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22, and a group of songs (Liebst du um Schönheit, Op. 12 No. 4, Er ist gekommen Op. 12 No. 2, Ich stand in dunklen träumen Op. 13 No. 1, Warum willst du and're fragen Op. 12 No. 11, Lorelei, and Sie liebten sich beide Op. 13 No. 2). They will end the concert with Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101This concert was reviewed here.

• The Interludes, 3 p.m., January 18:
The four-hands piano duo So-Mang Jeagal and Hye Won Souh will play the "Grande Scherzo" arranged by Anderson & Roe from the finale to Act One of Mozart's Così fan tutte K.588; ballet music from Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice; two short pieces, Flower We Are, Frail Flowers and Perpetuum Mobile, from György Kurtág's compilation Játékok (Games); Nikolai Kapustin's Variations for piano, Op. 41; Fazil Say's Variations on Paganini's Caprice No.24; Schubert's Fantasia in F minor D. 940; and to conclude, four-hand arrangements of Leonard Bernstein's Candide Overture and "Mambo" from West Side Story.

February 2020

• First Fridays at First!~fff, 12:15 p.m., February 7:
In this recital, flutist Susan Greenberg and harpist Cristina Montes Mateo present a program of "Music Around the World": Adrian Schaposhnikov (Russia): Sonata for Flute and Harp (Minuet, Allegretto); Astor Piazzolla (Argentina): Histoire du Tango for Flute and Harp (Night Club, 1960); Joseph Lauber (Switzerland): Mediaeval Dances (Gaillarde); Gerardo Gombau (Spain): Apunte Bético for harp; Frank Brockett (U.K.): The Mocking Bird, for piccolo; Bernard Andrés (France): Narthex for Flute and Harp.

• Second Sundays at Two, 2 p.m., February 9: 
“Stars of Tomorrow” from USC Thornton: This recital will be by the Zelter Quartet (Kyle Gilner and Kevin Tsao, violins; Nao Kubota, viola; Allan Hon, cello), winners of the USC Honors Quartet competition held in early December. USC Thornton Director of Chamber Music Karen Dreyfus collaborates with USC faculty violinist Lina Bahn in the choice of this competition's winning ensemble. The Zelter Quartet will be playing Mozart's String Quartet No. 16 in E-flat Major K. 428, and the first two movements of Bartók's String Quartet No. 2 Op. 17.

• South Bay Chamber Music Society, 8 p.m./3 p.m., February 14/16:
This will be an all-Baroque program of “Bach’s Circle”: Janice Tipton (flute), Allan Vogel (oboe), Elizabeth Baker (violin), Julie Feves (bassoon), Erika Duke Kirkpatrick, (cello), and Patricia Mabee (harpsichord) will play Telemann: Concerto in A minor; J.S. Bach: Trio Sonata from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079; Fasch: Sonata in B-flat; Telemann: Quartet in D minor from Tafelmusik; J.S. Bach: Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Continuo in C minor, BWV 1017; and Vivaldi: Concerto in D major P.201.

• The Interludes, 3 p.m., February 15: 
“Voices of Central America”: the Argentinian soprano Camila Lima and Chilean tenor Xavier Prado will bookend their program with the duets "Torero Quiero Sé" from El gato montés by Manuel Penella, and “Nuit d’hyménée” from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. In between, señora Lima will sing Del cabello más sutil by Fernando Obradors, Tosti's Cantares, La rosa y el sauce by Carlos Guastavino, and the aria "È strano... Sempre libera" from Verdi's La Traviata; señor Prado's solo items will be Tosti's L'ultima canzone, Massenet's Élégie, Non ti scordar di me by Ernesto de Curtis, “Com’e gentil” from Donizetti's Don Pasquale, and “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini's Turandot. Their accompanist will be Douglas Sumi.

March 2020

• First Fridays at First!~fff, 12:15 p.m., March 6: 
The piano duo from Portugal—Peruvian-born Rosa Maria Barrantes and Portuguese Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro—met while studying at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Their program “Souvenirs” will comprise the Waltz and Hesitation Tango from Barber’s Souvenirs Ballet Suite, Op. 26, five of the Portuguese Rustic Melodies by Fernando Lopes-Graça, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a. This is the first half of a two-part recital concluding on…

• Second Sundays at Two, 2 p.m., March 8:
In this second appearance in one weekend by Rosa Maria Barrantes and Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro, the duo will reprise a celebrated recital they performed in Moscow, consisting of Fauré’s Dolly Suite Op. 56, Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano Duet FP8, and Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. It will be illustrated with projections of paintings by Renoir, Odilon Redon, Picasso, Chagall, Maurice Denis, and Édouard Manet.

• South Bay Chamber Music Society, 8 p.m./3 p.m., March 13/15:
The Los Angeles Wind Quintet (Claire Brazeau, oboe; Don Foster, clarinet; Martin Owen, horn; + two other wind players TBA), will play selections of “Seasonal Winds” by J. Strauss II (Overture Die Fledermaus); Jennifer Higdon (Autumn Music); Hedwige Chrétien (Wind Quintet); Adam Schoenberg (Winter Music); Copland (Appalachian Spring) Beethoven (Three pieces for Mechanical Organ); Gershwin (Summertime); Barber (Summer Music); and Mendelssohn (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

• The Interludes, 3 p.m., March 14: 
The leading Czech violinist Pavel Šporcl, accompanied by the outstanding Russian pianist Svetlana Smolina, will perform an all-Czech program: Bedřich Smetana’s diptych Z domoviny (From My Homeland) JB 1:118, T 128 (1879-80); Dvořák’s Sonatina in G Major Op. 100, B 183 (1893); Bohuslav Martinů’s Czech Rhapsody, H 307 (1945); Šporcl’s own Bohemian Nostalgia; and the Introduction, Theme and Variations on Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home," by Jaroslav Kocian (1883-1950).

April 2020

• First Fridays at First!~fff, 12:15 p.m., April 3:
Piano recital by Steven Vanhauwaert.

• South Bay Chamber Music Society, 8 p.m./3 p.m., April 17/19: 
The SBCMS season ends with a recital by Eric Byers (cello) and Kevin Kwan Loucks (piano) comprising Cassadó’s Toccata in the Style of Frescobaldi and Pastorale in the Style of Couperin; David Popper’s Fantasy on Little Russian Songs Op. 43; Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 73; and Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69.

• The Interludes, 3 p.m., April 18:
The Tandru Trio (Yasmina Spiegelberg, clarinet; Javier Iglesias-Martin, cello; Katelyn Vahala, piano) play clarinet trios by Brahms and Zemlinsky.

May 2020

• First Fridays at First!~fff, 12:15 p.m., May 1:
Recital by the Vienna-based Latsos Piano Duo—Anna Fedorova from Russia and Giorgi Latso from Tbilisi, Georgia.

• Second Sundays at Two, 2 p.m., May 10:
Solo recital by the Berlin-based Israeli pianist Einav Yarden.

• The Interludes, 3 p.m., May 16: 
Recital by Russian-born Latvian cellist Max Beitan and Santa Barbara-based Italian pianist Jacopo Giacopuzzi.

June 2020

• First Fridays at First!~fff, 12:15 p.m., June 5:
The final concert of this season will be a recital by whoever is the winner of Peninsula Symphony’s 2020 Knox Concerto Competition.

• Second Sundays at Two, 2 p.m., June 14: 
In this season finale, the series Artistic Director Steven Vanhauwaert and the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles under Charles Dickerson follow up their highly successful performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op. 37 last November with the 250th Birthday Boy's next work in the genre, the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major Op. 58.

• The Interludes, 3 p.m., June 21: 
This season ends with a “Reeds Only” recital by the Syrinx Quintet (Victoria Lee, oboe; Micah Wright, clarinet; Mathieu Girardet, bass clarinet; Patrick Olmos, saxophone; Jeffrey Wasik, bassoon), including works from Bach (excerpts of the Goldberg Variations BWV 988) to Ravel and Villa-Lobos.

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sort of a Christmas Concert in Long Beach

The Adoration of the Shepherds (1689), by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690).


Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, "A Baroque Christmas," Beverly O'Neill Theater, Long Beach

Martin Haselböck.
What is a Christmas concert, anyway?

Back where I come from, it means a concert made up of music related to the holiday. For Martin Haselböck, the music director of Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, it evidently means music that could possibly, maybe, have been performed in the 1700s in December.

That explains the program for Musica Angelica's so-called Christmas concert, "A Baroque Christmas," at the Beverly O'Neill Theater; only one piece was expressly designed for the holiday. Come to think of it, only half the concert featured music from the Baroque era. As my kids say, whatevs.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
The one Baroque Christmas thing was the Kyrie from the Messe de Minuit pour Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), dating from around 1690. I love the piece, much of which is based on traditional French carols, and it was a pleasure to hear it professionally, and authentically, performed by these exceptional virtuoso players on period instruments, along with an appropriately reduced contingent from the Long Beach Camerata Singers, all led from the organ by Haselböck. Maybe next year they'll do the whole Mass.

Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
Haselböck made his bones as an organist before turning to conducting, and held the position of Court Organist in Vienna for many years. The Organ Concerto Op. 4 No. 4 in F Major, HWV 292 by George Frideric Handel provided an opportunity for him to display his exceptional talents; actually the entire program featured his keyboard wizardry, either as soloist or continuo player, on a nicely sized and attractive sounding Baroque organ. One striking feature of the Handel concerto, composed in 1735, is the choral finale Alleluia, here beautifully executed by the Camerata. They had been prepared for this concert, obviously well, by associate conductor Tammi Alderman.

Robin Johannsen.
More Handel, the motet Saeviat Tellus inter rigores, HWV 240, from around 1707, was sung by soprano Robin Johannsen. Although her steely tone was not immediately attractive, the fiendish coloratura held no terrors for her, and she sang with varied and intense expression. Alas, the printed program contained no texts or translations, which might have let the audience know what Ms. Johannsen was being so expressive about in this unfamiliar piece.

Joseph Haydn in 1770.
After intermission, we turned to the Classical era. The Allegro from the early (1756) Concerto in C Major, Hob. XVIII:1 by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), published as a work for piano or harpsichord, featured more of Haselböck’s fancy organ fingerwork, and the Sanctus and Benedictus from the same composer's Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo, Hob. XXII:7 (c. 1775), known as the Little Organ Mass, brought all hands on deck: the Camerata and Musica Angelica in the Sanctus, and Haselböck and Johannsen in the Benedictus. Again, some day we may hear the whole thing.

Mozart, c.1780: detail from a
painting by Johann Nepomuk
della Croce.
Then there were three familiar choral/vocal pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). For some reason, the orchestra sounded uncharacteristically raw and unbalanced in the introduction to the exquisite Laudate dominum, from the Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K. 339, from 1780, but played much more mellifluously in that miraculous little gem, Ave verum corpus., K. 618, from Mozart's last year. Actually, the latter performance, like the piece, was, and here’s a word I don’t use often, perfect.

Johannsen closed with Exsultate jubilate, K. 165 (1773), and again had no trouble with the coloratura, let alone the high C in the Alleluia. There were a total of three Alleluias in this concert, in the Handel concerto, the motet, and this one. I half anticipated an encore, that other Hallelujah, which some of the pre-concert publicity erroneously had said would be performed, but it was not to be.

In addition to Haselböck and Johannsen, the other stars of the evening were the oboes, Fabio D’Onofrio and Brenda Gilcher. They were prominent, and had some dazzling virtuoso passages, especially in the Charpentier and the Handel motet.

It may not have been all, or even mostly, Baroque Christmas music, but most of it was at least festive, and it certainly could have, possibly, been performed around Christmas-time in the 18th century.

Merry Christmas.


Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, "A Baroque Christmas," Beverly O'Neill Theater, Long Beach
Friday, December 13 at 8 p.m.
Images: The Adoration of the Magi: Wikimedia Commons; Martin Haselböck: Karen McFarlane Artists Inc.; Charpentier: Wikimedia Commons; Handel: BBC; Robin Johannsen: Tatjana Dachsel; Haydn: Wikimedia Commons; Mozart: Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, December 13, 2019

For Marina Costa-Jackson, It’s All in the Family

INTERVIEW: Marina Costa-Jackson
McCaw Hall, Seattle


Marina Costa-Jackson was born to sing. She will demonstrate that in her role debut as Tatyana in Seattle Opera’s upcoming production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The casting is appropriate, as she has performed in Russia with her sisters, as well as with the late Russian superstar baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Wedged in the middle between two other “Singing Sisters,” Ginger and Miriam, Marina wasn’t quite in tune with the idea of singing as her life pursuit until she reached her 20s. She started out as a mezzo, transformed into a soprano, and displayed her proficiency and talent as a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner in 2015. Having debuted as Fiordiligi to her sister Ginger’s Dorabella in Seattle’s Cosi fan tutte last season, Seattle audiences are eagerly looking forward to her Tatyana.

Erica Miner: Between your debut as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, your part in Three Singing Sisters with Ginger and Miriam this season, and now Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, we feel like you and your family of sisters are part of the Seattle family as well!

Marina Costa-Jackson: Yes! We hope we always have one Costa-Jackson in residence [Laughs]. 

EM: How are rehearsals going?

MC-J: So well. I love our cast. I think everyone’s going to really like it here in Seattle. We’re so excited.

EM: I loved your Fiordiligi last season.

MC-J: Thank you so much.
Marina and Ginger Costa-Jackson.
Photo: Philip Newton.

EM: Being born into such a musical family, albeit as the middle child, did you grow up feeling like becoming an opera singer was almost predestined?

MC-J: I grew up fighting it tooth and nail. Miriam, my younger sister, actually started when she was 11 or 12 years old. She was copying Pavarotti, the Three Tenors, singing Pagliacci and, O Mio Babbino Caro, with Maria Callas. Listening to full operas like I Puritani. What 11-year-old sits and listens to 3- or 4-hour operas? But Miriam did. So, she begged for voice lessons and my parents scrimped and saved and got her voice lessons. Then Ginger about a year later closely followed her. My whole soundtrack of my life growing up was my sisters singing opera, the tears, sweat, blood that go into it, the nervousness, all of that. As the middle child I ended up being indecisive and I truly didn’t want to be a part of it. I didn’t actually start till I was 21. It took me a long time.

EM: It’s hard to resist. Sooner or later you give in.

MC-J: Absolutely. I tried pretty much every other thing. Writing, sports, ballet, cello. Finally, I did my Associate’s degree and needed to take a specialization. I realized listening to my sisters singing—I think it was Lakmé duet—I thought, nothing is going to be as awesome as what they’re doing right now, nothing could give me goose bumps, nothing could make me dream the way they could.

EM: You had an epiphany.

MC-J: Yes, truly.

Courtesy of the Costa-Jackson sisters.
EM: From Fiordiligi to Tatyana. Is that a big leap?

MC-J: Erica, listen. I love Fiordiligi. I thought it was such an awesome role. It was my first Mozart, so it was very intimidating for me. I wouldn’t say I have the biggest voice in the world, but I have a pretty hefty volume-sized voice, pretty thick color. Singing something as disciplined as Mozart—I kind of felt I was in a straitjacket. With Tatyana, this is where my blood is. The “Russian soul,” that dark soul. They even talk about it in the opera. Her sister teases her. “You’re such a dark soul, you have this dark demeanor.” There’s something about Tatyana that calls to me. That daydreamer, figuring out who she is. I was her. One summer when I was 13 or 14, I wasn’t very social. I would literally read—I read one summer 100 books. Tatyana, her nose always in a book, that was me when I was a teenager. I read romance novels, died with these characters that I saw myself in. I lived out my adventurous self through these books. It’s really fun to sing someone like Tatyana because it just connects so deeply.

EM: Do you find singing in Russian a different challenge from Italian?

MC-J: Thanks to my mom and dad for speaking Italian to me, I don’t have to think much about it. Russian is such a different language. I can understand and speak a lot of French because of the Italian. But Russian is so different, phonetically, the Cyrillic alphabet, these backwards sounds. But a lot of the main vowels are very like Italian vowels. And I find that Russian is so good for singing. I think it helps technique. I think everyone should sing Russian, even students coming up.

EM: It helps your development as a singer.

MC-J: Yes. I think it should be part of the standard repertoire. We do the 24 Italians songs when you first start singing. Everyone focuses on Italian, which you should, but I think giving yourself Russian, along with French and German, Russian is even better than German for singing.

EM: You’ve performed in Russia, on a cultural exchange tour.

MC-J: Yes. The first time—I’ve been back 3 times since then—there’s nothing quite like singing in Russia. These people love the classic arts. Opera singers there are the rock stars, the “A” listers. They have Mariinsky Theatre 1, 2 and 3 now because they keep selling out performances. I once heard that 40% of the audiences at the Met are Russian or of Russian descent. These people really love the arts. Maybe that’s why their music is so incredibly beautiful. They have a profound love and knowledge of the singing arts, this beautiful art form.

EM: You also performed in Moscow with the late, great Dimitri Hvorostovsky.

MC-J: Yes, that’s one of the highlights of my career. I got to sing in this cultural exchange, but not only that—I died [Laughs]—while we were auditioning for the opera houses there—at that time I didn’t know when I’d be back—so Hvorostovsky’s close friend, the conductor Constantine Orbelian, who set up most of his concert and recorded CDs, set up this audition for my sister Ginger and I. In the middle of me about to sing Un ballo in Maschera, “Morrò, ma prima in grazia, her begging to her husband, walks in this man with white hair. I literally was a puddle on the floor. I was about to start and he said, “Oh, I’m late. Let’s start again.” I got to sing the aria to one of the greatest Renatos of all time. Later on he invited us to “Hvorostovsky and Friends.” It was a fateful day for me.

EM: I’ll never forget when I was in the Met pit the first time he walked onstage. Every female in the orchestra, our mouths dropped to the floor, we were all staring at him.

MC-J: [Laughs]

EM: Your former teacher, the wonderful Ariel Bybee, was one of my colleagues at Tanglewood and then at the Met. Such a great artist. We miss her terribly. What was it like studying with her?

MC-J: She was the most generous, intelligent—the way she spoke about voice—she knew it in and out. She truly loved the art form and it showed in everything she did. She was very generous with me. There was a time before I auditioned for AVA (Academy of Vocal Arts) I had no money to give her. It makes me want to cry, because she gave me free lessons for a very long time. She gave me dresses to wear from her wardrobe… [Tearful]. She really took people under her wing. She is greatly missed for sure. I’m studying with Bill Schuman now, but when I would go back home I still would go back to her and take some lessons and visit. I was very privileged to have her in my life.

EM: A really great teacher is one of the most important things for a budding artist.

MC-J: It really put me on my path. Going to a place like AVA studying with Bill Schuman, teacher for the stars, working with Maestro (Cristofer) Macatsoris—those are the things that put you where you need to be to have a career. Ariel opened that door for me. Being in a good enough place technically to show my talent—Bill Schuman nurtured it even further. But people who open that gate for you can really make such a difference in the path you take. I’m very grateful to her.

EM: Your versatile range of repertoire reaches across a wide swath of the soprano fach. Mimi in La bohème, Desdemona in Otello, Giulietta in Tales of Hoffman and more. How would you define your voice? Soprano? Mezzo? Both?

Philip Newton.
MC-J: This is something that I think a lot of singers, and even my sister Ginger, have in common. Voices are so fluid and to be able to try to classify them strictly, at least in my case, doesn’t really work. I am a soprano, but one who’s very comfortable in my middle and low range. I’m always working on my top, but if it feels good I just want to do it, anything that lets me sing in my middle for the most part and I can use my text and words to try to create the most beautiful phrases I can. That’s most comfortable and that’s why Tatyana feels so good to me. She does have the big moments—they’re not hugely high notes, they’re above the staff, especially in the Letter Scene, but then it comes fully into the middle. I feel my voice lends itself well to roles like this because I really can be fully in the middle. That’s the nature of my instrument. I can produce exciting sound in those areas of the voice.

EM: It defies definition.

MC-J: The answer is not to define it but to do what feels best at the end of the day [Laughs]

EM: Among your many roles, are there any others that you particularly love to sing?

MC-J: The Verdi heroines. I love Mimi and I would love to do the heavier Puccini, but I don’t know if I’m necessarily ready to do it. I think I have to find myself in a situation where I’m actually doing it and then I’ll decide at that point. But a role like Desdemona, the beauty of tone that you have to have in your middle voice. And then the scene where he throws her to the ground and publicly calls her a whore, you have to have the grit, the Russian soul in a way, that sound that I feel my voice can do very well. In the last act you have to have tenderness, warmth, you have to melt people’s hearts. Not to be cocky, but I do feel that my instrument is unique in that I can offer that rich, warm Italianate sound that you want in that role, or Elisabetta in Don Carlo. I can float the low notes of the high notes. My voice can lend itself well. I know where my weaknesses are but my strengths play really well for certain characters.

EM: Perhaps Verdi is the composer you feel closest to?

MC-J: Verdi is the one that is best for my voice color. But there are challenges to every role. It’s like exercising. It’ll keep me lean, but also show off what I can do. One day I would love to sing again—I sang it in school—Lisa in Pique Dame. That’s something I can’t sing every day, but Desdemona I could sing every day and still be vocally healthy.

EM: What about Lisa do you find especially challenging?

MC-J: Here’s the difference. With Verdi, you have to be able to languish in a beautiful, lyric way, plus the grit. Lisa, especially in the act where she jumps into the river, is like Puccini style, even darker because it’s Russian, anguish and torment, misery. But with that kind of music you just can’t help but let it come into the technique. That’s the price to pay. Of course, you’re not going to want to scream as loudly as possible, but it does take a toll, singing that torment. It’s not the healthiest vocal line. Whereas Verdi will write healthier vocal line.

EM: He really cared in his writing about what it meant to the singers physically and vocally.

MC-J: Singers who take on those Tchaikovsky roles are willing to take on vocal difficulty and still be as healthy as possible. That’s the goal, right?

EM: Which roles haven’t you sung that are on your wish list?

MC-J: As I’m getting older and doing more things there’s not as much as I wish I could do. When I first was singing, I wanted to do Violetta, and I have in a few productions. But this is no longer a dream for me in the sense that this is a character I want to stay with me for the rest of my life. As my voice becomes richer and more mature, I would love to go back and visit Lisa or Amelia in Ballo in Maschera. These are two roles I sang in school that I’d really love to do professionally. I wasn’t able to give everything I could give now, or even in 10 years. I’m going to do Simon Boccanegra, the more lyric side of Verdi heroines, in Washington, D.C. I’m excited to revisit these heroines who are not so much about, like Violetta’s vocal fireworks. I always settled into her in Act 2 and 3. The more mature heroines in the way they express themselves, more experienced in life.

Courtesy of the Artist

EM: What’s coming up after Onegin?

MC-J: Mimi in Paris, which I’m really excited about. A couple of things they haven’t announced yet.

EM: It doesn’t get better than Mimi—in Paris.

MC-J: [Laughs] Yes, right?

EM: Marina, this has been absolute delight.

 MC-J: For me as well. 


Photo credits: Courtesy of the Artist, Philip Newton 
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]

A Beethovenian Summit Conquered

l-r: Rafael Rishik, Andrew Shulman, Tereza Stanislav, Rob Brophy.


New Hollywood String Quartet, South Bay Chamber Music Society, Los Angeles Harbor College

The early, middle, and late spans into which Beethoven’s compositional career is often divided each has works for string quartet at its heart: respectively the six of Op. 18 (1798-1800) for the “Early Period”; the three Op. 59 “Razumovskys” (1806), together with the “Harp” Op. 74 (1809) and “Serioso” Op. 95 (1810-11) in the “Middle Period”; and finally the great series of “Late Quartets” from 1825-26, comprising Opp. 127, 130-133, and 135.

Portrait by Carl Riedel of Beethoven in 1801, the year
his Op. 18 string quartets were published.
This being the case, string quartet recitals devoted to the composer often comprise one work from each period, and the first interesting thing about the New Hollywood String Quartet’s selection for their “Celebration of Beethoven’s 250th Birthday” concert (actually a year before the date) for the South Bay Chamber Music Society was that they sidestepped this, avoiding the “Middle Period” altogether and choosing instead the most expansive of the Op. 18 set, No. 1 in F major (but probably the second to be composed), then the last and most concise of the “late quartets”, No. 16 in F major, Op. 135, and finally the toughest challenge of the lot, also a late-period work, the Grosse Fuge in B-flat major, Op. 133.

This had the effect both of drawing together the alpha and omega of Beethoven’s achievement in the medium, and of emphasizing its overall range. The New Hollywood’s account of No. 1 in F major was broad, with the welcome observation of the first movement exposition repeat and an exceptionally spacious basic tempo for the Romeo and Juliet-inspired Adagio affetuoso ed appassionato slow movement pushing its overall duration to around the 32-minute mark.

This emphasized the step up in scale from Haydnesque models that this quartet represents, almost as much as the Second Symphony of a couple of years later marks an unprecedented expansion of the symphonic medium. Within their large-scale interpretation of the work the New Hollywood Quartet (Tereza Stanislav and Rafael Rishik, violins; Rob Brophy, viola; Andrew Shulman, cello) were meticulously observant of detail, carefully distinguishing, for example, between marked pizzicato and arco bowing in fast 16th-note runs, and between sforzando and fortissimo impacts on held chords towards the end of the first movement. It was a performance to be cherished.

Beethoven in 1823: portrait by
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.
I confess that I've always found String Quartet No. 16 a little problematic, representing as it seems a retreat from the progressively growing structural originality and astonishing expressive range of its four larger-scale predecessors. Was Beethoven “taking a breath” in his last quartet, drawing back, before further but never-to-be-realized flights into the unknown? Heard alongside its predecessor—also in F major—of a quarter-century earlier this seemed likely. But then this very juxtaposition brought into sharp focus Op. 135's epigrammatic subtlety and economy, and seemingly effortless originality, all much beyond the grasp of his younger self.

The New Hollywood Quartet were as impressive here as in the earlier work, their sensitively pliable tempi in the Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo being especially impressive (a movement that seems set at its outset to be as expansive as the Heiliger Dankgesang of Op. 132 in A minor, but which then proves to have said all it needs to say in about one-third the duration).

As played, the four movements of Op. 135 are in compact proportion with each other, but curiously Beethoven marks a large second repeat in the finale that, if taken, would quite upset that overall balance. The New Hollywoods—like just about every other quartet I have encountered playing the piece—did not observe this, but their performance left me wondering what the effect of including it would be. Beethoven must have meant it, surely?

David Hurwitz, the controversialist reviewer for Classics Today, earlier this month came out with a list of “Classical Music’s Ten Dirtiest Secrets.” Tongue-in-cheek or not, these contain items that almost every music-lover will either furiously shake their head at or chortle in secret agreement with… and maybe both. But in the context of this concert the one that caught my eye was #2 “Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge is just plain ugly.”

I first heard the Grosse Fuge in the very first concert I ever attended, back in 1965, a London Prom by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Rudolf Kempe that also included Wagner’s Parsifal Prelude and Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony (you got maximum minutes for money back in those days!). So what was this work for string quartet doing in an otherwise orchestral concert? Answer: it was played by the full string forces.

This practice was endorsed by the great musicologist Sir Donald Tovey, who wrote in Vol. 2 of his Essays in Musical Analysis (pp.170-71): “…as a rule, nothing could be worse than to play a string quartet on a full string band. But this fugue is the exception which proves the rule...” He argues that there’s nothing to be gained from the sheer sense of strain when four “players have to maintain for at least five minutes a quasi-orchestral fortissimo”: the reason, perhaps, for Hurwitz’s dismissive “just plain ugly.”

"Beethoven nears the end": impression by Oswald Charles Barrett (1892-1945, drawn for the
1938 Oxford Companion to Music.
My view of the piece has always been infected by this idea, that a full modern orchestral string section, expertly conducted, can make all the score’s angular intensity clear and powerful without being undermined by any sense of effortful strain. For four players, by contrast, simply getting through all those pages of fast and intricate counterpoint, with thematic material constantly involving wide, awkward leaps, and all at an almost unrelieved fortissimo, must be the musical equivalent of free-soloing El Capitan—one slip and disaster ensues.

There were no disasters in the New Hollywood Quartet’s performance of the Grosse Fuge; indeed it was one of the very few string quartet accounts of it that I have heard which made it seem that the work really does belong to the medium, rather than being a case of Beethoven’s thought bursting beyond its capabilities. In addition to not merely getting through but conveying a triumphant exuberance in the long fugal opening section, their care with tempo relationships and dynamics made structural sense of the later alternations between contemplative stasis and yet wilder bursts of energy, where towards the end of all those torrential 741 measures Beethoven seems to be maliciously teasing both players and audience… You think I’ve finished? Again? Not yet!

As is well known, the Grosse Fuge was originally intended as the finale of the six-movement String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat major, Op. 130, but Beethoven was persuaded by his publisher that this was one Pelion that really shouldn’t be piled on Ossa, and to substitute instead a shorter, more light-textured finale. I wonder whether the New Hollywood Quartet have ever played Op. 130 with the Grosse Fuge as finale? I’d love to hear them do it. 


South Bay Chamber Music Society, Music Department Recital Hall, Los Angeles Harbor College, Wilmington, 8 p.m., Friday, December 6, 2019 (repeated at Pacific Unitarian Church, Rancho Palos Verdes, 3 p.m., Sunday, December 8).
Images: New Hollywood String Quartet: Artists' website; Beethoven in 1801: Wikimedia Commons; Beethoven in 1823: Wikimedia Commons; "Beethoven nears the end": Flickr.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Organic Variety at December’s First Friday


Namhee Han, First Fridays at First!–fff, First Lutheran Church, Torrance

Namhee Han.
‘Tis the season… and along with everything else, for South Bay chamber music enthusiasts it’s when organist Namhee Han usually—though not invariably—makes her annual appearance in Classical Crossroads’ First Fridays at First!–fff lunchtime series. As previously (see reviews here and here), her program was highly varied and entirely unhackneyed, and on this occasion enhanced for the first time by First Lutheran’s thoughtful provision of a video feed for the audience to appreciate her nimble fingers (and, on occasion, feet—see below!).

Apart from his organ music, the extensive oeuvre of Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933) is unknown outside his native Germany—what, one wonders, are his orchestral, chamber and vocal works like? That works list is in considerable disarray, with lots of empty opus numbers and a few others doubled up, which brings us to his Valse mignonne, Ms. Han’s first item. Nominally from Karg-Elert’s Op. 142, you won’t find it in his Sempre Semplice, 12 Easy Pieces for Organ, Op. 142. Look again, however, and there it is as one of the Drei stücke für Orgel, also Op.142

Sigfrid Karg-Elert.
Valse mignonne was pleasantly dreamy—as the title indicates, its mood is bitter-sweet and French-accented rather than Viennese gemütlich—and the (to my ears) tendency to monotony in the piece was effectively disguised by Ms. Han’s frequent and imaginative changes of registration.

If Karg-Elert’s output can be likened to a sizable land-mass, then that of Joseph Haydn is a veritable continent in extent, though of course far more familiar. One of the smallest regions in its comprehensive Hoboken map is Hob. XIX, the Werke für die Flötenuhr, 32 brief pieces composed between 1772 and 1793 for the musical clock—as Ms. Han explained, an invention that in former centuries inspired works from many composers.

17-pipe flute clock.
From an arrangement for organ by Desmond Ratcliffe of eight of them, she chose four of these Haydn miniatures. They were all over in as many minutes (slightly wrong-footing the audience), but she distinguished between them with subtle changes of registration, so that the chirpy No. 20 and No. 6 effectively and festively book-ended the more gentle and reflective Nos. 5 and 24.

Guy Bovet.
There was, however, nothing gentle and reflective about El Tango de Los Tangos, one of the Twelve Tangos Ecclesiasticos written in 2000 by the Swiss organist and composer Guy Bovet (b.1942). This was a fearsomely gruff tour-de-force for the pedals only, and a snappy repositioning of the video camera showed Ms. Han’s feet as agile as her fingers, producing a quite astonishing range of sonorities.

William Bolcom (b.1938).
William Bolcom, now aged 81, has throughout his career not merely accommodated but positively embraced a wide range of popular idioms in his works, from country to reggae, and often alongside the most uncompromising modernism (for all these and more, his mighty setting of the complete William Blake Songs of Innocence and of Experience is an experience to be savored!).

Ms Han has programmed Bolcom's music before in this series, and here she next moved to the piano stool for his 1970 Graceful Ghost Rag. This amiable piece dances wistfully with the shade of Scott Joplin, but on this occasion it could perhaps have swung a little more freely.

Then it was back to the organ console for the final item. The Victorian American composer Dudley Buck wrote his 10-minute Concert Variations on The Star Spangled Banner Op. 23 in 1868 at the age of 29, and in doing so entirely avoided the farcical irreverence that the even younger Charles Ives a couple of decades later brought to his variations on another patriotic tune, America.

After a straightforwardly spacious full statement of the Theme, Variation 1 introduces a running bass in the pedals, adding to the sense of motion though without any marked tempo change. This arrives emphatically with the Poco vivace Variation 2, where the theme moves to the bass beneath scampering triplets in the treble; the bold changes of texture continue in Variation 3, which is introduced by a torrential growl in the pedals only.

Much-needed respite from all the activity comes in the final Variation 4, a prayerful, minor-key Adagio in which Buck indulges in some gorgeous suspensions and unpredictable harmonic shifts, after which the composer begins his expansive finale with a Fughetta of Bachian certitude that grows into a final grand statement of that Star Spangled Banner.

Again one speculated about the other works of yet another neglected composer; after his death in 1909 Dudley Buck’s many cantatas and other vocal and orchestral works gathered dust that's still there. Meanwhile, needless to say, Ms. Han was absolutely on top of his fine organ showpiece, using the full resources of the instrument for contrasting textures and timbres, and culminating in a literally all-stops-out coda. The audience clearly loved the piece, perhaps appreciating in addition to Ms. Han’s artistry the work’s implicit affirmation of enduring values in these, ahem, troubled times.


“First Fridays at First! – fff”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, December 1, 2019. Images: Namhee Han: Patch; Karg-Elert: Karg-Elert-Gesellschaft eV; Musical clock: Matthias Naeschke; Guy Bovet: Composer website;  William Bolcom: Katryn Conlin; Dudley Buck: Period Paper.

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