Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Livestreaming Newsletter Update, December 1, 2021

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

This Newsletter is no longer updated—1/12/21.

Alongside the slow resumption of live classical music events with audiences, enterprising organizations and musicians are continuing to produce recitals that are 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. 

Classical Crossroads, Inc. and the South Bay Chamber Music Society—the South Bay area's two principal chamber music organizations—rely on donations to pay their performers. If you've attended their concerts in the past, and have enjoyed their 2020-21 seasons livestreamed, please support them! For Classical Crossroads, Inc. go to the “Donate” button here; for the SBCM, you will find a downloadable donation form here.

Another great resource, with a wider remit covering all performing arts in Southern California, is Performing Arts LIVE, and artists and presenters are encouraged to post their upcoming events here as well.

If you find this Newsletter to be useful, please feel free to Buy Me A Coffee!

Current and upcoming livestreamed recitals and recordings

First United Methodist Church, Santa Monica, Wednesday, November 10, 12:10 p.m. PDT.
Click here to enjoy the most recent recital in FUMC's online midweek series, in which the piano duo Kirill and Anna Gliadkovsky played two Dvořák Slavonic Dances, Piazzolla's Libertango, and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Murphy Recital Hall, Loyola Marymount University, Sunday, September 19, 2:00 p.m. PDT.
Click here for the recording of this livestreamed recital by violinist Ken Aiso and pianist Valeria Morgovskaya, in which the duo play works by Brahms and Robert and Clara Schumann.

Pasadena Presbyterian "Music at Noon", Wednesday, 22 September, 12:00 noon, PDT.
Click here for this livestreamed, no-live-audience recital, in which pianist Hui Wu played selections by Debussy, Chopin and others.

Edendale Library Up Close Concerts, Friday, October 29, 4:00 p.m. PDT.
The latest concert in this series was a recital of Tarot-inspired works for violin, played by the composer, Kirstin Fife, with Abby Potts, piano. The previous recital, by Calico Winds, comprised works by Koechlin, Willson Osborne, David Amram, Poulenc, and Handel. Click here for the YouTube link.

First Fridays at First!~fff, First Lutheran Church, Torrance,
December 3, 12:15 p.m. PDT.
The next recital in Classical Crossroads' 2021-22 season will be given by the organist Mark Herman. The November concert was given by Ambroise Aubrun (violin) and Steven Vanhauwaert (piano). The previous concert was by the Latsos Piano Duo. The season opener on September 3, in which violinist YuEun Kim and pianist Sung Chang played works by Grieg, Dvořák, and Falla, can be enjoyed here.

Glendale Noon Concerts, Wednesday, December 15, 12:10 p.m. PDT.
In the next concert of this series, violinist Yue Deng will perform works for solo violin by J.S. Bach and Eugene Ysaye. Most recently, Nancy Roth (violin) and Lorenzo Sanchéz (piano) played works by Prokofiev and Domingo Lobato. Previously, pianist Brendan White performed works by Rachmaninoff, Chen Yi, Albéniz, Rzewski, and Chaminade. 

First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, Sunday, December 5,
:30 a.m. PDT.
Next Sunday's prelude concert by resident organist Christoph Bull will include works by Handel, J. S. Bach, Johann Valentin Rathgeber, David Christensen, Andrew Tesman, and Robert Lind, as well as improvisations.

Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, Sunday, January 9 2002, 2:00 p.m. PDT.
The next recital in Classical Crossroads' 2021-22 season will be given by the cellist Clive Greensmith and pianist Steven Vanhauwaert. Most recently, the pianist Bernardene Blaha and violinist Laurence Kayalah played sonatas by Grieg and Franck. Previouslythe pianist Robert Thies reprised his 2018 Debussy centenary recital, "Debussy—The Painter of Sound", which was reviewed on LA Opus here.

Ongoing streamings from southern California

South Bay Chamber Music Society 2020-2021 Series
Links to all recordings from the most recent SBCMS concert series can be found here.

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.

LA Opera On Now: Living Room Recitals.
Click here for livestream events and recordings.

Individual 2020 events and events from individuals

I Palpiti Festival 2020: Trio Zingara, Sunday, July 19.
Click here for the first concert this year from I Palpiti, in which Trio Zingara played works by Tchaikovsky and Dvořák.

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 on May 10, recorded from Berlin.

Steven Vanhauwaert, Second Sundays at Two, Sunday July 12, 2 p.m. PDT.
Click here for Steven Vanhauwaert's recital, recorded from his home. 

Glendale Noon Concerts.
Click here for Jacqueline Suzuki and Brendan White playing Respighi on July 15.
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 medici.tv.
Ariel Avant Robinson Recitals: weekly online chamber concerts.
• American Symphony Orchestra online; a new recording from the ASO archives released each Wednesday.
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 seen and heard 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.

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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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Diablerie, Virtuosity, and Melancholy at Pacific Symphony

Vincent Price as Prince Prospero encounters himself as nemesis in The Masque of the Red Death
(dir. Roger Corman, 1964); Poe's original story inspired Christopher Rouse's Prospero's Rooms.


Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

Michael Francis.
The combination of never having heard anything by Christopher Rouse performed live, nor yet a Paganini violin concerto or Rachmaninoff’s final symphony in a concert hall for nearly 30 years, was enough to make the PSO’s late February program stand out. Add to that the prospect of enjoying once again Michael Francis’s conducting of the orchestra (their magisterial account of Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 still a stand-out memory), plus the violin virtuosity of Augustin Hadelich—last here in the very different territory of Bernstein’s Serenade—and the concert became unmissable. And it didn’t disappoint.

Given how far ahead orchestral scheduling has to be, the performance of Prospero’s Rooms was doubtless planned as one more flag-wave in the PSO’s long commitment to living American composers, but as Christopher Rouse died last September in his 71st year, it became a kind of memorial to this highly distinguished figure. But if a memorial, then a somewhat macabre one, as the Prospero of the title is not Shakespeare’s island sorcerer, but the castle-entrapped Prince in Poe’s five-page firecracker of a story, The Masque of the Red Death.

Christopher Rouse.
Rouse himself noted that he once contemplated this as the basis for an opera, but “decided to redirect [his] ideas into what might be considered an overture to an unwritten opera.” Whether overture, tone-poem, or “concert opener” (as Rouse’s publisher describes it), Prospero’s Rooms gripped right from its opening measures, as bass trombone, tuba, contrabassoon, bell plate, gong and tam-tam heaved and slithered in the subterranean gloom of divided lower strings, before an expertly managed poco a poco accelerando drove into the main body of the piece.

Here, as the music surged from one vivid texture to the next, the image of “Mad Vince” in the Roger Corman movie came readily to mind, though the score of Prospero's Rooms makes no explicit correlations with the blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and finally black and blood-red chambers through which the maddened Prince Prospero rushes to his doom. Through it all Mr. Francis and the PSO on top form clearly reveled in Rouse’s seething riot of orchestral color, rendered the yet more vivid, of course, by the Segerstrom Hall’s marvelous acoustic.

Lithograph of Paganini in action,
by Richard James Lane (1831).
For this listener, this work was a perfect follow-on from the PSO’s last concert (the fons et origo of macabre Romantic music, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastiquereviewed here), and it was also an appropriate opener to one that celebrated a performer and composer widely rumored in his day to have devilish associations, Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840).

The paradox is that Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major Op. 6—composed probably between 1817 and 1818 and for which he famously avoided writing out the solo part to avoid plagiarism—is a thoroughly amiable piece which, in the first movement at least, alternates between rum-ti-tum orchestral tuttis and what amounts to accompanied cadenzas that repeatedly send the violin into ionospheric regions rarely penetrated by any other composer.

Such drama as there is is mostly grease-painted rhetoric, as in the brief slow movement where those exchanges between orchestra and soloist now lie in minor-key shadow. For this listener, the best of the work lies in the finale, a resourceful rondo based on an irrepressible, irresistible melody that requires the soloist to time perfectly the “ricochet” bowing effect to produce groups of 64th notes within the movement’s Allegro spirituoso march tempo.

Augustin Hadelich.
Needless to say, the 35-year-old Italian-born violinist Augustin Hadelich accomplished this over and over again with immaculate precision, but there was so much more to his performance than sheer virtuosity. Throughout, he gave Paganini’s concerto the same grace, delicacy and interpretative focus that he brought to the Bernstein Serenade two seasons ago.

Supported by incisive conducting and spirited playing of an orchestral part not exactly brimming with opportunities for individuals to shine—apart from Paganini’s frequent resort to the bassoon (played by Rose Corrigan) to counterpoint his soloist—what can be 37 minutes of tawdry exhibitionism in lesser hands was a musical delight throughout. Just the first sign of Mr. Francis’s care was the way that from the start he reined in the bass drum/cymbal crashes with which Paganini peppers his tuttis, so that they registered as touches of color rather than dominant punctuation points.

Called back again and again by a cheering audience, surprisingly but gratifyingly full for a winter Thursday evening, Mr. Hadelich rewarded their fervor with an encore—not, as one might have expected, a Paganini Caprice but instead a transcription (by Barato?) of Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, in which his violin impersonated a guitar with eerie fidelity…

And so to the single work in the second half. Composed at the same time (1935-36) as another great Russian symphony, also in three movements, by a composer a generation younger and writing within that country rather than as an exile from it, Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3 in A minor Op. 44 is a very different reaction to the homeland in the mid-1930s from that of Dmitri Shostakovich in his tumultuous Fourth Symphony.

Where the latter in seeming response to the Stalinist tyranny swings between rage, hysteria, and black farce before dissolving into an endless frozen stasis, Rachmaninoff’s symphonic response, composed at his newly completed Villa Senar on the shores of Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, is richly melancholic, imbued with regret and nostalgia for the country itself as he knew it before departing the Revolution in 1917—as Mr. Francis emphasized in crisply articulated comments before raising his baton.

Drawing by Möri & Krebs Architekten of their design for Rachmaninoff's Villa Senar.
Though clearly thought-through and played with conviction and panache by the PSO (for whom apparently this was the first outing with the symphony in 41 years!), I felt Mr. Francis’s interpretation just a little too laden with overt longing. At the beginning of the main body of the first movement, for example, he responded whole-heartedly to its dolce ed espressivo marking, but was well under the metronome of quarter note=100, with a consequent loss of the momentum Rachmaninoff builds into his themes and their evolution. Regrettably missing, too, was the first movement exposition repeat.

But against this there was throughout an emphatic brilliance of articulation, so that the complex textures never became saturated. This was particularly true near the start of the Adagio ma non troppo, where the massed unison violins took up the principal theme with glistening splendor. This movement, most original in structure for Rachmaninoff with its enclosure of a central scherzo-like section between the slow outer parts, is particularly rich in solos, the long opening horn melody (played by Keith Popejoy) and its answer by violin (Concertmaster Dennis Kim) only the first of many—and all of them taken here with the utmost poetry and distinction.

Rachmaninoff in the mid-1930s, when he
composed his Third Symphony.
For me, the finale of this symphony is problematic. It opens with a fine flourish of positivity, and for most of its length is full of activity, but its main melodies fail to reach the memorability Rachmaninoff achieves in comparable movements in other works (not to mention the killer tune he conjures for this symphony's first movement second subject), and in the coda he seems to be searching for a focus, or nexus, that never comes, settling instead for an ending that allies a kind of would-be gay insouciance with explosive energy that together fail to convince.

Nonetheless Mr. Francis and the orchestra delivered an ebullient account of the movement (in particular, the strings’ delivery of their fugato in the development section was a model of articulation and clarity), with as much conviction as the composer can enable. The Third Symphony is the centerpiece of Rachmaninoff’s final trilogy of orchestral masterpieces, between the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the Symphonic Dances, and if it lacks overall the brilliant inventiveness of the former or the more settled focus of the latter, it is still, as Mr. Francis remarked, “one of the most important symphonies of the 20th century.”

Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Thursday February 27, 2020, 8 p.m.
Images: Michael Francis: Columbia Artists; Christopher Rouse: Getty, courtesy classic fm; Vincent Price: DVD Beaver; Paganini: Wikimedia Commons; Augustin Hadelich: Suxiao Yang, Wikimedia Commons; Rachmaninoff: Wikimedia Commons; Villa Senar: Rachmaninoff Network.

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