Monday, November 02, 2015

One for the ages

Heggie and Clare
I heard Great Scott Sunday afternoon at Dallas Opera. Throughout the opera, I kept thinking, this is an aria that I'm going to hear in recital, that singers are going to take up (much like one hears Nessun Dorma or O Mio Babbino Caro from Turnadot or Gianni Schicchi) - but it wasn't just one tune, it was almost all of them! That's not a big surprise from a composer like Jake Heggie.
Great Scott is personal, and affable. The comedy has drama, and flair. Not only does this come from the original libretto by Terrance McNally, but from the music, and the stellar cast. It is also funny and witty. Stereotypes abound throughout the two acts, from the two male leads as bari-hunk and narcissistic tenor, to an overeager, young understudy who "would kill" to make it. There's also love: a star and her mentor, a conductor and stage manager, an old flame and the one that got away, as well as the heartstring pulling demonstration for the love of music/opera.
Joyce DiDonato goes beyond the role of Arden Scott. She is Great Scott. Here's a star that returned to her home town Symphony garnering national attention, and then a few years later sang at Game Seven of the World Series with her hometown team...and the singing? The role requires the juxtaposition of modern and Bel Canto opera singing - just two of her signature traits - seamlessly throughout the opera.
I mentioned Puccini as examples earlier, but the only real comparison I can make of Great Scott is with Richard Strauss. The opera within an opera, Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeia isn't the first fictional work complete with a Composer role, that would be Ariadne auf Naxos. Here though, Heggie and McNally make use of a rehearsal, and then a performance of Rosa in the second act, to great use in both the story line and for DiDonato's impeccable singing. A final quartet also mirrors (in the best sense) the famous Trio in Der Rosenkavalier.
There is so much to love about Great Scott, and this performance was outstanding. It could be called a "perfect storm" of talent and accomplishment of the part of all. Go see it in Dallas now, or put it on your calendar for May in San Diego!
Hear an interview with John and Jake here:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Panufnik at 100

Andrzej Panufnik
"It is the true Phoenix, the only one, and it belongs to the world, if the world will have it. This is what Panufnik's great Ninth Symphony celebrates, in a unique manner. It is his crowning achievement, so far. It is hoped that it will be followed by others, just as new." - Harold Truscott from "The Achievement of Andrzej Panufnik," Tempo, December 1984.
I first heard about Andrzej Panufnik in 1989 from my composition teacher Walter Mays, who had heard a radio broadcast. We both liked Polish music, and I had already been inspired by a Polish violin teacher Andrzej Grabiec, to study the music of Krzysztof Penderecki. A recent release on Nonesuch made me fall in love with the Sinfonia Sacra. Soon ordering scores, taping LPs to cassettes, and researching everything I could find on the composer took up my free time. One spring day a few years later, I called the maestro inquiring about study in London with some private lessons, and if I could get some answers about the mesmerizing third symphony (Sinfonia Sacra). “Write me”, he advised about the questions, and we can “talk about study in the future”, after seeing some scores of mine. This of course, was before email, and google, so to come up with a number, and call internationally from Kansas was really a feat. I didn’t get around to sending those questions or scores, and sadly, Andrzej passed that fall.
Panufnik was a composer, pianist, conductor and pedagogue born on September 24th, 1914. He became established as one of the leading Polish composers, and as a conductor he was instrumental in the re-establishment of the Warsaw Philharmonic orchestra after World War II. After his increasing frustration with the extra-musical demands made on him by the country's regime, Andrzej defected to the United Kingdom in 1954. But in England, just like Poland, the musical scene wasn't right; in the East, it seemed he was too radical and in the West, not radical enough. Among his positions, he was conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for two years, but then dedicated his life to composition only. It was in 1963 that Panufnik started gaining more fame (since his defection,) by winning the Monte Carlo Composition Competition with his third symphony, Sinfonia Sacra.
Roxanna and John in 2007
Panufnik eventually married a photographer Camilla, and had two children: Jem, a gifted young man who is an artist/dj; and a daughter Roxanna, a composer. I got to know them through the internet, and via interviews in the US.
Audio examples (including 37 pieces for over 3 hours of listening!) are here on Spotify: that includes both Roxanna’s and Andrzej’s music.

I sent some questions to Roxanna and Camilla about Andrzej. Here are their responses:
1. This year is filled with celebrations - how is it to hear these new interpretations of Andrzej's music?
Roxanna: It’s so exciting to hear different interpretations of his works - it keeps him very much alive and kicking!
Camilla: I have been to dozens of Panufnik concerts this year, and have been most struck by the immense enthusiasm of the performing musicians, not only regular performers but new performers who find the emotional and poetic aspects of Andrzej Panufnik's music extremely exciting, while at the same time they are fascinated by the originality and power of his compositional skills.   There have been many fabulous performances, wonderfully received by audiences.  Andrzej - sometimes said his music belonged to the 21st Century, rather than when he composed it, and now I see and I feel - that he was right.
2. The CPO recordings are astounding. While there have been excellent recordings in the past, this is a series of young musicians with the same orchestra. Does that make a difference?
Roxanna: Can’t answer this one, but mum can!
Camilla: Most important in making this amazingly exciting set of 8 CDs was the young and brilliant Polish conductor, Lukasz Borowicz, the artistic director of the Warsaw-based Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the first 3 CDs with his excellent Warsaw Orchestra, and the further five CDs, requiring a larger orchestra, in Berlin with the brilliant Konzerthausorchester.
3. 100 years - the world has changed so much. Yet Andrzej's music speaks to new audiences and is fresh. Is there a piece that speaks to you personally? (Almost all of his works touch me, but Katyn Epitaph hits me most! Both the tragedy and music.)
Roxanna: Nothing beats Sinfonia Sacra for me - especially hearing it performed live. It’s so timeless in its beauty and passion - so fresh, even 50 years after it was written!
Camilla: It's difficult for me to name just one work. I love all of them. Some of course have special associations for me. Andrzej was composing his wonderful Sinfonia Sacra at the time our love affair was blossoming. The mysterious, exquisite 1948 Lullaby is a fascinating earlier work of immense originality, which led to him being acknowledged as the "Father of the Polish School" of experimental music in the 2nd half of the 20th Century. The Violin Concerto is also very close to my heart. I agree with you that Katyn Epitaph is deeply moving and it expresses his deep feelings about the 15,000 victims. And the last section of Symphony No 10 reduces me to tears, it's so beautiful. No, I have to say I love them ALL and each one stirs a different memory.
Father and daughter composers
4. How is it to have Roxanna's (your) and Andrzej's music together on programs (and now!) recordings? Roxanna: It feels very natural - i would have fought it 20 - even 15 - years ago whilst i strove to prove myself as an independent voice form his but now i relish those musical traits we have in common!
Camilla: Andrzej would have been so proud of Roxanna and her immense success in the world of composition, no easy task in this day and age.  People love her music and want to perform it over and over again.  I am thrilled at our daughter's recognition in the musical world and I rejoice to hear the music of the two classical Panufniks side by side.  There is a definite link, spiritual as much as definable...
5. Panufnik Young Composers and inspirations from his music - affecting young composers...are there any goals or challenges ahead?
Roxanna: Mum needs to answer this one!
Camilla: The LSO-Panufnik Project for Young Composers give 6 talented young composers each year the chance to learn from proximity to Britain's greatest Orchestra. They have coaching sessions on advanced composition for some of the more complex instruments such the whole range of percussion, or the harp, and they can test with any member of the orchestra their experimental ideas, they can attend rehearsals and concerts, they are coached by an experienced composer, they get to understand the pride and adoration of music of great orchestral players, and there are all sorts of other areas of help and perks. We have a brilliant young French conductor who conducts our quite fiery workshops with both kindness and challenges. Each year we commission two of our composers to compose for public concerts with the LSO ; also each year we have further ideas how we can develop the scheme, which is supported by the very enthusiastic Helen Hamlyn Trust.  We have great results, many of the alumni are getting excellent commissions, the orchestralove the scheme and by mutual consent decided to start recording some of the short compositions which have succeeded most at our workshops. The first year we had 17 people applying. This year we had 131 applicants.  Sir Andrzej Panufnik of course is an example to them all!
6. Congratulations, and many happy thoughts for this wonderful milestone for an incredible musicians and man.
Roxanna: Thank you! X
Camilla: Thank you John.  You have been enthusiastic about Panufnik music long before so many great performers discovered it!  I appreciate that more than words can say!
[Clare's early fan site of Andrzej's:]

Panufnik & Lutoslawski reunited in 1990
Panufnik was a good friend of Witold Lutoslawski...they were famous for performing duets during World War II in underground cafes around Warsaw. Their rep included the infamous Paganini Variations:

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

News from EMI


In a bold strategic move, Warner Classics has unveiled a new campaign centered around attracting older consumers.  The initiative will extend across a variety of new releases and marketing efforts, helping to build strong ties with the always-important 85+ demographic.

The campaign will launch with a brand new reissue series entitled Golden Years Classics, featuring such compilations as “Classical Music to Drive Slowly and Erratically To” and “100 Best Classics for Sitting in a Rocking Chair and Incoherently Mumbling about ‘Kids These Days.’”  Upcoming photoshoots for new releases will also feature current Warner Classics & Erato artists dressed alluringly in matching top-and-bottom velour track suits and the latest New Balance sneakers. And starting in May, Warner will begin pack a sizeable square of delicious Peanut Brittle inside each new catalog box set release!

This summer will see the launch of a riveting concert series fusing traditional Classical music with the dangerous “Hot Jazz” that’s got all the hippest joints in town a-swingin’.  And speaking of hip joints: Warner Classics will be conducting a global contest where one lucky winner will receive a brand new replacement free of charge!

Says Warner Classics’ Global President: “We firmly believe that the elderly are the future, and we’re confident that this innovative new campaign will help convince them that classical recorded music is not, in fact, just ‘some new-fangled technological doo-dad that came straight from the Devil,’ but is in fact one of life’s great joys, and something which we are proud to champion.”

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Penderecki in Mexico

I was lucky to attend the Orquesta Filarmonica de la UNAM concert Saturday night in Mexico City. The guest conductor was Krzysztof Penderecki, who brought several  of his works, as well as some other concert gems to the stage.
Serving as a tribute to John Paul II, the Chaconne from the Polish Requiem was arranged in 2005 for strings. It is deeply touching and lyrical. The strings of the OFUNAM were very responsive, and sensitive solos from the principals were delightful.
Joining the group in the next two selections was flutist Massimo Mercelli - a giant of musicality and physical presence. The Sinfonietta #2 by Penderecki received its Mexico premiere in grand style. Listeners may know the Clarinet Quartet, where this piece has its origins, but the fresh arrangement increases the drama and sombre tone of this work.
Mercelli and Penderecki with OFUNAM
Contrasting these pieces was a real classical charmer, the D major Flute  Concerto by Franz Pokorny - once thought to be written by Luigi Boccherini. Mercelli showed great poise, and technique - never too flashy, but always on the front of the ensemble. Colors in the adagio were brilliant, and the rondo, while overly simplistic, made one smile.
Massimo treated the audience afterwards to a gift of Debussy's Syrinx as an encore - complete with gorgeous hues and ample dynamics. Unfortunately at the very end an usher's walkie talkie added to the otherwise glorious performance.
The second half was my favorite Dvorak Symphony - Number 7 in d minor. Now the full orchestra was on stage - one that I have been fortunate to hear now over the lastfew weeks.  I heard new things in this performance, which is almost always a good sign!
Penderecki did not use a baton (the last time I saw him in person was with the Philadelphia Orchestra) and while I had known for him to use his left hand (like Donald Runnicles) throughout the evening, the beats were directed with either hand, wherever the melody needed it, left or right.
The opening two movements were less focused, some ensemble and intonation problems with the strings and winds, but the lines were sometimes blurred. Other times in the Allegro maestoso and poco adagio, the excitement was obvious.
The scherzo was much more defined and bouncing rhythms shone - the finale sizzled and kept your toe tapping.
Penderecki and Clare backstage
Many curtain calls, a standing ovation, and flowers (from the orchestra and audience!) really expressed the appreciation that we had for Maestro Penderecki. At 80, he is still creating and inspiring music. He received a few friends and fans afterwards. I was happy to catch up with him - he even remembered our interview a few years ago.
There is another performance today at 12pm at Sala Nezahualcoyotl, UNAM, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Alessio live!

This Thursday, March 27Alessio Bax – winner of Lincoln Center’s 2013 Martin E. Segal Award – pairs Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s new “Art of the Recital” series at the Rose Studio. Offering an opportunity to hear the pianist’s “formidable and sensitive rendition of the ‘Hammerklavier’” (Alex Ross, New Yorker), which helped him secure first-prize wins at both the Leeds and Hamamatsu international piano competitions, Bax’s solo recital will be webcast live here and archived online for future streaming on demand.

For the pianist, it is no exaggeration to describe the “Hammerklavier” as “one of the great achievements of humankind.” His account of the monumental sonata’s concluding fugue is available on EMI’s 2007 DVD release of the PBS documentary Barenboim on Beethoven: Masterclasses. Reviewing the DVD set, Fanfare magazine concluded:
“Alessio Bax’s performance of the last movement of the ‘Hammerklavier’ … was atmospheric, lyrical, singing, and beautifully played. It had power when needed and, more important, an overall structure and feeling that was most refreshing. This was one instance where the pupil had far more to teach the master. I could find little fault, if any, with Bax’s performance.”
At Lincoln Center, Bax couples Beethoven’s masterpiece with another colossus of the piano literature,Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, in which he has proved himself “simply one of the most vivid pianists around” ( After a traversal of Mussorgsky’s suite in the Portland International Piano recital series, the Oregon Music News pronounced his performance “outstanding,” and elaborated: “Showing impeccable technical control and balance, Bax’s playing revealed all sorts of textures and colors. It was a remarkable concert.”
Following his Lincoln Center appearance, the pianist returns to New York to take part in a 100th birthday celebration concert for Salon de Virtuosi’s Charlotte White in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall (May 7), before reprising “Hammerklavier” and Pictures for a recital in the Music@Menlo series in Palo Alto, CA (May 11).
A complete list of Bax’s upcoming engagements follows, and additional information may be found at his web

NAD - 3/25

Recognizing the critical role farmers and ranchers play in nourishing today’s population and future generations, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples today encourages Texans to join him in celebrating National Agriculture Day.
“Agriculture is important to Texans 365 days a year,” Commissioner Staples said. “Today, on National Agriculture Day, I ask all Texans to take the time to honor our dedicated farmers and ranchers. It’s critical to remember, food doesn’t grow on grocery store shelves. It takes hard work, sacrifice and perseverance to feed Texans, Americans and the world.”
Agriculture contributes more than $100 billion to the Texas economy each year and supports approximately 1.8 million agriculture-related jobs, ranging from journalism and advertising to commodity trading.
“More than just food and clothing, agriculture contributes to our homes, health, lifestyle and the prosperity of this country,” Commissioner Staples said. “Today’s farmers and ranchers are more productive and efficient than ever before, and as our population grows, there will be an even greater demand for food and fiber. Without our incredible farmers and ranchers, Texas wouldn’t be the powerhouse of agricultural productivity that it is today.” 
National Agriculture Day is part of National Agriculture Week, which runs March 23-29. To learn more about Texas farmers and ranchers, and the everyday ways in which they improve our lives, visit the Agriculture is Your Culture Web page.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Brett ala Bernstein!

Brett Mitchell stepped in on just two hours' notice for an ailing Franz Welser-Möst on Friday, March 7, leading his Cleveland Orchestra subscription debut at Severance Hall. On the program were:

Rachmaninoff - Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Rudolf Buchbinder, piano)
R. Strauss - Don Juan
J. Strauss, Jr. - Aus den Bergen
J. Strauss, Jr. - Csárdás from Ritter Pázmán

Mr. Mitchell will return to the podium on Saturday, March 8, leading a subscription program of:

Sibelius - Lemminkäinen's Return
Rachmaninoff - Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Rudolf Buchbinder, piano)
R. Wigglesworth - Locke's Theatre (U.S. premiere)
Britten - Spring Symphony (Kate Royal, soprano; Jamie Barton, mezzo-soprano; John Tessier, tenor; the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus; and the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus)

Mr. Mitchell will lead the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra's subscription program at Severance Hall on Sunday, March 9 as scheduled.

Some good news

Ten wounded service members, recipients of the Purple Heart award, received a special gift today, tool sets valued at $1,000 each. The tools were provided by the Sons of the American Revolution at an event at Operation Homefront Village. Operation Homefront, the San Antonio-based national non-profit that provides emergency financial and other services to military families and wounded warriors, offers transitional housing to wounded warriors and their families at three Villages in San Antonio, southern California, and outside Washington, DC.
“It’s going to extremely help me and my family,” said Jimmy Hall, a purple heart recipient and former Village resident who received a toolbox. “The tools and there quality are great and as a mechanic they will help me greatly.”
The tool sets were presented by Pastor James Taylor, former President of the San Antonio chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution along with Chapter President Bob Hancock. Pastor Taylor noted that the tool sets were the brainchild of Clarence “Bud” Shepherd, founder of the Resource Exchange Association, with a goal to give a toolbox to every wounded warrior in the nation. The tool sets include products donated by Husky, Stanley, Black and Decker, and Home Depot.
“It’s an honor to be here and present these tools to our Wounded Warriors,” said Chapter President Bob Hancock. “We want to honor you today and wish you the best of luck and thank you for your dedication to our country.”
Said Aaron Taylor, Operation Homefront spokesman: “I want to thank the Sons of the American Revolution for this opportunity, in partnership with Operation Homefront, to be able to sustain and build this program for wounded warriors. It’s a very special gift whenever we can give back to our service members.”

Friday, March 07, 2014

Protest Whole Foods

On Saturday, March 8th, International Women’s Day, activists from UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization, and Fight for 15, concerned citizens, and customers will rally outside Whole Food Stores around the country demanding justice for Rhiannon Broschat, a single mother from Chicago who was fired from her job at Whole Foods after missing work to care for her special needs son during the polar vortex. More than 50,000 Whole Foods customers have already signed on to demand justice, but Whole Foods has still not rehired Rhiannon.

WHERE: Whole Foods World Headquarters. 550 Bowie Street, Austin, TX
WHEN: Saturday, 08 March 2014. 9:00 A.M. CT

The rallies will also take place in more than a dozen cities including Chicago, Austin, St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, and Toronto.
See the full list of events here:
“We demand that Rhiannon be immediately reinstated,” explained Melissa Josephs, Director of Equal Opportunity Policy of Women Employed. “No working mother should have to choose between paying her bills and taking care of her children.”
The actions come after Whole Foods rejected numerous efforts to reinstate Rhiannon or follow its policies on weather disasters so that no employee has to choose between a sick child and a paycheck. More than 50,000 members of UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization, have signed onto a petition demanding that Whole Foods “reinstate Rhiannon Broschat and honor your policy to make room for family leave."
See the petition to Whole Foods here:

Rhiannon's situation is not unique. Nearly 40% of US households have a female breadwinner and the US is the only industrialized country in which sick days are not guaranteed, meaning that nearly 80% of low-wage workers in the country are forced to make the choice between staying home sick or with their sick children and earning enough to pay their bills or buy groceries.
“Whole Foods markets itself as a progressive company, but it’s forcing moms to choose between caring for their children in an emergency and keeping their jobs. That’s wrong, and tens of thousands of Whole Foods customers, workers, and moms across the country want answers,” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet. “Whole Foods relies on it’s progressive reputation in selling their products at high prices, and customers don’t want to pay those prices to contribute to a moral injustice. Their response to this controversy has consistently shown that they don't support working moms.”

Clinic Closures in Rural Texas

Yesterday, two reproductive health clinic closures were announced in rural Texas, as a result of Texas House Bill 2, disproportionately affecting low-income women in the south and east of the state. These were the only clinics in East Texas and Rio Grande Valley.
“The closure of Whole Women’s Health clinic is a tragedy for women in Texas and indicative of the cost when we allow politicians to use deceitful back-door tactics to rob us of our fundamental rights,” said Ilyse Hogue, NARAL Pro-Choice America President. “The majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose the healthcare and reproductive options best for us, yet anti-choice lawmakers have run rough shod over that sentiment and now are endangering the lives of the state’s most vulnerable women. While it is our hope that this bill will be overturned, this situation is a painful reminder of why we need federal legislation like the Women's Health Protection Act to ensure that the Constitution and women’s rights, regardless of where they live, are respected.”
“Safe, legal options for women in need of abortion care are now nonexistent in south and east Texas, and that is no accident,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “Anti-choice lawmakers knew exactly what they were doing when they pushed for the abortion restrictions in HB2 and these clinic closures are exactly the result they were seeking.”
A survey from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that 7 percent of women who were seeking abortion care reported trying to self -abort at some point during their pregnancy.