Monday, April 15, 2019

ACO 2019 US Tour Finale

What a finish for the Australian Chamber Orchestra Sunday night in Carmel at the Palladium.
The concert was delayed for weather and delayed flights. Those on time though were treated with music from Inon Barnatan! Three selections from his upcoming Carnegie Hall recital were played: Mendelssohn Rondo Capriccio, Schubert’s g flat Impromptu, and the finale of Prokofiev’s 7th Sonata were played as the audience waited for the ‘main’ concerrt. What a treat!
The concert did start at 8, an hour after advertised with Bach. Sublime, silly, and brilliant make up with arrangement of Art of the Fugue.
Barnatan returned for Mozart’s Piano Concerto 12, with lots of gusto and drama. It was fresh and friendly.
Sadly the intoxicated woman in the row ahead of us was quite vocal, from the very start, saying “beautiful “ loudly, shouting “We love you!” during Richard Tognetti’s opening remarks, and during the finale of the Mozart Concerto, falling in a row while trying to exit. On top of that, a patron’s phablet went off during the slow movement of Mozart. Throughout the first half, another couple constantly spoke in whispers about “stairs”!
Sadly as our babysitter expired at 10pm we had to leave at intermission, missing what is one of THE masterpieces of western music, Beethoven’ Opus 130 with the Grosse Fuge. Oh well, with the drive and my schedule all’s well that ends well. Here’s to safe travels for the ACO and to better behaved audiences at The Palladium!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Five Things About Cincinnati Opera

Composer Greg Spears
I had a chance to experience new and gorgeous music last month in Cincinnati with two productions of Cincinnati Opera.

1. The soloists, orchestra, and sets of Die Fledermaus were stunning. Kudos to original tempos and phrasing from conductor David Abell. My only reservation was the weak translation to English - I would have preferred the original German.
2. Greg Spears' Fellow Travelers received an excellent world premiere from the company. It should have a long life, and certainly captures drama, passion, and quality.
3. Most striking was the set for Fellow Travelers, minimal (like the music) but highly original - it was moved and manipulated by the singers! Bravo to Stage Director Kevin Newbury and Scenic Designer Victoria (Vita) Tzykun.
Aronoff Center for the Arts • Jarson-Kaplan Theater
4. Aaron Blake and Joseph Lattanzi were delightful leads, very believable, likable, and musical! Big props to the versatile Vernon Hartman playing numerous roles and quick costume changes.
5. Fellow Travelers is a love story at its core. There is betrayal, paranoia, and discrimination. The opera stays loyal to the book, and certainly adds dimensions to the story and history.

More productions this summer include Puccini's Tosca. Don't miss any chance to see these incredible musicians.

More on new opera and Greg Spears will appear on What's New from WBAA Classical.

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.