Classical Post highlights Margaret Brouwer's "Voice of the Lake"

'Voice Of The Lake' Oratorio Highlights Environmental Concerns

July 11, 2019

In response to the 2014 algae bloom in Lake Erie, Cleveland composer Margaret Brouwer decided to create an environmental oratorio with hopes of increasing interest around Lake Erie and other threatened bodies of water.

After two years in the making, Brouwer’s 80-minute oratorio, “Voice of the Lake,” premiered at the Cleveland Institute of Music in October. The performance is now available on DVD and YouTube.

Composed of four parts, the oratorio opens with “At the Lake,” a joyful tribute to Lake Erie. The piece progresses with “The Public Hearing,” which portrays the conflict of opinion in Cleveland as to whether it is safe to dump dredged sediment into the lake. The third part tells the story of “Evening Near the River,” during which two campers come across the algae-filled lake and see some of its causes and solutions. Finally, the piece ends with “Sunrise at the Lake,” a resolution to clean up Lake Erie.

Through these four parts, Brouwer attempts to reveal the significance of the lake, which is used as a recreational site, natural habitat and source of drinking water for potentially 11 million lakeside residents. Due to phosphorus runoff from fertilized farms and leaky septic systems, however, the lake was filled with algae, much of it poisonous. In order to convey the reality of the situation, Brouwer took phrases from public hearing transcripts in relation to the algae bloom. The result is a libretto based more so on factual information than on poetry.

The video of the performance is now available for purchase on DVD for $30, of which $8 will be donated to the North American Lake Management Society.

The performance features the Blue Streak Ensemble, Blue Streak Ensemble Chamber Singers and the Cleveland Institute of Music Children's Choir. The soloists include soprano Angela Mortellaro, mezzo Sarah Beaty, tenor Brian Skoog and bass Bryant Bush. The show was conducted by Cleveland Opera theater director Domenico Boyagian.

— Kristine Liao

WXXI features Margaret Brouwer's "Voice of the Lake"

Music expresses love, concern for Great Lakes

By MONA SEGHATOLESLAMI

Composer Margaret Brouwer lives in Ohio, near Lake Erie. She loves the natural beauty of the Great Lakes and she’s worried about them.

She has composed her love for Lake Erie -- and her concerns for its future --  into a musical work called "Voice of the Lake."

Listen to the feature here

"The Great Lakes are actually the largest body of fresh water in the world," and yet, she says, "We take it so for granted. People don’t realize what a wonderful natural treasure we have." 

She’s concerned about farm runoff that feeds toxic algae blooms, people dumping trash, and the dirt being dredged from the Cuyahoga River being dumped in the lake.

In her music, she started with sounds of people interacting with the lake.

"I think a lot about sounds before every piece that I write, and the sounds that I want to create," she explains, "so I was thinking a lot about the sounds of the lake, the sounds of the children splashing in the water." 

In addition to depicting the ways that people interact with the water, she includes scenes showing innovative ways people have tried to control and stop the algae, and a portrayal of a public hearing about lake dumping.

"I really believe that music should be two equal parts: One would appeal to the intelligence, to your brain -- and one would appeal to your soul and your heart and your emotions.  All the music is pretty emotional, actually."

"A lot of it is beautiful, wonderful, happy music (in) the first part, and there’s angry music, there’s very sad music, too," she says. "The soprano plays the role of the person who loves the lake and sings about it in the first part, and then she is very upset and angry in the second part about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In the other parts, her arias are very, very sad.  She doesn’t understand; she doesn’t know what to do about it. She’s trying to figure it out." 

In the end, Brouwer says, "I don’t really give an answer in this piece, other than showing the people who are doing something.  The children ask people to help; they say, 'we need help', and they’re asking everyone to work together to help the lake."

Brouwer says she struggled with how exactly to end the piece.

"I could have made it fictional, and had it be something where people were all leaving the area because there was no good drinking water and people were dying, because that could happen," she says. "Right now, I just decided to leave it up in the air with what’s going to happen, who’s going to get involved." 

"Voice of the Lake" has been performed at an International Symposium for the North American Lake Management Society in Cincinnati and at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as in more traditional concert settings. Brouwer also plans to someday turn it into an opera, with a story set in and around the lake. A recording is now available on DVD and to watch on YouTube

Classical Music Daily features "Voice of the Lake"

Margaret Brouwer's new environmental oratorio
is now available on DVD and at YouTube

... the message Brouwer’s piece delivers is one that needs to be heard. - Classical Voice North America

In August 2014, an algal bloom in Lake Erie poisoned the drinking water of the four hundred thousand residents of Toledo, Ohio, USA. 'Lake Erie is in trouble, and getting worse by the year', wrote The New York Times. The dire situation of pollution in this Great Lake is the inspiration for American composer Margaret Brouwer's work, Voice of the Lake. A live performance of this critically-acclaimed work, which took place at the Cleveland Institute of Music on 19 October 2018, is now available to watch on both YouTube and on DVD.

Brouwer has always been keenly passionate about the environment, and this interest often informs her compositions. In an interview with Cleveland Classical she said, 'The creation of the work started with my personal wish for Lake Erie to be clean'. Brouwer has more to say in an article on RockTheLake.com.

Voice of the Lake (2016-18) is an eighty minute oratorio for vocal soloists, choirs and chamber ensemble which brings to life the ongoing environmental concerns that are affecting Lake Erie: a recreational treasure, expansive natural habitat, important economic engine, major shipping channel and the source of drinking water for eleven million people. A musical vista of nature and the lake, the lyrics are by Margaret Brouwer with additional text gleaned from public record transcripts including Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and the US Army Corps of Engineers, with a short video by Joshua Lipton.

The video features the Blue Streak Ensemble, Blue Streak Ensemble Chamber Singers, and the Cleveland Institute of Music Children's Choir, with soloists Angela Mortellaro, soprano, Sarah Beaty, mezzo, Brian Skoog, tenor and Bryant Bush, bass, conducted by Cleveland Opera Theater Director Domenico Boyagian. The DVD is available to purchase (for US$30, of which $8 will be donated to the North American Lake Management Society) at margaretbrouwer.com or watch now on YouTube.

Posted 27 June 2019 by Keith Bramich

American-Israel Cultural Foundation features Orli Shaham's Bach Yard

‘Bach Yard’: Orli Shaham’s ‘Baby Got Bach’ Has New Name

Orli Shaham’s interactive concert series for kids, ‘Baby Got Bach’ has a new name – Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard – and an expanded program. ‘Bach Yard’ combines live ensemble performances with storytelling, costumed musicians, and a host of activities in which children can take part. The interactive concerts introduce musical concepts, instruments and the experience of concert-going to children age pre-Kindergarten to early elementary.

The internationally renowned concert pianist and mother of twin boys, Orli Shaham launched Baby Got Bach in 2010, bringing live interactive concerts to thousands of young children and their parents. Now with an expanded age range, a new location for performances at Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center, and educational and community outreach, Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard will introduce many more young ears to live classical music.

Insider Interview: Composer Truman Harris

Composer Truman Harris’ debut CD “A Warm Day in Winter” is released on March 9, 2019, on the NAXOS American Classics Label (8.559858). In this Insider Interview we spoke to Mr. Harris about his compositional inspirations, performing in an orchestra and chamber ensemble, and more.

What led you to a career in composition?

I grew up in a musical household, with my mother the choir director at the local church and my father the church organist.  As far back as I can remember I’ve been attracted to composing rather than conducting.  Perhaps that’s partly because I noticed at some point that while most of the people around me were whistling/singing tunes they’d heard in the media, what I was whistling were mostly original tunes that popped into my head.   Another factor was my long tenure in a professional wind quintet.  After giving four recitals each season for years, our group began to run out of new literature.  The quintet’s website received dozens of submissions of new works for possible performance, but the group would almost inevitably decide that the pieces didn’t suit our needs.  I set about trying to write the music we weren’t finding.

You were in the NSO for over 40 years. How does that experience as an orchestral musician inform your work? Are there any particular composers from which you draw inspiration?

Sitting on stage surrounded by the sounds of the orchestra each week, and access to study scores of particularly interesting upcoming pieces were a big help in my attempts to understand the techniques of composition.  Certain aspects of a piece would sometimes be more or less successful, and my habit was to ask myself why that might be.   My colleagues were a great resource in understanding the technique of writing for instruments other than my own.  Writing a viola part, for example, I was helped by the availability of 12 professional violists who were amazingly generous with their artistry.

How would you describe your composition style?

For want of a better phrase, “Twenty-First Century Tonal.”  I gravitated early on to the Stravinsky side of the Stravinsky/Schoenberg split last century.  Perhaps one could say that Stravinsky revolutionized rhythm while Schoenberg revolutionized melody.  An important quote for me is from Paul Hindemith: “Music, as long as it exists, will always take its departure from the major triad and return to it.  The musician cannot escape it any more than the painter his primary colours or the architect his three dimensions."  For me, music is about singing and dancing, and I very much hope that my pieces can both sing and dance.

Your latest album is titled A Warm Day in Winter. In what ways do the pieces reflect this title? Are there any other ways in which the pieces relate to each other?

The last movement of Aulos Triptych, with that title, depicts a cold morning with a gradual warmup.   The modern complex world can also seem a little chilly at times, and perhaps music can add a bit of welcome warmth to our lives.  The wind quintets were written for some of the same people, and the character of the part writing reflects something of their individual personalities. 

Speaking of titles, a lot of your pieces have descriptions that are very evocative. Do these become part of the piece early on in the process?

I rarely know in advance what the titles of movements or even of the whole piece will be.  As the materials develop and begin to show some structure, I find that extra-musical associations will often occur to me, which then can help direct the progress of the remaining music still to be written. 

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re working on?

Recently completed are two wind quintets, a sonata for bassoon and piano, and a trio for two flutes and cello.  Synthesized recordings of these are now up on my YouTube channel, Compositions by Truman Harris

Also completed just last week is a Kennedy Center commission for a variation for full orchestra based on the Paganini 24th Caprice.  The Kennedy Center website discribes the project as, “When former NSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin led the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, he commissioned a set of variations—each from a different living American composer—on the famous Paganini Caprice No. 24. In honor of Slatkin’s 75th birthday season, a number of orchestras, including the NSO, have each commissioned an additional variation to create a new, expanded version of the work.” Thus my contribution will be part of a work with other variations written by several  different composers entitled, “Yet Another Set of Variations (on a Theme of Paganini).”  The piece is scheduled to be performed this season by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, as well as two other orchestras next season.  All performances will be conducted by Leonard Slatkin, whose vision is responsible for the work.

My next projects are TBA, and may include a trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano.

The Art Music Lounge reviews "A Warm Day in Winter"

Tripping the Light Fantastic with Truman Harris

American composer and bassoonist Truman Harris (b. 1945) is one of those writers whose work can best be described as light and witty without being mundane or cloying. It’s essentially tonal with harmonic twists and turns, the rhythms are generally straightforward, but at no time is any of it predictable. In short, this is the kind of music that fits my definition of “delightful,” not the predictable old-timey tonal music of the Romantic era that everyone else seems to think is the cat’s meow.

This is immediately evident in the Rosemoor Suite, a collection of five pieces for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. This is a combination that Harris really favors; the even shorter Flowers, which pops up later in this program, is written for the same combination. Harris himself plays the bassoon on both. Even in the slow piece in this suite, “By the Stream, Late September,” Harris manages to hold one’s interest via repeated rhythms and overlapping solo spots in a quasi-hocket style, although this is the one piece that would be most likely to turn up on your local snoresville classical FM station. “Charleston” emulates the beat of this famed 1920s dance, but here Harris really skewers the harmony in an effort to shake things up, while the finale, “Silent Movie,” is, surprisingly, less frenetic in tempo and sounds more like a modern composer’s reaction to a silent movie than the kind of music one might actually hear accompanying one. It also includes plaintive solo spots for the oboe and flute in a slower tempo.

The Aulos Triptych refers to the ancient Greek flute that was often paired with the Greek harp or kithara, but there’s nothing really Greek about this music. It has lively American rhythms, the opening movement, in fact, being in a rollicking 6/8. It almost (but not quite) sounds like the kind of music you would have heard in the background of an episode of Peabody’s Improbable History on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, except that it’s somewhat more complex in its interweaving of instruments. The second piece, “Dreams of Fantastic Places,” is slower in tempo but, oddly, still uses a 6/8 tempo and is more rhythmically complex than its counterpoint in the Rosemoor Suite. The last piece, “A Warm Day in Winter,” is in 4 but with several double-time passages, weaving the piano part among the four flutes in an intriguing manner.

The Concertino for Horn & Chamber Orchestra is a bit more ambitious in form, but only just. This is yet another lively piece which sounds fun to play, and although our horn soloist, Laurel Bennert Ohlson, has a somewhat rough tone, she sounds as if she’s having a ball playing it. The music here uses contrasting meters and tempi in its development sections, but again is primarily tonal. In fact, the music bears some resemblance to the wonderful pieces that Alec Wilder wrote for his French horn buddy, the late John Barrows. There are also some wonderfully intricate passages in the first movement for interwoven winds, and when the strings re-enter the tempo picks up, the rhythm becomes more complex, and Harris throws in some whole-tone passages. I did, however, find the second movement to be less original and adventurous, albeit still amusing, with a few unusual key changes thrown in for good measure. The third movement opens as a fun romp in polka tempo. At the 1:17 mark, however, Harris throws in some rhythmic complexities that make the music sound as if it were running backwards, and afterwards the pace slows up in order to add a few other syncopated touches in the orchestral part.

Flowers returns us to the syncopated part-writing and ebullient mood of the Rosemoor Suite, except that each section is considerably shorter and thus more compact in ideas. I felt that the third piece, “Tulip,” was relatively stagnant although pleasant to listen to, but “Kudzu” was particularly ingenious in construction with a sort of loping 4/4 beat at a medium brisk tempo.

Possible because the bassoon is his instrument, I felt that the Sonata for 2 Bassoons & Piano was by far the most serious as well as the most complex and arresting piece on the album. The essential style is the same, but here Harris is less flippant in his use of motor rhythms and his development sections are even more complex than in the other works. Sometimes he has the two bassoons play contrapuntally against each other, sometimes in harmony, and sometimes gives one of them a lyrical line while the other plays syncopated figures against it. In addition, the piano part has a real jazz feel to it, something I did not detect in the other pieces. Indeed, the first movement, with its continual rhythmic shifting during the development section, is a sort of locus classicus in how to write modern chamber music with a jazz influence. The second movement, a bit more conventional, is quite lovely in its own way, but in the third Harris again returns to syncopated rhythms that have at least a touch of jazz beat about them—although, in my mind’s ear, I could hear a more jazz-based pianist doing even more with the piano part than Audrey Andrist does here. At the 1:56 mark there are some remarkable cross-rhythmic effects, after which the tempo relaxes for a few bars before picking up steam again.

The flute Concertino, though also lively, is a bit more serious than the one for horn and, to my ears, better written overall. Mind you, the horn Concertino is not badly written, but much more lightweight in its ideas and not as strongly developed. Here, I felt that Harris had a better feel for the instrument and used it more as a voice in the overall progression of the music rather than as a “showcase” instrument. It’s a subtle difference, but to me an important one. Once again he uses contrasting rhythms for his contrasting themes and developments, yet here they seem to follow upon one another more logically and hold one’s interest better. Even the syncopations are knitted into the overall musical progression better than in the horn Concertino, although I found the slow second movement somewhat predictable in comparison to the outer movements.

In toto, then, an interesting disc with many interesting and fun moments and a really great sonata for bassoons and piano.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

Records International reviews "A Warm Day in Winter"

Description: A bassoonist-composer is a relative rarity, but one uniquely positioned to attend to and appreciate the inner voices of an ensemble. Thus it is that Harris has written a work for 12 violas, as well as the pieces for four flutes, or two bassoons, with piano, included here. The composer’s idiom is tonal and neoclassical, with impeccable craftsmanship and a deft, light touch, often with touches of humor. Rosemoor Suite is a set of easy-going character pieces depicting pastoral scenes, a neoclassical take on the once-popular Charleston, and 'cues' for a 'silent movie' score - one scene of which apparently had something Wagnerian about it. The Horn Concertino plays with the horn's heroic, Romantic character, with a bucolic slow movement which briefly gives way to a more dramatic episode, and a lively rondo-finale. The unusual - probably unique - Sonata for Two Bassoons is technically demanding, requiring rhythmic precision between the players; clearly an example of a proud bassoonist giving his colleagues a chance to shine. The piece is neo-Romantic, with some lively jazzy episodes insisted on by the piano in the outer movements. The Flute Concertino is classical in structure and Romantic in mood; sonata form, a nostalgic slow movement, playful rondo-finale. The six movements of Flowers attribute character and even drama to flowering plants, from resilient pansies and clover to the miniature military march of invading kudzu. The Triptych explores the atmospheric, descriptive colors available to an ensemble of flutes. Assorted soloists, Eclipse Chamber Orchestra; Sylvia Alimena.

Music Web International reviews T.Harris' "A Warm Day in Winter"

Truman HARRIS (b1945)
Rosemoor Suite for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (2015) [12.12]
Aulos Triptych for four flutes and piano (2015) [8.47]
Concertino for Horn and Chamber Orchestra (2001) [16.49]
Flowers for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (2006) [7.48]
Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano (2008) [14.33]
Concertino for Flute and Chamber Orchestra (2003) [15.21]
Eclipse Chamber Orchestra/Sylvia Alimena
rec. 2006-16
NAXOS 8.559858 [75.37]

This is a very useful compendium of Truman Harris’ music of the 21st Century. I confess that he was previously unknown to me. Most of his active life has been spent as an orchestral bassoonist (he plays on the present disc), retiring in 1917 as assistant principal bassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra as well as from the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra (itself drawn from the NSO, and for whom he was also composer-in-residence 2004-2014). His performing work included a period with the Capitol Woodwind Quintet – invaluable for chamber composition – as well as with the Fort Worth Symphony and Opera. He is working for a Master’s degree in Computing Science. New pieces are available on his dedicated YouTube Channel in synthesised versions. As far as I can discover, this new disc is his only CD to date (my researches have not strayed beyond Harris’ own website and YouTube).

The compositions here are much more worthwhile than his relatively low profile so far might have suggested. Unsurprisingly, he has a very keen ear for the textures and abilities of wind instruments – piano parts tend to be strictly accompaniment. The synthesised YouTube versions do not provide the same subtlety as the selection of works on the current disc. Somehow synthetic versions do not capture the characteristic sense of the amplification of human song and expression that accomplished wind players – as here – provide. There is a beguiling humanity to the programme. It is invidious to pick out a favourite, but I very much enjoyed the Aulos Triptych for four flutes and piano, whose three movements, ‘Light and Color’, ‘Dreams of Fancy Places’ and ‘A Warm Day in Winter’ are lyrical and very evocative. The two Concertinos, one for horn, the other for flute, are both highly enjoyable pieces, rather in the style of Lars-Erik Larsson’s terrific set of Twelve Concertinos, Op.45 (available on BIS-CD-473/464). Neither concertino pushes musical boundaries and might have been composed at any time in the last century or so, but they reveal sensitive understanding of their chosen instrument’s capabilities and are hugely enjoyable.

An interesting piece is the set of miniatures, Flowers, for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn, from 2006. The six tiny movements – the longest is ‘Tulip’ at just under a minute-and-a-half – reveal all Harris’ gifts of acute sensitivity.

Performances are as committed as we might hope – the wind soloists are drawn exclusively from the National Symphony Orchestra, with several playing also with the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, and one senses the feeling of music-making among friends. Useful notes on the performances are provided by the composer, and recording quality is very fine – each line emerges clearly, as it should.

Michael Wilkinson
 
Soloists
Alice Kogan Weinreb (flute)
Aaran Goldman (flute)
Carole Bean (flute)
Leah Arsenault Barrick (flute)
Nicholas Stovall (oboe)
Paul Cigan (clarinet)
Truman Harris (bassoon)
Sue Heineman (bassoon)
Steven Wilson (bassoon)
Laurel Bennert Ohlson (horn)
Audrey Andrist (piano)

Recording details
George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia, 24 October 2006, 22 October 2007; Dekelboum Concert Hall, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, 15 April 2009, 28 September 2016, 17 October 2016. 

Gramophone Magazine reviews T.Harris' "A Warm Day in Winter"

Author:

Richard Whitehouse

Naxos’s American Classics series turns to Truman Harris (b1945), his tenures as bassoonist in Washington’s National Symphony and Eclipse Chamber orchestras explaining why woodwind features prominently across his output – with the present disc a representative selection.

His fluency is well demonstrated in both the vignettes of Aulos Triptych and the laconicism of the Double Bassoon Sonata, both of which should appeal to musicians who find themselves participating in such unusual combinations. Of the works for wind quintet, Rosemoor Suite offers five evocations of neighbourhood environs, by turns winsome and engaging, not least in the pithy theme-and-variations of ‘Fantasia’ or the lively imagery conjured up by ‘Silent Movie’. If these inhabit the urbane neoclassicism of Françaix, the six briefer miniatures of Flowers seem closer to Poulenc in their graceful contours enlivened by harmonic piquancy.

More substantial fare is provided by the two concertinos. That for horn follows its muscular opening Allegro with an ‘Arias and Recitatives’ whose incremental revealing of unexpected depths is thrown into relief by the droll closing Rondo. The Concertino for flute follows a similar trajectory – its wistful Andante as deftly complemented by the elegant opening Allegro as by the perky closing Allegretto with its affectionate homage to the French woodwind tradition.

The concerttinos receive admirable performances by Laurel Bennert Ohlson and Alice Kogan Weinreb, while all the other players confirm the respect and regard in which Harris is held. Indeed, the appeal of this music to wind musicians everywhere can hardly be doubted.

Texas Classical Review on Orli Shaham and the DSO

Guest conductor David Robertson presented a thought-provoking and ultimately thrilling all-twentieth-century program with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Meyerson Symphony Center Thursday night. The orchestra and guest pianist Orli Shaham rose to impressive heights, and Robertson’s command of the forces at hand, the structure of the music, and the acoustical properties of the room was evident.

...

Between the two Stravinsky works, pianist Shaham joined the orchestra for Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, “The Age of Anxiety.” Named for W.H. Auden’s long, soul-searching poem of 1947, the work — also arriving with its young composer on the brink of stardom — contains almost a surplus of musical riches, with an innovative structure and an array of musical forms ranging from tone rows to jazz.

The opening movement uses that most obvious and, for audiences, understandable structural device, a set of variations, but cloaks the variations in deliberate obscurity. The second movement storms, rages, and mourns, with a long side journey into a jazz district. The orchestration as a whole is quite Stravinskian, with equal attention from Bernstein to beautiful sounds and striking effects. The composer ten years later of West Side Story is much in evidence here, though one couldn’t help wishing he had been more concise in this earlier work.

As always with Bernstein, the listener can sense the composer’s ego and presence in the music; Bernstein himself admitted that the symphony’s piano part was “autobiographical.” Shaham maneuvered skillfully through the maze of styles and technical issues: one variation a simple, long scale for piano; others relentlessly repetitive; some sections almost Chopinesque.

Shaham and Robertson, with help from a flawless orchestral performance, created the sense of a musical event — if not a masterpiece, at least a brave work by an emerging musical genius. Flanked by Stravinsky, the Bernstein symphony as heard on Thursday proclaimed the richness of classical music’s sometimes maligned 20th Century.

Read the whole review at this link.

LA Opus reviews Defiant Requiem with the Pacific Symphony

Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín, with the PSO

REVIEW

Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa
DAVID J BROWN

To quote directly from the history of The Defiant Requiem on its website
“The story ofDefiant Requiem began in Minneapolis, MN in the mid-1990s when noted conductor and educator Murry Sidlin, then on the faculty of the University of Minnesota, happened upon a book entitled Music in Terezín, 1941-1945 by Joža Karas. The book was stacked among many others in a sidewalk sale of used and out-of-print titles, and Maestro Sidlin opened to a short chapter about a man named Rafael Schächter.”

The rest, one might say, is history, and in more ways than one. The passage of time inevitably imposes distance between past events and the present, and brings with it the dangers of blurring, distortion, misinterpretation and, worst of all, denial of those events. However, it also can bring understanding, remembrance, honoring, and perhaps most important when those events were monstrous, a sustained determination that they should never again be emulated or repeated.

Terezín, or Theresienstadt, was a concentration camp established by the Nazis in 1941 as a holding-place for Jews before being sent on to their murders at Auschwitz and elsewhere. But it was also conceived as a propaganda tool, a seemingly self-governed Jewish community supposedly run on humane lines, where education and cultural activities were encouraged. Music was a particular focus of activity at Terezín as many Jewish composers and performers were interned there, among them the young Czech composer, pianist and conductor, Rafael Schächter.

It was the series of no fewer than 16 performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, composed 1868-1873, under Schächter’s direction at Terezín between 1942-1944 that caught Maestro Sidlin’s imagination and eventually altered the course of his life, leading him first to learn more about Schächter and the performances, then to seek out survivors’ eye-witness testimony, and finally to create the multi-media “concert-drama” Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín, first performed in 2002, which reached the Segerstrom Concert Hall this month.

Sidlin’s dramatic concept successfully walks the fine line between being true to the great masterpiece that so inspired Schächter by performing it complete, and surrounding it with visual and aural connective tissue that vividly tells the nature and circumstances of those performances three-quarters of a century ago. In addition, by the end the whole experience delivers a sledgehammer emotional impact quite aside from that of Verdi's music per se.

Video recordings of three surviving Terezín chorus-members, Edgar Krasa, Vera Schiff and Marianka Zadikow-May, projected on the big screen above the Pacific Chorale and the PSO, opened the evening and appeared later between some of the Requiem’s movements. After the first video, concertmaster Dennis Kim played part of the great Chaconne from Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin BWV 1004, and this led in to Maestro Sidlin’s scene-setting introduction from the rostrum.

A collage of sounds followed, representing Terezín’s teeming musical activity, to be suddenly broken off by a piercing whistle, and then the opening of the first movement, Requiem aeternam, on muted strings, with the chorus sotto voce. Sidlin drew this to a halt at measure 56 of the score, and picked up the microphone to speak again about Schächter’s character and charisma, his drive, and his motivation in mounting the work. From this point on, actors John Rubinstein and David Prather—playing, respectively, Schächter himself and a commenting “Lecturer” on spotlit podia set back left and right in the orchestra—added dramatic intensification to the documentary aspect.

All Schächter had to work with was a single vocal score of the Requiem, and the use of a damaged piano in the basement of the men’s barracks housing where he rehearsed, teaching the work by rote to his 150 singers. One of the most telling features of Sidlin’s concept was, from this point on, to introduce and conclude each section of the Requiem with just a piano playing the accompaniment, the orchestra being cued a few measures in and then giving way again to the piano shortly before the end of the movement.

Read the entire review at this link.

TransCentury Communications reviews Bond's "Instruments of Revelation" CD

THE ONCE AND FUTURE MODERNISTS

The Chicago area is something of a hotbed of modern classical music: a new Naxos CD of chamber works by Victoria Bond shows this clearly, with first-rate performances by Chicago Symphony members playing as Chicago Pro Musica. Actually, only two works on the disc were recorded in Chicago; the other two were done in New York – and the recording dates range from 2012 to 2016. But wherever and whenever the recordings were made, they clearly show Bond’s style and her approach to chamber-sized ensembles. Bond is nearly a decade younger than Glass – she was born in 1945, he in 1937 – and stylistically very different, but her style is quite as fully formed as his, if not so immediately distinctive. Like the Skidmore piece on the Glass-focused release, one of the works here is in seven sections: Frescoes and Ash (2009) uses clarinet, strings, piano and percussion – in varying combinations – to paint musical portraits of the ancient city of Pompeii, its doom by volcanic eruption, and (to a lesser extent) its place in the modern world. The work, which is about the same length as Glass’ Perpetulum, has an intriguing final movement called “Ash” that Bond turns into a meditation on human mortality. This works particularly well because Bond is essentially a tonal composer, so her works can and do evoke emotional responses effectively. She is also skilled in managing the sounds of this small instrumental complement, whether in the virtuoso requirements of “The Sybil Speaks” or in the intriguing violin-and-bass duet in “Chiron Teaches Achilles to Play the Lyre” – a case in which the instruments particularly neatly encapsulate the characters. Just as substantive as her Pompeii pictures is Bond’s Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming (2011), a song cycle for tenor (Rufus Müller) and piano (Jenny Lin) based on James Joyce’s Ulysses. Bond handles the voice and piano parts well, and the performers do a good job with the material, but the stream-of-consciousness text becomes rather wearing to hear after a while, and the cycle coms to seem overly long, if not quite interminable. More successful, and not just because it is shorter, is Instruments of Revelation (2010), a three-movement set for winds, strings and piano based on three Tarot cards: “The Magician,” whose meaning of ambiguity is neatly encapsulated through quick juxtapositions of solemnity with verve; “The High Priestess,” representing wisdom and secrets, with music that starts calmly enough but then becomes impassioned; and “The Fool,” both mystic and lunatic, with music that appropriately contrasts chaotic elements with amusing ones. Here and in the Pompeii miniatures, Bond shows her skill in short-form portrayals: musical visualizations neatly captured. The CD concludes withBinary (2005), a work for piano solo (Olga Vinokur) whose bright liveliness, based on the Brazilian samba, ends the disc pleasantly.

If Bond stays firmly, or at least moderately firmly, in a tonal universe, Kinan Azmeh sticks to one in which sounds of different cultures are paramount and tonality, although often present, is largely incidental…

CVNA reviews Bond's "Clara" in Baden-Baden

In Bond’s Clara, An Artist Is Seen Becoming Herself

By Susan Brodie

BADEN-BADEN – Clara Schumann’s early 200th-birthday present was a new chamber opera about her life, premiered on April 14 at the Osterfestspiele in Baden-Baden, where the brilliant musician, best known as the wife of Robert Schumann, spent some of her most productive years. Victoria Bond’s new opera Clara, on a libretto by Barbara Zinn Krieger, portrays the life of a brilliant but too-little-known artist who “had it all” in an era when a woman was expected to serve the man in her life at the expense of her own needs and ambitions.

Bond’s opera emphasizes Clara’s inner life and the conflicts of a woman struggling to balance the demands of those who depend on her against her rising consciousness of her own needs. For the young production team – director Carmen C. KruseEleni C. Konstantatou, sets and costumes, and Rebekka Meyer, dramaturgy – Clara’s musicianship is secondary: With no piano on stage, we never see anyone playing or composing music. Clara exists in relation to the three main men in her life – her father, Robert, and Brahms – as she matures out of docile acceptance of their expectations to recognizing and claiming the legitimacy of her artistic and personal worth.

The stage held a seven-panel glass structure that rotated around a platform, furnished with a rock, a few birch trees, and sand, rather like a large twelve-sided terrarium with missing panels. Lighting turned the glass transparent or reflective, and the position in rotation gave the impression of greater or lesser intimacy. Before each scene, a pantomime at the back of the stage (largely obscured from my view by set elements) introduced the theme of the following sequence. Over ten scenes (plus prologue and epilogue), as Clara works out the meaning of her life, she becomes more voluble and has more and more to sing.

The music is largely tonal and makes extensive use of themes evoking music by Schumann or Brahms (and, I presume, Clara herself), often quoting it directly. As the drama intensifies, the familiar material is transformed into something more dissonant, with harsh instrumental writing and insistent repetition, a device that also suggests Robert’s obsessions and growing sense of persecution. Clara’s inner monologues often use a chant-like style reminiscent of Poulenc, while her outward-looking solos and duets are more melodic. The final scene, wherein the recently widowed Clara calmly vows to dedicate her life to bringing Robert’s work to the world, is based on themes from Frauenliebe und -leben, the song cycle Robert wrote the year the couple married.

Seven young artists from music schools in the Baden-Württenburg district filled the eight roles plus chorus parts. As Clara, the winsome soprano Theresa Immerz tackled the substantial role with sweet lyricism, sparkling high notes, and clear diction. Baritone Johannes Fritsche conveyed the ardor and unease of Robert, while Pascal Zurek was persuasive as Clara’s loving but irascible father. Tenor Patrik Hornak was notable in the relatively short role of Brahms. Occasionally musical climaxes pushed the young singers to their vocal limits; I hope the work can one day be staged with more seasoned artists better equipped for the big moments.

Conductor Michael Hasel (flute player in the Berlin Philharmonic) brought out the romantic sweep of the piece. The twelve-member ensemble of apprentice musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic’s Karajan Academy gave the impression of a larger orchestra, thanks in part to winds and horns that provided the colors of a romantic orchestra. Lilli LorenzHolger Stolz, and young Kaylee Austin were the poised actors who added subtext to the drama.

After three performances during the 2019 Easter Festival, Clara will have eight more performances at Theater Baden-Baden in the original version with piano trio May 10-June 15. For information go here.

Read the entire article at this link.

LA Times features Defiant Requiem: 'Nazi prisoners found humanity in music'

‘Defiant Requiem’: Nazi prisoners found humanity in music. This concert keeps the message alive

By SUSAN KING

APR 10, 2019

Among the estimated 140,000 Jews who passed through the Nazi ghetto and concentration camp in the Czech town of Terezin was conductor and composer Rafael Schachter, founder of the Prague Chamber Opera.

After Schachter was arrested in 1941 and sent to Terezin, about 30 miles north of Prague, he smuggled in one copy of Verdi’s Requiem, an 1874 composition for Catholic funerals. He taught it to a chorus of 150 — artists, scholars and others who staged concerts of opera, contemporary music and chamber music at Terezin. There even was a small jazz band called the Ghetto Swingers.

Schachter’s singers, accompanied by a pianist, went on to perform Verdi’s Requiem 16 times. The chrous shrank over the years, as members were sent to death camps. By the time they were forced to perform in 1944 as the agitprop of SS officials hosting a delegation from the International Red Cross, Schachter’s group had only 60 members.

The prisoners at Terezin were "starving, ill, living in terror, freezing,” and yet they mustered the energy to gather in a basement and rehearse because “they wanted to learn,” said conductor Murry Sidlin, creator of the concert “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin.”

The program combines a choral performance of Verdi’s Requiem with video testimony from surviving members of the Terezin chorus, clips from a rare propaganda film shot by Germans in Terezin and a live performer portraying Schachter. “Defiant Requiem” has its Los Angeles and Orange County premieres with Sidlin conducting the Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale and Tony Award winner John Rubinstein (“Pippin”) playing Schachter; performances are Tuesday at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa and April 17 at Royce Hall at UCLA. The latter is presented by the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and the Defiant Requiem Foundation, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Sidlin founded in 2008.

Read the whole article at this link.

Jewish Journal features Defiant Requiem

‘Defiant Requiem’: They Sang to the Nazis What They Could Not Say

BY ROBERTO LOIEDERMAN | APR 16, 2019 

In 1943-44, at Terézin, a hybrid ghetto/concentration camp in the Czech Republic, 150 Jewish prisoners, led by a remarkable conductor, sang Verdi’s “Requiem” as a private act of defiance against the Nazis. 

Two separate performances of “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terézin,”— on April 16 at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa and on April 17 at UCLA’s Royce Hall — paid homage to those prisoners and to Rafael Schächter, the man who led the choir at Terézin, where the Nazis imprisoned many Jewish cultural figures, including classical musicians. 

“Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terézin,” which has been presented nearly 50 times around the world, performs Verdi’s Christian funeral mass in its entirety. The music is intercut with film clips, narration and taped testimonies from survivors. Much more than a concert or musical event, it’s a soul-wrenching testament to the power of maintaining one’s humanity in the most inhumane circumstances. 

In a phone interview with the Journal, Murry Sidlin, 78, who created, crafted and conducted “Defiant Requiem,” said that 25 years ago, when he was conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, he wandered past a table of used books. “I walked over and pulled a book from the middle. It was sticking out, almost beckoning me,” Sidlin said. “It was called ‘Music in Terézin.’”

The book, by Joža Karas, deals with music and the Holocaust. Sidlin was drawn to it because he is a noted orchestra conductor and music educator, and his grandmother was killed during the Holocaust.

“That book is about musicians at Terézin,” Sidler said. “I opened the book at random to a chapter called ‘Rafael Schächter.’ It said he had grown up in Romania and had excelled in music. In the last paragraph, it said that [at Terézin] he put together a volunteer choir of 150 singers and taught them Verdi’s “Requiem” by rote, because there was no score other than his own, and they performed it 16 times between September 1943 and June 1944.”

Read the whole feature at this link.

April 26: NY Phil musicians perform Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra benefit concert

April 26: NY Philharmonic musicians perform a benefit concert for Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra in a homey setting

WHCO presents an evening with violinist Anna Rabinova, cellist Ru-Pei Yeh and pianist Steven Beck at The Lounge in Washington Heights

The Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra is proud to present an intimate evening with highly acclaimed musicians of the New York Philharmonic. The program on Friday, April 26 at 8:00 pm features violinist Anna Rabinova, cellist Ru-Pei Yeh and pianist Steven Beck in a program of classics by Beethoven and Brahms, and Paul Schoenfield's whimsical Cafe Music. 

The evening includes drinks and hors d'oeuvres, and an opportunity to meet the performers and Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra musicians. The event is a fundraiser for WHCO, which has been bringing free high-quality orchestra performances to upper Manhattan audiences for the past four seasons.

The venue is the intimate setting of The Lounge at historic Hudson View Gardens, 128 Pinehurst Avenue in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Tickets for this benefit event are $75, available for purchase at WashingtonHeightsOrchestra.org. Details and performer bios are available at the same link.

The Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra, founded in 2015 by conductor and music director Chris Whittaker, is a professional ensemble that presents free concerts to its Upper Manhattan community. Comprised of musicians from Upper Manhattan, the orchestra presents engaging concerts with a diverse repertoire; including favorite classical works, genre bending crossover pieces, and works by living composers. The WHCO strives to engage the people of Washington Heights and neighboring communities through exemplary musical performances and innovative educational programming. Learn more at WashingtonHeightsOrchestra.org

Hudson View Gardens, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the very first cooperative apartment complexes in New York. Situated on the highest natural point in Manhattan, it overlooks the Hudson River and the scenic palisades of New Jersey. HVG is known for its beautifully manicured gardens, tree-lined private lane and classic Tutor architecture.

The Lounge at HVG, a cozy space complete with a bar, library and fireplace, is host to events for residents of Hudson View Gardens and the public.

CALENDAR LISTING

April 26, 2019 at 8:00 pm

Benefit Concert for Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra featuring:

Anna Rabinova, Violin

Ru-Pei Yeh, Cello

Steven Beck, Piano

Program:

BeethovenKakadu Variations, Op. 121a

Elliott CarterEpigrams

Brahms: Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101

SchoenfieldCafé Music

The Lounge at Hudson View Gardens

128 Pinehurst Avenue at West 183rd Street in Manhattan

Tickets: $75, available at WashingtonHeightsOrchestra.org

Directions: Take the A train or #1 train to 181st St or the M4 bus to 183rd St.

National Sawdust Log profiles composer Jeremy Gill

Jeremy Gill: 
Whitman, Pascal, and 
Varieties of Variations

Words: Christian Carey
Images: Arielle Doneson

While Jeremy Gill is best known as a prolific composer, he is a musician who wears many hats. An accomplished pianist, active conductor, and lecturer, Gill is a staunch advocate for new music in all of these contexts. Born in Pennsylvania and currently based in New York City, he has strong connections to Boston and the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, as well.

Several recordings of Gill’s work have been released. His first chamber music disc for Albany dates all the way back to 2008; the label also released Book of Hours/Helian in 2011. More recently, Boston Modern Orchestra Project released a portrait disc of Gill’s orchestral music, and the Parker Quartet documented his hour-long Capriccio for Innova.

While there is a some vocal music on the BMOP CD, more of Gill’s vocal music is yet to be committed to disc. An upcoming portrait concert at National Sawdust, on April 7 at 7pm, affords its audience the opportunity to hear this compelling side of the composer’s output. The program sets two significant vocal works alongside pieces for chamber forces. Variant 6, a mixed vocal sextet, performs Gill’s Six Pensées de Pascal and, in celebration of the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birth, the composer’s Whitman Portrait.

Also featured on the program are a formidable Duo for Violin and Piano and the premiere of Lascia fare mi, a duo for two violins. In a recent conversation, Gill discussed his upcoming activities.

NATIONAL SAWDUST LOG: What inspired you to set Walt Whitman’s poetry? How did you come to work with Variant 6?

JEREMY GILL: If I had to pick a single favorite American poet it would be Whitman. I wanted to set his poetry for many years, but I always ran into trouble when I tried. Whitman is so expansive and all-inclusive that I never felt I could adequately address his breadth via a single singer, say—his poetic persona is too multi-faceted, and his attempts to encapsulate the whole of what he understood to be the American experience too wide-ranging.

However, when I was a fellow with American Opera Projects’ Composers & the Voice program, I was tasked with composing one song for each of AOP’s six resident singers, and these ran the gamut from bass-baritone through high coloratura soprano. This wealth of vocal personalities allowed me to explore Whitman’s many faces, moods, and proclivities.

Read the entire article at this link.

New York Amsterdam News previews Port Mande at National Sawdust

Duo Port Mande uses music to bring many worlds together

by Nadine Matthews 

Although both clarinetist Mark Dover and pianist Jeremy Jordan in the past lived in Los Angeles, it took moving to New York City for them to meet. The move for each was serendipitous, as it allowed them the opportunity to meet and collaborate. Explains Jordan, “New York is big but everything is easy to get to unlike say, Los Angeles, where the city is a geographic sprawl. Because of that, different little sects and pockets form. In New York, you can get on the train and experience whatever you want to.” The opportunities to travel from their Inwood Manhattan and Astoria Queens neighborhoods gave Dover and Jordan a chance to develop a collaboration borne of a similar vision of the world.

The duo’s name, Port Mande, is their take on the French word portmanteau which is the combining of multiple other words. Jordan elaborates, “We’re encouraging the breaking down of boundaries in music and the breaking down of boundaries as a whole.” He points to a lack of communication and collaboration in the music community that he would like to see disappear. “Jazz musicians don’t interact with gospel musicians who don’t interact with classical musicians, who don’t interact with orchestral classical musicians, who don’t interact with Broadway musicians. Music is not supposed to be about that. It’s supposed to be about collaboration.”

Jordan and Dover’s experiences as musicians had a much more interactive, diverse flavor. Recalls Dover of their early New York years, “There was kind of like a collective of musicians that were coming mostly out of the Juilliard School and a little bit out of Manhattan School of Music. They would put together these like cabarets almost, and it would be in some apartment in Brooklyn or Inwood, or a warehouse. There would be shows where it would be classical musicians coming together, jazz musicians, hip-hop artists, stand up comedians—kind of like a variety show.”

Their collaboration, which the public will be able to enjoy this April 6 in concert at National Sawdust in Williamsburg, is marked by each of the musicians’ extensive experience and broad musical tastes. The duo will be joined by a host of guest artists for a program that ranges from 21st century classical, to jazz, to hip-hop. Selections include original and traditional works, music by Schumann and Ragonese, and more.

They’ve both worked in jazz, hip-hop, classical, pop and gospel. Michigan native Dover grew up on the Motown sound. “I grew up,” he says, “listening to Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves. I think naturally that drifted into 90s R&B and hip-hop.” Jordan, who hails from Chicago and began playing piano as a toddler, was heavily exposed to gospel as a child. “Both of my parents were music ministers at different churches. I guess in a way they were like Bach, modern day choristers.”

As to what he wants audiences to take away from hearing them, Dover says, “We want to show people that this music that we all celebrate is actually more similar than it is different. And that our real joy and love for all types of music can be combined into something unique that respects the individual genres, but also celebrates them.” For Jordan, it’s also about shifting the perspective of the audience’s experience. “There’s now this invisible curtain between the audience and the musicians. We want the audience to feel they’re as much a part of it as we are. Before recording music, people could only hear music by making it themselves or going somewhere to hear it.”

Jeremy Gill interviewed by David Osenberg on WWFM The Classical Network

On Tuesday April 2, 2019 composer Jeremy Gill spoke with David Osenberg of WWFM about his recent compositions, including Six Pensées de Pascal and Whitman Portrait, both of which will be performed in his composer’s portrait concert at National Sawdust on April 7.

Listen to the interview at this link.

Complete details about Jeremy Gill’s portrait concert at National Sawdust at this link.

Insider Interview: Assaff Weisman of Israeli Chamber Project

On Tuesday, April 16 at 7:30 pm, the acclaimed Israeli Chamber Project returns to the Baruch Performing Arts Center with works including Mozart/Andre's Clarinet Quartet in E-Flat Major, Bartok's Contrasts, Brahms' Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60, and more. In this Insider Interview we spoke to ICP pianist Assaff Weisman about programming choices, performing at BPAC, and more.

Classical Music Communications - In an ensemble with a modular instrumentation, how do you go about choosing programs for individual concerts, tours, etc.?

Assaff Weisman - This is a pretty intricate ballet, as you might imagine, and requires balancing artistic and aesthetic goals with quite a bit of logistics. In each of our programs we try to weave together different works that have a common thread running through them, in a way that might reveal something about the program as a whole. Our three New York programs this season are good examples of this. We opened with a look at Debussy and his influence on French music in the years following his passing. Coming up this month is a program of homages, and we conclude the season with a tribute to several Jewish composers, each from a very different background. Our clarinetist and Artistic Director, Tibi Cziger, takes repertoire input from the members of the ensemble but he is ultimately responsible for programming decisions. The logistics challenges come into play when he have to consider which of our very busy musicians are available for any given program. This determines the instrumentation available, which is where things get complicated. Luckily, we built the ensemble with this kind of flexibility in mind, so have been able to make it work with some creative thinking.

CMC - What inspired you to choose the repertoire for this “Homages” tour?

AW - One of the recurring themes in our programming is the question of musical influence. What influences a composer's language or serves as inspiration - in a specific work, or in their overall style - is a fascinating topic that we have enjoyed exploring. This program of homages enables us to examine this question through the work of four composers with whom we feel a special bond. Each of these homages came to be through very different circumstances. Bartok's Contrasts pay homage to his native Hungary's folk music and to American jazz by way of the two musicians who commissioned the work - Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti and jazz great Benny Goodman. Brahms' C minor Piano Quartet, has its roots in both Beethoven and Goethe and can be seen as a personal letter to his the composer's unattainable muse, Clara Schumann. And there are equally interesting threads in the Mozart and Leef.

CMC - What is it about the Leef piece that attracts you to it? 

AW -  We have performed Yinam Leef’s Triptych several times over the years and think it's a fantastic piece! It evokes a Middle Eastern flavor, especially in the rhapsodic second movement, with its cantorial viola solos, but still retains a strong, clear structure, with all the instruments beautifully balanced. The three movements are quite varied in character, making for great contrast, but the whole work still feels as though cut from one cloth. The rather unusual instrumentation: string trio, piano, and clarinet fits our ensemble to a T.

CMC - What do you like about the Baruch Performing Arts Center and what does this venue mean to the ensemble?

AW - This will be our third season at BPAC, and we are feeling quite at home at Engelman Hall. From Director Ted Altschuler to the backstage crew, everyone does their part to put the music at the center and allow it to shine. We appreciate this so much, and it seems that the audience does, too! We are very much looking forward to being back on that stage.