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Insider Interview: Ted Altschuler, Director of BPAC

 

Insider Interview with Ted Altschuler, Director of the Baruch Performing Arts Center

What’s the process for programming a season at BPAC?  How do you develop a theme or unifying concept?

We feature New York as well as international artists, presenting a season that is diverse in artistic genre, national origin of the art and artist, and subject matter. We present only artists whose work I have experienced live.  I am particularly interested in a confluence of genres – whether that means multiple arts disciplines, arts and humanities, or arts and sciences.  We emphasize programs combining arts and social justice.  As a venue located at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, we echo the university’s ethos of inclusion and accessibility.  Our students come from over 100 different countries!  I don’t tend to decide on a more specific theme beforehand, but as the season takes shape, one emerges. The 2019-20 tagline is: Imagination. Depth. Diversity. 

You have a doctorate in neuroscience and decades of experience as an opera and theatre director.  How does your unusual background inform your programming decisions?

I spent many years directing plays and opera and teaching at The Juilliard School because I am interested in the creative process.  When I really connect with artists, it is most often about artistic practice and values. There are easily 50 cellists whose playing might be thought of as excellent. I’m interested in what values they bring to the work, the extended narrative of their work over time, what composers they are drawn to, how they connect with the music, fellow artists and audience, does their practice include intense collaboration, site-specific work, do they improvise, do they compose – how they achieve the qualities we see in the finished product? As someone who makes work, I am intensely aware of the creative and practical resources required.  At BPAC, we don’t just “book” artists, we host residencies for choreographers, composers, playwrights and other artists, providing time and space to make work.  This helps cushion the financial risk, and since the creation of the work is happening here, creative process can be another point of entry for BPAC patrons and Baruch students.  While some people love the performance, others get into what goes on behind the scenes. 

I got interested in neuroscience via my work with performers. Cognitive neuroscience looks at the physiological sources of our emotions and behaviours - how we pay attention, remember, use our senses – these are processes we all engage in, but actors consciously exploit them. My experimental studies looked at what the brain contributes to the information that our eyes collect from our world to produce the experience of seeing - something that is really a creative act. 

Science, like art, observes the world, playing with something in it to understand it better. Cognitive science has made me keenly observant of human behaviour; it has given me a rigor in how I direct an artistic organization and, has made me a better story teller.  The data that results from an experiment is really not of value until it is embedded in narrative.  It is story that attaches outcomes to what is known so far and says why they are significant.

How do you discover the artists that you consider for a season?  How do you get to know these performers if you have not already experienced their work?

I’m a voracious consumer of live performing arts.  It’s my pleasure, as well as my job. Living in New York City certainly doesn’t hurt, although I see performances pretty much anywhere I travel.  As more arts patrons have gotten to know BPAC’s great 25th Street location - its intimately scaled concert hall with superb acoustics, its beautiful black box theatre - and as our programs have become generally more visible in the performing arts landscape, colleagues, artists, and artists’ managers have come to me with great frequency about their ideas for collaborations. I get to know artists’ work over time by experiencing it myself and talking to them. Then logistics like time and budget come into play and if that works for everyone, we have lift-off! 

What kind of balance do you strive for, with regard to artists making their BPAC series debut vs. returning artists?  

I hope that around 1/3 of our artists or artist pairings in any given year are new to BPAC.  Sometimes they are completely new, for instance this year we will present Clarion and Daedalus Quartets for the first time, but we are also bringing back pianist Michael Brown.  Instead of a solo recital, he will perform with his frequent collaborator, cellist Nicholas Canellakis. We have also invited back the fabulous modernist pianist Guy Livingston, he will perform with soprano Rayanne Dupuis who is well known internationally, but will make her New York debut at BPAC premiering songs by William Bolcom! I’m very excited that BPAC is the venue where New Yorkers can first hear his “Poèmes libres de droits” written for Guy and Rayanne.

New York is a world capital when it comes to the performing arts.  What are the special aspects of BPAC that bring audiences to your events?  What is unique about BPAC and its offerings?

What is unique about BPAC, and a real asset to New York when it comes to chamber music, is our Rosalyn and Irwin Engelman Recital Hall. At a capacity of 175 seats, it is truly a chamber setting in which to appreciate soloists and small ensembles.  Its acoustics are among the best in the city.

BPAC prioritizes intimately scaled performances. This is the third year in which we will co-present Heartbeat Opera, whose aesthetic is intentionally scaled down – they are what off- Broadway is to Broadway. They take the grandiosity out of opera, leaving what is truly grand – focused story-telling, compelling characters, and an impeccably played and sung score that has been re-orchestrated so as to hear the music anew in a way that fits a 200-seat theatre.

There are some ways in which I’m pleased not to be unique.  I would say that the quality of the artists we present are on par with the musicians you can and do hear at Alice Tully Hall or Jazz at Lincoln Center, the dancers you see at the Joyce, the performances that you see at New York Theater Workshop or the Metropolitan Museum.

We are in a great neighbourhood - 25th Street between 3rd & Lexington Aves borders Gramercy, Kips Bay and No Mad – the area now known as Flatiron, due to its proximity to the Flatiron building on 23rd & 5th.  There are so many good places to eat nearby – Eataly, the Freehand Hotel, all the fantastic Indian spots in Curry Hill.  Madison Square Park is a lovely urban refuge just two blocks away on Madison and 25th.  

Last, but certainly not least, in this pricey cultural capital, we have affordable tickets.  For every event in our season, there are tickets available for $35 and often for less, and student tickets for $15 and sometimes less.

What programs on the ‘19-20 season stand out for you as highlights?

I’m not supposed to play favorites, but in each program genres I’ll draw your attention to:

THEATRE

Terra Firma – WORLD PREMIERE -   Sep 27 – Nov 10.

In a Brechtian future, a tiny kingdom is created. This play wrestles with what makes a citizen, a country and a civilization.  Inspired by real events in which an army major claimed an abandoned concrete platform in international waters as his own sovereign nation.  Featuring Andrus Nichols (Sense & Sensibility) “I’m beginning to think she can do anything.” – Ben Brantley, NY Times.   

CHAMBER MUSIC

Daedalus Quartet – Music from Exile w/ NY PREMIERE of Babel - Nov 22

This “exceptionally refined young ensemble with a translucent sound.” – The New Yorker makes a sonic exploration of the response to repression and exile.  The program includes the defiantly joyful third string quartet of Viktor Ullman, written in Theresienstadt in 1943. The NY Premiere of Babel by Gabriel Bolaños, whose family fled Nicaragua. The piece uses the sound of string instruments to explore the variety of human language, revealing both cultural differences and our fundamental similarity. Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s monumental piano quintet, composed in Moscow after his escape from the Nazi invasion of Poland, closes the program in celebration of his centenary

OPERA

dwb (driving while black) NY PREMIERE  - March 19 – 21

“Singers are storytellers,” says soprano/librettist Roberta Gumbel (“silver voiced…” – The New York Times), “but rarely do we get the opportunity to help create the stories we are telling.” Collaborating with Susan Kander (“A composer of vivid imagination and skill.” – Fanfare) and the cutting-edge cello/percussion duo New Morse Code,  this brief, powerful music-drama documents the all-too-familiar story of an African-American parent whose “beautiful brown boy” approaches driving age as, what should be a celebration of independence and maturity is fraught with the anxiety of “driving while black.” 

DANCE

Foray WORLD PREMIERE - March 26 – 28

The first evening-length solo concert in five years by this very-in-demand Lincoln Center Institute choreographer.  Set to an array of classical/contemporary music remixes, this marks the debut of D2D/T, Mr. Latif’s artist collective. They present four original works made with collaborators from New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey, and American Ballet Theater.  

MULTI-DISCIPLANRY PERFORMANCE

Talea Ensemble – Love and Diversity US PREMIERE - April 2 - 4

Lying somewhere between music and theater, this work is by Manos Tsangaris, never before seen in the U.S.  The audience begins in a social setting filling out a questionnaire about, art, love, and friendship. They enter the performance in small groups, visiting several stations. At each sits a musician/actor.  In a sequence of interactions, the audience is immersed in the performance – first encountering each musician individually and, finally, experiencing the piece as a whole. This exemplifies Talea's mission to champion musical creativity and cultivate curious listeners and is why they are hailed “A crucial part of the New York cultural ecosphere”- New York Times

TransCentury Communications reviews Mozart Concertos

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 17 and 24. Orli Shaham, piano; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson. Canary Classics. $16.

There are endless ways to interpret Mozart, endless reasons for doing so, and endless explanations of why one interpretation or another “works” or does not. The reality is that all interpretations “work” if they interest, intrigue, move, engage, attract the audience; in that sense, whether they are academically correct, historically informed, careful to play what the composer expected to hear or more concerned with being heard in a modern setting by contemporary audiences, is largely irrelevant to their “rightness.” This is important to remember at a time when ongoing arguments about piano type, orchestra size, recording venue and more seem never-ending when it comes to music from before the 20th century (and even some from the 20th century). Mozart’s music, like Bach’s, communicates effectively, often brilliantly, whether or not played in the way Mozart played it himself or expected others to play it. Academics can argue whatever points they will, but what ultimately matters is whether performers have something valuable to say, to communicate to listeners, and have found an effective way of bringing it forth.

What is striking about the Orli Shaham/David Robertson collaboration in two well-known Mozart piano concertos, on the Canary Classics label, is how well it communicates feelings and expressions that seem “Mozartean” even though there is nothing historically accurate about the recording at all. The orchestra is too large for Mozart’s time, the piano far too big and resonant, the cadenzas not at all in Mozart’s style (especially in the first movement of Concerto No. 24), and Shaham’s playing is far too focused on the emotionally expressive passages of the music – not only in the enormously powerful No. 24 but also in the slow movement of No. 17. Purists will not care for what Shaham and Robertson have done here, although they will (or at least should) appreciate the consistency of these interpretations and the excellent support that the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra accords Shaham. But as a reaching-out CD, as a deeply felt production that connects beautifully and meaningfully with an audience 230-plus years after these concertos were written, the recording is absolutely first-rate.

Shaham and Robertson clearly have deep feelings for Mozart that they know how to translate into feelings to be shared with an at-home audience. It is extraordinarily difficult to listen to this recording without giving it full attention: it insists that what it has to say is more important than anything else that may be in a listener’s environment while the disc plays. This is by no means always the case with recorded music, or even with recorded Mozart, which can descend into mere prettiness without the counterbalancing pathos that is one of the signposts of Mozart’s genius. It would be facile and rather silly to say that Shaham and Robertson “channel” Mozart; better to say that they understand Mozart with a thoroughness that allows his music to flow through them and through these performances in a way that connects directly with an audience that, objectively, is immeasurably different from any for which Mozart wrote or could have written. The way Shaham shapes each individual variation of the finale of Concerto No. 17, the considerable drama of the coda of that movement, the unbridled intensity Shaham insists on presenting from the start of Concerto No. 24, the almost unbearable heights to which she takes that intensity in the finale of the latter concerto – these and many other touches illuminate aspects of Mozart that have always been there in the score (and of which, to be sure, other performers have also been cognizant), but that Shaham and Robertson connect with tremendous skill in performances that are fully and beautifully integrated from start to finish. This is not “correct” Mozart in the historical sense, but it is hard to escape the feeling that it is very much correct in its effects, its meaning, and its emotional impact. The ultimate test of performances for most listeners is not whether they are historically accurate but whether they are convincing – and these certainly are.

TransCentury Communications reviews "A Warm Day in Winter"

Truman Harris: Concertino for Horn and Chamber Orchestra; Concertino for Flute and Chamber Orchestra; Rosemoor Suite; Aulos Triptych; Flowers; Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano. Alice Kogan Weinreb, Aaran Goldman, Carole Bean, Leah Arsenault Barrick, flutes; Nicholas Stovall, oboe; Paul Cigan, clarinet; Truman Harris, Sue Heineman, Steven Wilson, bassoons; Laurel Bennert Ohlson, horn; Audrey Andrist, piano; Eclipse Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sylvia Alimena. Naxos. $12.99.

There is a somewhat unfair perception that many contemporary composers care more about impressing other composers and/or performers of their music than about reaching out to a wider audience. Like many behavioral generalizations, this notion has a grain of truth at its core in some cases but is a vast overstatement when applied to all cases. Indeed, there are composers such as Truman Harris (born 1945) who, while clearly interested in creating music that will appeal strongly to performers, are also hoping that an audience of non-performers will find the works worth hearing even if the listeners do not realize just what goes into the playing. All six Harris works on a new Naxos CD are interestingly scored and written to intrigue and challenge the performers – indeed, the players on the disc are the ones for whom Harris wrote the pieces. But all the works also have much to recommend them simply as music and, on that basis, will appeal to listeners who enjoy woodwinds (which dominate these pieces) and are open to hearing some unusual instrumental combinations.

Harris’ music has something of pastiche about it, with noticeable (that is, audible) influences both from classical composers (Stravinsky, Poulenc and others) and from popular music (ragtime, tango, etc.). This music generally lies quite well on the wind instruments, which is scarcely surprising in light of Harris’ lengthy career as a bassoonist with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra (heard on this recording), and other ensembles. The string writing here is also fine, although piano parts, when that instrument is used, are rather pedestrian. The longest and most expansive pieces here have the most conventional scoring. They are the two concertinos, for horn (2015) and flute (2003). Both offer the soloists plenty of opportunities to stand out within a traditional three-movement structure. In fact, despite their dates of composition, both these works could have been written decades earlier – and that is not a criticism but a measure of the skill with which Harris has absorbed earlier influences and put them to good use in producing well-balanced, intricate but eminently listenable music. Still, the four non-concertino pieces, although slighter than the concertinos, are more aurally interesting through their use of unusual instrumental combinations.

The five-movement Rosemoor Suite (2015) is for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon, with Harris himself playing the last of these instruments. The work pays direct homage to some of Harris’ musical inspirations by including a Charleston and a “Silent Movie” movement that does indeed sound as if it could accompany a film from the pre-sound era. There is also an attractive, brief theme and variations here, called “Fantasia.” Even more engaging is Aulos Triptych (2015), for four flutes and piano – quite an ensemble! – whose three movements’ grace, reminiscent of Poulenc, is nicely expressive of the titles “Light and Color,” “Dreams of Fancy Places,” and “A Warm Day in Winter.” Harris has considerable skill as a miniaturist, as is clear not only in Aulos Triptych but also in Flowers (2006), whose six movements are very short indeed: the longest, “Tulips,” lasts less than 90 seconds. LikeRosemoor Suite, this work is for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon (Harris again). The daintiness and delicacy of Flowers are admirable and are effectively communicated. And then there is the fascinating Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano (2008), another work (like the concertinos) in the traditional three movements, but one whose sound is decidedly unusual. The piano’s three chords in “Until Three [o’clock]” are its most noticeable contribution here, with the bassoons weaving a lovely sonic tapestry in “Moon in the Water” before cutting loose in a jazzy, waltzing rondo finale in which Harris does not perform, perhaps preferring in this instance to sit back in the role of composer and delight in the many moods of which he knows his instrument to be capable. Even though the bassoon is often relegated to a kind of comic role, Harris knows that it, and the other instruments for which he writes, have a far greater expressive capability – and one that does not require the sorts of artificial “extensions of range” that engage many contemporary composers but few contemporary audiences.

WFMT's New Releases with Lisa Flynn features "A Warm Day in Winter"

The chamber music of contemporary American composer Truman Harris is informed by his experience as an orchestral musician; it is idiomatic, exciting, and frequently cast for unusual combinations of instruments. One such example is the unique Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano, flavored with jazz, romance, and waltz-like elegance. Rosemoore Suite is a captivating story without words moving from nostalgia to vitality, and the two Concertinos explore rich lyricism and playful virtuosity. Vibrant colors and a sense of vivid fantasy suffuse the radiant Aulos Triptych. The Eclipse Chamber Orchestra is well-known for its exceptional performances and diverse repertoire. Founded in 1992, and comprised of 22 members of the National Symphony Orchestra, the membership also represents a convergence of instrumentalists from chamber ensembles based in Washington, D.C.

Insider Interview: Organist Christopher Houlihan

In the fall of 2019, organist Christopher Houlihan performs Joseph Jongen’s Symphonie Concertante with both the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (Sept. 27 & 29, as part of the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival) and the St. Ann Festival Orchestra (Oct. 1) in Washington D.C. In this Insider Interview we spoke to Mr. Houlihan about the composer Joseph Jongen and what makes his Symphonie Concertante so special.

Tell me about the composer and organist Joseph Jongen.

Jongen was an organist, composer, and educator. Living from 1873–1953, he is considered, along with César Franck, one of Belgium’s most important composers. His music might be best described as late-romantic, certainly under the influence of his compatriot Franck, and tinged with hints of Strauss (with whom he briefly studied), Fauré, and Debussy. He is most well-known for his organ music, though he composed extensively for orchestra and chamber ensembles as well.

How did his Symphonie Concertante come about?

The Symphonie Concertante was commissioned in 1926 by Rodman Wanamaker and was to be premiered at his eponymous department store in Philadelphia, home to the world’s largest fully functioning pipe organ. Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances, the premier was cancelled; the work was premiered in Brussels in 1928 and the first American performance took place at Carnegie Hall in 1935. (Yes! For many years of its history, Carnegie Hall was home to a very large pipe organ; sadly, no longer.)

Jongen titled his work “Symphonie Concertante.” This is a fairly uncommon title, especially for a 20th century work.

            A symphonie concertante is a kind of hybrid piece, typically defined as a work for orchestra featuring at least two soloists. The soloists frequently play a virtuosic role, but at times also weave into the larger orchestral fabric of the piece. In the baroque era this kind of work might have been called a concerto grosso; in the romantic period it might have been called a double- or triple-concerto. In the classical period it was called a symphonie concertante. Mozart’s Symphonie Concertante for violin and viola is an extraordinary example of the form.

So, why a symphonie concertante in this case, and why only one soloist? What is your role like in the Jongen, does it differ from a soloist in a traditional concerto?

            The most famous piece for organ and orchestra is, of course, Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, a piece which is sometimes thought of as a symphonie concertante. In it, the organ provides a sonic cushion for the orchestra at the start of the second movement, then acts as an orchestral foil during the last section of the work. Despite its fame, the Saint-Saëns symphony does not feature a very complicated or virtuosic role for the organist.

            Jongen provides his soloist with many opportunities to show off (especially in the perpetual motion toccata which concludes the piece) but also provides occasion to fade into the orchestral texture (for instance, the organ effectively accompanies the orchestra during much of the third movement).

            Because a great organ (especially the organ Jongen was writing for in Philadelphia) features so many individual sounds which often imitate the colors of an orchestra, all available at the fingertips of one organist, the piece is not merely a concerto—here, the organist is simultaneously several soloists as well as accompanist.

What’s your favorite moment(s) in the piece?

It’s impossible to pick a favorite moment in such a great piece! I especially love the second movement, the Divertimento. It reminds me of Louis Vierne and his quirky scherzos, full of spritely organ figurations one moment, and then reverential chorale like melodies the next.

With multiple performances of Jongen’s Symphony Concertante this season on different organs how do you prepare for those anticipated differences in instruments and halls, as well as with different orchestras and conductors?

As is in most endeavors, thorough preparation and practice is always helpful. I will most likely play the piece from memory so that I can focus more on being in sync with the conductor and orchestra. Because an organ soloist is often at some physical distance from the conductor, and the pipes of an organ may even be in a third location, organists have to be extraordinarily ready for whatever they might encounter when performing with an orchestra. I know the Trinity College organ particularly well, especially since I play it practically every day, and I have also previously heard and admired the St. Ann’s organ, so I know a little bit of what I’m in for sonically. However, in Washington, the organ is in a gallery several feet above the orchestra, so I’ll be watching the conductor via a camera and television monitor! Organists are used to this.

Take Effect reviews Truman Harris' "A Warm Day in Winter"

A veteran composer and bassoonist, Truman Harris caters to wind instruments here, as he pens tunes for his long running colleagues on this superbly executed collection of chamber music.

“Rosemoor Suite” starts the listen with flute, oboe, bassoon, horn and clarinets on a playful, elegant tune with cascading beauty, and “Aulos Triptych” follows with 4 flutes and piano on an upbeat and adventurous exploration of timeless rhythm.

On the back half, “Flowers”, which uses the same instruments as “Rosemoor Suite”, delivers a cinematic quality to the sophisticated manipulation of light and dark textures, while “Sonata” recruits a mysterious angle of darker ideas in one of the album’s best that is also the most complicated, but far from esoteric.

With players on hand from the National Symphony Orchestra and the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, Harris is in great company here, and together they flesh out engaging, layered and graceful classical and chamber sounds that will satiate not only the ears but the mind the soul.

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.