Thursday, February 28, 2019

Telegraph Quartet

Jeremiah Shaw, cello, Joseph Maile, violin, Eric Chin, violin, Pei-Ling Lin, viola.  

The Telegraph Quartet came once again to play at my alma mater as part of the New Millennium Concert Series. 

They have delved deeper than Schubert and Mozart this time.  The three pieces below are all by Czech composers.

String Quartet No. 10, Opus 51 by Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904).  This is the most conservative of these three selections.
  • Allegro ma non troppo
  • Dumka:  Andante con moto - Vivace
  • Romanza:  Andante con moto
  • Finali:  Allegro Assai

Five Pieces for String Quarter by Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942).  He was a German jew born in Czechoslovakia and died in the holocaust.  I enjoyed this very much.  It might possibly be called a suite, though certainly not in the classical form.
  • I. Alla valse Viennese (Allegro)
  • II. Alla serenata (Allegretto con moto)
  • III. Alla Czeca (Molto allegro)
  • IV. Alla tango milonga (Andante)
  • V. Alla tarantella (Prestissimo con fuoco)
String Quartet No. 6, Op.35 by Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996)  I guess this guy is Polish and was born in Warsaw to a musical family.  When the war broke out, he fled to Minsk in the USSR.  Shostakovitch encouraged him to move to Moscow.
  • Allegro semplice
  • Presto aggitato
  • Allegro con fuoco
  • Adagio
  • Moderato comodo
  • Andante maestoso
The Telegraph Quartet is moving toward twentieth and twenty-first century works.  If they can bring us great style as we heard today, I encourage this.  After all, I'm a long time Kronos Quartet fan.

Les Troyens from the Paris Opera

I am viewing a film of Berlioz' Les Troyens from the Paris opera.

Conductor:  Philippe Jordan
Production: Dmitri Tcherniakov

The Trojans at Troy

Aeneas: Brandon Jovanovich
Cassandra: Stéphanie d'Oustrac
Coroebus, Cassandra's fiance: Stéphane Degout, bass

Something like a movie marquee announces in French and English that the Greeks have abandoned their positions around Troy, and the war is over.  The streets fill with celebrators.  This is a regie production of Berlioz' Les Troyens from the Paris opera.  The characters are introduced with text at the top of the screen.  Priam looks a lot like Generalissimo Franco.  The billboard clarifies the action as perhaps never before.

I found Act I very coherent.  We don't see a horse, but the death of Laocoon is vividly described.  Cassandra warns and laments, but no one listens.

Where Act II should begin, we see soldiers with automatic rifles enter and shake hands with Aeneas.  Hmm.  So are we to believe he is a traitor?  His wife is dead and sends him a note explaining she is ashamed by his betrayal.  This is unclear.  Perhaps I have completely misunderstood.  His own people still seem to honor him.

Priam and his wife are shown dead.  Stéphanie d'Oustrac is wonderfully intense.  The men all head off and leave the women to die or be taken into slavery.  They choose death, and Cassandra goes up in flames.  I seem to remember a play by Euripides called The Trojan Women which describes a somewhat different fate for them.

This part of the opera is well presented.

The Trojans at Carthage

Dido: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Aeneas: Brandon Jovanovich
Anna: Aude Extremo
Narbal: Christian Van Horn

A title announces that we are in a Psychological Center for Victims of the War.  The set looks a bit like a hotel lobby.  This is my third insane asylum opera after Carmen (also Tcherniakov) and Oberon.  This part of the staging has nothing to do with either Berlioz's opera or the staging of the first half.  Yes, people in war are often in need of psychiatric care, but the opera is about the triumph of Rome, not mental illness.  Perhaps it is better to just listen.  The audio is gorgeous.  This staging is definitely boo worthy.

I may never have realized before what a great opera for chorus this is.  Dido enters and the chorus holds up a homemade sign saying "Tu es notre Reine." [You are our queen.]  Aeneas's son holds up his cell phone to show pictures of Troy to Dido.  Ach!  One is interested in the translation because nothing in the visuals is giving you a clue.  I missed before that these people of Carthage are from the eastern Mediterranean, just like the Trojans.  That explains a lot.

A black guy comes in and Aeneas tries to beat him up.  Weird.  The essential feature of an insane asylum is the keepers who now enter in red vests and lead everyone out.  It is hard to imagine any other tenor besides Jovanovich playing this scene.  I'm determined to watch it to the end, but it gets goofier and goofier.

In Act IV the patients are in a circle, and enact a story.  They hold up signs to indicate where they are and what is going on.  The title of the story is "La Chasse Royale."  Perhaps you will recall that Dido and Aeneas go out into the country on a hunt.  "The forest" is next.  The audience for these signs appears to be Dido alone.  We have nymphs and naiads and satyrs.  When the sign says "The marriage of Dido" [you're not required to trust my translations], Aeneas is handed a bow and arrow which he waves around.  He shoots Dido's companion and Dido faints.  The arrow is theater, and the companion is fine.  We were wondering why they would give a mental patient a weapon.

Dido goes back to her room, and a ping pong table appears.  Two keepers in red vests then proceed to play ping pong and sing about triumphing over the Africans. These are Dido's advisers?  Oy.  They plot the marriage of Dido to Aeneas.  There has been nothing that even remotely resembles ballet.

This director seems to be under the impression that psychiatric treatment consists of arranging fantasy scenarios for the patients.  Problems arise because the patients react as though they were real.  This doesn't correspond to any therapeutic method I have heard of.  In a nuthouse apparently anything can happen.

When everyone else has left the stage, Dido and Aeneas sing a very gorgeous version of "Nuit d'ivresse," one of the most beautiful duets in all of opera.  The ending is kind of cool.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Rhapsody in Blue at the Sacramento Philharmonic

Saturday's concert from the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera was made up entirely of American music.  We even had a living composer, Loren Loiacono, who said a few words about her piece.  Our guest conductor was David Alan Miller who conducted Beethoven's 9th here in 2016.
  • Sleep Furiously  . . . Loren Loiacono.  The idea comes from a sentence by Noam Chomsky, "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."  This featured some lovely playing from the cello section interspersed with a lot of percussive chords.   Loiacono was a student of Stephen Stucky.
  • An American in Paris . . George Gershwin.  You will remember this piece from the Gene Kelly movie.  Gershwin is fun.
  • Concerto for Orchestra No.2  . .  Stephen Stucky.  He was composer in residence at the LA Philharmonic for many years, and it was there he composed this piece for them.  There  are codes in the first movement made up of people's names, but there is nothing about them that would let you know which notes they are.  He is most interested in the orchestration.
  • Rhapsody in Blue  .  .  George Gershwin with pianist Kevin Cole.  This piece is like a one movement piano concerto which in this instance was played as fast as possible.  Too fast.
Our pianist played a couple of piano arrangements of Gershwin songs:  "Fascinatin Rhythm" and "I got rhythm."  He showed the appropriate jazz style but seemed to think we would be most impressed with his speed.  When I hear that someone is playing a song, I like to imagine someone is singing it. 

I apologize for complaining.  It was a fun concert, if somewhat loud.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Sopranos from Platea Magazine

Top row:  Anna Netrebko (m2-HD), Pretty Yende (y3-HD), Anja Harteros (m4)
Middle row:  Lisette Oropesa (y4-HD), Sondra Radvanovsky (m1-HD), Sabine Devielhe (y5)
Bottom row:  Nadine Sierra (y1-HD), Lise Davidsen (y2), Angela Meade (m5-HD)

Platea magazine is in Spanish.  They have subdivided these sopranos into mature and young and ranked them within each category.  Mature 3 is Nina Stemme who is missing from the picture.  I have heard Lise Davidsen only on YouTube and Sabine Devielhe not at all.  You will notice some people are missing, like Diana Damrau and Sonya Yoncheva.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

La Serva Padrona

Conductor:  Sigiswald Kuijken
Stage Director:  Ferruccio Soleri

Uberto....Donato Di Stefano
Serpina...Patrizia Biccirè
Vespone..Stefano Di Luca

I tried to watch this version of Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona, 1733, roughly contemporary with Handel's Orlando, but it was just people standing around singing with no translations.  The music is charming, but I wanted to know what was going on.

So I turned to this DVD from Accademia Barocca de I Virtuosi Italiani.

Conductor:  Corrado Rovaris
Stage Director:  Henning Brockhaus

Uberto....Carlo Lepore
Serpina...Alessandra Marianelli
Vespone..Jean Meningue

We are at the beginning of the rococo.  This one staged the opera as though we were at a circus where Uberto was the manager and Serpina one of the acts.  She refuses to get his chocolate and then threatens to marry a nasty military man who will probably beat her.  The third character seems to be a mime.  The music is still charming with the usual mixture of arias and recitatives.  There was a huge war over this in Paris in the days when there was still opera rioting.  It had something to do with Jean Jacque Rousseau.  Serpina tricks Uberto into marrying her, turning la serva into la padrona.  From our perspective it doesn't seem like much to get excited over.

Calefax Reed Quintet

This ensemble, seen last night at CSUS, is a quintet consisting entirely of reed instruments, specifically:

Oliver Boekhoorn, oboe (English horn in at least 2 pieces and soprano recorder)
Ivar Berix, clarinet
Raaf Hekkema, saxophone (alto and soprano?)
Jelte Althuis, bass-clarinet
Alban Wesly, bassoon

They are from Amsterdam in the Netherlands and invented this particular arrangement of instruments.  There's a lot of this going around.  If you call it a Woodwind Quintet, the instruments are flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn.  There is repertoire for this set of instruments.  Calefax create arrangements for themselves and have started to print them.

They played an interesting set of repertoire taken from pieces for organ, piano, orchestra, etc., including a fugue by Cesar Franck and Gershwin's An American in Paris.  I won't pretend to expertise in this area, but I wasn't completely sold on the resulting sonority of their particular instruments.  There is too much overlap in the pitch range and overall sound.  Any standard ensemble has a default expected tone which I did not experience here.

This isn't a criticism of their playing which was excellent.  I'm not sure who composed it, but their encore number was choreographed with each player moving about the stage.  This was fun.  They might consider playing in different formations to see how it affects the sound.  Just saying.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Classical Music Grammy Nominees For 2019 Plus Winners

The Grammys are scheduled for Feb 10, 2019.  I have highlighted the winners.


Best Orchestral Performance

All from the USA.
  • "Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1"
    Manfred Honeck, conductor (Performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • "Nielsen: Symphony No. 3 & Symphony No. 4"
    Thomas Dausgaard, conductor (Performed by the Seattle Symphony)
  • "Ruggles, Stucky & Harbison: Orchestral Works"
    David Alan Miller, conductor (Performed by the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic)
  • "Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1-4"
    Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (Performed by the San Francisco Symphony)
  • Winner:  "Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 11"Andris Nelsons, conductor (Performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra

 Best Opera Recording

From many places, many styles.
  • John Adams, "Doctor Atomic"
    John Adams, conductor; Aubrey Allicock, Julia Bullock, Gerald Finley & Brindley Sherratt; Friedemann Engelbrecht, producer (Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Singers)  CD 


  • Winner:  Mason Bates, "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs" Michael Christie, conductor; Sasha Cooke, Jessica E. Jones, Edwards Parks, Garrett Sorenson & Wei Wu; Elizabeth Ostrow, producer (Performed by the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra) CD
  • Lully, "Alceste"
    Christophe Rousset, conductor; Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro & Judith Van Wanroij; Maximilien Ciup, producer (Performed by Les Talens Lyriques; Choeur De Chambre De Namur) CD
  • Strauss, "Der Rosenkavalier"
    Sebastian Weigle, conductor; Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Günther Groissböck & Erin Morley; David Frost, producer (Performed by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Metropolitan Opera Chorus) DVD
  • Verdi, "Rigoletto"
    Constantine Orbelian, conductor; Francesco Demuro, Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Nadine Sierra; Vilius Keras & Aleksandra Keriene, producers (Performed by the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra; the Men of the Kaunas State Choir) CD