On April 12, at the Library of Congress, the "President's Own" United States Marine Band will present a program of Stravinsky, Peter Lieberson, Gunther Schuller, and Elliott Carter, with Sibelius and Mozart added as a concession to more traditional tastes. None other than Oliver Knussen curated the concert, which is part of an LoC Knussen residency. The President's Own, which dates back to 1801 and experienced a golden age under John Philip Sousa, often plays modern fare; the repertory for its 2014 season is quite a bit more diverse than that of most conventional orchestras. Here's a video of the Marine String Quartet performing the Grosse Fuge.
Previously: Star-Spangled Wagner.
April 01, 2014 | Permalink
Provisionally good news out of San Diego: the board of the opera has voted to postpone closure while it considers various options and reviews the company's perplexing financial history. They say they need $10 million to mount a 2015 season. Strangely, they don't believe that new management is necessary. Meanwhile, the ever-inscrutable board of the Minnesota Orchestra is pondering whether Osmo Vänskä should be reinstated as the orchestra's music director. While Vänskä drew a volcanic reaction from Minnesota audiences last weekend, as Jim Oestreich reports in the Times, a "die-hard faction of directors" is resisting efforts to bring the conductor back, apparently because they feel miffed by his forceful remarks about the orchestra that he has done so much to elevate. Perhaps it is time for this group to set aside petty resentments and, finally, serve the music. Evidence of what Vänskä achieved can be heard in a new BIS disc of the Mozart and Beethoven C-minor Concertos, with Yevgeny Sudbin as soloist. The orchestra plays brilliantly from the first bar to the last.
Lolita Chakrabarti's play Red Velvet, now playing at St. Ann's Warehouse, is drawing new attention to the great nineteenth-century actor Ira Aldridge, whom I wrote about last year. One historical point should be emphasized: Aldridge was not the first black actor to play Othello. That honor would seem to belong to James Hewlett, who played the role at the African Theatre, in New York, in the early 1820s. Chakrabarti mentions Hewlett in the play, but viewers may miss his import. Shane White tells much more of Hewlett in Stories of Freedom in Black New York. Above, an image of Hewlett as Richard III.
There's an important concert at Miller Theatre on April 10: ICE will dedicate a Composer Portrait to Liza Lim, whose extraordinary piece Tongue of the Invisible made my list of the best recordings of 2013. The composer writes about the program and other upcoming events on her blog. Also new on CD, a Hat Art disc of Lim's orchestral works.
Reading Mark Harris's masterly film history Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War — a counterpart to Annegret Fauser's Sounds of War — led me to watch various of the wartime documentaries (or pseudo-documentaries) that are described in the book. One thing that struck me is that the music of the films is not as simplistic as one might expect. Gail Kubik's score for William Wyler's Memphis Belle has some surprisingly acerbic moments: listen for the angular bomber theme at 3:33. Kubik wrote in a similar style for the 1942 Office of War Information documentary The World at War.
Five Came Back left me with a deepened regard for Wyler, George Stevens, and John Huston, each of whom managed to transcend the limitations of propaganda. Yet I also felt sharp unease about the cumulative effect of these paeans to American might, which were conjoined to a relentless demonization of the Germans and the Japanese. Consider this script that Frank Capra concocted for FDR, as a welcome to new inductees: "Go to it, men! Show these self-appointed supermen that free men are not only the happiest and most prosperous, but also that we are the strongest." While Harris found no evidence that Roosevelt actually delivered the speech, it is evidence of an ominous mentality. The self-appointing of supermen did not end in 1945.
March 30, 2014 | Permalink
The distinguished American composer and organist was employed for a time at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, in Brooklyn Heights — a building that now serves as the chapel of the Packer Collegiate Institute. The St. Ann's congregation later moved to the Church of the Holy Trinity, on Montague Street, where Buck also played for a number of years. The latter is now known as St. Ann's and the Holy Trinity. Buck wrote any number of weighty works, including the Centennial Meditation of Columbia (with a text by Sidney Lanier), but he is best remembered today for his slightly zany variations on the "Star-Spangled Banner."
March 29, 2014 | Permalink
On Friday, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I will give a lecture entitled "'Big Ballads of the Modern Heart': Sidney Lanier and Early American Wagnerism." This talk is related to the third chapter of my book-in-progress, Wagnerism: Art in the Shadow of Music. The following Monday, I'll be in Macon, Georgia — coincidentally, Lanier's hometown — to join a panel on classical-music criticism at the Macon Arts Alliance.
March 29, 2014 | Permalink
My colleague Steve Smith has announced on his Facebook page that he is leaving Time Out New York next month. In the thirteen years he's been editing classical-music listings at the magazine — much of the time he has edited the pop listings as well — he has documented better than any other writer the teeming energies of New York's new-music scene. He has also searched out the huge expanse of activity that lies beyond the city's best-known, highest-priced venues. I've learned so much from his work: he's changed and broadened my view of New York musical life. Steve is something of a hero in our world, and whatever publication or institution might sign him up in the future will have made, I believe, a very wise choice.
March 28, 2014 | Permalink
Is there a finer Rossini tenor than Lawrence Brownlee? Many people would reflexively say "Flórez," but, like David Shengold in Time Out New York, I'm not so sure. Brownlee has a new Rossini disc on Delos, emphasizing less obvious fare: arias from, among other operas, Zelmira, La gazza ladra, L'occasione fa il ladro, and La donna del lago, which he sang magnificently last summer at Santa Fe, opposite Joyce DiDonato.
March 28, 2014 | Permalink
On a new Ondine CD, Finley sings Shostakovich's Six Romances on Verses by English Poets, in English, and the Suite on Poems by Michelangelo, in Italian. Thomas Sanderling conducts the Helsinki Philharmonic; for the English cycle, he uses the composer's full orchestration, which is aglow with dark color. Here is the great Sonnet LXVI.
Addendum: Ondine describes this as the "world première recording" of the full-orchestral version of the Six Romances, but, as Laurel Fay pointed out to me, Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Anatoli Safiulin recorded it back in 1986.
March 25, 2014 | Permalink
Adrian Lester as Ira Aldridge. Photo: Tristram Kenton.
Michael Henson, the CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra, is finally stepping aside. Norman Lebrecht says it best: "His handling of the conflict will be taught for years in college as a negative object lesson in arts management." ... With one long nightmare apparently coming to an end, another begins: in a decision that defies comprehension, the board of the San Diego Opera elected to shut down the company rather than address fund-raising challenges. It is a "senseless, premature death," as Mark Swed writes in the LA Times. James Chute, of the San Diego Union-Tribune, supplies some eyebrow-raising figures about the company's finances, notably the $4.6 million given to Ian Campbell, the artistic and general director, and his wife, Ann, from 2008 to 2012. Let's hope opera in San Diego can spring back under new leaders.... Great days for the arts pages at the Huffington Post: first we are told that Schoenberg's name is pronounced "SHOON-berg," then we're given the headline "Opera in America: Is It Circling the Toilet?" Jennifer Rivera's piece is worth reading, though.... NewMusicBox has a multi-voiced tribute to the late, great Robert Ashley.... Gergiev hails the annexation of Crimea; Dudamel seems entangled with the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Anne Midgette contemplates the intersection of music and power.... Dawn Fatale, chez Parterre, gives a cool, knowing appraisal of looming conflicts at the Met: "Peter Gelb promised to revitalize the Metropolitan Opera through an increased number of theatrically exciting new productions, better casting, and innovative media initiatives. He had the right ideas, but has been largely unable to execute on them." ... Lolita Chakrabarti's play Red Velvet, about the great African-American tragedian Ira Aldridge, opens at St. Ann's Warehouse next week. In my capacity as an amateur Aldridgean, I'll lead a discussion after the March 27th show.... Joseph Kerman, dean of American musicologists, died last Monday at the age of eighty-nine. His books and essays, restless in spirit and forceful in expression, will long endure.
March 22, 2014 | Permalink