Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Letter V Classical Radio this week

University of Richmond students will be on Thanksgiving break, so the show expands to three hours. In honor (sic) of Brown Thursday, the jumping of the gun on Black Friday pre-Christmas sales, we’ll sample the season’s bounty of new and recent classical recordings for gift-givers and -getters.

Nov. 27
noon-3 p.m. EST
1700-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Tchaikovsky: “Nutcracker” Suite
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado (Sony Classical)

Barber: Violin Concerto
Anne Aikiko Meyers, violin
London Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin (eOne)

Anna Thorvaldsdottir: “Tactility”
Duo Harpverk
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Gaspar Cassadó: Suite
for solo cello
Alisa Weilerstein, cello (Decca)

Beethoven: Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (“Razumovsky”)
Cypress String Quartet (Avie)

Chopin: Prelude in D flat major (“Raindrop”)
Alain Lefèvre, piano (Analekta)

J.S. Bach: Concerto in
C minor, BWV 1060R
Gonzalo X. Ruiz, oboe; Monica Huggett, violin & director
Portland Baroque Orchestra (Avie)

Brahms: Clarinet Quintet
in B minor, Op. 115
Anthony McGill, clarinet; Pacifica Quartet (Cedille)

traditional: “Ding Dong Merrily on High”
traditional: “Good King Wenceslas”
Depue Brothers Band
(Beat the Drum Entertainment)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Symphony acquiring 'big tent'

The Richmond Symphony has received a $500,000 challenge grant for the acquisition and operation of a mobile performance space that will enable the orchestra to stage large-scale outdoor concerts.

The new structure, which will be used for classical and pops concerts, advances the symphony’s strategic plan “to expand our footprint . . . to serve new audiences,” says David Fisk, the orchestra’s executive director. “It is a ‘big-tent’ approach to music-making in every sense.”

The grant, from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, will finance the purchase of a Warner Shelter Systems Limited SA-80 Arabesque tent, large enough to accommodate the full 70-member complement of Richmond Symphony musicians, the 150 singers of the Symphony Chorus and guest soloists. It will be one of the largest mobile concert structures in the eastern U.S.

Matching funds from the grant, which must be raised by November 2015, will finance operation of the unit for its first five years.

The symphony is exploring partnerships with local governments, other non-profit organizations and civic groups to stage concerts using the mobile stage, potentially as soon as September 2015.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: 'H.M.S. Pinafore'

Virginia Opera
Adam Turner conducting
Nov. 21, Richmond CenterStage

Virginia Opera’s current production of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore,” in the first of two Richmond performances, proved rather slow in achieving lift-off.

That’s partly the fault of its creators, who devote much of the first act to introduction of lovelorn and otherwise
put-upon characters. “Pinafore” doesn’t really get going until the arrival of Sir Joseph Porter, the buffoonish First Lord of the Admiralty (“ruler of the Queen’s Navee”), accompanied by his sisters, his cousins and his aunts, who helpfully flesh out what had been an all-male chorus.

Jake Gardner makes a hearty meal of the role of Porter, relishing the character’s pomposity and cluelessness, and injecting the first real jabs of satire into a show that pokes merciless fun at Victorian Britain’s class consciousness, jingoism and the presumption that figures of authority never – well, hardly ever – get things wrong.

On the lovelorn front: Cullen Gandy, as Ralph (pronounced “Rafe”) Rackstraw, the young sailor smitten with the captain’s daughter, and Shannon Jennings, as the daughter, Josephine, who is just as smitten with Ralph but can’t bring herself to commit to someone so low-born, even though the alternative is marriage to the preposterous Porter, complement each other nicely, both in earnestness of character (garnished with a bit of slyness on Josephine’s part) and purity of vocal tone.

Christopher Burchett, as Captain Corcoran, and Margaret Gawrysiak, as the peddler woman Little Buttercup, carry on their clandestine mutual affection more indirectly, yet bumptiously. Burchett seems a bit too intent on playing the straight man; Gawrysiak is less shy about bringing out the comic aspects of Buttercup.

The show’s putative heavy, Dick Deadeye, gets earnestly grumpy treatment from Matthew Scollin. He should be having more fun with this role.

The men of the Virginia Opera Chorus acquit themselves credibly, if not especially lustily, as the “Pinafore” crew. The female choristers (sisters, cousins and aunts) bring a welcome liveliness to the show’s later choruses.

Stage director Nicola Bowie crafts an unfussy staging that has the right look and makes the right moves, but somehow seems too dutiful to rollick.

Adam Turner, the company’s resident conductor, keeps the show moving, although at a more moderate than ideal pace, and obtains fine playing from the pit orchestra.

Virginia Opera’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” repeats at 3 p.m. Nov. 23 at the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20.33-$105.93. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX). The show concludes its run with performances at 8 p.m. Dec. 5 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax. Tickets: $44-$98. Details: (888) 945-2468 (Tickets.com). More information: www.vaopera.org

Thursday, November 20, 2014

'Shenandoah' via Ligeti?

In a comment appended to Norman Lebrecht’s post on the death of James Erb, Steven Edwards recalls a conversation he had with the University of Richmond chorusmaster about his famous “Shenandoah” arrangement (scroll down to fourth comment):


In the various conversations I had with Erb about “Shenandoah” over the years, he never disclosed that his arrangement was inspired in part by György Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna,” the rarified, at the time avant-garde, choral work made famous by its use, as a master-of-creation motif, in the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: a Space Odyssey.”

“Shenandoah” seems to be light years (so to speak) from “Lux Aeterna;” but such leaps of musical imagination would have been entirely in character for Jim Erb.

Gender gap in U.S. orchestras

Composer and music blogger Suby Raman surveys gender representation in the 20 largest U.S. symphony orchestras, finding that women form a minority of less than 40 percent in 15 of the ensembles. Only one of the 20, the St. Louis Symphony, has a majority of female musicians:


The Richmond Symphony (not in Raman’s survey) has 29 women on its 2014-15 roster of 65 musicians (not counting those on leave of absence), or about 45 percent. Among the majors, only the orchestras of St. Louis (53 percent) and Indianapolis (46 percent) have larger shares of female players. Women account for 44 percent of the rosters of the New York Philharmonic and San Diego Symphony and 40 percent of the Baltimore Symphony’s.

Raman also drills down to female representation in orchestral sections, with unsurprising findings that women are more highly represented among violinists and violists than cellists and double-bassists, dominate the ranks of flutists and harpists, and are sparsely represented among brass instruments other than French horns.

Other old news: Few female conductors work with big orchestras in this country. Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony is the only music director of a top-20 orchestra. JoAnn Falletta, music director of the lower-ranked Buffalo Philharmonic and Virginia Symphony, has guest-conducted a number of larger ensembles, and so presumably figures in Raman’s tabulation.

It would be interesting – and revealing? – to see comparative numbers for major orchestras elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere and in Europe and Asia.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Letter V Classical Radio this week

A special program: The first hour features interviews with soprano Erin Vidlak, flutist Marie Fernandez, violinist Leslie Kinnas and cellist Kevin Westergaard, winners of the 2014 University of Richmond Student Concerto Competition, who will be performing with the University Orchestra, Alexander Kordzaia conducting, on Dec. 3 at UR’s Modlin Arts Center. To go with the interviews, recordings of the works the young artists will play in the concert.

Nov. 20
noon-2 p.m. EST
1700-1900 UTC/GMT 
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

“Mr. Newman:” Sonata III in D major
Alexander Reinagle: “ ‘Lee Rigg,’ a Scots Tune with Three Variations and a Gigg” in A major
Olivier Baumont, harpsichord (Erato)

Handel: “Messiah” – “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion”
Lynne Dawson, soprano
Brandenburg Consort/
Stephen Cleobury (Argo)

Cécile Chaminade: Concertino, Op. 107
André-Gilles Duchemin, flute; Mario Duchemin, piano (CBC)

Saint-Saëns: “The Muse and the Poet”
Patrice Fontanarosa, violin; Gary Hoffman, cello
Orchestral Ensemble de Paris/Jean-Jacques Kantorow (EMI Classics)

Past Masters:
Bizet: “Carmen” Suite
London Philharmonic/
Thomas Beecham
(Dutton Laboratories)
(recorded 1939)

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467
Fazil Say, piano
Zürich Chamber Orchestra/Howard Griffiths (Naïve)

Mason Bates: “String Band”
Claremont Trio (Tria)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

James Erb memorial service

A celebration of the life of James Erb will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 20 in Cannon Memorial Chapel at the University of Richmond.

Erb, the former music professor and choral director at the university and founding director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, died on Nov. 11.

The memorial service will include congregational singing, with music provided to those who wish to join, as well as quiet time for reflection.

Following the service, a reception will be held at River Road Church, Baptist, River and Ridge roads, near the UR campus.