LA Opus
Reporting on music and the lively arts....................................................................
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By Douglas Neslund
A very large, almost sold out Walt Disney Concert Hall audience heaped enthusiastic applause and approval on Maestro Grant Gershon and his fellow artists at the conclusion of Claudio Monteverdi’s sprawling Vespers, described in Thomas May’s excellent program annotations as “a diverse, flexible collection of numbers available to be excerpted or performed in various contexts. This diversity was in any case surely meant to display the full range of Monteverdi’s compositional prowess.”
Monteverdi lived at a most interesting time for any composer: at the end of the long Renaissance period in which unmetered music was the rule, mostly in the sacred context, which was challenged by the metered secular madrigals that the composer wrote in his earliest years, a collision of styles that drew criticism down upon his head. Publication of the Vespers, also known as Vespro della Beata Vergine, was his answer to the critics.
Although published in 1610, elements of the Vespers were probably written over a ten-year span prior to that year.  There are 13 movements, most of which may be performed independently of the others, but which are largely comprised of Psalm settings interspersed by highly florid solos, duets and smaller ensembles that allow for individual vocal fireworks, some of which are credited to Monteverdi’s own creativity and not carried over into the newly emerging, dryer early Baroque style, and some of which were. It is said that ladies of Ferrara and Mantua vied with each other to produce the most astounding vocal displays.
Such displays were generously performed by several soloists drawn from the ranks of the Master Chorale itself.  They were sopranos Suzanne Anderson and Claire Fedoruk; mezzo soprano Janelle DeStefano; tenors Daniel Chaney, Michael Lichtenauer and Matthew Tresler; baritone Scott Graff, and bass Reid Bruton. All were excellent advocates of Monteverdian style points, with Ms. Fedoruk and Mr. Chaney meeting the greatest challenges.
Mr. Tresler’s “Nigra sum” was perhaps the most memorable for artistic shading matched to the text. The duet-cum-trio “Duo Seraphim” (Two Angels) begun by Messrs. Cheney and Lichtenauer (previously incorrectly identified as Mr. Graff), later with the addition of Mr. Tresler when the text changes to “Tres sunt” (There are three), made magic. A personal favorite was the Marian antiphon “Ave maris stella” (Hail, Star of the Sea) brilliantly worked out by Maestro Gershon, starting with an a cappella first stanza, adding to that a solo theorbo accompaniment on the second stanza, joined in the third by the continuo, the next three stanzas sung by Ms. DeStefano, Ms. Fedoruk and Mr. Graff, with all forces combining at the conclusion.
Throughout, the Master Chorale sang with expected brilliance, although for this occasion, a “small call” of 40 voices was employed. In the early 17th century, so far as we know, this music was never performed in a venue the size of Disney Hall, so one can forgive Ms. Fedoruk’s having to choose between projecting to the topmost balcony and singing the delicate filigree to which her voice is so well suited. Her artistry was never in question although not every lower note could be heard.
Maybe it was Maestro Gershon’s intimate association with Los Angeles Opera, where he presides as chorus director, that predisposed a constant movement on stage, but Chorale members were given a virtual road map of stage placements, which humorously led to Mr. Chaney’s forgetting which side he was to be on, and his tip-toeing across to the other side, to the audience’s great amusement. He was not alone in losing focus on placement, by the way. No matter. The singing was always superb.
Los Angeles’s own world class Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra accompanied, with an equally small-sized component of 13 players, of whom Ingrid Matthews and Janet Strauss impressed greatly with their embellished violin interludes in various movements, but particularly in the Sonata sopra: Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis. Maestro Gershon kept a perfect balance between instruments and voices throughout, which is not an easy task in a series of movements constantly shifting participants. The long, sustained applause at concert’s end endorsed Maestro Gershon’s choice of the Vespers, and the utterly musical product that resulted.
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By Douglas Neslund
It began with a crashingly loud “God Is Gone Up” by Gerald Finzi and ended with an encore Mormon Tabernacle Choir version of “Come Thou Fount of Many Blessings” that allowed the sopranos of the Master Chorale to reach the highest note of the evening.
Throughout the concert, a very Anglican (and sometimes Episcopalian) flavor permeated the Walt Disney Concert Hall, with frequent contributions from Disney Hall’s pipe organ, masterfully played by the tag team of Paul Meier and Kimo Smith. In fact, the Master Chorale’s programme was entitled “Organ Extravaganza” – an attempt to feature that instrument with chorus. Okay.
Nico Muhly’s “Bright Mass with Canons” was reprised from the Master Chorale’s 2010 season, and seems, well, brighter this time around. Kimo Smith kept the Walt Disney Concert Hall Organ to an excellent balance with the Chorale, in support of Chorale soloists Tamara Bevard and Karen Hogle Brown (sopranos), and Tracy Van Fleet (mezzo soprano).
Arvo Pärt’s The Beatitudes and Paul Mealor’s “Ubi caritas” led to the pre-intermission Lesley Leighton-conducted bombast of Hubert Parry’s “I Was Glad,” which was taken at the slowest tempo ever, and was probably meant to suggest dignity and pompous pomp, if not circumstance.
Nico Muhly was given a second hearing in a West coast premiere performance of “A Good Understanding” despite the fact the work was recorded by the Master Chorale and committed to a recording issued last season. The work included participation by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and percussionist Nick Terry, who produced undoubtedly the loudest noise ever to be heard in Disney Hall, ever, with an enormous blow to a bass drum that certainly got the attention of everyone in attendance. By comparison, the children sang weakly, if in perfect unison. Their director, Anne Tomlinson, conducted her choir in the lively four-part treble setting of Psalm 150 (O Praise God in His Holiness) by Sir David Willcocks.
Arguably the finest item on the menu was Tarik O’Regan’s “Dorchester Canticles” featuring tenor Todd Strange, with Mr. Terry and Mr. Meier accompanying the Master Chorale. But the loudest applause of the evening was rewarded to tenor Daniel Cheney, who soloed in Kurt Weill’s “Kiddush” with such passion and commitment, one could scarcely believe a better performance of the work were possible. Kiddush is worthy of far greater exposure than it has gotten thus far.
Judith Weir’s “Ascending Into Heaven” closed the scheduled performance, featuring Chorale members Niké St. Clair and Janelle DeStefano (mezzo sopranos), Michael Lichtenauer (tenor) and Scott Graff (bass).
What appeared upon initial impression to be a smørgasbord of choral eclecticism turned out to be a very interesting season opener for our illustrious Chorale and its - our - superb maestro, Grant Gershon.
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An apt metaphor for the drive from the Westside to downtown during L. A.'s latest freeway construction.

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By Rodney PuntYou don’t have to speak French to appreciate the chamber music series “Le Salon de Musiques”, but the language does suggest the elegance surrounding you in its home on the Fifth Floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, overlooking the Music Center. The gold and green, velvet-draped space was once named, appropriately enough, The Impresario Room. Le Salon’s classy, sometimes quirky format is reminiscent of the Parisian salons of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, where new works were presented and discussed by cognoscenti over thick tobacco and milky absinthe. In a less toxic homage to those storied encounters, this latter-day salon provides an appealing package of sunset to starlit music, scintillating conversation, a champagne and buffet dinner, and company ranging from chic to funky. If its first two seasons were closely identified with the greatest hits of the Classical-Romantic era, Le Salon’s third season mixes into the format an intriguing number of virtually unknown chamber works from that era and later, all under the season's graceful banner of “Les Nouveaux Romantiques.” The foray into new repertoire represents a growing confidence by Le Salon’s entrepreneurial Artistic Director Francois Chouchan and Co-Artistic Director John Walz in the enterprise’s plucky, loyal and ever curious audiences, who appear ready this year to explore new musical horizons.Two Russians Launch a Season of Les Nouveaux RomantiquesThe season opens on Sunday, October 14, with two works few are likely to have heard before: Mikhail Glinka’s Serenade for Piano Sextet on Theme from Bellini and Sergei Lyapunov’s Piano Sextet, Op. 63, the latter a U.S. premiere. Glinka and Lyapunov were bookends of the Russian nationalist school, known for its fiery musical rhetoric, soulful melodies and colorful orchestrations. Glinka (1804-1857) came at the beginning of the era, incorporating such disparate influences as Italy’s bel canto operas and Hector Berlioz’s instrumentations, added to his own Russian folk tunes. He would later on earn the sobriquet “Father of Russian Music.” Lyapunov (1859-1924) blended two Russian styles, the internationalist of Tchaikovsky and the nationalist of Rimsky-Korsakov, that would make him one of the last proponents of the tsarist musical tradition. But he would flee his homeland for France in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution. An entire era of Russian music is thus encapsulated in these two works.The concert will be introduced by musicologist Julius Reder Carlson and performed by violinists Roger Wilkie and Sarah Thornblade, violist Rob Brophy, cellist Ron Leonard, contrabassist Nico Abondolo and pianist Gavin Martin.Informal conversations between the musicians and the audience will follow the performance. To break the ice stylishly, the champagne will be French. To cap the evening’s camaraderie, the gourmet buffet will be prepared by Patina.Third Season OverviewLe Salon de Musiques’ third season will present eight concerts between October 2012 and May 2013. Five United States premieres and a retinue of rediscovered composers, deftly mixed with more familiar ones, should make for a season attractive to both regular and new concertgoers.Chouchan has invited prestigious international artists to join in the series, many of whom have performed with the LA Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and occasionally recorded scores for nearby Hollywood film and television productions. By removing the stage and enveloping these artists within the audience, Le Salon de Musiques offers more personal and intimate experiences for listeners eager to familiarize themselves with chamber music and how it is performed.Among the season’s composers, in addition to the above, will be Brahms, Caplet, Chopin, Ravel, Zarebsky, Widor, Bach, Debussy, Robert Schumann but also Camillo Schumann, Scharwenka, Delius and Bridge. (Full listing provided below.)

As Chouchan explains: “So many beautiful, melodic, lyrical and romantic pieces are still rarely performed. My idea was first to find and choose some of the most inspired lesser known and great German, Russian, Polish, and French composers and bring them out to combine an expressive, touching and moving program, which makes this season unique.”--ooOO00—2012 Season of Le Salon de Musiques: Les Nouveaux RomantiquesNOTE: All concerts at Fifth Floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (overlooking the Music Center) on the second Sunday of every month, October 2012 through May 19, 2013, between 4:00pm - 6:00pm.October 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm:? GLINKA: Serenade for Piano Sextet on Theme from Bellini, LYAPUNOV: Piano Sextet Op. 63 (USA PREMIERE).? ROGER WILKIE (Violin), SARAH THORNBLADE (Violin), ROB BROPHY (Viola), RON LEONARD (Cello), NICO ABONDOLO (Bass), GAVIN MARTIN (Piano)November 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm?: CHARLES-MARIE WIDOR: Suite for Flute and Piano Op. 34?, ANDRE CAPLET: Quintet for Piano and Winds (USA PREMIERE). ?STEVEN VANHAUWAERT (Piano), PAMELA VLIEK (Flute), VALENTIN MARTCHEV (Bassoon), JOSHUA RANZ (Clarinet), JOSEPH STONE (Oboe)December 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm:? SCHUBERT: Sonatensatz, Piano Trio D 28,SCHUBERT: Piano Trio Op 100 No. 2 in E flat Major D 929. ?SEARMI PARK (Violin), JOHN WALZ (Cello), FRANCOIS CHOUCHAN (Piano)January 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm:? J.S BACH: Gamba Sonata No. 2,? SCHUMANN: Fantasy for Cello & Piano, Op 73, ?SCHARWENKA PHILIPP: Piano Quintet Op. 118 (USA PREMIERE). ?GUILLAUME SUTRE (Violin), SEARMI PARK (Violin), HELEN S.CALLUS (Viola), ANTONIO LYSY (Cello), STEVEN VANHAUWAERT (Piano)February 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm: ?FRANK BRIDGE: Fantasy Piano Quartet, ?ZAREBSKY: Piano Quintet in G minor Op. 34 (USA PREMIERE?). TEREZA STANISLAV (Violin), SARAH THORBLADE (Violin), ROB BROPHY (Viola), CECILIA TSAN (Cello), STEVEN VANHAUWAERT (Piano)March 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm?: RAVEL: Piano Trio in A minor,DEBUSSY: Cello Sonata in D minor?, DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata in G minor?. PHILLIP LEVY (Violin), ANDREW SHULMAN (Cello), RINA DOKSHISTKY (Piano)April 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm: ?CHOPIN: Cello Sonata op 65 in G minor? CAMILLO SCHUMANN: Cello Sonata in C minor Op. 99 (USA PREMIERE), F.DELIUS: Romance for Cello and Piano?. ANDREW SHULMAN (Cello), STEVEN VANHAUWAERT (Piano)May 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm?: BRAHMS: Lieder for Soprano, Piano and Viola Op. 91, ?BRAHMS: Piano Quartet No.3 in C minorMAHLER: Piano Quartet in A minor?. ROGER WILKIE (Violin), HELEN S.CALLUS (Viola), JOHN WALZ (Cello), EDITH ORLOFF (Piano), ELISSA JOHNSTON (Soprano)Single Ticket and Subscription PurchasesSingle tickets: $65.00 per person.?$45.00 for students.Subscription Discounts: 10% discount off single ticket price for a bundle of three or more concerts. 20% discount for the full season.Twitter:—Photo by Carole Sternicha is used by permission of Le Salon de Musiques.Rodney Punt can be contacted at
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by Douglas Neslund

For the final concert of the Chorale’s 2011-2012 season, Maestro Grant Gershon organized a concert of the music of Henryk Górecki, with a Johannes Brahms ode for stylistic contrast. A day or two later, the Chorale reassembled in Walt Disney Concert Hall to record the following mostly a cappella Górecki creations: Lobgesang(op. 76) for mixed choir and glockenspiel, Miserere(op. 44) for 8-part choir and Piesni Maryjne (op. 54) for mixed voices.
Lobgesangis a celebration of the 600th anniversary in the year 2000 of the birth of Johannes Gutenberg, whose invention of the moveable type printing press changed the world forever. The sound produced by the Master Chorale is world-class, hands down. From the initial fortissimo to the final pianissimo, during which a glockenspiel plays the name of the celebrant three times, the sound is magnificent. Perfectionists might quibble about a brief moment here or there where the choral balances are not just right, or obsess over the single less than pristine phrase attack, but the rest of us are blessed with a banquet of sumptuous choral singing probably unsurpassed anywhere in the world.
Miserereis an unhurried multi-movement work of great introspection and reflection over the three word plea: Domine Deus noster(Lord our God), first heard in 2002 as performed by the Master Chorale. Górecki wrote Miserere as a spiritual response to a horrific beating inflicted on Polish Solidarity movement members by communist police, and later, the murder by the government of an activist priest. The long stretches of music softly sung will be a revelation to a younger generation of listeners for whom music only exists as ear-shattering din. Such spun gold is anything but boring! The Chorale maintains a focus and laser-like intensity throughout that arrests the listener’s attention and simply will not let go.
Piesni Maryjne are five Marian devotions set to Polish texts created by Górecki himself, and present a wide range of choral effects and content based largely on Polish folk songs.
The transparency of this recording reveals an aggregation of singers, but so much more than just singers. The Master Chorale, after a decade of leadership under Maestro Gershon, has been refined and molded by him into the perfect instrument to perform Górecki’s music.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is arguably the best venue in the world to hear a concert of a cappella choral music. In this recording, the warmth of the wooden interior and wrap-around stage area perfectly captures the Master Chorale as equally in the sensitive, delicate pianissimos as in their full-throated, wall of sound fortissimos. Decca’s team of recording specialists, editors and mixers have perfectly captured the Master Chorale’s singing and produced a winner, all made possible by a generous gift from Lillian and Jon Lovelace.
But most of all, this recording is an unmitigated triumph for Grant Gershon.
The CD’s accompanying notes are both informative and interesting, and presented in four languages: English, French, German and Polish. The CD may be obtained at 
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by  Anne French



A quiet moment of music and meditation to honor the memory.

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Review by Rodney Punt
Composers of serious music face limited performance prospects. It’s an old story, but a host of L.A.’s finest composers and musicians are writing it a happy ending. “It’s about revelation, making seen and heard what has been hidden”, said Hugh Levick, Artistic Director of HEAR NOW, A Festival of New Music by Contemporary Los Angeles Composers. He was speaking last weekend to a large audience as the second season of the festival commenced at The First Lutheran Church of Venice.

The key to this effort is that all its represented composers are living and reside in L.A. The festival's musicians are also local. This year they included the Lyris Quartet and members of Piano Spheres, Jacaranda’s ensembles, USC’s Thornton School of Music, the Long Beach Opera, and a scattering of L.A.’s virtuoso wind and string players.To ensure high standards, a jury of peers selected the festival’s pieces, limited to one per composer. A side benefit of this format is that works which might not fit conceptual frameworks of traditional impresarios can be included here. No one could accuse the festival’s jury of age discrimination; the youngest composer, Phillip Golub, is still a teenager and the oldest, William Kraft, is rounding out his ninth decade. Two works received world premieres: Golub’s Orange Windows and Levick’s Code V.
Adjustments were made to last year’s inaugural format, which, as sincere an effort as it was, aired too many works of similar string sonorities. This year had a better mix; of the fifteen works on the program, eleven featured at least one stringed instrument, seven piano, six woodwinds, two percussion (other than piano), and one each voice and electronics. All the works last year were performed on a single day in two long concerts. This year's works were more smartly spaced, eight on Saturday and seven on Sunday. If the two concerts still ran a tad long, the audience showed patience in the face of quality.

The festival's focus was not on sound effects, aural tricks or conceptual puzzles, as interesting as those aspects of contemporary music can be in other settings. With one exception, the works’ modern aesthetics all employed traditional instruments, whether Western, Eastern or folk in origin. The advanced techniques of the elite musicians ensured strong advocacies for the works they performed.
The mission-style church’s high-beamed sanctuary facilitated musical clarity with its rich acoustic and low reverberation. However, the weekend’s hot weather inhibited airflow in the fully occupied space, requiring street-side windows to be opened during both concerts. The resulting traffic noise and frequent sirens from nearby Venice Boulevard added an unwanted obbligato to virtually every piece, some painfully so. Fortunately, and tellingly, listeners ignored those distractions.
Three featured string quartets under the stewardship of the Lyris Quartet expanded the boundaries of that venerable genre. The delicately tinged Wandering of Don Davis began with introspective close harmonies and legato dissonances in various registers and proceeded through episodic moods from placid to intense. An ascending melody on the cello yielded to a melismatic rhapsody by the first violin. African drummer Kwasi Badu’s rhythmic virtuosity informed Burton Goldstein’s String Quartet 2. Its aggressive, polyrhythmic angularity had musical shards seeming to fall from on high in many-speeded, astringent but tender cascades. The last line of Dante’s Paradiso inspired Veronika Krausas’s Il Sole e Altre Stelle (The sun and the other stars), dedicated to the memory of a pianist friend. Elegiac string whispers seemed like cries from afar. Aching dissonances, and later pizzicati with sustained cello and viola throbs, suggested a heavenly resurrection or at least an earthly accommodation.

The Lyris caressed all the delicacies of the three quartets with equal parts sensitivity and snap. A sweet-toned Alyssa Park (one month past giving birth to her first child) made the utmost of her searching violin solos in the Davis work.

Another standout violinist, Sarah Thornblade, gave a seraphic performance of the festival’s only non-piano solo, Vera Ivanova’s Quiet Light, which emulates the soft, incense-laden beams of a Russian Orthodox Church as they stream onto wall frescos. The work explored several registers of the violin as it simulated a church filling with luminescence.The one work with non-acoustic sounds was Jason Heath’s Rain Ceremony. Alma Fernandez’s feverish viola provided the aural fodder for Heath himself on electronics. The ritualistic piece summons rain, and with it the uncontrollable forces of both procreation and destruction, depicted in what Heath describes as “the delayed playback of live sounds, … dynamic filters and samples controlled in real time by the intensity of the performer.” It proved both evocative and effective in its intended scenario.The festival’s two works for solo piano could not have been more dissimilar. British-born (but frequent local visitor) Thomas Adèscontributed his Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face. Based on his eponymous opera, it follows the tradition of Liszt’s pianistic extravaganzas. The work’s four stitched excerpts depicted the flirty thoughts and flitting scandals of a real life Duchess of Argyll. Sounding like an impressionistic nightmare, its impulse to waltz was constantly interrupted by willful counter-rhythms. Pianist Mark Robson gave the fiendishly difficult score a bracing performance, but the work betrayed its cut-and-paste origins with its greater dose of atmospherics than structure.By contrast, Gernot Wolfgang’s short Still Waters recalls an old adage: to gain attention, speak softly. The exquisite work depicts a barely interrupted still lake. A two-note motif of complex but soft chords floats in ever changing harmonics. Impressionistic and atonal, the work suggests the expanding ripples by the frisson of its chords. Pianist Gloria Cheng imbued the lovely work with a Zen-like calm.Whenever the woodwinds appeared in starring roles, the audience could expect healthy doses of both excitement and humor. Damian Montano’s three-movement Wind, a bubbling trio for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon had some of the insouciance of the last century’s French wind music, with the first movement’s playful angularity giving way to a melancholic reverie, followed by a dance-like finale. Judith Farmer’s bassoon had a particularly impressive workout with Stuart Clark’s clarinet and Leslie Reed’s oboe.Eric Guinivan’s Autumn Dances moved the action east to a Japanese country setting, in an active but pleasing dialogue between Heather Clark’s flute (as stand-in-in for the wooden Shakuhachi) and the percussive sounds of M. C. Gordy’s pitched singing bowls, wooden planks, and piccolo woodblocks. Brett Banducci’s Basque Suites paired another flute, this time with cello. The title refers neither to Basques nor suites but to a series of abstract expressionist paintings by Robert Motherwell. Vliek-Martchev’s virtuoso gyrations travelled from legato to frenetic, darting in short, stabbing bursts like an animal escaping danger, while Timothy Loo’s cello scampered up and plunged down his registers in furious chase.Five larger ensembles for mixed instrumental families provided the festival with additive layers of color and complexity. First came two traditional configurations: a piano quintet and a piano trio. Then followed three works for “Pierrot ensemble”, consisting of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. The term refers to Arnold Schoenberg’s first use of the grouping in his iconic work of exactly a century ago.
The piano quintet Orange Windows by 18-year-old Phillip Golub,received its world premiere in a committed performance by Vicki Ray and the Lyris Quartet. It’s a big-boned, two-movement torso of what the composer hopes to finish in the future. A furioso opening yields to a slower statement with variations and some nice pizzicati effects. The work’s name derives from a friend’s poem, the peculiar imagery of which attracted the composer.
Donald Crockett’s piano trio, Night Scenes, was homage to the cinema in four vignettes. Rapid passagework and noisy chords were sent to “Scatter the Barbarians”, relieved by lyrical solos in “The Blue Guitar”, first Ira Glansbeek’s wistful cello, then Shalini Vijayan’s pensive violin. Joanne Pearce Martin‘s piano ruffles signaled all to join in simultaneously. An ostinato heralded a jazzy-cool “Midnight Train” with the violin and cello singing “the song of the riders…” in a two-note motif as open strings suggested a train whistle. The finale’s impressionistic atmosphere evoked Edward Hopper’s “Night Hawks”, with its lonely figures in a diner. The violin and cello sang in harmonious octaves, but a sudden agitato suggested a lover’s quarrel.
Hugh Levick’s Code V, in its world premiere, had elements of both rondo (recurring theme or “identity”) and fugue (sharing that theme with another identity). The work “develops and works out a musical ‘DNA’ code for each of the five players”, as the composer described, but each code was “transferred and inhabited by all the different members of the ensemble.” This made for a complex agenda. As the intense interaction of these two dimensions unfolded, the moods of the various identities shifted from “despair to insouciance.” Intellectual formalism provided the roadmap for the work’s dense textures as they worked their way to a resolution from “no way out”, as Levick channeled Bach’s mental energies and Hindemith’s angularities. “The composition has to deal with and come to terms with itself", he stated, "just as we human beings have to deal with and come to terms with the shape-shifting givens with which life confronts us.” On the level of coming to terms with itself, Code V completed the mission it set out to do. It also added up to a lot of absorbed work for the five performers: Aron Kallay, perhaps Los Angeles’ most versatile keyboardist, on piano; Sara Andon, flute/piccolo; Eric Jacobs, clarinet/bass clarinet; Andrew Bulbrook, violin; and ?Ira Glansbeek, cello. Stephen Cohn’sSea Change was characterized by its ever-forward thrust. The flute protagonist entered furtively, almost like a butterfly into a garden, but was soon caught in a lively scamper with the other instruments through various harmonies. When that initial energy wore itself down, a slower section with clarinet and cello in unison relaxed the pace, as if in a meadow where the flute could linger as clarinet trills caressed the moment. Soon the faster motif returned with more incidents until a furious unison chase had everyone running at top speed in 11/8 time to the end. Sara Andon’s flute took the lead, with Vicki Ray on piano, Eric Jacobs the clarinet, Grace Oh on violin, and Ira Glansbeek at cello. The carefully worked out piece pays dividends with the multiple hearings, as this writer has experienced. On this occasion, the performers took it slightly slower than a previous group, at a tempo perfect for the richer acoustics of this building, and thereby harnessed the natural energy from within rather than forcing it upon the piece. It was a standout work and performance.
Bill Kraft, the Grand Young Man of L.A.’s music scene, was granted the festival’s final word with his Settings from Pierrot Lunaire. The instrumental ensemble with soprano voice was the festival’s only vocal work. Arnold Schoenberg’s path-finding work of 1912 had used only 21 of 50 hallucinogenic poems by the Belgian Symbolist Albert Giraud. As homage seventy-five years later, USC’s Schoenberg Institute commissioned prominent composers to set others. Kraft chose four (“Feerie”, “Mein Bruder”, “Harlequinnade”, “Selbstmord”) as appropriate to his favored Impressionist musical style, deftly inflecting them with serial and atonal accents. His four vocal nocturnes, connected by instrumental interludes, emphasized colors and imagery over the grotesqueries of the original work.Suzan Hanson's limpid soprano amplified and edified every nook of the sonorous church with expressionistic reveries, employing an occasional vocal glissandi in the manner of the original work’s characteristic Sprechstimme. She was magical. Conducted by Elizabeth Wright, the ensemble (Joanne Pearce Martin, piano; Sara Andon, flute/piccolo; Stuart Clark, clarinet/bass clarinet; Robert Brophy, violin/viola; Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, cello; Ted Atkatz, percussion) rendered the masterful orchestration stylishly, with its spooky strings, jumpy piano and fluttering flute all spiked by inventive percussive effects. Kraft, once the LA Phil’s timpanist, made the percussion an ensemble unto itself: Vibraphone, vibraslap, Glockenspiel, snare drum, bass drum, tom-toms, tam-tam, bongos, sleigh bells and crotales. The unflappable Ted Atkatz handled the battery with aplomb.
Floating freely between determinacy and indeterminacy in dream-like regions, Kraft's nocturnally inspired Settings from Pierrot Lunaire brought a very successful HEAR NOW Music Festival gently into last Sunday’s dark night.

Photo by Bonnie Perkinson used by permission of HEAR NOW, A Festival of New Music by Contemporary Los Angeles Composers, Hugh Levick, Artistic Director.
Rodney Punt can be contacted at
2 years ago | |
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by Rodney Punt

I'm posting something far afield from the world of classical music, but very close to our lives as Americans. The late John Stewart wrote and recorded a tribute to the moonwalking astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969, shortly after that small step for man and giant leap for mankind. This song, framed from the perspective of a poor black boy in Chicago with "not enough to wear or to eat", looked to that day when all Americans could aspire to their own moonwalks.

Stewart glimpsed something magical in that song: our ability to accomplish big things as a nation and also work together to make a better and more inclusive world for all. The passing of Neil Armstrong, a true American hero, gives us opportunity to reconsider where we are today as a nation, and where we want to be tomorrow, next year and all the decades to come.

I hope you enjoy this hymn to our better selves.



Rodney Punt can be reached at
Photo credit of Neil Armstrong:
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Review by Rodney Punt
Late in his life, an ailing Beethoven praised visiting Gioachino Rossini’s comedic Barber of Seville, but bluntly told his houseguest that opera seria was “ill-suited to Italians; you do not possess sufficient musical knowledge to deal with real drama.”
Sometimes a composer can’t get a break. Even as he met with Beethoven, Rossini was facing resistance to reforms he was attempting at the Naples Opera. His serious Maometto IIhad boldly propelled dramatic continuity over audience-pleasing set pieces. As reward, the Neapolitans accused the Mozart-loving Rossini of being too “German.” The composer reluctantly toned down his dramatic innovations for the later Venice and Paris productions. But the oft-revised and compromised score was, alas, soon relegated to history.
Fortunately, scholars Philip Gossett and Hans Schellevis have peeled back layers of musty and murky adaptations to restore its stunning original version. What scholarship presented as opportunity, a skillful combination of stagecraft and performance at the Santa Fe Opera has realized in achievement. Maometto II proved the most compelling of five new productions I saw at the SFO this season.
The historic Maometto II was a character to contend with. A Turkish answer to Alexander the Great, the 21-year-old was the fifteenth century warrior king who conquered Constantinople and boldly crowned himself Holy Roman Emperor. Yet he ruled wisely, enforcing religious tolerance between faiths in his new territories -- a trait Rossini and his librettist, Cesare della Valle, would retain for their story.
The opera takes place at a later siege on the very edge of Western Europe at Negroponte, capital city of an outlying Venetian island. Commander Erisso and his intended son-in-law, Calbo, contend with Maometto’s attacking forces. Erisso's daughter, Anna, in love with a man she thinks a Venetian, resists Calbo’s advances. She soon discovers her lover is actually Maometto, whom she met when he had earlier visited the city incognito to spy on its defenses.

A betrayed Anna is now at the center of a clash of wills, regimes and religions. The men may fight the battles, but Anna will shape the outcome. Having made an inadvertent wrong choice, she will contend with an unyielding father and a hasty, unconsummated marriage to Calbo while she also confronts her mixed feelings for the still ardent Maometto. Offered leniency by the Turkish conqueror in return for her love, Anna’s greater sacrifice of her life for honor, country and faith decides the day. All Maometto’s warrior skills cannot conquer either Erisso’s world or Anna’s heart. The Turkish advance is stopped short at Italian soil.
Soprano Leah Crocetto’s rich-timbered, flexible coloratura captured the requisite pathos for the ill-fated Anna (her “shame” aria was a stand-out) though girth prevented her stage movement at the same pace has her vocal passions.

Bass Luca Pisaroni’s stentorian macho-with-a-heart Maometto (his florid “conquering” aria with flutes, piccolo, and clarinet was a blazer) made for fierce opposition to tenor Bruce Sledge’s stiff-necked Erisso. Mezzo-soprano Patricia Bordon, in a trouser role, made of the the hapless Calbo a vocally opulent and credible characterization.
David Alden’s stage direction maintained forward momentum through crowded sieges, cast groupings and scenic surprises. He was aided by Jon Morrell’s two curvilinear backdrops of gray, joined for interiors and separated for exteriors. A diagonal accent of blood red color announced the entrance of Maometto. Morrell’s costumes were updated to the nineteenth century for the Venetians, with period black regalia festooning the Turkish troops.
Stage effects, intentional and unintentional, spiced the production. A brick wall burst open at a critical moment in the siege, and a triumphant Maometto later entered in a massive three-horse chariot. Even more impressive, a seemingly on-cue real life rainstorm pummeled the audience from the open sides of the seating areas just as Erisso warns the town’s women of gathering storms. Only at the Santa Fe Opera's indoor-outdoor theater could such a thing happen!
Rossini’s richly scored and dramatically linked music is revelatory. Then at the height of his career, he crafted the work with care and uncanny skill, transforming his earlier-styled florid vocal fireworks into substantive dramatic bonfires.

From its moody, romantic overture, to emotionally charged arias like Maometto’s offer of clemency, imaginative ensembles and musical exotica, including a sort of Turkish “Anvil Chorus”, the work is imbued with invention and conviction.

The first act’s continuous twenty-five minute terzettone (literally “big fat trio”) was Rossini's most impressive innovation. It was also the one Neapolitans could not stomach, conditioned as they were to vocal displays tailor-made for frequent show-stopping applause.

Rossini’s reverence for Mozart can be heard in the orchestra’s extensive use of woodwinds, especially several meltingly lovely clarinet obbligatos. Another nod to the Viennese master is seen in the compassion and civility of Maometto, mirroring Mozart’s similar treatment for his Turk, Pasha Selim, in The Abduction from the Seraglio.
In his first season as Santa Fe Opera’s Chief Conductor, Frédéric Chaslin* has already made his mark. All the season's orchestral performances, not just the two he conducted, have been characterized by cohesion and style. On this outing, Chaslin’s command of the Rossinian line and devices such as his vaunted accelerandi were impeccable, the balances well gauged, and coordination with stage business sure-footed. Special accolades are due the woodwinds, notably the solo clarinet work of orchestra principal Todd Levy. As in all five of the season’s operas, the chorus of young professional singers shined under the direction of Susanne Sheston.

Many scholars believe Maometto II to be the best of Rossini’s Neapolitan operas. It’s not hard to see why. The musical dramatization of the clash between eastern and western cultures as seen through the eyes of its four struggling protagonists was ahead of its time. The restored version remains innovative and absorbing as a music drama that still speaks to our own time.
Maometto II, opera in two acts. Music by Gioachino Rossini. Text by Cesare della Valle.

Premiered at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, 1820. Revised for Venice, 1822. Translated into French and reshaped as Le Siège de Corinthe in Paris, 1826. Reconstituted 1820 version, edited for the Works of Gioachino Rossini Edition by Hans Schellevis, under the supervision of its General Editor, Philip Gossett.
First performances of the work by the Santa Fe Opera, and a world premiere staging of the newly reconstituted 1820 version. Performance reviewed: August 2, 2012

* Shortly after this review was posted, word came that Frédéric Chaslin had resigned his post as the Santa Fe Opera’s Chief Conductor.

Photos by Ken Howard, used by permission of Santa Fe Opera.Rodney Punt can be contacted at

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Review by Rodney Punt

After an absence of five years, the Santa Fe Opera has mounted a work by Richard Strauss, once the annual practice of founder John Crosby. The infrequently performed Arabella is enjoying a fine new production with a solid cast under the direction of Tim Albery. Sir Andrew Davis helms a robust and glowing orchestra, with Susanne Sheston’s chorus meeting the season’s usual high standards.

Arabella is a wise opera, wiser even (speaking now of its libretto) than Der Rosenkavalier, on which it was modeled. Two decades after that ode to an idealized 18th Century had become a blockbuster hit for Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the two were hoping operatic lightening might strike twice. But much water had passed under Europe’s historic bridges. The collapse of the Austro-German monarchies and steep war reparations after 1918 proved disastrous for their citizens. By Arabella‘s Dresden premiere on 1 July 1933, the Third Reich had already seized power.

Under such circumstances, dangling another bauble in the manner of Rosenkavalier would hardly have impressed jaded audiences. It was Hofmannsthal who found a way to have their comedic cake and eat its bitterness too. He set Arabella in the Vienna of the mid 19th Century Gründerzeit (the Epoch of the Founders), a time of ostentation and show. Also a time of speculation and dissipated fortunes, where losers played a desperate game of catch up.

Von Hofmannsthal’s sudden and unexpected death in 1929 prevented his final touches to the libretto. Strauss received a completed Act I, but only late drafts of Acts II and III. Talky, in the manner of comedies, the libretto was full of incident and personal reflections. The composer set it as he received it, and his music seems to play a conscious second fiddle to the drama. Perhaps Strauss wanted his irreplaceable partner to take, in absentia, one last bow in the limelight.

Hofmannsthal’s Arabella is a coming-of-age story that takes place in one remarkable day, in one unremarkable hotel, where romance and fortune hunting will change lives. The aristocratic Waldner family is down on its luck. In desperation, the Count visits gaming tables but is always fleeced. His ditzy but good-hearted wife, Adelaide, seeks out fortune-tellers. Blessed with two fine daughters, the parents place hopes of financial rescue on the older Arabella making a good marriage. Levelheaded and compliant, their daughter is prepared to accomplish this but none of her current suitors seem right. Her younger sister, Zdenka, faces dimmer prospects. She has been raised as a boy because the cost of presenting a second young lady to society is beyond her family’s means.

Tobias Hoheisel’s traditional-period sets are grey-colored and curvilinear, rotating from the Waldner family’s quarters of unadorned walls (befitting their advanced state of pawning assets), to the entrance of the ballroom, and finally into the hotel’s lobby. What the sets plainly depict, David Finn’s subtle lighting animates. Albery’s stage direction keeps the action moving organically and unobtrusively.  Hoheisel's costumes are as elegant and understated as his sets.

Arabella’s journey to maturation is critical to the story. In the span of a single day she transforms from a manipulative coquette with three dangling suitors into a serious young woman who longs for just one special man. Canadian Erin Wall made an attractive Arabella, her lyric soprano floating gorgeously as she mused, “… if there is a man right for me in this world, he will stand before me one day… and there will be no doubts.” While lovely in lyric moments, Wall’s voice occasionally tightened in the extended ranges of more highly charged repartee. Convincing as the mature Arabella, Wall’s earlier flirtatious interactions lacked only a certain relish and flare.

There was no lack of relish in Mark Delavan’s Mandryka, who commanded the action from his first entrance. A burly bear of a man with boundless energy, he was tailor-made for the role of the Croatian country squire with wads of money, who instantly falls for Arabella based on her portrait and is in turn loved by her at first glance. His blustering, if mistaken, anger makes for a terrific musical dust-up later on. More often seen in Wagnerian roles or as Puccini heavies, Delevan tore up the stage in the sheer delight of being that rare baritone who gets to play it sincere and in the end also keeps the girl who signifies her love with a glass of water.

Heidi Stober’s Zdenka delivered a sparkling performance. Her youthful, bright soprano radiated the ardor and nervous energy of a severely stressed young lady who must keep her gender identity a secret as she dutifully assists the man she loves, even in his ill-matched pursuit of her sister. Stober’s beguiling vulnerability in various dilemmas was perfectly gauged and utterly disarming. In the end, the opera’s focus is as much on her safe delivery into a happy future as that of her sister and family.

Zach Borichevsky’s Matteo was all misplaced passions for most of the opera, his bright tenor a perfect match for Stober’s similar soprano as his best friend, “Zdenko”, the cross-dressed girl who’s fortuitous trickery late in the story has the capital effect of straightening out Matteo’s true affections.

Kiri Deonarine was Fiakermilli, the bubbly belle of the Coachman’s Ball -- something of an interpolated character and vocal type into the story -- whose tarty coloratura provided relief to the dramatic tension. (The opera’s creators were clearly spoofing the naughty-but-fun decadence of the era that had also produced Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.)

Bass Dale Travis’ Count Waldner was the tattered, much put upon pater familias who is reduced to bartering his daughter for survival. Victoria Livengood was his shrill, desperate wife. The two conveyed a fading aristocracy prone to foolish acts and feeble superstitions. If the opera had a fourth act, we would expect the Count’s unreformed bad habits to plague his son-in-law unendingly.

Brian Jagde was the suave leading contender of the three effete suitors to Arabella; his paler clones were Jonathan Michie and Joseph Beutel. The fatuous but accurate fortuneteller was Susanne Hendrix.

Strauss’s music is always serviceable and frequently more than that. It shifts between major and minor to convey the quicksilver mood-swings of hope and despair that propel this drama, often in Zdenka’s dilemmas. Its “parlando” technique moves the action along, with few musical daisies to smell. And as always with Strauss, the woodwinds have a field day and blurting brass signal comedic bits. In sequences where Mandryka believes he has been cuckolded, horns jeer in mockery. Folk tunes suggest the rustic energies of Mandryka’s eastern Slavonia region in Croatia.

Great musical scenes fly by almost as throwaways: the “Right Man” soliloquy, the tender interaction of the two sisters, Zdenka and Matteo’s exchanges, and Arabella’s betrothal scene with Mandryka. Nice as these are, the lack of extended musical indulgences so remarkable in Rosenkavalier may explain why few pick Arabella as a favorite among Strauss operas. But the score keeps its complicated plot moving along without fuss or fanfare and escapes the earlier opera's occasional longeurs. 

Bittersweet Arabella has often been labeled both old-fashioned and cynical, but its roots are clearly in the enlightened and insightful humanism of Mozart’s comic operas. There are no villains, grudges or deaths, and all the characters end up blaming their own foibles for their misfortunes.

In that sense, Arabella is a still an opera for modern times.

Arabella, opera in three acts, premiered 1 July 1933 at DresdenMusic by Richard Strauss, Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
A new production at the Santa Fe Opera
Reviewed: July 28 & August 6
Additional performance: August 23

Photos by Ken Howard, used by permission of Santa Fe Opera.Rodney Punt can be contacted at
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