LA Opus
Reporting on music and the lively arts....................................................................
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by  Anne French

ARVO PÄRT SETTING OF THE BEATITUDES:

A TRIBUTE TO THE MEMORY OF 9/11  





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


2 years ago | |
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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.
--ooOOoo--

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 Rodney@artspacifica.net
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.




Link:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYT8sALMGFw

--ooOOoo--

Rodney Punt can be reached at Rodney@artspacifica.com
Photo credit of Neil Armstrong: sg.news.yahoo.com
2 years ago | |
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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.
--ooOOoo--
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 Rodney@artspacifica.net

2 years ago | |
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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.

--ooOOoo--
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 Rodney@artspacifica.net
2 years ago | |
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Review by Rodney Punt

Part of the fun of Karol Szymanowski’s King Roger is figuring it out. Forget primal-action verismo. We’re in Symbolist opera in the Age of Freud, where everything is mysterious, internalized, and dream-like.

In its American premiere production (with a major company) at the Santa Fe Opera, nearly a century after the work’s 1926 Warsaw debut, King Roger’s three tableau-like acts of decorative inaction left some audiences  perplexed, but its luscious score and the fine performances of principals, chorus, and orchestra more than compensated for the work’s oratorio-like stasis.

The story is a mythical take on a real 12th century Norman who inherited the Kingdom of Sicily. The arrival of a mysterious shepherd unsettles the court and the kingdom. The young man with golden locks  is a wannabe prophet who describes his God “as youthful and beautiful as I am.” Conservative courtiers demand the apostate be put to death, but many in the realm are attracted to him. King Roger’s wife, Roxana, and his trusted scholar Edrisi urge a fair trial. Joyless and without pleasure himself, Roger agrees to the trial in his quarters, where later everything begins to spin out of control -- for the king, his wife, and most of his subjects.

Like his wife, Roger is attracted to the shepherd, but early on he sees a danger for license to become licentiousness. (If you notice this shepherd’s similarity to free-love gurus in the Age of Aquarius, you won’t be the first.) Roger's ensuing struggle is one of mind over matter, a choice between the duties of leadership and the distractions of sensuality.

Director Stephen Wadsworth sets the action in the traditional time-period, signaled by Ann Hould-Ward’s brocaded Byzantine costumes, but with the king wearing an anachronistic early 20th century business suit, a nod to that era's repressed sexuality and possibly also to composer Szymanowski’s real-life closeted torments. (Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, Death in Venice, had explored a similar theme.)

Time and place are suggested by Thomas Lynch’s initially pictorial but later abstracted panels in back and above the stage, reinforced by Duane Schuler’s mood lighting. The first act’s Byzantine cathedral is bathed in golds and reds, the second act’s royal quarters in a blue-green of Arabic-Indian sensuality, and the final act’s Greek theater in the ultimate clarity of sky-blue.

Szymanowski, a lover of distant lands, invested his score with luxuriant music, notable for Klimt-like colors that capture the flavor of these exotic locales. His personal stamp of voluptuously stacked harmonies and dissonances are in the Wagner-Strauss tradition, with influences from the Impressionists and contemporaries like Franz Schreker, who’s Symbolist Die Gezeichneten had premiered eight years before. The score was well-served by the orchestra under Evan Rogister's nuanced shaping; the chorus well-prepared by Susanne Sheston.

KWIECIEN, BURDEN, CHORUS & DANCERS

Wadsworth’s narrative focused more on the thoughts and person of King Roger than the erotically charged shock values that could have spiced the production even more but also overwhelmed its internal drama. Peggy Hickey’s choreography in the bacchanal (in which King Roger himself participates) was likewise on the tame side, given the super-charged music Szymanowski clearly modeled after a certain dance in Strauss' Salome. The work’s heaving, pleading and sighing vocal declamations lack the rhythmic thrust of action opera, and as a result reinforce its dream-like state.

In the central role of Roger, Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien was to the manner born. Magnificently bringing to life the king’s nobility, he shaded the role with a searing vulnerability that made its elusive internal dilemma credible. In a treacherous journey of self-discovery and reconciliation, the king’s state of mind shifts between anxieties of a fading hold on his people, self-doubts of his own masculinity, and desires he is compelled to resist. Though Kwiecien’s stentorian baritone might have been modulated down in some of the more intimate scenes, his focus on this complex character never faltered.

KWIECIEN & BURDEN

William Burden’s shepherd was the plangent-voiced object of Roger’s repressed desires and a powerful lure drawing his people away. As a seductive golden-locked youth, however, Burden is a tad long-in-the-tooth to fully convince, but his shepherd did manage as an imperturbable, otherworldly presence of sensual liberation. His third act transformation from prophet to a goat-legged Dionysus was the image that strengthens the king’s resolve to reject him, even as most of the king's subjects, including his wife, follow the shepherd away.

Erin Morely’s youthful, silvery soprano had Roxana transforming from a loyal wife to one increasingly enthralled by the visitor to the court. As the shepherd's lure insinuates itself into Roxana's soul, her vocalizations shift from conversational advocacy to trance-like melismas importuning her flummoxed husband to come to the other side. It is some of Szymanowski’s most beguiling music.

In the midst of all the king’s inner turmoil, Dennis Peterson’s Edrisi was the faithful, non-judgmental mirror to his master’s mind. As the forces of immutable stability, Laura Wilde’s Deaconess and Raymond Aceto’s Archbishop pulled the other way.

In the end, is King Roger a historic myth, a composer’s autobiographical therapy, or a fervid dream? It may be all three, but Wadsworth saves the final scene for what is most likely his own answer.

As King Roger awakens with only the trusted Edrisi at his side, the latter declares the dream is dead, the illusion over. The battle had ultimately been more about a mental state than the affairs of state. Roger has found peace. He crowns his head with a Dionysian wreath and drapes his kingly robe over his shoulders. His northern nature has reconciled with his southern nurture.

Roger can finally be both man and king.

MARIUSZ KWIECIEN (KING ROGER)

--ooOoo--

King Roger, opera in three acts, based on The Bacchae of Euripides
Music by Karol Szymanowski, text by Szymanowski and Jaroslaw Iwaskiewicz

Premiere of the work in a new production at the Santa Fe Opera
Reviewed: July 25 & August 3
Additional performances: August 9 & 14

Note: King Roger received a staged production at the Long Beach Opera in California in 1988. It also received a partially staged performances by Bard College in New York in 2008. 
Photos by Ken Howard, used by permission of Santa Fe Opera.
Rodney Punt can be contacted at Rodney@artspacifica.net

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NICOLE CABELL (LEILA) & CHORUS - CHRISTOPHER MAGIERA (ZURGA) ON FAR LEFT


Review by Rodney Punt

The Santa Fe Opera’s revival of Bizet’s early The Pearl Fishers is a handsome new production in a season full of winners. A charming work by a young composer of unmistakable talent and promise, it abounds in good tunes, winsome vocal lines, clear orchestrations and stunning choruses. At its premiere in 1863, no less a critic than Hector Berlioz praised it as having “beautiful, expressive pieces full of fire and rich coloring.” Yet it is a work that also reveals the still-forming composer’s tendency toward prolixity and foursquare phrasing. (Bizet’s naturalistic style and unerring narrative flow would arrive thirteen years later with Carmen).

The first two acts of Pearl Fishers showcase the 24-year-old Bizet’s innate gift for melting lyricism, even as his set pieces go on a bit long for optimal pacing. The third act’s dramatic-action score, effective as it is, contains writing least characteristic of the mature Bizet, while exhibiting a clear debt (also a kindred spirit) to Verdi’s well-honed techniques.

The story, set in ancient Ceylon, centers around two old friends, Zurga and Nadir, who meet up in a fishing village after a number of years’ separation caused by their rivalry for a young lady named Leïla. Zurga has just been selected as king and granted full authority for major decisions. Nourabad, the High Priest of Brahma, imports a virgin to the village to help protect it from the natural disasters prone to all divers for pearls. As fate would have it, the virgin is Leïla, whose presence rekindles old passions and jealousies between the two reunited friends.

Baritone Christopher Magiera, as Zurga, had the flexy pecs if not quite the dusky chops to claim leadership in this village (it took a spell for the voice to loosen up). His was the most complex character, one who ultimately achieves nobility as he wrestles with threats to his village and copes with the jealousy he feels in Nadir’s pursuit of Leïla. Eric Cutler’s gleaming lyric tenor, as Nadir, was powerful and ardent in a love that could not help betraying a best friend for the one who would not be denied. Their duet, "Au fond du temple Saint," is the show-stopper (recycled throughout the opera) that became more famous than the opera itself.

NICOLE CABELL (LEILA) & CHORUS


As Leïla (aka Priestess of Brahma), the girl they fight over, Nicole Cabell was a perfectly cast exotic beauty whose relatively large-sized soprano wandered a bit in the first act, but warmed, brightened, and focused later into a gorgeous lyric sound, full of passion and drama. Imposing bass Wayne Tigges, as Nourabad, the High Priest of Brahma, was the stern voice of eternal authority and amatory unforgiveness toward Leïla.

Lee Blakeley’s sure-handed direction, aided by Jean-Marc Puissant’s gorgeous unit set of a stage-wide and opened picture frame, allowed for a free flow of a large cast of fisher folk -- from the current action in front of the frame to the remembrance of things past behind it. Not incidentally, the back of the set was wide open to Santa Fe’s cloud-filled skyline, in perfect synchronization with the unfolding saga of life at a seaside with its stormy weather.

Rick Fisher’s lighting evoked a fairy-tale setting and bathed the action in the saturated hues of a Maxfield Parrish painting. Its chromatic intensity nicely complemented Bizet’s clear-bright orchestral colors, prominently in the woodwinds.

ERIC CUTLER (NADIR) & CHORUS

In a large cast of fishermen and their ladies, Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s fanciful costumes cannily showed off a profession’s muscularity. The buff torsos of the men, as they bent and flexed while hauling in their trophies and victims, were complemented by the exposed midriffs of their slender, comely women. (And here, we must praise the SFO’s training program that recruits young vocalists who know that today’s theatrical opera productions require lithe bodies in addition to luscious voices.)

Conductor Emmanuel Villaume and his crack orchestral charges illuminated the work’s ever-shifting colors, allowing breathing time in Act I’s languid reveries, picking up the pace in Act II’s passionate declarations, and thrusting the orchestra into the center of the action in Act III’s dramatic conflicts. 

Susanne Sheston’s chorus was well prepared for the idiomatic, clearly delineated, and powerful choral passages that rival those in Il Trovatore and Nabucco, and provide a prescient foretaste of like work in Britten’s sea operas. The ever-present singing fishers so animate this opera they collectively become another protagonist in the action. Bizet’s marvelous choruses alone justify the revival of Pearl Fishers.

---ooOoo--- 
The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet
New Production of the Santa Fe Opera
Reviewed: July 31, 2012
Remaining performances: August 10, 13, 22, 25

Photo by Ken Howard, used by permission of the Santa Fe Opera
Rodney Punt can be contacted at: Rodney@ArtsPacifica.net
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by  Anne French

GLENN GOULD, JAIME LAREDO, BACH:

A BIT OF MIDSUMMER MAGIC 



A wonderful album was made by pianist Glenn Gould and violinist Jaime Laredo in the mid 1970's, and the Sonata No. 2 for Harpsichord and Violin seems especially appropriate for mellow summertime moods. The YouTube notes I found also provide some interesting information : "Sony Label recorded 1975-1976 Is an amazing Canon which demonstrates the mathematical genius of Bach to be able to echo the melody over a bass countermelody. Almost all of the [photo] shots come from Jock Caroll's Collection Portrait of the Artist and he is a young man indeed, 20 years before this recording."

I have listened to most of the cuts from this collection, and the Gould/Laredo collaboration never fails to delight.  So close your eyes, lie back in your chaise, and enjoy 3 minutes of bliss.
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You've heard about the Mozart Effect on childhood intelligence. Now a report from Yahoo! claims there are healthful benefits from listening to classical music. Here's an excerpt:

In the past few decades, research has found that slow, soothing music is generally beneficial to one's health, whereas fast, jarring music is not. Listening to calming music enhances cognitive functions such as memory, concentration, and reasoning skills; even better, it boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscle tension, regulates stress hormones, elevates mood, and increases endurance.

Classical music and meditation music were found to have the most benefit on health. On the other hand, irritating sound can cause stress, with all its negative consequences for your health. 

The composers that have been suggested to most effectively improve the quality of life are Bach, Mozart and Italian composers, such as Vivaldi and Scarlatti. Not convinced? Consider this: Classical musicians -- orchestra conductors, in particular -- are among the longest-lived professionals.
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Review by Rodney Punt

Tucked in its idyllic pastoral valley north of Los Angeles, the annual Ojai Music Festival has earned its well-deserved reputation for adventurous music in a laid-back setting -- a yin-yang suspension between stimulus and serenity. For its 66th edition this month, however, music director Leif Ove Andsnes and artistic director Tom Morris packed four days with seven of the longest concerts in memory, plus an overflowing slate of lectures, talks, films and events. Call it a sincere, if severe, case of ambition creep that put at risk the festival's delicate balance.

Concerts were dense and diverse, sometimes oddly matched; their moods could swing from seraphic to somber or visa versa. Nordic evocations, Austro-German Weltschmerz, Slavic and Hungarian folk influences and American iconoclasm were just some of the joy rides taken at the occasionally unfocused musical theme park that was Ojai’s Libbey Bowl this year.

Much admired as a pianist in these parts, Andsnes also founded and served for two decades as impresario of the Risør Festival of Chamber Music in his native Norway. He brought to his one-season Ojai visit an artistic cohort centered around the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (NCO), under violinist/leader Terje Tønneson; it would reconfigure like a Lego set into smaller musical groups as needed. Other NCO-associated artists included Canadian-American pianist Marc-André Hamelin, Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst, and two Dutch artists, mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn and conductor-composer Reinbert de Leeuw. Local talent included percussionist Steven Schick and soprano Lucy Shelton.

Northern Lights

Nordic works came from a smorgasbord of Scandinavian composers, one each from the Icelander Haflöi Hallgrímsson, Norwegian Eivind Buene, and Swede Anders Hillborg, and several from the Dane Bent Sørensen. (Finland, tellingly, was not represented.) Proceeding on a polar route north by northwest were three works by the Alaskan John Luther Adams, two of which kicked off the festival. 

Self-described as an environmental composer, Adams seeks in hypnotic percussive sounds to attune to nature’s music. His Inuksuit received its West Coast premiere in Libbey Park’s tree-studded grounds, conducted by Schick, with 48 percussion and piccolo players spread out amongst an enchanted standing audience. "Inuksuit" refers to the anthropomorphic stone markers used to guide the Inuit peoples on journeys across the vast sub-arctic tundra from Siberia to Greenland.

Two other works of Adams, the piano-percussion Red Arc/Blue Veil, opened the program at Libbey Bowl Thursday evening, its low rumble rising like flood waters to a peak and subsiding again into nothingness. The more somber Dark Waves was featured in the last concert in a version for two pianos and tape. While the memorability of this elemental music may be subject to a short half-life, it cannot be denied that its momentary engagement in the here and now is intense.

After the zeal of this environmental start, the festival’s tone shifted to melancholic, with Russian and Austro-German composers prominent. Works of angst-ridden romanticism and expressionism followed over the next two days.

Dark Shadows

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Six Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva are bitter, late in life settings of six poems with stark, even desiccated, piano accompaniments. They found Stotijn's voice subdued, and Andsnes, with little to offer her, struggling to support. Tsvetaeva’s lyrics are rueful or angry musings at personal attractions and public atrocities. The composer took them a step further into outright nihilism.

Marc-André Hamelin’s penetrating, introspective rendition of the Charles Ives Concord Sonata followed like an interloper. "Transcendentalism" was an otherwise absent theme in this year’s programming. (Jeremy Denk, an Ives specialist who gave the rarely performed first piano sonata an outing here in 2009 and who returns as music director in 2014, would be the more logical one to take up the Concord, considered by many to be Ives' greatest work. Why it was given here this year remains a mystery.)

Friday early evening’s featured work, one of the more talked about in the festival, was Reinbert de Leeuw’s Im wunderschönen Monat Mai, a remix of Romantic song-cycles, taking its name from the first line of Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe, and using also Franz Schubert’s Winterreise and other songs. I reviewed it separately earlier.

Andsnes was pianist and Stotijn the singer on Friday’s late-night survey of music based on lullabies and memorials, joined occasionally by members of the NCO. Three piano lullabies by Danish composer Bent Sørensen, pieces he composed for his own children, reminded that Andsnes is a new father. Yet their context here focused more on eternal separations than childhood slumbers. Three larger works that were paired up with the lullabies one-by-one began with Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, likewise reflections on life’s tenuous hold. Busoni’s gentle Berceuse élégiaque and Alfred Schnittke’s meltingly lovely Piano Quintet were both tributes to their respective composers’ mothers. As if to drive home that all births are death sentences, the lullabies preceded each work without interruption. Andsnes, on piano in the lullabies, joined by Stotijn in the Mahler, applied delicacy and restraint, as did the NCO in the Busoni and Schnittke works, but the grim narrative implications of each of the three couplings could not go unnoticed.

In similar fashion, Saturday morning’s splintered couplings of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder with Berg’s Four Pieces for clarinet and piano continued the Ojai Festival’s fanciful contrivance of slicing and pairing unrelated works. (Last year it was Webern and Crumb subjected to the same treatment.) The four epigrammatic Berg pieces are more suggestive than revealing. Tucked inside the five Wagner lieder bursting with amatory desire, they serve as discreet reflections on long-ago incidents of a love affair.

The Wesendonck Lieder were, in part, a study for Tristan und Isolde, and their poems by Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of Wagner's friend and patron, chronicle the dangerous romantic attachment the two shared at the time of the work's composition. Originally for piano and voice, the five songs were arranged for chamber orchestra by Andreas Tarkmann. Stotijn's voice opened up during the course of the cycle and she and the NCO performed the songs with both intensity and tenderness.

Eivind Buene’s string orchestra piece, Langsam und Schmachtend, taking its title from Wagner’s “slow and languishing” markings for the Tristan prelude, and incorporating themes from the opera, served as an apt overture at the beginning of the combined sets.

Serving as coda, Berg’s Four Songs Op. 2 followed, expanding on the dream-like lieder with melting chromatic harmonies. Joined by the sensitive piano of Marc-André Hamelin, Stotijn, with her voice in full bloom at this point, imbued them with warmth and conviction -- her finest outing at Ojai.

In another program anomaly, at the end of this Romantic Liebesschmerz, Andsnes provided a floating, aristocratically poised performance of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. Placed last in the program, this optimistic icon of the Classical Enlightenment negated the mood of neurotic love-sickness so convincingly nurtured before, almost declaring it a passing trifle of no serious concern.

Nordic Landscapes, Folksong and Jazz, and a Beguiling Clarinet

With Saturday evening’s program, the mood of the festival began to lighten. Haflidi Hallgrímsson’s Peomi was a lexicon of string techniques (the program had wrongly identified it with wind parts) that set an intriguing dialogue between violinists Per Kristian Skalstad and Tørje Tønnesen, with string ensemble support.

Sørensen’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (“La Mattina”), much anticipated in its American premiere, proved less convincing. Described by its soloist Andsnes as a “dreamlike landscape”, its portentous opening Bach chorale lead to colorations, glissandi, and clusters from low brass to high strings to claves (wood sticks that sound like castanets) in alternatingly lugubrious, luminescent, and misterioso effects, but with motivational connections that lacked a discernable architectural structure on first hearing.

Three oddly matched pieces with the unifying thread of Martin Fröst’s brilliant clarinet work followed. The most attention grabbing of the weekend was Anders Hillborg’s Peacock Tales for solo clarinet and tape, a spoof on vanity (in a drastic reduction from its original concerto with orchestra form), which the technically dazzling Fröst served up in dance gestures wearing a satyr mask and preening like a peacock.

Two other contributions, Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio and György Kurtág’s fairy-tale inspired Hommage à Robert Schumann (both with a sympathetic Andsnes on piano and Antoine Tamestit on viola) provided additional whimsy, with gorgeous clarinet and viola playing, although at this point Fröst’s bobbing and weaving next to his more placid colleagues began to look like grandstanding.

Sunday morning’s concert provided two more virtuoso outings from the indefatigable Fröst, both with folk and jazz infusions. Hungarian folksong and American jazz techniques blended wonderfully in Béla Bartók’s Contrasts, with Øyvind Bjorä’s spicy violin and Hamelin’s spiky piano adding their touches to Fröst’s paprika.

Aaron Copland’s jazz-infiltrated Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano with the NCO and Hamelin took as its spice the folk music of Brazil, sending the audience to lunch and Fröst off to his next engagement, a welcome if rambunctious Ojai guest. Christianne Stotijn’s festival farewell came in a selection of William Bolcom’s Cabaret Songs, letting her hair down with their witty texts, not always idiomatically sung, but crowd-pleasers after the heavy fare that preceded them.

Sunday evening’s concert concluded with the NCO’s fine performance of Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane and a particularly vigorous account of John Adams’ famous Shaker Loops. Credit De Leeuw’s conducting for bringing out the best in the NCO, as he had in earlier performances, including his own work.

Closing the festival was the two-piano version of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps with insightful piano colorations, particularly from Hamelin on higher register duties, with Andsnes providing a steady rhythm on the lower-range part. It was a penetrating structural revelation of Stravinsky’s singular masterpiece. Having recently heard a fine one-piano-four-hand version of this piece at Jacaranda’s Music at the Edge in Santa Monica, I can report that this two-piano version, with more expansion for each pianist, allowed for more emphasis on colorings, but the four-hand version with two performers in the same space, enabled more propulsion.

Problematic Janácek

String quartets arranged for string orchestras are occasionally enlightening as comparisons with regular symphonic string writing. The late Beethoven quartets performed by string orchestras sound more advanced in many ways than his symphonies. But the two Leoš Janácek quartets, featured in string orchestra versions earlier in the festival, were ill served in both the decision to program them thus-arranged and in their haphazard, often ill-tuned performances.

The two works have programmatic narratives that rely on exact scoring and the sound of one instrument per part. The String Quartet No. 2 (“Intimate Letters”) chronicles Janácek’s infatuation with a younger woman. The String Quartet No. 1 (“Kreutzer Sonata”) was based on the eponymous novella of Leo Tolstoy, a tragic love story. They contain effects -- jagged lines, sul ponticello passages, nervous tremolos and characterizations of single characters – that are not appropriate in multiplicity. In both subject matter and sonics, the intended edginess was softened by a mushy orchestral sheen. Hearing these plush versions at Ojai was akin to public-sponsored voyeurism onto a private matter.

While the two Janácek quartets proved poor vehicles to employ the idle strings of the NCO when their woodwind counterparts were involved in other assignments, the strings did redeem themselves with a thoroughly polished version of Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite, one of the Norwegian composer’s more carefully crafted works, if not his most melodically inspired. Performed from memory and with most of its stringed musicians standing, the performance gave welcome opportunity for this ensemble to prove its considerable mettle and cohesion.

By the end of the concert, the NCO strings were ready for a little fun and let their collective hair down with a twirling contrabass dance that mimicked the antics of just-departed clarinetist Martin Fröst.

Let’s Go to the Movies

Three documentaries of musical artists in the festival enhanced the audience's perspectives. Pictures Reframed, following the multimedia collaboration of the pianist Andsnes and video artist Robin Rhode, was brilliant up to and including Andsnes’ magisterial piano version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in a backdrop of enveloping visuals, climaxing with the drowning of a piano in a storm-tossed sea. Matchstick Man confirmed that, while the music of Hungarian composer György Kurtág is great, his inarticulate explanations of it are not so great. Sometimes it's better to preserve a master's mystery. Strange and Sacred Noise, documenting composer John Luther Adams’ wilderness performance of relentlessly hammering percussionists in the expanse of the Arctic tundra was a terrifyingly loud indulgence at the expense of the Arctic wildlife.

Afterthoughts

This year's the festival was extravagantly full. It raised a question not often asked in lean times: Can we have too much of a good thing? No one could complain they didn't get their money's worth, yet the programs sometimes challenged meaningful absorption: density nearly smothered intensity.

The festival needs spaces between its programs and compatibility of emotional tone within them to allow one later to cleanse the mind, breathe in serenity and recharge the desire for more music. Silences and continuities, along with its sounds, are what make Ojai a special place.

 ---ooOoo--- 
As with last year, the Ojai Music Festival took much of this program north to U.C. Berkeley's "Cal Performances" series shortly after the Ojai residency was completed.
 ---ooOoo--- 
PROGRAM Link to Ojai Music Festival 2012


Photos by Timothy Norris are used by permission of the Ojai Music Festival. From top to bottom: NCO and Martin Fröst in Copland at Libbey Bowl, two aspects - piccolo and drums - of the Inuksuit performance, Leif Ove Andsnes in a Sørensen lullaby, Christianne Stotijn and Marc-André Hamelin in Berg songs, Fröst in Peacock Tales, NCO players clowning at end of concert.


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Rodney Punt can be contacted at: Rodney@ArtsPacifica.net









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