LA Opus
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by Douglas Neslund

Silesian-born composer Henryk Górecky was given the posthumous honor of closing the Los Angeles Master Chorale's 48th season, together with a motet by Johannes Brahms serving as a palate refresher.

Maestro Grant Gershon chose Górecky's "Lobgesang" (Song of Praise) and the five devotional songs that comprise "Piesni Maryjne" (Marian Songs) before concluding with the composer's "Miserere." The overriding mood of these a cappella items is contemplative. As Lobgesang was composed to mark the 600th anniversary of the birth of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of moveable type, the debut performance of which was presented four years ago by the Master Chorale . The work is accompanied by glockenspiel, played by the redoubtable Theresa Dimond, which spelled out "Gutenberg" in musical terms in three iterations over the German word "ewig" (forever), sung in an almost inaudible pianississimo by the choir. One scarcely breathes in such magical moments.

Brahms was well represented by his motet "Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz" (Create in me, O God, a pure heart - Psalm 51). After the essentially nonharmonic opening, it was something of a relief to hear a bit of traditional harmonies, thesis, if you will, after the arsis.

"Piesni Maryjne" are devotions to Mary, the Mother of Jesus in the Polish language, written in the late communist era but first performed two decades later, after the fall of the regime. The tunes around which four of the five devotions were written were pre-existing melodies that Poles would instantly recognize. The overarching mood of these songs are contemplative and prayerful. As such, they present the underrepresented opposite end of the choral dynamic spectrum from most other choral compositions appearing in a season's listings, and served as something of a challenge to our stalwart choral corps, one which they handled with exquisite touch.

After intermission, the audience was treated to the full monte, the entire Master Chorale, in all their glory, to sing Górecky's "Miserere," begun four years before the Marian Songs. The eight Chorale sections sang in an increasing amplitude, starting with the second basses singing three simple words, "Domine, Deus noster" (Lord, our God),  with the first bass section joining them in a repeat, and so on until we finally arrive at all eight sections joining together in the final iteration.

The Master Chorale sang with all its usual great tone and close attention, which allowed Maestro Gershon to shape phrases literally at will. If it were possible that the singers paid even closer attention to his direction, it should be said that the same repertoire was scheduled for recording sessions in the days to follow, with issuance of a CD scheduled for the fall.

Master Chorale tenor and composer-arranger Shawn Kirchner was appointed as the Swan Family Composer in Residence beginning July 1st. The first commission from this appointment will be heard in next season's "The American Concert" on June 2, 2013. His compositions and arrangements have been heard over many recent seasons to great acclaim.

The final concert of each season brings with it a wistful note of farewell to Chorale members who sang their last concert. This year's valedictorians included (in descending length of service): Kyra Humphrey (23 years!), Robert Lewis (21 years), Emily Lin (20), David Tinoco (19), Deborah Briggs (12), Stephanie Sharpe Peterson (11), Jay Kenton (6), James Callon (4) and Steven Chemtob (3). They will all be missed.

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by Douglas Neslund

No decently performing, nonprofit, volunteer, amateur community chorus ought to perform under the title "Master Chorale" no matter the best intentions or how urgent the financial pressures. But alas, many do. If truth be admitted, there is but one Master Chorale in the County of Los Angeles ... the magnificent ensemble that performs in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

But does a presumptuous name serve to defeat a noble purpose? Not at all. Does plumped-up publicity diminish the need for such community organizations? Also, not at all.

Given the very nature of such an organization, the Hollywood Master Chorale deserves the highest praise and support for concluding its 17th season of music making with an innovative, creative project known as "Voices of LA" in which four young composers (three of them composition students at USC, the fourth from UCLA) were tasked with setting four "Songs of Innocence" by William Blake into song.

Joshua Fishbein, Jordan Nelson, Mark Popeney and Saad N. Haddad were winners of the competition and each provided music to four Blake poems, respectively: "Piping Down the Valleys Wild," "The Echoing Green," "Night" and "The Little Boy Lost / The Little Boy Found."

The impression made by these four works was generally positive, but for better or for worse, the young composers seem determined to avoid anything approaching a major or minor chord, much less a melody. One entertains the notion that once they shed the need to be "different" from composers contemporary or ancient, they will begin to appreciate the value of other works performed on the same program composed by Eric Whitacre.

We will find out a year hence, when these same four will each be paired with an established composer from the Los Angeles region who will mentor them through another of William Blake's poems, "Songs of Experience."

The Chorale sang with inconsistent sound, although given the complex and unknown material en debut, the singers seem to have met most of the challenges. Their music making was strongest in the aforementioned Whitacre songs, "Animal Crackers, Vol. I" and "The Seal Lullaby" and weakest in the opening William Billings song, "Modern Musick." Samuel Barber's and Morten Lauridsen's respective settings of "Sure on This Shining Night" neither inspired nor repelled.

All of the above was professionally directed by Artistic Director M. Lauren Buckley, and wonderfully accompanied on the piano by Irene Gregorio. Ms. Buckley kept choristers and piano moving forward with few lapses noted in ragged phrase attacks and releases. As is the case with almost all volunteer choruses, rehearsal time is limited, and a performance of such challenges exponentially increases the need for rehearsal. Hopefully, Ms. Buckley, a graduate of Princeton University, will find additional time with her choristers to meet the challenges of the coming season.

As to the ever-present issue of fund raising and finding new resources in a problematic market in which cash is difficult to find, it is imperative that such projects as "Voices of LA" are fully subscribed and supported by those with the means.

Inasmuch as HMC is providing an unique opportunity for young composers, it could also benefit from the services of additional competent singers. Auditions are pending in the fall.

2 years ago | |
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by Rodney Punt

[As a first installment of a report on the music scene encountered in the German city of Dresden earlier this month, I am providing short overviews of both the city's musical legacy and its tumultuous history.]

Dresden, the capital of Freistaat Sachsen (Free State of Saxony, a "Land" in German), was for centuries the royal seat of a duchy within the German Holy Roman Empire. Its dukes and kings drew to their courts the finest artists, architects and musicians Europe could offer, but of all the arts, music was to hold special prominence.

Kapellmeisters Heinrich Schütz, the “Father of German Music”, and his colleague Michael Praetorius, both of whom studied in Italy, virtually invented the early German baroque style in Dresden by synthesizing techniques of the German and Italian schools. Schütz's Dafne (music now lost) was the first German opera and launched Dresden as the city most closely identified with German-born opera composers.

Smitten with Dresden a century later, Leipzig Kapellmeister J. S. Bach offered sections of his B-minor Mass to the Saxon king in a long (and finally successful) pursuit of the title of court composer. Bach's contemporary, Gottfried Silbermann, who built organs and fortepianos for the city’s churches and salons, prompted Bach's side-speciality of testing and recommending further refinements to them.

Dresden’s eighteenth century Italian opera productions were admired throughout Europe. George Frideric Händel, one of Saxony's most famous citizens (born in nearby Halle), created a scandal when he raided his monarch's most famous singers for the London stage.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Carl Maria von Weber, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss composed or premiered increasingly sophisticated works for the Dresden opera (most at one of two versions of the Semperoper). Though the roots of German national opera sprung from the Viennese singspiel tradition, including Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Die Zauberflöte, with attempts by Franz Schubert to match Weber's later innovations, it was in Dresden that German national opera took hold and came into its own, evolving into a tradition comparable to and frequently more technically advanced than its longer-standing counterparts in Italy and France.

The line of German operas with a Dresden connection is extensive. They trace from Weber’s Der Freischütz (premiered in Berlin in 1821 and soon after in Weber's home town of Dresden) and Marschner’s Der Vampyr, premiered in 1828. A qualitative leap came with Wagner’s Rienzi in 1842, Der fliegende Holländer in 1843, Tannhäuser in 1845 (all composed and premiered in Dresden) and Lohengrin (composed in Dresden but premiered in Weimar in 1850 after Wagner's participation in the civil uprising of 1849 prompted his banishment from Germany). Though Dresden was no longer a base of operations for Wagner, he found his individual voice there. Schumann’s Genoveva was composed for but refused by the Semperoper and premiered in Leipzig also in 1850. Richard Strauss’s nine premieres at the Semperoper ushered in the twilight of romanticism, beginning with Feuersnot in 1901, Salome in 1905, Elektra in 1909, Der Rosenkavalier in 1911, and five others concluding with the 1938 opening of Daphne. The Semperoper was subsequently destroyed in the infamous WWII firebombing of February, 1945.

Dresden’s location astride the winding banks of the river Elbe tied it to other German cities. Its proximity to the Czech and Polish borders positioned it also as one of Europe’s most fecund creative crossroads. But these close encounters also led to setbacks from social hazards and political conflicts that might have broken the spirit of a lesser city.

The Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages decimated the city’s population, as did the later Thirty Years War. Fully recovered by the nineteenth century (arguably its most resplendent musically), Dresden survived the First World War at great loss (the Zwinger Palace’s massive four-part Otto Dix painting of trench warfare bears witness). But the Second World War’s firebombing (graphically documented in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five) destroyed much of the city’s historic core. Reconstruction projects from 1945 -- embraced by both the drab, resource-challenged German Democratic Republic and, from 1990, the more robust German Federal Republic -- have painstakingly rebuilt Dresden stone by stone.

It took two decades to restore the Zwinger Palace art museum, four to mend the Semperoper, and six to return the city’s emblematic landmark, the stately baroque Frauenkirche, finally finished in 2005. Not content to simply attain a previous status quo, Dresden has in recent decades reinvented itself as it rebuilt. It calls to mind the role of its historic intelligentsia in leading Germany’s progressive political and artistic movements, as with Wagner's involvement in attempting a reform government in 1849.

Vying today for attention with baroque buildings are modern architectural developments in outlying districts, including Daniel Libeskind’s Museum of Military History project that reimagines the Neustadt district’s former military barracks, a sobering reflection on the destructive ends of war. Opened in 2011, it is both Germany's largest museum and the official one of the German Armed Forces.

Since the national reunification two decades ago, Dresden’s restoration has accelerated and its rise as a cultural center has once again made it one of the most beloved and frequently visited cities in Germany.

Photos by Rodney Punt. Top: Altstadt with the Koenig-Johann-Denkmal and nearby catholic church of the royal court (Dresden is otherwise a Lutheran city); bottom: The  Museum of Military History as reimagined by Daniel Libeskind. Punt can be reached at

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by Douglas Neslund

"Pied Piper" does not adequately fit Mr. Rod Yonkers, Director of Music at La Crescenta's Rosemont Middle School. One may start with such an appelation, but where the original Pied Piper led a generation of children astray, Mr. Yonkers is leading that lucky school's students, challenging them and urging them to excellence. Music in this school is head and shoulders above the best of the rest, and incredibly superior to the image of "music in the public schools" as the woebegone, vanishing, underfunded and forgotten subject portrayed in the public press.

Indeed, Rosemont Middle School is a cornucopia of student talent, no doubt attracted by the personal talents of Mr. Yonkers that are so obviously supported by the school's principal, Dr. Cynthia Livingston. Naysayers may point to the school's mostly upper middle class clientele to inject a bit of class warfare in order to discount the achievements of these children; nevertheless, ethnic and social balance were absolutely in evidence.

On a chilly June night, friends and families gathered for "Rosemont Bowl XVII" at the school's amphitheater, treated first to a college-level drum line that was as crisp and thrilling as any. Smartly marching into and out of position, in perfect rhythm as well as stick management, the drum corp looked sharp and received well deserved applause.

What followed thrilled the patriotic: Mr. Yonkers, smartly dressed as George Washington and accompanied by Mr. Lynn McGinnis portraying Benjamin Franklin while reciting "America, the Beautiful" (but forgetting the final critical line: "Confirm thy soul in self control, Thy liberty in law!") The combined Advanced Strings and Concert Band then attacked John Philip Sousa's immortal "Stars and Stripes Forever" with piccolo solo by Amy Choi. At the repeat, audience members were invited to provide fireworks by shooting "poppers" into the air:

The program continued through "Hoe Down" by Aaron Copland, danced by the entire Advanced Chorus, to "Rolling In The Deep" arranged by schoolgirl Emily Hayhurst, to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" danced by schoolboy Isaac Sims-Foster, and much, much more, including an excellent Jazz Band of 18 members. Every item on the program was well prepared and performed.

In a world increasing in cynicism and doubtful leadership, Mr. Yonkers stands out and in his outgoing way, brings students, parents and visitors along with him, reminding us that music can heal and inspire. Proof is encapsulated in a box at the end of the evening's program entitled "Rosemont Musicians in Outside Music Groups." Typical are Ernie Carbajal, Principal Cellist, who has been taken under the wing of the San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra, and Trombonist Cole Davis, who is a member of the Colburn Wind Ensemble.

If you feel a need to rejuvenate your hope for the future, just take in a concert by the Rosemont Middle School, and after your spirits have been lifted, take a moment to thank Mr. Yonkers for his dedication to that future.
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By Rodney Punt

With the rise of Hitler in 1933, Nobel prize-winning author Thomas Mann fled his native Germany and eventually settled from 1942 to 1952 in a stately home in Pacific Palisades, California.

In that turbulent decade Mann witnessed the defeat of the Nazism that had driven him out of Europe only to encounter after the war the rapid and rabid rise of Senator Joe McCarthy's anti-communist (and anti-intellectual) "witch hunts" in the USA. Having relocated back to Europe, Mann died in Switzerland in 1955.

The current issue of West L.A.'s Brentwood News announces the former Mann home is up for rent at $15,000 a month. I've been in it several times and always make my way to the study where the author worked on The Holy Sinner; The Black Swan; Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man; and Doctor Faustus, the later partly based on the works of composer Arnold Schoenberg who lived nearby and who, taking exception to how he was characterized, confronted Mann at the nearby Brentwood Mart. Mann's novella, Death in Venice, was the basis for the 1971 Luchino Visconti film.

The owners of the home after Mann had great respect for the author and the room still had the feel of his presence just a year ago when I last visited. One hopes this enchanted space will not be obliterated by a new resident or owner.

Back to the Brentwood News; its blurb skips over all Mann's works but one, observing, presumably for the community's celebrity residents, "His short story, Disillusionment, was the basis for Peggy Lee's recording of Is That All There is?".

You see, it's all in the perspective.

2 years ago | |
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By Douglas Neslund

If you are ever in need of life-affirmation, there is at least one chance per year to pump the sunshine of the future.  Sponsored by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and conducted by its Maestro Grant Gershon, almost 900 high school singers from 25 Southern California secondary schools, from Agoura in the west to Rancho Cucamonga in the east, from Pasadena in the north to Long Beach in the south, they came. And they decorated and musically blessed Walt Disney Concert Hall, performing with an excellence and a tone quality throughout that offers assurance for a future Master Chorale as high in quality as we now have, should these young people choose to sing in their adult years. The Festival was attended by a very large and appreciative audience, a difficult turnout to achieve on any Friday afternoon.
Beautifully accompanied at the piano by Louise Thomas, Maestro Gershon chose a potpourri of choral items, starting perhaps a bit ironically with Verdi’s immortal chorus from the opera Nabucco: Va, pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves). What followed was an appetizer each from various cultures and ages, most memorable of which was “Yo le Canto Todo el Dia” by that famous Hispanic composer, David L. Brunner, featuring tricky rhythms and choral clapping reminiscent of flamenco dancers cum castanets.
A smaller group was chosen out of the aggregation by their own directors to form the Festival Honor Choir, which performed “Come away, sweet love” by Thomas Greaves (who flourished in 1604), which was pretty obviously in a style foreign to the singers. The Honor Choir rebounded with LAMC composer-extraordinaire-in-residence, Shawn Kirchner’s beautiful “Tu Voz” and Aaron Copland’s familiar “Ching-a-Ring Chaw!” delivered at warp speed with all syllables in place. 
From the uppermost balcony, one could spot members of the Master Chorale seeded throughout the Honor Choir, who provided gravitas to the Honor Chorus but who inexplicably departed the stage before the entire Festival Chorus rose to sing the finale, Joseph Haydn’s “The Heavens are Telling” from The Creation, accompanied on the pipe organ by John West. Again, perhaps it is difficult to tell balances from the stage, but in nose-bleed territory, the organ managed pretty much to bury the vocal efforts of the assembled singers.
Since 1990, 167 high school choir directors have sent their young artists to the Master Chorale sponsored Choir Festival. Applause all around, especially to this year’s choir directors who so ably prepared their singers. Bravi, tutti!
John Mosley, Agoura High SchoolJennifer Stanley, Arroyo High School, El MonteCarolyn Kelley, Bellflower High SchoolMichael Suffolk, Birmingham Community Charter High SchoolDan Hawkins, California High School, WhittierDesiree Fowler and Christopher Rodriguez, Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing ArtsSusan Silver, Covina High SchoolTony Spano and Aaron Sim, Culver City High SchoolJoel Whisler, El Monte High SchoolGrace Sheldon-Williams, Glendale High SchoolMarsha Lynne Taylor, Grant High School, Van NuysAaron Kolbert, Maranatha High School, PasadenaTony Azeltine, Mark Keppel High School, AlhambraNancy Ludwig, Mountain View High School, El MonteNancy Lanpher, Norwalk High SchoolDan Doctor, Palos Verdes Peninsula High SchoolKelley Squires, Rancho Cucamonga High SchoolDrew Holt, Renaissance High School for the Arts, Long BeachRuth Gray, Rosemead High SchoolCecelia Ravilla, San Gabriel High SchoolSuzanne Brookey, Sierra Vista High School, Baldwin ParkElizabeth Turner, South High School, TorranceTom Pease, Taft High School, Woodland HillsKathleen Jensen, West High School, TorranceCurtis Heard, Wilson Classical High School, Long Beach
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Chamber Works, Orchestrated Songs and the C Major Symphony

Review by Rodney Punt

Between the years of 1818 and 1822, composer Franz Schubert, previously a whirlwind of prodigious creativity, experienced a compositional crisis and was unable to complete several large-scale works. Abandoned were four symphonies, a sacred cantata and a quartet. His contracting of syphilis in late 1822 or early 1823 further darkened the composer's outlook but also steeled his resolve with the time left him to reach for the model of Beethoven's monumental achievements.

The LA Phil’s recent "Sublime Schubert" series probed Schubert’s double-track pursuit of vocal and instrumental music coming out of this crisis. Two concerts – one chamber, one orchestral -- complemented the two earlier reviewed song cycles. Musicians from within the orchestra’s ranks, under the banner of the Chamber Music Society, ventured works on an intimate scale for a Tuesday evening installment of the weeklong series.Schubert identified his String Quartet No. 13 ("Rosamunde") -- written in 1823-4 along with an octet -- as preparatory for the grand symphony he would soon compose. While the quartet's moniker evokes the charming Biedermeier-like incidental music Schubert had just provided for a theatrical play, it's an entirely more serious work, the first of three last quartets and his answer to like works of his older contemporary.

The LA Phil’s musicians caught the quartet’s spirit in a smooth, generally soft-edged rendition that lacked only the assertive flair of long-tenured ensembles. They imbued the work’s first movement with a Mozartian mix of grace and melancholy, carried over into both the eponymous Andante and the later Menuetto, and shading darker the bucolic charm of the concluding Allegro.Schubert’s late Quintet for 2 violins, viola & 2 cellos in C Major, completed only weeks before his death, is considered one of the greatest chamber works ever composed and is a favorite of professional musicians. Its Adagio is often performed at funerals; I heard it as such in the 1998 Vienna memorial for soprano Leonie Rysanek. While acknowledging death’s nearness, however, the work also defies it. Within another configuration of the LA Phil's musicians, its performance soared to almost symphonic dimensions with rich, full-bodied string sonorities that emphasized life-embracing rather than life-effacing moods. Usually tragic, the Adagio movement sounded in this context almost seraphic. The additional cello's gentle pizzicato set against the sustained quartet strings of the ensemble in that Adagio foreshadows its string bass counterpart in the Schubert C Major Symphony performed later that week. Vivid sonorities in the rustic Scherzo and soulful Trio led to the celebratory embrace of the final Allegretto. It was a splendid outing for the estimable Chamber Music Society project.

Concluding orchestra performances over the weekend showcased both Schubert’s intimate and expansive visions while providing insights into his profound influence over the rest of the century. Taking a cue from the earlier song cycles, conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the LA Phil, with baritone Matthias Goerne, presented nine rarely heard orchestral versions of Schubert’s lieder, including two encores.Attracted to the composer’s unparalleled songs, later composers arranged them to fit all instrumental sizes from solo piano to full orchestra, advancing Schubert’s standing as the essential harbinger of the Romantic era. While Europe's musical scene divided into two distinct branches of Romanticism – conservative and progressive – both claimed Schubert as the fountainhead. The composer’s larger instrumental works were to come to public attention only sporadically and later.
Often on the opera stage, lieder specialist Goerne was in comfortable and resonant voice for the amped-up sonorities. In turn, Eschenbach and the LA Phil were attentive to his lead. Orchestrations by the era’s A-list master craftsmen included the richly textured “Memnon” of Johannes Brahms; dramatic renditions of “Gruppe aus dem Tartarus” and “Erlkönig” by Max Reger (less effective was his elephantine-chiffoned “Im Abendrot”); a delicately textured “Der Wegweiser” from Winterreise and “Tränenregen” from Die schöne Müllerin by a young Anton Webern, and the anonymously arranged “An Silvia”. Encored were "Ständchen” from Schwanengesang and the anthem of all singers, “An die Musik” in arrangements by Webern.

“Gruppe aus dem Tartarus” and especially “Erlkönig” provide enticing glimpses into Schubert’s potential as a dramatic opera composer, an aspiration thwarted at every turn during his lifetime, but one that would surely have taken hold had he lived long enough. Schubert’s incipient mastery of large orchestral forms would eventually have synchronized with his uncanny ability to characterize the most intimate dramatic moments in his songs. Alas, not enough time was left him.

The Sublime Schubert survey concluded with Eschenbach and the LA Phil's performance of the "Great" Symphony in C Major. It was the product of Schubert's summer 1825 recital tour with his friend and mentor, baritone Michael Vogl. The two traversed the scenic Upper Austria region, known as the Salzkammergut for its thrusting mountains and plunging valleys. Energized by its beauty, Schubert tackled that grand symphony he had long envisioned, writing about it from the village way stations of Gmunden and Gastein. From its opening horn invocation to the ascendant stirrings of its last movement, the symphony breathes the air of this vast natural cathedral. Schubert’s "Sommerreise" (as Roger Norrington dubbed it) is a model of lyric expansiveness, with structural implications that would later be exploited by Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler.

Eschenbach's approach, as in his piano collaborations with Goerne earlier in the week, emphasized clean lines, broad tempi and emphatic phrasing. His mannered and titanic Luftpausen before downbeats underlined phrases, but after several repetitions flirted with cliché. Pumped up grandiosity in this already pulsing symphony was, by the fourth movement, overkill to Schubert's cosmic conception, overshadowing the work's more lyric moments. The monumental style seemed frozen in old-school aspic. Still, Eschenbach was consistent in his vision and shaped the orchestra's strings into rhythmically sharp attacks, coaxed its woodwinds into lush statements, and let its brass glow with glorious incantations, a few cracks notwithstanding.

The week-long Sublime Schubert, so often dwelling in the night of winter journeys, had concluded in a determined, day-bright C Major.

NOTE: The above photographs were taken by the author on a trip to Austria in September, 2011. They provide some idea of an area Schubert was to find beautiful and inspiring. Top: Schubert Memorial at Gmunden, the town where he composed parts of the "Great" C Major Symphony. Middle top: painted skulls in Hallstatt's church, with the date of 1825 on a memorial; it happens also to have been the year Schubert visited the Salzkammergut region and composed his grand symphony. Middle bottom: the lakeside village of Hallstatt, where the tradition of painting skulls originated. Bottom: The Salzkammergut alpine mountains, mentioned by Schubert in such glowing terms in a letter to his brother Ferdinand.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 8:00PM?
Walt Disney Concert Hall, ?Los Angeles, CA 
Schubert: String Quartet No. 13 ("Rosamunde"), D 804
Elizabeth Baker, violin ?Jin Shan Dai, violin ?Benjamin Ullery, viola ?Jason Lippmann, cello?? 
Schubert: Quintet for 2 violins, viola, 2 cellos in C major, D 956
Gloria Lum & ?Jonathan Karoly, cello; ?Nathan Cole & ?Akiko Tarumoto, violin; ?Ingrid Hutman, viola 

Friday, April 20, 2012, 8:00PM 
Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA 
Los Angeles Philharmonic, Christoph Eschenbach, conductor, Matthias Goerne, baritone
Schubert: Orchestrated Songs
An Silvia, D 891 (anonymous orchestration)
Memnon, D 541 (orch. Johannes Brahms)?
Gruppe aus dem Tartarus, D 583 (orch. Max Reger)
Der Wegweiser, D 911, No. 20 (from Winterreise) (orch. Anton Webern)?
Im Abendrot, D 799 (orch. Max Reger) 
Tränenregen, D 795, No. 10 (from Die schöne Müllerin) (orch. Anton Webern)
Erlkönig, D 328 (orch. Max Reger)
Ständchen, D 957, No. 4 (from Schwanengesang, orch. Anton Webern) as encore 
An die Musik, D 547 (orch. Anton Webern) as encore 
Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C Major,"Great", D 944

Rodney Punt can be contacted at

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Review by Rodney Punt

As the oft-twined saints Peter and Paul stand primus inter pares amongst their fellow apostles, so stand Franz Schubert’s twin song cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise beside similar works by other composers.

The towering achievements of the two song cycles, along with Schubert’s Schwanengesang, not to mention the hundreds of other songs he composed, were to elevate the heretofore lowly art song ("Lied" in German)  from its backwater eddy to a place in the mainstream of musical expression, a feat reminiscent of the above apostles galvanizing their once ragtag cult into a world religion.

Hearing both cycles in the span of three days was a rare luxury for lovers of song in Los Angeles, and it was provided by the LA Phil’s generous allocation of a full week to Schubert’s works in their series, Sublime Schubert. Guest headliners have been eminent German baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist-conductor Christoph Eschenbach. As a singer and piano duo, they performed Die schöne Müllerin this past Monday and Winterreise on Wednesday. Chamber music followed on Tuesday and orchestral music is slated for the weekend.

Composer Franz Schubert and his poet for both song cycles, Wilhelm Müller, were almost exact contemporaries who never met and who both died young. Their collaborations trace two storylines of a similar pattern: each involves the rejection of a suitor who had thought his love reciprocated, and when it was not he follows a path to depression and death. But from here the stories diverge.

Die schöne Müllerin has the more traditionally constructed narrative, with four human characters: the protagonist miller’s apprentice, his boss the miller, the latter’s pretty daughter, and a hunter who becomes the boy’s rival. A fifth character is the millstream with whom the boy shares his feelings and into which he eventually commends his body. The singer inhabits the boy’s internal emotional life in distinct chapters: hope, conflict, shocked despair and rapid death. A successful performance will properly gauge each of these episodes. The piano colors the drama with externalized evocations of hiking, rippling brooks, turning mill wheels, bumptious hunting, and finally the rocking of a lullaby.

In sharp contrast, Winterreise has only one real protagonist: a solitary man whose proposal of marriage has been rejected. Its “story” takes place entirely within the mind of this already spurned suitor who is on an inexorable and painfully incremental trek from dejection to despondency to dissolution to death. The piano takes on the role of mirror to the man’s mind, reflecting the emotional territory of its increasingly tormented thoughts. There is no real conflict; the cycle maintains variety by the protagonist’s increasingly ominous interpretations of random imagery he encounters along his bleak, trudging winter’s journey.

Performance history of the two song cycles

From the beginning, performances of these two works have employed different voice-types. Die schöne Müllerin has favored a high voice, often a tenor or lyric baritone of particularly pure intonation. Schubert chose for the work’s premiere the gifted amateur singer Baron Karl von Schönstein, to whom he eventually dedicated the cycle. Contemporary witnesses agree with Schubert’s choice. Since that authoritative precedent, a high lyric voice has most successfully depicted the naive miller boy, with a certain projection of vulnerability appropriate to the role.

By contrast, the first significant protagonist of Winterreise was the operatic baritone Johann Michael Vogl, the singer with whom Schubert has been most closely identified and an artist that the callow composer had earlier idolized on the operatic stage as the fearsome Don Pizarro in Fidelio. It was the dramatic voice of Vogl that premiered songs like ‘Die Allmacht’ and ‘Erlkönig’ (the latter to be performed in an orchestrated version by Goerne with the LA Phil this weekend). Though written in a key appropriate for tenor or high baritone, the cycle is often transposed down for a darker voiced singer.

As established in Schubert's Viennese circle of friends in the 1820's, the above division of labor was generally respected for a century and a half. Still, these two seminal works have been an irresistible magnet for singers of all voice types.

In recent decades, a trend to more overtly dramatize song cycles, especially Winterreise, has led to unconventional performances, including literally dramatized productions like the Winterreise Long Beach Opera produced a few seasons ago and video-dramas like those of mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender for Image Entertainment and tenor Ian Bostridge for Kultur. Bostridge and pianist Julian Drake gave a concert Winterreise performance two years ago at Royce Hall that was a startlingly odd drama in its own self-absorbed way. While these approaches add novelty to the Schubert song recital, they also sacrifice an element previously considered essential: a dignified reticence that infuses nobility into the suffering of the two protagonists.

Dramatic forays aside, modern-era representatives of the long performing tradition include tenors Peter Schreier, Fritz Wunderlich and Ian Bostridge in compelling versions of Die schöne Müllerin. Also high lyric baritones like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (one of Goerne’s teachers) and Gérard Souzay. Baritones and basses have generally best realized Winterreise: Hans Hotter, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (a switch-hitter between the two song cycles), Hermann Prey, Thomas Quasthoff, Thomas Hampson, and earlier versions from Goerne himself.

Die schöne Müllerin on Monday

The big question going into the two performances this week centered on how Goerne and his piano collaborator, Christoph Eschenbach, would convincingly interpret and perform the two very different song cycles in such close proximity to one another. The short answer: both performances shed light on their respective dramas, but the miller boy met with decidedly mixed results while the rejected suitor in winter was depicted with close to consummate mastery.

Most performances of Die schöne Müllerin clock in at around 65 minutes give or take a couple. Goerne and Eschenbach took a whopping 78½. The extra time had nothing to do with breaks between the twenty songs because they observed none. The cause was slow tempi that restricted the pacing to a crawl; in the last two songs forward momentum almost stopped.

The two performers dramatized every moment in micro-phrases, parsing Schubert’s strophic meters as if they were dissecting an animal, one shaking organ at a time. The duo had also freighted this most tender of musical tragedies with the weight of Shakespearian drama.

Goerne is a big man with a lumberjack’s build. He possesses a fearsome gaze and a hefty middle and lower vocal range that can thunder when called upon. He can also float in doses a uniquely resonant and compelling, if darkish, upper voice and head tone. These qualities serve him well in performances of the crazed Wozzeck on the opera stage and they would be successfully tailored to the rejected and embittered suitor of Schubert’s Winterreise two days later. They would also be appropriately employed in this evening's startling outbursts of animal energy in the minor roles of the burly miller and swaggering hunter.

Overt masculinity, however, is not the trait of the impressionable miller boy, who may have enjoyed his first shave shortly before he meets the boss’s pretty daughter. In the Müller-Schubert conception, the miller lad is full of sunny optimism, uneasy hopes and tender daydreams through the first thirteen songs. Hinting at his insecurities as he wistfully contemplates his girlfriend’s green ribbon in ‘Mit dem grünen Lautenbande’, he is jolted and jilted only in the fourteenth song with the arrival of ‘Der Jäger’, which launches his angry feelings.

Yet Goerne’s characterization of the miller boy had been heavier and darker from much earlier. ‘Halt’, only the third song, was burly if not stentorian. ‘Morgengruss’, taken at a snail’s pace in the manner of a Tristanesque dream, was far too psychologically complicated for a simple miller lad. Perhaps it was the strain from the high tessitura -- Goerne employed sculpted arm and hand movements as if to beckon an elusive lighter voice -- that tinted darker the miller boy's youth and vulnerability until the more comfortable ‘Tränenregen' loosened up the vocal tension. The following ‘Mein’ was sung with a dark coloration more appropriate for the hunter than a pixilated miller boy. All these songs precede 'Der Jäger'.

The question remained whether Goerne’s otherwise generous talents are suitable at this stage in his career to the role of the miller lad. Given unknown factors like the momentary condition of the singer's voice, a single performance cannot answer that question definitively. Yet it was undeniable that the conception of the miller story by Goerne and Eschenbach was by traditional standards heavy and plodding.

Piano collaborator Eschenbach seemed also not in peak form on Monday; perhaps he had not fully accustomed to his instrument. His touch communicated brittleness here and there. And though it remained within acceptable standards, his control was not always the ultimate in artfulness or fluidity. Were the two artists possibly still recuperating from their trip to Los Angeles?

Winterreise on Wednesday

As contrasted with Monday's Die schöne Müllerin, Wednesday’s Winterreise was performed as if by a fresh team from another planet. What they had struggled for but could not achieve on Monday seemed to arrive without excessive energy. The emotional essence of the profound work was captured both in big picture and telling details. Phrasings had plasticity, yet the vision also an organic unity.

The approach as on Monday was to dramatize the cycle -- again it was slow, coming in at 81'40 minutes -- but here it all worked without exaggeration. The old-school practice of letting the music and words carry the load of the drama was blended with the new style of gestural elements and exploring poetic byways for maximum revelation and effect. Not incidentally and unlike on Monday, both performers adhered more closely to Schubert's markings on this outing.

Goerne's voice was in peak form up and down the registers and much more secure technically. His performance felt comfortable and centered. One visual sign of this was his relative lack of hand and arm sculpting and altogether more natural breathing. As a result, his lonely protagonist was surprisingly gentler and more focused than had been the hapless miller boy on Monday.

The lower tessitura preserved Goerne's freshness throughout and left him with enough reserves to handle climactic moments with relative ease, as at the evening's highest reach in the otherworldly 'Die Krähe'. Other highlights: the shuddering quality of 'Gefror'ne Tränen', the gentle rubati in 'Der Lindenbaum', the spooky effects of both piano and voice in 'Irrlicht', the first intimations of death in 'Rast', the quicksilver changes of mood in 'Frühlingstraum', the self-realization of rapid aging in 'Der greise Kopf', the sensation of death as faithful friend in 'Die Krähe', the detachment from life and the living of 'Der Wegweiser', and the almost literal rising of the spirit in the otherwise banal  hurdy-gurdy tune of 'Der Leiermann'.

Eschenbach was at one with his singer. While the pianist’s seventy-two years have left some mark on his finger fluency, he was on this occasion fully in control and finely nuanced. From the perspective of the work's hand-and-glove psychological requirements of the piano with the voice, this was a most gratifying performance.

The Goerne-Brendel Winterreise recital at the Disney in 2004 was on a very high level, but this evening's was one for the ages. It stands among the finest live performances I have heard.


Sublime Schubert
Die schöne Müllerin by Franz Schubert -- Monday, April 16, 8 pmWinterreise by Franz Schubert -- Wednesday, April 18, at 8 pm
Colburn Celebrity Recital,  Disney Hall, Los Angeles
Matthias Goerne, baritone
Christoph Eschenbach, piano

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LA Phil, Eschenbach, Goerne Perform Music's Lyric Master

By Rodney Punt

Next week, an extraordinary musical series, aptly named Sublime Schubert, comes to Disney Hall, courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

One of the world’s leading singers, German baritone Matthias Goerne, collaborates with conductor/pianist Christoph Eschenbach, the LA Phil and its chamber musicians in performances of some of Franz Schubert’s greatest masterworks: two song cycles, two chamber pieces, his most ambitious symphony, and seven rarely performed orchestrated versions of his songs.

Franz Schubert, the shy, short-statured composer of little fame outside of his circle of friends in Vienna during his lifetime, was the early nineteenth century’s lyric miracle of music. His influence, after his tragically early death in 1828 at age 31, became an increasingly major force in the musical zeitgeist of Europe for the rest of the century and beyond, even as his works, many of them major masterpieces, only trickled out of their hiding places in dribbles and drabs for decades after the composer’s death.

The two main schools of Central European musical life both claimed Schubert as a source of inspiration. "Classical romantics" like Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Dvorák were the first to seize the torch, actively discovering, giving first performances, and preparing his works for collected editions. Just as passionately, "progressives" like Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz, and even Richard Wagner learned much from him; the first two making instrumental arrangements of Schubert’s works for wider performance. The works of later composers like Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler bear clear traces of Schubert’s romantic sensibilities and compositional techniques.

The LA Phil’s Sublime Schubert starts with a Colburn Celebrity Recital performance featuring Goerne, joined by pianist Eschenbach in Schubert’s first great song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin, on Monday, April 16, at 8 pm. Schubert composed the songs of the love-struck miller boy while recovering in hospital from an illness that would claim his life only half a dozen years later. The songs are individually lovely but their cumulative unity made a dramatic impact never before encountered in music.
Tuesday, April 17, at 8 pm, offers a Chamber Music Society performance of the composer’s String Quartet No. 13 (“Rosamunde”), D. 804, and his Quintet in C major for two violins, viola and two cellos, D. 956. The quartet contains one of Schubert's most meltingly charming tunes, while the quintet's profoundly gentle strains are Schubert's valedictory in chamber music. Many musicians value the Quintet as their favorite piece of music.

Goerne and Eschenbach return for a second Colburn Celebrity Recital, Wednesday, April 18, at 8 pm, performing what is widely acknowledged as the greatest song cycle in music, Winterreise. The bitter songs of a rejected lover affected Schubert like none he had composed before. His friends were baffled by their somberness, but Schubert told them he valued these songs over all his others and someday they would come to love them too. And he was right.
Sublime Schubert concludes with a weekend of concerts with Goerne and the LA Phil led by Eschenbach, Friday and Saturday, April 20 and 21, at 8 pm, as well as Sunday, April 22, at 2 pm.
On this extraordinary program are the following orchestrated Schubert songs: “An Silvia,” D. 891 (anonymous orchestration); “Memnon,” D. 541 (orch. Johannes Brahms); “Gruppe aus dem Tartarus,” D. 583 (orch. Max Reger); “Der Wegweiser,” D. 911, No. 20 (from Winterreise) (orch. Anton Webern); “Im Abendrot,” D. 799 (orch. Max Reger); “Tränenregen,” D. 795, No. 10 (from Die schöne Müllerin) (orch. Anton Webern); and “Erlkönig,” D. 328 (orch. Max Reger).
The program concludes with the composer’s propulsive Symphony No. 9 “The Great” in C major. Discovered in the dusty bins of Schubert's brother Ferdinand by the young Robert Schumann, the awestruck composer wrote to Mendelssohn of its "heavenly length" and the latter gave its world premiere in Leipzig in 1839. Its popularity soon grew and its influence can be found in Bruckner, Dvorák and many other composers.
The Sublime Schubert series is a rare opportunity to hear, in a one-week sweep, some of the most lyrically beautiful music ever composed, performed by today's top proponents of Schubert's works.
Don't miss this major event. Ticket information is below.

WHEN: Monday, April 16 – Sunday, April 22, 2012

WHERE: WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL, 111 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

Subscriptions and single tickets for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2011/12 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall currently available. To purchase, visit, the Walt Disney Concert Hall Box Office or any Ticketmaster outlet.
To order by phone with credit card, call the Walt Disney Concert Hall Box Office at 323.850.2000, or Ticketmaster at 800.745.3000. For more information, call 323.850.2000.
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Songs from America’s West at the Autry National Center

Review by Rodney Punt
The old saying goes, when you play a country song backwards you get BACK
your pick-up truck, your job, your dog and your girlfriend. Which tells us how tediously self-pitying country songs can be when they are played forward. But a precaution is in order: never equate maudlin country with manly cowboy songs.
Cowboys don’t do self-pity, pardner.
Western songs can be sentimental, but they tell their stories stoically: the love of a land, the remoteness of a mountain, determination on a dusty trail, loyalty toward a horse, the strength of prairie women. They evoke mythic tales of round-ups and rustlers and the legends of robbers and renegades. They look life straight in the eye and say: “I’ll take it as is, come what may.”
Pioneers, cattlemen, ranchers, gamblers, painted ladies and gunslingers all shared their songs with each other. They kept memories alive for family, friends and fans, bequeathing to posterity not just the history but also the feel of the Old West. That spirit lives on today in Western songs that retain a love of the land and its restless life, while keeping alive the promise of ever expanding horizons.

On Monday evening a lucky congregation of music lovers, history buffs and Western wannabes gathered in the grand lower foyer of the Autry National Center’s museum building at Griffith Park for an evening of music, poetry, storytelling and film, headlined by popular singer/songwriter Michael Martin Murphey. Rachel Worby, artistic director of the event's producer, MUSE/IQUE, narrated the evening’s musical encounters.

Now in the Western Music Hall of Fame, Murphey is a gifted composer and wordsmith with a pointed, twangy tenor that sings in tune even when his maverick guitar occasionally wanders off the trail. He opened and closed the evening with sing-alongs, kicking off the event with the unofficial anthem of the American West (and official song of Kansas) Home on the Range.
At home on any range (Murphey owns ranches in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Texas) he shared ranch lore in anecdote and song for the rest of the evening. (As a sign of the worldwide popularity of Home on the Range, this writer was once asked to come unprepared onto a stage in Japan and sing an unaccompanied solo of it for a Japanese audience just so they could hear it in "American.")
Five of Murphey’s own songs followed: his homage to the wide-open spaces, Close to the Land (aka America’s Heartland), the humorous ode to cowpokes, Cowboy Logic (“If it’s a fence, mend it, if it’s a dollar bill, spend it”), an idealized mountain lover (“far above the timberland”) in Carolina in the Pines, and a paean to his Old Horse, as much a lament for the obsolescence of the cowboy as a retirement farewell to his horse. He ended his own song set with his biggest hit, Wildfire (“She rides on a pony she named Wildfire, with a whirlwind by her side”). With his songs covered by every Western singer worth his salt, Murphey’s thrusting tempi and epic deliveries on this eve confirmed his secure place as America’s bardic cowboy.

Grammy-winning Bluegrass fiddler Richard Green played his own finely-filigreed Amazing Graces, consisting of variations on the old hymn (with no sign of bleating bagpipes!), performing it on his 13-string violin d’amore, an instrument from the Renaissance that leaves gentle stringy after-sounds, prominently on the fifth degree of the scale.

Both Green and Murphey quietly accompanied a few of the readings to follow, which included poems and stories, most of them by a transplanted English poet named Philip Daughtry. English-born he may be but early on he acculturated to the American West. Daughtry’s expressive and insightful works are the genuine article and elevated the evening’s literary quality several steps up the Rockies.
Golden Globe Winner Wendie Malick read an excerpt from Daughtry’s story, The Centaur's Son, with Murphey’s guitar quietly strumming. Daughtry read his own poem, Mounting the Horse, with a wistful obligato by Greene. (“Take my smell, beast with lips soft as the interior of flowers…. Inside you, I hear a river's tumult, an uncertainty I approach, hearing my heart beat its shaman's drum in a far country.”) Actor Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”) then spun the Hopi animistic tale of How the Sun Found the Sky.
In the course of the evening, documentary filmmaker Ginger Kathrens’s film and photo clips of wild horses were streamed on a large screen at the left corner of the impromptu stage area. Author of the book Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies, the Emmy award-winner captured the West’s most graceful animal in tableaux of dramatic action.

Murphey offered for sale a guitar on which he had inscribed the words to Wildfire, the proceeds to benefit his own Fiona Rose Murphey Foundation and some residential foster care facilities sponsored by the evening’s presenter, MUSE/IQUE. It was purchased for $6,000 in an on-the-spot auction.

The evening closed with another sing-along, of the poignant Happy Trails written by Dale Evans shortly after the early death of her daughter. Baby boomers still hear the voices of Dale and Roy Rogers ringing in their ears from the TV days of their youths, even if few of them ever knew what instigated this elegiac song. With its tragic back-story, the bittersweet Happy Trails smiles through its tears and never gives in to self-pity. It is the very essence of the cowboy song, where seldom are heard discouraging words.
The Old West has become the New West, but for a few moments last Monday evening, Michael Martin Murphey, Philip Daughtry and the evening’s artists at the Autry National Center helped us remember how and why we all ended up here.
Melody. Spurs. Memory.Michael Martin Murphey and Friends presented by Rachel Worby's MUSE/IQUEAutry National Center in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CaliforniaMonday, April 9, 2012, 7:30pm
Photo credits: First photo (montage of Western stars at the Autry) and third photo (Murphey with his guitar) are by Rodney Punt. Middle photo (the assembled at the grand lower foyer) is by Melissa Kobe, used by permission of the photographer who can be contacted at
About the Autry National Center
The Autry National Center, founded by legendary recording and cowboy movie star Gene Autry, has become in the last decade a major force in the history of the American West. Formed in 2003 by the merger of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage with the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Women of the West Museum, the Autry National Center is an intercultural history center dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West.
Located in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, the largest urban park in the nation, the Autry’s collection of over 500,000 pieces of art and artifacts now includes the collection of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, one of the largest and most significant in the United States. The Autry Institute includes two research libraries: the Braun Research Library and the Autry Library. Exhibitions, public programs, K–12 educational services, and publications are designed to examine critical issues of society, offering insights into solutions and the contemporary human condition through the Western historical experience.

See here for personal background on Rodney Punt's heritage of Western-warbling maternal ancestors. Punt can be contacted at
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