Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tartaglione and the Titan

Maestro Simeone Tartaglione
Simeone Tartaglione has worked for two years to get the Newark Symphony to reach beyond their already fairly high level of achievement and on Sunday, May 20, he showed a large audience that he has come far in achieving that goal.
Alyssa Blackstone
Concerto winner Alyssa Blackstone was extremely confident and businesslike in her approach to the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor, Opus 37 by Henri Vieuxtemps.  Ms. Blackstone has no problem projecting above the orchestra, even in the lower register of the violin. She has been studying with Sylvia Ahramjian and has reached a high level of technical proficiency.   Her technique and physical strength in playing are the tools she will need as she begins to work on the subtler nuances of phrasing and interpretation in college.

The second piece on the program was the titan to which I refer in the title:  Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major.  This symphonic poem, called The Titan by the composer, is such a difficult one for any orchestra that few put it on the program.  The very large orchestration is the first hurdle:  eight horns and quadruple woodwinds. It is hard to gather the musicians or even fine a venue with space for all those musicians – but Maestro Tartaglione recruited enough players to get the mammoth Mahler sound.  There were small areas which were a bit rough, but all in all the mood of the performance evoked what I had been hearing on a CD of Zubin Mehta conducting the same piece with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

The highlight of the Mahler performance was the third movement’s wild and raucous funeral dirge based on a wood engraving showing animals as pallbearers for a hunter’s funeral.  The reversal of roles was reflected in a reversal of the expected music – Mahler based the dirge on the German folk version of the tune we know as Frère Jacques and added jazzy, irreverent klezmer interludes.  The orchestra followed Maestro Tartaglione in this ironic and abruptly changing music with ease, dipping into the whirling tunes smoothly and tunefully – even playfully. 

The crashing and clashing symbols and timpani were spot on (with excellent playing by percussionists Debra Bialecki and S. Mordecai Fuhrman on timpani and Gordon Engelgau on cymbals as well as Sergei Dickey on bass drum), but I could have done with a little less thunderous affect.

Next year’s music will seem like easy street now that they played the Mahler.  Maestro Tartaglione and the Newark Symphony deserve congratulations on a great achievement.

See www.newarksymphony.org

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reporting from the Grand Opera House Stage

The Grand Opera
On Monday, May 14, I hurried home from work, wolfed down a cold supper and zoomed off to the Grand Opera House.  Dr. Tim Schwarz had offered the Wilmington Community Orchestra a chance to warm up in the hall so we could get the feel of it before the concert.  Unfortunately, when I arrived to warm up, the people in charge would not let me touch the piano, so I sat on the bleachers and played air piano during the warm up.

After the air warm-up, I zipped over to the Sarah Bernhardt Room – a beautifully paneled side-room on your left as you enter the Grand Opera House.  There was a short chamber concert before the orchestral performance which was a great program performed mainly by the adult members of the Wilmington Community Orchestra and some of their friends.  A flute trio by Kaspar Kummer, a modern tango for strings, the first movement of the Beethoven Wind Octet in E-Flat Major, Opus 103,  a movement of the Duo for Violin and Viola in G Major by Mozart and a wind quintet by Darius Milhaud called La Cheminée du Roi René.  Note:  Bassoonist Jennifer Hugh came in as a last minute sub and did a great job in both the chamber works and the symphonic works and she has a heavy gig this coming Sunday in the Newark Symphony.  Brava!

Then I followed the crowd back to the main hall for the concerto winner performances.  The orchestra sounded fantastic in the Grand – man, do they have wonderful acoustics.  I enjoyed hearing the young concerto winners.  Marius Sander(student of Eliezer Gutman)  played the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, Opus 64,  Madeline Cheong (student of Jennifer Chen) played the Mendelssohn Piano Concerto in G Minor, Opus 25 and Alexis Meschter (student of Lee Snyder) played the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Minor by Henri Vieuxtemps.

I went to the beginning of the intermission chamber concert – an excellent rendition by some young students of the MozartQuintet for Clarinet and Strings, K 581, but left early to check out the stage.  First of all, since the stage hands moved the piano, I had no idea if I would be able to see the conductor from wherever they put it.  Secondly, I feared that I would not be able to get on the stage after the chorus and all the musicians were in place.

I went and dutifully tested the piano bench, closed to half stick so the lid wouldn’t block my view of the conductor and tested a few quiet notes which sounded amazingly loud from the stage.  I couldn’t start practicing full force because the audience had already started to come back in.  So, nerves up and move on.

I enjoyed watching the Delaware Children’s Chorus come shyly on stage from my offstage vantage point.  They were trying so hard to do the right thing and were small and adorable.  Dr. Schwarz mouthed the words for them to help as they sang.  Then the Delaware Women’s Chorus joined them on stage.

Next was my gig on the piano so I went on stage from the piano side (no percussion to stumble over on that side) and survived my piece.  I rushed off and went under the grand in the cavernous passage to the steps to the front lobby.  I was delighted to have seen the backstage that all my friends use before they play with the Delaware Symphony.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cunningham Piano Generously Supports a Dream Recording Project…All Here in Delaware!

This post content generously provided by composer Mark Hagerty from Cunningham Piano’s site
Composer Mark Hagerty
How could you improve on this:  Lifetime Achievement Award–winning composer-pianist Curt Cacioppo recording new music by his award-winning composer friend Mark Hagerty, in one of the best recording spaces in the region(Gore Hall at the University of Delaware), with seven-time Grammy-winning recording engineer Andreas Meyer at the controls? Answer: the perfect piano, a Bösendorfer 280 concert grand.

Cunningham Piano—the Philadelphia region’s premier purveyor of fine pianos and one of the top piano restoration companies in the country—is supporting this project by delivering a magnificent Bösendorfer 280 concert grand to the recording site.  Cunningham Piano has a long relationship with Cacioppo, who is professor of music at Haverford College, where a Bösendorfer Imperial maintained by Cunningham Piano is the instrument on which not only Cacioppo, but also guest artists at Haverford perform, including such noted pianists as Garrick Ohlsson, Claude Frank, Cecil Taylor, and Marian McPartland.  Cacioppo himself has recorded 10 CDs on the instrument.  He is also enjoying his personal 100-year-old Steinway, recently restored by Cunningham Piano. While the Haverford Imperial is undergoing restoration, Cunningham Piano has offered to provide their 280 concert grand for the recording project.

Cacioppo will be recording two recent works by Hagerty.  The Realm of Possibility, written for Cacioppo in 2006, was previewed in extract form by Cacioppo in Turin and Venice. The work, which Cacioppo has termed a “monumental cycle,” consists of an introduction and 10 pieces based on the principal of chaos theory that, in a complex system, identical initial conditions can give rise to different outcomes.  The pieces, all of which are presaged in an introductory “Outburst,” can be combined with one another flexibly, in unlimited combinations.  The second work, dating from 2009, is After Duchamp, a collection of ten pieces, mostly miniatures, which take their cue from artist Marcel Duchamp’s motto “I force myself to contradict myself so as not to follow my own taste.”  Hagerty has pushed the limits of his own artistic principles and esthetics to produce works that extend his range and challenge the listener, not through shocking sounds but through formal and rhetorical provocation or eccentricity.  While After Duchamp is intended for piano or harpsichord (Hagerty is married to harpsichordist Tracy Richardson), The Realm of Possibility is pure piano music.

Hagerty commented, “The tone-color of the Bösendorfer is perfect for this music.  Bösendorfer allows the piano to have so many different shades of color.  I love the bell-like treble, the ‘male chorus’ lower register, and especially, the growling bass.  To have this artist, Curt Cacioppo, who happens to be an old friend, playing my music on this instrument is all I could ask as a composer.”

Hagerty and Cacioppo met in Boston after college graduation, when Cacioppo was completing his PhD at Harvard University, where he studied with such notables as Leon Kirchner and Luise Vosgerchian.  Hagerty elected not to pursue the Harvard graduate program (he notes that saying “no thank you”to the embossed acceptance letter was a hard, fateful, but quick decision) because he did not see himself as a devoted scholar or teacher, unlike Cacioppo, who is both.  The two grew up outside of Cleveland, unaware of each other, and have since shared many humorous recollections about their roots.  Both have lived outside the US, Cacioppo in Italy, and Hagerty in The Netherlands.  This recording project is their first major collaboration, though early in their acquaintance, Hagerty took the tenor solo in the premier of Cacioppo’s Alla Primavera, a “virtuoso madrigal,” and the two read through the song cycles of Robert Schumann.  Cacioppo’s inspirations are often literary—he is a serious reader of Dante—while Hagerty is more inspired by science, nature, and chaotic systems.

Andreas Meyer, recording engineer for the project, has won awards both as composer and as engineer.  He has produced several CDs that feature Hagerty’s works, including the Relâche Ensemble’s “Press Play,” which features High Octane, Mélomanie’s “Florescence,” which includes Trois Rivières, and “Soliloquy,” a two-volume set of Hagerty’s solo suites for harpsichord and cello, performed by Tracy Richardson and Douglas McNames.  Meyer’s production company, Meye rMedia, is preparing to release “Forays,” a collection of some of Hagerty’s virtuoso solo and chamber works.  Cacioppo’s compositions are represented by many recordings on the Navona, MSR Classics, and Capstone labels.

Hagerty’s next recording project is a joint CD with Rio de Janeiro composer Sergio Roberto de Oliveira.  The CD, which will offer percussion-centric works by both composers, is planned for release in late 2012, in conjunction with a concert in Rio.  Hagerty is currently completing a work for cello and piano and is in the midst of a large orchestral project in which he is combining sound sculpture with more traditional expression. Cacioppo is finishing a commission from the Carmel Bach Festival Orchestra, and is at work on a piece for piano and string quartet, which he will play with the Quartetto di Venezia.

Cacioppo and Hagerty express their deep appreciation to Cunningham Piano for providing the ultimate instrument for a project that means so much to both of them.

For more information: www.cunninghampiano.com, www.curtcacioppo.com, www.hagertymusic.com, www.meyer-media.com

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Poignant Porgy

When Thomas Blanchard’s crisp xylophone rhythms make you sit up straight and then groove, you know you are in for a strict but jazzy rendition of the original Porgy and Bess at OperaDelaware. Stuart Malina has made sure that the very talented orchestra has clear signals and he also gives them rein to do what they do best.

The opera, written by a white Jew from Brooklyn in the 1930s, has sometimes been labelled too pop and too white, but it is definitely a work written in formal and classical language to evoke, not imitate, the jazzy sound of Harlem and the black spirituals George Gershwin heard in his sojourn to the south as well as telling a story emphasizing the desperation of racism, poverty, discrimination and disability.

The duet between Richard Hobson (Porgy) and Janinah Burnett (Bess) is perhaps the best illustration of the classical structure of the opera. The soprano and baritone have the highest skills and training in vocal control and their voices are matched in strength and quality as they sing together in Bess, Yo’ is my woman now and they also have the stage presence and acting skills to sweep the audience into the romantic haven their relationship represents.

The evil character, Crown, (Martin Fisher) has a strong voice and oozes egoism, physical force and venom as he uses liquor, drugs, sex and murder against anyone who gets in his way. Bess tries in vain to resist his powerful sexuality and is doomed by her own desires and weakness.

Larry D. Hylton as Sportin’ Life has the long, lanky triple-jointed dancing legs of Fred Astaire and a voice made for his role. His string-bean thinness adds to the snaky image he manages to portray in the almost loveable gadfly of temptation. Hinton’s Ain’t necessarily so is a show in itself!

Stuart Malina’s conducting is energetic and lets the music flow – from the delightful English horn harmonies in Summertime played beautifully by Lloyd Shorter to Lynn Cooksey’s rhythmic piccolo, to Karen Schubert’s smooth horn to the mellow bass notes of Rose Vrbsky’s bassoon and Douglas Mapp’s double bass. The general orchestra volume can tend to overwhelm some of the singing, but nothing is lost in this production.

The set is also brilliantly designed and constructed for a quick scene change, transforming the Charleston street to indoors in a jiffy – brilliant coordination between designer Cindy DuPont Tobias and builder Robert Parker.

In short, this is a wonderful production and a great sendoff for the tireless Executive Director Leland Kimball. See it now – you won’t regret it. Sunday, May 6, Friday May 11 and Saturday May 12. Note: Friday’s performance has family ticket prices. 1-800-37-GRAND or 302-652-5577.

See www.operade.org.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Real Delaware Theatre Company

Bud Martin
The Delaware Theatre Company has just hired Bud Martin, the very successful director of Act II Playhouse in Ambler, Pennsylvania to the position of Executive Director. He started his duties on May 1. Mr. Martin inherits a wonderful site with a great deal of goodwill earned by previous prizes and plays and a wonderful education program at the DTC, but he will need our support.

Of course we should be ready to support him by buying tickets for the season he has planned for 2012-2013. The first play starting on October 10 is The Outgoing Tide, a story about a family who plan to deal with illness and their future while vacationing on the Chesapeake Bay. The author, Bruce Graham, is from the Philadelphia area and has won Barrymore awards for best new play twice. A compelling theme, a local playwright and a new director should have us all pull together and fill the house.

Delaware Theatre Company
The next shows will be of a lighter nature, making it even easier to boost ticket sales: Patrick Barlow’s production of A Christmas Carol is a rousing version sure to put the Christmas spirit in us all. Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti will also provide comedy for the dreary winter starting January 23. Then the season finishes with My Fair Lady starting on April 17.

Audiences have certainly dwindled for all of the arts in the past few years, and so have the educational programs which introduce our schoolchildren to the arts. DTC’s Charles Conway has been a fearless advocate of taking the theatre to the public – and not just to the fur-coated potential donors. Mr. Conway has won awards for his work with young people with disabilities. The program, Totally Awesome Players, has taken wings since he first designed it. He has also won the 2009 Stevie Wolf Award for New Approaches to Collaboration for his work with the Ferris School for Boys.

Is there a way to help promote these and similar programs in our schools – having kids experience theatre to get a taste of why their teacher makes them read Shakespeare and who they can emulate when they feel the urge to write? Will we provide that solid support that pushed the little firehouse play theatre into the anchor site on the Wilmington Riverfront that has taken root and helped the entire area to flourish?

If we do, then we shall have done what Cleveland Morris had so hoped for when he said of the current site, “Here lies every wonderful opportunity to relish our own city’s colorful past and participate in its even finer future.”

Let’s do it!

See http://delawaretheatre.org/

A Wonderous Exploration of The Planets with The Delaware Symphony Orchestra

Artwork via DSO
Once a season, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra offers a “Family Pops” program, an afternoon of family-friendly selections when children are openly welcome to experience the magic of live symphony. On Saturday afternoon, I brought my 12-year-old son, a budding middle school percussionist, to the Grand Opera House to see The Planets, the 1917 suite by British composer Gustav Holst, conducted by David Amado.

The seven-part tribute to the planets of our solar system (it excludes the home planet Earth and the then-undiscovered Pluto, which works out, since it lost its designation as a planet in 2006) has the feel of a modern science fiction movie score -- and it virtually becomes one, minus the “fiction,” as spectacular real and digitally animated footage from nearly 40 years of space exploration is shown on a big screen over the orchestra. 

Parallels between Holst’s early 20th Century piece and later sci-fi and fantasy pieces are clearly drawn; before the screen is unveiled, the program features popular pieces such as John Williams’ “Adventures On Earth” from E.T., “Star Wars Suite for Orchestra,” and “Double Trouble” from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; as wells as the selections “Over the Rainbow” and George Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm” by the Wilmington Children’s Chorus, directed by Kimberly Doucette. To experience such familiar pieces played by a live symphony orchestra is real treat, both for kids and for the parents who grew up with most of them.

After a brief intermission, the main event begins. Narrated by David Stradley, who sets up each section with an explanation of of the visuals to accompany the music, The Planets is truly otherworldly, even with footage that is clearly scientific. The amazing sounds and sights make you feel small, as the sheer awesomeness of the solar system is explored. I wasn’t bored for a moment (though my mind did wander as I absorbed the suite, in a good way); my son and niece, who also attended, agreed that the upbeat “Jupiter” and “Uranus” were their favorites. At two hours total, one might expect the young audience members to become restless. If any were, they didn’t cause much of a disruption, making it wonderful way to spend an afternoon, with or without kids.