Review: Crutcher & Kong

Ronald Crutcher, cello
Joanne Kong, piano
July 9, Dominion Energy Center

In its first live presentation in nearly four months, the Richmond Symphony opened its Summer Series, “Comfort and Joy,” marking the 200th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, with a short program featuring Ronald Crutcher, the cellist and president of the University of Richmond, and his UR colleague, pianist Joanne Kong.

They played before a socially distanced audience of 34 and on a video-audio stream seen and heard during the live performance by more than 200. (Access to the stream remains open to paying customers for the next six days.)

This program focuses largely on Beethoven’s early works, with Crutcher and Kong playing Beethoven’s “Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ from Mozart’s ‘Die Zauberflöte’ ” and the Sonata in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2, for cello and piano, and the pianist playing two of the composer’s bagatelles, Op. 126, No. 3, and Op. 33, No. 1, both in E flat major.

Both musicians, playing in masks, visibly and audibly relished the chance to resume live performance of music in Richmond, which has happened only a few times since the coronavirus pandemic struck the US in late winter.

Crutcher, who must balance his work as a performer with the duties of running a large academic institution, sounds to have used the months of relatively limited activity and mobility to hone his chops both technically and in musicianship, with especially gratifying results in the more lyrical sections of the variations and sonata.

The ever-reliable Kong, meanwhile, played her parts in the two works with cello and the two bagatelles with great clarity, adopting a rather light touch in music that harkens back to Mozart, explicitly in the variations and implicitly in the earlier of the bagatelles and in the sonata’s closing rondo movement.

Kong’s lyrical voice came through with profound affect in the Op. 126, No. 3 bagatelle, one of the last works that Beethoven wrote for the piano, as she emphasized the piece’s anthemic and elegiac qualities.

The video and audio quality of the stream, produced by VPM, is more than satisfactory, with the performance shot from multiple angles, good closeups of the performers and their instruments and few awkward transitions. No electronic transmission of a concert really takes you there; but this one comes close enough, and never allows production values to get in the way of the performance.

The video stream of the recital by Ronald Crutcher and Joanne Kong may be accessed through July 15, and subsequent programs in the Richmond Symphony Summer Series, at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 13, are open to limited numbers of patrons in Dominion Energy Center’s Gottwald Playhouse and via online streams. Subscriptions: $60; single tickets: $12. Details: (804) 788-1212; (Single concert tickets may be purchased through links from that address.)

Fisk leaving Richmond for Charlotte

David J.L. Fisk, executive director of the Richmond Symphony since 2002, has been named president and chief executive officer of North Carolina’s Charlotte Symphony. He will leave the Richmond Symphony on Aug. 31.

Michelle Walter, who preceded Fisk as the symphony’s chief administrative officer, will serve as interim executive director until a permanent replacement is hired. Aspen Leadership Group has been retained to conduct the search.

Fisk will ease the Richmond transition by serving through May 2021 as senior advisor to the Menuhin Competition for young violinists, scheduled to be held in Richmond that month with the symphony as a lead sponsor.

A native of the United Kingdom, Fisk was CEO of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland before coming to Richmond. During his years here, he led the orchestra through the tenures of two music directors, Mark Russell Smith and Steven Smith (no relation), and the selection of a third, Valentina Peleggi; five years of concerts in temporary venues while the Carpenter Theatre was undergoing renovation in the development of what is now Dominion Energy Center; the financial challenges of the 2008-10 recession and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic; and the development of several major community-outreach ventures, notably acquisition of the Big Tent portable outdoor concert stage.

Under Fisk’s leadership, the orchestra’s operating budget more than doubled, from $4 million in 2002 to $8.5 million in the current fiscal year, and the symphony’s endowment grew from $8 million to $18 million.

Fisk, a pianist, and his wife, soprano Anne O’Byrne, have frequently performed in chamber concerts with symphony musicians and other ensembles in the area.

“While I am excited by the opportunity now to lead the Charlotte Symphony, I will be forever grateful for the warmth and generosity we have found in RVA, and for the countless friendships formed, through the symphony’s work across the region, and as our children have grown up here. Our family will always think of Richmond as home!” Fisk said in a statement issued on the announcement of his departure.

“David has made a huge difference for the symphony, for our community, for the arts in Richmond and for arts organizations all across the Commonwealth,” said George L. Mahoney, president of the symphony board.

Virginia Opera adjusts its 2020-21 season

Virginia Opera has reordered its 2020-21 season programming and dates, delaying the start of the season to February, canceling productions of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Jennifer Higdon’s “Cold Mountain” and adding a Poulenc-Puccini double-bill.

“The pandemic has forced us to acknowledge the realities and do what is best for all,” Adam Turner, the company’s artistic director, writes. “[T]hat reality can be nothing but adjusting and re-imagining plans for the 2020-2021 season.”

The newly announced Virginia Opera lineup:

* Poulenc’s “La voix humaine” and Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” Feb. 5, 7 and 9 at Norfolk’s Harrison Opera House, Feb. 13 and 14 at the Center for the Arts of George Mason University in Fairfax, and Feb. 19 and 21 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center in Richmond.

* Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” March 12, 14 and 16 in Norfolk, March 20 and 21 in Fairfax, and March 27 and 28 in Richmond.

* The Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “The Pirates of Penzance,” April 16, 18 and 20 in Norfolk, and April 23 and 25 in Richmond.

For information of subscriptions and individual tickets, call the Virginia Opera box office at (757) 347-1906 or visit

Virginia’s Hailstork: a “cultural hybrid”

On the website San Francisco Classical Voice, Michael Zwiebach profiles and interviews Adolphus Hailstork, the Old Dominion University-based composer currently at work on a requiem cantata for George Floyd, whose killing by Minneapolis police ignited nationwide protests. The 79-year-old Hailstork discusses his long-evolving efforts to tap African-American musical roots within established classical forms and styles:


Bahl tapped by Omaha Symphony

Ankush Kumar Bahl, who was one of five finalists auditioning this season to become music director of the Richmond Symphony, has been named the new music director of the Omaha Symphony.

The 43-year-old Bahl, a California native of Indian descent, will succeed Thomas Wilkins, the Virginia-born conductor who will have led the Omaha orchestra for 15 years when his tenure ends next season:

The Richmond Symphony selected Valentina Peleggi as its sixth music director. She begins her tenure on July 1.

Vera Lynn (1917-2020)

Vera Lynn, the singer whose “We’ll Meet Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover” became iconic songs in Britain and beyond during World War II, has died at 103. Named a Dame of the British Empire in 1975, she last performed in 2005 at the 60th anniversary commemoration of VE Day in London’s Trafalgar Square.

An obituary by Ben Beaumont-Thomas for The Guardian:

Straws in the wind

The Nashville Symphony has canceled all performances through July 31, 2021, and furloughed its 79 musicians and 49 full-time staffers, telling patrons that cancellation of concerts due to the coronavirus thus far has resulted in losses of $8 million, nearly 30 percent of its current operating budget.

The announcement concludes: “Until we have certainty that our economy can remain open, and that audiences are ready and able to return to large public gatherings, attempting to restart concert activity poses significant risks to our institution.”

The Nashville cancellation follows announcements that the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera have canceled all their fall performances.

UPDATE (June 16): Now the Lyric Opera of Chicago has canceled its 2020-21 season.

UPDATE 2 (June 19): Carnegie Hall in New York cancels performances until Jan. 7. . . . New York City Ballet cancels its December “Nutcracker.” . . . The San Francisco Symphony cancels all performances through 2020.

UPDATE 3 (June 24): The Houston Grand Opera cancels performances until April 16.

The new look of symphony concerts

The look and sound of orchestra concerts in the present and, quite likely, some time to come: The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, conducted by Gustavo Gimeno, in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, with socially distant musicians playing in a hall with no audience present.

Bear in mind that you’re seeing and hearing one of the world’s pre-eminent orchestras performing in one of the world’s best acoustical environments. Results elsewhere will vary widely:

Cancellations, closures extended into summer

Updated regularly

As restrictions on large public gatherings continue, most musical events are off for the forseeable future.

Specific notices in the Richmond area and Virginia-DC region:

The Richmond Symphony will live-stream its Summer Series of chamber-music concerts. Details: The “Star Wars” concert has been rescheduled to April 1, 2021, and “Violins of Hope” has been postponed until a date to be announced later. Details: (804) 788-1212;

The Richmond chapter, American Guild of Organists has postponed an April 24 recital by Clara Gerdes, part of its Repertoire Recital Series, until Nov. 13 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Information:

The Richmond Philharmonic postponed a concert scheduled for May 10, and hopes to reschedule it in the 2020-21 season. The orchestra has not announced the status of its June pops concert. Information: (804) 556-1039;

The Richmond Choral Society has canceled remaining concerts in its current season. Information: (804) 353-9582;

The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia has canceled fall programs in its 2020-21 season. Information: (804) 304-6312;

Virginia Commonwealth University has canceled all remaining concerts in the current school year. Information:

The University of Richmond canceled Modlin Arts Center events through the rest of the season. Refunds have been issued. Information: (804) 289-8980;

The Menuhin Competition for young violinists, which had been scheduled for May 14-24 in Richmond, has been postponed until May 13-23, 2021. Tickets already sold for festival events will be honored next year. For information on ticket donations, refunds or exchanges, go to

Elsewhere: The Virginia Symphony Orchestra has postponed all concerts until late August. . . . The Virginia Arts Festival has postponed or canceled all performances through late August. . . . The Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra has canceled remaining concerts in its current season. . . . The Ferguson Arts Center at Christopher Newport University in Newport News has suspended performances until Aug. 28. . . . The University of Virginia in Charlottesville has suspended all performances at Old Cabell Hall until further notice. . . . The Paramount Theater in Charlottesville has postponed or canceled events through Aug. 2. . . . Charlottesville Opera has canceled its summer-season productions. . . . Wintergreen Music has canceled its summer concerts and academy. . . . Garth Newel Music Center in Hot Springs has canceled all live events through June 30. . . . The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra has canceled or postponed all events until the fall. . . . Opera Roanoke has canceled the rest of its season, including performances of André Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” that had been scheduled in May. . . . Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg has canceled all events through early August. . . . Wolf Trap in Vienna has canceled or postponed all summer performances and events. . . . George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax has canceled all events through Aug. 8. . . . The Kennedy Center in Washington has canceled all performances and public events through Aug. 9. . . . Washington Performing Arts has canceled all remaining events in the current season (through June 7). . . . The Library of Congress in Washington has postponed concerts and other public events through July 24. . . . The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, MD, outside DC, has canceled most ticketed events through Aug. 20.

Symphony live-streams Summer Series

The Richmond Symphony’s Summer Series of chamber music, this year marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, will be presented in ticketed live streams.

Patrons can view and hear the performances live, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays from July 9 to Aug. 13, on a private-streaming online channel with interactive features. In addition to performances, the streams will include interviews and opportunities for questions and comments.

Tickets are $12 per performance, or $60 for the full series.

For more information, call the symphony’s patron services desk at (804) 788-1212 or e-mail

Dates, artists and programs for the series:

July 9
Ronald Crutcher, cello
Joanne Kong, piano
Beethoven: “Seven Variations on ‘Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen’ from Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute,’ ” WoO 46
Beethoven: Bagatelle in E flat major, Op. 126, No. 3
Beethoven: Bagatelle in E flat major, Op. 33, No. 1
Beethoven: Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2

July 16
Susy Yim, violin
Magda Adamek, piano
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in A major, Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”)
Beethoven: Bagatelle in F major, Op. 33, No. 3
Beethoven: Bagatelle in B minor, Op. 126, No. 4

July 23
Schuyler Slack, cello
Ingrid Keller, piano
Beethoven: Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 69
Beethoven: Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 102, No. 1

July 30
Daisuke Yamamoto, violin
Michelle Huang, piano
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in F major, Op. 24 (“Spring”)

Aug. 6
Jeannette Jang, violin
Russell Wilson, piano
Schubert: Violin Sonata in D major, D. 384
Beethoven: Piano Sonata in C major, Op. 2, No. 3
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 30, No. 3
Vieuxtemps: “Souvenir d’Amerique”

Aug. 13
Erin Lano, French horn
Maria Yefimova, piano
Cherubini: 2 sonatas for horn and strings
Schubert: “An die Musik”
Beethoven: Piano Sonata in C major, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”)
Clara Wieck Schumann: ”6 Lieder aus Jucunde,” Op. 23 – “An einmen lichten Morgen,” “Lust o Lust”
Beethoven: Horn Sonata in F major, Op. 17