Review: Richmond Symphony

Valentina Peleggi conducting
with Lynette Wardle, harp
Jan. 16, Dominion Energy Center

The small-orchestra works of the French impressionists might have been written for this socially distanced time. When instruments are played well apart from one another, open-textured orchestrations are naturally emphasized. Winds occupy physical as well as tonal space; a wind choir’s tonal blends sound enlarged and their contrasts sound more pronounced. The music breathes real air.

These qualities came through consistently, and delightfully, in “Les danses françaises,” the Richmond Symphony’s first Masterworks program of the new year.

The program featured Lynette Wardle, the orchestra’s principal harpist, in the Concertino for harp and orchestra of Germaine Tailleferre and the “Danses sacrée et profane” of Claude Debussy, two of many works of early modern French music that showcase what at the time was a new instrument.

While harps have been around for millennia, widely played in ancient Middle Eastern and Asian civilizations, the chromatic pedal harp played by Wardle and other modern performers is a 19th-century invention. The pedal harp was first perfected by Sébastien Érard (also a pioneering builder of the modern piano), subsequently refined by Érard’s firm and by Gustave Lyon, working for a competing Parisian instrument maker, Pleyel. To promote Lyon’s innovation, the harpe chromatique, introduced in 1894, Pleyel commissioned Debussy to compose his pair of dances in 1904; from then on, the harp was prominently featured in works by French composers and those of other nationalities who studied or worked in France.

Wardle was a more prominent voice in the Debussy dances, scored for harp and small string orchestra, than in Tailleferre’s concertino (little concerto), a 1927 score in which the soloist mostly plays a complementary or concertante role within an orchestration for strings, winds and percussion.

Whatever the sonic perspective of her instrument, Wardle played with a winning combination of animation, character and refinement. Her treatment of the Tailleferre, a too rarely heard piece that she was playing for the first time, enhanced the pastoral quality of the first two movements, the harp sounding like rustling leaves in a breezy tonescape.

Valentina Peleggi, the symphony’s new music director, followed the harp-centric opening of the program with three standards of romantic-to-modern French repertory: the Can-Can from Jacques Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” and Maurice Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante défunte” and “Le Tombeau de Couperin.”

“Le Tombeau,” originally a six-movement piano suite written during World War I in memory of friends killed in battle, four movements of which Ravel orchestrated in 1919, is one of the classics of modern adaptation of antique forms – in this case, the dance suites of the baroque period. The orchestral version sounds less referential to the baroque than to the friskier, more eventful orchestrations of classical-era composers such as Haydn and C.P.E. Bach; but most of all, the music speaks Ravel’s distinctive dialect of urbane, witty musical conversation, here touched with bittersweet nostalgia.

Peleggi and the orchestra brought out those qualities, without the sentimental overstatement that interpreters are tempted to inject into performances of the suite. The symphony’s winds, most of whom played standing, were unusually prominent voices in the orchestration, and welcome ones.

Ravel’s miniature tone poem, whose title translates literally to “Pavane for a Dead Princess,” more accurately to “Pavane for a Princess of a Lost Past Time,” was treated to a loving, subtle reading, paced by a warm French horn solo, while the Offenbach Can-Can exuded both theatrical panache and classical finesse.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82 (limited seating). Access to online stream of Jan. 16 concert: $30 (viewable through March 2). Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

January calendar

Valentina Peleggi conducts the Richmond Symphony, with Lynette Wardle, the orchestra’s principal harpist, as soloist, in “Les danses françaises,” a program including Germaine Tailleferre’s Concertino for harp and orchestra, Debussy’s “Danses sacrée et profane” and Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante défunte” and “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” at 7 p.m. Jan. 15, 8 p.m. Jan. 16 and 3 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82 (limited seating). Access to online stream of Jan. 16 concert: $30. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

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Other ensembles and presenters in Virginia and DC offer online streams of archived and current performances. Check their websites for current offerings.

Beethoven bequeathed a ‘deaf aesthetic?’

In a fascinating interview, composer Gabriela Lena Frank, who was born with neurosensory hearing loss, tells The New York Times’ Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim that she can detect Beethoven’s gradual loss of hearing in his music for the piano.

As he became more deaf, Beethoven “demanded pianos with added notes, elongating the pitch range of the keyboard; he asked for physically heavier instruments that resonated with more vibration. More pitch distance and difference, and more vibration and resonance, create a recipe for happiness for a hearing-impaired person, trust me,” Frank says. “A more dissonant and thick language, with clashing frequencies, also causes more vibration, so the language does get more physically visceral that way, too.”

Also, “[I]f I don’t wear my hearing aids for a couple of days, my composing ideas start to become more introverted. This can produce music that is more intellectual, more contrapuntal, more internal, more profound, more spiritual, more trippy. And I think these are also hallmarks of Beethoven’s later music, and not just for piano.”

Frank wonders: “Is it an exaggeration to say that composers after Beethoven, the vast majority of them hearing, were forever changed by a deaf aesthetic? And that the modern-day piano wouldn’t be with us if a deaf person hadn’t demanded its existence?”

A good gift for all seasons

The Rose Ensemble singing “Give Good Gifts,” a Shaker hymn first published in 1893, that sounds especially apt this year:

If you’d like to sing along, here are the lyrics:

Give good gifts, one to another,
Peace, joy and comfort, gladly bestow;
Harbor no ill ’gainst sister or brother,
Smoothe life’s journey as you onward go.

Broad as the sunshine, free as the showers,
So shed an influence blessing to prove;
Give for the noblest of efforts your powers,
Blest and be blest, is the law of love.

Symphony revises winter, spring schedule

As the coronavirus pandemic continues with no near-term prospect of widespread vaccinations, the Richmond Symphony has revised its schedule and programming for Masterworks concerts in winter and spring 2021, and will continue to offer an at-home online viewing-and-listening option.

The symphony has canceled concerts in other series, including Pops and LolliPops, for the rest of the current season.

The new Masterworks programs – two conducted by Music Director Valentina Peleggi, one by Associate Conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin and another by Joseph Young, music director of the Berkeley (CA) Symphony and artistic director of ensembles at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore – will feature violinist Rachel Barton Pine, pianists Orion Weiss and Gabriela Martinez, and two symphony principals, harpist Lynette Wardle and trumpeter Samuel Huss, in solo and concertante roles.

Repertory ranges from familiar works by Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Shostakovich to rarely heard pieces by the French early modernist Germaine Tailleferre and Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the Guadeloupe-born violinist and composer, a contemporary of Mozart and one of the first prominent classical musicians of African descent.

Continuing the schedule set in the fall, the concerts will be staged without intermissions on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets in downtown Richmond.

Those attending will be required to adhere to safety protocols, including temperature checks on entering, mask-wearing and physical distancing. For more information, visit:

Subscription and single tickets purchased for non-Masterworks concerts may be exchanged for live or online Masterworks tickets or for future concerts. The cost of non-Masterworks tickets also may be converted to tax-deductible donations to the symphony or refunded.

Live-attendance ticket prices will be announced shortly; seating capacity will be limited in line with state and local restrictions on indoor gatherings.

Saturday concerts will be live-streamed and archived for 30 days online. Access is $30 per concert, $100 for a four-concert subscription.

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

The revised Masterworks schedule:

Jan. 15 (7 p.m.)
Jan. 16 (8 p.m.)
Jan. 17 (3 p.m.)
Valentina Peleggi conducting

“Le danses françaises”
Germaine Tailleferre: Concertino for harp
Debussy: “Danses sacrée et profane”

Lynette Wardle, harp
Ravel: “Pavane pour une infante défunte”
Ravel: “Le Tombeau de Couperin”

Feb. 5 (7 p.m.)
Feb. 6 (8 p.m.)
Feb. 7 (3 p.m.)
Joseph Young conducting

“Russian Treasures”
Balakirev-Farrington: “Islamey”
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor

Orion Weiss, piano
Samuel Huss, trumpet

Tchaikovsky: Serenade in C major for strings

March 5 (7 p.m.)
March 6 (8 p.m.)
March 7 (3 p.m.)
Valentina Peleggi conducting

“Beethoven in Vienna”
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major

Gabriela Martinez, piano
Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in B flat major

April 16 (7 p.m.)
April 17 (8 p.m.)
April 18 (3 p.m.)
Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting

“From Salzburg and Guadeloupe”
Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 5, No. 2

Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550

Review: Richmond Symphony

George Manahan conducting
with Daisuke Yamamoto, violin
& Daniel Stipe, harpsichord
Dec. 12, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

With “Messiah” and other choral music out of bounds during the pandemic, the Richmond Symphony turned to “A Baroque Holiday,” a sampler of instrumental works roughly contemporaneous with Handel’s oratorio.

This was the first all-baroque program staged by the orchestra in years. Its conductor, George Manahan, music director of the symphony from 1987 to 1998, currently its music advisor, was the last conductor to feature baroque works other than “Messiah” as a regular part of the orchestra’s musical diet.

The program mixed Christmas or seasonally themed works – Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 (popularly known as the “Christmas Concerto”), an instrumental suite from “Messiah” assembled by Manahan, the “Winter” Concerto from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” – with pieces that had no special link to the holidays: Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzona No. 2 for brass quintet; J.S. Bach’s “Air on a G String” from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, and the first movement of his Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052; and the Overture from Handel’s “Royal Fireworks Music.”

The overall effect, though, was an enticing blend of festivity, chaste lyricism and instrumental virtuosity – the essences of baroque musical style.

The symphony’s musicians proved remarkably conversant in a musical idiom that they’ve rarely had the chance to essay. Manahan eased the ensemble into the baroque by adopting fairly relaxed tempos and not calling for too much in the way of “historically informed” performance practice such as vibrato-free string playing.

Several of the orchestra’s principal players and one guest took leading roles. Concertmaster Daisuke Yamamoto was the featured soloist in the Vivaldi concerto, playing up the solo violin’s expressive contrast of ice and fire. Violinists Adrian Pintea and Meredith Riley and cellist Neal Cary formed a pure-toned, atmospheric concertino trio in the Corelli. And Daniel Stipe, Richmond’s keyboardist for all seasons – organist, pianist, harpsichordist – was a forceful and virtuosic soloist in the Bach concerto.

VPM, which has been producing the symphony’s online streams since July, showed in this production that its technical crew is hitting its stride. A good thing, too: Given the tragic course of the pandemic, and the likelihood that normal concert life won’t resume any time soon, its contributions will be essential to the orchestra and its audience for months to come.

The online stream of the Richmond Symphony’s “A Baroque Holiday” may be accessed through Jan. 8. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

Nashville Symphony musicians rescued

Musicians of the Nashville Symphony, furloughed since June, will receive a $500-a-week stipend, and have agreed in return to perform in community concerts and other activities.

The agreement between the orchestra’s administration and the musicians’ union local, which runs from Jan. 3 until July 31, was underwritten by Amazon and Nissan. The level of corporate support was not disclosed.

“This agreement represents a vital first step in bringing the Nashville Symphony back from one of the most monumental challenges it has faced,” Pamela Carter, chair of the Nashville Symphony board, said in a news release. The orchestra, which has lost more than $10 million since cancellation of concerts in March, does not plan to resume regular programs until next season, William Williams of Nashville Scene reports: