Symphony’s 2018-19 season, Smith’s finale

Steven Smith, music director of the Richmond Symphony since 2009, will conclude his tenure here at the end of the coming season, Smith announced at a preview of the orchestra’s 2018-19 schedule, held at Studio Two Three, a print studio and gallery in Scott’s Addition.

Smith, the orchestra’s fifth music director, came to Richmond after 14 years as music director of the Santa Fe Symphony in New Mexico. He continues to serve as music director of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. He was assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1997 to 2003, and is an active composer and guest conductor in orchestral programs and opera.

“It feels like the right time for me to move on,” Smith said, adding that a decade “is the appropriate tenure for a music director.” He said that his future plans are not yet firm, but he hopes to spend more time composing. One of his works, “Kataklysmos,” will be performed on a March 9 Masterworks program.

Richard Smith (no relation to the conductor), chairman of the symphony’s board of directors, lauded Steven Smith for raising artistic standards and serving as a “catalyst” as “the symphony changes with the city, with our community outreach becoming broader than ever.”

The symphony has formed a search committee of board members and musicians to find a new music director. The search commences formally with Smith’s announcement; it will continue through the 2019-20 season and possibly longer, said David Fisk, the orchestra’s executive director.

Although the recruitment process for a new music director, and profile of qualifications for the job, are still being formulated, Fisk said he expects applicants to be attracted to what has become “a more desirable position.” The Richmond Symphony “is viewed in the [orchestral] field as more of a professional destination than it used to be. We have a reputation among orchestras as one to watch, thanks in large part to the contributions that Steven has made to our development.”

In his final Richmond season, Smith will conduct a number of repertory staples, including Beethoven’s “Eroica” and “Pastoral” symphonies and “Emperor” Concerto, Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique,” Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony and Brahms’ “A German Requiem.” He also will lead performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor and, in the final Masterworks program of his tenure, a concert version of Bizet’s “Carmen,” starring the noted mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.

Lang Lang, the stellar Chinese pianist who had been scheduled to open the 2017-18 season but had to cancel because of an arm inflammation, has been booked again for the Sept. 21 opening night of the coming season, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491.

Other guest artists scheduled for 2018-19 are violinist Joan Kwuon, playing Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade “after Plato’s Symposium” on Oct. 20; pianist Orion Weiss, playing the Beethoven “Emperor” on Jan. 12-13; and pianist Adam Neiman, playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor on March 9, all in Masterworks concerts at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center in downtown Richmond.

Daisuke Yamamoto, the symphony’s concertmaster, will be the soloist in Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor in Feb. 9-10 Masterworks concerts conducted by Ankush Kumar Bahl, former associate conductor of Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra. David Lemelin, the Richmond Symphony’s principal clarinetist, will join Associate Conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin and the orchestra in Louis Spohr’s Clarinet Concerto No. 4 in E minor in an April 28 Metro Collection program at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.

The symphony will join the University of Richmond’s Tucker-Boatwright Festival of Arts and Literature next season, with its musicians taking part in seminars and workshops, performing in three festival performances on the UR campus and presenting its April 13-14 Masterworks concerts in conjunction with the festival.

A number of composers represented on symphony programs reflect the Tucker-Boatwrght Festival’s theme of “exoticism – how [Westerners] relate to other places in the world,” Smith observed. Next season’s programs feature works by the Indian composer Reena Esmail, one of them a premiere, as well as the Turkish composers Ahmed Adnan Saygun and Fazil Say (better-known as a concert pianist) and the Indonesian Dewa Alit.

The orchestra also will stage special concerts on Oct. 21 at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in western Henrico County and on April 24 at the new Hardywood West Creek brewery in Goochland County, the latter a benefit for the Goochland Education Foundation.

Events under the symphony’s Big Tent, a portable venue for outdoor concerts, will expand to Hanover County, along with existing arrangements in the City of Richmond and Henrico and Chesterfield counties. Performance dates next season will be announced later.

Another alternative concert series, Casual Fridays, rebranded as Symphony in 60, will feature Smith discussing and conducting Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique” on Sept. 20 and Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony on March 8, both at the Carpenter Theatre. Each program will be followed by happy hours where audiences can mingle with symphony musicians.

The symphony’s Pops and LolliPops series will feature returns of favorite attractions, including Cirque de la Symphonie, Classical Mystery Tour’s “Music of the Beatles” and the animated film “The Snowman.” The “Let It Snow!” pops concert and Handel’s “Messiah” also will be staged early in the holiday season.

To the symphony’s existing offer of free admission to youths 18 and younger for Masterworks and Symphony at 60, there will be a new free-admission offer at Masterworks and other series for active-duty military, sponsored by Dominion Energy.

To obtain a season brochure and more information on the symphony’s 2018-19 season, call the box office at (804) 788-1212 or visit

The coming season’s artists and programs, with adult subscription and single-ticket prices:

8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets
8 Saturday or Saturday/Sunday concerts: $187-$588
4 Sunday concerts: $92-$270
single tickets: $10-$82; $30-$125 (opening night); $20-$100 (“Carmen”)

Sept. 21 – Opening night. Steven Smith conducting. Julia Perry: “Study for Orchestra;” Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491 (Lang Lang, piano); Berlioz: “Symphonie fantastique.”

Oct. 20 – Steven Smith conducting. Kodály: “Dances of Galanta;” Bernstein: Serenade (“after Plato’s ‘Symposium’ ”) (Joan Kwoun, violin); Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (“Eroica”).

Nov. 10-11 – Commemorating the centenary of the 1918 Armistice ending World War I. Steven Smith conducting. Barber: Adagio; George Butterworth: “On Banks of Green Willow;” Brahms: “A German Requiem” (soloists TBA, Richmond Symphony Chorus).

Jan. 12-13 – Steven Smith conducting. Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major (“Emperor”) (Orion Weiss, piano); Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor.

Feb. 9-10 – Ankush Kumar Bahl conducting. Aaron Jay Kernis: “Musica Celestis;” Dvořák: Violin Concerto in A minor (Daisuke Yamamoto, violin); Copland: “Billy the Kid” Suite; Bernstein: “On the Waterfront” Suite.

March 9 – Steven Smith conducting. Steven Smith: “Kataklysmos;” Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor (Adam Neiman, piano); Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B minor (“Pathétique”).

April 13-14 – “Influence of the World” – the Tucker-Boatwright Concert. Steven Smith conducting. Ahmed Adnan Saygun: “Ritual Dance for Orchestra;” Reena Esmail: TBA (premiere of commissioned work); Debussy: Nocturnes (University of Richmond Women’s Chorale & women of Richmond Symphony Chorus); Colin McPhee: “Tabuh-Tabuhan;” Ravel: “Rapsodie espagnole.”

May 12 – Steven Smith conducting. Bizet: “Carmen” (abridged concert presentation), starring Denyce Graves in title role; other singers TBA.

* * *

3 p.m. Sundays, Blackwell Auditorium, Randolph-Macon College, 205 Henry St., Ashland
subscriptions: $70 (general admission)
single tickets: $22

Oct. 7 – Steven Smith conducting. Mozart: “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” (“The Abduction from the Seraglio”) Overture; Fazil Say: Symphonic Dances; Ives: “Hymn – Largo cantabile;” Ives: “Country Band March;” Haydn: Symphony No. 88 in G major.

Jan. 27 – Steven Smith conducting. Debussy: “La boîte à joujoux” (“The Toybox”); Dewa Alit: “Open My Door;” Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: Overture; Mozart: Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183.

Feb. 24 – Steven Smith conducting. Reena Esmail: “Avartan;” Mozart: “Don Giovanni” Overture; Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”).

April 28 – Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting. Copland: “Music for the Theatre;” Louis Spohr: Clarinet Concerto No. 4 in E minor (David Lemelin, clarinet); Schubert: Symphony No. 6 in C major.

* * *

8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets
subscriptions: $92-$270
single tickets: $10-$82

Nov. 3 – conductor TBA. “Disco Inferno” with Jeans ’n Classics.

Dec. 1-2 – Erin Freeman conducting. “Let It Snow!” with Richmond Symphony Chorus, other artists TBA.

Feb. 2 – Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting, with Cirque de la Symphonie.

March 16 – Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting, with Classical Mystery Tour in “Music of the Beatles.”

* * *

11 a.m. Saturdays, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets
subscriptions: $45 (adult), $34 (child) (general admission)
single tickets: $20 (adult), $10 (child)

Oct. 27 – Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting. “Halloween Spooktacular.”

Nov. 24 – Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting. “The Snowman,” animated film with orchestral accompaniment.

Jan. 19 – Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting. “A Lemony Snicket Mystery.”

March 2 – Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting. “The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant,” with Really Inventive Stuff’s Michael Boudewyns.

* * *

6:30 p.m. Thursdays, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Overbrook Road at Ownby Lane
EZ pass: $60 (100 seats available)

Oct. 4 – Steven Smith conducting. Works by Mozart, Haydn, Ives, Fazil Say.

Jan. 24 – Steven Smith conducting. Works by Debussy, Mozart, Dewa Alit, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

Feb. 21 – Steven Smith conducting. Works by Mozart, Beethoven, Reena Esmail.

April 25 – Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting, with David Lemelin, clarinet. Works by Copland, Spohr, Schubert.

* * *

6:30 p.m., Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets
single tickets: $5-$15 (general admission)

Sept. 20 – Steven Smith conducting & speaking. Berlioz: “Symphonie fantastique.”

March 8 – Steven Smith conducting & speaking. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B minor (“Pathétique”).

* * *


Oct. 21 (time TBA, Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 11220 Nuckols Road, Henrico County) – Steven Smith conducting. Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (“Eroica”); other works TBA. Ticket prices TBA.

Dec. 8 (7:30 p.m., Carpenter Theatre) – Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting. Handel: “Messiah” (soloists TBA, Richmond Symphony Chorus). $20-$55.

April 24 (time TBA, Hardywood West Creek, , Goochland County) conductor and program TBA. Ticket price TBA. (Benefit for Goochland Education Foundation.)

Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 31

noon-3 p.m. EST
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Weber: “Oberon” Overture
Israel Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta

George Onslow: Symphony No. 4 in G major
NDR Radio Philharmonic, Hannover/Johannes Goritzki

Debussy: “L’isle joyeuse”
Seong-Jin Cho, piano
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton

Vaughan Williams: “Dark Pastoral”
(completion & orchestration by David Matthews)
Guy Johnston, cello
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
(Dutton Epoch)

Richard Strauss: “Don Juan”
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck
(Reference Recordings)

Past Masters:
Franck: Symphony in D minor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux
(RCA Red Seal)
(recorded 1961)

2018 Classical Grammy Awards

For those of us who don’t know Bruno Mars from Bruno’s Pizza, classical winners from the Grammy Awards:

Best Orchestral Performance: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio – Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck (Reference Recordings)

Best Opera Recording: Berg: “Wozzeck” – Roman Trekel (Wozzeck); Anne Schwanewilms (Marie); Houston Symphony & choruses/Hans Graf (Naxos)

Best Choral Performance: Gavin Bryars: “The Fifth Century” – PRISM Quartet & The Crossing/Donald Nally (ECM)

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance: Schubert: “Death and the Maiden” – Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin; Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (Alpha)

Best Classical Instrumental Solo: “Transcendental” – Daniil Trifonov, piano (Deutsche Grammophon)

Best Classical Solo Vocal Album: “Crazy Girl Crazy: Music by Gershwin, Berg and Berio” – Barbara Hannigan, soprano; Ludwig Orchestra (Alpha)

Best Classical Compendium: “Higdon: All Things Majestic, Viola Concerto and Oboe Concerto” – Roberto Díaz, viola; James Button, oboe; Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrero (Naxos)

Best Contemporary Classical Composition: Jennifer Higdon: Viola Concerto – Roberto Díaz, viola; Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrero (Naxos)

Best Historical Album: “Leonard Bernstein – the Composer” – New York Philharmonic, et al./Leonard Bernstein (Sony Classical)

Producer of the Year, Classical: David Frost

Best Engineered Album, Classical: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio – Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck (Reference Recordings) – Mark Donahue, engineer

Review: Leon Fleisher & Katherine Jacobson

Jan. 28, Virginia Commonwealth University

Leon Fleisher, who by his reckoning has been playing Steinway pianos for 84½ of his 89½ years, gave a new Steinway D its public christening before a near-full house at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Singleton Arts Center. He did so playing some pieces closely associated with the ups and downs of his long career, as well as some repertory that some listeners might not expect to hear from him.

Fleisher, the last prominent surviving pupil of Artur Schnabel, spent much of his early career concentrating on the Austro-German classical-to-romantic composers – Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms – whom Schnabel prominently advocated. In 1964, Fleisher was stricken with the neurological malady called focal dystonia, which robbed him of the ability to play with his right hand; he turned to the left-hand repertory (largely of modern vintage) and devoted most of his time to teaching and conducting. In the 1990s, following a then-new treatment for focal dystonia, he resumed performing with both hands.

In this concert, part of a 90th-birthday tour (he turns 90 on July 23), Fleisher began with sets of familiar short works by Bach, Debussy and Chopin, followed by one of the first great left-hand pieces, Brahms’ piano transcription of Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita in D minor, BWV 1004, for solo violin.

In the second half of the program, Fleisher played secondo to the primo Katherine Jacobson, of his wife and performing partner, in Schubert’s Fantasie in F minor, D. 940, and Ravel’s “La Valse.”

In the two-handed sets, Fleisher adopted measured tempos that allowed plenty of space for tone coloration and emphasis on dynamic contrasts – the latter aspect especially effective in “La puerta del Vino” from Debussy’s second book of Préludes and Chopin’s Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3.

The pianist’s slow-but-steady pacing added depth to Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27, No. 2, and “Clair de lune” from Debussy’s “Suite bergamasque,” and gave Egon Petri’s arrangement of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” an unusually meditative affect.

The most familiar characteristics of Fleisher’s early playing – textual rigor, rhythmic and tonal precision, sharply etched phrasing – came through in his performance of Brahms’ Bach transcription, exposing both the dance roots of the piece and the prayerful qualities of Bach’s variations on the theme without emphasizing either, concentrating instead on the musical arc of the piece and letting its spiritual import land on the listener without “interpretive” assistance.

He took a similar approach in playing the bass lines of the Schubert and Ravel pieces while Jacobsen played the top melodic lines and the bulk of the musical ornamentation.

The two pianists gave a stirring and moody reading of the Schubert, doing their best to contour its overly lengthy and emphatic scherzo section. Their treatment of “La Valse” was rather metrical and curiously salon-like, almost pretty, with the music’s violent undercurrents underplayed.

Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 24

noon-3 p.m. EST
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Daniel Auber: “Fra Diavolo” Overture
Orchestra Philharmonica del Teatro Communale Giuseppe Verdi, Trieste/
Arturo Basile
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Past Masters:
Beethoven: Sonata in A major, Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”)
Adolf Busch, violin
Rudolf Serkin, piano
(recorded 1941)

Schubert: Sonata in A minor, D. 784
Lucas Debargue, piano
(Sony Classical)

Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major
Francesca Dego, violin
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Daniele Rustioni
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Samuel Coleridge Taylor: “Symphonic Variations on an African Theme”
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Grant Llewellyn

Glinka: “Symphony on Two Russian Themes”
BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky

Past Masters:
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3 in D major (“Polish”)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
(Warner Classics)
(recorded 1977)

Review: ‘To Damascus’

Jan. 19, Firehouse Theatre

“To Damascus” by the Richmond composer Walter Braxton, receiving its premiere over the next two weekends, is billed as an opera. It might better be described as a staged narrative song cycle whose narrative is elusive. (“Make you own meaning,” advises Joel Bassin, Firehouse Theatre’s producing artistic director and director of this production.)

As the title portends, the work’s text hinges largely on scripture (Psalms, mainly), liturgy and religious or spiritually infused poetry. It is staged in layered visual symbolism, some of it transparent – we are travelers; see our luggage? – more of it implied or outright opaque.

Five singer-actors, three principal, two supporting, are constantly in stylized motion, at work on mundane but somehow resonant chores – lacing shoes, folding clothes, sorting papers, preparing meals – usually while singing long-lined melodies that come across as soliloquies.

Musically, it’s useful to know that Braxton was a student of Robert Ward, the North Carolina-based composer whose work was informed by the mid-20th century American-romantic school whose best-known figure was Samuel Barber.

From start to finish, “To Damascus” calls to mind Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1915,” in its tone of bittersweet wistfulness, its mildly sultry applications of tone color and its porch-swing andantino tempo. “Knoxville” clocks in at 16 minutes or so; if it were much longer, it would grow tedious.

“To Damascus” is much longer – about an hour and a half of slow-to-medium tempos with little rhythmic variation outside of a couple of waltzes.

Some turbulent emotions are at play not far beneath the surface of this work, but they’re never let loose.

Dramatically and musically, the piece peaks in a second act with the Kyrie and Gloria of the Catholic Mass at its core, framed by rather troubling visual effects.

The voices – tenor Michael David Gray, soprano Michele Baez and baritone Chase Peak as principals, with Elisabeth Carlton Dowdy and Imani Thaniel joining ensembles – were very fine, technically and expressively, singly and collectively, in the Jan. 19 performance. In this intimate theater space, Gray and Peak projected their texts effectively. In Baez’s very high-riding soprano part, tone inevitably trumped words.

Conductor Michael Knowles, leading a chamber orchestra of strings, winds and keyboard, kept things moving at Braxton’s prescribed pace.

The composer plays a recurrent cameo role, starting and ending each of three acts with a flourish at a light switch, periodically shaking heads with and embracing cast members.

Walter Braxton’s “To Damascus” repeats at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20, 4 p.m. Jan. 21 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25-27 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. in Richmond. Tickets: $40. Details: (804) 355-2001;

Review: Alexander Paley

Jan. 14, St. Luke Lutheran Church

Any classical concert that ends with a march “against the Philistines” is timely; considering the past week, especially timely.

That march, the finale of Robert Schumann’s “Carnaval,” Op. 9, concluded the Winter Weekend of pianist Alexander Paley, whose fall festival has been a fixture of Richmond’s musical scene for two decades.

Both “Carnaval” and Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, which opened the program, might have been composed with a pianist like Paley in mind, a master of the technical and expressive tour de force. His forceful technique – at its most forceful taxing the capacities of St. Luke Lutheran Church’s baby grand – was balanced by a sensitivity to finely woven strands of melody and bell-like tones, framed by silences and resonations.

Paley also displayed a gift for sustaining extended paragraphs of musical ideas, giving melodies the right degree of exposure to expose beauty without belaboring it, and placing recurring themes in context.

All those qualities are essential, more overtly in Schumann’s interlinked succession of mood and character portraits – a kind of “Pictures at an Exhibition” with pictures imagined rather than evoked; more subtly but perhaps even more importantly in the Liszt, whose Sturm und Drang and plentiful keyboard filagree elaborately dress up what at essence is a prayer.

In the fall programs of his festival, Paley likes to explore unknown or overlooked repertoire – this year’s edition, scheduled for Sept. 14-16, will be devoted to Russian piano and chamber music. As rewarding as those programs can be, they leave relatively little time for him to play standard repertory.

In returning this time to two old favorites, he did his audience – and quite likely himself – a favor.

Richmond Symphony reviewed

My review for the Richmond Times-Dispatch of the Richmond Symphony’s Viennese New Year’s program, with singers from Virginia Opera’s Emerging Artists Program and the Richmond Symphony Chorus, at Dominion Arts Center’s Carpenter Theatre: