The prodigy who got away

Saul Robert Lipshutz was a celebrated violin prodigy in the 1950s and ’60s, enrolled in the elite studio of Ivan Galamian at the Juilliard School. The rigorous instructional regime “turned me into a trained monkey,” he recalls.

Following a nervous breakdown in his late teens, he realized, “Childhood was lost. Time was lost. Then one day I finally saw myself and I thought: ‘That’s it. There has to be more.’ ” He gave up the violin, renamed himself Saul Chandler, and embarked on a life journey light years away from the concert stage.

Today, he’s a retired actuary who builds and sails boats. The New York Times’ Alex Vadukul profiles the prodigy who escaped the “terror” of a musical gift:

Letter V Classical Radio March 28

In the second hour, a conversation with Alexander Kordzaia, conductor of the University of Richmond Symphony Orchestra, and UR faculty pianist Joanne Kong, soloist in Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) in the orchestra’s April 4 concert.

noon-3 p.m. EDT
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

J.S. Bach: “Italian Concerto” in F major, BWV 971
(arrangement by Jean Rondeau)
Jean Rondeau, harpsichord

Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor
Lisa Batiashvili, violin
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Poulenc: Clarinet Sonata
Gervase de Peyer, clarinet
Gwynneth Pryor, piano

Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major (“Egyptian”) –
II: Andante – allegretto tranquillo quasi andantino – andante
III: Molto allegro
Stephen Hough, piano
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo

Past Masters:
Bizet: “Carmen” Suite
London Philharmonic/Thomas Beecham
(Dutton Laboratories)
(recorded 1939)

Haydn: Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major
Maximilian Hornung, cello
Kammerakademie Potsdam/Antonello Manacorda
(Sony Classical)

Elena Ruehr: Quartet No. 2 (“Song of the Silkie”)
Borromeo String Quartet

Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201
Le Cercle de l’Harmonie/Jérémie Rhorer

Review: ‘Olagón’

Iarla Ó Lionáird, vocalist
Dan Trueman, violin
Eighth Blackbird
March 23, University of Richmond

Seven years ago, Dan Trueman, a Princeton University-based composer and folk fiddler, became fascinated with the Irish tradition of “macaronic,” or multilingual, songs, in which the (monolingual) listener swings between hearing words as sound and understanding them. In collaboration with the Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, Trueman set out to create a macaronic song cycle.

The outcome of the venture is “Olagón: a Cantata in Doublespeak,” based on the old Irish legend of a queen and her consort whose love shatters into bitter rivalry, leading to carnage. The text, by the celebrated Irish poet Paul Muldoon, updates the tale to a parable on the greed and excess, followed by ruin, that Ireland experienced as the financial bubble burst a decade ago.

Olagón translates to “a deep, conflicted cry,” manifested here in a phrase, “Ochon agus ochon o” (“alas alack and woe is me!”), that recurs through the piece.

The new-music sextet Eighth Blackbird joined Trueman and Ó Lionáird in a four-year gestation of the work as a music-theater piece. After performances in December in Chicago and February at Princeton, “Olagón” came to the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center, which, along with the Poetry Foundation, the Irish Arts Center and the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, supported development and performance of the work.

Muldoon’s text – which “just started singing to us of its own will,” Trueman found –alternates, in large part line by line, between the explicit (in English) and the covert (in untranslated Irish), producing a crosscurrent of meaning and mood.

This puts the singer very much at the center of the piece – a very Irish thing to do. The country’s bardic tradition merges the roles of poet and singer, Muldoon observed in a pre-concert talk.

Ó Lionáird played his role masterfully, vocally and in facial expressions and gestures, in character portrayals and in contemplating those characters and their deeds. There may be other singers who could meet the multiple demands of this work, but it’s likely that “Olagón” will belong to this co-creative voice for the forseeable future.

Trueman’s orchestration, for acoustic and amplified instruments, electronics and live and recorded ensemble and choral voices, is richly evocative and remarkably transparent, considering its many sonic elements and effects. Occasionally in this performance, the mass of sound overbalanced Ó Lionáird’s voice, a probably inevitable hazard in live, amplified performance.

The instrumentalists, at times also taking on vocal roles, were audibly well-practiced – the cast has already recorded the piece; this was its seventh live performance – and vividly realized the score’s range of moods and atmospherics.

The staging of the piece was similar to past Eighth Blackbird theater productions: a multileveled, mostly back-lit space crowded with instruments, with a more brightly lighted center for the action – in this case, a quasi-sitting room where Ó Lionáird reads, ponders and tells the tale, with other performers pacing slowly in and out of the light. This post-modern mythic look fits both the narrative and the music’s cross-breeding of ancient and modern styles.

VCU Rennolds Chamber Concerts 2018-19

Return engagements by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Cuarteto Latinoamericano and the Richmond debuts of the Attacca Quartet and Seraph Brass highlight the 2018-19 season of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts.

The Attacca, formerly resident quartet at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and currently ensemble in residence at the Texas State University School of Music, will open the VCU series at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16.

Other programs are scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturdays. All will be staged in Vlahcevic Concert Hall of VCU’s Singleton Arts Center, Park Avenue at Harrison Street in Richmond’s Fan District.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will perform in an all-Schubert program, including the “Trout” Quintet and “Arpeggione” (cello) Sonata, on Nov. 3.

Seraph Brass, a quintet that is one of the country’s most active female chamber ensembles in both concerts and educational ventures, will perform on Jan. 19.

Third Coast Percussion, a Grammy Award-winning quartet, based at the University of Notre Dame, known for its collaborations with leading contemporary composers, will visit VCU on Feb. 23.

The Rennolds ’18-’19 series will close on March 23 with Cuarteto Latinoamericano, a string quartet that since its founding in Mexico in 1982 has been a leading exponent of Latin American chamber music.

Subscription and single-ticket prices for the series will be announced later.

For more information on the Rennolds Chamber Concerts, call (804) 828-1169 or visit

Review: Laredo & Robinson

March 17, Virginia Commonwealth University

The Kalchstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio temporarily became the Laredo-Robinson Duo after pianist Joseph Kalichstein slipped on black ice and broke an arm last weekend. He’s recovering nicely following surgery, violinist Jaime Laredo reported as he joined his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, in a concert at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Singleton Arts Center.

The program, last of this season’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts, was a showcase of rarities. There is a limited repertory of violin and cello duets. Just two pieces, Johann Halvorsen’s Passacaglia, based on a movement from Handel’s Keyboard Suite in G minor, and Zoltan Kodály’s Duo, Op. 7, could be called “standard,” and then only if you stretch the term.

Other works played by Laredo and Robinson were the Duo (1925) of Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech Jewish composer who died in a Nazi concentration camp; Mozart’s Duo in G major, K. 423; and “Inventions on a Marriage” by Richard Danielpour, written in celebration of the 35th wedding anniversary of the violinist and cellist and introduced in 2011 at the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Kodály Duo is to violin-cello duos what Johann Sebastian Bach’s unaccompanied suites are to solo violinists and cellists – a technical and musical summit to be scaled, and returned to for artistic replenishment. This performance by Laredo and Robinson showed that they have pondered the work at length and in years of playing it have learned to coalesce its numerous challenges to fiddle technique with its musical content – a sophisticated suite-cum-fantasy on the folk song and dance of Hungary and neighboring lands.

Schulhoff’s Duo is a similar, although more episodic, exploration of vernacular idioms, couched in a spiky modernist language and spiced with 1920s jazz rhythms. Laredo introduced it as “a masterpiece,” and he and Robinson treated it accordingly, smoothing its edges somewhat and playing it with more import than wit.

Danielpour’s piece, described by the composer as “snapshots” and “invented scenarios” of a longtime marriage (not necessarily that of Laredo and Robinson), is a characterful, generally cheerful, succession of seven musical vignettes. Aside from an overly mellow “Argument,” the duo’s performance lived up to the composer’s descriptive titles, most strikingly in the buzzing effects of “As You Were Sleeping . . . ” and the merriment of “Celebration.”

The violinist and cellist emphasized technical display in the Halvorsen Passacaglia, and played the Mozart Duo as an ear-pleasing divertissement.

Kalichstein out; Laredo, Robinson play as duo

Because of an arm injury, pianist Joseph Kalichstein has withdrawn from an engagement this month in the Rennolds Chamber Concerts at Virginia Commonwealth University. His trio partners, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson will perform string duo works by Handel, Mozart, Kodály, Erwin Schulhoff and Richard Danielpour.

The concert, finale of this season’s Rennold series, begins at 8 p.m. March 17 at VCU’s Singleton Arts Center, Park Avenue at Harrison Street. Tickets are $35.

For more information, call (804) 828-1169 or visit

Letter V Classical Radio March 14

Ancient and modern, sacred and secular, instrumental and vocal . . .

noon-3 p.m. EDT
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

anon. (“Red Book of Montserrat,” c. 1399): “Stella splendens”
Hesperion XXI/Jordi Savall

Peteris Vasks: Cello Concerto No. 2 (“Presence”)
Sol Gabetta, cello
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Candida Thompson
(Sony Classical)

Hildegard of Bingen: “O Jerusalem”
Sequentia/Barbara Thornton
(Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)

Jan Jirásek: “Missa Propria”
Boni Pueri Boys Choir/Jiří Skopal

Arvo Pärt: “Tabula Rasa”
Gidon Kremer & Tatjana Grindenko, violins
Alfred Schnittke, prepared piano
Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra/Saulus Sondeckis

Ioannes Koukouzeles: Psalm 148 (“Praise the Lord from the Heavens”)
Cappella Romana/Alexander Lingas
(Cappella Romana)

Orff: “Carmina burana”
Sylvia Greenberg, soprano
James Bowman, countertenor
Stephen Roberts, baritone
Berlin City & Cathedral Children’s Choir
Berlin Radio Choir
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly

Russ Solomon (1925-2018)

Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records, the chain of record stores that at its peak operated at nearly 200 locations (one of them at Richmond’s Willow Lawn), has died at 92.

Tower’s massive inventory, spanning all styles of music, made it a favorite destination for record collectors and musical grazers – and a bonanza for specialty artists and boutique labels whose recordings weren’t stocked at other record stores.

Burdened by high debt and unable to fend off competition from online retailers and digital-file services, Tower closed down in 2006. Only one store carrying its name survives, in Tokyo.

An obituary by Harrison Smith in The Washington Post:

Letter V Classical Radio March 7

noon-3 p.m. EST
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Mozart: Symphony No. 32 in G major, K. 318
English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner

C.P.E. Bach: Trio Sonata in D minor, Wq 141
Merlin Ensemble

Jan Ladislav Dussek: Piano Concerto in G minor
Andreas Staier, fortepiano & director
Concerto Köln

Sibelius: Quartet in D minor (“Voces intimae”)
Emerson String Quartet
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, cello
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Mirga Gražinytè-Tyla

Past Masters:
Martinů: Symphony No. 3
Czech Philharmonic/Václav Neumann
(recorded 1977)

Beethoven: Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4
Schuppanzigh Quartet
(Ars Musici)

Rameau: “Les Indes galantes” – Chaconne
Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall