Ten Richmond concerts to remember from 2018

Jan. 15 – At St. Luke Lutheran Church, pianist Alexander Paley devoted the winter installment of his Richmond music festival to two works firmly on his high-romantic interpretive wavelength, Schumann’s “Carnaval” and Liszt’s Sonata in B minor.

March 25 – At the University of Richmond’s Jepson Theatre, UR’s resident new-music sextet, eighth blackbird, joined by singer Iarla Ó Lionáird and fiddler Dan Trueman, gave one of the first performances of “Olagón: a Cantata in Doublespeak,” a reworking of an Irish legend of love and death by Trueman and poet Paul Muldoon, in a strikingly moody production that visually and sonically melded the ancient and post-modern.

June 1 – At St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Opera Richmond, with the Jefferson Baroque ensemble, staged a production of Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” marked by stylish baroque vocalizations from Gabrielle MaesAnne O’Byrne and Tracey Welborn and novel choreography realized by dancers from the Latin Ballet of Virginia.

Sept. 21 – At Dominion Energy Center’s Carpenter Theatre, pianist Lang Lang, performing with Steven Smith and the Richmond Symphony on his comeback tour after a more than yearlong hiatus due to an arm injury, played a Chopin encore with his trademark superstar flashiness, but made a more lasting impression with a searching interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491.

Sept. 30 – At UR’s Perkinson Recital Hall, a Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia cast – clarinetist Bryan Crumpler, violinists Kobi Malkin and Brendon Elliott, violist Max Mandel and cellist James Wilson – played Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, and Osvaldo Golijov’s “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind,” works separated by a century in time and several generations in musical style, but surprisingly complementary in performance.

Oct. 21 – At the Carpenter Theatre, Steven Smith, outgoing music director of the Richmond Symphony, conducted the most potent interpretation of Beethoven in his Richmond years in an epic performance of the Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (“Eroica”), along with a sonically rich, stylish and rollicking reading of Zoltan Kodály’s “Dances of Galanta.”

Nov. 4 – At Virginia Commonwealth University’s Singleton Arts Center, members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – violinist Paul Huang, violist Paul Neubauer, cellist Keith Robinson, double-bassist Xavier Foley and pianist Orion Weiss – revived the combination of virtuoso pyrotechnics and substantive musicality of old-time recitals in a duo-trio-quintet program of Beethoven, Schubert and Giovanni Bottesini.

Nov. 9 – At UR’s Camp Concert Hall, the Danish String Quartet made its Richmond debut in an unusually meaty program of Schubert, Beethoven and Hans Abrahamsen, played with highly focused tone, rich sonority and conversational spontaneity.

Nov. 11 – At the Carpenter Theatre, Steven Smith led the Richmond Symphony and Richmond Symphony Chorus, with soprano Martha Guth and bass-baritone Darren Stokes, in an extraordinarily moving, emotionally turbulent account of Brahms’ “A German Requiem,” performed alongside George Butterworth’s “The Banks of Green Willow” and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for strings in a program marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I.

Dec. 3 – At River Road Church, Baptist, Peter Phillips’ Tallis Scholars presented “A Renaissance Christmas,” a collection of seasonal works by Giovanni Palestrina, Hieronymus Praetorius, William Byrd and John Nesbett, that reached heights of the sublime both in composition and performance.

Iconic record retailer on the rocks

HMV (His Master’s Voice), one of the world’s best-known retailers of recordings, has gone into administration, the British equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, as sales of DVDs and compact discs plunged in Britain’s Christmas shopping season.

The 97-year-old chain, which operates 125 stores in the UK, had been rescued from bankruptcy five years ago. Its current troubles mirror those of other “high street” stores reeling from competition from online retailers, as well as reduced spending by consumers worried about an economic slump as Britain faces Brexit, its coming separation from the European Union, The Guardian’s Angela Monaghan reports:


Letter V Classical Radio Dec. 26

To close out the year, some of the most noteworthy classical recordings released in 2018.

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

Ravel: “Tzigane”
Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin
Polina Leschenko, piano

J.S. Bach: Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
(Sony Classical)

Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major (“Egyptian”)
Bertrand Chamayou, piano
Orchestre National de France/Emmanuel Krivine

Mendelssohn: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” incidental music –
I: Scherzo
VII: Notturno
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
(Channel Classics)

Chopin: Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
(Sony Classical)

Debussy: Nocturnes
Les Cris de Paris
Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth
(Harmonia Mundi)

Bernstein: “On the Waterfront” Suite
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Christian Lindberg

Caroline Shaw: “Blueprint”
Aizuri Quartet
(New Amsterdam)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (“Eroica”)
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck
(Reference Recordings)

Christmas anniversaries

“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,” perhaps the most beloved of all Christmas carols, was first heard 200 years ago, on Christmas Eve, 1818, in the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria. A local schoolteacher, Franz Xaver Gruber, wrote the melody to verses written a few years earlier by the town’s priest, Joseph Mohr. The two sang the new carol with Gruber accompanying on guitar.

The best-known English-language adaptation, “Silent Night,” by the American Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, was published in 1859.

In The Washington Post, Michael E. Ruane retraces the history of the carol:


The carol, as originally sung and played, would have sounded like this:

* * *

Another notable anniversary this year: The centenary of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, introduced on Christmas Eve 1918 in the King’s College Chapel at Cambridge University. Eric Milner-White, dean of the college, recently returned from duty as a British army chaplain on the Western Front during World War I, devised the order of service and wrote its moving Bidding Prayer. The King’s College Choir of Men and Boys was led by Arthur Henry Mann.

The BBC began domestic broadcasts of the service in 1928, and has aired it via the BBC World Service since the 1930s. The network estimates that 370 million listeners hear its broadcasts, along with “countless others in the United States, Australia, Africa and Asia,” Michael White reports in The New York Times:

Review: Chamber Music Society

Dec. 18, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church

Elegance rubbed shoulders with rusticity in “King and Shepherds,” the finale of the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia’s Winter Baroque mini-series.

The program – Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 (better known as the “Christmas Concerto”); J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G major, BWV 1039; Johann Friedrich Fasch’s Sonata à 4 in D minor and the Overture-Suite in E minor and Conclusion from Book 1 of Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Tafelmusik” (“Banquet Music”) – contrasted baroque formalities, from Bach’s contrapuntal writing to Fasch’s Italiante fiddle filagree, with the more earthy styles of the pastorale that concludes Corelli’s concerto and the folk dances of Telemann’s suite.

All but the Fasch sonata featured two traverso (transverse) flutes, played by Brandon Patrick George and Mary Boodell. This wooden instrument projects more softly and produces a wider range of tone colors than the modern flute, although at some cost in clarity of articulation.

The instrument’s attributes and shortcomings were audible in these performances. Elaborate exchanges between the two instruments sounded rather muddy at medium tempos – in the introduction of the Bach sonata, for example – but became clearer in faster sections. The flutes’ coloristic possibilities shone in the Corelli pastorale and even more so in trio sections of dance movements in the Telemann.

George and Boodell provided a kind of soft center when playing with a string ensemble led by two violinists of assertive brilliance: Johnny Gandlesman, a member of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and the multicultural Silk Road Ensemble, as well as a soloist of rising renown; and Christina Day Martinson, concertmaster of Boston Baroque and associate concertmaster of that city’s venerable Handel and Haydn Society.

They, along with violist Celia Hatton, cellist James Wilson (artistic director of the Chamber Music Society) and double-bassist Jessica Powell Eig, played with high-baroque style, to brilliant effect in the Fasch, but also with a gratifyingly earthy undertone, which came through potently in the Telemann.

The continuo (rhythm) section – Wilson, harpsichordist Carsten Schmidt and arch-lutenist Adam Cockerham – added both texture and sonic bulk. Wilson’s bass elaborations in several of the Telemann dance movements were a welcome bonus.

Letter V Classical Radio Dec. 19

A special four-hour program of baroque music for Christmas, framed by Bach and centering on a memorably expressive performance of Handel’s “Messiah” by Emmanuelle Haïm’s Concert d’Astrée.

noon-4 p.m. EST
1600-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

J.S. Bach: Cantata, “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” BWV 191
Claron McFadden, soprano
Christoph Genz, tenor
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
(Soli Deo Gloria)

Dieterich Buxtehude: “Das neugebor’ne Kindelein,” BuxWV 13
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken

Marc-Antoine Charpentier: “Messe de miniut”
Annick Massis, soprano
Magdalena Kožená, mezzo-soprano
Eric Huchet & Patrick Henckens, tenors
Russell Smythe, baritone
Jean-Louis Bindi, bass
Choir of Les Musiciens du Louvre
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
(DG Archiv)

Corelli: Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 (“Christmas Concerto”)
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
(Warner Classics)

Handel: “Messiah”
Lucy Crowe, soprano
Tim Mead, countertenor
Andrew Staples, tenor
Christopher Purves, bass
Choir & Orchestra of Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm

Giuseppe Valentini: “Sinfonia per Il Santissimo Natale,” Op. 1, No. 12
Andrés Gabetta, violin & director
Cappella Gabetta
(Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)

J.S. Bach: Cantata, “Schwingt freudig euch empor,” BWV 36
Sibylla Rubens, soprano
Sarah Connolly, alto
Christoph Prégardien, tenor
Peter Kooy, bass
Collegium Vocale
La Chapelle Royale/Philippe Herreweghe
(Harmonia Mundi)

How new was the “New World” Symphony?

Douglas W. Shadle, in an essay for The New York Times marking the 125th anniversary of the premiere of Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony (No. 9 in E minor) – in concerts by the New York Philharmonic on Dec. 15 and 16, 1893, which also featured Brahms’ Violin Concerto and excerpts of Mendelssohn’s incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – notes that Dvořák was by no means the first composer to incorporate African-American and other folk idioms into a classical work.

Shadle, a musicologist at Vanderbilt University, also points out that 19th-century European concertgoers and critics often proved more receptive to musical Americanisms than listeners in this country:

Letter V Classical Radio Dec. 12

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

Past Masters:
Telemann: “Tafelmusik,” Book 2 – Overture-Suite in D major
Maurice André, trumpet
Ad Mater, oboe
Jaap Schröder, violin
Concerto Amsterdam/Frans Brüggen
(recorded 1964)

Schumann: “Kinderszenen,” Op. 15
Ivan Moravec, piano

Vivaldi: “The Four Seasons” – “Winter”
Midori Seiler, violin
Akademie für alte Musik Berlin/Clemens-Maria Nuszbaumer
(Harmonia Mundi)

Jan Václav Voříšek: Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 20 (“Quasi una fantasia”)
Nikolai Demidenko, piano

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major
Lisa Batiashvili, violin & director
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
(Sony Classical)

Dohnányi: “Variations on a Nursery Song”
Zoltán Kocsis, piano
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer

Leopold Mozart: Cassation in G major (“Toy Symphony”)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner

Tchaikovsky: “The Nutcracker” (excerpts)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko

Symphony musicians agree to four-year pact; orchestra’s full-time roster to grow to 41 players

The Richmond Symphony and the Richmond Musicians’ Association, Local 123 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the symphony players, have agreed to a contract that will run through August 2022.

Under terms of the pact, symphony musicians will receive pay raises of 1.5 percent in each of the first two years, 2 percent in the third year and 2.5 percent in the final year. By the final year, section musicians will earn $36,847.20 annually, associate principals $42,010.80 and principals $47,901.36.

Four positions will be converted from per-service to “core,” enlarging the orchestra’s full-time complement from 37 to 41 musicians. The first added core positions will be second horn and principal tuba.

The pay increases and new full-time positions are among the results of a $12 million capital campaign, which is nearing completion. Funds already raised include $500,000 to create the Kenneth and Bettie Christopher Perry Foundation cello chair, formerly a part-time position.

The remaining $1 million to be raised in the campaign will build the new John R. Warkentin Fund to underwrite salary increases for musicians and to assist them in emergencies; match a $250,000 challenge grant from George and Luzi Wheeler, for whom the second horn chair will be named; and establish a new endowment fund to expand the orchestra’s full-time roster.

The new contract “provides a lengthy and stable environment for the symphony and its musicians,” said Leon Roday, negotiating committee chair of the symphony board. Alison Hall, the violinist who chaired the musicians’ negotiating committee, lauded the increase in full-time positions and anticipated “changes that will enhance both the music-making and the working relationships” within the organization.

“We feel very hopeful that this is the beginning of a renewed confidence and cooperation among our musicians, management and board,” Hall said.

As part of the contract, the musicians have agreed to formalize and expand their role in supporting the orchestra’s fundraising and marketing.

Finns coming and going at US orchestras

Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Finnish composer and conductor, will succeed Michael Tilson Thomas as music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in the 2020-21 season, while Osmo Vänskä will conclude his 19-year tenure as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra in the 2021-22 season.

The 60-year-old Salonen led the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992 to 2009, a period in which it became one of the preeminent US orchestras, performing in one of the country’s most lauded new concert venues, the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall. Since 2008, Salonen has been the principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, a post that he will relinquish in 2021.

He has guest-conducted widely, performing with many leading ensembles since he was in his mid-30s. He is especially in demand to conduct modern and contemporary music, and is the composer of a well-received body of orchestral works.

Vänskä, 65, a classmate of Salonen at the Sibelius Academy in Finland, took up the Minnesota post in 2003 after playing clarinet in and conducting several Finnish orchestras, and serving as chief conductor of the Iceland and BBC Scottish symphony orchestras.

During Vänskä’s years in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Orchestra developed into one of the finest in the US, its reputation bolstered by acclaimed recordings of the Beethoven and Sibelius symphonies. During a bitter labor dispute and closure, Vänskä temporarily stepped down as music director, taking the side of the locked-out musicians, and was a key figure in reaching a settlement of the dispute.

In 2015, he married Erin Keefe, the Minnesota Orchestra’s concertmaster.

Since he left the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Salonen has been deemed a prize catch to fill vacancies atop several major US orchestras; but until now he has resisted taking on the mixed artistic and administrative roles that American symphonic music directors are expected to play.

Salonen changed his mind and signed on with San Francisco, initially for five years, because of his rapport with its musicians and his perception that the orchestra is “an organization that is curious and interested and willing to look into the future – not in a reactive way, but wanting to be in the driver’s seat whatever the change may be,” he tells the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joshua Kosman: