Letter V Classical Radio May 1

noon-3 p.m. EDT
1700-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

J.S. Bach: Passacaglia in D minor
(adaptation of Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, by Rinaldo Alessandrini)
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini

Brahms: “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel,” Op. 24
Shai Wosner, piano

J.S. Bach: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
(orchestration by Ottorino Respighi)
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz

Haydn: Partita (Divertimento) in G major, Hob. XVI:6
Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano
(Harmonia Mundi)

Schubert: Sonata in A major, D. 959
András Schiff, fortepiano

Past Masters:
Mussorgsky: “Pictures at an Exhibition”
(orchestration by Maurice Ravel)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
(RCA Red Seal)
(recorded 1957)

Respighi: “The Fountains of Rome”
Oslo Philharmonic/Mariss Jansons
(EMI Classics)

Glinka: “Capriccio brillante on the ‘Jota aragonesa’ ”
BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky

Chicago Symphony strike ends

Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have agreed to a new contract, ending a strike that began on March 10.

The settlement follows the intervention of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The mayor, who is soon leaving office, convened a negotiating session on April 26; the next day, the players voted unanimously to ratify the new contract.

Under terms of the five-year pact, base pay for CSO musicians, already among the highest in the US, will rise to $181,272 in the final year.

The players’ pension plan, the most hotly disputed point in protracted and heated negotiations, will be gradually adjusted. The previous plan, under which the orchestra covered the full pension costs, will be replaced by a “defined contribution” plan into which currently employed musicians will pay 7.5 percent of their salaries, with the orchestra guaranteeing the same ultimate benefit level. Musicians who join the orchestra after July 1, 2020 will not get that guarantee.

The Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich reports on the settlement:


Kate Smith, tarnished icon

Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” as recorded in 1939 by Kate Smith (1907-86), the Virginia-born “Songbird of the South,” is the iconic version of an iconic American patriotic song. After the 9/11 attacks, it became a seventh inning-stretch staple of the New York Yankees and subsequently was taken up by teams in several sports.

Recently, a couple of Smith’s earlier recordings, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” and “Pickaninny Heaven,” came to light, suddenly turning the singer into an icon of racism. Her “God Bless America” disappeared from sporting events; the Philadelphia Flyers removed a statue of Smith from the courtyard of their stadium.

American popular culture was long replete with language and images now seen rightly as racist or ethnically insensitive. African-Americans weren’t alone: Vaudeville shows, films and songs played on stereotypes of the Irish, Italians, Jews, Latinos, American Indians, Asians – any group seen as an “other.”

The modern ethos – you can only make fun of your own – is of very recent vintage.

The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette, noting that “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” was also recorded by Paul Robeson, one of the great African-American singers of the mid-20th century, sought the perspective of two current black voices.

“There’s no statute of limitations when it comes to racism,” bass-baritone Morris Robertson says, while conceding that “the mind-set of 1931 is not the mind-set of 2019 – at least, not openly.”

“If we go through history and we really take out everything that a person who’s controversial has done, that’s also robbing us of some of our American history,” tenor Lawrence Brownlee observes. Still, he says, “We’re not losing the song. There are other people who have sung it who can do it.”


2020 Menuhin Competition judges named

Pamela Frank, the esteemed American violin soloist and chamber musician, will be the chair of the judges’ panel of the next Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition, being staged in Richmond from May 14 to 24, 2020.

The vice-chair is Joji Hattori, a Japanese violinist, winner of the 1989 Menuhin Competition, who serves as principal guest conductor and artistic advisor of the Balearic Symphony Orchestra of Mallorca and associate guest conductor of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra.

Other judges for the 2020 Menuhin Competition:

– Noah Bendix-Balgley, the North Carolina-born first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, previously concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

– Ray Chen, the Australian-American violinist who won the 2008 Menuhin and 2009 Queen Elizabeth competitions and went on to build an international career as a soloist.

– Aaron P. Dworkin, a violinist and arts entrepreneur, founder of the Sphinx Organization, which supports and promotes artists of color in classical music, and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2005.

– Ning Feng, a Chinese-born, Berlin-based violin soloist, winner of the 2006 International Paganini Competition.

– Ralph Kirshbaum, the Texas-born cellist who has been active internationally as a soloist and chamber musician.

– Anton Nel, the South Africa-born American pianist who won the 1987 Naumburg International Piano Competition and has been active for 40 years as a soloist.

– Soyoung Yoon, a South Korean violinist who won the 2002 Menuhin Competition, the 2006 David Oistrakh International Violin Competition and 2011 Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition.

The 2020 Menuhin Competition is co-sponsored locally by the Richmond Symphony, the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, the City of Richmond, and the Community Idea Stations, operator of WCVE public radio and television. The final Masterworks series concerts of the symphony’s 2019-20 season, conducted by Andrew Litton, will feature competition winners and the Sphinx Virtuosi chamber orchestra.

Gordon Back, the competition’s artistic director, and violinist Kerson Leong, junior-division winner of the 2010 competition who is guest soloist in a May 19 Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra concert, wil announce the full calendar of events at 7 p.m. EDT May 15 on WCVE-FM, broadcasting at 107.3 and 93.1 FM and streaming online at http://ideastations.org/radio/stream/hd2

The Menuhin Competition, a biennial event founded in 1983 by the eminent American-born British violinist Yehudi Menuhin, is open to violinists 21 and younger. Past winners, in addition to Hattori and Chen, include Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, Tasmin Little, Julia Fischer, Lara St. John, Ilya Gringolts and Chad Hoopes.

Prizes in the senior (ages 15-21) division range from $1,500 to $20,000, with the first-prize winner receiving a two-year loan of a Stradivarius violin from the collection of Jonathan Moulds. Prizes in the junior (15 and younger) division range from $1,000 to $10,000, with the first-prize winner receiving a two-year loan of a vintage Italian instrument.

More than 300 young violinists of 51 nationalities applied to participate in the 2018 competition in Geneva.

Applications are now open for the 2020 competition, with a deadline of Oct. 31. For details, visit http://2020.menuhincompetition.org/apply-now

Richmond Symphony Summer Series 2019

Ron Crutcher, the cellist who serves as president of the University of Richmond, will return to the Richmond Symphony Summer Series of chamber music, opening the series on July 11.

The series is presented by the symphony in collaboration with the music departments of UR and Virginia Commonwealth University. Its theme this summer will be “Exploring America,” with works by romantic, modern and contemporary American composers, from Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein and William Grant Still to Jennifer Higdon, Philip Glass and John Corigliano.

Six concerts, lasting about one hour, will be staged at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays from July 11 to Aug. 15 in the Gottwald Playhouse of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets.

In addition to Crutcher, performing with pianist Joanne Kong, featured artists include violinist Adrian Pintea with pianist Russell Wilson, French horn player Dominic Rotella with pianist Ingrid Keller, oboist Shawn Welk with pianist Daniel Stipe and violist Molly Sharp, violinist Meredith Riley with pianist Magda Adamek, and three participants in the VCU Global Summer Institute of Music, flutist Aleksandr Haskin, clarinetist Sara Reese and pianist Yin Zheng.

Subscriptions for the full series are $100 for adults and $60 for children and college students, and for a “Summer Sampler” series of three or more concerts, $18 per concert for adults and $11 per concert for children and college students. Single tickets, $20 for adults and $12 for children and college students, go on sale June 3.

In past seasons, most of the series’ concerts have sold out well in advance.

For ticket information, call the symphony’s patron services desk at (804) 788-1212 or visit http://www.richmondsymphony.com/ticketing/seasonsubscriptions/summer-recital-series-subscriptions

Artists and programs for the 2019 Richmond Symphony Summer Series:

July 11
Ron Crutcher, cello
Joanne Kong, piano
Barber: Cello Sonata in C minor, Op. 6
Lukas Foss: Capriccio for cello and piano
Alvin Singleton: “Argoru II” for solo cello
Philip Glass: etudes nos. 2, 12 for piano

July 18
Adrian Pintea, violin
Russell Wilson, piano
Barber: lost work
Max Stern: “Bedouin Impressions”
George Walker: Piano Sonata No. 1 – I: Allegro energico
John Corigliano: Sonata for violin and piano

July 25
Dominic Rotella, French horn
Ingrid Keller, piano
Robert Weirich: “Steamboat Stomp”
Alan Hovhaness: “Artik” Concerto for horn and strings (piano reduction)
Carol Barnett: Horn Sonata
Bernstein: “Elegy for Mippy I”
Paul Basler: Serenade for horn and piano
Gershwin-Joseph Turrin: “Someone to Watch over Me” (horn and piano version)

Aug. 1
Aleksandr Haskin, flute
Sara Reese, clarinet
Yin Zheng, piano
Bernstein: Clarinet Sonata
Robert Muczynski: “Time Pieces” for clarinet and piano
Lowell Liebermann: Flute Sonata, Op. 23
Samuel Zyman: Sonata for flute and piano
Jennifer Higdon: “Dash” for flute, clarinet and piano

Aug. 8
Shawn Welk, oboe
Daniel Stipe, piano
Molly Sharp, viola
David Stanley Smith: “Sonata pastorale,” Op. 43, for oboe and piano
Peter Schickele: “Gardens” for oboe and piano
Charles Tomlinson Griffes: “Roman Sketches,” Op. 7, for piano – I. “The White Peacock”
Charles Martin Loeffler: “Deux Rhapsodies” for oboe, viola and piano

Aug. 15
Meredith Riley, violin
Magda Adamek, piano
Robert Russell Bennett: “Hexapoda: 5 Studies in Jetteropera” for violin and piano
John Novacek: “Four Rags” for violin and piano
Gershwin: 3 preludes for piano
Edward MacDowell: “Woodland Sketches” for piano
William Grant Still: “Mother and Child” Suite for violin and piano

Letter V Classical Radio April 17

Music for Easter, ancient and modern . . .

noon-3 p.m. EDT
1700-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Orlande de Lassus: “O Deus” (Easter dialogue)
Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier
(Harmonia Mundi)

Fauré: Requiem
Johannette Zomer, soprano
Stephan Genz, baritone
La Chapelle Royale
Collegium Vocale Gent
Orchestre des Champs Élysées/Philippe Herreweghe
(Harmonia Mundi)

Vaughan Williams: “The Lark Ascending”
Hagai Shaham, violin
New Queen’s Hall Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth

J.S. Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538 (“Dorian”)
George Ritchie, organ

Past Masters:
Britten: “Sinfonia da Requiem”
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
(recorded 1964)

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor (“Resurrection”)
Ruby Hughes, soprano
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Minnesota Chorale
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä

Review: Richmond Symphony

Steven Smith conducting
with Richmond Symphony Chorus,
University of Richmond Schola Cantorum & Women’s Chorale,
Joanne Kong & Paul Hanson, pianos
April 13, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

In the penultimate program of his 10-year tenure as music director of the Richmond Symphony, Steven Smith led a showcase of dynamic, richly detailed and acutely color-sensitive performances of repertory spanning Europe, Asia and America.

The program featured the premiere of “she will transform you,” an orchestral-choral work by Reena Esmail, an American composer of Indian ancestry, as well as pieces by Ahmet Adnan Saygun, a French-schooled Turk who became his country’s first prominent symphonic composer; Colin McPhee, a Canadian so taken with the music of gamelan, the resonant percussion ensembles of Indonesia, that he emigrated to Bali; and Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, whose French impressionist style was informed by tonalities and stylistic influences far from Paris.

It was a fitting conclusion to the musical component of the University of Richmond’s Tucker Boatwright Festival, which has explored encounters between Western art forms and those of non-Western cultures, especially those of Asia.

Cross-cultural or “world” music is not as exotic, or as new, in the West as many assume. Medieval Italian dance music has many echoes of the Levant and Middle East, whose melodies and dances flowed along with its other exports into the trading ports of Venice and Genoa. Spanish music is a melding of European, North African (“Moorish”) and Jewish tones and rhythms. Balkan music has considerable kinship with that of the Middle East and Central Asia, either from ethnic inheritance (in the case of the Hungarian Magyars) or from centuries of rule and cultural dominance by the Ottoman Turks. The percussive military bands of the Ottoman Janissaries are echoed in the “Turkish” music of Gluck, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.

Previous Tucker-Boatwright concerts have sampled some of that Turkish/Viennese music, but the Western side of the equation mostly has been of more recent vintage, in the Asian resonations heard in Debussy’s music – the young composer was indelibly influenced by exposure to gamelan at the Paris Exposition of 1889 – and in works of the last couple of generations, in which Western composers work from Asian templates and first- or second-generation Asian-Americans write in Western forms while tapping their ancestral musical roots.

Esmail belongs to the latter group. In two works presented in the last Tucker Boatwright concert on the UR campus in February and in “she will transform you,” the 36-year-old, Los Angeles-based composer draws on Indian antecedents (in the new work, the Hindustani raga “Rageshree”) but produces music that fits snugly into the Western canon. The musical style and instrumental and vocal voicings of “she will transform you” could easily complement the impressionist-romantic music of Gabriel Fauré or Samuel Barber.

The work’s text, from “Homeland” by the Indian-American poet Neelanjana Banerjee, is a mother’s contemplation of the conflict between her native or adopted cultures and her wish that her child can bridge that divide. Email couches the text much like a prayer, effectively answering the prayer in music of lyrical repose.

The Richmond Symphony Chorus and UR’s two student chamber choruses, the Schola Cantorum and Women’s Chorale, produced a strikingly effective floating quality as they sang over an orchestration of shimmering tone colors.

The Esmail premiere followed a performance of Saygun’s “Ayin Raksi” (“Ritual Dance”) (1975), a miniature tone poem that recasts Turkish melodies and dance rhythms in a colorful, intricate orchestration that stylistically echoes Debussy and Bartók.

McPhee’s “Tabuh-Tabuhan” (1936), a gamelan-inspired quasi-concerto grosso for two pianos and large, percussion-heavy orchestra, could be described as proto-minimalist, an exercise in progressively layered and elaborated ostinato that predates such efforts by the likes of Terry Riley and Philip Glass by several musical generations. Unlike the more recent minimalists, McPhee enhanced the repetition with plentiful tonal and cross-rhythmic filagree, making this work less mesmerizing or tedious (depending on how you hear minimalism).

UR-based pianists Joanne Kong and Paul Hanson played their collective part, sometimes augmented by the symphony’s Russell Wilson on celesta, amounting to a kind of enhanced continuo, with bright-toned assertiveness, while Smith and the symphony milked McPhee’s orchestration for maximum exuberance.

Smith, who has demonstrated his mastery of French impressionist music throughout his tenure here, punctuated that history with performances of Debussy’s Nocturnes and Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” that could scarcely be bettered.

The choral forces were a bit too tremulous in the opening of “Sirènes,” but otherwise the Debussy unfolded with all the timbral subtlety and atmospheric breadth a listener could desire. The quizzically lyrical English horn solo of Shawn Welk set an exploratory tone at the beginning, and the exploration was a joy to join.

Smith paced “Rapsodie espagnole” rather deliberately – Welk again played a key role in musical characterization – establishing from the beginning that this would be a performance of tone painting as well as an evocation of Spanish dance. While the dance rhythms were vivid and extroverted, notably in the concluding “Feria” (“Festival”), an unusually sensuous treatment of the Habanera may have been even more satisfying.

Given the unfamiliar music that filled so much of this program, and the complexity of orchestration and range of tonal demands in every selection, this must count as one of the true virtuoso outings by this orchestra in recent years. Its outgoing music director proved to be an unerring guide.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. April 14 in the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

Review: Takács Quartet

April 12, Camp Concert Hall, Modlin Arts Center, University of Richmond

In its latest visit to the University of Richmond, the Takács Quartet contrasted late Haydn with late Beethoven, then turned to a substantial, although interpretively elusive, piece of the romantic quartet literature, Grieg’s Quartet in G minor, Op. 27.

Beethoven has been a cornerstone of the Takács’ repertory for years. The ensemble’s cycle of the 16 quartets, recorded for Decca shortly after the turn of the century, is rated by many to be the reference set. Although the group’s membership has changed since those sessions, its approach to this music – sonically robust, assertive in accents, attentive to dynamic contrasts and to inner strands of voicings and musical lines – remains much the same.

In this program, the Takács – violinists Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes, violist Geraldine Walther and cellist András Fejér – played the last of the Beethoven quartets, the F major, Op. 135. The performance was a vivid realization of “musical argument,” an exposition of a complex construct whose big first movement almost defies performers to maintain continuity. In subsequent movements, more straightforward in construction and expression, the foursome hit its interpretive stride in the central slow movement, portraying the music as an expression of reluctant leave-taking.

The group’s treatment of Haydn’s Quartet in G major, Op. 76, No. 1, was “old school” in projecting rich string sonority – a tonal profile that might just as readily fit Brahms or Dvořák – but also more sensitive to classical style in fairly brisk tempos and sharp, even abrupt, accenting and high contrasts in dynamic levels.

If Grieg had somehow lost his score of incidental music for “Peer Gynt,” he could have reconstructed much of it from pages of his Quartet in G minor. The quartet, written a couple of years after “Peer Gynt,” mines the same vein of turbulent drama, evocative sound-scaping and lyricism that walks a fine line between sentiment and sentimentality.

In this performance, the Takács projected the high drama of the first and last movements at near-orchestral scale, paying the price of some sonic congestion, brought out the sweetness of the romanze movement with a slight undertaste of saccharine, and reveled in the folk-dance qualities of the intermezzo.

Overall, the group presented the Grieg as an epic in miniature, which it is, but also as a succession of episodes.