Camilla Wicks (1928-2020)

Camilla Wicks, one of the first prominent female violin virtuosos, celebrated for her performances of the Sibelius and Beethoven concertos, has died at 92.

Wicks, a California-born prodigy who enrolled at New York’s Juilliard School when she was 10 and by her late teens was performing throughout the US and Europe, played with major conductors and orchestras in the 1940s and ’50s.

She married in 1951 and began rearing a family, leading to her withdrawal from most concert work in 1958. She subsequently taught at a succession of music schools in the US and Norway (homeland of her father), performing intermittently. She retired from her last teaching post, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, in 2005.

An obituary by The Washington Post’s Matt Schudel:

Sibelius is said to have considered Wicks’ performance of his Violin Concerto to be the best he had heard. Here’s her 1952 recording, with Sixten Ehrling conducting the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stockholm:

Igudesman: ‘Take this virus seriously’

On Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog, Alexey Igudesman, the violinist of the classical comedy duo Igudesman & Joo, describes his experience of contracting and recovering from the coronavirus – a “mild version” but frightening nonetheless: “What the disease does to you psychologically is extremely worrying. The panic and self isolation can cause lack of sleep and terrifying depression – these issues are rarely mentioned. These symptoms cannot simply be turned off. . . .

“If someone you know has Covid, please be there for them psychologically, even if you cannot be there in person. And if you get it yourself, remember that having the fear and panic can be part of this treacherous virus, and that it will pass, just like the other symptoms:”

Virtual concertgoing (7)

After a hiatus of several months, another set of live performances archived on YouTube, this set featuring orchestral works:

Daniel Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (“Eroica”) and Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, with András Schiff as soloist, played without an audience on Nov. 15 at the Berlin State Opera House (the performance begins at 27:55):

Vasily Petrenko conducting the Oslo Philharmonic in Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor in a 2019 performance at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg:

Edward Gardner conducting the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Youth Chorus in Holst’s “The Planets,” a 2016 performance at the BBC Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall:

Manfred Honeck conducting the WDR Sinfonie Orchester of Cologne in a 2019 performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor:

Dima Slobodeniouk conducting Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia in a 2018 performance of Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 (“Inextinguishable”):

Kevin John Edusei conducting Chineke! a British-based orchestra primarily composed of black and Asian musicians, in “Black Legacies,” in Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “African Suite,” Florence Beatrice Price’s Piano Concerto in one movement, with Jeneba Kanneh-Mason as soloist, the premiere of “Remnants” by James B. Wilson and Yomi Sode, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor:

Chamber Music Society 2020-21

The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia will present a series of online streamed winter concerts, and plans to resume live performances in the spring.

The society’s virtual concerts:

“Positive Thinking,” with flutist Brandon Patrick George, guitarist John Marcel Williams and cellist James Wilson playing Bernhard Romberg’s “Divertimento on Austrian Themes,” Guillaume Connesson’s Toccata-Nocturne and Astor Piazzolla’s “L’Histoire du tango,” streaming from Nov. 30.

“Reading Shakespeare,” with actor Brandon Carter and cellist James Wilson in readings from Shakespeare’s monologues and sonnets and Ned Rorem’s “After Reading Shakespeare,” streaming from Dec. 10.

“Keep Dreaming,” with flutist Mary Boodell, violist Melissa Reardon and harpist Sivan Magen playing works by Rameau, Saint-Saëns and Chiayu Hsu, streaming from a date to be announced in March.

Access to the streams are $15 per program, plus a $2.55 processing fee.

Live programs scheduled for the spring:

“Let Go,” with poet Roscoe Burnems, baroque violinist Christina Day Martinson, baroque cellist James Wilson and harpsichordist Carsten Schmidt in verses by Burnems, a national poetry slam winner, interspersed with the “Rosary Sonatas” of the German early baroque composer Heinrich Biber, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. March 28 at the Valentine, 1015 E. Clay St. Live tickets: $30 (adult), $5 (student); recorded stream access: $15, plus $2.55 processing fee.

“Self-reliance,” with violinists Adrian Pintea and Suliman Tekalli, violist Celia Hatton, cellist James Wilson, clarinetist David Lemelin and bassoonist Thomas Schneider in a free concert of solo works to be announced, May 1 in the Gellman Room of the Richmond Public Library, First and Franklin streets.

“Reach Out,” with violinists Adrian Pintea and Suliman Tekalli, violist Celia Hatton, cellist James Wilson, clarinetist David Lemelin, bassoonist Thomas Schneider and French horn player Adedeji Ogunfolu in Schubert’s Octet in F major and Shuying Li’s “The Eight Immortals and the Sea,” 2 and 4 p.m. May 2 at Art Works, 320 Hull St. Tickets: $30 (adult), $5 (student).

“Believe,” with violinists Johnny Gandelsman, Christina Day Martinson and Jessie Montgomery, violist Dana Kelley and cellist James Wilson in Ben Johnston’s Quartet No. 4 (“Amazing Grace”), Carlos Simon’s “Elegy – Cry from the Grave” and the ”Heilige Dankesang” (“Holy Song of Thanksgiving”) from Beethoven’s Quartet in A minor, Op. 132, in a free concert at 2 p.m. June 12 in the Gellman Room of the Richmond Public Library.

“Weather the Storm,” with violinists Johnny Gandelsman, Christina Day Martinson and Jessie Montgomery, violist Dana Kelley, cellist James Wilson, double-bassist Jonathan Colbert, traverso flutist Mary Boodell and harpsichordist Carsten Schmidt in Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and a new commissioned work by Kevin Alexander Day, 2 and 4 p.m. June 13 at Atlas 42 at Innsbrook, 4032 Cox Road. Tickets: $30 (adult), $5 (student).

For more information on the Chamber Music Society’s season, call (804) 304-6312 or visit

Performance at less distance?

A newly released study from the German state of Bavaria, summarized on Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog, suggests that wind players can safely perform at reduced distances – 1.5 meters, or about 5 feet – without dispersing potentially infectious aerosol droplets.

“Just the reduction of the lateral distances between the wind instruments would enable us to perform a much larger repertoire again,” says Nikolaus Pont, manager of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra:

Kennedy Center staying dark until April

Washington’s Kennedy Center has canceled all live performances through April 25 and is planning a hybrid live/virtual production of its annual Kennedy Center Honors in late spring.

The arts center’s closure since March due to the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in $80 million in lost revenue, and layoffs and furloughs of nearly half of its administrative staff and hundreds of musicians and stage technicians.

“We’re confronting reality. We’re doing everything in our power to address the circumstances we find ourselves in. But all of this is beyond our control,” Deborah Rutter, the center’s president and chief executive, tells The Washington Post’s Peggy McGlone:

Larry Bland (1956-2020)

Larry Bland, founder and longtime director of the Volunteer Choir, for decades the Richmond area’s most popular gospel chorus, has died.

Bland, who served as a choirmaster at various churches in Richmond’s African-American community, organized the Volunteer Choir in 1971 and led it until retiring in 2018. The ensemble, which at times numbered as many as 200 voices, was known for its vividly costumed and choreographed performances.

The choir toured widely, and sang with a variety of non-gospel forces, ranging from pop singer-songwriter Steve Bassett to the Richmond Symphony. The ensemble also performed in one of the earliest live performances of Scott Joplin’s opera “Treemonisha,” staged at Richmond’s Dogwood Dell in the late 1970s.

In mid-career, Bland moved to the Washington area, eventually joining the executive staff of Discovery Communications Inc., parent of the Discovery and Learning cable-television channels; but he continued to work with the Volunteer Choir and area churches.

Richmonder wins state piano competition

Megan Slay of Richmond is the Virginia winner of the Music Teachers National Association Young Artist Piano Competition. She moves on the MTNA Southern Division competition in December. Division winners move on the national competition, whose participants will be named in January.

Slay, who studies piano with Linda Apple Monson at George Mason University in Fairfax, has performed in gala concerts and online recitals, including the Philadelphia Young Pianists’ Academy International Online Piano Festival in July. She was a scholarship student-performer at the 2018 Brevard Summer Music Institute in North Carolina.

Review: Richmond Symphony

Valentina Peleggi conducting
Nov. 14, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

For the last of this fall’s Richmond Symphony Masterworks concerts, Music Director Valentina Peleggi assembled a program surveying nearly the full chronological and stylistic range of German romantic music with limited forces but not lacking the sonorous heft of German romanticism – no easy feat.

The centerpiece of the program was Richard Strauss’ “Metamorphosen,” a “study for 23 solo strings,” written in the closing months of World War II, a somber yet lushly voiced elegy to both the musical tradition and physical surroundings in which the then-elderly composer had spent his life. (This performance used the 1994 arrangement by Rudolf Leopold drawn from both Strauss’ early septet version and his subsequent full orchestration.)

This music is Strauss at his most bittersweet, mourning “12 years during which the fruits of Germany’s 2,000-year-long cultural development were condemned to extinction and irreplaceable buildings and works of art were destroyed.” The piece darkly echoes the the most intimate and emotionally rich moments of his operas while crafting a complex interplay of string voices. “Metamorphosen” falls prey to the curse of German late romanticism, obsessing at length on its thematic material; but that obsessiveness is essential to its musical character and emotional force.

The symphony strings played the piece with intense concentration and fine balance of solo and ensemble voices.

The Strauss was preceded by Gerard Schwarz’s string orchestration of Anton Webern’s “Langsamer Satz” (“Slow Movement”), an early (1905), lushly romantic work by a composer who in maturity was known for extreme brevity and pointillistic expression. Similar in style to the slow movements of Mahler symphonies, but without the full load of Mahler’s psychological baggage, the piece is a showcase for richly lyrical string sonority, and got that treatment in full from Peleggi and the orchestra.

After that weighty first half, the program turned to two familiar 19th-century scores, Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” and Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B flat major.

Peleggi set a fairly brisk tempo for the Wagner, making the piece less “idyllic” in the romantic-poetic sense of lolling in the meadow, more like a moderately energetic stroll along the lakefront. Winds, played standing, were more prominent than in many performances of the work, and the strings seemed to feed off their colleagues’ oudoorsy expressiveness.

The Schubert Fifth sang and danced as Schubert always should, but it also had the needed earthy undertones, especially in its gutsy menuetto. (In an old-style touch, Peleggi paused, then downshifted the tempo for the movement’s trio section.) Her tracing of the expressive arc of the work, from the light-hearted classicism of the first movement to the emphatic, almost Beethovenian character of the finale, made for an impressive introduction to this conductor’s approach to German classical-romantic style.

In this and other works on the program, Peleggi’s background in conducting voices was constantly evident. She led the orchestra without a baton and with fluid, at times florid, hand gestures, but without ever letting tempos lag or ensemble become muddled. Every piece on the program sang, eloquently or ingratiatingly, as the music demanded.

VPM, which has produced the video and audio of the symphony’s Summer Series and Masterworks concerts during the coronavirus pandemic, has grown into this ongoing project, with steadily improving camera work and more pertinent closeups of individual players. One especially revealing aspect of these productions is seeing the conductor head-on, as the musicians see her – a view that listeners rarely enjoy.

The online stream of the concert can be accessed through Dec. 14. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

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NOTE: Sorry for the delay in posting this review. I’ve been involuntarily offline for a few days.