Beethoven bequeathed a ‘deaf aesthetic?’

In a fascinating interview, composer Gabriela Lena Frank, who was born with neurosensory hearing loss, tells The New York Times’ Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim that she can detect Beethoven’s gradual loss of hearing in his music for the piano.

As he became more deaf, Beethoven “demanded pianos with added notes, elongating the pitch range of the keyboard; he asked for physically heavier instruments that resonated with more vibration. More pitch distance and difference, and more vibration and resonance, create a recipe for happiness for a hearing-impaired person, trust me,” Frank says. “A more dissonant and thick language, with clashing frequencies, also causes more vibration, so the language does get more physically visceral that way, too.”

Also, “[I]f I don’t wear my hearing aids for a couple of days, my composing ideas start to become more introverted. This can produce music that is more intellectual, more contrapuntal, more internal, more profound, more spiritual, more trippy. And I think these are also hallmarks of Beethoven’s later music, and not just for piano.”

Frank wonders: “Is it an exaggeration to say that composers after Beethoven, the vast majority of them hearing, were forever changed by a deaf aesthetic? And that the modern-day piano wouldn’t be with us if a deaf person hadn’t demanded its existence?”

A good gift for all seasons

The Rose Ensemble singing “Give Good Gifts,” a Shaker hymn first published in 1893, that sounds especially apt this year:

If you’d like to sing along, here are the lyrics:

Give good gifts, one to another,
Peace, joy and comfort, gladly bestow;
Harbor no ill ’gainst sister or brother,
Smoothe life’s journey as you onward go.

Broad as the sunshine, free as the showers,
So shed an influence blessing to prove;
Give for the noblest of efforts your powers,
Blest and be blest, is the law of love.

Symphony revises winter, spring schedule

As the coronavirus pandemic continues with no near-term prospect of widespread vaccinations, the Richmond Symphony has revised its schedule and programming for Masterworks concerts in winter and spring 2021, and will continue to offer an at-home online viewing-and-listening option.

The symphony has canceled concerts in other series, including Pops and LolliPops, for the rest of the current season.

The new Masterworks programs – two conducted by Music Director Valentina Peleggi, one by Associate Conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin and another by Joseph Young, music director of the Berkeley (CA) Symphony and artistic director of ensembles at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore – will feature violinist Rachel Barton Pine, pianists Orion Weiss and Gabriela Martinez, and two symphony principals, harpist Lynette Wardle and trumpeter Samuel Huss, in solo and concertante roles.

Repertory ranges from familiar works by Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Shostakovich to rarely heard pieces by the French early modernist Germaine Tailleferre and Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the Guadeloupe-born violinist and composer, a contemporary of Mozart and one of the first prominent classical musicians of African descent.

Continuing the schedule set in the fall, the concerts will be staged without intermissions on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets in downtown Richmond.

Those attending will be required to adhere to safety protocols, including temperature checks on entering, mask-wearing and physical distancing. For more information, visit:

Subscription and single tickets purchased for non-Masterworks concerts may be exchanged for live or online Masterworks tickets or for future concerts. The cost of non-Masterworks tickets also may be converted to tax-deductible donations to the symphony or refunded.

Live-attendance ticket prices will be announced shortly; seating capacity will be limited in line with state and local restrictions on indoor gatherings.

Saturday concerts will be live-streamed and archived for 30 days online. Access is $30 per concert, $100 for a four-concert subscription.

For more information, call the symphony’s patron services desk at (804) 788-1212 or visit

The revised Masterworks schedule:

Jan. 15 (7 p.m.)
Jan. 16 (8 p.m.)
Jan. 17 (3 p.m.)
Valentina Peleggi conducting

“Le danses françaises”
Germaine Tailleferre: Concertino for harp
Debussy: “Danses sacrée et profane”

Lynette Wardle, harp
Ravel: “Pavane pour une infante défunte”
Ravel: “Le Tombeau de Couperin”

Feb. 5 (7 p.m.)
Feb. 6 (8 p.m.)
Feb. 7 (3 p.m.)
Joseph Young conducting

“Russian Treasures”
Balakirev-Farrington: “Islamey”
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor

Orion Weiss, piano
Samuel Huss, trumpet

Tchaikovsky: Serenade in C major for strings

March 5 (7 p.m.)
March 6 (8 p.m.)
March 7 (3 p.m.)
Valentina Peleggi conducting

“Beethoven in Vienna”
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major

Gabriela Martinez, piano
Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in B flat major

April 16 (7 p.m.)
April 17 (8 p.m.)
April 18 (3 p.m.)
Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting

“From Salzburg and Guadeloupe”
Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 5, No. 2

Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550

Review: Richmond Symphony

George Manahan conducting
with Daisuke Yamamoto, violin
& Daniel Stipe, harpsichord
Dec. 12, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

With “Messiah” and other choral music out of bounds during the pandemic, the Richmond Symphony turned to “A Baroque Holiday,” a sampler of instrumental works roughly contemporaneous with Handel’s oratorio.

This was the first all-baroque program staged by the orchestra in years. Its conductor, George Manahan, music director of the symphony from 1987 to 1998, currently its music advisor, was the last conductor to feature baroque works other than “Messiah” as a regular part of the orchestra’s musical diet.

The program mixed Christmas or seasonally themed works – Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 (popularly known as the “Christmas Concerto”), an instrumental suite from “Messiah” assembled by Manahan, the “Winter” Concerto from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” – with pieces that had no special link to the holidays: Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzona No. 2 for brass quintet; J.S. Bach’s “Air on a G String” from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, and the first movement of his Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052; and the Overture from Handel’s “Royal Fireworks Music.”

The overall effect, though, was an enticing blend of festivity, chaste lyricism and instrumental virtuosity – the essences of baroque musical style.

The symphony’s musicians proved remarkably conversant in a musical idiom that they’ve rarely had the chance to essay. Manahan eased the ensemble into the baroque by adopting fairly relaxed tempos and not calling for too much in the way of “historically informed” performance practice such as vibrato-free string playing.

Several of the orchestra’s principal players and one guest took leading roles. Concertmaster Daisuke Yamamoto was the featured soloist in the Vivaldi concerto, playing up the solo violin’s expressive contrast of ice and fire. Violinists Adrian Pintea and Meredith Riley and cellist Neal Cary formed a pure-toned, atmospheric concertino trio in the Corelli. And Daniel Stipe, Richmond’s keyboardist for all seasons – organist, pianist, harpsichordist – was a forceful and virtuosic soloist in the Bach concerto.

VPM, which has been producing the symphony’s online streams since July, showed in this production that its technical crew is hitting its stride. A good thing, too: Given the tragic course of the pandemic, and the likelihood that normal concert life won’t resume any time soon, its contributions will be essential to the orchestra and its audience for months to come.

The online stream of the Richmond Symphony’s “A Baroque Holiday” may be accessed through Jan. 8. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

Nashville Symphony musicians rescued

Musicians of the Nashville Symphony, furloughed since June, will receive a $500-a-week stipend, and have agreed in return to perform in community concerts and other activities.

The agreement between the orchestra’s administration and the musicians’ union local, which runs from Jan. 3 until July 31, was underwritten by Amazon and Nissan. The level of corporate support was not disclosed.

“This agreement represents a vital first step in bringing the Nashville Symphony back from one of the most monumental challenges it has faced,” Pamela Carter, chair of the Nashville Symphony board, said in a news release. The orchestra, which has lost more than $10 million since cancellation of concerts in March, does not plan to resume regular programs until next season, William Williams of Nashville Scene reports:


NY Philharmonic players take pay cut

Musicians of the New York Philharmonic have agreed to a 25 percent reduction in their base salaries under a four-year contract that will see their pay gradually increase but not return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, saving the financially stressed orchestra about $20 million.

The philharmonic, which has not performed since March and has canceled its 2020-21 season, currently projects revenue losses of more than $30 million. “[E]ven when live performances resume, the box office is not expected to bounce back quickly,” The New York Times’ Julia Jacobs reports:

Richmond-bred harpist showcased in Boston

In an interview on the website Ozy, Charles Overton, one of this country’s few black harpists, discusses his artistic and career trajectory, from a fifth-grader in the Richmond schools to studies at the Berklee College of Music to a showcase performance in the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s “Encore BSO Recitals” series:


Virginia Opera cancels stage productions

Virginia Opera has canceled stage productions planned for its current season due to ongoing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our dedication to following the necessary guidelines to ensure the safety of our patrons and artists overwhelms our immense desire to perform,” Kriha Dye, Virginia Opera’s president and CEO, said in announcing the cancellation, adding that the company plans to “stay connected to the communities we serve, digitally in the schools, virtually for everyone, and in safe environments.”

“We now turn to providing new opportunities for much-needed work in our industry,” said Adam Turner, Virginia Opera’s artistic director. “This includes building on the success of our fall artist ‘Stayin’ Alive’ residency, with a second initiative geared towards providing more outdoor performances and digital content beginning in spring 2021. We were able to reach a whole new audience this fall by taking opera out of the Opera House and to the streets.”

Turner announced in an e-mail that an unidentified donor will match donations up to $100,000 to support the company, The Virginian-Pilot’s Amy Poulter reports.

The company is contacting season ticket-holders, offering options including refunds, conversion to subscriptions for the 2021-22 season and conversion of the value of tickets to donations.

For more information, call (866) 673-7282 or visit

Review: Chamber Music Society

Brandon Patrick George, flute
John Marcel Williams, guitar
James Wilson, cello
recorded Oct. 25, The Valentine

The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia’s first online concert, titled “Positive Thinking,” presented three permutations of duo performance, ranging in style from the romantic to the neoclassical, by musicians audibly conversant across that range.

The largest work on the program, “L’Histoire du Tango” by the Argentinian tango master Ástor Piazzolla, was played in its original version for flute and guitar – a seemingly curious choice of instruments, in that the flute is by nature a more angular and, at fast tempos, less lyrical or sensual voice for a dance form rooted in sensuality. However curious the instrumentation may sound to modern listeners, it’s historically authentic: Flute and guitar were the original tango instruments in late-19th century Buenos Aires.

Piazzolla’s four-movement “Story of the Tango” is ordered chronologically, from “Bordello” (1900) to “Café” (1930) to “Night Club” (1960) to “Modern-Day Concert.” The outer movements are animated and melodically and rhythmically busy, the inner sections more songful and soulful.

Flutist Brandon Patrick George made the most of the lyrical heart of the piece while exploiting the virtuosic opportunities of the fast sections. Guitarist John Marcel Williams amplified the rhythmic aspects of the music and added needed shading to the bright colors of the flute.

Guitarist Williams and cellist James Wilson (artistic director of the Chamber Music Society) visited a rarely explored corner of musical history, Viennese music for guitar, which thrived in the late-18th and 19th centuries, in Bernhard Romberg’s “Divertimento an Austrian Themes,” a piece that, after a florid cello introduction, weaves Ländler and waltz themes through variations and combinations.

Flutist George and cellist Wilson played up the spooky, borderline-nightmarish atmospherics of the brief Toccata-Nocturne of Guillaume Connesson, a prolific contemporary French composer. The duo treated Connesson’s terse, neoclassical essay to a performance that was assertive and precise yet highly expressive.

Video quality of these performances is clear and unfussy, with a nice combination of distant and closeup shots. Audio suffers a bit from the hollow acoustic of a large, empty room.

Patrons who have already purchased tickets may access the stream. The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia is currently working to archive this and future online concerts. Details: (804) 304-6312;