Mostly virtual Menuhin Competition beginning in Richmond this week

The Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for young violinists, delayed since last spring and now staged mostly virtually due to the pandemic, will begin in Richmond in the coming week. With the exception of the competition’s Celebration Concert program, all competition rounds and concerts may be accessed online at no charge.

The Celebration Concert, with the Richmond Symphony conducted by Jahja Ling, will feature violinist Angelo Xiang Yu, winner of the senior first prize in the 2010 competition in Oslo and a juror in this year’s competition, playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216, and the premiere of “Bound Away” by Richmond-bred composer Mason Bates. The program also includes Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” Overture, Jessie Montgomery’s “Starburst” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. Performances are at 7 p.m. May 14 and 8 p.m. May 15 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Ticket and online access prices will be announced later.

The schedule of free events, accessible via http://2021.menuhincompetition.org and on the competition’s YouTube channel:

April 26 (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) – Junior rounds, day 1.
April 27 (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) – Junior rounds, day 2.
April 28 (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) – Senior rounds, day 1.
April 29 (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) – Senior rounds, day 2.
May 15 (10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.) – Junior semi-finals.
May 16 (10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.) – Senior semi-finals.
May 17 (7:30 p.m.) – Jazz concert by the Regina Carter Quartet.
May 18 (7:30 p.m.) – Geneva junior prizewinners’ concert, with violinists Chloe Chua and Christian Li and pianists Laurence Matheson and Lim Yan. Program TBA.
May 19 (7:30 p.m.) – Folk-acoustic concert by Mark & Maggie O’Connor.
May 20 (10 a.m.-6 p.m.) – Jury masterclasses, conducted by violinist Pamela Frank with physical therapist Howard Nelson; violinists Joji Hattori, Noah Bendix-Balgley, Alf Richard Kraggerud, Soyoung Yoon and Angelo Xiang Yu; and conductor Valentina Peleggi.
May 20 (7:30 p.m.) – Sphinx Virtuosi Showcase, with violinists Rubén Rengel, Rainel Joubert and Melissa White, violist Celia Hatton, cellist Thomas Mesa and double-bassist Xavier Foley playing works by Dvořák, Piazzolla, Foley, Andrea Casarrubios and Michael Abels.
May 21 (3:30 p.m.) – “The Danger of a Single Story: the Importance of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Arts and Their Role in Society,” panel discussion with Aaron Dworkin, Ronald Crutcher and others.
May 21 (7:30-9:30 p.m.) – Junior finals.
May 22 (7:30-10 p.m.) – Senior finals.
May 23 (5 p.m.) – Menuhin Competition Gala, with the Richmond Symphony, conductor TBA; violinist Angelo Xiang Yu; junior & senior competition winners; and guest artists TBA. Program TBA. (Televised on VPM PBS [Channel 23] and streamed on the competition’s website, http://2021.menuhincompetition.org

Local sponsors of the 2021 Menuhin Competition are the Richmond Symphony, the City of Richmond, the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University and VPM.

Christa Ludwig (1928-2021)

Christa Ludwig, the eminent German mezzo-soprano, has died at 93.

Ludwig, the daughter of musical-theater figures, began her career in post-World War II Germany, singing for US occupation troops and in small recital venues. She made her operatic debut at 18, singing the role of Orlovsky in Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus” at the Frankfurt Opera in 1946. After working in several German opera houses, she was hired in 1955 to perform at the Vienna State Opera.

She went on to perform mezzo and some soprano roles with many of the world’s leading companies; for decades she was a favorite singer at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. She also was a celebrated interpreter of art-song and oratorio, and made many recordings that became reference versions of works by Schubert, Wagner, Mahler and Richard Strauss.

Her final stage performance was as Klytemnestra in a 1994 Vienna State Opera production of Strauss’ “Elektra.”

An obituary by The New York Times’ Daniel J. Wakin:

Virginia Opera 2021-22

Virginia Opera’s coming season will feature two favorite works, Puccini’s “La Bohème” and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” as well as the Virginia premiere of “Three Decembers” by the contemporary American composer Jake Heggie, a condensed version of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” and a production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music,” staged during the Virginia Arts Festival.

Based on “Some Christmas Letters,” an unpublished play by Terrence McNally, Heggie’s “Three Decembers” follows the relationship and unfolding secrets of a fading Broadway star and her children through the holidays of 1986, 1996 and 2006.

“Das Rheingold,” first of the four music dramas in Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, will be presented in a condensation by Jonathan Dove.

The 2021-22 Virginia Opera schedule:

“Das Rheingold” (sung in German with English captions) – pairs of afternoon and evening performances on Sept. 12 at TopGolf Norfolk and Sept. 19 at TopGolf Richmond. (Seating is limited and currently available to subscribers only.)

“La Bohème” (sung in Italian with English captions) –Nov. 5, 6 and 7 at Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, Nov. 13 and 14 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax, and Nov. 19 and 21 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center in Richmond.

“Three Decembers” (sung in English with captions) –Jan. 28, 29 and 30 in Norfolk, Feb. 5 and 6 in Fairfax, and Feb. 11 and 13 in Richmond.

“The Marriage of Figaro” (sung in Italian with English captions) –March 25, 26 and 27 in Norfolk, April 1 and 3 in Richmond, and April 9 and 10 in Fairfax.

“The Sound of Music” (in English) –May 13, 14 and 15 at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk.

Casting will be announced later.

For subscription-ticket prices and other information, call Virginia Opera’s box office at (866) 673-7282, or visit http://vaopera.org

Youth competition winners

The Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra Program has announced the winners of its 2021 Digital Competition.

Among Camerata Strings competitors, violinist Isaac Wilson was in first place, violinist Aidyn Ellis-Otovo was in second place, and violinist Thomas Do received honorable mention.

In the Youth Concert Orchestra running, flutist Erin Clark won first place.

Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra winners include violinist Lira Masuda and flutist Camille Ryder, tied for first place; violinist Victoria Duell, second place; harpist Adelaide Gill, third place; violinist Marianna Wolpert, honorable mention; and clarinetist Benjamin Eubanks, most improved player.

Review: Richmond Symphony

Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting
with Kevin Zhu, violin
April 17, Dominion Energy Center

The final program of the Richmond Symphony’s Masterworks series in a season sorely tried by pandemic-driven limitations, and gratifyingly mounted despite them, contrasted early and late realizations of 18th-century classical style.

Led by Chia-Hsuan Lin, the symphony’s associate conductor, the program opened with two works by Joseph Boulogne, his Symphony No. 2 in D major (written as the overture to his opera “L’amant anonyme” [“The Anonymous Lover”]) and his Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 5, No. 2, the latter featuring Kevin Zhu as the soloist.

Boulogne, born on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to an aristocratic French colonial planter and his wife’s enslaved maid, brought in youth to France for his education, known in adulthood as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was one of the most fascinating figures of his time – a champion fencer, prominent soldier, sometime diplomat/intelligence operative and active socialite in addition to being a celebrated violinist and orchestra leader and active composer.

Boulogne was the first prominent musician of African ancestry to compose European classical music. His pioneer’s role in the history of black classical musicians, however, is misunderstood in a key sense: Unlike later generations of black composers, whose works echoed musical traditions of Africa or the African diaspora in the New World, Boulogne was a musician of entirely European outlook, writing in the early classical or “rococo” style that prevailed in the mid-1700s. There is no racial or cultural distinction between his music and that of contemporaries such as François-Joseph Gossec, Johann Christian Bach and the younger Joseph Haydn (whose six “Paris” symphonies were commissioned and first conducted by Boulogne).

Zhu, the 20-year-old Chinese-American winner of the International Paganini Competition and earlier a prizewinner in the Yehudi Menuhin Competition for young violinists, currently studying with Itzhak Perlman at the Juilliard School, proved to be an ideal exponent for the Boulogne concerto, whose emphasis on tonal beauty and decorously elaborate touches of fiddle technique might have been crafted with Zhu and his instrument (the 1722 “Lord Wandsworth” Stradivarius) in mind.

In the concerto’s opening movement, Zhu ably balanced classical stylishness with uninhibited voicing of the rich melodic content that Boulogne brought to this music. That balance was even more welcome in the central slow movement, where the solo violin’s singing tone and subtle displays of technique are paramount, and in the cheerful, dancing rondeau that concludes the piece.

Zhu followed the concerto with an encore: a vividly accented, technically dazzling performance of Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor – an enticing preview of the violinist’s ambitious project to play the full set of Paganini solo-violin caprices in concerts.

In the Boulogne concerto, Lin and the orchestra’s strings gave Zhu solid support in the “big band” style in which classical-era works were commonly heard before period instruments and historically informed performance practices began to influence modern orchestral playing. Sonorities were rich, tempos moderate, dynamics evened-out, accents more blunt than sharp-edged.

This approach effectively underplays early classical works, whose affect and momentum need more assertive projection. It also reduced the impact of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, performed in the program’s second half.

K. 550 is a rarity among Mozart symphonies not only in its being the only one of his later symphonies in a minor key, but also one of the few in which expressiveness and tone color are more essential than musical form. It is the most dramatic and characterful of the symphonies, and needs to sound deeply felt as much as, or even more than, well-played.

In this performance, heard in the online stream of the April 17 concert, the conductor and orchestra were slow to rise to Mozart’s emotional temperature. Form and lyrical lines outweighed expression and dark moodiness in the first movement. The andante, not the most memorable of Mozart’s symphonic slow movements, sounded even more routine and forgettable here. The performance didn’t really ignite until the third-movement menuet, where this work’s underlying turbulence and intimation of menace finally came through.

This was the first symphony concert since the onset of the pandemic to employ full-size string sections, which at least partly explains the richer sonorities than in performances with reduced string sections heard earlier in the season.

The more populated stage also may account for less transparent – at times, rather congested – orchestral sound realized by the VPM audio engineers for this stream.

Daisuke Yamamoto, the symphony’s concertmaster and one of the area’s most prominent musicians of Asian descent, opened the evening reading a pointed statement decrying increasing violence against Asians and Asian-Americans during the pandemic.

“Growing up in Georgia, I’ve often felt the sting of racism and blame associated with being Asian in America,” Yamamoto said. “When people chip away at your heritage, little by little, you start to lose a part of your identity and become lost. . . .

“As a father-to-be, I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she will be understood and accepted for who she is. I do not want her to endure the verbal abuse and bullying I and many other Asians have experienced growing up.”

Yamamoto’s remarks drew sustained applause.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. April 18 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82 (limited seating); access to online stream of April 17 concert: $30 (viewable through June 1). Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

April calendar

The University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center continues its series of online-streamed concerts by members of New York’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with a program, featuring violinist Arnaud Sussman, of J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049, and Chausson’s Concert in D major, Op. 21, for violin, piano and string quartet, beginning at 7 p.m. April 2. . . . The society’s artistic directors, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, will lead performances of Geminiani’s Sonata in C major, Op. 5, No. 3; Haydn’s Quartet in F major, Op. 50, No. 5 (“Dream”); and Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” Suite at 7 p.m. April 9. The streams remain accessible for seven days after performance dates. Access is free; registration is required. Details: (804) 289-8980; http://modlin.richmond.edu

The Richmond Symphony, led by Chia-Hsuan Lin, its associate conductor, will play Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, and two works by Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, his Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 11, and Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 5, No. 2, the latter featuring violinist Kevin Zhu (replacing the previously announced guest violinist, Rachel Barton Pine), at 7 p.m. April 16, 8 p.m. April 17 and 3 p.m. April 18 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82 (limited seating); access to online stream of April 17 concert: $30 (viewable through June 1). Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

Virginia Opera and the Richmond Symphony, Adam Turner conducting, stage Leonard Bernstein’s one-act opera “Trouble in Tahiti” at 4 p.m. May 1 at Dogwood Dell, Byrd Park, in Richmond. The cast includes Marissa Simmons as Dinah, Eric McConnell as Sam and Symone Harcum, Andrew Turner and Nicholas Martorano as the boys-and-girl trio. Kyle Lang is the stage director. Admission is free; reservations are required. Details: (804) 644-8168; http://vaopera.org

The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia, in partnership with the Richmond Public Library’s Gellman Room series, presents flutist Mary Boodell, violinist Jesse Mills, pianists Rieko Aizawa and Ingrid Keller, writer Angela Lehman and host James Wilson performing from their homes in Richmond and New York in “A Musical Aviary,” a free program of works by Saint-Saëns, Somei Satoh, Howard Swanson and Jean Sichler in an online stream at 2 p.m. May 1. Access: http://rvalibrary.org/events/gellman-concerts . . . The society also presents clarinetist David Lemelin, violinists Meredith Riley and Christopher Whitley, violist Fritz Gary and cellist Khari Joyner in live performances of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581; Carlos Simon’s “An Elegy: Cry from the Grave;” and a quartet arrangement of Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances” at 4 p.m. May 2 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 2315 N. Parham Road. Tickets: $5-$30. Details: (804) 304-6312; http://cmscva.org

Alcee Chriss, winner of the 2017 Canadian International Organ Competition, will play transcriptions of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Liszt’s “Orpheus,” as well as works by J.S. Bach, Schumann, Reger, Boëly, Rachel Lauren and Florence Price in a recital at 7:30 p.m. April 30 at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1627 Monument Ave. Masks are required and seating will be distanced. Admission is by reservation, at (804) 359-2463 or by clicking “Register for Alcee Chris Recital” at http://www.grace-covenant.org/music-ministry The recital also will be live-streamed and archived for later access at http://www.grace-covenant.org

The online stream of violinist Cho-Liang Lin and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra playing the first four of J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg” concertos may be accessed for the next 30 days. Tickets: $25. . . . The VSO, conducted by Matthew Kraemer and joined by cellist Nicholas Canellakis, plays Haydn’s Symphony No. 100 in G major (“Military”), Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor and Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” Suite No. 1 at 7:30 p.m. April 9 at the Ferguson Arts Center of Christopher Newport University in Newport News and 2:30 p.m. April 11 at the Sandler Arts Center in Virginia Beach. . . . Shizuo Kuwahara conducts the orchestra, with guest pianist Andrew von Oeyen, in Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C major for strings, at 7:30 p.m. April 23 at Ferguson Arts Center in Newport News and 7:30 p.m. April 24 at Chrysler Hall, 215 St. Paul’s Boulevard, in Norfolk. . . . Benjamin Rous conducts the VSO in John Adams’ “Shaker Loops” and Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 in C major, K. 425 (“Linz”) at 7:30 p.m. April 30 at Ferguson Arts Center in Newport News and 2:30 p.m. May 1 at Sandler Arts Center in Virginia Beach. Ticket information: (757) 892-6366; http://virginiasymphony.org

Hampton Roads’ Virginia Arts Festival presents:. The eminent Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain, joined by an international cast of percussionists – Pezhham Akhavass, Marcus Gilmore and Abbos Kosimov – at 7:30 p.m. April 13 at Bank Street Stage, 440 Bank St., Norfolk. Tickets: $105-$140 (pods of 3 or 4 patrons; limited availability). . . . The celebrated American bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green with members of Virginia Opera and the Virginia Symphony, Adam Turner conducting, at 7:30 p.m. April 17 at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk. Tickets: $26.25-$55 (limited seating). Details: (757) 282-2822; http://vafest.org

The Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg presents pianist András Schiff in an online streamed recital program – J.S. Bach’s “Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue” in D minor, BWV 903, and “Capriccio on the Departure of his Beloved Brother,” BWV 992; Beethoven’s Sonata in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2 (“Tempest”) and Sonata in E flat major, op. 81a (“Les Adieux”); and Schumann’s Arabeske in C major, op. 18 – at 7:30 p.m. April 1. Access: $10. Details: (540) 231-5300; http://artscenter.vt.edu

Other ensembles in Virginia and the Washington area are presenting series of streamed and archived programs. Check the websites of organizations and presenters for details and access procedures.