Review: Richmond Symphony

Valentina Peleggi conducting
with Louis Schwizgebel, piano
Sept. 25-26, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

(reviewed from online stream, posted Sept. 29)

During his three-year stay in the United States in the 1890s, Antonín Dvořák told his hosts that a genuinely American strain of classical composition could grow from the roots of Black and American Indian melodies and dances. Over the next generation, a number of US musicians took his advice, none more successfully than Black composers whose works resonated to spirituals, work songs and dances.

Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953), an Arkansas-born pianist and composer, is one of the last of that generation whose music has been revived. Few of her works were heard after their premieres in the 1930s and ’40s; some have waited until this century to be published and performed. Not surprising – the composer was a Black woman in a White man’s world. Also working against her, posthumously, was that some of her major scores barely survived being kept in storage in a house that was falling apart around them.

The US classical establishment is rushing to make up for decades of neglect: The Philadelphia Orchestra has just released recordings of Price’s First and Third symphonies; the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington will play the Third Symphony next weekend; and several of her works figure in Richmond concert programs this fall, starting with her Piano Concerto in D minor, presented alongside Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”) in last weekend’s season-opening program of the Richmond Symphony’s Masterworks series.

The concerto, completed in 1934, is roughly contemporaneous with William Grant Still’s First Symphony (“Afro-American”), the “Negro Folk Symphony” of William Levi Dawson and The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess.” Price’s concerto resembles those works melodically and expressively, but in style and construction the piece more closely echoes European late romanticism – a rhapsody in concerto form.

Louis Schwizgebel, a Swiss-born pianist based in London, proved to be a winning advocate for the Price concerto, technically pristine without turning anodyne or denatured as he shifted seamlessly between playing as the concerto’s protagonist and as a partner to the orchestra’s musicians – notably in duets with oboist Shawn Welk in the dreamy, bittersweet central slow section of the concerto – and playing energetically and idiomatically in the symphonic cakewalk that concludes the piece.

Valentina Peleggi, conducting a full complement of musicians for the first time since the March 2020 concerts that secured her appointment as the symphony’s sixth music director, consistently kept the orchestra on the wavelengths of Price’s creation and Schwizgebel’s interpretation – richly rhapsodic and rhythmically on its toes.

The conductor’s treatment of Dvořák’s “New World” was unabashedly late-romantic, with highly flexible tempos and dynamics and phrasing in long arcs of melody. Peleggi’s pacing was generally measured in the opening movement and scherzo, surprisingly brisk in the largo – featuring a songful but unindulgent reading of the “Goin’ Home” theme by English horn player Lauren Williams – and dramatic and energized, bordering on headlong, in the finale.

The curtain-raiser, “Fanfare on ‘Amazing Grace’ ” by the Virginia composer Adolphus Hailstork, signaled one shortcoming that cropped up repeatedly in the performances, at least as heard in the audio mix of the online stream. Brass and woodwinds consistently over-balanced strings, often pushing supportive or internal instrumentation too far into the aural foreground. This inside-out quality was especially pronounced in Hailstork’s fanfare, obscuring the hymn tune that is projected by strings.

Occasionally jolting camera work gave this viewer a sensation akin to motion sickness.

The Richmond Symphony’s “Symphony at Home” Masterworks streams, posted on the Wednesdays following the concerts, are accessible through June 30, 2022. Access: $30 per concert, $180 for the full series. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

San Antonio Symphony musicians on strike

Musicians of Texas’ San Antonio Symphony have gone on strike after rejecting a “last, best and final” offer by management that would reduce the orchestra’s roster from 72 to 42 full-time players with 26 part-timers.

The strike was called on Sept. 27, but the orchestra’s management “signaled a willingness to continue negotiations,” Nicholas Frank reports for San Antonio Report:

San Antonio Symphony musicians declare strike over proposed cuts


$50 million given to build UVa arts center

The University of Virginia has announced a $50 million gift from Tessa Ader, a longtime supporter of the arts in Charlottesville and at the university, to build a performing-arts center that will include a concert hall with more than 1,150 seats, a 150-seat recital hall, an experimental performance space and rehearsal studios.

“My late husband, Richard, and I long felt that a state-of-the-art performing arts center was needed by the University of Virginia,” Ader said in a statement issued with the announcement of her gift. “I believe this new facility will be a wonderful asset to our community and am hopeful my gift will encourage others to come forward as well to make it a reality.”

“This is an extraordinary gift. It is, to my knowledge, the largest gift by far to the arts at the University of Virginia,” Jody Kielbasa, UVa’s vice provost for the arts and director of the Virginia Film Festival, told Bryan McKenzie of The Daily Progress:

Virginia Opera taps Liverman as advisor

Will Liverman, the baritone starring in the Metropolitan Opera production of Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the first work by a Black composer in the Met’s 138-year history, has been named creative partner and advisor of Virginia Opera, working with the company’s community engagement activities.

Liverman, a native of Virginia Beach and graduate of the Juilliard School, starred as Figaro in Virginia Opera’s 2016 production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” He went on to perform with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Aspen Music Festival, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Philadelphia and in several Met productions.

“This is a major development for Virginia Opera as we focus on key long-term goals: audience development and diversity, community engagement, and partnerships,” Peggy Kriha Dye, the company’s general director and CEO, said in a statement announcing Liverman’s appointment. “Will is an absolute tour-de-force in the opera world, and as a Virginia native, we feel he is uniquely positioned to contribute to our evolving mission.”

Liverman will perform in recital on Oct. 28 at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center.

British violinist slams ‘Jurassic FM’

Nigel Kennedy, the British violinist known for mixing classical, popular and folk music in his performances and recordings, has canceled a date at London’s Royal Albert Hall with the Chineke! orchestra, known for its ethnically diverse membership and programming, after Classic FM, the network that was to have aired the concert, nixed Kennedy’s plan to present a tribute to rock great Jimi Hendrix and requested Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” instead.

In canceling the performance, Kennedy attacked the classical channel as “culturally prejudiced” and re-christened it “Jurassic FM,” The Guardian’s Dalya Alberge reports:

In the London Review of Books, Mark Sinker tries to fix Kennedy’s place in a long line of performers who’ve straddled popular and classical genres, from Paul Whiteman to Emerson, Lake and Palmer to Yehudi Menuhin and Stephane Grappelli. “Whether emollient or transgressive,” Sinker writes, Kennedy “has never lost his commitment to these odd no man’s lands.”


About reviewing

I had hoped that by now I would be attending concerts and writing reviews of them. Then along came the Delta variant of Covid-19.

Although I’m fully vaccinated – and, given that the classical-music crowd trends older, I might safely assume that most people in concert audiences would be vaccinated, too – infection rates are rising and various case-trackers show most of Virginia in high-risk territory.

So, for a while yet – a short while, I hope, for more than concertgoing reasons – I’ve decided to continue playing it safe.

I’ll miss hearing today’s Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia-sponsored program by the Thalea String Quartet and cellist James Wilson. I’ll also miss attending next weekend’s season-opening Masterworks program by the Richmond Symphony; but I’ve signed up for the “Symphony at Home” video-audio stream that goes online a few days later and plan to review that performance.

And then we’ll see how things look in October and beyond.

Symphony offers at-home option

The Richmond Symphony had added a “Symphony at Home” viewing and listening option: Videos recorded at the eight mainstage Masterworks programs in the symphony’s 2021-22 season.

The videos will be posted on the Wednesdays following the orchestra’s Saturday night and Sunday afternoon performances at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center.

Access to the videos is $30 per program, $180 for all eight concerts, and discounts on tickets for four or more concerts. All videos will be accessible through June 30, 2022.

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

VCU Rennolds Chamber Concerts 2021-22

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concerts will present four performances in its 2021-22 season.

The Harlem String Quartet will open the series at 3 p.m. Oct. 3, and pianist Jon Nakamatsu will perform at 7 p.m. Oct. 16, both in VCU’s Grace Street Theater, 934 W. Grace St., with general-admission seating.

The series plans to return to VCU’s Singleton Arts Center, Grove Avenue at Harrison Street, with Imani Winds at 3 p.m. Feb. 13 and the Viano String Quartet at 7 p.m. April 2.

Their programs will be announced later.

Tickets are $30 per concert. For more information, call the VCU Music Department at (804) 828-1166 or visit

Van Zweden leaving New York Philharmonic

Jaap van Zweden will relinquish his post as music director of the New York Philharmonic at the end of the 2023-24 season.

The 60-year-old Dutch conductor said “that the upheaval of the pandemic had prompted him to reconsider his relationship with the orchestra, which he has led since 2018, as well as with his family, which he rarely got to see during his globe-trotting days before the Covid crisis,” The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández reports.

“It is not out of frustration, it’s not out of anger, it’s not out of a difficult situation,” Van Zweden told Hernández. “It’s just out of freedom.”

Van Zweden joins several other internationally prominent conductors recently announcing seemingly early departures from orchestras. Simon Rattle, music director of the London Symphony Orchestra since 2017, will leave that post and assume artistic direction of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra of Munich in 2023. (Rattle’s wife, the Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, and their children live in Germany. Rattle has applied for German citizenship.) Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the Lithuanian music director of Britain’s City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra since 2016, will be leaving at the end of this season.

Cynthia Hansell-Bakić (1948-2021)

Cynthia Hansell-Bakić, a Virginia-born soprano who built her career as one of the leading opera singers in Croatia, has died at 73.

Born in Arlington to a family of prominent Shenandoah Valley landowners, Cynthia Hansell studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and was a soloist in its chorus. She emigrated to Croatia in 1971 and married Ante Bakić, a scientist, in 1973. Bakić died in 1990.

With a repertory of more than 60 roles, ranging from Monteverdi and Mozart to contemporary works, Hansell-Bakić sang in opera houses throughout the former Yugoslavia, as well as the Mozarteum in Salzburg, and taught at the Academy of Music in Zagreb and Split.

A profile of the singer by Marija Barbieri for Croatia’s International Summer Music School Pucisca: