Veteran conductor and teacher retiring

Victor Yampolsky, the Russian-born conductor and violinist who has been a frequent guest of the Richmond Symphony, will retire after 37 years as head of orchestras at Northwestern University at the end of the school year.

The 79-year-old Yampolsky is the son of Vladimir Yampolsky, a prominent pianist in the former Soviet Union and longtime accompanist to David Oistrakh. The younger Yampolsky studied violin with Oistrakh, played in the Moscow Philharmonic, then conducted by Kirill Kondrashin, and eventually became the orchestra’s assistant concertmaster and assistant conductor.

Leonard Bernstein helped him emigrate to the West in the early 1970s. Within weeks of arriving in the US, Yampolsky had secured a position with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and within two years became its principal second violinist.

Attracted to conducting, he led an orchestra in Nova Scotia before joining the Northwestern faculty in 1984. Among his students were Giancarlo Guerrero, music director of the Nashville Symphony; Roderick Cox, the 2018 Georg Solti Award winner who was a candidate in the latest music-director search by the Richmond Symphony; and Chia-Hsuan Lin, the Richmond Symphony’s associate conductor.

Yampolsky was music director of the Omaha Symphony from 1995 until 2004, and guest conducted a number of orchestras and served as artistic director of several music festivals.

Richmond Symphony patrons will remember Yampolsky conducting Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony in a 2016 Masterworks program, as well as leading several special concerts with the orchestra’s musicians.

A profile of Yamplosky by Les Jacobson for Evanston (IL) Roundtable:

http://evanstonroundtable.com/2021/10/22/inspiring-music-professor-victor-yampolsky-begins-last-season-teaching-and-conducting-at-nu/

Review: Richmond Symphony

Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting
with Sterling Elliott, cello
Oct. 23-24, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

(reviewed from online stream, posted Oct. 27)

Cellist Sterling Elliott, well on his way to being the most stellar member of a highly musical Newport News family, winner of the 2019 Sphinx Competition and the 2014 Richmond Symphony League Concerto Competition, brought out the lyricism within classicism of Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major in his return to the Richmond Symphony.

The concerto, written as the mid-18th-century rococo or early classical style was evolving into the mature classical style that prevailed later in the century, is Haydn on good behavior: no rhythmic or structural quirks, no sudden silences or dissonant exclamations, and only one real joke – a “hunt” finale in which the solo cello is the prevailing voice while the usual hunt-masters, the horns, are bit players. It’s also Haydn at his most expansively lyrical, especially in its first movement, one of the largest pieces in sonata allegro form that the composer ever penned.

Throughout the concerto, Elliott balanced impeccable technique with warm projection of Haydn’s almost romantic melodies. And he treated listeners to solo cadenzas that sounded truly improvisatory.

Chia-Hsuan Lin, the symphony’s associate conductor, obtained orchestral playing that was closely attuned to the cellist’s conception of this music.

The second half of the program was devoted to two of the best examples of 20th-century composers writing in “antique” style, Igor Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” Suite and Sergei Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony (No. 1 in D major).

“Pulcinella,” a 1920 ballet setting the adventures of a familiar commedia dell’arte character to tunes from a variety of then- (and still-) little-known 18th-century composers, is more orchestrally adventurous than similarly inflected, contemporaneous scores, such as Ottorino Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” suites and Maurice Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin.”

In the suite drawn from the ballet, Stravinsky produced a work that, like Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” is peppered with cameos for solo strings, woodwind and brass – notably, in this performance, contributions by violinist Daisuke Yamamoto, oboist Shawn Welk, flutist Mary Boodell, trumpeter Samuel Huss and trombonist Evan Williams.

Lin and the orchestra made comparably animated yet suave work of the Prokofiev symphony, with the full orchestra creating a gratifying balance of expressive and coloristic detail and full-blooded sonic mass.

The odd piece out in this program was its opening selection, “Overdrive” by the contemporary Australian-American composer Melissa Dunphy. Her brief score is eventful, colorful, rhythmically charged and more than a bit cinematic, often recalling the bustling and wackily characterful music that Carl Stalling wrote for the “Looney Tunes” cartoons.

The online stream of the program remains accessible through June 30, 2022. Single-concert access: $30. Full Masterworks season access: $180. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

Bernard Haitink (1929-2021)

Bernard Haitink, longtime chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, has died at 92.

Haitink led the Amsterdam orchestra from 1963 until 1988, and thereafter was awarded a laureate post with the ensemble.

He also held artistic leadership posts with the London Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London. He also was a regular guest conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic and other major orchestras in Europe and the US.

He led his final concert two years ago with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, with which he had made his conducting debut in 1954. (A recording of that final performance, of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, has just been issued on the Challenge Classics label.)

Haitink was a prolific recording artist, especially celebrated for his recordings of the symphonies of Mahler, Bruckner, Beethoven and Shostakovich.

An obituary by The New York Times’ Vivien Schweitzer:

Chinese pianist-turned-TV personality arrested

Li Yundi, the Chinese pianist known to many Westerners as Yundi, has been arrested by Chinese authorities, charged with solicitation.

The 39-year-old pianist, winner of the 2000 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, more recently has become a fan favorite in China for his appearances on television variety galas and reality shows.

He may have been targeted as part of the campaign by the communist regime of Xi Jinping “to rein in China’s raucous celebrity culture, warning about the perils of celebrity worship and fan clubs,” The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández reports. “The Chinese government often uses accusations of prostitution to intimidate political enemies, and it was unclear why Mr. Li had been singled out and what punishment he might face.”

Norman Lebrecht, on his Slipped Disc blog, reports that Li’s membership in the Chinese Musicians Association has been canceled for “extremely negative social impact,” and that the China Association of Performing Arts has called for a boycott of the pianist for his “indifference to law and a lack of moral self-discipline.”

“This is on the point of turning into a witch hunt,” Lebrecht writes:

Yundi Li is sacked by Chinese arts orgs

UPDATE (Oct. 26): Lebrecht reports that an editorial in Global Times, controlled by the Chinese state, may signal “an official reprieve for the star pianist.” The outlet’s editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, writes, “Everyone has the right to reprimand Li, but meanwhile, all the reactions, if combined together, should be proportional and in line with societal standards.”

Just in: China gives Yundi Li a second chance

Edita Gruberova (1946-2021)

Edita Gruberova, the widely lauded Slovakian coloratura soprano who was a mainstay of the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg Festival, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, La Scala in Milan, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London, and performed on a number of acclaimed recordings of opera and oratorio, has died at 74.

An obituary in Opera News:

http://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2021/10/News/Edita_Gruberova,_74,_Spectacularly_Accomplished_Coloratura_Who_Made_the_Vienna_State_Opera_Her_Artistic_Home,_has_Died.html

Another Finn to watch

Two generations ago, Hungary produced a wildly disproportionate share of the world’s leading conductors: Georg Solti, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Antal Dorati, Fritz Reiner, Ferenc Fricsay.

In our time, Finland has become a comparably fertile seedbed of internationally prominent maestri: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Osmo Vänskä, Sakari Oramo, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Klaus Mäkelä, Susanna Mälkki, Hannu Lintu, and now, Santtu-Matias Rouvali, the 35-year-old timpanist-turned-conductor beginning his tenure as chief conductor of Britain’s Philharmonia Orchestra.

Not your stereotypical European maestro, Imogen Tilden finds in an interview with Rouvali for The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/oct/19/philharmonia-principal-conductor-santtu-matias-rouvali-interview

Review: Chamber Music Society

Johnny Gandelsman & Njioma Grevious, violins
Jordan Bak, viola
James Wilson, cello
Mary Boodell, flute
Oct. 17, Trinity Lutheran Church

Antonín Dvořák’s advice to American composers – develop a distinctively native style by drawing from Black and American Indian songs and dances –was taken most faithfully and successfully by Black composers working in the first third of the 20th century, as a Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia ensemble demonstrated in a program featuring Dvořák’s “American” Quartet (in F major, Op. 96), written in 1893, and Florence Price’s Quartet No. 2 in A minor, published in 1935.

Many White American composers of the post-Dvořák generation followed a different course, as the ensemble demonstrated in Amy Beach’s Theme and Variations, Op. 80, for flute and string quartet, published in 1920.

Price and Beach both worked in compositional forms that would have been familiar to Dvořák and his Central European contemporaries, but only Price evoked American vernacular music, chiefly spirituals and the rhythmic creative movement of African origin known as juba dance or hambone. Beach, like most American musicians schooled in the 19th century, received a purely European-oriented education and reflected few if any identifiably American traits in her instrumental music.

In its first movement and finale, Price’s quartet hinges on a reverie-like theme recalling one of the more mournful spirituals (e.g., “Go Down, Moses”), with a brief juba dance as its contrasting central movement. Beach, by contrast, works off a dreamy, rather somber theme resembling one of the nostalgic tunes in Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier,” with variations that contrast Viennese and French-impressionist accents.

This performance of the Dvořák was marked by a first violin part, played by Johnny Gandelsman, employing the old romantic expressive technique of portamento – slides from one note to the next – and by rustic (or “folksy”) voicings of the prominent viola part, played by Jordan Bak. Also notable was a highly transparent texture in which no string player sounded recessed or covered, even at the unusually speedy tempo adopted in the finale.

Moody atmospherics and rich instrumental blends prevailed in both the Price and Beach works, no mean feat in the latter, as flutist Mary Boodell kept her instrument, which can easily stand out from strings, securely within the ensemble’s tonescape and texture thanks to subtle phrasing and dynamic control. All five musicians brought out a wealth of tone color in Beach’s more impressionistic variations.

The string players, with Njioma Grevious as first violin, ably clarified the sometimes dense voicings and formal complexities of the first movement of the Price quartet, without straying too far from its spiritual theme, and gave the juba dance and finale a nice balance of rhythmic animation and tunefulness.

The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia presents violinist Johnny Gandelsman in the premiere of Angélica Negrón’s “A través del manto luminoso” and solo-violin pieces by Rhiannon Giddens, Tyshawn Sorey, Conrad Tao and Christina Courtin at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at Historic Mankin Mansion, 4200 Oakleys Lane in Highland Springs. Tickets: $30. Details: (804) 304-6312; http://cmscva.org

Atlanta Symphony taps Nathalie Stutzmann

Nathalie Stutzmann, the French contralto who took up conducting in 2009, has been named the new music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

When she succeeds Robert Spano next season, Stutzmann will be the first woman to lead the Atlanta Symphony and the first female music director appointed by a first-tier US orchestra since Marin Alsop, who led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 2007 until the end of last season.

The 56-year-old Stutzmann, currently chief conductor of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra in Norway and principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, said she hopes that her Atlanta appointment will signal that women will “one day not be considered as a minority, but as musicians, conductors and maestros,” The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández reports:

Paddy Maloney (1938-2021) & Robin Morton (1940-2021)

Two leading figures in the renaissance of Celtic folk music – Paddy Maloney, 83-year-old leader of the Irish band The Chieftains, and Robin Morton, 81, a founder of Scotland’s Boys of the Lough – have died.

An obituary of Maloney, by Ben Beaumont-Thomas for The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/oct/12/paddy-moloney-leader-of-irish-band-the-chieftains-dies-aged-83

An obituary of Morton by Derek Schofield, also for The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/oct/12/robin-morton-obituary