Met cancels rest of 2020-21 season

New York’s Metropolitan Opera, responding to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, has canceled the rest of its 2020-21 season, and will seek concessions from the unions representing its musicians and other staff, The New York Times’ Michael Cooper reports.

While canceling the current season, Cooper writes, Met General Manager Peter Gelb “announced an ambitious lineup for 2021-22 to reassure donors and ticket buyers that the Met has robust plans,” beginning with a September 2021 production of Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the first opera by an African-American composer to be staged by the company – “part of a new focus on contemporary works alongside the ornate productions of canonical pieces for which the company is famous. The Met will also experiment with earlier curtain times, shortening some operas and offering more family fare as it tries to lure back audiences,” Cooper reports:

Classical comeback ‘possibly years’ away

On his Nightingale’s Sonata blog, flutist and arts consultant Thomas Wolf recounts the story of his Russian ancestors, prominent musicians in tsarist Russia who endured the influenza pandemic of 1918-20, only to face the privations of the communist revolution and civil war, and of being deemed political undesirables because of their status under the old regime, in the early Soviet Union.

The lessons Wolf draws from that history: “[T]here is a future for classical musicians and many aspects of the old career will probably come back in some form or another, though musicians will need to be creative in embracing new opportunities.” However, “it may take much time – possibly years – before that new stability is achieved.”

http://www.nightingalessonata.com/blog/2020/9/16/is-it-really-unprecedented

(via http://www.artsjournal.com)

Review: Richmond Symphony

George Manahan conducting
with Aaron Diehl, piano
Sept. 19, Dominion Energy Center

While Virginia’s classical-music organizations and presenters remain largely inactive – one of them, Hampton Roads’ Virginia Symphony Orchestra, has furloughed its musicians until February – the Richmond Symphony launched its mainstage Masterworks series with a chamber-orchestra program played by masked and physically distanced musicians before a live audience limited to 400 in an 1,800-seat hall and to several hundred more who viewed and heard an online stream live.

Valentina Peleggi, the orchestra’s new music director, made a pre-concert cameo appearance, calling the weekend performances, and a Sept. 12 outdoor concert at Maymont that she led, “a tribute to Richmond’s resilience, hope and connection.” Pellegi then passed the baton to George Manahan, the symphony’s music director from 1987 to 1999, who has been serving as its interim music advisor.

The program, “A Century of American Sound,” featured two repertory staples, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” in non-standard versions – the Gershwin in a chamber-orchestra arrangement by Iain Farrington, the Copland in its original 1943 version (then known “Ballet for Martha,” written for Martha Graham’s dance company) scored for 13 instruments.

Farrington’s slimmed-down orchestration was not the only twist on the Gershwin. The piano soloist, Aaron Diehl, added plentiful ornamental touches and improvisational cadenzas, creating what amounted to a “Fantasy on ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ ”

Such elaborations are not unprecedented – a number of pianists, starting with Gershwin himself, have added notes to and adjusted phrases in the written score; and Diehl’s proved to be more stylistically pertinent than many, driving home the debt that the composer owed to contemporaries such as James P. Johnson and Willie “the Lion” Smith, pioneers of the stride-piano style of the 1910s and ’20s.

Diehl’s contributions lengthened the rhapsody, which generally runs about 16 minutes, to about 20 minutes; but there was never a dull moment.

The Farrington orchestration, a hybrid of Ferde Grofé’s original jazz-band orchestration of 1924 and the more familiar symphonic version that Grofé introduced in 1942, emphasizes the music’s rhythmic angularity and drive. Diehl’s treatment of the piano solo further sharpened that edge.

The orchestral ensemble sounded suitably jaunty, although the unusually prominent wind musicians grasped the ’20s jazz idiom unevenly, with the muted-brass sounding more idiomatic than the woodwinds.

Winds also stood out in the chamber version of “Appalachian Spring,” with clarinetist David Lemelin, flutist Mary Boodell and bassoonist Thomas Schneider playing almost concertante roles. Russell Wilson’s piano was prominent as well, as he played a quasi-percussion part somewhat akin to keyboard continuo in a baroque score. Copland might have faulted the romantically lyrical tone of the strings in this performance, but he wouldn’t have had much else to complain about in the nuanced and flowing performance that Manahan and the ensemble delivered.

The symphony’s string players met sterner challenges in Jessie Montgomery’s “Banner,” which combines strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” and other anthems into a compact tone poem whose sometimes rarified, sometimes fibrous tonal effects in the strings and rhythmic patterns from varied cultural sources produce music that manages to be both celebratory and contemplative.

A brass-and-percussion ensemble opened the program with the traditional season-opening “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by short pieces by Joseph Turrin and Adolphus Hailstork.

Hailstork, the best-known Virginia-based composer and one of the leading African-American voices in classical music today, submitted his “American Fanfare” for the 1985 opening of the American gallery of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The museum selected another work, he noted wryly in an online intermission talk with Titus Underwood, principal oboist of the Nashville Symphony, who is teaching this fall at the Richmond Symphony School of Music, a new online venture for youngsters and adults launching in October. (For more information, go to: http://www.richmondsymphony.com/richmond-symphony-school-of-music/)

Hailstork’s piece incorporates jazz-inflected rhythms and modern harmonic language, effectively taking the fanfare form both backward and forward in time.

Turrin’s “Jazzalogue” No. 1, written for a 1997 Latin American tour by the New York Philharmonic, doesn’t sound explicitly Latin in style, more an evocation of the vividly brassy sound that prevailed in the later years of the swing era.

The symphony’s brass players made fine work of all three pieces, their mass and punch not diminished by physical distance.

The stream of the Sept. 19 concert, produced by VPM, suffered from intermittent freezing and some weirdly fuzzy audio, most noticeable in woodwind sound, when viewed in real time. Those technical difficulties disappeared in a subsequent replay.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 in the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82 (seating limited). Home viewing of online stream: $20 (viewable through Oct. 19) . Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

Va. Symphony furloughs players, cuts budget

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra, which hasn’t performed since the coronavirus pandemic forced cancellations of its concerts in the spring, has furloughed its musicians until Feb. 9 and cut its current operating budget from $6.8 million to $4.2 million.

The furloughs, which Tanner Antonetti of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra Musicians Committee says will cost players nearly three-quarters of their income this season, will save the orchestra $900,000, according to Karen Philion, the VSO’s president and CEO.

The orchestra also has eliminated three administrative positions and furloughed some of its production staff.

The orchestra lost $1.4 million in revenue from canceled spring concerts, and “[w]ithout being able to have concerts this fall, that number will just keep going up,” Philion tells Amy Poulter of The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk:

http://www.pilotonline.com/entertainment/arts/vp-db-virginia-symphony-orchestra-furlough-coronavirus-20200916-etyu4qshmjegdfhpc2lqooqhfq-story.html

The orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, whose tenure as music director ended last season, is next scheduled to perform in a Jan. 8-10 Virginia Arts Festival program. It plans to launch its new season on Feb. 11.

Dye named Virginia Opera president & CEO

Kriha Dye has been named the new president and chief executive officer of Virginia Opera. She will assume the post on Oct. 18, succeeding Russell P. Allen.

A 50-year-old graduate of Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota, the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard Opera Center, Dye was a prominent operatic soprano earlier in her career. She sang the role of Stella in the 1998 premiere production of André Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the San Francisco Opera, Musetta in productions of Puccini’s “La Bohème” in San Francisco, Shanghai and elsewhere, and other roles in more than 40 productions between 1992 and 2017.

Dye joined the staff of Opera Columbus in Ohio in 2011, serving in several administrative roles before becoming the company’s general and artistic director and CEO in 2017. She is a member of the board of trustees of Opera America, and is active in the Women’s Opera Network.

She joins Virginia Opera as the company prepares to mount its 50th anniversary season while facing the artistic and financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. “[A]s the challenges for the performing arts we love and hold so close continue in the months ahead . . . I know we will meet and prevail in those challenges,” Dye said in a statement issued on her appointment.

Stevens at home with the baroque

Bruce Stevens, resident organist at the University of Richmond, plays the program of works by “four Bs” of the German baroque – Dieterich Buxtehude, Nicolaus Bruhns, Georg Böhm and Johann Sebastian Bach – that he had been scheduled to perform at UR in the spring, on the electronic organ in his home, encoded to replicate the sound of a baroque-style instrument:

Violinist sues Shanghai over dismissal

Yi-Wen Jiang, the former second violinist of the Shanghai Quartet, is suing the ensemble for unfair dismissal. Jiang resigned in March after other members of the quartet “objected to social-media comments he had made that were critical of the Chinese regime,” Norman Lebrecht reports on his Slipped Disc blog:

The Shanghai, former resident quartet at the University of Richmond, still performing regularly at UR’s Modlin Arts Center, is currently in residence at Montclair State University in New Jersey and maintains residencies at three Chinese musical institutions.

UPDATE 1 (Sept. 9): The Strad magazine, citing an article in northjersey.com (behind a paywall), reports that Jiang is seeking damages of $500,000. The Shanghai replies that the violinist’s resignation was voluntary and that his lawsuit is “without merit and fanciful:”

http://www.thestrad.com/news/ex-shanghai-quartet-violinist-sues-former-colleagues-for-unfair-dismissal/11190.article

UPDATE 2 (Sept. 14): Jiang says his lawsuit is a bid to resuscitate his reputation and career. “I just want my livelihood back to where I was,” he tells Melena Ryzik in an interview published in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/arts/music/shanghai-quartet-lawsuit-china.html

BBC restores Proms anthems

The BBC, bowing to widespread pushback against its decision to leave the patriotic anthems “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory” unsung in this year’s Last Night of the Proms, has reversed itself. An ensemble of 18 singers will perform them in the concert on Sept. 12, The Guardian’s Mark Brown reports:

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/sep/02/bbc-says-words-to-rule-britannia-will-now-be-sung-at-proms