Review: Richmond Symphony

Valentina Peleggi conducting
with Melissa White, violin
Oct. 17, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

Mozart’s compositions, especially those of his late teen-age and early adulthood, were long characterized as “porcelain figurine” music – attractively tuneful and finely crafted, but lacking depth or weight. His five violin concertos certainly can be played and heard that way. Even heavy applications of romantic-style string tone don’t substantially bulk them up, merely replacing porcelain with velvet cushions and silver tracery.

Melissa White, a founding member of the Harlem Quartet and solo violinist of rising prominence, coaxed both silver tone and lyrical substance from Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219, in the second of the Richmond Symphony’s fall Masterworks programs, the first conducted by Valentina Peleggi, the orchestra’s new music director.

White and Peleggi were interpretively in synch in the Mozart, emphasizing lyricism and tonal richness even in the work’s most brilliant passages. This treatment was naturally most effective in the concerto’s adagio, but also amplified the enticingly sighing quality to the first movement and heightened the contrast of the finale’s minuet with its gutsy central minor-key dance (source of the concerto’s nickname, “Turkish”).

The violinist’s work in chamber music showed throughout the performance, in which she subtly graded tone and projection to blend with the accompanying strings of the orchestra. That made her big solo moments, especially the cadenzas, all the more prominent.

Peleggi framed the Mozart with two works for string orchestra, Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” Suite No. 3 and Dvořák’s Serenade in E major, Op. 22. In both, as in the Mozart, she adopted measured tempos and emphasized richness of tone and rhythmic fluidity. That approach was more suited to the Dvořák, a romantic masterpiece, than to the Respighi, a neo-classically accented updating of Renaissance and early baroque music that needs more rhythmic crispness than it received in this performance, which I saw and heard on an online stream from the second of three weekend concerts.

The program opened with undoctored early music: the “Canzon Septimi Toni” No. 2 of Giovanni Gabrieli, played with robust sonority by an octet of trumpets and trombones, paired in two choirs. The work’s antiphonal effects weren’t quite what the composer intended – to be produced across the nave of Venice’s San Marco Cathedral from opposing balconies – but came across remarkably well on the Carpenter Theatre stage.

The live stream of the concert crashed for real-time viewers. A full video of the concert went online late on Oct. 18 – thus the lateness of this review.

The stream of the concert remains viewable through Nov. 17. Access: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

New York Philharmonic cancels season

Another virus-inflected blow to the performing arts: The New York Philharmonic, which has not performed since March and had already called off this fall’s concerts, now has canceled orchestra concerts through June 2021, at a projected cost of $20 million in ticket sales.

“It is really fair to say that in the 178-year history of the Philharmonic, this is the single biggest crisis,” the orchestra’s president and chief executive, Deborah Borda, tells The New York Times’ Zachary Woolfe:

No escape?

Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post’s art and architecture critic, returns to the National Gallery of Art for the first time since March, hoping that “I might escape the outside world for a few hours, shut out the chaos and crisis,” only to find that “the vast majority of the objects were mute and meaningless, and only those that somehow referenced other periods of tumult and decline spoke with clarity. I had entirely lost my ability to experience art as escape.”

Kennicott was experiencing visual art, mainly sculpture. Is music – another art form he has covered, in St. Louis, then in DC – a more viable form of escape? Conceivably, in that much of it is “abstract” or highly subjective in meaning. Music often is mood-altering, but perhaps just as often mood-intensifying.

Music’s power also diminishes with over-exposure – the more you hear, the more easily it becomes background sound.

Exposure with discretion to music of high intellectual or sensory octane can be liberating from real-world concerns, if you listen closely and with care.

October calendar

The Richmond Symphony continues its socially distanced concerts before limited-capacity audiences at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets: Its Pops series opens with Chia-Hsuan Lin, its associate conductor, leading a concert featuring the Cuban-style bolero group Miramar at 8 p.m. Oct. 3. Tickets: $28-$82. . . . Valentina Peleggi conducts the first Masterworks series program since her appointment as music director, with Melissa White as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219, and the orchestra’s strings playing Dvořák’s Serenade in E major, Op. 22, at 7 p.m. Oct. 16, 8 p.m. Oct. 17 and 3 p.m. Oct. 18. The Oct. 17 concert will be live-streamed online. Tickets: $10-$82; access to stream: $20. . . . Valentina Peleggi leads the Richmond Symphony Wind Ensemble in Richard Strauss’ serenades, Opp. 4 and 7; Verne Reynolds’ arrangement of music by Schubert into a “Little Symphony for Winds;” and Jean Françaix’s “Musique pour faire plaisir,” 3 p.m. Oct. 25 at Reveille United Methodist Church, 4200 Cary Street Road. Tickets: $20. . . . Chia-Hsuan Lin conducts the orchestra, with members of the Latin Ballet of Virginia, in “Día de los Muertos,” a family program marking the Mexican holiday The Day of the Dead, at 11 a.m. Oct. 31. The concert will be played to a live audience and live-streamed. Tickets: $10-$48; access to stream: $10. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

The Richmond chapter, American Guild of Organists presents Robert McCormick in a recital at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at St. Bridget Catholic Church, 6006 Three Chopt Road. All available seats for the socially distanced concert have been reserved, but the program will be live-streamed and subsequently viewable on YouTube at

Virginia Opera’s resident artists perform at 10 a.m. Oct. 3 at the Virginia Zoo, 3500 Granby St. in Norfolk. Limited-capacity tickets to the zoo, $14.95-$17.95, apply for admission to the performance. . . . The troupe continues its Stayin’ Alive concerts throughout the Hampton Roads region: “Voce e Vino” at 3 p.m. Oct. 3 at SummerWind Vineyard, 71 Eagles Nest Lane in Smithfield (free admission); a free outdoor concert at 11 a.m. Oct. 5 at Elizabeth River Park, 1400 Elizabeth River Way in Chesapeake; a performance at Jamestown Settlement at noon Oct. 6 ($8.25-$17.50 admission to the settlement); a free family concert at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at Five Points Neighborhood Spot, 6123 Sewells Point Road in Norfolk; a free concert at 11 a.m. Oct. 8 at New Quarter Park, 1000 Lakeshead Drive in Williamsburg; a free curbside concert at 11 a.m. Oct. 10 at Suffolk Presbyterian Church, 410 N. Broad St.; and “Opera at the Vineyard” at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at Williamsburg Winery, 5800 Wessex Hundred (free admission). . . . The company’s resident artists visit the Richmond area for Stayin’ Alive performances at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at the American Civil War Museum at Tredgar, 480 Tredegar St. in downtown Richmond; 4 p.m. Oct. 24 at Agecroft Hall & Gardens, 4305 Sulgrave Road in Windsor Farms; 5:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road; and 2 p.m. Oct. 31 in a concert sponsored by the Underground Kitchen at the Roslyn Retreat Center, 8727 River Road. . . . The Martinis Manhattans Maestros series, with hosts Adam Turner and Brandon Eldredge, continues with “Game Night” at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 5, streamed on YouTube: . . .The Wednesday Wind Down series of live performances continues at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 7 on the lawn of Harrison Opera House, 160 E. Virginia Beach Boulevard in Norfolk. Details:

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Other major local and regional performing troupes and presenters have scheduled no performances with audiences present through the end of the year. Several are presenting “virtual” online events, some ticketed, others free. Check with organizations and venues for details.

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.”


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:

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);

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:

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.