Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 19

7-9 p.m. EST
0000-0200 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Nico Muhly: “Slow (In Nomine in Five Parts)”
(Signum Classics)

Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, cello
London Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle

Ryan Cockerham: “Before, It Was Golden”
Er-Gene Kahng, violin
Janáček Philharmonic/Ryan Cockerham

Past Masters:
Ravel: “Daphnis et Chloé”
Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
London Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux
(recorded 1959)

Satie: “Gnossienne” No. 1
Sarah Rothenberg, piano

Student Concerto Competition winners named

Kayleigh Kim, a 16-year-old violinist from Oak Hill, has won the Richmond Symphony League Student Concerto Competition. She received $500 and a performance with the symphony in its next LolliPops concert, 11 a.m. Jan. 25 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center.

Second prize went to Bethany Bobbs, a cellist from Charlottesville, and third prize to Ari Han, a violinist from Harrisonburg.

The competition, in its 50th year, was held on Jan. 4 at Virginia Commonwealth University, and drew 36 contestants.

Baltimore Symphony: back from the brink?

Donors have pledged $7.25 million to bolster the financially troubled Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, enabling the orchestra to balance its budget for the first time in a decade, the Baltimore Sun’s Mary Carole McCarthy reports:


The Baltimore Symphony canceled concerts and locked out its musicians last summer as it faced insolvency. Marin Alsop, the orchestra’s music director, complained that financial stress shut off discussion of artistic issues.

The orchestra brought in Michael Kaiser, an arts consultant who formerly served as president of Washington’s Kennedy Center, to lead efforts to stabilize its finances. Kaiser and the orchestra management and board set out in December to raise $6 million in the first half of 2020 to pay outstanding bills and support ongoing operations; they reached that goal before the first of the year.

In addition to the $6 million to support the Baltimore Symphony’s $28 million operating budget, donors also pledged $1.25 million to add to the orchestra’s $60 million endowment.

Musicians’ union proposes pension cuts

Rank-and-file US musicians, few of whom enjoy income commensurate with their education and job-related expenses, are now facing the prospect of cuts in their retirement income.

The American Federation of Musicians, the union representing more than 50,000 musicians, has notified members that its pension fund has about $1.8 billion in assets and $3 billion in commitments to future pension payments. The AFM has petitioned the US Treasury Department to reduce pension levels to all but the oldest beneficiaries.

“We faced two challenging options – to allow the plan to run out of money within 20 years or try to prevent that from happening by applying to the government for approval to reduce earned benefits,” AFM pension officials told its members.

If the union’s pension plan “did nothing and ran out of money, the federal government’s insurer, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, would likely step in and pay retirees even less than the new proposal calls for,” The New York Times’ Michael Cooper reports:

Review: Richmond Symphony

Ankush Kumar Bahl conducting
with Anthony McGill, clarinet
Jan. 11, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

Mozart wrote the clarinet concerto – his A major, K. 622. Most every clarinetist who performs as a soloist is expected to play it convincingly. Playing it transcendentally, especially its sublime central adagio, is a much less common gift, one that Anthony McGill displayed in the first of two weekend Masterworks concerts by the Richmond Symphony.

McGill is principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic and previously played that role in the Metropolitan Opera’s MET Orchestra. The opera-house experience almost surely gave him a leg up in Mozart interpretation, as the composer’s instrumental writing, especially for woodwinds, is deeply informed by his writing for the human voice. In some of his operas, notably “Così fan tutte,” Mozart often weaves vocal and wind lines, and in a number of his instrumental works winds effectively sing wordless arias.

McGill treated the Mozart concerto’s melodies as if his instrument were a lyric alto-cum-tenor voice, bringing a romantic undertone to the performance. Ankush Kumar Bahl, the music-director candidate conducting the symphony in this program, led an ensemble with a full-sized complement of strings, producing well-upholstered accompaniment to the clarinetist. While they didn’t depart too far from mainstream classical style, they produced a sound texture not too far removed from what one might hear in music a generation or two later than Mozart’s.

The clarinetist played with an enticing combination of pitch-perfect clarity and warmth. He was more than capable of meeting the technical demands of the fast outer movements, but maintained a focus on the concerto’s wistfully lyrical qualities. His performance earned him a prolonged ovation.

Bahl, former associate conductor of Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra and an active guest conductor internationally, made some pretty gutsy choices in devising his audition program: In addition to the Mozart, John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances” and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E major.

He isn’t the first conductor to introduce himself to Richmond with an Adams score. George Manahan auditioned with the composer’s “Shaker Loops” in 1986, and that performance helped him secure the music directorship. “The Chairman Dances,” an orchestral foxtrot built on “out-takes” from Adams’ 1987 opera “Nixon in China,” is a shorter, more colorful and more accessible sample of the composer’s work.

The Bruckner Seventh is an altogether greater challenge for both performers and listeners. It’s long – about an hour and 7 minutes – and is couched in a form quite unlike that of the typical 19th-century symphony.

Most romantic composers made of their symphonic movements the musical equivalents of complex sentences, whose dependent clauses and asides do not veer too far off the subject or disrupt continuity. Bruckner wrote in paragraphs of free-standing clauses, tunes and gestures that aren’t smoothly bridged from one to the next and rarely reconcile or merge. The ear is tempted to hear them as episodes. Making something musically whole out of these contrasting, seemingly disparate elements is one of the most daunting tasks a conductor can undertake.

Bahl proved to be one of the select few who can organize a sprawling Bruckner score coherently, and can draw an audience into it both as a piece of music and as an extended expression of the spirit.

The orchestra, enlarged in its brass sections and with the addition of four Wagner tubas, produced the needed masses of tone in Bruckner’s epic fanfares and pronouncements. The musicians also were unabashedly expressive in the symphony’s lyrical themes, most affectingly in the first movement, and produced instrumental voicings whose transparency made the composer’s proto-modern harmonic touches sound intentional and in context. Bahl took special care to draw full-bodied bass tone from relatively small cello and double-bass sections.

The conductor and orchestra conveyed the garishly celebratory, Hollywood-inflected tone of the Adams, with pianist Russell Wilson and a large percussion section keeping the pace chipper and enhancing the tongue-in-cheek quality of the score. Though Adams’ style is sometimes called “minimalist,” this reading of “The Chairman Dances” was maximal in all the best senses.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Jan. 12 at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 11220 Nuckols Road in Glen Allen. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

Review: Paley Music Festival

Alexander Paley, piano
Jan. 10, St. Luke Lutheran Church

In the second and final program of the winter installment of pianist Alexander Paley’s Richmond music festival, Paley chose three sonatas from the dawn, high noon and twilight of the romantic era, all three of which cast piano tone and rhetoric in boldface.

The most familiar of the three, Beethoven’s Sonata in F minor, Op. 57, the “Appassionata,” was preceded by a Beethoven miniature, the “Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio” in G major, Op. 129, better-known as “Rage over a Lost Penny.” Published in 1828, a year after Beethoven’s death (thus its late opus number), this “Hungarian Rondo,” dating from the mid-1790s, is accented in the classical style of Haydn, with an extra garnish of bumptiousness.

The rondo was an unusual prelude to the “Appassionata,” one of Beethoven’s stormiest and most intensely expressive piano works. Paley played its drama to the hilt, to great effect in the first movement, which he cast as an epic musical soliloquy. The pianist emphasized the introspective quality of the central slow movement, making its contrast with the explosive, headlong finale all the more startling.

From the throbbing – not to say pile-driving – heart of romanticism came Liszt’s “Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata,” an epic tone poem of 1849 inspired by Dante’s “The Divine Comedy.”

Paley drew a fittingly sharp contrast between the two parts of the piece: An thunderous introductory section evoking the torments of hell, and an elaborated chorale representing heaven. He played the former with a forcefulness that taxed the sonic capacity of St. Luke Church’s baby grand, and traced an expressive arc from extreme delicacy to ecstatic transcendence in the chorale.

Paley closed his program with Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, Op. 53. Like many of Scriabin’s mature works, this sonata aspires to be more than music. The composer described the piece as a “big poem” and provided a verse epigraph to the music: “I call you to life, O mysterious forces!/Drowned in the obscure depths/Of the creative spirit, timid/Shadows of life, to you I bring audacity!”

The pianist audibly pounced on the “mysterious forces” and “audacity,” milking every conceivable bit of sonic drama from the score while playing its more subtle, coloristic elements as if the sonata were a product of the French impressionist composers.

Following the announced program, Paley played Alexander Siloti’s transcription of Ravel’s Kaddish, dedicating this musical treatment of the Jewish mourning hymn to the memory of Catherine Patterson, a longtime officer and promoter of the Paley Music Festival and other arts ventures in the Richmond area, who died in November.

Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 12

As the spring semester begins at the University of Richmond, the show moves to a new time on Sunday evening.

7-9 p.m. EST
0000-0200 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Jan Dismas Zelenka: Trio Sonata No. 4 in G minor
Heinz Holliger & Maurice Bourgue, oboes
Klaus Thunemann, bassoon
Klaus Stoll, double-bass
Jonathan Rubin, lute
Christiane Jaccottet, harpsichord

Jan Jirásek: “Missa Propria”
Boni Pueri Boys Choir/Jiří Skopal

J.S. Bach: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
Olivier Latry, organ
(La Dolce Vita)

Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer: Pièces de clavecin, Book 1: “Le vertigo”
Jean Rondeau, harpsichord

Berlioz: “Symphonie fantastique”
Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth
(Harmonia Mundi)