Letter V Classical Radio Feb. 13

noon-3 p.m. EST
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Beethoven: “Leonore” Overture No. 3
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Bremen/Daniel Harding

Liszt: “Studies d’éxecution transcendentale,” S. 139 –
No. 7 (“Eroica”)
No. 8 (“Wilde Jagd”)
No. 9 (“Ricordanza”)
Daniil Trifonov, piano
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Wagner: “Siegfried Idyll”
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
(Channel Classics)

Dolores White: “Blues Dialogues”
Rachel Barton Pine, violin

Dvořák: “American Suite,” Op. 98
Radoslav Kvapil, piano

Florence Price: Symphony No. 3 in C minor
The Women’s Philharmonic/Apo Hsu
(Koch International Classics)

Borodin: Piano Quintet in C minor, Op. posth.
Alexander Mogilevsky, piano
Andrey Baranov & Géza Hozzu-Legocky, violins
Nora Romanoff, viola
Jing Zhao, cello
(Warner Classics)

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major
Joshua Bell, violin
Berlin Philharmonic/Michael Tilson Thomas
(Sony Classical)

Bates, Sparr among classical Grammy winners

Mason Bates’ “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” introduced at the Santa Fe Opera, has won a Grammy Award as Best Opera Recording. The opera by the Richmond-bred composer, the most popular contemporary opera with audiences in Santa Fe’s history, was recorded during its summer 2017 run and released last year on the Pentatone label.

D.J. Sparr, the Maryland-born composer-guitarist who was composer-in-residence with the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra from 2009 to 2011, is one of the artists featured on a Naxos disc, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, of works by Kenneth Fuchs that won a Grammy for Best Classical Compendium.

This year’s Grammy Awards for classical performances:

* Best Orchestral Performance: Shostakovich: symphonies Nos. 4 and 11 (“The Year 1905”), Boston Symphony Orchestra – Andris Nelsons conducting (Deutsche Grammophon). (The set also won in the Best Engineered Album, Classical category.)

* Best Opera Performance: Santa Fe Opera, Michael Christie conducting (Pentatone).

* Best Choral Performance: Lansing McLoskey: “Zealot Canticles” – The Crossing, Donald McNally directing (Innova).

* Best Chamber/Small Ensemble Performance: Laurie Anderson: “Landfall” – Laurie Anderson, vocals; Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch).

* Best Classical Instrumental Solo & Best Contemporary Classical Competition: Aaron Jay Kernis: Violin Concerto – James Ehnes, violin; Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot conducting (Onyx).

* Best Classical Solo Vocal Album: “Songs of Orpheus: Monteverdi, Caccini, D’India & Landi” – Karim Sulayman, tenor; Apollo’s Fire, Jeannette Sorrell conducting (Avie).

* Best Classical Compendium: Kenneth Fuchs: Piano Concerto (“Spiritualist”), “Poems of Life,” Electric Guitar Concerto (“Glacier”), “Rush” – Jeffrey Biegel, piano; Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, countertenor; Tim Hugh, cello; Timothy McAllister, alto saxophone; D.J. Sparr, electric guitar; Christine Pendrill, English horn; London Symphony Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta conducting (Naxos).

Review: Richmond Symphony

George Manahan conducting
with Daisuke Yamamoto, violin
Feb. 9, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

Early in his career, New York musicians nicknamed conductor George Manahan “Mr. Rhythm” for his ability to beat markedly different time signatures with each arm – a very useful skill in certain classic repertory, such as Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” as well as a lot of contemporary and avant-garde music, a specialty of Manahan’s then and since.

In his return to conduct the Richmond Symphony, which he led as music director from 1987 to 1999, Manahan did not have to negotiate too many cross-rhythmic extremities; but his keen rhythmic sense proved quite handy in music ranging from the syncopated rondo of Antonin Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor to the fight scenes in Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” Suite and Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Waterfront” Symphonic Suite.

Just as helpful was Manahan’s gift for balancing solo voices and instrumental choirs in complex orchestrations – no doubt honed in his other conducting specialty, opera. The Copland and Bernstein scores are peppered with such balancing acts among strings, winds, brass and percussion.

Another of this program’s selections, Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Musica Celestis” – originally the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1, heard here in his subsequent string orchestration – poses a different challenge in balancing fine threads and subtle colors of string tone.

To the surprise of no one who remembers his Richmond years, Manahan met most of those challenges with a seeming minimum of fuss, and his mastery spilled over to the musicians under his direction. Some of the most fervent applause at the end of the concert came from within the orchestra.

He deserved an ovation even before the concert began, for a singularly lucid and engaging pre-concert lecture and demonstration of the music to come. Back in the day, Manahan was celebrated for his deceptively easygoing explications, flipping through the conductor’s score as he spun piano reductions out of full orchestrations. He proved even better at this than I remember him being; I doubt that anyone since Bernstein could match him.

This Masterworks series program, devised last year for a guest-conducting date by Ankush Kumar Bahl, who withdrew when he was named one of the six finalists to become the symphony’s next music director, might have been crafted to play to Manahan’s strengths: All American scores except for the Dvořák (one of this conductor’s favorite concertos), and two of them written for dramatic scenarios.

The conductor and orchestra played up the atmospherics and drama of “Billy the Kid” and “On the Waterfront,” which, as Manahan noted in his pre-concert talk, share compositional traits that Bernstein’s music for Elia Kazan’s 1954 film absorbed from Copland’s 1938 ballet score. Their similarities in harmonic and rhythmic language came through in these performances, as did their differences in scenic settings (the Western prairie and New York waterfront) and contrasting applications of tone color (more pastels from Copland, more primary colors from Bernstein).

Daisuke Yamamoto, the symphony’s concertmaster, sounded rather belabored in the big opening movement of the Dvořák, whose violin solo awkwardly see-saws between the declarative and the lyrical, but hit his stride in the folkish melody of the concerto’s adagio and the cheerful Slavic dance of the finale. Manahan and the orchestra gave him warm, robust support throughout the concerto.

Warmth of a similar temperature was not as welcome in Kernis’ “Musica Celestis.” String tone was borderline lush in music that wants rarified impressionism. The celestial sounded earthbound.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

Richmond Symphony 2019-20

The Richmond Symphony, auditioning six music-director finalists during the 2019-20 season, will launch the season on Sept. 21 and 22 with the most stellar of its conducting alumni, Marin Alsop.

Alsop, who was associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony in the late 1980s, today is one of the world’s most prominent female conductors. She serves as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Brazil’s São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and has guest-conducted many of the world’s leading orchestras.

The symphony’s coming season also will feature the orchestra, joined by the Sphinx Virtuosi chamber orchestra, participating in the 2020 Menuhin Competition for young violinists. Finalists and winners of the competition will perform, with guest conductor Andrew Litton, in the symphony’s final Masterworks programs on May 23 and 24.

Other public concerts in the Menuhin Competition, which will run from May 14 to 24, will be announced later.

The six music director finalists – Roderick Cox, Paolo Bortolameolli, Ankush Kumar Bahl, Laura Jackson, Valentina Peleggi and Farkhad Khudyev – will each lead a program in the Masterworks series and conduct another program in the Metro Collection, Symphony Pops or LolliPops series, along with other interactions with the symphony’s constituents and the public.

For information on the candidates’ backgrounds, visit https://letterv.blog/2018/09/25/symphony-names-six-music-director-finalists/

Guest soloists in the symphony’s 2019-20 classical season include Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto; the Korean violinist Immo Yang, winner of the 2015 Premio Paganini Competition, playing Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1; the Georgian pianist Miriam Batsashvili, winner of the 2014 Franz Liszt Competition and a 2017-18 BBC New Generation Artist, playing the Piano Concerto in A minor that the teen-aged Clara Wieck wrote before she married Robert Schumann; cellist Julian Schwarz, who teaches at Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University in Winchester while pursuing an international performing career, playing Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations;” and the Colombian Eduardo Rojas, one of the leading pianists in Latin America, playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1; and soprano Brandie Sutton, a rising operatic star, singing Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1915” and an aria from Gustave Charpentier’s “Louise.”

Symphony principals performing as soloists, all in Metro Collection and Rush Hour concerts, include concertmaster Daisuke Yamamoto and principal violist Molly Sharp in Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante in E flat major, principal cellist Neal Cary in Schumann’s Cello Concerto, principal clarinetist David Lemelin in Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, and principal flutist Mary Boodell and principal harpist Lynette Wardle in Toru Takemitsu’s “Toward the Sea II.”

Major repertory to be performed includes two works by Rachmaninoff, the Symphonic Dances and “The Bells,” his rarely performed vocal-orchestral setting of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, the latter featuring the Richmond Symphony Chorus; Mahler’s First, Bruckner’s Seventh and Brahms’ Fourth symphonies; Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite; Bartók’s “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta;” Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome;” Tchaikovsky’s “Francesca da Rimini;” Janáček’s “Taras Bulba;” and, in Metro Collection and Rush Hour concerts, Beethoven’s Second and Mozart’s 39th symphonies, Dvořák’s Serenade in D minor for wind ensemble, and Ravel’s “Ma mère l’Oye” (“Mother Goose”) Suite.

The Richmond Symphony Pops series will feature “The Music of Elton John,” featuring singer Michael Cavanaugh; the pop-revival group Jeans ’n Classics in “The Apollo Hall of Fame,” a revue of vintage rhythm and blues; “Journey into the Cosmos,” a sampler of music inspired by outer space; and the annual “Let It Snow!” Holiday pops program with the Symphony Chorus.

For ticket orders and other information on the Richmond Symphony’s 2019-20 season, call the orchestra’s patron services desk at (804) 788-1212 or visit http://www.richmondsymphony.com/ticketing/seasonsubscriptions/

Programs, artists, venues and ticket prices for the symphony’s coming season:

Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center
8-concert subscription: $187-$567
5-concert subscription: $118-$366
single tickets: $10-$100 (Sept. 21-22, May 23-24), $10-$82 (other concerts)

Sept. 21 (8 p.m.)
Sept. 22 (3 p.m.)
Marin Alsop conducting
Alexander von Zemlinsky: Psalm 23, Op. 14
Richmond Symphony Chorus
Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major
Immo Yang, violin
Brahms: “Variations on a Theme by Haydn”
Stravinsky: “The Firebird” Suite

Oct. 26 (8 p.m.)
Roderick Cox conducting
Tchaikovsky: “The Tempest” Fantasy-Overture
Charpentier: “Louise” – “Depuis le jour” (“Since the Day”)
Barber: “Knoxville, Summer of 1915”
Brandie Sutton, soprano
Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances

Nov. 16 (8 p.m.)
Nov. 17 (3 p.m.)
Paolo Bortolameolli conducting
Bartók: “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta”
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major
Eduardo Rojas, piano
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor

Jan. 11 (8 p.m.)
Ankush Kumar Bahl conducting
John Adams: “The Chairman Dances”
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622
Anthony McGill, clarinet
Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E major

Feb. 1 (8 p.m.)
Laura Jackson conducting
Michael Gandolfi: “The Garden of Cosmic Speculation” (selections)
Tchaikovsky: “Variations on a Rococo Theme”
Julian Schwarz, cello
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D major

March 7 (8 p.m.)
March 8 (3 p.m.)
Valentina Peleggi conducting
Rossini: “La gazza ladra” (“The Thieving Magpie”) Overture
Respighi: “The Pines of Rome”
Joan Tower: “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” No. 2
Clara Wieck Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor
Miriam Batsashvili, piano
Tchaikovsky: “Francesca da Rimini”

April 18 (8 p.m.)
April 19 (3 p.m.)
Farkhad Khudyev conducting
Rachmaninoff: “The Bells”
soloists TBA
Richmond Symphony Chorus
Grieg: “Lyric Suite”
Janáček: “Taras Bulba”

May 23 (7:30 p.m.)
Andrew Litton conducting
Menuhin Competition senior finalists
repertory TBA

May 24 (5 p.m.)
Andrew Litton conducting
Michael Abels: “Delights and Dances”
Sphinx Virtuosi
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major – I. Allegro moderato
other repertory TBA
Menuhin Competition junior and senior winners
Falla: “The Three-Cornered Hat” Suite No. 2

* * *

3 p.m., Blackwell Auditorium, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland
subscription: $70
single tickets: $22

Oct. 20
Roderick Cox conducting
Dvořák: Serenade in D minor for winds
Copland: Clarinet Concerto
David Lemelin, clarinet
Mozart: Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K. 543

Nov. 10
Paolo Bortolameolli conducting
Mozart: “Idomeneo” Overture
Elgar: Serenade in E minor for strings
Schumann: Cello Concerto in A minor
Neal Cary, cello
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major

Feb. 9
Laura Jackson conducting
Gabriela Lena Frank: “Concertina Cusqueño”
Mozart: Sinfonia concertante in E flat major, K. 364
Daisuke Yamamoto, violin
Molly Sharp, viola
Britten: “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge”
Bartók: “Romanian Folk Dances”

April 26
Farkhad Khudyev conducting
Debussy-Büsser: “Petite Suite”
Toru Takemitsu: “Toward the Sea II”
Mary Boodell, flute
Lynette Wardle, harp
Prokofiev: “”Summer Day: Children’s Suite for Small Orchestra”
Ravel: “Ma mère l’Oye” (“Mother Goose”) Suite

* * *

Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center
subscription: $92-$270
single tickets: $10-$82

Oct. 5 (8 p.m.)
Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting
Michael Cavanaugh, guest star
“The Music of Elton John”

Dec. 7 (8 p.m.)
Dec. 8 (3 p.m.)
conductor TBA
Richmond Symphony Chorus
“Let It Snow!” holiday pops concerts

Jan. 18 (8 p.m.)
Ankush Kumar Bahl conducting
“Journey into the Cosmos”

Feb. 29 (8 p.m.)
Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting
Jeans ’n Classics, guest stars
“The Apollo Hall of Fame”

* * *

11 a.m., Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center
subscription: $45 (adult), $34 (child)
single tickets: $20 (adult), $10 (child)

Nov. 2
Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting
“Wild Wild West”

Nov. 30
Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting
“The Snowman,” film with orchestral accompaniment

Jan. 25
Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting
“It’s a Symphony Sing-along!”

March 14
Valentina Peleggi conducting
School of the Richmond Ballet
Copland: “Appalachian Spring”

* * *

6:30 p.m., Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
subscription: $60
single tickets: $20

conductors TBA
Oct. 17
Nov. 7
Feb. 6
April 23

* * *

7:30 p.m., Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center
single tickets: $20-$60

Dec. 6 (7:30 p.m.)
conductor TBA
Handel: “Messiah”
soloists TBA
Richmond Symphony Chorus

Review: Daniil Trifonov

Feb. 7, Camp Concert Hall, Modlin Arts Center, University of Richmond

In one of the most eagerly anticipated evenings on this season’s schedule of classical concerts in Richmond, Daniil Trifonov, the 27-year-old Russian piano virtuoso, delivered scorching, dynamic and at times haunting performances of works by Beethoven, Schumann and Prokofiev.

Trifonov’s technical facility and temperament have sparked comparisons with legendary keyboard figures of past generations, and after hearing his work in this concert it’s hard to gainsay the gusher of superlatives that preceded his appearance here. He showed, however, that some musical seasoning will be needed before he achieves full command of repertory that requires depth and interpretive discretion to balance (or outweigh) speed, brilliance and high-romantic expressiveness.

What he plays superbly and what he could play more convincingly was starkly evident in his performances of Beethoven’s “Hunt” Sonata in E flat major, Op. 31, No. 3, and Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8.

Trifonov pounced on the many accents of the Beethoven, at times threatening to turn its big opening movement into a succession of exclamatory outbursts, and played its scherzo and presto finale at breathless paces. At more relaxed tempos, and in a reading of Beethoven’s “Andante favori” in F major, WoO 57, that preceded the sonata, he engaged in some remarkably subtle phrasing – dynamics within dynamics – enhancing the music’s lyricism and giving it an almost impressionistic quality.

This episodic, not to say schizophrenic, treatment of Beethoven contrasted sharply with a masterfully conceived, compellingly narrative reading of the Prokofiev, the last of the composer’s three “wartime” sonatas (No. 8 dates from 1944), which rank at or near the pinnacle of 20th-century solo-piano music.

Trifonov realized the richly atmospheric, yet sonically austere, character of the first movement of the Prokofiev, and made convincing emotional counterpoint of its turbulent passages. His treatments of the sonata’s waltz-like central movement and epic finale – alternate takes on the danse macabre – finely balanced pointed rhythm and lyrical flow.

Between the two sonatas, Trifonov summoned his seemingly inexhaustible store of virtuosity for Schumann’s “Bunte Blätter” (“Motley Leaves”), Op. 99, an infrequently performed sampler of short pieces that the composer had written over several decades, and the “Presto passionato,” the original finale of his Sonata in G minor, Op. 22 (discarded on the advice of the composer’s wife, Clara).

The pianist’s high-romantic chops, demonstrated in his recordings of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff, were on vivid display in the Schumann pieces. Really good performances of this composer’s solo-piano music should sound almost like improvisations, inspirations of the moment. Trifonov played with that kind of spontaneity and impetuosity.

Rewarded by a near-capacity crowd with a roaring ovation after the Prokofiev, Trifonov played a piano arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14, as an encore.

* * *

UPDATE: Trifonov’s performance of the same program, minus the Schumann “Presto passionato” and with encores by Prokofiev and Chopin, on Feb. 9 at New York’s Carnegie Hall, can be seen and heard here (registration required):


Letter V Classical Radio Feb. 6

noon-3 p.m. EST
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Richard Strauss: “Don Juan”
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck
(Reference Recordings)

Mendelssohn: Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 58
David Finckel, cello
Wu Han, piano

Past Masters:
Ravel: Introduction and Allegro
Edward Druzinsky, harp
Donald Peck, flute
Clark Brody, clarinet
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Jean Martinon
(RCA Red Seal)
(recorded 1968)

Brahms: Horn Trio in E flat major, Op. 40
Vladimira Klánska, horn
Jiří Horník, violin
Ivan Klánsky, piano
(Praga Digitals)

Barber: Symphony No. 1
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
(RCA Red Seal)

Stravinsky: “Symphonies of Wind Instruments”
Berlin Philharmonic/Pierre Boulez
(Deutsche Grammophon)

William Grant Still: “Danzas de Panama”
Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Isaiah Jackson
(Koch International Classics)

Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
(BR Klassik)

Saint-Saëns: “Samson et Delila” – Bacchanale
Utah Symphony/Thierry Fischer