Kennedy Center staying dark until April

Washington’s Kennedy Center has canceled all live performances through April 25 and is planning a hybrid live/virtual production of its annual Kennedy Center Honors in late spring.

The arts center’s closure since March due to the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in $80 million in lost revenue, and layoffs and furloughs of nearly half of its administrative staff and hundreds of musicians and stage technicians.

“We’re confronting reality. We’re doing everything in our power to address the circumstances we find ourselves in. But all of this is beyond our control,” Deborah Rutter, the center’s president and chief executive, tells The Washington Post’s Peggy McGlone:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/kennedy-center-cancels-live-performances-through-spring-honors-are-still-on-with-a-different-look/2020/11/18/19fbef5e-2931-11eb-8fa2-06e7cbb145c0_story.html

Larry Bland (1956-2020)

Larry Bland, founder and longtime director of the Volunteer Choir, for decades the Richmond area’s most popular gospel chorus, has died.

Bland, who served as a choirmaster at various churches in Richmond’s African-American community, organized the Volunteer Choir in 1971 and led it until retiring in 2018. The ensemble, which at times numbered as many as 200 voices, was known for its vividly costumed and choreographed performances.

The choir toured widely, and sang with a variety of non-gospel forces, ranging from pop singer-songwriter Steve Bassett to the Richmond Symphony. The ensemble also performed in one of the earliest live performances of Scott Joplin’s opera “Treemonisha,” staged at Richmond’s Dogwood Dell in the late 1970s.

In mid-career, Bland moved to the Washington area, eventually joining the executive staff of Discovery Communications Inc., parent of the Discovery and Learning cable-television channels; but he continued to work with the Volunteer Choir and area churches.

Richmonder wins state piano competition

Megan Slay of Richmond is the Virginia winner of the Music Teachers National Association Young Artist Piano Competition. She moves on the MTNA Southern Division competition in December. Division winners move on the national competition, whose participants will be named in January.

Slay, who studies piano with Linda Apple Monson at George Mason University in Fairfax, has performed in gala concerts and online recitals, including the Philadelphia Young Pianists’ Academy International Online Piano Festival in July. She was a scholarship student-performer at the 2018 Brevard Summer Music Institute in North Carolina.

Review: Richmond Symphony

Valentina Peleggi conducting
Nov. 14, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

For the last of this fall’s Richmond Symphony Masterworks concerts, Music Director Valentina Peleggi assembled a program surveying nearly the full chronological and stylistic range of German romantic music with limited forces but not lacking the sonorous heft of German romanticism – no easy feat.

The centerpiece of the program was Richard Strauss’ “Metamorphosen,” a “study for 23 solo strings,” written in the closing months of World War II, a somber yet lushly voiced elegy to both the musical tradition and physical surroundings in which the then-elderly composer had spent his life. (This performance used the 1994 arrangement by Rudolf Leopold drawn from both Strauss’ early septet version and his subsequent full orchestration.)

This music is Strauss at his most bittersweet, mourning “12 years during which the fruits of Germany’s 2,000-year-long cultural development were condemned to extinction and irreplaceable buildings and works of art were destroyed.” The piece darkly echoes the the most intimate and emotionally rich moments of his operas while crafting a complex interplay of string voices. “Metamorphosen” falls prey to the curse of German late romanticism, obsessing at length on its thematic material; but that obsessiveness is essential to its musical character and emotional force.

The symphony strings played the piece with intense concentration and fine balance of solo and ensemble voices.

The Strauss was preceded by Gerard Schwarz’s string orchestration of Anton Webern’s “Langsamer Satz” (“Slow Movement”), an early (1905), lushly romantic work by a composer who in maturity was known for extreme brevity and pointillistic expression. Similar in style to the slow movements of Mahler symphonies, but without the full load of Mahler’s psychological baggage, the piece is a showcase for richly lyrical string sonority, and got that treatment in full from Peleggi and the orchestra.

After that weighty first half, the program turned to two familiar 19th-century scores, Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” and Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B flat major.

Peleggi set a fairly brisk tempo for the Wagner, making the piece less “idyllic” in the romantic-poetic sense of lolling in the meadow, more like a moderately energetic stroll along the lakefront. Winds, played standing, were more prominent than in many performances of the work, and the strings seemed to feed off their colleagues’ oudoorsy expressiveness.

The Schubert Fifth sang and danced as Schubert always should, but it also had the needed earthy undertones, especially in its gutsy menuetto. (In an old-style touch, Peleggi paused, then downshifted the tempo for the movement’s trio section.) Her tracing of the expressive arc of the work, from the light-hearted classicism of the first movement to the emphatic, almost Beethovenian character of the finale, made for an impressive introduction to this conductor’s approach to German classical-romantic style.

In this and other works on the program, Peleggi’s background in conducting voices was constantly evident. She led the orchestra without a baton and with fluid, at times florid, hand gestures, but without ever letting tempos lag or ensemble become muddled. Every piece on the program sang, eloquently or ingratiatingly, as the music demanded.

VPM, which has produced the video and audio of the symphony’s Summer Series and Masterworks concerts during the coronavirus pandemic, has grown into this ongoing project, with steadily improving camera work and more pertinent closeups of individual players. One especially revealing aspect of these productions is seeing the conductor head-on, as the musicians see her – a view that listeners rarely enjoy.

The online stream of the concert can be accessed through Dec. 14. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

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NOTE: Sorry for the delay in posting this review. I’ve been involuntarily offline for a few days.

Symphony League presents ‘Autumn Allegro’

The Richmond Symphony League will present “Autumn Allegro,” an event featuring performances by symphony ensembles, an arts and crafts auction and interviews with Valentina Peleggi, the orchestra’s new music director, and others, from 2 to 5 p.m. Nov. 8 on Facebook Live.

Details: http://richmondsymphonyleague.org/content.aspx?sl=1594578454

November calendar

Valentina Peleggi conducts The Richmond Symphony in Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Richard Strauss’ “Metamorphosen” for 23 solo strings and Webern’s “Langsammer Satz” at 7 p.m. Nov. 13, 8 p.m. Nov. 14 and 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82 (seating limited); online stream of Nov. 14 concert: $20. . . . Chia-Hsuan Lin conducts the orchestra in live accompaniment of the animated holiday film “The Snowman,” with narration, in a LolliPops family program at 11 a.m. Nov. 28 at the Carpenter Theatre. Tickets: $10-$48 (seating limited); online stream: $10. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

Virginia Opera continues its Stayin’ Alive series, featuring a cast from its Emerging Artists roster, in a free curbside concert at 11 a.m. Nov. 7 on the lawn of Suffolk Presbyterian Church, 410 N. Broad St. . . . The company and the Norfolk Society for the Arts cosponsor a virtual lecture, “Opera’s Neglected Dimension: the Visual,” by Marc Scorca of OperaAmerica, at 11 a.m. Nov. 18. Details: http://norfolksocietyofarts.org/

Four members of Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra – violinists Deanna Lee Bien and Jing Qiao and cellists Eugena Chang and Britton Riley –perform in a free program of chamber works by Bartók, Glière, Joseph Boulogne (the Chevalier de Saint-Georges), Charles-Auguste de Bériot, David Popper and Jean-Baptiste Barrière at 5 p.m. Nov. 10 in the Kennedy Center’s River Pavilion, with patron seating on the lawn. Registration suggested. Details: (800) 444-1324; http://kennedy-center.org

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Due to the pandemic, 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.

Richmond Symphony taps Lacey Huszcza

Lacey Huszcza, executive director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, has been named the new executive director of the Richmond Symphony.

She succeeds David J.L. Fisk, who left the symphony in August to become executive director of the Charlotte Symphony.

Huszcza, a 41-year-old native of Cañon City, CO, is a graduate of the University of Colorado and Pepperdine University. She has held a succession of administrative positions with the Las Vegas Philharmonic, becoming its executive director in December 2018. Prior to her Las Vegas years, she held administrative posts with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, also serving as a board member and officer of the Association of California Symphony Orchestras.

“Lacey brings with her an energetic commitment to digital innovation and an unusually rich and varied range of experience in arts management,” George L. Mahoney, chairman of the Richmond Symphony board, said in a statement announcing Huszcza’s appointment. “She was named one of Musical America’s top 30 professionals in 2018 and has been recognized for her efforts to expand the diversity of America’s orchestras.”

Jeri Crawford, Mahoney’s counterpart at the Las Vegas Philharmonic, lauded Huszcza’s “vital role in re-imagining how we deliver on our commitment to music, culture and education during the pandemic.”

In the statement, Huszcza said she is “particularly excited to join an organization with so many wonderful initiatives already in progress, like the Richmond Symphony School of Music, and look forward to building new ways to connect the arts to the community.”

Naming names

Chris White, writing for Slate, decries the practice of referring to canonic male composers – Beethoven, Schumann, Bartók – simply by surname, while giving full names of female composers, composers of color and others of “marginalized identities:”

http://slate.com/culture/2020/10/fullname-famous-composers-racism-sexism.html

“When we say, ‘Tonight, you’ll be hearing symphonies by Brahms and Edmond Dédé,’ we’re linguistically treating the former as being on a different plane than the latter, a difference originally created by centuries of systematic prejudice, exclusion, sexism, and racism,” White writes.

He then notes, parenthetically, that “Dédé was a freeborn Creole composer whose music packed concert halls in Europe and America in the mid-19th century,” a helpful addition given that few listeners today are familiar with Dédé. White does not go on to explain that Johannes Brahms was a Hamburg-born composer and pianist who settled in Vienna and became a towering figure in Western music, presumably because most classical-music aficionados already know that.

He also does not note that most concert program books list full names of composers – conventional full names, anyway. Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, the composer’s “proper” (baptismal) name, is rarely encountered. (Amadeus or Amadè, meaning “love God,” was a middle name he gave himself.)

My practice of identifying composers, like that of most other music writers, has been to identify well-known composers by last name if no other well-known composer shares that name.

If a surname is shared, I specify: Johann Sebastian (or J.S.) Bach, to distinguish the father from his three prominent composer sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel (or C.P.E.), Johann Christian (or J.C.) and Wilhelm Friedemann (or W.F.); Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, if his father, Leopold, or his son, Franz Xaver, are mentioned; Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss II, to distinguish these (unrelated) composers from each other (and Johann Strauss II from his prominent composer father, after whom he was named); Robert Schumann, if I also mention his spouse, Clara.

Speaking of whom, I normally use Clara Wieck Schumann, as much of her significant compositional work predated her marriage. I also refer to Amy Beach, not Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, the name she used in deference to her proper-Bostonian husband during his lifetime – she outlived him by many years and wrote most of her music after his death.

Some cases require extra, not-to-be-confused-with clarification: Should works by John Taverner and John Tavener be featured in a program of English choral music, I would be sure to check my spelling and to note that the former was active in the 16th century and the latter in the late-20th and early 21st centuries. It also would be relevant to note that Taverner wrote Catholic liturgical music, while many of Tavener’s religious/spiritual works reflected his mid-life conversion to Orthodox Christianity.

I generally refer to living and recently deceased composers by their (conventional) full names.

If a composer is “iconic” (meaning, usually, long-dead), common practice has been and probably will continue to be identification by last name: Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Stravinsky. All male, all white, to be sure. That’s already changing – no-first-name references to Beach, Joplin, Ellington and Takemitsu have become fairly common. Future music lovers may refer to Zwilich and Shaw, Eastman and Montgomery, Esmail and Fairouz. For now, though, those references would be mysterious to most readers without full names and a good deal more identification and context.

No -ism need be inferred.