Richmond Symphony taps Valentina Peleggi

Valentina Peleggi has been named the new music director of the Richmond Symphony. She will be the sixth music director in the symphony’s 63-year history and the first woman in the post.

The 37-year-old Italian conductor, who currently is Mackerras Fellow in the conducting program of the English National Opera in London and guest music director of the Theatro São Pedro in São Paulo, Brazil, will take up the Richmond post on July 1. She has been engaged initially for four years.

The symphony’s musicians were “bowled over” by her conducting skills and level of interaction in rehearsals for and performances of a Masterworks program in March, said David Fisk, the orchestra’s executive director. “She was head and shoulders over [three] other candidates, all of whom are excellent conductors.” (A fifth candidate, Farkhad Khudyev, was to have led audition concerts this month; they were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.)

“Within hours of Ms. Peleggi’s first interaction with the symphony, members of the search committee knew she was very special, and by the time of her Masterworks concerts, there was unanimous agreement that she was ‘the one,’ ” said Elisabeth Wollan, who led the music-director search committee.

“The passion, enthusiasm and profound musical sensitivity of the musicians of the Richmond Symphony impressed me enormously from our very first rehearsal,” Peleggi said in a statement released with the announcement of her appointment.

In the 2020-21 symphony season, Peleggi is scheduled to conduct eight weeks of concerts, including a Sept. 12 community festival under the orchestra’s Big Tent outdoor stage, as well as four Masterworks programs and chamber-orchestra concerts in the Metro Collection and Rush Hour series, on dates to be announced later.

“We were surprised and gratified that she was able to commit so much time in her first season, given her responsibilities with the English National Opera,” Fisk said.

A native of Florence, Peleggi is an alumna of the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome and the conducting program of London’s Royal Academy of Music. She also studied with David Zinman at the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich and Daniele Gatti at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.

She won the 2014 conducting prize of the Festival International de Inverno Campos do Jordão in Brazil and the Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation Conducting Prize at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in California, and was a 2015-17 recipient of the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship, organized by Marin Alsop to mentor female conductors.

Peleggi formerly served as resident conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor and artistic advisor of its chorus, and as music director of the University Choir of Florence. She has guest-conducted a number of ensembles, including the Royal Philharmonic in London, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in Sweden and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

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“I cannot wait for the next note to start. It will be so powerful, so moving.”

Speaking by phone from Florence earlier today, Valentina Peleggi was recalling her journey, both physically and emotionally, from a busy schedule of performing on three continents to a solitary trip home, passing through largely deserted Italian cities. “When all this – the pandemic, the deaths, the isolation – started, I found I couldn’t really listen to music. I was feeling full of so many emotions, there wasn’t enough space to accept another emotional presence.

“And the silence: Everything felt so strange. The normal noises we hear weren’t there anymore.

“Then I started thinking, this isn’t really silence, but the pause before what comes next – anticipation, something that is very important in music. Thinking that way helps me. I think it will help others.”

Peleggi has a lot to anticipate: Her first opportunity to craft the artistic direction of an orchestra after years as a student, understudy to artistic directors and guest conductor of various ensembles. She said she was delighted to find in the Richmond Symphony’s musicians “real artists – engaged and passionate, driven by this hunger for excellence, always concerned with how we can do this better.

“It’s not that common to work with such musicians. You are blessed to have them.”

She is one of a new generation of female conductors – like many of them, she was mentored by Marin Alsop, a onetime associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, who encouraged Peleggi to audition for the music directorship here.

Unlike many conductors today, however, Peleggi followed a professional course that was the norm a century ago: Starting her career in opera houses, coaching singers and serving as an assistant or potential substitute in leading the opera orchestra. She also has worked extensively as a choral director.

“That experience is very enriching for a conductor,” she said. “Working with voices enables you to reflect on the importance of vocal qualities in all of music – how consonants and vowels shape musical phrases and, above all, how important it is for the musician, and the music, to breathe.

“From opera, we also learn to view pieces of music from a dramatic, a storytelling, point of view, to understand the dramatic intentions of composers. Whether a piece is a music drama or an instrumental work, there is some dramaturgic intention to it.”

Peleggi also looks for resonations of other art forms in music. “I studied comparative literature as well as music, and I think that opened up my learning path as a musician, making me hear music from a wider artistic perspective.”

In recent generations, symphony orchestra conductors have been expected to prepare convincing, stylish performances of repertory spanning four centuries, from the baroque to the contemporary. Peleggi said she is all too aware of how challenging that can be.

Although she could name composers and works “that are closest to my heart,” she does not consider herself a specialist in any particular school or period of music. “I am most interested and curious, I think, about the sound world, and I like to discover pieces that can speak to us in a powerful way.”

Peleggi sees her role as music director of an orchestra as one who “opens doors. . . . I am a music lover because I love people. I am always looking for ways to communicate that love through music – to reach out, to create opportunities to make music for everybody.”

Symphony to sustain musicians’ and staffers’ pay

As many businesses and non-profit institutions lay off and furlough staff because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Richmond Symphony is securing the salaries of its 70 full-time and contracted part-time musicians and its administrative staff.

Drawing on a reserve fund of $600,000, a fund-raising effort and available credit, and having applied for a loan under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, the symphony should be able to maintain its payroll of musicians and staff through the crisis, said David Fisk, the orchestra’s executive director.

“People care about the people in our organization, both internally and externally,” Fisk said. “We’ve made tough choices in the past when we had to. In this case, though, we’ve decided that we can rebuild from whatever financial hardships that develop far more easily than it would be to have to rebuild relationships and the musicianship of an ensemble that has been built over decades.”

The Paycheck Protection Program, a $349 billion component of the $2 trillion financial rescue package recently enacted by Congress, forgives loans to small businesses that continue to pay their employees. Non-profits such as the symphony qualify under the program’s provisions.

The symphony’s plan covers its “core” of full-time musicians and its regular roster of “per-service” players, part-timers who under contract play a set number of rehearsals and performances each season. “Although the per-service musicians generally have other jobs, many of those jobs have diminished or disappeared, so we felt it was important to sustain their income from the symphony,” Fisk said.

Thomas Schneider, the symphony’s principal bassoonist and chairman of the RSO orchestra committee, says that substitute and extra musicians “are being paid for canceled services and hired for rescheduled services through the end of the season.”

The symphony’s musicians “are incredibly grateful that the [orchestra] has decided to keep its commitments to all musicians (full-time, part-time, and subs) who have been offered work in the coming months,” Schneider writes.

The symphony has canceled or postponed all performances from mid-March through May.

Virtual concertgoing (6)

As we enter a singularly solemn and stressful Easter season, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” from the source of one of the most distinguished traditions of annual performances of this work:

J.S. Bach: “St. Matthew Passion”
Mark Padmore, tenor (Evangelist)
Peter Harvey, bass (Christ)
María Espada & Renate Arends, sopranos
Ingeborg Danz & Barbara Kozelj, mezzo-sopranos
Peter Gijbertsen, tenor
Henk Neven, bass
Netherlands Radio Choir
National Children’s Choir
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Iván Fischer conducting
(recorded 2012, Amsterdam):

Ellis Marsalis Jr. (1934-2020)

Ellis Marsalis Jr., patriarch of the New Orleans jazz family, father of trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and drummer-vibraphonist Jason Marsalis, has died at 85.

Branford Marsalis said his father died of complications from Covid-19, the infection caused by the coronavirus.

“He went out the way he lived: embracing reality,” Wynton Marsalis wrote on Twitter.

Ellis Marsalis was a longtime pianist, composer and teacher, serving on the faculty of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts for 11 years before being appointed Commonwealth professor of jazz studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1986. He left VCU in 1988 to run the jazz program at the University of New Orleans.

His “devotion to midcentury bebop and its offshoots had long made him something of an outsider in a city with an abiding loyalty to its early-jazz roots. Still, he secured the respect of fellow musicians thanks to his unshakable talents as a pianist and composer, and his supportive but rigorous manner as an educator,” Giovanni Russonello and Michael Levenson write in an obituary for The New York Times:

Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020)

Krzysztof Penderecki, the eminent Polish composer whose creative trajectory from 1960s avant-gardism to more tonal and expressive music from the 1970s onward heralded a stylistic transition by many classical composers in the late-20th and early 21st centuries, has died at 86.

Penderecki first achieved international prominence in the ’60s with his “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” and “St. Luke Passion.” These and other early works showed the influence of serial techniques, then fashionable among Western composers but frowned upon by the more conservative cultural establishment of the old Soviet bloc. Unusually for a composer in a communist-ruled state, Penderecki wrote a large body of religious music. He nonetheless was lauded by Polish authorities with awards, travel permission and other forms of recognition.

While working in the West in the 1970s, Penderecki began to write works that were more traditional in form, tonality and instrumental technique. His “Christmas Symphony” (No. 2) of 1980, which extensively quotes “Silent Night,” provoked sometimes heated critical comment for its perceived conservatism. His subsequent works, while never quite deserving description as “neo-romantic,” were more firmly rooted in pre-serial Western traditions.

Penderecki’s music also frequently reflected social and political currents of his time – notably his “Polish Requiem,” introduced in 1984 and revised several times thereafter. The work’s genesis was a Lacrimosa, commissioned by Solidarity, the Polish workers’ movement whose protests at the Gdańsk shipyards were among the first to bring about the relaxation, and ultimate breakage, of communist control over Eastern European countries.

Penderecki’s most widely heard music was featured in several films: William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart.” He also wrote a cello concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich, violin concertos for Isaac Stern and Anne-Sophie Mutter, the widely acclaimed opera “The Devils of Loudun,” and a large body of orchestral and choral music. His Third String Quartet (“Leaves from an Unwritten Diary”) was introduced by the Shanghai Quartet at the University of Richmond in 2008.

An obituary by Daniel Lewis for The New York Times:

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In another obituary, Keith Potter, writing for The Guardian, surveys Penderecki’s most important works and the stylistic evolution that they represent:

Menuhin Competition postponed to 2021; Richmond Symphony calls off spring concerts

The Menuhin Competition for young violinists, scheduled for May in Richmond, has been postponed for one year. Organizers have rescheduled the competition to May 13-23, 2021.

“All of us involved in the Menuhin Competition Richmond 2020 regret the need to postpone the event, but recognize the imperative to avoid any large gatherings until the COVID-19 danger has lifted,” David Fisk, executive director of the Richmond Symphony, said in a prepared statement. “The city is ready, our partners are ready, and during the coming year, we’ll work to make next year’s competition even bigger and better than before.”

The 44 violinists who qualified for the competition will be invited to compete next year. The participation of contestants, as well as judges, guest artists and conductors engaged for 2020, is expected to be settled later in the spring.

Tickets already sold for festival events will be honored next year.

For information on donation of tickets, exchanges or refunds, go to

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The Richmond Symphony also has canceled or postponed its spring performances. Cancellations include April Masterworks, Rush Hour, Metro Collection and Youth Orchestra concerts, as well as Menuhin Competition events in May. The “Richmond’s Finest” concert with the Commonwealth Bluegrass Band has been rescheduled to June 14, the “Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back” concert has been rescheduled to June 19, and “Violins of Hope” and “Chesterfield Live! Big Tent Festival” have been postponed to dates to be announced.

Details: (804) 788-1212;

Virtual concertgoing (5)

Symphonic music from all over the map:

Enescu: “Romanian Rhapsody” No. 1
SWR Symphony Orchestra
Tito Muñoz conducting
(recorded 2019, Stuttgart):

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Mozart: Sinfonia concertante in E flat major, K. 364
Sergei Khachatrian, violin
Candida Thompson, viola
Amsterdam Sinfonietta
(recorded 2015, Amsterdam):

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Martinů: Symphony No. 4
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducting
(recorded 2016, Frankfurt):

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Rodrigo: “Concierto de Aranjuez”
Pepe Romero, guitar
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducting
(recorded 2013, Copenhagen):

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Respighi: “Vetrate di Chiesa” (“Church Windows”)
Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia
Vasily Petrenko conducting
(recorded 2011, Rome):

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Dvořák: Cello Concerto in B minor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Czech Philharmonic
Jiří Bělohlávek conducting
(recorded 2015, Prague):

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For our fourth installment, six choral masterpieces:

Jan Dismas Zelenka: “Missa Divi Xaverii”
Collegium Vocale 1704
Collegium 1704
Václav Luks conducting
(recorded 2014, Utrecht, Netherlands):

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Stravinsky: “Symphony of Psalms”
Netherlands Radio Choir
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic
Peter Dijkstra conducting
(recorded 2019, Utrecht, Netherlands):

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Brahms: “Ein deutsches Requiem” (“A German Requiem”)
Iwona Sobotka, soprano
Andrè Schuen, baritone
MDR Radio Chorus
MDR Symphony Orchestra
Risto Joost conducting
(recorded 2017, Dresden):

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Pēteris Vasks: “Dona nobis pacem”
Le Choeur l’Art Neuf & orchestra
Pierre Barrette conducting
(recorded 2017, Montreal):

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Haydn: “Missa in tempore belli” (“Mass in Time of War”)
Yeree Suh, soprano
Ulrike Mayer, alto
Uwe Gottswinter, tenor
Christof Hartkopf, bass
Regensburger Domspatzen
L’Orfeo Baroque Orchestra
Roland Büchner conducting
(recorded 2013, Regensburg, Germany):

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J.S. Bach: Magnificat in D major, BWV 243
Julia Doyle & Hana Blažíková, sopranos
Maarten Engeltjes, alto
Thomas Hobbs, tenor
Christian Immler, bass
Netherlands Bach Society
Jos van Veldhoven conducting
(recorded 2014, Naarden, Netherlands):

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In this installment, musical theater:

Mozart: “Die Zauberflöte” (“The Magic Flute”)
Paul Groves (Tamino)
Genia Kühmeier (Tamina)
Christian Gerhaher (Papageno)
Diana Damrau (Queen of the Night)
René Pape (Sarastro)
Burkhard Ulrich (Monstatos)
Irena Bespalovaite (Papagena)
Inga Kalna, Karine Deshayes & Ekaterina Gubanova (Three Ladies)
Vienna Boys Choir members (Three Boys)
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Philharmonic
Riccardo Muti conducting
Pierre Audi, stage director
(in German, English subtitles)
(recorded 2006, Salzburg Festival):

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Verdi: “Otello”
Gregory Kunde (Otello)
Ermonela Jaho (Desdemona)
George Petean (Iago)
Gemma Coma-Alabert (Emilia)
Alexey Dolgov (Cassio)
Vicenç Esteve (Roderigo)
Fernando Radó (Ludovico)
Isaac Galán (Montano)
Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro Real, Madrid
Renato Palumbo conducting
David Alden, stage director
(in Italian, English subtitles)
(recorded 2016):

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Rameau: “Les Boréades” (concert presentation)
Deborah Cachet (Alphise)
Caroline Weynants (Sémire/L’Amour/Polimnie)
Juan Sancho (Abaris)
Benedikt Kristjánsson (Calisis)
Benoît Arnould (Adamas)
Nicolas Brooymans (Borée)
Tomás Šelc (Borilée)
Lukáš Zeman (Apollon)
Collegium Vocale 1704
Collegium 1704
Václav Luks conducting
(in French, no subtitles)
(recorded 2018, Utrecht Festival):

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Prokofiev: “Romeo and Juliet”
Robert Bolle (Romeo)
Misty Copeland (Juliet)
Antonino Sutera (Mercutio)
Mick Zeni (Tybalt)
Marco Agostino (Benvolio)
Riccardo Massimi (Paris)
Alessandro Grillo (Lord Capulet)
Emanuela Montanari (Lady Capulet)
Luigi Saruggia (The Duke)
Chiara Borgia (Rosaline)
Monica Vaglietti (The Nurse)
Matthew Endicott (Friar Laurence)
Kenneth MacMillan, choreography
La Scala Ballet & Orchestra
Patrick Fournillier conducting
(recorded 2017, Milan):

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Gilbert & Sullivan: “The Mikado”
Robert Lloyd (The Mikado)
Richard Suart (Ko-Ko)
Anthony Gregory (Nanki-Poo)
Mary Bevan (Yum-Yum)
Graeme Danby (Pooh-Bah)
Yvonne Howard (Katisha)
George Humphreys (Pish-Tush)
Rachael Lloyd (Pitti-Sing)
English National Opera Orchestra & Chorus
Fergus Macleod conducting
Jonathan Miller, stage director
(in English, English subtitles)
(recorded 2015, London):