Sunday, October 09, 2016

Marvelous mezzo Magdalena Kožená returns to Spivey Hall

Spivey Hall's Season 26 opened on September 25th (a bit earlier this year) with a brilliant performance by Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan in his Atlanta recital debut, which was a wonderful success. There is so much to admire in his playing, and so beautifully integrated: the sensitivity of his touch and articulation, his constant but unfussy attention to minute changes in color, texture and dynamics (especially among carefully calibrated levels of piano), his phrasing that breathes and seems entirely natural, the tremendous resources of power at his disposal, the lucidity of his interpretations, and the pervasive intelligence and imagination that inform his music-making. We look forward to his return! 

Next up in the Spivey Series -- making her third Spivey Hall appearance -- is the celebrated Czech mezzo-soprano MAGDALENA KOŽENÁ with pianist MALCOLM MARTINEAU this Saturday, October 15, at 7:30 PM.  

Ms. Kožená enjoys a phenomenal career as a recitalist, orchestral soloist, and opera star, performing in major venues, series, and festivals throughout Europe, Asia, North America, and beyond. "In everything she does," proclaims BBC Music Magazine, "Kožená marries gleaming beauty of tone and intensely musical phrasing with a minute care for the sound and meaning of the words."  

That's a sentence well worth re-reading, with praise especially important for a recitalist. An attractive sounding voice makes it gratifying to spend a full's evening's program with a singer -- but that alone is not enough. The most compelling vocal recitals are those given by singers who have a special relationship with words, and who are dedicated to employing all their artistic resources to making a song come alive in the ears, minds and hearts of the audience, by fully communicating the essence and character of each song. There is no substitute for intelligent fidelity to the text and a deep commitment to combining and conveying its expressive power with that of the music composed for it.

This evening I was proofing the program book for this recital, scrutinizing all the song texts (in several languages) and translations. In this carefully devised program, words and music unite to explore a vast scope of meaning and moods. The program opens with the Four Lieder, Op. 2 by Dvořák, enabling Ms. Kožená to engage her audience immediately in her native language. We also hear Fauré's Three Songs, Op. 23, including "Notre amour," perhaps the most familiar of the set. 

The rest of this far-reaching program (its majority) is sung in German: eight evocative songs by Hugo Wolf set to poetry of Eduard Mörike; Richard Strauss' Three Songs of Ophelia, inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet; and -- perhaps the evening's pièce de résistance -- cabaret songs from the Brettl-Lieder of Arnold Schoenberg, composed before WWII and his escape to California, and not published until 1975, well after his death.

Magdalena Kožená and her regular recital partner Malcolm Martineau have garnered kudos for their performances of these songs in Europe. One such review:

Kozena sang seven of them, and the risque Hugo Salus-setting The Contented Suitor and Hochstetter's Warning (to young ladies in the pursuit of a mate) were particular highlights, probably because she excels at a story-telling lyric. Her mature voice is a rich and powerful instrument and this was an opera star's song recital, brimful of tales, with Encounter and Forsaken Servant Girl telling choices in her selection from Hugo Wolf's Morike Songbook. Opening with Dvorak's "You fervent songs, sing out", and also finding space for the three Ophelia songs of Richard Strauss and a short trio in French by Gabriel Faure, it was a beautifully structured and paced programme. . . .[Malcolm Martineau] remains as expressive and sensitive a partner of singers as ever. Neither the Wolf sequence not the Schoenberg songs would have been the same without him, with much of the musical wit in the performance emanating from his fingers.

I can't wait to hear them; they would seem to showcase Ms. Kožená's wonders as a singing actress, appealing to her sense of theatricality -- which is another way of saying, her ability to connect strongly with listeners, something we always seek (and so often get!) from great singers here, who invariably appreciate how Spivey Hall's superb acoustics enhance the vitality and presence of their sound, creating a deliciously human and personal experience on both sides of the footlights. There's nothing quite like it.

Like Mr. Martineau (truly "an accompanist of genius" -- I concur with The Guardian), Ms. Kožená is a highly acclaimed recording artist, named Artist of the Year in 2004 by Gramophone.  At the end of my proofing/ editing, I reached up on the shelves above my desk (laden with CDs and books) for their 2008 Deutsche Grammophon release, Songs My Mother Taught Me, to hear once again the title track -- one of Dvořák's Gypsy Songs -- lovely, wistful, and touchingly melancholic. But as I kept listening (as a Kožená/Martineau CD inevitably induces me to do), my attention was arrested by the unexpected -- including a remarkably beautiful moment in one of Czech's composer Erwin Schulhoff's folk songs. (I'm a big fan of his Five Pieces for String Quartet.)

Such discoveries are among the many pleasures to expect when in the company of extraordinary artists who enrich our lives through their choices of music performed live at Spivey Hall -- music that matters, music that speaks to the soul, music that tells us who are are.

Excellent seats are available by calling the Box Office at (678) 466-4200, ext. 1, and speaking with one of my friendly Patron Services colleagues. This is a "Patrons ages 12 and up" concert; students and educators receive a 50% discount. You can also click here for program details, Music Notes (program notes with short embedded mp3 music examples to listen to), and a link to order tickets online.  There's also a free pre-concert talk at 6;30 PM by Clayton State's Director of Opera and Vocal Activities, Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller, sure to enlighten you and heighten your appreciation of the performance to follow. Also free parking, plus free intermission coffee/tea/soft drinks, thanks to the Spivey Hall Friends.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Brazilian pianist ARNALDO COHEN replaces Behzod Abduraimov for May 7 recital

Yesterday, news came proving once again an eternal truth of the live-music business -- "Programs and Artists Subject to Change."  Unfortunately, due to a physical ailment, pianist Behzod Abduraimov is unable to give his scheduled debut recital at Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall on Saturday, May 7, 2016 at 7:30 PM.  He sincerely regrets this cancellation (as do we), but he cannot get better unless he takes a break from playing, as his doctors recommend.  While I'm very sad not to hear him, I'm entirely sympathetic to his situation and hope he'll be feeling better soon.

So...after a busy day on the phone and at the computer, I'm proud to announce that we are indeed fortunate to welcome the return of Brazilian-born pianist ARNALDO COHEN, first-prize winner of the 1972 Busoni International Piano Competition. Described as “a fabulous talent” (San Francisco Chronicle),  Arnaldo Cohen is “a big pianist, a large man with a roaring, muscular tone, digital precision and individual interpretations. He is debonair at the keyboard, and he is wise” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). 

A pupil in his native Brazil of Jacques Klein (a disciple of the legendary American pianist William Kapell), Cohen pursued further training in Vienna. Long in demand internationally, he has performed with the Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras, the Chicago Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and is a frequent recitalist at major music venues and festivals, including the 2016 Savannah Music Festival.  An acclaimed recording artist, Cohen was a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London before moving to the United States, where he currently holds a full professorship at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, and since 2013, has been artistic director of the Portland Piano International series in Oregon.

For his May 7 Spivey Hall recital, Arnaldo Cohen will perform Ferruccio Busoni’s transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne in D minor, the Variations on a Theme of Handel by Johannes Brahms, and the four highly virtuosic Scherzos by Frédéric Chopin.

This should be a fitting and exciting finale our Season 25 Piano Series. I've greatly enjoyed Arnaldo's concerts and CDs and last heard him live some years ago in recital in Santa Barbara.  Several Spivey Hall patrons told me of his recent recital at the 2016 Savannah Music Festival in March, where he got a a rave review:

"Performing a program of works by Bach, Brahms and Chopin in the austere and acoustically splendid Trinity United Methodist Church, Cohen’s performance was a masterful display of virtuosic technique, astounding power and insightful interpretation. A series of four scherzos by Chopin, which ended the program, was especially evocative, roiling with deep dynamics and searing intensity, yet punctuated by nuanced, restful beauty. It’s hard to imagine the composer’s work being in better hands."

So if you already have your Abduraimov tickets, you're all set to hear Arnaldo Cohen. Good seats are still available from the Spivey Hall Box Office by calling (678) 466-4200 and online at  Students with valid ID and educators receive a 50% discount, and Clayton State University students receive $10 tickets (limit 2 per Laker ID). Tickets to the 5:45 PM pre-concert dinner ($40 per person) are also available, and must be purchased by 12:00 Noon on Monday, May 2. And of course, there is always plenty of free, convenient parking for all Spivey Hall concerts.

Dr. Michael Koch, one of Spivey Hall's most ardent, knowledgeable and enthusiastic pianophiles, remains the Spivey Hall Friends Concert Sponsor of our May 7 piano recital, for which I thank him warmly. I also wish to extend to him my profound thanks for his extraordinary generosity in allowing his beautiful Hamburg Steinway concert grand piano ("Hans") to come visit his cousin "Clara" (Spivey Hall's beautiful Hamburg Steinway) this season. 

In many respects, "Clara" and "Hans" share marvelous qualities. Yet each piano has its own unique character, and since no one piano suits the needs and preferences of all pianists, the world's best concert halls offer their pianists a choice of excellent pianos.  

There are many reasons why discerning pianists will choose a particular piano over another, reasons that vary considerably among pianists -- not infrequently (but not always) because of their chosen programs (more on this in a future blog post).  To some listeners, the pianos' differences might not be readily apparent -- but to the pianists who are bringing the music to life, they can matter in untold ways.

By providing first-class pianos that offer meaningful and valuable differences of touch, tone, and essential character to world-class pianists, leading professional concert venues such as Spivey Hall can assist these extraordinary artists to play at their best. When this is possible, the music can be especially well served, and we who listen in the audience are very richly rewarded.  

Thus at Spivey Hall, we truly wish to have a pair of first-rate pianos, worthy of our superb acoustics and visiting guest artists, that complement each other, appeal strongly to pianists, and satisfy their various musical needs and preferences. We are delighted and thankful to have one such a piano in "Clara." But "Clara" needs a partner as wonderful as she is. Having conferred with a number of Spivey Hall Friends, I believe the time has come for us to start thinking about finding "Robert." We expect to have an announcement about this in the coming months, so stay tuned!

One last observation: Arnaldo Cohen will begin his recital with the Busoni transcription of Bach's Chaconne in D minor.  Pianist Inon Barnatan will open Season 26 with the Chaconne in D minor, but in Brahms's transcription for the left hand alone. Both are astonishing realizations of Bach's genius, and together I think they make a nice set of musical bookends between seasons.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The long-awaited recital debut of soprano Christiane Karg

Not infrequently, Spivey patrons ask me, "Is there some artist you've booked that you think I should really come and hear?" It's akin to being asked, "Which of your children do you really love the best?," and often hard to answer.

However, ladies and gentlemen, kindly take notice: this Saturday there are definitely two artists you should hear. Truly.

Bavarian soprano Christiane Karg makes her North American recital debut at Spivey Hall on Saturday evening, April 2, at 7:30 PM with the incomparable pianist Malcolm Martineau, two seasons later than first expected. But I fully and firmly believe it will be well worth the wait!

Do you have your tickets?

I often joke that my tombstone epitaph (if I have one, which I rather doubt) should read, "Artists and programs subject to change." As another saying goes, life is what happens when you're making other plans. Ms. Karg was due to make her North American recital debut here two seasons ago, but an unfortunate case of laryngitis intervened.  She simply could not sing. Thus her recital had to be rescheduled. Spivey Series booking tends to work 18 to 24 months in advance, and the earliest opportunity proved to be April 2016 -- which happily coincided with our 25th Anniversary Season.

What seems like several summers ago, I ventured up to New York to hear Christiane Karg perform Schumann with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin.  (Both artists were new to me; both have since enjoyed extraordinary success in their careers.) So that I could get an immediate sense of her personality, I deliberately chose a seat very close to the stage. Having taken my seat, I discovered I was behind a very tall, very bald patron whose large head totally blocked any view I could get of her unless I squirmed up and down and around in my seat like a child throughout the concert. So much for strategic seat selection!  But it didn't matter. The glory of her singing shone through, and I was convinced that in the superb acoustics of Spivey Hall, she would triumph. 

Subsequent press confirmed my convictions. Noted by Le Figaro for her "crystalline purity and musicality" as well as her "ethereal voice," Christiane Karg remains "at the forefront of lyric sopranos" (The Telegraph). "Karg is the complete package," glowed The Press in York; "She established such immediate and total rapport with her audience that we were eating out of her hand.... She exudes a delightful, unfussy charisma... Lieder recitals should always be like this."

Doesn't this sound enticing? Experiencing singing like this is one of the life's greatest pleasures, n'est-ce pas?

And now, at last, she's here. I'm both pleased and grateful that she and her manager were able to schedule her recital tour such that her Spivey Hall debut will indeed, after all, still be her North American recital debut. I am also tremendously grateful that Richard Tigner again signed on as the Spivey Hall Friends Concert Sponsor of Ms. Karg's recital -- which this time (if the Fates allow) will actually take place (all fingers and toes crossed). Thank you, Rick, for your loyal support, and for placing your trust in this debut a second time!

Ms. Karg's original recital debut program focused on Germanic repertoire, including songs of Richard Strauss, which I would have loved to hear (and if you know any of her excellent recordings, you'll appreciate why). But this weekend, she happens to have chosen some of my all-time favorites in a mixed program of songs in German, Spanish and French. This only heightens my eagerness to hear her, because I expect the range and variety of these songs will reveal even more fully the many aspects of her artistry as both vocalist and interpreter. Her extraordinary collaborator, pianist Malcolm Martineau, is a gift to any vocalist in recital, and an artist we welcome frequently and warmly to Spivey Hall (he's actually here twice next season).

So, Saturday's program is titled Nostalgia -- European Dreams.  It opens with Hugo Wolf's setting of Goethe's "Kennst Du das Land?" ("Do you know the land where citrons bloom?"), beckoning us with barely restrained ecstasy through descriptions of places wild and wonderful, places where nature's might is palpable -- "It is there -- there that I would go with you!" This leads us to Lieder from Wolf's Italian Song Book and Spanish Song Book, equally evocative and colorful, ardent and expressive. The first half closes with Six Castilian Songs by Jesús Guridi, with texts from folk poetry. These I do not know, but of course a good program should contain aspects of discovery; Malcolm Martineau has recorded them to high critical praise; he and Ms. Karg know these places, and will guide us there.

The second half opens and closes with sumptuous French songs by Henri Duparc -- first, "L'invitation au voyage" ("Invitation to the voyage").  This is a truly rapturous song, with gorgeous climaxes reaching heights of supreme joy, then easing back into a heavenly vision of soulful serenity, a place you want to be: "There, all is harmony and beauty, / Luxury, calm and delight."  (These moments alone are worth coming to hear.) The closing Duparc song, "Romance de Mignon," is about another ideal, beloved place ("Do you know that radiant land / Where fruit glints among branches of gold?"), though tinged in the second stanza with suggestions of love lost...and yet, in both instances, a cherished destination: "Do you know it, do you know it? To that place, my beloved, / Let us run, let us go."

Nestled between the Duparc bookends, we'll hear Ravel's Five Greek Folk Songs which audiences always enjoy, a trio of songs from Reynaldo Hahn's Latin Studies (two of which dwell as much on wine as on distinctive natural imagery), three songs by Charles Koechlin based on Shéhérazade poems, with texts by Tristan Klingsor, and a group of songs by Francis Poulenc.  All vividly conjure up a special sense of place, all are rich with descriptive detail, all combine words and music in imaginative and artful ways. These are the ingredients of a great recital program that these masterful artists have prepared for us. A rare opportunity. You should be here to experience it.

I'm particularly fond of Poulenc's "Voyage à Paris" and (especially) "Hôtel," both from his Banalités, inspired music set to poems by Guillaume Apollinaire.  They are short, succinct, but not small, and instantly create a complete mood, a full slice of life. There's a somewhat crazy, extroverted, high-spirited, escape-from-the-mundane glee to "Voyage à Paris" ("Beautiful Paris, which one day Love had to create!") -- all of which transpires more in seconds than in minutes, yet nothing is wanting.

"Hôtel" perfectly summons a pervasive sense of weary languor, with rays of sun weakly reaching through shuttered windows into a dusky room that contains a chaise longue or an unmade bed. Laziness prevails. The musical phrases pensively breathe in and out, rise a bit and think about getting up...but then they heave their sighs and sink back into the pillows. In the final harmonic resolution that renders the line "Je veux ne pas travailler -- je veux fumer" ("I don't want to work -- I want to smoke"), all succumbs to inertia. It's marvelous. If someone would please give me a production budget to shoot a music video of "Hôtel" (a friend in Florida has known of this ambition for decades -- you know who you are!), one of my life's dreams would be complete -- this magical combination of music and text already defines every detail, it just needs to be filmed.

These are admittedly very personal responses to this program. They nonetheless further spark my interest and increase my desire to finally hear Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau perform on stage at Spivey Hall. YES, this is one you should hear. DO NOT MISS THIS RECITAL.

Music professor Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller, Clayton State's Director of Vocal Activities and Opera, will have insights of his own to offer, augmented by his superior scholarship and extensive experience as a singer, that are sure to explain the inner life of the songs that he discusses in his 6:30 PM pre-concert talk (free for ticket holders), given in the Music Education Building immediately adjacent to Spivey Hall, one hour before the 7:30 PM recital.  There will also be a post-concert reception in the lobby, hosted by the Spivey Hall Friends in honor of the artists and our concert sponsor, to which the entire audience is cordially invited, where you can meet and greet Ms. Karg and Mr. Martineau.

Good seats are still available, so please join us. You'll be glad you did. Call (678) 466-4200 Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM, to get your tickets -- there is never a fee to purchase your ticket by talking with one of our Patron Services colleagues, and of course Spivey Hall has plenty of free, convenient parking. Educators and students with ID get 50% off their tickets and Clayton State students are admitted for just $10; CSU music majors and music appreciation students attend for free. Or click here to buy online.  Or just show up at the Box Office beginning at 6:30 PM. There will be tickets, and you shall be rewarded by what you hear.