Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jerusalem Quartet: "Passion, precision, warmth, a gold blend"

This Sunday (October 26) at 3 PM, the world-renowned Jerusalem Quartet makes its Spivey Hall debut.  It's The Times of London that in February 2011 proclaimed, "Passion, precision, warmth, a gold blend: these are the trademarks of this excellent Israeli string quartet."  All of which augurs well for those fortunate to hear their program of Beethoven's early A-major Quartet, Op. 18 No. 5, Bartok's Second Quartet, and Ravel's F-major Quartet.  These three works will amply showcase the Quartet's mastery of style, and on paper, it strikes me as a very energetic and engaging program, one I'm eager to experience.  (I have a special fondness for the Ravel Quartet, which with the Debussy Quartet and Schubert's String Quintet were the first pieces to ignite my love of chamber music as a teenager.)

To get a preview of what's in store, you can attend a free pre-concert talk by Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller in the Music Education Building at 2:00 PM.  His talks are highly informative, and he wins praise from Spivey Hall patrons who invariably say that attending the talk enhances their concert listening experience because they have a better sense of what to listen for.  A highly accomplished music scholar, Dr. Zeller is enthusiastic about the music he discusses, and provides historical background as well as insightful analysis of the program's works, often using excerpts from recordings to illustrate points of interest.

Another way to get a focused sense of Sunday's program is via (what else?) the Internet.  Spivey Hall now has Audio Web notes available for this program (click here to take a look and give a listen). Introduced as a result of the thinking that went into Spivey Hall's multi-year Strategic Plan (more on that in a future post), Audio Web notes are online program notes enriched by short music samples that give your ears the chance to hear what the program note is talking about.

Even die-hard chamber music fans can't always recall the details of favorite works.  Audio Web notes get the musical ideas easily into your ear and head at your convenience.  (For patrons who simply wish to get an early look at the notes published in our program book, without the music samples, those program notes are also available online as well.)

Another great thing about Audio Web notes is that you can click the music example and listen to it as many times as you wish, to let it sink in.  This is very valuable for chamber music, because string quartets are idea-driven.  These main ideas are the essential elements that fuel "what happens" in the piece.   Accordingly, appreciation of these masterworks is often enriched by being able to follow how a composer introduces musical ideas, and then develops and (in most cases) combines them, which typically is what creates the momentum of a movement. 

Job 1 in this instance is to be able to recognize the idea, or theme, that the composer has created, because as the composer manipulates it, the theme is most often broken down in the course of development and/or combination with other themes or bits of themes.  And like all ideas, context matters -- the theme you originally encountered in the piece might have very different meaning when the composer brings it back later in the movement, or in a later movement.  And since most composers use multiple (and often contrasting) ideas simultaneously in a movement, being able to distinguish the ideas gives the listener an even better chance to follow and appreciate the behavior (if you will) of the piece.

Sounds complicated, doesn't it?  It doesn't have to be.  Many people don't care to deconstruct pieces and analyze them, and one can simply sit back and take tremendous pleasure in the aesthetics of each passing moment.  But listening skills can be developed.  If we are seeking to hear something, and the ear discerns it, we can focus and refine our understanding of what we hear.  Doing so can yield even greater rewards, especially in the presence of great music, and particularly when attending live concerts, when our visual sense influences how the brain interprets what we hear.

We're grateful to Tedd & Cookie Mendelsohn for their wonderful generosity as Friends of Spivey Hall Concert Sponsors in helping us to welcome the Jerusalem Quartet to Spivey Hall, whose superb acoustics respond beautifully to a fine string quartet's sound.  Good seats to this concert are still available.  You can purchase tickets online (and select exactly the seat you wish from those available) or call the Box Office at (678) 466-4200 for personalized service, especially with discounts (50% off for educators and students; Clayton State students can attend for just $10, and students enrolled in CSU music appreciation attend for free).  There's plenty of free, convenient parking at Spivey Hall, too.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Season 24 opens with pianist Beatrice Rana

My spirits are always lifted when regular concerts resume at Spivey Hall in the fall.  This afternoon at 3 PM, Italian pianist Beatrice Rana takes the stage to open Spivey Hall's 2014-2015 season.  Season 24 thus begins with an artist making her Atlanta debut -- a new artist for a new season.  And off we go!

I first encountered Beatrice Rana during the chamber music round of the 2013 Cliburn Competition, which I attended in Fort Worth, Texas.  Very taken by her playing, I extended an invitation to her before the Competition had completed, so convinced I was of musicianship, her fidelity to the score, and the ideas she brought to them.  Ms. Rana ended up winning the Silver Prize and the Audience Prize, and her career (already strong in Europe) has continued to flourish.

Today she'll perform Bach's First Partita, Chopin's Second Sonata, and Prokofiex's Sixth Sonata, which will give Spivey Hall's audience a telling overview of her skills, strengths, personality, and artistry at the piano.  

It's been a pleasure once again to welcome Ulrich Gerhartz, director of concerts and artists for Steinway & Sons in London, to Atlanta for his regular visit to check up on our Hamburg Steinway concert grand, "Clara."  Mr. Gerhartz took part in our selection of this piano at the factory in Hamburg and continues to look after her well-being with tremendous care and expertise.  Ms. Rana's debut coincides with his visit, thus "Clara" is in tip-top shape, and today begins another chapter of our understanding of how "she" continues to settle in at Spivey Hall.

This afternoon's concert is our Season Opening Celebration.   Thus the entire audience is invited to a post-concert reception, hosted by our donors, the Friends of Spivey Hall, in honor of Beatrice Rana, and our generous  Friends of Spivey Hall Concert Sponsor,  Michael Koch, MD, himself a passionate fan of pianos and pianists, and proud owner of a beautiful Hamburg Steinway of his own, who goes by "Hans." We talk about having a "play date" sometime with "Clara" and "Hans" at Spivey Hall -- which in time, I do believe, we could indeed make happen.

Even though the lockout of the Atlanta Symphony musicians continues, and Jeremy Denk (another Spivey Hall favorite) was unable to perform with them as planned, it's been a good weekend in Atlanta for fans of piano music.  Garrick Ohlsson, well known to Atlanta audiences, and the only American to win first place at the prestigious Chopin Competition, played the Third Sonata of Chopin at Emory University's Schwartz Center on Friday night, and treated us also to a truly amazing second-half of works by Scriabin, which he discussed from the stage with his characteristic intelligence, enthusiasm, and wit.  A fine number of Spivey Hall patrons attended, and I'm delighted that so many of them are making it a double-header weekend and showing up this afternoon for more solo piano as well.  

Also new this season:  the first of 18 exhibitions in the lobby that begins our countdown to Season 25 in 2015-16.  The first exhibition focuses on how Emilie Spivey led the effort to create Spivey Hall, beginning with her major challenge gift, the founding of The Walter and Emilie Spivey Foundation, and the series of dedication concerts in 1991 (violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Andre Watts, and bass-baritone Samuel Ramey) and again in 1992, after our magnificent Fratelli Ruffatti was installed, an occasion celebrated with two brilliant recitals by organist Gillian Weir and a program (given twice) by the legendary Robert Shaw, his Festival Singers, organist Norman Mackenzie, and vocal and instrumental soloists.  I attended Ramey's recital as well as one of Weir's recitals; both were splendid and memorable.  (Little did I know at that time what the future would hold for me and Spivey Hall!)  It's rather astounding to recognize that we're coming up on major anniversaries of these events.  The musical legacy of Walter and Emilie Spivey continues to pay tremendous dividends with the concerts given in Spivey Hall which are also broadcast on public radio locally on WABE 90.1 FM and nationally on American Public Media's Performance Today. 

Another innovation:  we've added Music Notes to our website -- program notes with clickable music examples chosen to illustrate the points being made in the note.  Look for them on event pages for most concerts in the Spivey Series -- they're up now for Beatrice Rana's program.  We will continue to publish unabridged program notes in our program books as well.  Comments/feedback all welcome.

There are still great seats for today's recital, so don't hesitate -- come, and you will be rewarded.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions results

The snow and ice that besieged Atlanta vanished in time for the annual Southeast Region Metropolitan National Council Auditions in Spivey Hall this afternoon.  Twelve contestants from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida sang two arias for a distinguished panel of judges:  Paul Kilmer, Director of Artistic Administration, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis; John Churchwell, Head of Music, San Francisco Opera; and Diane Zola, Director of Artistic Administration, Houston Grand Opera.  

Two Encouragement Awards were combined as one and given to bass Daren Jackson (age 21) from North Carolina, who sang "Vous, qui faites l'enormie" from Gounod's Faust and "Madamima, il catalogo è questo" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. 

The Third Place Award was given to soprano Abigail Rethwisch (age 24) from Florida, who sang "Martern aller Arten" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail and "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Roméo et Juiliette. 

The Second Place Award was given to tenor Jonathan Johnson (age 25) from North Carolina, who sang "Here I stand" from The Rake's Progress by Stravinsky, and "Ah! lève-toi, soleil!" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette.

The Ryan Smith First Place Award was given to soprano Jennifer Cherest (age 29) of South Carolina, who sang "Comme autrefois" from Les Pecheurs de perles by Bizet, and "Quel guardo il cavaliere...So anch'io la virtù magica" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale.  As the sole First Place Award winner from the Southeast Region Final Auditions, Ms. Cherest will advance to the National Semi-finals at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on March 23, 2014. 

The pianists performing with the contestants were Utah Opera staff accompanist Carol Anderson, and Angela Ward.  

While the judges were deliberating, the audience was treated to arias sung by a previous winner of the Southeast Region Finals and the National Finals, soprano Indra Thomas, accompanied by pianist Sandra Lutters.

Congratulations to all the contestants, all of whom demonstrated talent, accomplishment, and promise.  It was another wonderful afternoon of music-making at Spivey Hall, where vocalists love to sing, and audiences love to hear them.  You can hear for yourselves on Monday, March 31, 2014 at 9:00 PM Eastern, when WABE 90.1 FM airs its broadcast of today's performances, which will also be streamed live on its Internet website (scroll down and look for "Listen now" in the column on the right). 

The Met Auditions will return to Spivey Hall again next season, details of which will be announced first to Spivey Hall's donors at the end of March.