Monday, October 23, 2006

Opening Weekend Concerts

First off: thanks for all the comments in response to the blog! In addition to those you see here, patrons have told me they think the blog is a great idea and look forward to visiting.

Our opening weekend was a blast. The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and vocalist Luciana Souza gave us a delightful Brazilian-flavored program that was thoughtfully conceived and beautifully performed. (AJC review) Luciana sings naturally, warmly, and utterly from the heart...a lovely presence as an artist and a human being. She was a charming emcee as well, and offered details about selections she sang. She performed a duet with each individual member of the Quartet, and also gave us her own composition, Sonnet 49, created to poetry by Pablo Neruda...truly memorable. All five of these excellent musicians performed the Atlanta premiere of a new arrangement of tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim (of "The Girl from Ipanema" fame -- and so much more) by Sergio Assad (who performs with his brother Odair in recital at Spivey Hall on November 4th). Earlier in the program, I was also very taken by LAGQ member Bill Kanengiser's arrangement of Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo (sometimes known as Love, the Magician), and how the LAGQ (Bill, John Dearman, Scott Tennant and new member Matthew Greif) brought out marvelously subtle colors, textures and moods in each of the movements. They play as one, with amazing precision of ensemble. With such imaginative and accomplished interpretations, it was hard to see the evening end. We all headed out to the lobby for the reception afterwards.

In the "Did You Know" Department: Luciana Souza (who goes by "Lu" to her close friends) pronounces her name loo-see-AH-na SOH-zah. Not "Sousa" like John Philip Sousa, aka The March King, although that pronunciation comes most easily to American speakers of English. No matter what pronunciation, she's divine.Later yet, there was a private reception, prompted by a tremendously generous surprise from Spivey Hall's great friends at U1 Design, Dale Bump and Anthony Baker. Dale and Anthony have designed many important Spivey Hall publications in recent years, including our Spivey Series subscription renewal and complete-season brochures for 2005-06 and 2006-07, our 2006 summer concerts postcard, our Spivey Hall 15 Years anniversary book, and our website. These two fine gentlemen sent me not a simple bottle, not a mere magnum, but a double magnum of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Champagne. Never had I received such a glorious bottle! No way I could drink all that alone...thus we gathered, I offered toasts to the artists (who joined us after their CD signing) and to our new season, and glasses were also raised to my first concert as "King of the Forest"...errr, Executive & Artistic Director. (More on my “coronation” soon.)

Blogger Jorge posted a comment here about Luciana Souza's use of a microphone, in which he questioned the need for it. An interesting point, since sometimes the artist's choice to use a microphone is really not a reflection of a hall's lack of acoustical response (thankfully, this is NOT a problem at Spivey Hall). Instead, it reflects the style of singing the artist chooses when interpreting a song. The vocal production required to send sound out into a hall without a microphone is quite different that the vocal production used to sing artfully into a microphone. And it is an art. It permits different characters of expression, which Luciana wished to use in performing her selections. Could she have not used a microphone? Yes, but the sound would have been much different. Also, with the high-quality microphones used by the LAGQ, the sound can be balanced and integrated by a talented, trained and professional sound engineer with "good ears" -- and Spivey Hall is very, very fortunate to have such a person in Production Manager Barett Hoover, who has a degree in this field from Indiana University, knows the acoustical qualities of Spivey Hall intimately, and is a musician himself. When the music is conceived this way (with microphones and balanced amplification -- more reinforcement, really, than amplification in this instance), it really is correct to perform it this way -- and that's what the artists did. Saturday night, we enjoyed the high-energy talents of The Eroica Trio, with the two founding members -- pianist Erika Nickrenz and cellist Sara Sant' Ambrogio -- joined by a fantastic guest violinist from Finland, Elina Vähälä (I'm told by A Reputable Source that an approximation of the correct pronunciation is "veh-heh-leh"). The ladies of the Trio play with verve, passion, precision, and excellent stylistic fidelity. They also look great, and have fantastic gowns. (Enough of this, I'm starting to sound like I'm hosting The Miss America Pageant.) For starters we heard Beethoven's "Ghost" Trio (with its sublime second movement), and then the Trio shifted gears into one of their great "party pieces" (sort of an insider term among musicians -- a work that the musicians really enjoy playing, that they play fairly often and know extremely well, and that usually makes a bit hit with the audience. This doesn't mean it's an easy or trivial piece; it only means that it's likely to be a huge success). This was American composer Paul Schonfield's Cafe Music -- a very cleverly written work that combines jazz, Klezmer and classical styles seamlessly into one very engaging, inventive, accessible and effective piece. I'd heard the Trio do this work on NPR's Performance Today about 18 months ago and was delighted when we were able to confirm it for this concert. After intermission, Dvorak's hearty, deeply satisfying Trio in F minor. The Eroica Trio gave this piece a phenomenal performance, conjuring up an enthralling atmosphere of sublime musicality that left the hard-core chamber-music fans purring with contentment (myself included).

I look forward to the eventual return of The Eroica Trio with their new permanent violinist, Susie Park. Susie's from Australia, and I knew her when I was artistic administrator of the six orchestras of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). At a very young age, Susie had won the ABC's Young Performers Award, a prestigious national competition with orchestral accompaniment, and the finals broadcast across the country live on television and radio. The ABC orchestras were keen to have her as soloist, even before she went off to the New England Conservatory, and then The Curtis Institute of Music. She played a truly beautiful Bruch G-minor Concerto with the Sydney Symphony in one of their "Symphony Under the Stars" one summer in The Domain (near the Sydney Opera House) that I remember fondly, and with great respect. She couldn't make our Spivey Hall concert this time due to a commitment before she joined the Trio, but I do look forward to seeing her and hearing her play before long. The Eroica Trio has two other "The World Is Small" connections for me, both tied to my days as director of artistic planning for the Saint Louis Symphony: Sara's father, John Sant' Ambrogio, was principal cellist when I was there; and I also knew Erika's late mother, Joanna Nickrenz, who produced so many outstanding Saint Louis Symphony recordings in the Leonard Slatkin era. Talk about having "good ears".... Joanna had some of the industry's best, and also the right combination of diplomacy and strength to say when something wasn't quite right, what needed to be corrected, and why a certain passage (or movement) needed to be done again. She had very high standards and was passionately committed to quality. One of my favorite Italian proverbs is "Non c'e' due senza tre" ("There's never two without three") -- often used in the context, "If something happens twice, it's going to happen a third time." But it's also useful in conveying the sense of making full impact with a one-two-THREE punch. And THREE in this instance was jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller, who performed Sunday afternoon with Ivan Taylor on double bass, and drummer Rodney Green. The Mulgrew Miller Trio was in very, very fine form, playing great renditions of jazz standards but also performing Mulgrew's own original compositions, which I truly enjoyed. I could listen to Mulgrew play the piano all day. He is a master. A tall man, Mulgrew has a quiet but commanding presence on stage, illuminated by a big smile and a congenial, low-key wit. He had lots of fans in the large, diverse and enthusiastic audience who applauded loud and hard, bought lots of his CDs, and lingered afterwards to greet him. (That's something about Spivey Hall perhaps not all people know: almost always (with one or two exceptions in my 2+ years here), artists greet members of the audience in the Reception Room following the performance -- yet another way that Spivey Hall maintains that personal, gracious, one-on-one feeling that Emilie Spivey so wanted to create by building an intimate hall.)

Not a bad way to open the season! A triple-whammy weekend. We have quite a few of these in the coming months (we're all consuming chocolate for sustenance). I'm just finishing this posting after attending the annual musical miracle of the Spivey Hall Treble Honor Choir's concert. We have the Spivey Hall High School Honor Choir concert a week from today (Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 5:00 PM) -- always a huge highlight of the year. I’ll post on this soon.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Greetings - The Inaugural Blog

Greetings and welcome to my blog, which will focus principally on what's happening at Spivey Hall from my perspective -- that of Executive & Artistic Director. I was honored and delighted to receive this appointment, following a national search, on October 1, 2006. Previously, I'd served as Acting Executive Director after founding Executive & Artistic Director Sherryl Nelson retired in June 2006, and as General Manager & Assistant Director when I joined the Spivey Hall staff in October 2004.

This blog is my first, and the first for Spivey Hall, too -- something of an experiment. I have several goals for it.

First, there's a great deal of information about artists and programs that we can't fit into a brochure published many months in advance of our concerts. Plus, there's news about them that happens throughout the season. Blogging seems like a practical and timely way of getting the information out to people who care to read it, without overloading Spivey Hall patrons with email messages, or having to make significant updates to our website ( every day.

Second, I hope what I and others post might enrich our experience of what happens at Spivey Hall, stimulating dialogue among people who may attend concerts here, participate in our educational programs, listen to Spivey Hall performances on WABE or National Public Radio's Performance Today, or are just curious about one of the nation's leading fine-music venues. The blog may occasionally contain other more general musings on what's happening in classical, jazz and/or world music.

Third, I hope to learn more about people who come to Spivey Hall -- what they experience, what they like and don't like, what they think. In the course of our concerts, which take place most weekends from mid-October to mid-May (with some holiday breaks inbetween), I do talk with many concert-goers before and after concerts, and at intermission. I attend almost all of our 120 major presentations each season, but can't always speak with everyone I'd like to. This blog can be a chronicle of the season, which in turn can lend perspective to my experience here, as well as to that of others.

Fourth, I look forward to responding to questions and comments about Spivey Hall, and the musicians and music we present here, from The World At Large, should they be asked or made. Depending on the activity the blog generates, I may or may not be able to respond to every post. I probably don't need to, especially if others pitch in with their comments. There are many loyal and knowledgeable fans of Spivey Hall who attend concerts here regularly, are members of the Spivey Hall Children's Choir Program, or hear our concerts on the radio. If I don't have the answers, most likely one of them will -- or I can try to find someone who does. I'll try to respond to comments and post new things myself as frequently as I can.

I'm a novice blogger, and don't (yet) spend time reading other blogs, so I'm not familiar with current blog protocol or fashion. Nonetheless, I intend to observe some self-imposed blog rules.

1. Courtesy and civility are important to me. People are passionate about music they love (and don't love). Tastes vary widely. Emotions can run high. All this is fine. In music (and art and life), opinions will differ, as will levels of knowledge and degrees of experience. I intend through my comments to respect the sincerely-held and carefully-expressed views of others, and hope readers who want to join in with comments will do the same.

2. What I post on this blog I would say to anyone, including the artist who performed the night before, or the patron who is (or isn't) happy with something that happened at Spivey Hall. Truth is good, but so is consideration for the feelings of others.

3. I'm not here to "tell all," gossip about people, or speculate. I do, however, think that some "insider information" can be very illuminating -- especially when it reflects enthusiasm for and knowledge about music and musicians, or explaining why Spivey Hall does or doesn't do something.

4. I am here to reflect on what's happening at the Hall and with the artists we're presenting, what I'm hearing, what I'm liking, what we currently do, and what directions we'll be taking in the months and years to come.

Doesn't all of this sound rather formal and serious? It needn't be... ("Lighten up, Sam!") Most musicians have a joke or two up their sleeves, and my excellent Spivey Hall colleagues have a very healthy sense of humor, especially when the caffeine and chocolate (both consumed in abundance here) kick in. I invite them to participate as well.

Okay...enough of the Spivey Hall Blog Manifesto. I write this on the eve of the opening of Spivey Hall's Sixteenth Season. The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the amazing Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza will perform tomorrow night (Friday, Oct 13 at 8:15 PM) to a sold-out house -- which is a fantastic way to get the season started. We're going to have fun during this concert -- the LAGQ never fails to please, and they're a favorite ensemble here -- and then there's a dessert reception for everyone afterwards, courtesy of the Spivey Foundation. The high-energy Eroica Trio performs on Saturday night (tickets still available, with a free pre-concert talk an hour before the concert starting at 7:15 PM -- come enjoy the wild ride of Paul Schoenfield's Cafe Music in addition to piano trios by Beethoven and Dvorak), and the trio led by celebrated jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller makes its Spivey Hall debut on Sunday at 3:00 PM (good seats available). (Okay, I'm going to make a few sales pitches now and then, too.)

Future postings probably won't be this long. (Already I feel this blogging thing could get addictive fast!) Please let me know what you hear, what you experience, and what topics you might like the blog to explore.