Friday, March 06, 2009

Terell Stafford, Belcea Quartet, Yevgeny Sudbin this weekend

With all the dire economic news pummelling us this week, I, for one, am ready for some excellent music this weekend.

Terell Stafford is an amazing jazz trumpeter who works with the best in the business. I had the pleasure of hearing him again in January in New York City, where he performed with the Grammy Award-winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. A year earlier, I was wowed by his playing with the Clayton Brothers at Dizzy's Club. For his Spivey Hall debut, Terell will be joined by Tim Warfield on saxophone, Gerald Clayton on piano, Rodney Whitaker on bass, and Dana Hall on drums. Their performance tonight is also Spivey Hall's 2009 Teacher Appreciation Night. As our way of saying thanks to the important people who make a critical difference in the lives of young people both inside and outside the classroom, teachers and administrators can attend for free (call the Box Office for details, or just show up at about 7:30 PM -- tickets still available). We'll also have a reception afterwards for everyone. It's going to be a great night, so come listen if you can.

There is such good buzz in the music business right now about the recently refurbished Alice Tully Hall at in New York's Lincoln Center for the Arts. Not only is the exterior architecture stunning and elegant -- I couldn't believe my eyes when my taxi drove past it a few months ago -- the best part is, the acoustics of this hall are, by all accounts, demonstrably improved -- which is VERY good news for the world of chamber music.

I'll be eager to hear what the musicians of Belcea Quartet have to tell me on Saturday when they're here. They've just performed at Alice Tully Hall. Steve Smith in The New York Times calls them "a group that thrives on works that demand vigor, quick reflexes and a keen sensitivity to matters of balance and nuance." What's more: "In “Death and the Maiden” the quartet emphasized clarity and poise over raw, nervy power, producing an account of potent concentration, even during a Presto taken at a breathless clip. One final note of approval goes to the revitalized hall, which allowed this ensemble’s most intricate detailing to register and resound."

As in New York, the Belcea Quartet will perform Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" String Quartet at Spivey Hall, plus there are beautiful Haydn and Britten quartets to begin, and a pre-concert talk given by Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller at 7:15 PM.

In this three-debut triple-whammy weekend, Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin takes the stage on Sunday at 3 PM. He, too, offers us Haydn, plus sonatas by Scarlatti, mazukas by Chopin, two "Fairy Tales" by Russian Nikolai Mednter (whom Rachmaninov called "the greatest composer of our time"), and Prokofiev's powerful Sonata No. 7 in B-flat. Subdin's also been in the news. Earlier this winter, he gave a recital at Washington's Kennedy Center, which Anne Midgette covered for The Washington Post. Only in our national's capital would a music review make reference to a member of the new Obama administration!

With the insouciance born of ability and success, Yevgeny Sudbin, looking not unlike a young Rahm Emanuel -- dark-ringed eyes in a thin and handsome face -- sat at the piano at the Terrace Theater on Saturday afternoon and produced some formidable music.

The sound he made was thick and dark and rich: Russian-school virtuosity, but without cloying heaviness. In the first movement of Haydn's Sonata in B Minor, which opened the program, it also had a springy elasticity that conveyed the spirit of the music, as if the sound were informed by the lighter twang of Haydn's fortepiano, like a shadow on the wall behind him.

The Russian-born Sudbin, 28, projects a wunderkind persona: able to fling out technical fireworks, offer insightful and intimate Scarlatti, write articulate program notes that give an insight into what he thinks about what he is playing (something too often absent from the classical-music equation). He has been garnering critical raves, particularly in England, where he now lives; and his string of recordings on the Bis label (Scarlatti, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff) have picked up a slew of accolades and awards.

Mr. Sudbin has indeed writtten insightful program notes for this concert, and as is virtually always the case at Spivey Hall, you can meet him afterwards in the reception room to speak with him. Just remember, though, we "Spring Ahead" on Sunday with the time change, so you need to set your clocks ahead by an hour on Saturday night if you don't want to miss the first half!

Patrons please note, it's also a triple-event weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, with the fourth race of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season on Sunday; this can sometimes slow down traffic here on the Southside, and construction continues on I-75 South around Morrow's exit 233, so do yourself a favor and give yourself a little extra time getting here.

The snow that fell so heavily on Sunday is now 99% gone (the Atlanta Chamber Players' concert planned for that afternoon has been rescheduled to Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 8:15 PM -- more on this soon). The temperture will be in the mid 70s, with sun and bright skies. The geese, ducks and swans are nesting in the bushes around the lake adjacent to Spivey Hall -- no signs of offspring yet, however. (My favorites are the ducklings. I can't help but smile when I see them on my way to lunch.) Spring must be on its way.

A postscript: Spivey Hall's 2009/10 season of concerts will be announced soon -- anyone who's bought a ticket here in the last five years or so should look for our new season book in their mailboxes in early April. I'm glad to say there's plenty of great music in store for us.


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