Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bach's St. John Passion this Saturday...and Sunday chamber music

A major work by one of the Western world's most enduringly influential composers is being given a rare performance at Spivey Hall this Saturday, May 1st, at 8:15 PM. Johann Sebastian Bach's Passion According to St. John will unite the William Baker Festival Singers & Chamber Orchestra, organist Sue Goddard, and six vocal soloists under the baton of Dr. William O. Baker. The vocal soloists are Clayton Jolly as the Evangelist (a critical part in both Bach Passions), Dr. Oral Moses as Jesus, soprano Arietha Lockhart, alto Thressa Gardner, tenor Matthew Perret, and bass Stephen Ozcomert.

This performance marks the culmination of the William Baker Festival Singers' 25th anniversary season. I don't believe either the St. John Passion or the St. Matthew Passion has been performed in Spivey Hall's 19-season history, though I may be wrong. (Unfortunately, Spivey Hall still does not have a complete database of performance repertoire accessible via computer, though we do have thousands of physical (paper) event files with performance information. Compiling such a database is no small feat...but I vow it will happen, someday soon -- certainly in time for Spivey Hall's 25th Anniversary.)

In any case, to experience this work is always an important musical event. The beauty of Bach's writing shines warmly in this piece. My last encounter with it was at the Ojai Music Festival in California several summers ago; the outdoor setting and sound system proved problematic for the artistic forces involved. No such worries at Spivey Hall: our superb acoustics are ideal for a performance of this nature.

Spivey Hall audiences have been growing accustomed to our odd-year Spivey Hall Bach Festivals (our third will take place in the spring of 2011). It's a pleasure to have a chance to hear this glorious and substantial composition by Bach in a non-festival year.

I'm also happy to report that Clayton State University (home to Spivey Hall) has a special tie to one of the artists in this performance. Among the performers in the William Baker Festival Singers is a CSU alumnus, Nelson Burke. A 2004 graduate of the Clayton State School of Business, Burke’s musical career began at an early age. His mother was a jazz pianist and vibraphone player. Burke sang in his high school choirs, and learned a little bass guitar, but he didn’t catch the music bug until the late 1990s when a friend introduced him to a project group called the Summer Singers of Atlanta, part of the William Baker Choral Foundation. A couple years later, Nelson successfully auditioned for the select group -- the William Baker Festival Singers. He continues to perform regularly both as a classical as well as a jazz singer.

What's more, popular Atlanta organist Sue Goddard is, I am told, one of the many people who knew (and to some degree was influenced by) the visionary founder of Spivey Hall, Emilie Parmalee Spivey, who of course was an organist herself, both at Atlanta's North Avenue Presbyterian Church and later at The Temple. At Spivey Hall we're always pleased when Emilie's magnificent Fratelli Ruffatti organ gets another opportunity to be played, heard, and appreciated.

The William Baker Festival Singers, a 40-voice ensemble, has produced 17 nationally released recordings in their 25 seasons, been featured in numerous radio and television programs, and toured across the South, including annual performances before capacity audiences at Charleston’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival.

Just remember: it's going to RAIN both Saturday and Sunday. So, do your gardening and lawn-work by Friday, and make plans to hear some great music this weekend at Spivey Hall.

Because, in addition to the St. John Passion, the GEORGIAN CHAMBER PLAYERS will treat us to Robert Schumann's delightful Piano Quintet in E-flat major, and two duo-piano works by Frederic Chopin: an early C-major Rondo and Camille Saint-Saens' arrangement of the renowned "Funeral March" Piano Sonata No. 2. Celebrated husband-and-wife team Valentina Lisitsa and Alexei Kuznetsoff take the spotlight in the Chopin pieces on the first half. Ms. Lisitsa is the solo pianist in the Schumann, and is joined by Georgian Chamber Players co-founders and ASO principals Reid Harris (viola) and Christopher Rex (cello), plus two special guests. One is the newly-appointed concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, David Coucheron, who was been active with the ASO this season even in advance of his formal start this September. This will be the first chance that music-lovers at Spivey Hall get a chance to hear and welcome this important and highly promising young musician, who has also signed on as member of the Georgian Chamber Players. The other violinist in the Schumann is Rebecca Anderson, another remarkably accomplished young musician. Sunday's performance begins at 3 PM.

Both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, I know I will be thinking often of Beth Newdome, a long-time member of the Georgian Chamber Players who passed away earlier this year following a valiant battle with cancer. I met her in my Atlanta Symphony days, when she was a member of the orchestra. Even after she moved to Florida State to take a teaching position, she continued her association with the Georgian Chamber Players and loved getting back to Atlanta to see her many friends and colleagues, and perform at Spivey Hall. I have many fond memories of her playing not just the violin (the esteemed concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, Joseph Silverstein, told me she had a truly wonderful natural talent) -- but also untold hands of bridge on the back of buses during the ASO's 1991 European Tour. She was a superlative musician, and a clever, funny, wonderful friend who will be dearly missed by the many people whose lives she touched. Listening to a Bach Passion always leads my thoughts to dwell on the meaning of our lives on this earth, and the Georgian Chamber Players are dedicating their Sunday performance to Beth's spirit. A memorial scholarship has been established in her name, and there's a fabulous picture of her at the scholarship website:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Paying Tribute to Teachers...and the Spiveys

Spivey Hall pays tribute to teachers at Saturday evening's 8:15 PM recital by critically-acclaimed guitarist Jason Vieaux, whose program encompasses a fascinating mix of works by Albeniz, Bach, Brouwer, and the legendary American guitarist Pat Metheny (in Vieaux's own arrangements sanctioned by Metheny). Since it's Spivey Hall's 2010 Teacher Appreciation Night, any teacher or educational administrator is welcome to attend this performance for FREE, and may purchase a companion ticket for just $10.  It's our way of saying THANK YOU to educators for all they do, in the classroom and beyond, to make a positive difference in the lives of young people. Good seats are available; plus there's a post-concert cake-and-punch reception with Jason Vieaux afterwards.  Tickets are available at the door on Saturday night, or call (678) 466-4200 to leave a message ( the box office opens at 7:15 PM).

We also pay our annual tribute to the visionary founders of Spivey Hall, Walter and Emilie Spivey, with Sunday's 3 PM recital by internationally celebrated pianist Richard Goode, who gives the 2010 Spivey Memorial Concert.He will peform two Preludes and Fugues from Book II of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, three Classical-period sonatas by Joseph Haydn, and Robert Schumann's marvelous Kreisleriana, one of the composer's hallmark works, rich with Romantic character.  Richard Goode is revered the world over for his extraordinary depth of musical understanding and expression.  As an added bonus, he will present a free pre-concert talk at 2:00 PM (one hour before concert) from the stage; his topic is Haydn's piano sonatas, and he will illustrate his talk with musical examples at the piano.  A few tickets are still available, either online at or from the Box Office.  

This recital promises to be one of the great artistic highlights of our 2009/10 concert season, which draws to a close in May. Come hear some great music while you can!