Friday, February 25, 2011

Beautiful Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann from pianist Imogen Cooper

Renowned British pianist Imogen Cooper won many fans in Atlanta when she gave her Spivey Hall debut in March 2008 with a program focusing principally on Schubert, a composer with whom she is closely associated.  And now we're delighted she's back, having arrived in time to spend several days preparing her program for her recital at Spivey Hall Saturday, February 26 at 8:15 PM.  We who work at Spivey Hall have already been regaled by the gorgeous music emanating from the stage as she practices.

Her program opens with Haydn's E-flat major Sonata, Hob.XVI.:52. Haydn is a popular spring-time opener here of late -- the St. Lawrence String Quartet and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato both opened their programs with high-spirited works by Haydn.  Music-lovers may sometimes be lulled into the idea that we think "we know" Haydn -- but with such an enormous output over his long life and such tremendous inventivness, Haydn is always a joy to discover OR rediscover.  (Spivey Hall pianophiles who attended Richard Goode's most recent pre-concert lecture/demonstration and recital will have learned this lesson well!)

Imogen Cooper's program then turns to the German Romantics, with Beethoven's "Tempest" Sonata; the 2nd (theme and variations) movement of Brahms' String Sextet No. 1 which he arranged for piano for Clara Schumann, someone very important in his life; and, to close, Schumann's Fantasiestuecke (Fantasy Pieces), in eight extraordinary movements that capture a wide range of emotions, from the lyrical and intimate to the big and (as Imogen has been calling it) "wild."  And if we as an audience are very, very enthusiastic, who knows -- we might even get an encore -- and more than one Spivey Hall patron has asked me to ask her for Schubert!

I also have some very good news to announce Saturday night before the recital regarding a certain acquisition we have been seeking to make...but I'm saving that to the event itself.  Suffice it to say that I'm immensely proud and grateful that the Friends of Spivey Hall have outdone themselves in demonstrating their dedication to sustaining great music at the Southeast's most celebrated recital hall.   Having proved it this once again most generously, we will (in this particullar instance) be enjoying the results for many years to come.

Spivey Hall is also looking forward to welcoming members of Public Broadcasting Atlanta's Cornerstone Society to Imogen Cooper's recital.  If you're a Cornerstone Society member and missed out on the Cornerstone Society's initial offer of tickets, fear not -- there are more tickets to be had, at a special discount the Box Office (just show your membership card). 

I'm truly honored that Imogen Cooper has traveled all the way from her home in London uniquely for this single recital in Atlanta. She is a marvelous pianist, a highly imaginative artist and a passionate interpreter. Another not-to-be-missed concert for anyone who loves piano classics.

And spring HAS arrived at Spivey Hall.  We had a big thunderstorm with lots of rain last night.  The buds on the flowering trees just outside the main entrance to the Hall have begun opening, and we can only hope that winter is now a vanquished memory!  Look for Spivey Hall's 2011 Spring Flyer in your mailboxes next week....there's more great music in store for us this season.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Singing "so solidly to the heart of the music": The mesmerizing moments of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato

Celebrated American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato gives her second Spivey Hall recital this Sunday, February 20, at 3 PM.  She's on a tour leading up to her solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall, and she performed in Washington earlier this week. Writing for The Washington Post, Anne Midgette found plenty to like:

Be they bored, rapt or somewhere in between, everyone in a concert hall is moving together through the same two hours. The great achievement of a performance, though, is to suspend time so that everyone is existing, however briefly, in the same moment - a piece of distilled awareness in the form of sound.

It happened at the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato's recital at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Tuesday night, more than once. Whether she was singing a dramatic monologue, such as Haydn's challenging "Scena di Berenice," which opened the program, or a song by Cecile Chaminade, fleeting and iridescent as a soap bubble, DiDonato would find a phrase and sing so solidly to the heart of the music, luxuriating in each note, that the sound opened and breathed and blossomed. Rather than being propelled forward, everyone hovered in the moment, together, not wanting it to end.

Not wanting it to end indeed! It's something the best singers can do that's different even with the most extraordinary instrumentalists -- the uniquely personal nature of creating music with one's voice (from the core of one's being) enables those who master it at the highest levels to bring us all into their world, in a rapturously intimate of those magnificent humanizing experiences that connects music-lovers and great singers during a performance. 

Midgette's review continues:

Her voice is lyrical rather than heavy or dramatic, with a shining freshness that gave a particular radiance to the French songs (the Chaminade set and Reynaldo Hahn's cycle "Veneziana), and a caramel warmth to its depths that glowed in the showstopping aria from Rossini's "Otello," supported by her eager accompanist, David Zobel.

Now, doesn't that sound enticing and delicious?  If only (if only!) people who say "I don't really like singing" could hear SINGING LIKE THIS -- their minds would be forever changed! 

This promises to be yet another truly memorable Spivey Hall moment.  Ticket sales have been brisk for this recital by DiDonato, who graces the stages of most major opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, San Francisco, Munich, Vienna, and (this season ) Berlin.  She performs with major orchestras and top conductors everywhere. 

Moreover, she is a dedicated recitalist, committed to keeping the song recital alive and well in the USA (which is no small aspiration in a country with legislators who regularly take pride in seeking to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts -- and, in multiple ways, no small personal sacrifice -- thank you, Joyce!).  She's also been a fan of Spivey Hall since first singing here, and has made mention in various media interviews of it being an extraordinary place to sing (thank you AGAIN, Joyce!).

So, my music-loving friends and readers, this one is a total no-brainer.  BE HERE and you'll be so very happy you chose to spend two hours of your week and life with this lovely, extremely talented and extraordinarily accomplished artist.  There are still some good tickets remaining, plus there's a free pre-concert talk at 2 PM by Clayton State University's Director of Opera and Vocal Studies, Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller (himself a vocalist), who will give you interesting insights into what to listen for in this program, to enhance your pleasures of experiencing this wonderful artist in recital.
We're also proud to be presenting the Atlanta debut of young Spanish organist RAUL PRIETO RAMIREZ  this Saturday afternoon, February 19, at 3 PM. In addition to being something of a "rock-star" organist in Madrid, drawing big crowds to the Municipal Auditorium where he is organist-in-residence, Raul Prieto enjoys a burgeoning international concert career.  He studied piano in Russia at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in St. Petersburg, and then pursued organ studies at the Hochschule fuer Musik in Stuttgart.  He's released two commercial recordings, one of which was made at the Duomo in Milan (where I lived for six years and, sadly, never once heard the organ).
His program includes two of his own transcriptions for organ of virtuosic piano etudes by Franz Liszt, plus Saint-Saens' dramatic "Danse macabre," the D-major Prelude and Fugue BWV 532 by J.S. Bach, the Franck Piece heroique, and the Sonata on the 94th Psalsm by Julius Reubke as the major, closing work.  Spivey Hall's organist-in-residence Richard Morris leads a pre-concert talk with Raul Prieto at 2 PM. 
I expect a very lively, rewarding afternoon of music from this gifted organist and our very own "King of Instruments" -- the magnificent Fratelli Ruffatti pipe organ that is the crowning glory of Spivey Hall.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

John Adams times 2, and Los Angeles guitars times 4

Saturday is definitely John Adams day in these parts. Many music-lovers I know will watch the Met Opera's 1 PM HD simulcast of NIXON IN CHINA, in Peter Sellars' new production that's garnered enthusiastic reviews. I've had the pleasure of seeing/hearing it twice, both times at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), but about 15 or so years apart. It's a fantastic piece. (I love Nixon's exuberant line, "Prime time! Prime time in the USA!")  I've also heard Adams' EL NINO at the San Francisco Symphony, the premiere of DOCTOR ATOMIC at the San Francisco Opera (as well as the semi-staged performance by the Atlanta Symphony -- which reminded me of the profound beauty of one orchestral transition, the writing and sound of which is movingly of those unforgettable Adams moments).  A FLOWERING TREE at the Los Angeles Philharmonic (semi-staged by Peter Sellars, with Adams on the podium) was a special pleasure -- a work of grace and joy after the darkness of atomic destruction, preceded by a talk with Adams and Sellars that was wonderfully human and illuminating. A later trip to LA for THE DHARMA AT BIG SUR left me pondering a bit...but I have particular fondness for his early large-orchestra-and-chorus work, HARMONIUM, especially the final movement, "Wild Nights," to poetry of Emily Dickinson.  And if ever you get the opportunity to hear baritone Sanford Sylvan sing THE WOUND-DRESSER (to poetry of Walt Whitman), go, listen, and you'll be glad you did.  Phenomenally beautiful.

Adams is among our most admired and performed living composers, a true American original.  Obviously, I'm a big fan. Thus it's no surprise that I jumped on the opportunity to have the St. Lawrence String Quartet perform John Adams' 2009 STRING QUARTET for their return visit this Saturday, Feb 12, at 8:15 PM.  The Canadian Consulate General in Atlanta is graciously assisting us in welcoming these excellent Canadians back to Spivey Hall -- thus to Consul General Stephen Brereton and his colleagues, I offer my sincere thanks.

Adams' string quarrtet is in two movements, and Adams was inspired to write it purely on the strength of his pleasure in hearing the SLSQ perform (they are in residence at Stanford University) -- before anyone commissioned him to start writing, which is a rare occurrence for someone in such great demand, as Adams is. 

I got a chance to hear a pre-release copy of the SLSQ's recording of the Adams, and all I can say is, I cannot wait to hear it performed live.  So much of contemporary music comes most fully to life when there are human beings in front of you, creating the sound you hear as you also register all the non-aural messages as well.  There's definitely a meaningful theatrical dimension to "taking in" such a performance. I predict this is the sort of enthralling experience that awaits us Saturday.  Adams' music is characterzied by a unique energy and pulsating rhythms that, when ingeniously combined, both suspend and shift time.  At its best, when it taps the subconscious, the music is both mesmerizing and enthralling.  And though Adams and the word minimalism (in all its connotations) are inextricably linked, there is (again that word) a HUMAN quality to the writing that transcends technique and speaks to the spirit.

The SLSQ have played Adams' String Quartet nearly 60 times worldwide since they premiered it, and now Adams is writing a new work for the SLSQ and the San Francisco Symphony...which means I've gotta get on a plane and get myself out there for that premiere in mid-March 2012...another milestone in these artists' careers.  I have the feeling this collaboration of artists and place will yield another memorable experience.

In addition to the Adams, the SLSQ is will open with a Haydn quartet, the D-major Op. 74 No. 1 -- always a joy (life was so different then, but the pleasures of this music endure)-- and Mendelssohn's youthful, lively, brilliantly-written E-flat Quartet, Op. 12.  The St. Lawrence String Quartet consistently dwells in highest spheres of chamber-music excellence -- thus regular visitors here.  To enhance your listening experience, Clayton State University music faculty member Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller gives a free pre-concert talk at 7:30 PM.  Good seats are still available, so y'all come.

This Sunday, Feb 13, the LOS ANGELES GUITAR QUARTET's back in town for a 3 PM concert in one of the places in Atlanta where guitar sounds best...and there's free parking...and free Cokes at intermission...and remarakably reasonable ticket prices for artists of such high, wouldn't that be Spivey Hall...?!??! 

These four guitar virtuosos combine seamlessly as one, with marvelous unity of ensemble and subtlety of expression, and often a real sense of fun, too. This is seriously fine playing, offered up in a very good-natured way, with introductions of the pieces from the musicians often as humorous as they are informative.

On the program are some LAGQ favorites, including the Overture to THE BARBER OF SEVILLE by Rossini, and a suite from Bizet's opera, CARMEN  (We just had organist Todd Wilson give us a suite from CARMEN two weeks ago -- we're on a roll with CARMEN.  Such a loss that Bizet died so soon after its premiere, thinking the piece was a about great tunes!)  Plus, LAGQ member Bill Kanengiser has devised a suite of "Music from the Time of Cervantes" based on both popular and courtly Iberian dances. (Bill has also written enlightening program notes for the complete program).  And I'm curious to hear Peter Warlock's CAPRIOL SUITE -- a string orchestra piece transcribed for four guitars -- another throwback to the dance tunes of the past which convey such a lovely sense of grace and motion.

So another full weekend of music in store for us here.  What good is sitting alone in your room!?  Come hear the music play...(sorry, channeling Liza at the moment).  I have to get back to writing descriptions of all the artists to be presented in our 2011/12 season, in anticipation of our Season Announcement Celebration for the Friends of Spviey Hall on March 29, when our gorgeous new season book will be unveiled.

Last night's snow is melting fast, so don't succumb to any more winter weather hysteria (although, admittedly, Atlanta was NOT designed for snow).  Great music awaits.  (Will anyone, at the end of their lives, wistfully regret, "I wish I'd watched more television"? Think about it.)  Hope you'll be here to enjoy.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Met Opera National Council Southeast Region Auditions results

It's been another great day for singing at Spivey Hall. Fifteen wonderful young singers (sopranos, tenors, baritones, a bass-baritone, a counter-tenor, but not a single mezzo-soprano!) participating in the annual Metropolitan Opera Opera National Council Auditions Southeast Region Final Auditions each sang two arias for a distinguished panel of judges: Gayletha Nichols, Executive Director of the National Council Auditions; Danielle Orlando, master vocal coach at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, and Principal Opera Coach at the Curtis Institute of Music; and Carroll Freeman, a tenor with a long list of major operatic and symphonic credits who became the first Valerie Adams Distinguished Professor in Opera at Georgia State University in Atlanta this fall.

This year's singers, representing Georgia, South Carolina, North Carollina, and Florida, were an especially accomplished group.  Thankfully the Southeast Regional Auditions, chaired by Mrs. John (Margaret) Talmadge,  was able to accommodate some adjustments to the awards to reflect the outstanding achievements of the  day. John LaForge, Regional Auditions Director (and a member of the Spivey Hall Education Committee), announced the results.

Not one, but two Encourgement Awards, each of in the full amount of $1000, were given to soprano Heather Engebretsen, age 20, of Georgia; and soprano Jeanine DeBique, age 29, of North Carolina.

There was no Third Place Award (keep reading!).

The Second Place Award of $1500 was given to bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba, age 23, of North Carolina.

The best news was that not one, but TWO singers from today's auditions were advanced to the semi-finals to be held at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.  Each receives the full Ryan Smith First Place Award of $4500.  They are tenor Jayson Slayden, age 29, of South Carolina, and soprano Maria Atunez, age 26, of South Carolina.

Two pianists did the honors today:  Met Audtions Southeast Region staff accompanist Russell Young collaborated with thirteen of the singers, and Daniel Solberg performed with the other two.

Congratulations to ALL the singers!  It's both exciting and reassuring to know there is such amazing talent out there.  I've put several of the singers on my radar and will watch their career progress with interest.  You can hear them via the wonders of radio or web streaming on WABE Atlanta 90.1 FM on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 9:00 PM, when all the performances will be broadcast on The Atlanta Music Scene, produced by Tommy Joe Anderson, and hosted by the mellifluously-voiced Robert Hubert.