Friday, October 26, 2012

Spivey Hall welcomes back The King's Singers

The King's Singers and Spivey Hall (with its intimate size and superb acoustics) are a musical marriage made in heaven.  These six outstanding vocalists never fail to enlighten and delight.  Every nuance of their performances is readily discernible and appreciated in Spivey Hall. Their musicianship is exquisite, informed by scholarship, enhanced by their succinct, well-delivered commentary from the stage, and their unerring instincts of cultivated and gracious showmanship (not to mention a very clever sense of humor).

Their Spivey Hall program this Sunday (October 28, 2012 at 3 PM) is Riddles, Rhymes and Rounds, a variation of sorts on their latest Signum Classics CD release, Royal Rhymes and Rounds (a dozen of which will be available for sale, along with many other King's Singers CDs, at the concert -- arrive early to get the best selection!  The Singers will be available after the performance to sign CDs, DVDs, and program books).

Royal Rhymes and Rounds pays tribute to music inspired by Henry VIII (who wrote some of it himself!), Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II.  Riddle me this:  Who could do greater justice to such a program than The King's Singers?

There is much beautiful music among these selections; I especially look forward to hearing not one, but two versions of "The Silver Swan" by Orlando Gibbons, which entranced me when I was studying music history in college, and which can still cast its spell on me.  There's also an extraordinary 13-minute "Rough Guide to the Royal Succession (It's just one damn King after another...)" by Paul Drayton, which, if we're lucky, might be one of their encores.

The "Riddles" of the concert program are perhaps represented in part by North American folksongs arranged by former King's Singer Bob Chilcott (already I have "I Bought me a Cat" droning through my head!) and five Nonsense songs by Italian composer Goffredo PetrassiThe program closes with songs in close harmony to be announced from the stage, in which the musicians bring forth wonders to behold, spanning the very old and the here-and-now, delivered in their inimitably winning and witty style.  

Listening to The King's Singers affords any music-lover innumerable moments of pleasure.  You can just sit back, be enthralled, relax, and enjoy.  They effortlessly entertain, educate, charm and amaze.  I'm delighted they're with us again, and I have high hopes for this Sunday's performance, which is almost sold out (we have about 35 seats available as of this posting, 3:30 PM on Friday).  

Concurrent with this performance, the Spivey Hall Children's Choir will be holding its second annual Silent Auction in the lobby.  For a preview of what's on offer, click here.  Come early and check out their auction items, which include a week's stay in a Tuscan villa as well as CDs, concert tickets, and an array of other bargains that just might just come in handy as the holiday season approaches.  Don't forget to bring your checkbook or a credit card!

All proceeds benefit the Spivey Hall Children's Choir Program. The Spivey Hall Tour Choir (the 50 most advanced singers of the Children's Choir) sang to fervent acclaim last summer in Edinburgh, Newcastle, and London.  I had the pleasure of hearing their London performances at the beautiful (and acoustically splendid) St. Martin-in-the-Fields church near Trafalgar Square (where Mozart and Handel gave organ performances -- talk about history), and at the Royal College of Music, where they had the privilege of rehearsing and performing with none other than Bob Chilcott (the excellent and aforementioned King's Singer of yore, renowned for his singing, conducting, and his marvelous compositions for voices).  

The Spivey Hall Children's Choir proudly represents Clayton State, metro Atlanta, and the State of Georgia wherever in the world it performs (from Scandinavia, China and Czech Republic to the Pacific Northwest, Boston, Washington DC, Southern California, and other reaches of North America).  The 170 singers of the Children's Choir Program, ages 8 to 18, are admitted by audition on the basis of musical merit, and scholarships support talented student musicians who otherwise wouldn't be able to participate.  Your support of their Silent Auction will be sincerely appreciated so that they can continue to make great music for people of all ages.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The stars align at The Metropolitan Opera...and Spivey Hall

We had an excellent recital two Saturdays ago from Simon Keenlyside and Pedja Muzijevic (see review ("British baritone Simon Keenlyside thrills audience at Spivey Hall").  Mr. Keenlyside was able to break away from his intensive preparations for Robert LePage's production of Thomas Ades's The Tempest at the Metropolitan Opera in New York to give us a sterling performance, his only song recital in the U.S. this season.  

Today The New York Times reviewed the Met's premiere of The Tempest, praising its "superb cast, headed by the charismatic baritone Simon Keenlyside," plus two other Spivey Hall vocalists of note, "the lovely, vocally warm and sympathetic mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard" (who returns to Spivey Hall for her second song recital on March 24, 2013) and " the appealing, sweet-voiced tenor Alek Shrader in his Met debut" -- though it should be noted that Mr. Shrader has sung on stage at the Met as a winner of the Met's National Council Auditions, which led to his highly successful recital debut at Spivey Hall in November 2010.

So many other Met luminaries -- Susan Graham, David Daniels, Joyce DiDonato, Christine Brewer, Rolando Villazon, Christine Schaefer, Magdalena Kozena, Gerald Finley, Lawrence Brownlee, Mariusz Kweicien, Angelika Kirchschlager, Nicole Cabell, Kate Royal, Matthias Goerne, Charles Castronovo, and the late Salvatore Licitra (such a sad loss), as well as (before my time here) Renee Fleming, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Ben Heppner, Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Olga Borodina (a list that is by no means complete, and in no particular order, for which I offer my abject apologies for any unintended omissions (this is a blog post, not a comprehensive history of 22 seasons of concerts) ) -- have also given memorable recitals at Spivey Hall.  

In recital, these artists reveal different aspects of their artistry and personalities in the intimacy of our acoustically glorious space (beloved of so many musicians, and no less so by singers) than they typically would in staged opera. This only magnifies and deepens our admiration for their gifts and achievements.  

The essential and unchanging similarity in either context is their musical excellence.  Many of these superb singers made their U.S., Southeast, or Atlanta debut at Spivey Hall.  Other outstanding singers not as closely associated with opera in the U.S. who are nonetheless compelling recitalists -- Christian Gerhaher, Christanne Stotijn, and Florian Boesch immediately spring to mind -- have graced the stage of Spivey Hall.

We are both proud of and honored by the artistic distinction they confer on us, and grateful for the pleasures they give our appreciative and attentive audiences. The main point (as always) is that they are extraordinarily accomplished and gratifying musicians. Great music-making is what it's all about.

We look forward to welcoming another Met Opera star, the acclaimed German counter-tenor Andreas Scholl, for his Spivey Hall recital debut on December 2.   I've recently received his new Decca recital CD with pianist Tamar Halperin, Wanderer, which hasn't been released in the US yet (I imported it from Germany); it offers a tantalizing preview of what we will hear in just a few weeks.  Fans of great singing: this is not to be missed!  More on Scholl and Wanderer soon.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Simon Keenlyside & Pedja Muzijevic tonight

Tonight (Saturday, October 13) at 8:15 PM, the internationally renowned British baritone SIMON KEENLYSIDE makes his Atlanta recital debut at Spivey Hall with pianist PEDJA MUZIJEVIC.  Keenlyside is perhaps best known to most Atlanta audiences for his performances with the Metropolitan Opera, including his great success in the title role of Ambroise Thomas's HAMLET in Spring 2010 (a work the Met hadn't staged since 1897), and, in just a few days, the highly anticipated Met premiere of Thomas Ades' THE TEMPEST, which The New York Times says "should be the most significant artistic statement of the Met season," also citing visionary director Robert Lepage’s production, which it calls "a dazzling concoction."  (Also starring in the THE TEMPEST is mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, who returns to Spivey Hall for her second recital this spring, and tenor Alek Shrader, who made his Spivey Hall debut a few seasons ago.  Once again, the stars align at the Metropolitan Opera and Spivey Hall.)  Keenlyside was Musical America's 2011 "Vocalist of the Year" and has won many other impressive awards, including "Best Solo Vocal Award" at the 2012 Gramophone Awards for his recording SONGS OF WAR (more on this below).

I was mesmerized when in London I heard Simon Keenlyside give a Wigmore Hall recital in a few years ago, which was recorded in two live performances (I heard the second) and released on Wigmore's own label, and I tend to agree with Opera News: "The most distinctive element of Keenlyside's voice is something that is discernible only in live performances."  That is because his stage presence is strongly palpable, and the listener's experience is so deeply informed by how his physical presence enhances the meaning of what he sings.  This combination is what makes the experience of hearing great singers live in concert almost addictive, because it is so profoundly personal and therefore so incredibly rewarding.

One of my "must-haves" when deciding to engage a vocalist in recital is that the singer must have an extraordinary relationship with words, as well as a command of sound that conveys the meaning of what is being sung.  This Simon Keenlyside has in abundance.  An artist manager friend of mine told me that she revels not just in the singing, but even in how Keenlyside breathes while performing.  I know what she means -- again, all the subleties of the singer's physical presence have meaning.  Keenlyside is living proof that no matter how great the sound by itself, the psychology of human beings is deeply influenced by what we see when we listen, and that the art of giving a recital is as much as for the eye as the ear when a great artist brings a composer's creation to life.

Keenlyside's pianist this evening, Pedja Muzijevic, is no stranger to Atlanta, having appeared several times as soloist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in recent years; he is also an active chamber musician and collaborative pianist who draws accolades wherever he performs, be it Europe, Australia, the U.S., or South America, with numerous impressive recordings to his credit.

The first half of their Spivey Hall recital features selections from Keenlyside's 2011 SONY Classics CD, SONGS OF WAR, all of which are in English, and all inspired by the work of poets including
A.E. Housman, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Masefield, and (from across the Atlantic) Walt Whitman.  These are compelling songs, and Simon has kindly given us permission to reprint relevant sections of the emotionally insightful (and, I must say, powerful) CD liner notes that he wrote, explaining how he was drawn to the obituaries of war veterans, and their amazing stories of valor, courage, and sacrifice.  Also he observes that so much of the poetry that emanates from the experience of war is as much about life --  longing for home, concern for the welfare of those left behind, and the persistent restlessness soldiers feel when no longer at war -- as it is about death.  All are topics of inspiration to poets and composers alike.

These songs encompass a vast emotional range.  As Opera News would remind us, the opportunity to hear and SEE Keenlyside -- in a space as intimate as Spivey Hall, and with the immediacy our superb acoustics afford listeners -- is a very rare one indeed, and one that no lover of great singing should miss.

The second half of the program features two sets of Lieder by Hugo Wolf and Franz Schubert, composers whose works Keenlyside has regularly included in his recital programs.  Clayton State's Director of Vocal Studies and Opera, Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller, will give a free pre-concert talk at 7:15 PM about the program, which will illuminate anyone's understanding of what will follow this evening in the recital hall.

I am personally grateful to a special Friend of Spivey Hall, Mr. Richard F. Tigner, for sponsoring this auspicious recital debut.  Rick is among Spivey Hall's passionately devoted followers of great singing, and his generosity -- as well as that of our many other Friends -- makes it possible me to engage and present outstanding musicians such as Simon Keenlyside and Pedja Muzijevic at Spivey Hall, whose artistry truly enriches our lives.  Mr. Keenlyside was able to secure a release from the Metropolitan Opera to be with us tonight, and I am tremendously grateful for his willingness to perform for us in the midst of his preparations for THE TEMPEST.

Complete program details are available at Spivey Hall's website.  Good seats are still available, both online and through the Spivey Hall Box Office at (678) 466-4200.  Don't think twice about coming -- show up, there will be tickets, and you may remember this recital for a long, long time to come.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Acclaimed pianist ALESSIO BAX opens Spivey Hall's 22nd Concert Season

Italian-born pianist ALESSIO BAX, first-prize winner of the 2000 Leeds International Pianoforte Competition and recipient of a coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant, makes his Spivey Hall debut this Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 3:00 PM, to open the 2012-2013 Spivey Series.

Yesterday (October 2) he performed in Dallas the program he'll also perform here, featuring works by Brahms and Rachmaninov, and finishing with Ravel's highly colorful and atmospheric La Valse.

Scott Cantrell, writing for The Dallas Morning News, found plenty to like about this performance.  Here are some highlights:

A glorious recital by pianist Alessio Bax

By Scott Cantrell

I can’t remember when I’ve heard a piano recital as wholly satisfying as the one performed Tuesday night by Alessio Bax. Now “only” in his mid-30s, the Italian-born, longtime U.S.-resident pianist, an alumnus of Southern Methodist University and adjunct faculty member there, played with the depth and understanding of a grand master.

Presented as part of the inaugural season of the Dallas Chamber Symphony, Bax appeared in the new Dallas City Performance Hall. With the adjustable acoustical banners covering only the upper walls, the sound was maybe 10 percent too “wet” for solo piano; busier passages clotted a bit. But with further experimentation this should be a dream setting for piano recitals — alas rarely heard in Dallas.

Bax opted for quite a romantic program, and played it with a full measure of romantic expression. The first half paired Brahms’ very serious Op. 10 Ballades with Rachmaninoff’s delicious play-to-the-balcony arrangements of Fritz Kreisler’s Leibesleid and Liebesfreud.

Bax was wholly in command of both very different idioms. Better than that, he actually seemed to be channeling the composers: Brahms very “inner,” a man of mystery; Rachmaninoff in purest entertainer mode, but with no hint of condescension.

Further contrasts were supplied in five Rachmaninoff preludes in the recital’s second half. The famous C-sharp minor was awesome in its grandeur, the accompaniment of the G-flat major emerging as from mists, the B-flat major stormily heroic.

Finally came Ravel’s La valse, in a performance that captured the whole collage of mystery, hallucinatory strangeness, whimsy, imperial elegance and the demonic explosions at the end. 

Rhythm and color were sensitively bent to the music’s shape, direction and harmonic nuances. Or, rather, the music itself seemed at one with Bax’s visceral responses. This was artistry of a high level. It’s a pity only about 200 people took advantage of it.

 * * * *

Spivey Hall pianophiles know that we took delivery of a fantastic new Hamburg Steinway D-274 concert grand piano.  Pianos at Spivey Hall all have names.  This piano's name is "Clara" and she's a real beauty.  For the past four days, we've had one of the world's foremost piano technicians, Ulrich Gerhartz, Steinway and Sons London's Director of Concert and Artists Services, at Spivey Hall to voice and regulate Clara, to make sound her best in Spivey Hall's glorious acoustics.  

I'm incredibly eager to hear how Alessio Bax fares with Clara.  With this artist, this program, and this piano in Spivey Hall,  I believe we have a VERY exciting and rewarding afternoon of music ahead of us this Sunday.  

Artists regularly greet the audience after their Spivey Hall performances, and Mr. Bax will be signing  programs as well as copies of his Signum CD recordings. We'll have available for purchase copies of his critically-acclaimed Bach transcription CD (which first brought his playing to my attention) and well as his highly-praised Rachmaninov Preludes and Melodies CD (including working he's performing on Sunday) -- and his newest CD of works by Brahms, including the Ballades (also on the program) and the powerfully virtuosic Paganini Variations.

We warmly welcome Steinway Piano Galleries as Spivey Hall's 2012-2013 Piano Series sponsor, and we'll have on display in the lobby a very special upright Steinway from its artcase series.  Each of these artcase pianos is a uniquely stylized, one-of-a-kind creation -- not your average practice room upright!  And we are grateful to our loyal Spivey Hall subscriber and donor, John W. Markham III, for being the Friends of Spivey Hall Concert Sponsor of Alessio Bax's debut recital here.

Tickets can be purchased from the Box Office by calling  (678) 466-4200) and are also available online. If you're a student with ID or a Georgia educator, you can get a 50% discount (available only by calling or visiting the Box Office).  Clayton State students' tickets are just $10 each...what a bargain, eh?