Saturday, September 30, 2017

The music goes round and round

Here it is a few hours, it will be October, and Spivey Series concerts are about to resume once again. The summer always whizzes by. This summer the Hall was more quiet than usual, because of repair work done on the reed pipes of our Fratelli Ruffatti organ, which involved taking a good number of them out, shipping them to Ohio, and then having them reinstalled and all the pipes regulated and tuned. Thanks to the Schantz Organ Co. and Spivey Hall's organ curator Tommy McCook, the Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ is fully operational again and in great shape.

We also completed the final edit of the video made May 13, 2017 at our Organ 25th Anniversary Celebration of a three-movement suite from The Love for Three Oranges by Sergei Prokofiev, transcribed by Weicheng Zhao for Ken Cowan, Alan Morrison and Cherry Rhodes -- a Spivey Hall commission that received its world premiere on this auspicious occasion. During the editing review process, I watched and listened to the video perhaps a dozen times, and the suite really grew on me. The performance was excellent, and the video shows the faces and hands of the organists sitting cozily, three on a bench. There's some humor involved at the beginning, too. It's definitely worth a look and a listen, and it's available on Spivey Hall's YouTube channel. Thanks to all who made this possible!

My summer travels took me to the second round of the Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, where I heard 20 pianists each give a 45-minute recital in just two (!!) days. I also headed out to California to hear a concert at the La Jolla Music Society's annual Summerfest, happily combined with some time at the beach.

I also spent several days in Amsterdam and London attending concerts, some of which were wonderful, others less so. You never know until you go, sit, and listen. In addition to discovering musicians I think Spivey Hall audiences might like to hear in future seasons, it's also valuable to know what NOT to book!

The core of my European music experience this summer was the ten days spent with the Spivey Hall Friends in Vienna.This visit held an abundance of pleasures (more than I will attempt to describe in this post) for which I owe equally abundant thanks to Spivey Hall Friends Council Travel Program Directors Susan Hunter and Jeff Adams, who worked closely with Hapsburg Heritage Tours and our extraordinary tour guide, Gabriela Steiner-Scharfetter, to devise our itinerary and excursions, and to secure tickets. But there are two performances that will live longest with me.

One was  a searingly good performance of Elektra at the Wiener Staatsoper with soprano Nina Stemme in the title role, and the Staatsoper Orchestra (selected members of which comprise the Vienna Philharmonic when giving concerts) in the pit, playing with tremendous power and refinement. There were moments in which the music seemed to cut right through me, conveying, at times, almost volcanic passion. Just thinking about it brings back chills. It was exhilarating and completely captivating. I respect this opera more than I love it, but my admiration for Strauss and the artistry we experienced is lasting and profound, and I do not expect to hear a performance of Elektra that will surpass this one.

The other Vienna musical memory I'll cherish is sitting on the stage of the Musikverein's main hall (the Goldener Saal), tucked away in the corner, in the first row behind the percussion section, to hear Mariss Jansons and the Wiener Philharmoniker perform Dvorak's Symphony No. 8, Strauss's Death and Transfiguration, and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. This was a subscription concert, long sold out (in Vienna, Philharmonic subscriptions are, I'm told, more often inherited than purchased anew), so my 30 Euro stage seat, acquired online the week of the concert, was my only way in. Yet these were the best 30 Euro I think I've ever spent on a concert ticket. I had a near-perfect view of Maestro Jansons' face and hands, and could see into the rear section of the first violins, sideways along the back rows of the brass and winds, and over to the double basses plus a few of the cellos. The Goldener-Saal stage is not large for a full orchestra, therefore a special sense of closeness and focused concentration prevailed. What transpired was truly magical. The orchestra and conductor seemed entirely at one, and the music-making was masterful in its vast range and exquisite subtlety of expression. In their supreme confidence and grace, the players made these performances seem entirely natural and organic, almost inevitable. Nothing was wanting. And never have I been so enveloped, engulfed, and totally awash with such utterly deep, rich, luminous, transcendentally beautiful orchestral sound. Half the time my eyes were brimming with tears, I was so moved.This was unquestionably one of the most satisfying orchestral experiences of my life, including the many of my 18 years of working with major orchestras in the US and Australia, and from hearing orchestras in cities across North America and Europe. I floated out of the Musikverein in an ecstatic daze afterwards. It was simply sublime.

Vienna is well endowed with acoustically superior performance spaces for music and opera. Acoustics do make a difference. And this is why I am always glad to return home to Atlanta to hear performances throughout the season at Spivey Hall, which in addition to acoustical excellence possesses a size and intimacy that make each performance seem very human and personal. Artists and audiences connect so readily in Spivey Hall because of this; it adds special meaning to what we see and hear. This, and the quality of the artists and the music they perform, represent "the Spivey difference" that we invite you to discover if you've not already done so. In the memorable words of the legendary conductor Robert Shaw, "Spivey Hall is to music what light is to painting."

We launch Season 27 with a welcome return of the Grammy Award-winning 12-member a cappella "Orchestra of Voices" from San Francisco, CHANTICLEER, who perform their program Heart of a Soldier on Sunday, October 8, at 3:00 PM. Program details and tickets are available online and by calling the Box Office weekdays 9 AM to 5 PM at (678) 466-4200. There's a CD signing afterwards, as well as an all-audience reception (which several of the singers will attend) to celebrate the opening of the season, all made possible through the generosity of our Friends Concert Sponsors Lauren Benevich, John Cooledge, and Nick Jones, and the annual gifts of our Spivey Hall Friends who make a critical difference in sustaining the artistic excellence of our programming year in and year out.

And so another season is about to begin. But another fantastic though far less serious musical experience I had this summer did not take place in a majestic European concert hall -- it happened while driving in a rental car. The car had satellite radio (my own does not) and I twirled the dial until I found a 30s and 40s swing channel. I love good swing-band music -- it lifts my spirits and puts a smile on my face, so it was a great way to get me in "I'm finally on vacation!" mode. I listened to it for seven hours straight in both directions, driving to and from my family's lake cottage in rural Canada.

The tune that stuck in my head -- one that I don't recall hearing before -- was "The Music Goes Round and Round," which (as I learn from YouTube) many artists have recorded, at various tempos, some slower, some faster -- and there's even a version in Japanese. (Its endless variety and potential for interpretation are among music's greatest pleasures.) This tune is catchy and just plain fun. I haven't yet found the recording that so turned me on (I heard two, and there was a certain plangent quality of the male vocalist whose timing made the better one really swing), but there are many good ones by (among others) Louis Armstrong, Henry Wood, Harry Roy, and Jay Wilbur. Right now, I'm liking the 1936 version by Tommy Dorsey and his Clambake Seven because of its jaunty pace, some offhand nonsense from the bandleader ("And now, grandma!"), and the sass of vocalist Edythe Wright ("My, my...!"). Give a listen!