Sunday, April 14, 2019

Brief review...

Brief Review:

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) has been selling out many times this year, and this weekend’s concerts were no exception. Danish-born conductor, 49- year old Thomas Sondergard, was the guest conductor. This is the first of a series of three visits that Sondergard will be making to Atlanta between now and the end of next season. It is almost as if he were auditioning.

Bernstein’s 1965 “Chichester Psalms” led the program. It’s a pleasant piece that recalls songs from “West Side Story,” “Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” with a splash of Prokofiev thrown in. Parts of it are beautifully lyrical and the text is quite religiously oriented. The ASO chorus provided an inspiring, if occasionally loud, performance. The soloist was countertenor Daniel Moody, who has a wonderfully warm, non-breathy, voice that suited the music perfectly. Soon the centenary of Bernstein’s birth will be gone and the frequent programming of his music will be just a memory.

The second part of the program featured Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The first movement introduction contains the murmurs that foretell the triumphant final movement, but here the murmurs were a bit too loud. Sondergard’s chose, Scherzo, moved briskly along, with some fine tympani playing by March Yancich. The third movement, Adagio, was nicely played but seemed to lack a forward momentum, so that at times, it dragged. The fourth movement, Presto, was exciting. Again, Sondergard chose a fast tempo that seemed consistent with the exuberant message of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” on which it is based. However, the tumultuous introduction to the fourth movement was surprisingly tame. Thomas Cooley, the tenor, was easily the most powerful of the four soloists, and Andrea Mastroni, the bass, was good, but had occasional odd accents, as on the initial “nicht diese Töne!” The ASO chorus was splendid but might have been even more impressive if reduced in size by about a quarter. When it is loud, it is quite loud in the hard acoustics of Symphony Hall. 

Maestro Sondergard made a memorable debut in Atlanta and we can look forward to hearing more from him in the upcoming months.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Symphony orchestras' artistic planners often program a concerto sandwiched in between an overture and a symphony. For this week’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert, that formula was slightly adjusted in a most intriguing way, and the program provided a welcome opportunity to hear major works from the 18th, 19th, and 21st centuries. In addition, the program highlighted how a composer’s cultural heritage can influence his music output.

Michael Gandolfi’s 2015 Imaginary Numbers was born out of a commission to honor, in part, the composer’s friendship with ASO Music Director Robert Spano. Gandolfi is one of the most honored composers in the contemporary American classical music scene. He has won numerous prestigious awards and he is head of composition at the renowned New England Conservatory of Music. He is also a member of Spano’s “Atlanta School”, which is designed to perform the work of contemporary American composers – including Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Theofanidis, Osvaldo Golijov and Adam Schoenberg. One of the most important characteristics of the music of these composers is that it is often tonal, lyrical, and understandable at first listening. For the complete review, go here:

Friday, March 15, 2019


An AMC exclusive!

This is the world premiere video of Domenic Salerni’s new transcription of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major- for violin and piano, titled Unraveling.  In this recording, Salerni plays violin with Stephen Whale on piano.  For more information about Domenic, go here:  For a copy of the score for his transcription, go here:

For an interview with Domenic, go here:

Monday, March 11, 2019


Celebrity, fame and public attention paid to individuals are rampant in our media-saturated culture. Of course, the world of classical music has its own celebrities, well known to devotees and fans. This week’s program by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was a lesson about classical music celebrityhood.
Henrik Nánási and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra © Jeff Roffman
Henrik Nánási and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
© Jeff Roffman
On the podium was Hungarian-born guest conductor Henrik Nánási, who is probably more of a celebrity in the opera house than in the concert hall.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A Conversation with Jeremy Renner, Classical Music Critic and Reporter

Jeremy Reynolds is the classical music critic and reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  He is one of the new breed of influencers straddling the newsprint world and the digital world.  His reviews are erudite and insightful.  His views on the challenges facing reviewing and performing are thought-provoking.  His reviews can be found at 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

A Stunning Perfromance of Grand Romantic Music...

A few seasons ago, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, with Music Director Robert Spano programmed two Sibelius Symphonies back-to-back on one program.  By the end of the evening, the bleak Finnish winters and cold landscapes were on overload.  But this weekend, the ASO performed the composer’s Symphony No 1 in E minor, written in 1899.  Here, ASO assistant Conductor Stephen Mulligan was on the podium, and it was like hearing Sibelius for the first time. Hearing one Sibelius symphony by itself reminds one that this was a very polished romantic composer who had the melodic inspiration of a Brahms, yet with more orchestral color; and the emotional inspiration of a Tchaikovsky, yet with greater discipline and structural skill.  The First Symphony is full of gorgeous sounds and inspired passages that reach great and soaring heights, and it does so sparely; one never have a sense that the music of Sibelius could have used an edit.  It also has rhythmic vitality and clever orchestration, for example, the use of the tympani in the final movement to repeat the theme first introduced by the various sections of the orchestra.  It is an emotionally powerful work, but something special happened to it under Mulligan, who has developed quite a reputation locally after his stepping-in at the last minute for an ailing Maestro Spano during last season.  He managed to create a taut and supercharged performance that was neither excessive nor over-the-top, but fully building toward the finale; that is, he never lost the long arc of the music.  Each passage artfully led to the next, so that in the end, all the pieces fell masterfully in place to create a grand superstructure of sound.  This may have been the best performance of the season.  It seemed that whatever Mulligan wanted from the ASO musicians, he received and they were spirited and inspired.  Mulligan has an elegant style of conducting beating clearly with the right hand, and cueing introductions and shaping the music with his right.  Given that he is slightly ahead of the music being played, one can almost anticipate what will happen next just by watching him.   He was first-rate in this glorious piece of music. 

The second work on the program was Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor, written in 1909.  The soloist was Russian-born Nikolai Lugansky, whose elegance at the piano matched perfectly the elegance of conductor Mulligan.  Lugansky is not prone to histrionics while playing, although on occasion he did jump up a few inches from the bench when extra emphasis was needed.  This piano concerto demands much from a soloist, in part, because it requires spanning many keys at once.  It may not have been a challenge for the large-handed composer, but sometimes it is a stretch (pardon the pun) for other pianists.  No so for Lugansky, who seems also to have been blessed with large hands.  The music itself is a crowd pleaser (Symphony Hall was once again sold out) because it is romantic tuneful, and occasionally dreamy, as in the second movement Intermezzo.  Lugansky played with a great deal of confidence and he has the technical skill and musicality to create a virtuosic performance.  At times, the balance between the orchestra and soloist were a bit off, so that the some of the extended piano passages, as in the first movement, could not be heard over the orchestra.  In all, though, this was a powerful performance of one of the most popular piano concertos in the classical canon. 

See AMC's interview with Maestro Mulligan: 

Monday, February 4, 2019


It’s Super Bowl weekend in Atlanta and there are parties galore to draw everyone’s attention. Yet somehow, one opera drew a substantial audience of patrons to watch a gut-wrenching story of redemption. Dead Man Walking is an opera based on a book by Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death penalty advocate, with music by Jake Heggie and libretto by Terrence McNally. Prejean and Heggie were in the audience for this opening night. For the complete review, go here: