Friday, November 15, 2019

An Eigth to Cherish...

Gustav Mahler- Symphony No 8 (Symphony of a Thousand)

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Atlanta Symphony Chorus
Robert Spano, Conductor

Sopranos Evelina Dobrańćeva, Erin Wall and Nicole Cabell; mezzo-sopranos Michelle DeYoung and Kelley O’Connor; tenor Toby Spence; baritone Russell Braun; and bass Morris Robinson

Mahler’s 1906-Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major is a major horal work in Western Art music.   It is often called “Symphony of a Thousand,” a title eschewed by the composer. It is in two parts: Part I is based on a 9th century Latin text for the Christian celebration of Pentecost and Part II is a setting of passages from the closing scene of Goethe’s Faust.  While differing in derivation, the two parts have a common theme of redemption by love, which is reflected in musical themes appearing in both sections.  While positively received and still played today, some writers say that it is inferior to his earlier works.  The symphony does not appear to draw upon the folk idioms used in the composer’s earlier works, nor does it appear to dwell on scenes of death or loss.  It does seem qualitatively different; the orchestration is lush and full; it does not have an ironic march, or a child’s melody played out of tune.  It seems like an amalgam of oratorio, cantata, motet and lied, layered on to a rich symphonic based. It also is quite long, clocking in at 80 minutes.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) last performed the Symphony in 1991.  The logistics of gathering some 450 musicians and singers of a wide range of ages, rehearsing them, and performing the massive work twice over a weekend is surely a daunting task.  Kudos to Maestro Spano Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Director of Choruses, Lynn Urda, Director of the Young Singers, David Morrow, Director of Morehouse, and Kevin Johson from Spelman for undertaking this monumental performance.  It was a triumph of large-scale music-making and the work’s humanity and richness were undeniable.  This was a standard-setting performance for all involved.

The soloists gave powerful performances.  Sopranos Doraceva and Wall have tremendous power.  The latter has a rich sounding voice, while the former has a slimmer sound, but no less potent. Soprano Cabell was stationed in a balcony and her beautifully smooth voice hovered majestically in the auditorium. Mezzos DeYoung and O’Connor are concert hall stalwarts and greatly admired for their burnished voices.  DeYoung is quite powerful while O’Connor’s strength is in subtlety.  Baritone Braun had great projection.  Morris Robinson was one of the few bass voices to have appeared with the ASO who held his own against the full power of the orchestra and chorus.  Tenor Spence’s voice was overwhelmed early on, but by the time he soloed in Part II his voice found a strong footing.  All of the choruses were well-prepared and their sound was well integrated. 

The ASO musicians played inspiringly.  Concertmaster Coucheron and new principal viola Zhenwei Shi performed with aplomb.  Juan Ramirez excelled at the mandolin, and the digital organ added heft when needed.  The brass group stationed in the loge area added richness and excitement. Every section of the orchestra seemed inspired and focused.  This was the ASO at its best.

The only negative to the evening was Symphony Hall.  It is so bright sounding that when everyone was playing/singing forte, the sound verged on ear-drum overload.  This was particularly notable in the first part, where Mahler did not shy away from writing to create a big sound.  It was much less of an issue in the second part.

Yet, in all, the performances were stellar and the music is sublime.  Though the passages derived from Goethe were a bit odd to modern sensibilities, the second part has some of the most gorgeous orchestral passages imaginable.  It is wonderful to be able to sit back, shut down one’s critical ear, and simply luxuriate in Mahler’s wondrous music. 

If you are lucky enough to have a ticket for Saturday night’s performance, don’t even think of missing it!

Photos courtesy of Jeff Roffman:

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"Choral Fantasia for the Eleven- Premier

Listen to emerging composer Winfield V Carson, V, as he discusses his new work, written to memorialize those who died at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh:

Ink blots anyone?

This weekend’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) program featured a work by a composer, Dmitri Shostakovich, whose music is often ascribed momentous meaning by listeners. This is, in part, because the vast majority of his music was written against the backdrop of our general understanding of his difficulties in contending with artistic-expression limitations in the former Soviet Union, and our shared understanding of tyranny of that government, especially under Josef Stalin, who was a longtime nemesis of the composer. Read further here:

A good start...

A crisp autumn Sunday afternoon hosted the season-opening concert of the Riverside Chamber Players (RCP). The RCP is made up of musicians from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO), including artistic director/cellist Joel Dallow, cellist Brad Ritchie, violist Jessica Oudin, and violinists Justin Bruns and Kenn Wagner. The resident composer for the RCP is Michael Kurth, celebrated local composer and ASO bassist. He made comments before the concert and lead a discussion with the audience halfway through the program.  To finish, click here:

Saturday, October 26, 2019


Tropical storm Nestor had its way with the Atlanta area on Saturday. It brought needed drenching rain to an area that has just recently endured 90-days of plus 90-degree temperatures with little moisture. In spite of the storm, some 100 or so classical music aficionados made their way to Morrow, GA, which is the home of Clayton State University (CSU) and its wonderful Spivey Hall. This 492-seat concert hall sits in a bucolic setting, amongst the large trees that overlook the campus lake. Even more notable is that Spivey has some of the best acoustics to be found anywhere in the Atlanta area, if not the entire state. It is decorated in a kind of post-modern neo-baroque style with a wooden main floor that likely adds to the acoustic joy.
At the risk of belaboring a metaphor, Spivey hosted another storm Saturday evening: that of the pianist Lars Vogt and violinist Christian Tetzlaff. These German-born virtuosi are world-class performers and they applied their skills to a program that required enormous skill and musicality.