Paula Peace is the founder of the Atlanta Chamber Players and has served as the group’s Artistic Director for all but a few months of its 34 seasons. For the group she has produced concerts and performed in more than 200 cities throughout 18 U.S. states, France, Italy and Switzerland; produced, edited and performed on all six ACP recordings and CDs; produced and performed more than 50 regional and world premieres in Atlanta; and designed and performed hundreds of concert programs, educational lectures and master classes throughout the South.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Paula Peace gives a preview of the upcoming concert of the Atlanta Chamber Players. It is scheduled for 3:00pm November 24, 2013 at Atlanta's Ahavath Achim Synagogue. Go here for more information: www.atlantachamberplayers.com.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra (ENSO), under the direction of Conductor Nikolai Alexeev, presented a concert at Emory University's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Where to begin? Where to begin?
As best as AMC could tell, this was a smallish ensemble that seemed a bit squeezed on the Schwartz stage. AMC has never heard a full orchestra in the lush environment of this venue and his seat was in the front row all the way to stage left. But this was sound to remember. AMC believes that most people wouldn't even know where Estonia is and safe to say, the ENSO has had some difficult times. But one could never tell from this performance. AMC has never hear clarinets with such a sweet, almost rounded, sound that was absolutely lovely in the Dvorak. In fact, its woodwinds overall were warm and wonderful but in an acoustic environment that enable the listener to pin point every instrumental group. The basses packed a punch, but never unnecessarily so. The cellos had a bite and slight growl; the contrabasson had that wonderful buzz. AMC's only quibble was with the sound of the oboe that sounded a bit unpolished, especially when playing solo. The violins were golden and tight. The brass benefited from an environment so lush, yet focused, that AMC could hear the first rush of air into them. For anyone who is a fan of the wonderful sounds that make up a symphony orchestra, as AMC is, then this was the performance to hear.
Maestro Alexeev busies himself with process of conducting. He cues entrances, controls dynamics and maintains a sharp beat. His face was expressionless but rather stern.
The Tormis "Overture", which is unfamiliar to AMC, was a great, thrilling piece that is easily understandable on first hearing. AMC tends to believe that any new piece of music that can't be understood on first hearing means that it is less likely that one will return. AMC doesn't argue that a new composition should be so banal that it takes little or no effort to "get it," but there ought to be a balance between accessibility and challenge. The Tormis work achieves that delicate balance. The ENSO was brilliant in its performance. Here is a video of the Tormis piece conducted by Neeme Jarvi, former music director of the ENSO:
May we please hear more of Mr. Tormis in Atlanta?
Narek Hakhnazaryan was the cello soloist in the Dvorak Cello concerto, one of the preeminent cello works, and concertos in the literature. Mr. Hakhanazyran was awarded the gold medal at the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition. He is 25 years old and was born in Armenia.
AMC most recently heard the Dvorak played by the Pittsburgh Symphony conducted by Manfred Honeck with soloist Johannes Moser. AMC's review is here: http://www.atlantamusiccritic.com/2012/07/superstars.html. That performance is AMC's benchmark, so Mr. Hakhnzaryan and the ENSO are up against formidable forces. So, how did they do? Actually quite well. The horns were wonderful and in tune. The winds were breathtaking (pardon the slight pun) and the strings gorgeous. But the real triumph was the solo cello. Hakhnazaryan is a technical wizard. He is dynamically strong, with a great range. The sound of his cello is gorgeous, which was helped by the acoustics. Cellos never sound like this in Atlanta's Symphony Hall, a fact that is lamentable. On occasion, AMC felt that Maestro Alexeev let the ENSO get a bit too loud against the cello, but no big deal. Given the standing ovation he received (deserved in my opinion in comparison to the gratuitous SO's in symphony Hall), Mr. Hakhnazaryan played two encores. The first was the touching "Lamentatio" by Giovanni Sollima, which is scored to have the cello soloist sing. While the YouTube version by Mr. Hakhazaryan seems strangely out of tune, here it is:
So great was the response, a second encore was presented, the Bach "Sarabande" from his Suite No. 3 (this sounds a bit pitchy also):
The final work was the Brahms. AMC's mild bias is that this work is the pinnacle of the Romantic symphonic literature. The ENSA played like they were on fire. The Brahmsian signature of the horns and wood winds playing together went off without a hitch, which is not often the case in Atlanta. The strings were smooth with great ensemble. The tempi were on the mark. AMC was delighted with this performance.
AMC is grateful to the Candler Concert Series for bringing in the ENSO. Atlanta is not one of the major cultural hubs that hosts touring symphonies. That usually only happens in the major markets, such as New York and Chicago. So it was good to hear something other than the great Atlanta Symphony. AMC hopes to hear more from other notable orchestras in local venues. Well, AMC can wish.
Friday, November 15, 2013
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, under Music Director, Robert Spano presented a program the first half of which was very good but lacked audience support and a second half that was equally good, but with which the audience was totally enthralled. Go here for the program notes: http://www.atlantasymphony.org/ConcertsAndTickets/Calendar/2013-2014/Carmina-Burana.aspx
The Bartok concerto is a colorful, challenging work, that demonstrates the composers Hungarian roots. It is similar to his other works that reference Hungarian folk music. Superstar Gil Shaham was the soloist. AMC was surprised to see Shaham using a score. The music stand holding the score was maybe two feet off the ground so the artist was often looking down at it. This tended to put the soundboard in a weird position thereby taking the focus off the soloist. Mr. Shaham seemed to enjoy playing the music- he sort of had a smile on his face through out. AMC saw the Rockettes (long story) this week and they had similar plastered smiles. Shaham also seemed to enjoy working with Spano, but its hard to tell if this was artifice. AMC is very familiar with the Bernstein/Stern collaboration from the 1950's (see below). The recording has Stern in the forefront, and the orchestra nicely arrayed in the rear. Bernstein does a masterful job of making Bartok's themes sharp and angular. The Spano/Shaham version simply does not have these tight edges. In some ways, it was more like a romantic-style of playing not necessarily suited to Bartok's time and temperament. Because the large chorus was to fill the stage after the intermission, the orchestra was pushed to the front., just on the edge of the acoustical shell. The same old Symphony Hall bugaboos of hollow and thin sound was apparent. It also left the violin sol a bit unfocused. But, the percussion section benefited from being placed stage left against the shell. This was the first time AMC has heard a chest thumping bass drum at the ASO.
There was polite applause after the Bartok, with a few die-hard Atlantans providing the required SO. AMC believes that even Bartok is too new for Atlanta's delicate sensibilities.
The second half of the concert was taken up with Orff's famously popular cantata "Carmina Burana." This performance was helped by the addition of surtitles. Mr.Spano rarely breaks new ground in his conducting, but he did make a few rhythmic changes that were welcome, especially in the "O Fortuna" introduction. There was a cast of thousands on stage, with the ASO chorus and the Gwinnett Young singers. This may have been the first time the chorus hasn't set off AMC's tinnitus from being too loud. Maybe now symphony hall is more able to handle such large volumes of sound. The soloists were a mixed bag. Kiera Duffy was the weakest. Her voice was thin and she did not bring the acting ability of her male colleagues. Mr. Nmon Ford, baritone, was outstanding. He has a robust voice that held up even in the grand fortes. Tenor Mr. Pannuccio was also very good. Both of the gentleman brought a bit of acting to their roles. Through the use of body position and gesture, they both punctuated their characters. AMC liked this so much more than just having them face the audience and sing. Mr. Pannuccio allowed his voice to crack for a humorous effect and his hands were rather fey. The ASO chorus has top- flight diction and the young singers performed their rather limited parts well.
The ASO has recorded this work twice- once under Robert Shaw and once under Donald Runnicles. The latter, on Telarc, has unfortunate sound. Its level is so low that details are lost and even when playing the CD the rumble is nearly unbearable. The ceiling of Symphony Hall was sporting more microphones that AMC has seen in some time. Maybe ASO management thinks that the third time is a charm. AMC just wants to know "Do we really need another Carmina"? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Thanks to all of the benefactors, patrons, musicians, and volunteers that made this concert possible.
The Bernstein/Stern collaboration:
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Mr. Herron is percussionist with the Atlanta-based Chamber Cartel, a New Music ensemble. Hear about his journey to become a musician, his experience and his aspirations. Chamber Cartel's season is outlined here: https://www.facebook.com/events/712396425455558/
at 6:45 PM
Monday, November 11, 2013
If there is a more sterling group of performers assembled this season in Atlanta's classical concert season, AMC will be very surprised. Its difficult to top Christine Brewer, Lynn Harrell, Sylvia McNair, Marietta Simpson and Robert Spano. Each of these performers had their lives touched in one way or another by Robert Shaw, the great choral conductor and former music director of the ASO.
Sylvia McNair provided spirited and charming excerpts from Cateloub's "Chants d'Avergne " Not only is she a great singer, Ms. McNair brought a bit of her acting skills during the performance. This is music that is romantic, playful, boasting, grateful, and exciting. She hit it all.
Christine Brewer sang the magnificent "Wesendonck Lieder" by Richard Wagner. AMC heard Ms. Brewer at the Blossom Music Festival this past summer- she was outstanding then as she was here. Click here to read that review: http://www.atlantamusiccritic.com/2013/07/were-talking-world-class-here.html. These lieder are at once yearning, sad, reflective, and loving. The music foreshadowed Wagner's Tristan and were written for his mistress at the time, the titular Mrs. Wesendonck. Ms. Brewer is one of our finest soprano's and she reached and found the haunting core of this music.
Mr. Harrell performed the familiar Bach Cello Suite No 1. AMC felt that the Prelude was played a bit underwhelmingly with some bowing problems. But as the performance progressed it become apparent why Mr. Harrell is a renowned cellist and a great musician. Bach's music is sublime and this was a focused, sensitive performance.
Ms. Simpson, accompanied by Mr. Spano performed three traditional spirituals. These are eloquent songs, powerful in their sadness, loneliness, desperation, and hopelessness. Ms. Simpson did them justice.
Unfortunately, there were twice as many open seats as there were occupied seats. This was a chance to see really grand talent but the audience just wasn't there. Too bad.
To hear a version of the Wagner piece, go here:
Sunday, November 10, 2013
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed a fairly conventional program, with the most recently written piece being written in 1896 (Saint-Saens). That's where the conventionality ended.
First though AMC is still getting used to the new stage shell at Symphony Hall. Bass continues to improve, the winds are wonderfully focused, as is the brass. The cellos are still a bit in the background and there is, from time-to-time a bit of a blur over the violins, especially in forte passages. And the solo piano seems almost not to share the same acoustic space as the orchestra. It sounds still a bit distant-even hollow- to AMC's ears. The ASO now uses its new Steinway but this phenomenon seems more of an acoustic issues rather than the instrument itself. It may have to do with how the piano, placed near the front of the stage does not get the full benefit of the reinforcement possible with the new shell. Anyway, it probably doesn't matter much to anyone else's ear but this is what AMC is paid to do.
The guest conductor for this program was Carlo Montanaro, whose name and reputation AMC was unfamiliar. The Tchaikovsky piece (click here for program notes: http://www.atlantasymphony.org/ConcertsAndTickets/Calendar/2013-2014/Montanaro-Roge.aspx) is thrice familiar. It, along with Scheherezade and the 1812 Overture, were the very first classical pieces that AMC heard as a kid. In fact, the Capriccio Italien was on the flip side of the "1812" played by the Minneapolis Symphony (before it became the nearly now defunct Minnesota Orchestra) conducted by Antal Dorati. There was a portion of the record devoted to the technical issues related to recording the cannons, all narrated by music critic and composer Deems Taylor. AMC remembers that Mr. Taylor seems to have loose dentures or some condition that lead to him to sound like he had pebbles in his mouth. Oh wait- maybe he had pebbles in his mouth- but AMC digresses.
So here we have an Italian conductor, and American orchestra, playing a Russian composition about Italy. There is something about the universality of music in all of that. Even after hundreds of hearings, AMC still finds immense pleasure in it. It is vibrant, folksy, yet never looses that Tchaikovsky flair for orchestration and grand finale. Make no mistake, while he was paying homage to the sounds he heard in Italy, it is composed through the lens of Tchaikovsky's Slavic background. Maestro Montanaro and the ASO performed this piece to perfection. Tempi were right on and intonation and ensemble were perfect. Audience members were bobbing their heads and tapping their feet in rhythm. It was a great way to start a concert.
Pascal Roget was the soloist in the Saint-Saens. AMC is a bit surprised by the fact that this great French composer isn't heard a bit more in the concert hall. Yes, his music is full of sometimes overblown romanticism, but his music is easily accessible to an audience, and it is full of beautiful passages and melodies. The fifth concerto is both aided by and undermined by these characteristics. Its beauty sometimes looses its focus and the momentum of the piece can get off track. But the Montanaro and Roge duo keep a focus on the overall structure and moved things right along. Mr. Roge is not a flashy performer- he is business-like bending over the keyboard a bit with little full-body animation. Yet what comes out of this fingers is startling. The sound that he coaxed out of the highest notes on the piano were almost like a mallet being struck on a wood block. It was a percussive effect that added spice to the French sauce. His left hand could play a melody while the right was providing wonderful and delicate tracery. The second movement Andante was full of gorgeous sound and Mr. Montanaro coaxed some very controlled pianissimo's from the ASO. Roge did not receive the same kind of approbation that Mr. Hough received last week. But this was intricate and fairly transparent French music in comparison to the bombast of Liszt. AMC prefers the French cuisine. There was, of course, a standing ovation.
So if the Capriccio is familiar, what possibly can be said of Dvorak's "New World) symphony. AMC was anticipating being a bit bored with it, but that was not to be the case. First Mr. Montanaro seemed to inspire the musicians. There was playing in the violins like AMC has not yet heard from the ASO, especially in the final movement, where the first violins are playing a melody and the second violins are playing an undercurrent requiring them to rapidly move their bows up and down to play a note(s) on each string rapidly and repeatedly. This passage was played so accurately and together that it was almost surprising. Mr. Montanaro did not linger the slightest, especially in the largo section of the work. Its not that he rushed it, but that he keep up the momentum of the piece so that it didn't become bogged down in its lushness. As with the French work, he understood the overall structure of the work and realized that it must be heard as a whole, and not just a collection of pretty passages. His interpretation helped AMC to hear this piece with "new ears" and for that AMC is grateful. Again the ASO musicians were outstanding, with hardly a mis-step. There are many new faces in the orchestra this year so it is difficult for AMC to name names. But kudos to the usual suspects (Christina Smith, Laura Ardan, etc.) and to the newcomers (e.g., Stuart Stephenson, the ASO's new Principal Trumpet).
To sum it up- this could have been a boring and "treading water" program but it wasn't. Sometimes guest conductors can light a fire under an orchestra (as did Vasily Petrenko a few years ago) . Mr. Montenaro provided the kindling this year.