Wednesday, October 31, 2018


From time-to-time, almost every measuring system needs to be recalibrated to ensure accuracy. Last evening's concert at the Lied Center in Lincoln (NE) will prompt a recalibration of my quality rating scales for symphonic performances. The concert began about half an hour late as a result of the late arrival of the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra into Lincoln.  The orchestra tuned backstage and the players entered together, in the European manner. It also spared the audience from having to hear the cacophonous tuning and practicing that occurs on stage before American concerts.For the complete review, go here:

Sunday, October 28, 2018

All Russian, and it was good,,,,

It was all Russian last night at the Omaha Symphony (OS) with guest conductor  Bulgarian-born Stilian Kirov.  He is currently music director of the Illinois Philharmonic and is a graduate of the Juilliard School, and he has held associate conductor positions at the Seattle Symphony and Memphis Symphony.  Maestro Kirov addressed the audience while the piano was moved center stage for the Tchaikovsky; he has a charming manner, composed of a bit of awkwardness and intellect.  His conducting manner, however, is understated and controlled.

The program began with Shostakovich's 1954- Festival Overture.  It is much less portentous than his other works that seemed mostly designed to be a comment on Communist rule, and especially Stalin.  It could be considered a glimpse of what might have been had the composer lived where it was not necessary to continually make political comment through his music.  It begin with a brass fanfare that was played beautifully here, except for a light raggedness at the very beginning.  But overall, it was well-played and a great way to open a concert. 

The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto followed, with soloist Tanya Gabrielian.  This way overplayed concerto is difficult to play in a manner that wrings out new meaning.  And Ms. Gabrielian's performance was no exception.  She and Kirov seemed to share a musical vision of the work, and the OS played a very sympathetic accompaniment.  The first movement was grand with its well-known introduction that has little to do with the remainder of the work.  The second movement Andantino semplice, was played with as slow a tempo as one could imagine, and seemed almost to go somnambulant in the last third of the movement.  The final movement was suitably colorful with just the right amount of bombast.  But Ms. Gabrielian, who seems to have great technical proficiency, had some usual phrasing that at times interrupted the music's flow.  It was as if she was trying not to make a mistake, and in doing so, misshaped the musical line a bit.

The final work was the majestic Prokofiev Symphony No. 5, a masterpiece of 20th century music.  Maestro Killian and the OS gave an inspired performance.  Some of the highlights included a hair-raising finale to the First Movement, Andante.  The second movement, Allegro Moderato, was playful with a brisk tempo.  The third movement, Adagio, was suitably dark and mysterious.  The fourth movement Allegro gracioso, which revisits the main themes of the previous movements, was thrilling, and again built to a powerful climax. 

The OS consists of 42 employed musicians, with others added as needed.  But nevertheless, the orchestra plays with cohesion and musicality.  The brass are very, very good, and the French horns would make a larger orchestra proud.  The cellos are precise orchestral balances seemed quite  good.  The acoustics of the Kiewit Auditorium at the Holland Center are magnificent, affording a nice wide, but integrated stage.  Maestro Kirov was impressive, and likely has a great future.  It was a very satisfying concert.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Diaphenous "Daphnis"

“Vive la France” was the title for this weekend’s pair of concerts featuring the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The program was made up of two rarely heard works and one staple of the Impressionist repertoire. This concert marked a return visit for guest conductor Jun Märkl, who was last on the ASO podium in November 2017. The 57-year old German-born conductor has impressed audiences here in the past and his return was highly anticipated.  For the complete review, go here:

Friday, September 28, 2018

Max Richter, who bear a passing resemblance to Kiefer Sutherland

Music from Infra

Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring; Minimalist, repetitive, boring.

Music from The Blue Notebooks

Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Pretentious, minimalist, repetitive, boring.

Encore: Music from "The Leftovers"

Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring; Depressing, minimalist, repetitive, boring

60 bucks and 2 hours- gone.

Moszkowski who?

The Atlanta Chamber Players’ (ACP) concerts are always a place to go to hear something new, off the beaten path, and intriguing.  Last evening’s concert at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church (look up Dunstan; quite a man) was no exception.  The special guest for the evening was the extraordinary violinist, Andres Cardenes, who was featured about a year ago also.

The program began with Mozart’s 1784-Violin Sonata No. 32, K. 454.  Cardenes and was accompanied by Elizabeth Pridgen, ACP Artistic Director.  If you have either of these two artists, you know you will get big, polished, musical performances with technical wizardry to be heard in every piece.  These two are a matched set and it worked beautifully.  As elegant as the Mozart was, the real potboiler was the next work. 

Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925) was an extremely popular composer in the late 1800’s.  Known mostly for salon music, he was considered the equal of Chopin, Rubinstein, and Liszt. He had a decent income, but because of some unwise currency investments, he lost most of his money.  In his final years, he was a pauper, dogged by ill health, and barely remembered for his music.  Some of his students took up his cause in an order to raise money for him, but he died even before he could use it to pay his mounting debts.  Today, Moszkowski is even more of a faded memory, and, in spite of occasional interest, he remains a musical footnote.  In its wise programming decision, the ACP gave the Atlanta audience an opportunity to reassess this late Romantic composer.  But, alas, it is hyper-everything.  His 1903- Suite for 2 Violins and Piano, Op. 71 has soaring climaxes, arpeggios galore, a waltz, flowing melodies, and heart-tugging double stops.  It is overwhelmingly thick and intense, displaying many of the characteristics that turned composers such as Debussy, Ravel, and Schoenberg away from romanticism.  Maybe it’s that Moszkowsi’s intensity is simply too much for the modern ear; it was a tough slog to get through.  I thought I needed an intermission, a latte, and a cigarette (and I don't smoke) about halfway through. It was good to hear as an academic exercise, but its schmaltz was over-the-top and tiring.  The good news is that it was played impeccably by Cardenes and Pridgen, who were joined by violinist Helen Hwaya Kim.  One intriguing part of this group was the contrast in the sound produced by Cardenes’ and Kim’s instruments.  Cardenes’ has a dark, somber, polished tone, while Kim’s is bright, emphasizing mid-range tones.  This added a bit of color beyond what Moszkowski likely anticipated. 

Brahms 1861 Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 was the final work on the program.  Cellist Charae Krueger and violist Yinzi Kong joined Cardenes, Kim, and Pridgen for this monumental work.  It’s playing time ranges from about 32 minutes to about 38.  It is symphonic sounding- in fact, Arnold Schoenberg orchestrated in 1937 for the LA Philharmonic.  It is loaded with Brahmsian melody, development, and dark colorings.  While Brahms remains a staple of the concert hall, some would criticize his music for being excessive and intense, some of the same criticisms that could be leveled against Moszkowki.  Yet Brahms has several things in his favor- his music yearns, not with a backward glance, but with a look forward.  Even passage leads to the next, one necessarily leads to another.  The final movement is breathtaking for the audience and the musicians.  It is reminiscent of a Hungarian czardas, and it moves at breakneck speed.  It includes passages of rapid bowing and pizzicati.   Here again, the power of Pridgen’s piano and Cardenes violin playing were the driving forces for the entire work, but especially in this final movement.  The richness of Krueger and Kong’s low strings brought fullness to the music also.  All of the quartet members were technically brilliant and the performance was exhilarating. 

Thanks to the ACP for hosting Mr. Cardenes and for programming the Moskowski. Top flight musicians and intriguing programs are what make the ACP so valuable in Atlanta.  It was disappointing that the turnout was not greater, but the diversity of the small group was impressive.  This was another great evening of wonderful chamber music. 

By the way, check out this photo of a young Brahms.  +


Last evening’s concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was special in so many ways. Simulcast live on YouTube, it marked the return to the podium of popular former Assistant Conductor Mei-Ann Chen, and featured an appearance by superstar pianist Lang Lang. One other thing made the evening special for me: I was able to sit on stage right, a bit above and behind the orchestra – a great opportunity to listen to orchestra and soloist up close and personal. For the complete review, click here:

Monday, September 24, 2018

A fresh coat of paint..

At the season opener of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, patrons were greeted with chic new black lobby walls and fresh full-color photos of the orchestra's musicians. Now that the adjacent Alliance Theater remodel is nearly complete, the Woodruff Arts Center may be turning its attention to sprucing up the nearly six-decade-old Symphony Hall. Unfortunately, the program for the opening concert was not as fresh as the new lobby paint. It featured two works by two flamboyantly Romantic Russian composers; both are extremely popular, as evidenced by a nearly full house.. For the complete review, go here: