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April 2014
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A Conductor for the 21st Century

Carlos Miguel Prieto

Carlos Miguel Prieto

Wednesday at 9:00 pm

Mexican maestro Carlos Miguel Prieto is getting a lot of attention from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra’s audience seems to love him, he’s great with kids, and speaks Spanish—all important assets for the CSO, as the organization works to engage the greater Chicago community.

When it comes to the importance of acknowledging a community’s diverse population, Prieto not only gets it, he lives for it. As music director of the Louisiana Philharmonic, Prieto is always willing to be interviewed by school kids, or to deliver a lecture about conducting and spirituality to seminarians, or to celebrate Chinese New Year with a pipa concerto.

Since taking the Philharmonic’s helm in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Prieto has guided the organization through temporary facilities, homeless musicians, financial ruin, and the economic downturn of 2008. With a renewed contract, his ambition is to raise musicians’ salaries, and restore the Orpheum Theater, which was badly damaged by storm.

Another one of Prieto’s pet projects is the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, which proudly fills its ranks with young players from across North and South America. It’s that chemistry he’s developed with younger players that the Chicago Symphony has harnessed for its own training orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

Hear Carlos Miguel Prieto lead the Civic Orchestra in Richard Strauss’s hefty tone poem Ein Heldenleben on Wednesday at 9:00 pm.

When it comes to exposing young ears to Classical music, Prieto says it’s important to trust the kids’ intelligence: “Let them explore.”

Carlos Miguel Prieto is music director of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico, Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería (Mexico), and the YOA Orchestra of the Americas.

The Many Lives of Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Weeknights at 7:00 pm

People are always saying William Shakespeare is the greatest English language writer. Did you know he translates well, too? Giuseppe Verdi supposedly kept the complete Shakespeare (in Italian) beside his bed.

This week on Exploring Music, Bill McGlaughlin explores the synergies between Shakespeare’s words and different composers around the world.

The most straightforward of these musical interpretations is the simple song setting. In one example, composer Gerald Finzi borrows the poem Who is Sylvia and writes a melody to it. In this way the composer lets the dramatic arc of the text serve as his guide to the shape of the music; a performer then sings the poem. A slightly less straight forward musical setting of Who is Sylvia comes from the hand of Franz Schubert, who set the same poem to music, but used a German translation.

Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Elgar wrote instrumental works, symphonic poems, on plays by Shakespeare; in these instances, there are no words, just characters—their trials and their tribulations—expressed in purely musical terms. Berlioz turned Romeo and Juliet into what he called a Symphonie Dramatique, complete with chorus and orchestra.

And then some of the most enduring and complex homages to Shakespeare come in the form of opera. Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story is loosely based on Romeo and Juliet. Giuseppe Verdi based three of his 28 operas on plays by Shakespeare.

Who is Silvia?

This poem by Shakespeare was set to music by Gerald Finzi, as well as by Franz Schubert in German translation.


Gerald Finzi

Who is Silvia? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair, and wise is she;
The heaven such grace did lend her,
That she might admirèd be.
Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness,
And, being helped, inhabits there.
Then to Silvia let us sing,
That Silvia is excelling;
She excels each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling:
To her let us garlands bring.


Choral Settings by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Vaughan Williams produced a set of a cappella choral pieces, Three Shakespeare Songs, for a festival in 1951. He lifted two of the verses from The Tempest, the third from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Ariel’s Song
from The Tempest

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:

Curtsied when you have, and kiss’d
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
Hark, hark!
The watch-dogs bark.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, Cock-a-diddle-dow.
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.Falstaff1
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.


Verdi’s Falstaff

In writing his final opera Falstaff, Giuseppe Verdi intended not to make a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, but to create an opera about the comic character Sir John Falstaff; a corpulent drunkard who appears in the two-part history plays Henry IV, and more prominently in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Arrigo Boito adapted Shakespeare’s lines for the purpose of the opera.

See the two side-by-side. In this excerpt, Falstaff arrives at the park wearing a pair of dear antlers. He is bursting with anticipation of a romantic encounter, of course the merry wives have other plans for him:


Pianist Says ‘Technically Simple’ Can Be the Hardest

Josu de Solaun

Josu de Solaun

Wednesday at 12:15 pm

Valencian pianist Josu de Solaun offers perspective on what makes a piece hard. The “Rach 3,” the Third Piano Concerto of Sergei Rachmaninoff is famous for having fistfuls of notes; it was written to be played by the huge hands of the composer himself at Carnegie Hall. It’s come to be regarded as the Mt. Everest of concertos: the endurance test of aspiring pianists.

Josu de Solaun chose the Rachmaninoff Third for the final round at the European Union Piano Competition. In the days leading up to the finals, he acknowledged the difficulty of the piece, but quickly added that Chopin is hard; Mozart is hard—even without the thundering torrent of notes (see the Competition video). Solaun went on to win first prize.

Josu de Solaun will play music by fellow Spaniard and conductor Alexis Soriano Monstavicius, as well as Debussy, and Brahms on the next Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert. The concerts are held each Wednesday at the Chicago Cultural Center, and broadcast live on WFMT starting at 12:15 pm.

Earth Day 2014: A Composer’s Habitat

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Song of the Earth

Composers were in to Earth Day before there ever was one—the first Earth Day was April 22, 1970. It was proposed at an UNESCO conference in 1969 by John McConnell. Senator Gaylord Nelson initiated the April 22 event. Soon Secretary General U Thant signed on to Earth Day at the United Nations.


The European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) inspired Vivaldi’s Concerto







One only has to hear Vivaldi’s Goldfinch Concerto from 1728, or selections from John Dowland’s 16th century songbooks to know that the celebration of nature is nothing new; of course it has been central to peoples throughout the world for thousands of years. Perhaps Earth Day is best described as a return to contemplating nature.


The Dolomites (Italian Alps), a favorite vacation spot of Gustav Mahler

Earth Day 2014 on WFMT

Tuesday, April 22 is Earth Day 2014. WFMT’s celebration will include Richard Strauss’s epic tone poem An Alpine Symphony (10:00 am hour); Florence Price’s Mississippi River Suite (11:00 am hour), Blumine by Gustav Mahler (around 12:30 pm), and Ottorino Respighi’s Gli Ucceli , The Birds (around 1:00 pm).


Hear Chicago Sinfonietta Music Director Mei-Ann Chen speaking about Florence Price’s Mississippi Suite after rehearsing the piece with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Chen talks about Price’s use of folksong, hymn tunes, and Price’s tone painting of the muddy, churning waters of the Mississippi.


Hear more Earth Day music during the 11:00 pm hour with Gustav Holst’s Egdon Heath and more.

Thomas Hardy’s Egdon Heath

“The untameable, Ishmaelitish thing that Egdon now was it had always been. Civilization was its enemy: and ever since the beginning of vegetation its soil had worn the same antique brown dress, the natural and invariable garment of the particular formation. In its venerable one coat lay a certain vein of satire in human vanity on clothes. A person on a heath in raiment of modern cut and colours has more or less an anomalous look. We seem to want the oldest and simplest human clothing where the clothing of the earth is so primitive.”

—Thomas Hardy from The Return of the Native which inspired Gustav Holst’s Egdon Heath


Dozens of Stars, One Teacher


Live from WFMT, Monday at 8:00 pm

DeLayed Reaction

There are thousands of music schools throughout the world; few can boast having a teacher with the cachet of Dorothy DeLay. Teacher to Itzhak Perlman, Midori, and Gil Shaham, the gentle lady from Kansas became a kingmaker from her studio at the Juilliard School, a teaching career that lasted over 50 years. Deceased since 2002, DeLay’s name continues to mean something on an artist’s bio. Jaap van Zweden, whose conducting career has blossomed in the last 10 years, was once her violin student—he became concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra at 18.

Monday’s Live from WFMT features a Dorothy DeLay student who joined the faculty at DePaul in 2010, violinist Janet Sung. Ms. Sung is a wonder in her own right. She was a latecomer to the violin, starting at age seven; at nine she soloed with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Janet Sung will play a Saint-Saens Violin Sonata, a Smetana Piano Trio with other DePaul faculty, and a Dvorak Piano Quartet. The studio concert begins on Monday at 8:00 pm.


Dorothy DeLay with young Cho-Liang Lin

Students of Dorothy DeLay (partial list)
Itzhak Perlman
Sarah Chang
Gil Shaham
Nigel Kennedy
Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg
Cho-Liang Lin
Shlomo Mintz
Philippe Quint
Anne Akiko Meyers
Joseph Swensen, conductor
Peter Oundjian, conductor
Jaap van Zweden, conductor
Don Weilerstein, Cleveland Quartet
Desirée Ruhstrat, Lincoln Trio
Erez Ofer, concertmaster, Philadelphia Orchestra
Edward Dusinberre, Takacs Quartet
Robert Chen, concertmaster, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
David Kim, concertmaster, Philadelphia Orchestra
Kikuei Ikeda, Tokyo String Quartet
Liviu Prunaru, concertmaster, Concertgebouw Orchestra
David Taylor, assistant concertmaster, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The Met Presents Arabella


Saturday at 12:00 pm

Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal struck gold when they put their musical and poetic heads together. The most famous, and most lucrative of their collaborative efforts was Der Rosenkavalier, which exploded into the opera world in 1911. Over a 19-year period, Strauss went back to von Hofmannsthal for libretti again and again. Arabella opened in 1933; alas the librettist died before he could complete revisions for Arabella‘s second and third acts, bringing their 6-opera winning streak to a close. The Metropolitan Opera first staged Arabella in 1955.

On Saturday the Met presents Swedish soprano Malin Byström in the title role opposite German baritone Michael Volle as Mandryka. Juliane Banse plays Arabella’s younger sister Zdenka, who’s raised as a boy in order to save expenses (apparently dresses and frills are cost-prohibitive). A fourth character, Matteo, sung by tenor Roberto Saccà, inspires rivalry between the sisters before things are put right and Mandryka gets his girl.

View Act I score: ArabellaI

View Act II score: ArabellaII

View Act III score: ArabellaIII

Arabella shows us once again: Strauss was a master of vocal writing. Listen to this duet sung by Thomas Hampson and Renée Fleming.


Web Exclusive: Anne Akiko Meyers on the Mason Bates Concerto


Composer Mason Bates loves to tell a story—this time it’s prehistoric creatures emerging from the primordial ooze in the form of a violin concerto.









The genesis of the Concerto evolved over many years between two friends: the composer and violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. Eventually she co-commissioned the piece with the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the help of conductor Leonard Slatkin. Then, as she tells it in her interview for, this concerto-creature underwent revisions—sometimes while musicians were sitting on-stage—to become the crowd-pleasing, 30-minute work that’s being offered this week at Symphony Center.

It’s always a good sign when a major soloist believes in a new piece; Anne Akiko Meyers has taken the Concerto to a number of orchestras, and recorded it with Leonard Slatkin and the London Symphony Orchestra. This week she brings it to Chicago for her CSO debut.

The audience doesn’t need to know about Bates’s fantastic orchestral effects to enjoy his Violin Concerto, including a whole scale of pitched metal gongs, called Thai gongs; although it is fun to listen to Anne Akiko Meyers describe some of them:


Mason Bates is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s composer-in-residence. Performances run through Tuesday, April 22.

Vermeer Quartet: A Bittersweet Reunion


The Seven Last Words of Christ, Friday at 8:00 pm

From the time they came together at Vermont’s Marlboro Music Festival in 1969, the Vermeer Quartet was among the top string quartets in America. Based in the Chicago area, they not only performed at an extremely high level, but shared their gifts with many students. In 1970, they became affiliated with Northern Illinois University where they trained a number of next generation groups, including the Pacifica and Avalon String Quartets. In 2007, after decades of recording and touring the world, the four members decided to hang it up.

After a couple of years, however (and still performing as soloists and in various chamber groups), the four old friends decided to revive a Holy Week tradition of performing Joseph Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ (a work that represents Christ on the cross through a series of quartet movements interspersed with reflections by different speakers). This meant that once a year, the four members: Shmuel Ashkenasi, Mathias Tacke, Richard Young, and Marc Johnson would return to their old haunts, seated face-to-face with instruments in-hand, to breathe new life into Haydn’s score.

Sadly, this year’s reunion is incomplete. A week ago Tuesday, cellist Marc Johnson died of a heart attack at his home in Maine. Johnson had been teaching as adjunct professor at Boston University, and was only a few days away from his annual trek to Chicago.

WFMT’s Suzanne Nance knew Marc Johnson, not from his longtime affiliations in the Chicago area, but from her work in Portland, Maine. Suzanne shared this reflection:

Marc Johnson was a warm and kind man with music in his soul. I rarely saw Marc without his cello. He played for anyone craving the sound of music, and celebrated the global music community. He especially loved playing for the Portland Chamber Music Festival (Maine) each year; and the last time we spoke he said that playing for the Portland-based festival was like “making music with family.” Marc knew everyone’s name as well as their kids’ names. He was curious and concerned about others and their loved ones. He generously shared his time and talent as a performer, and as a teacher with thousands. He worked diligently to champion the arts, and always took time to listen to others and thoughtfully respond. Marc’s sincere way of interacting with and engaging people carried over into his music-making. This is what made him such an extraordinary person and cellist.

On Friday evening at 8:00 pm, WFMT will continue the Holy Week tradition of presenting Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ. Among this year’s distinguished collaborators are Rabbi Michael R. Zedek, senior rabbi, Emanuel Congregation; Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus of religious history at the University of Chicago; Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ; and Donna M. Carroll, president of Dominican University.

This year’s performance of Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ features the Vermeer Quartet with guest cellist Kurt Baldwin.


Bach on The New York Philharmonic This Week

B Minor Mass, manuscript in Bach's hand

B Minor Mass, manuscript in Bach's hand

Thursday at 8:00 pm

When someone mentions Bach’s Mass in B Minor, musicians tend to straighten or catch their breath; almost as if a great man has entered the room. There are so many puzzles that draw one deeper into the layers of this piece, without ever really giving up its secrets. The music is beautiful and humbling.

One wonders why he wrote it. We know he was a working church musician; there are reams of Bach’s compositions in the German language, which were composed for church services—except the B Minor Mass is in Latin; it’s in the wrong language and is far too expansive for liturgical use. Parts of this Mass come from earlier pieces, but Bach’s output shows clear and methodical intent—laboring for decades—to craft this Mass in B Minor. Then the piece lay dormant for over 100 years before it was performed.

“…whether or not you have some kind of religious credo, it’s impossible not to be incredibly moved by this piece. It speaks really from one human directly into the heart of another human.”

—Alan Gilbert


Thursday’s broadcast of The New York Philharmonic This Week presents Bach’s Mass in B Minor with Music Director Alan Gilbert, soloists and the New York Choral Artists. Several of the soloists are actively involved in Chicago’s music community:

von Otter

Mezzo-soprano Anne Sophie von Otter

Dorothea Röschmann will be singing Strauss’ Four Last Songs next month with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


In January, mezzo-soprano Anna Sofie von Otter sang an acclaimed recital at Symphony Center with pianist Emanuel Ax, though Chicago, von Otter, and Bach go back even farther: she sang on the Decca recording of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Sir Georg Solti and the CSO. She is coming back in the fall to sing Richard Strauss’s Capriccio with Renée Fleming and Bo Skovhus in September.


Bass-baritone Eric Owens


Bass-baritone Eric Owen has several engagements in Chicago in the coming years. He is Lyric Opera’s Community Ambassador, and will be speaking to schools and other organizations in the community in that capacity. Lyric also happens to be building a Ring Cycle around Mr. Owens, who will be singing his first Wotan starting in 2016 at Lyric. In the fall, Eric Owens will sing the Beethoven Symphony No. 9 with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Music in an Arty Oasis


Wednesdays at 8:00 pm

The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival returns to the airwaves with variety and bravura, covering 300 years of repertoire from four different continents. The artists include some of the world’s most prestigious performers like Garrick Ohlsson, Daniel Hope, and Lawrence Foster.


Schoenberg self-portrait, 1910

Top chamber music players like Ida Kavafian, Steve Tenenbom, and William Preucil make up the backbone of this festival, where they gather for about a month in the summer, enjoying the musical fellowship as well as the art galleries and hot sauce.

Wednesday‘s program brings together a piano quartet (violin, viola, cello, and piano) for music by Antonín Dvořák, but the central work on the program is no less than a journey; one of the most haunting pieces of the past 100+ years: Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire.


New Mexico Museum of Art, home to the Chamber Music Festival

Schoenberg was in his Expressionist phase as a composer and as a painter, attempting to communicate intense emotions in the absence of conventional idioms. Pierrot’s language is highly original and specific to Schoenberg, though he leans on the cabaret and the 17th century Commedia dell’Arte.

Soprano soloist describes the opening to program producer Louise Frank: