Monday, September 8, 2014 by Noel Morris
WFMT Impromptu on Monday at 2:00 pm
“…to make Chicago a world home for the study and performance of art song and vocal chamber music.”
That is the goal of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago. They’ve recruited tenor Nicholas Phan as artistic director, and are hosting the 2014 Collaborative Works Festival this week with Susanna Phillips, Michelle DeYoung, Kelley O’Connor, Joshua Hopkins, and Nicholas Phan.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Nicholas Phan returns to the Midwest after singing Bernstein’s Candide at the Tanglewood Festival. Mr. Phan performs a WFMT Impromptu on Monday at 2:00 pm. He’ll be performing in WFMT’s Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio, and chatting with Kerry Frumkin about the Institute’s mission to elevate Chicago as a world-class training center for vocal music.
Mr. Phan’s 2014 tour schedule includes Madrid, Cleveland, Vancouver, and Istanbul.
Mr. Phan joined with Nicholas Hutchinson and Shannon McGinnis to found the Collaborative Arts Institute, which presents recitals, masterclasses, and vocal coaching sessions throughout the year. The 2014 Festival runs September 11-14, with events at several Chicago area locations.
Friday, September 5, 2014 by Noel Morris
Live Broadcast, Saturday, September 6 at 7:15 pm
On Saturday, Lyric Opera of Chicago gives its annual free concert beneath the lattice of the Pritzker Pavilion. Stars of Lyric Opera will showcase several of the season’s productions.
With the Don Giovanni principals already in rehearsal – opening night is September 27 – the stars will make the short commute to Millennium Park to perform the opera’s finale.
Don Giovanni opens Lyric’s season at the Civic Opera House in commemoration of the company’s 60th anniversary; the Mozart masterpiece was the first opera staged by Lyric in 1954. Sporting a cast of three sopranos, a tenor, and four basses/baritones, Don Giovanni furnishes ample talent for this year’s Stars concert. In addition to the Mozart, Sir Andrew Davis plans music from Macbeth, Rigoletto, and Iris.
The concert includes the overture to Act I of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Also, the destestable Baron Scarpia, baritone Mark Delavan, will be on-hand to sing the last scene from Act I of Tosca, which will be staged in a new production at Lyric starting in January.
Saturday’s soloists include Mariusz Kwiecień, Marina Rebeka, Ana María Martínez, Antonio Poli, and Andrea Silvestrelli. Music Director Sir Andrew Davis conducts this year’s Stars of Lyric Opera concert with the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
There will be a pre-concert performance given by members of the United States Air Force Band of Mid-America at 6:45 pm. WFMT’s live broadcast of Stars of Lyric Opera begins at 7:15 pm.
Thursday, September 4, 2014 by Noel Morris
Impromptu, Thursday at 2:00 pm
“…among the elite of today’s classical guitarists.”(Gramophone)
His name appears alongside Usher, Rosanne Cash, and Beyoncé on NPR’s list of “50 Favorite Songs of 2014 (so far).” Jason Vieaux is definitely a man of the 21st century. He tweets, he’s on iTunes, and though he makes appearances all over the world, manages a full teaching schedule through some combination of wifi and smartphones.
Vieaux’s answer to a culture obsessed with playlists and eclecticism is his latest CD called Play, featuring tunes by Leo Brouwer, Jobim, Manuel Ponce, Duke Ellington, and Stanley Myers (the Cavatina from his score to the film The Deer Hunter), among others.
As a major performer, Mr. Vieaux feels it’s important to share his art with the next generation. In 2012, he opened the Jason Vieaux School of Classical Guitar, giving one-on-one instruction to students all around the world. He co-founded the guitar department at the Curtis Institute in 2011, and has been teaching at the Cleveland Institute since 2001.
Jason Vieaux comes to WFMT for an Impromptu, a program of live music and conversation on Thursday afternoon. Lisa Flynn hosts. Jason Vieaux will be giving performances in Eureka and Washington, Illinois.
See an online guitar lesson:
Playlist from Impromptu:
Giuliani’s Grand Overture, Opus 61
From Bach’s First Lute Suite, BWV 996 – Prelude & Allemande
Francisco Tarrega, Caprichio Arabe
Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood
Jobim’s A Felicidade (arr. Dyens)
Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Noel Morris
On Wednesday, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association announced the appointment of Jeff Alexander to the position of president and chief executive officer. Mr. Alexander presently serves as president and chief executive of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. He will succeed Deborah F. Rutter, who left the CSO in June to become president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Jeff Alexander joined the Vancouver Symphony in September of 2000. His tenure is marked by innovation, including the introduction of video screens to one classical series “Musically Speaking,” and the establishment of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music, which places VSO musicians in important teaching positions and provides music education to students of all levels and age groups.
The VSO has an annual operating budget of $14 million and employs 73 musicians full-time. According to the VSO, Mr. Alexander oversaw the expansion of the orchestra’s endowment from $4 million to $20 million.
In fiscal year 2013, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s operating revenues totaled $73.6 million dollars. The CSO employs around 109 musicians full-time.
Jeff Alexander has worked closely with VSO Music Director Bramwell Tovey to expand the organization’s offerings, including the creation of the music school, and other education initiatives. Together they launched several tours to destinations in the United States, Korea, Macau, China, and to other cities in Canada.
Mr. Alexander is scheduled to take up the CSO reins at the first of the year. Prior to his time in Vancouver, Mr. Alexander served as general manager of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for 12 years. He is married to Keiko Alexander, an active pianist who studied at the Juilliard School of Music. Keiko Alexander currently chairs the piano department at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music. Jeff Alexander studied French Horn Performance at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014 by Noel Morris
Hear The Pearl Fishers on the Tuesday Night Opera at 8:00 pm
The opera catalog of Georges Bizet is littered with words like “lost,” “unfinished,” “incomplete,” “sketches,” or even “incomplete, lost or not begun.” His greatest hit, Carmen, is so full of enchanting music, it’s hard to imagine how inspiration could be so fleeting.
In fact, Carmen had a rough start in 1875: it was considered a failure, but only initially. Only eight years separate Carmen’s premiere and the popular spin-off Carmen Fantasy by violin virtuoso Pablo di Sarasate. Sadly, Bizet was already dead and never knew of Sarasate’s Fantasy or of the enthusiasm with which Carmen was received shortly after the premiere.
There are over a dozen operas by Bizet; only seven have been recorded. Many of his attempts in the form are not in working order today.
The Pearl Fishers contains one of the most popular duets in all of opera: “Au fond du temple saint.” Hear that duet and the complete opera, The Pearl Fishers, on the Tuesday Night Opera with Peter van de Graaff starting at 8:00 pm.
View the Vocal Score.
Here’s a video by an unlikely advocate for Georges Bizet’s other operas: David Gilmour, formerly of Pink Floyd.
Friday, August 29, 2014 by Noel Morris
Friday, August 29 at 8:00 pm
Carlos Kleiber: A Conductor Unlike Any Other, a new WFMT production by Jon Tolansky
Playing for Kleiber is one of my most beloved memories of being in the CSO – EVER.
—John Bruce Yeh, Assistant Principal Clarinet, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
“Carlos has a genius for conducting, but he doesn’t enjoy doing it. He tells me, ‘I conduct only when I’m hungry’. And it’s true. He has a deep-freeze. He fills it up and cooks for himself and when it gets down to a certain level, then he thinks ‘Now I might do a concert’.” That oft-repeated quip by conductor Herbert von Karajan effectively summarizes the career of the enigmatic maestro Carlos Kleiber.
“For him to conduct was a religious act. Something extremely deep that required a lot of honesty. And most of the time, especially with some music – very deep – he felt always that he was too inferior to the music.”
—Riccardo Muti, Carlos Kleiber: I am Lost to the World,
a documentary film by Georg Wübbolt
Over a 40-year career, invitations from major orchestras and opera companies were abundant. Kleiber seldom accepted; his conditions were exacting. He was as skittish as he was inspiring; and famously walked away from performances for seemingly trivial reasons. Nevertheless, when Carlos Kleiber was on the podium, it was an event; a highpoint for musicians and audiences alike.
Only one American orchestra successfully lured the publicity-shy maestro into making appearances: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He appeared with the orchestra on two separate series, in 1978 and 1983. He did admire the orchestra and its then music director Sir Georg Solti; though it was CSO Artistic Administrator, Peter Jonas, a personal friend of Kleiber, who is credited with bringing him to Chicago.
In the biography Corresponding with Carlos: A Biography of Carlos Kleiber by Charles Barber, Mr. Jonas described the conductor’s mental state: “He was absolutely in panic before a concert. This happened throughout his career.” The experience on-stage belied that anxiety, however. Chicago Symphony clarinetist John Bruce Yeh said that with Kleiber’s conducting there was “no technique involved. It was like breathing.”
Mr. Yeh laughs as he recalls playing the Schubert 3rd Symphony with Riccardo Muti for the first time since playing it with Kleiber: “Kleiber put a stamp on that piece and it became how I hear it forever.
“There’s this trio, a “beer garden theme.” When we got to it, I played it the way Kleiber taught me – he really insisted I play it like the house band in a German beer garden – and Muti said, ‘What–?’ At the break I told Maestro that the last time I played the Schubert 3rd was with Kleiber, and I told him about the beer garden. And Maestro said, ‘Well time does funny things to the memory.’ I said, ‘yes, but not this one. It is seared on my brain.’ I ended up playing it the way Maestro Muti wanted it, but I told him I’d be thinking of Kleiber.”
John Bruce Yeh also recalls being impressed by Kleiber’s humanity. Mr. Yeh recalls that the wife of principal bassoonist Willard Elliot was having a baby at the time Kleiber was in town. Eliot explained to the maestro that he was on edge, and Kleiber addressed the orchestra, explaining the bassoonist’s situation, cancelled the afternoon rehearsal and let them all go for the day.
Son of the renowned Austrian conductor Erich Kleiber and of an American mother, Carlos was born in Berlin in July of 1930. He was raised in Buenos Aires – his father refused to cooperate with the Nazis and moved the family to Argentina. According to his obituary in The Telegraph, Carlos spoke English, French, Italian, German, and Slovenian. He died on July 13, 2004, in Konjšica, Slovenia.
Carlos Kleiber: A Conductor Unlike Any Other premieres Friday, August 29 at 8:00 pm on WFMT.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 by Noel Morris
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Wednesday at 8:00 pm
It is well established that opera singers can sing like canaries. Now we’re finding they tweet like them, too. Baritone Christopher Maltman used Twitter to share something of the on-stage and off-stage energy during his concerts with the Milwaukee Symphony earlier this year (and being broadcast Wednesday, August 27 at 8:00 pm).
Of his visit to Milwaukee in March, Christopher Maltman tweeted, “3 joyous concerts,3 full houses,3 standing ovations! Thx
@MilwSymphOrch it’s been AMAZING!& great beer too..;-) 1more night left2find more..”
This week, Mr. Maltman tweets he is “Deep into learning Rheingold, first Wotan for
The Milwaukee Symphony‘s Beethoven Symphony No. 9 features several veterans of Chicago’s stages, including Mr. Maltman, Susanna Phillips, and music director Edo de Waart. Most recently, Christopher Maltman sang the role of Don Giovanni with James Conlon and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at this summer’s Ravinia Festivial. The Chicago Tribune‘s John von Rhein described Maltman’s Don in a single word: “superb.”
The British baritone is also the object of social media (see mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor’s Facebook post below). Maltman has also been recognized by the opera blogger Barihunks (if you haven’t heard of Barihunks, the name should be self-explanatory).
‘No one’s going to complain about being found desirable…And for Don Giovanni, it’s crucial. He has to be dangerous, without that he’s nothing. That’s what I learnt when I was directed in the role by Sir Thomas Allen. He has to unbalance people, make them vulnerable and access their psyches at the same time. He’s a chameleon, he changes from minute to minute but without personal contradiction; that’s dangerous and sexy.’
—Christopher Maltman, on being singled out by Barihunks
More on Ravinia’s Don Giovanni.
Soprano Susanna Phillips, a Chicago favorite and alumnus of the Ryan Opera Center, joins the vocal quartet for the Milwaukee broadcast along with mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, a veteran performer with both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera; and tenor Thomas Cooley, who sang with Jane Glover and Music of the Baroque in 2009.
While Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a heavy in terms of scope and power, Wednesday’s Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra broadcast features Mr. Maltman in a 20th century heavyweight in the John Adams setting of verses from Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, a piece called The Wound-Dresser. The text comes from Whitman’s account as a volunteer with a medical unit during the Civil War.
The WFMT broadcast of this Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert airs on Wednesday at 8:00 pm.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014 by Noel Morris
Rush Hour Concerts season finale at 5:45 pm
Pianist Amy Briggs has a passion for pristine and rugged terrains, be it a trek in the Spanish Pyrenees or a virtuosic piano score that no one’s ever performed before. As a working pianist and Director of Chamber Music and Lecturer in Music at the University of Chicago, Ms. Briggs knows her way around the standard repertoire of Brahms and Beethoven. But it is the music of our own time that finds its way under her fingers the most.
On Tuesday, August 26, Ms. Briggs performs music by American composer Steve Reich; his Sextet, which goes back to 1984 and was commissioned by the French government for a performance at the Pompidou Centre. The Sextet is part of the Rush Hour Concerts at St. James Cathedral. WFMT’s live broadcast from the Cathedral begins at 5:45 pm on Tuesday. Joining Amy Briggs are the Third Coast Percussion Ensemble and a second pianist, Daniel Schlosberg.
Amy Briggs answers some questions about her new music niche:
A lot of artists play new works. You seem to have specialized in new music and sought it out. What led you to having that kind of focus?
My ‘new music focus’ started by accident. As a graduate student, I was asked by my student composer friends to perform their pieces; at the time I was also pianist for the Civic Orchestra, and played in a lot of contemporary orchestral works. Not many of my pianist colleagues (at the time) wanted to tackle contemporary works; I found learning them came naturally and was a fun challenge. As I did this more, I began getting more opportunities, eventually professional ones. During this time, I had the opportunity to study with Ursula Oppens for my Doctor of Music degree at Northwestern – an amazing experience that taught me a lot about approaching a new work. I’m proud to have been a part of the CSO’s MusicNOW series since 2001, and this gave me the chance to work with a lot of composers, some very famous and established ones. Over the last decade I have had the opportunity to work very closely with some stellar and very important composers, like my University of Chicago colleague Augusta Read Thomas and Boston-based David Rakowski; this kind of collaboration has been incredibly rewarding.
Who do you think are some of the most gifted people writing for the piano these days?
This is a tricky question, because I know there are plenty of younger composers that are not on my radar…so my apologies for leaving out many people that deserve mention. David Rakowski, who is a colleague and friend and about whose music I am passionate, is a singular composer for the piano. He has 100 piano etudes, 40-something piano preludes, and several piano concerti. I premiered and recorded his Second Concerto this season with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (to be released at the end of 2014 on the BMOP label) and have recorded four discs of his etudes for Bridge Records (the latest, Volume Four, will be released in early 2015). There aren’t many composers of his generation who have devoted so much time and effort to the piano – he also has lots of chamber music, solo music for other instruments, orchestral and wind ensemble music. A big part of my mission as an interpreter has been to perform and record his work, giving it a wider audience. Other living composers with terrific piano music include Nico Muhly, August Read Thomas, Bernard Rands, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Gyorgy Kurtag. But there are many more I’m not mentioning.
Are your piano students taking up some of these composers?
Yes! I am an Artist-in-Residence at the University of Chicago, where I direct the chamber music program, teach private piano students, and work closely with our graduate composition students. My university students and my younger private students are dabbling in new music. One of my high school students won a local award for his performance of an Augusta Read Thomas etude a few years ago; another high school student performed an etude of Nico Muhly on a recital at her school. Several of my university students are learning Rakowski etudes, as well as other important works from the repertoire by composers such as Ligeti, Berio, and Boulez.
We’ve had lots of experimentation in music, lots of atonality, lots of music that is interesting in concept, but maybe challenging for audiences. What would you say to audiences about beginning to understand a new piece that doesn’t have that tonal anchor?
The absence of a tonal anchor is tricky for most people. Often, people become more comfortable with atonal and/or extremely ‘tonally-adventurous’ music the more they are exposed to it. It is helpful to see how many musical elements you can listen for: for instance, rhythmic development, melodic and linear progression, changes in color and timbre. There is so much to listen for in music, and it can be a lot of fun to approach a new and ‘adventurous’ piece this way as an audience member. It can be enough just to let the music wash over you and see what you notice the most. It’s impossible to glean everything about a piece in a first hearing (or 100 hearings), so it’s helpful to release any expectation of ‘understanding’ a new piece from the first hearing. As a scholar-performer I like to discuss and play excerpts of a piece first, or even repeat a particularly complex piece for the benefit of a second hearing. This usually goes over well with audiences, which leads me to believe that most people want to have positive experiences with new works, and appreciate information that will make the music more accessible on a first hearing.
Do you find composers have moved beyond some of those artistic trends?
Yes I do – there are so many little niches in what we call the ‘New Music World.’ There’s a place for everyone. For instance, the Sextet we’re playing this evening by Steve Reich is quite ‘tonal,’ but is considered an example of minimalism – that is, it takes some basic musical elements (simple chord progressions, simple rhythmic patterns) and develops them through repetition and layering to create something quite complex. Some contemporary composers are composing very traditionally tonal music (Aaron Jay Kernis comes to mind). Spectral trends in composition have been big in recent years – music focusing on timbral structures and incorporating mathematical analysis of sound spectra. There is plenty of music that falls outside the boundaries of ‘traditional tonality’ that is not atonal or serial!
Monday, August 25, 2014 by Noel Morris
Monday at 8:00 pm
He calls Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin “a big friend of mine.” His heroes are Vladimir Horowitz and star hockey center Sergei Fedorov. Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, who has “epic technique” according to the Boston Globe, is not shy about talking sports. In a 2009 Impromptu, he told WFMT that as a youth in Siberia, he could hardly be kept indoors. He played either soccer or ice hockey “about seven hours a day. Music was second.” Speaking with a gentle Russian growl, he laughs about breaking his fingers three times, “My parents was shocked. My parents is musician, my mother and father – all pianists.”
“Sochi’s closing ceremony…[had] piano virtuoso Denis Matsuev emerge from a cloud of smoke and blast through a Rachmaninov composition like he was playing Metallica. It was amazing.”
—Alex Heigl, People magazine
Although Matsuev chose the piano over hockey, his competitive nature hasn’t softened. In 1998, he won the gold medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition.
During his 2009 visit to WFMT, Matsuev described receiving a challenge of a different kind from one whose name is Rachmaninoff: “It was two and a half years ago, grandson of Rachmaninoff – his name Alexander, Alexander Rachmaninoff – came in my concert at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. After my recital, he told me (very fun), he told me, ‘when you don’t smoke, I give you some present.’ I don’t smoke but maybe one cigarette after the concert…no more! I told him I never smoke, I don’t smoke, where is my present? He told me, ‘I present you new piece of Rachmaninoff – unknown piece of Rachmaninoff.’”
According to Matsuev, the piece was discovered by the “Museum of Glinka in Moscow.” Unknown until about ten years ago, the museum sent the manuscript to Alexander Rachmaninoff, grandson of the Russian composer/pianist, who in turn presented the piece as a gift to the former smoker, and piano virtuoso Denis Matsuev.
Sports metaphors work well when describing Denis Matsuev. The Los Angeles Times referred to his “daredevil intensity.” The Washington Post relayed that Matsuev “set and then broke speed and sound barriers for the instrument.” One New York Times reviewer commented: “In concert and on disc Mr. Matsuev has mostly specialized in finger-busting virtuoso pieces.”
A champion to young musicians, Matsuev has given recitals at, and brought with him distinguished artists to the Moscow Conservatory every year for nearly a decade. He’s launched music education initiatives from St. Petersburg to Siberia, and was named UNESCO 2014 Goodwill Ambassador in April.
During the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Matsuev could be found cheering at a number of events, and participated in the opening and closing ceremonies.
The repertoire of his native Russia seems especially suited for this pianist’s temperament. Matsuev was chosen by the Rachmaninoff Foundation to record some of the composer’s unknown pieces on Rachmaninoff’s own piano, an American Steinway, in the Rachmaninoff villa on Lake Lucerne.
About Matsuev’s musical idol Vladimir Horowitz, Matsuev told WFMT, “His interpretation, his sound, his colors – everything. I like this very much. I like this style. I like this character. Every time when he go to the stage, he was ready for spectacle, for theater, for something special for the audience, because he likes audience very much – me too. Because many musicians told me that they play only for himself, for musician. But I would like to provide character, sound, music, and everything from composer to the audience.”
In his recitals, Denis Matsuev often throws a little jazz into the mix. On that he told WFMT, “Classical music my wife, and jazz my lover.”
WFMT features a recital of Denis Matsuev on Monday’s Ravinia Festival broadcast. The recital was recorded in the Martin Theatre on July 28 and features music by Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, and Stravinsky.
Thursday, August 21, 2014 by Noel Morris
With over 30,000 recordings in WFMT’s “record” library, the staff seldom focuses on a single record label for very long. When it happens, it’s usually because an artist has an exclusive agreement with a label; and the programming staff is featuring that artist.
On Friday, WFMT honors a record label that has made it its mission to enhance the cultural life of Chicago. Cedille Records Day celebrates the Chicago-based record label that for 25 years has been recording the gifted and diverse musicians and composers who live among the people of Chicago, teaching music, giving concerts, and exporting Chicago’s music scene to other parts of the world.
The all-day celebration features music and conversation with Cedille Records founder Jim Ginsburg, as well as several live performances with Cedille artists.
Patrice Michaels with Kuang-Hao Huang and Nicholas Photinos; and Rachel Barton Pine
David Schrader and Jorge Federico Osorio
Hear portions of the Cedille Day broadcast:
Soprano Patrice Michaels, pianist Kuang-Hao Huang, and cellist Nicholas Photinos perform selections from their INTERSECTION: Jazz Meets Classical Song project, just released on Cedille Records.
Violinist Rachel Barton Pine performs solo violin music of Bach and his contemporary compatriot Johann Georg Pisendel in advance of her Bach and Before Ravinia recitals.