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A Last-Minute Concerto Hits Home

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall

LA Philharmonic, Wednesday at 8:00 pm


On Wednesday evening, hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic play the piece that was written in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. According to reports, the piece was a last-minute substitution for what had been intended to be a new piece by Oliver Knussen. As the concert drew near, Mr. Knussen acknowledged he would be unable to complete his commission in time. Magnus Lindberg was offered a separate commission for a cello concerto, his second, which he turned around in just a few months.

Funding for the Linderg piece came out of the Esa-Pekka Salonen Commissions Fund, which was set aside to honor the Finnish maestro (in part, according to reports, to keep him coming back) when he stepped down from the orchestra after serving as its music director for 17 seasons. That the commission should be awarded to Magnus Lindberg was no surprise to the Philharmonic musicians; Lindberg’s music was played a lot during the Salonen tenure, and not unenthusiastically. According to Mark Swed’s review of the concert in the Los Angeles Times: “The playing was superb. The audience was large and acutely enthusiastic. A sense of well-being seemed to pervade the hall. Anyone wanting to understand why Disney has been such a success and the L.A. Phil appears an unusually happy orchestra…could find out why with this program.”

Magnus Lindberg and Anssi Karttunen

The soloist, Anssi Karttunen, happens to be best friends with the composer (sometimes they perform together as a cello and piano duo called Dos Coyotes).

Magnus Lindberg served as composer-in-residence to the New York Philharmonic between 2009-2012, and is now in residence with the London Philharmonic; though it’s Esa-Pekka Salonen who seems to be his unflagging champion. Throughout his professional life, Mr. Salonen has taken Lindberg’s compositions to orchestras across the globe.

The Disney Concert Hall was designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry and bears a family resemblance to Chicago’s Pritzker Pavilion, also by Frank Gehry. The Disney Concert Hall opened in October of 2003.

Chicago’s Incubator for Opera Singers

Ryan Opera Center bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba as "Don Giovanni"

Ryan Opera Center bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba as "Don Giovanni"

Broadcast: Monday, October 13 at 6:00 pm


Lyric Opera of Chicago has succeeded in cultivating an almost filial connection between Chicago and the young artists of its training program, the Ryan Opera Center. Indeed, some of the singers make it big – and take with them a bit of Midwestern pride. After all, they’ve given one to three years of their lives to Chicago, singing minor roles on Lyric’s main stage or even, as was seen by over 3,000 fans last week, making a last-minute appearance as the star of the show (more on that in a moment).

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Opera Center Alum Susanna Phillips

Watching these performers blossom, from Millennium Park or Rush Hour concerts to major opera houses, gives Chicagoans a sense of “I remember when…” Counted among Ryan’s alumni are opera stars like Matthew Polenzani, Nicole Cabell, and Susanna Phillips.

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Soprano Laura Wilde

The truth be told, members of the Ryan Opera Center are not that green. Many have post-graduate degrees and have done other young artist programs. All of them know how to give their Chicago fans a good show. This is not to say they feel ready for the actual challenges of an opera career. For the Ryan staff, which includes Lyric Music Director Sir Andrew Davis, Ryan Music Director Craig Terry, and executive director Dan Novak, it’s a matter of taking on singers who they feel they can help to the next level: the major opera house.

The process of helping the singers happens not only in the rehearsal room, but in performances at schools and venues across the city. Opera star Renée Fleming, who serves as an adviser to the Ryan Opera Center, likes to quip, “You’re only in perfect voice about seven days a year – and you’re usually off on those days.” One of the cornerstones of the Center’s program is the honing of the performer’s instincts through continual engagements in the community.

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Mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges

Opera singers constantly battle with the fact that they live inside their instruments; tension, muscles, health, nerves – all sorts of things can interfere with consistency. They need technique, experience, and all manner of tricks to overcome the body’s roadblocks so they can do their job when they are called upon to do it.

Additionally, by their mid-twenties, singers are refining acting skills, musicianship, diction, and interpretive choices; not to mention acquiring the ability to sing like a native speaker in French, Italian, and German. Sometimes a singer is just waiting for the stars to align; for readiness to have a meeting with opportunity.

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Ryan Opera Center Music Director Craig Terry

One of those chance opportunities happened last week when Ryan’s second-year bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba, who was the “cover” for Don Giovanni star Mariusz Kwiecien, got the call at 10:00 am: “Mr. Kwiecien will not be able to sing today. You’re on.” He had four hours until curtain.

“The instant I got the call, adrenaline shot through my system, but after the initial shock I immediately went into work mode and the only thing I could tell myself was ‘Just do your job, and get it done.’”

For such a big break, Mr. Ollarsaba had a greater support system than most understudies. He had sung the Don in a workshop with the Ryan Opera Center last summer; a minimally staged production in the William Mason Rehearsal Room, backstage at the Civic Opera House. For this, the Ryan ensemble worked with diction coaches, voice coaches, a native Italian speaker, as well as stage director Matthew Ozawa. Mr. Ollarsaba and fellow Ryan ensemble members performed the entire opera for an audience of journalists and benefactors. “I do have to admit, due to the workshop ROC put on this summer – and I did have a couple opportunities to rehearse [the main stage production] – all in all I felt very secure and never felt more prepared to go on for a role at short notice.”

Throughout the season, the Ryan artists have master classes and play supporting roles with the stars on the main stage; but that nurture gets magnified when one of them gets bumped into the spotlight – especially for the Don’s role. As the character around which the others orbit, the entire cast has a stake in his success. According to Mr. Ollarsaba, “I couldn’t have worked with a nicer, more courteous and supportive group of singers. Everyone was so accommodating and helpful. I felt incredibly comfortable sharing the stage with them.”

By 5:30 pm on Wednesday, October 8, the Don Giovanni cast had taken its bows. The Ryan Opera Center’s Richard Ollarsaba had sung the libertine Don opposite Ana María Martínez, Marina Rebeka, and Kyle Ketelson. Mr. Ollarsaba’s Facebook page was flooded with congratulations.

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Ryan Opera Center Recital Series host Colin Ure

WFMT is proud to host the 2014-2015 Ryan Opera Center ensemble in a series of recitals on the first Monday of each month (save October, which was delayed due to the live opening night broadcast from Lyric of Strauss’s Capriccio). The ROC broadcast season opens with a duo recital of Laura Wilde and J’nai Bridges in duets from Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Bellini’s Norma, and solo pieces by Brahms, Ravel, and Peter Derose. They’ll be accompanied by the Ryan Opera Center’s Music Director, Craig Terry. Colin Ure is the program’s host. This broadcast recital will be repeated on Sunday at 11:00 pm.

See the stars of this month’s Ryan recital, Laura Wilde and J’nai Bridges, in video from this summer’s celebration Make Music Chicago:

 

 

Chicago a cappella Impromptu

ChiACap1

ChiACap3Chicago a cappella gave an Impromptu on Tuesday at WFMT, previewing a concert they’re billing as the musical intersections of the world’s faiths, exploring mystical, harmonically mesmerizing, and contemplative sacred vocal traditions. The ethnic basis for the music is widespread: Jerusalem, Athens, Tbilisi, Accra, Rome, and Mumbai. The music comes from the Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, and other traditions. Composers include Allegri, Purcell, and Tallis.ChiACap2

The concert series called “Global Transcendence” runs October 18-19.

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ChiACap4

Renée Fleming on Her Way to WFMT

Renee Fleming with Impromptu Producer Louise Frank and host Lisa Flynn at WFMT; photo by Noel Morris

Tuesday


Renée Fleming is stopping by WFMT’s studios Tuesday afternoon around 2:30 pm to speak with Lisa Flynn about her new CD, Christmas in New York. With dozens of recordings to her credit, this is her first holiday record. The popular diva used the project as an opportunity to reach across genres to some of her favorite artists. Chris Botti, Kurt Elling, Kelli O’Hara, Gregory Porter, Wynton Marsalis, Brad Mehldau, and Rufus Wainwright all make an appearance on the CD.

On Friday at a masterclass at the Merit School of Music, Ms. Fleming admitted to a roomful of high school students that she had once wanted to be a jazz singer, but “those doors weren’t opened.” She has continued to dabble cross-genre, singing jazz and pop music, even as she’s become one of the most popular opera singers of our time.

Renee3Renée Fleming is the only classical performer to have been honored with an invitation to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl, which she did earlier this year. Rejecting the producers’ request to lip sync The Star-Spangled Banner, she sang the anthem live.

On December 17 at 8:00 pm, Ms. Fleming’s PBS holiday TV special premieres on WTTW.  She will be joined by select guests from the album including Kurt Elling, Kelli O’Hara,Gregory Porter, and Rufus Wainwright. On November 1, she will perform at Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 60th Anniversary concert with jazz piano legend Ramsey Lewis.

Renée Fleming is in Chicago this month to star in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Capriccio by Richard Strauss. Her holiday CD, Christmas in New York, was released today, Tuesday, October 14.

Live from WFMT is Back with Dvorak Concerto

Drostan Hall

Drostan Hall

Monday at 8:00 pm


Monday nights have long been a showcase for local talent and beyond with a weekly broadcast of live music and conversation on WFMT. After going on hiatus for summer broadcasts from the Ravinia Festival, Live from WFMT kicks off a new season on Monday with a broadcast from Nichols Concert Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago. Monday’s show presents the ensemble Camerata Chicago with soloist Joshua Roman performing the Dvorak Cello Concerto under the direction of Drostan Hall.

The chamber orchestra Camerata Chicago was founded in 2003.

Live from WFMT will feature a diverse season of concerts, from next week’s appearance of the Atrium String Quartet to a solo recital with Winston Choi (December 15) to the Civitas Ensemble (February 16).

Cellist Joshua Roman playing a WFMT Impromptu

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Camerata Chicago

A Marvelous Marathon of Opera

Renee Fleming as the Countess in "Capriccio"

Renee Fleming as the Countess in "Capriccio"

Operathon 2014


For one day every year, WFMT suspends the typical Saturday fare in order to wallow in the lusciousness of opera – and it’s not just anything opera, it’s Lyric Opera of Chicago; the organization that is so central to bringing the world’s greatest singers and directors to Chicago’s proscenium. Not only does Lyric enrich the spirit of local opera lovers, but they share their bounty with a national audience through the WFMT Radio Network. Lyric has helped put Chicago on the map as a music capital, by fostering an environment where young musicians can receive the best instruction and carry with them the pride of this Midwestern town – wherever their careers take them.

For WFMT, Operathon is an opportunity to share with our audience the boundless creative energy of a world class opera company. Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and co-host of the WFMT opening night radio broadcasts, organizes Operathon to highlight some of the performers who share their talents with the people of Chicago. Roger’s singular knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm go into every minute of Operathon, offering a rich selection of recordings and behind-the-scenes chats with a parade of opera luminaries.

This year, co-hosts Roger Pines and Suzanne Nance welcome Renée Fleming, Stephanie Blythe, Amber Wagner, Anne Sofie von Otter, Ward Stare, Bo Skovhus, Amanda Majeski, William Burden, Ana María Martínez, Michael Black, Robert Falls, Quinn Kelsey, Asher Fisch, and more.

HostsRogerPinesSuzanneNance

Roger Pines and WFMT’s Suzanne Nance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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William Burden, Renee Fleming, and Audun Iversen star in “Capriccio”

Operathon Highlights (subject to change)

8:00-11:00 am

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act I, “Fin ch’han dal vino”
Rodney Gilfry (title role), Orchestra of Opernhaus Zürich/Nikolaus Harnoncourt

9:30 am – Stephanie Blythe is our on-air guest!

Gilbert and Sullivan: The Mikado, Act II, “Alone and yet alive”
Stephanie Blythe (Katisha – SB returns to Lyric this season as Azucena/Il trovatore)
Lyric Opera Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

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Amber Wagner

10:15 am – Amber Wagner is our on-air guest!

Wagner: Lohengrin, Act II, “Euch Lüften”
Amber Wagner, Michaela Schuster, Greer Grimsley; Lyric Opera Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

11:00 am- 12:00 noon

Pepe Martínez and Leonard Foglia: Cruzar la cara de la luna, “Siempre estoy aqui”/“I’m always here” Cecilia Duarte, Brittany Wheeler; Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, c. Pepe Martínez

11:15 am – Anne Sofie von Otter is our on-air guest!

Kurt Weill: One Touch of Venus, “Foolish Heart”
Anne Sofie von Otter; North German Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sir John Eliot Gardiner
 
Wlad Marchulets: Klezmer tune written for his grandmother

Pepe Martínez and Leonard Foglia: Cruzar la cara de la luna, “El padre de mi padre”
Cecilia Duarte; Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, led by Pepe Martínez

EricOwens(courtesy of San Francisco Opera)_AdinaAaron

Eric Owens and Adina Aaron will star as Porgy and Bess

Gershwin: Porgy and Bess, Act II, “I Got Plenty o Nuttin”
Eric Owens; San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra/John DeMain

12:00 noon-1:00 pm

12:00 pm – Renée Fleming is on-air guest!

Strauss: Capriccio, “Kein andres, das mir so im Herzen loht”
Renée Fleming; Michael Devlin; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

1:00–2:00 pm

1:00 pm – Amanda Majeski call-in

Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Quintet
Amanda Majeski; James Morris; Jamie Barton; David Portillo; Lyric Opera Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

Wagner: Tannhäuser , Act II, Entrance of the Guests
Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner

2:00–3:00 pm

2:15 pm – Ward Stare is our on-air guest!

Gershwin: Porgy and Bess, Act I, “A Woman is a Sometime Thing”
Eric Greene and soloists; San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra/John DeMain

2:30 pm – Bo Skovhus is our on-air guest!

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Bo Skovhus and Anne Sofie von Otter

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Onegin’s Act I aria
Bo Skovhus; English National Opera Orchestra/James Conlon

Wagner: Die Walküre, Act I, “Winterstürme”
Johan Botha; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra/Christian Thielemann
Verdi: Il trovatore, Act II, Anvil Chorus
Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Bruno Bartoletti

3:00–4:00 pm

3:00 – Ryan Opera Center as on-air guests!

Gershwin: Porgy and Bess, Act I, “Summertime”
Ryan Opera Center alumna Nicole Cabell; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act II, “Non mi dir”
Marina Rebeka; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Speranza Scappucci

4:00–5:00 pm

Bizet: Carmen, Act III, Duet, “Je suis Escamillo, Toréro de Granada”
Kyle Keletsen; Yonghoon Lee; Netherlands Opera Orchestra/Marc Albrecht

Donizetti: Anna Bolena, Act I Finale
Dame Joan Sutherland, Paul Plishka, Stefania Toczyska, soloists; Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Richard Bonynge

4:30 pm – William Burden is our on-air guest!

Barber: Vanessa, Act I, Anatol’s aria, “Outside this house”
William Burden; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin

Strauss: Capriccio, “Kein andres, das mir so im Herzen loht”
Joseph Kaiser; Renée Fleming; Russell Braun; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

5:00–6:00 pm

Wagner: Lohengrin, Act II, sc. i, Ortrud’s meeting with Elsa
Amber Wagner; Michaela Schuster; Lyric Opera Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades, Act III, Gherman’s Gambling Scene aria
Misha Didyk; Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona/Bertrand de Billy

5:30 pm – Ana María Martínez is our on-air guest!
 
Gounod: Faust, Act III, “The Jewel Song”
Ana María Martínez; Lyric Opera Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

Verdi: Il trovatore, Act IV, “Mira d’acerbe lagrime”
Sondra Radvanovsky; Mark Delavan; Lyric Opera Orchestra/Bruno Bartoletti

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Daveda Karanas, Amanda Majeski, and Brandon Jovanovich will star in “The Passenger”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6:00-7:00 pm

6:15 pm – Michael Black is our on-air guest!

Strauss: Capriccio; “Moonlight Music”
Lyric Opera Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

Also hear music from Tosca, Carousel, and Porgy and Bess.

7:00-8:00 pm

7:00 pm – Robert Falls is our on-air guest!

Hear music from Don Giovanni, Tannhäuser, Il trovatore, and more!

8:00-9:00 pm

8:00 pm – Quinn Kelsey is our on-air guest!

Hear music from Anna Bolena, Tannhäuser, Il trovatore, and more!

9:00-10:00 pm

9:00 pm – Asher Fisch is our on-air guest!

Puccini: Madama Butterfly “Humming Chorus”
Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Asher Fisch

Mozaer: Le nozze di Figaro, Act III, “Hai già vinta la causa”
Mariusz Kwiecien; Lyric Opera Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

Mieczysław Weinberg: The Passenger, Act II finale (Marta’s aria)
Elena Kelessidi; Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Teodor Currentzis

10:00–11:00 pm

Hear music from Capriccio, The Passenger, Anna Bolena, and more!

The Danish String Quartet Warms Up at WFMT

Asbjørn Nørgaard, viola and Frederik Øland, violin

Asbjørn Nørgaard, viola and Frederik Øland, violin

WFMT Impromptu, Thursday at 4:00 pm


There’s been a lot of buzz around these boys lately. The New Yorker, NPR’s Performance Today, and The Washington Post all have taken note of the quartet that began a residency at Lincoln Center this fall. They are the Danish String Quartet, a group of guys who met as pre-teens at music camp in Denmark, and have been best friends and musical collaborators ever since.

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Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen

The Danish String Quartet is in Chicago to play a concert at the University of Chicago on Friday evening. They are playing a WFMT Impromptu on Thursday afternoon at 4:00 pm.

Here’s the program for Friday’s concert:

Haydn: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5 
Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen: the extinguishable (US premiere) 
Schubert: String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887

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Danish String Quartet

Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin

Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin

 

 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

Danish Day with the Danish String Quartet

The Opera in Copenhagen by Henning Larsen Architects

The Opera in Copenhagen by Henning Larsen Architects


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About the Danish String Quartet

“We are three Danes and one Norwegian cellist, making this a truly Scandinavian endeavor. We are often joking about ourselves being modern Vikings – perhaps a touch more harmless than our ancestors – we are not pillaging cities or razing the English coastline! We are simply your friendly neighborhood string quartet with above average amounts of beard.
”

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The Danish String Quartet

On Thursday, October 9 at 4:00 pm, WFMT welcomes the Danish String Quartet, four friends who have been playing soccer and string quartets together since they were young boys. They are currently in residence with Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Two, and are in Chicago to give a concert at the University of Chicago on Friday evening. Their CD titled Wood Works, an album of Nordic folk tunes arranged for string quartet, was chosen by Lisa Flynn for a feature on WFMT’s The New Releases.

In honor of the Quartet’s visit, WFMT will feature Danish artists and composers throughout the day on Thursday.

DanishComposersSchedule

Midday with Lisa Flynn

10:00 am hour
Traditional Danish Folk Songs:
Five Sheep
Four Goats
Sonderho Bridal Trilogy, part 2
Danish String Quartet, Dacapo 8.226081.

Nielsen: Maskarade Suite
Swedish Radio Sym/Esa-Pekka Salonen, CBS MK-44547

Carl Nielsen

Carl Nielsen was the seventh of twelve children. His mother liked to sing folk songs. His father, a house painter, was an amateur trumpet and violin player.

“The ninth of June 1865 was a hard day for my mother, but also a happy one. My parents lived in a little cottage in the middle of a field in Nørre-Lyndelse on Funen. The nearest community is called Sortelung. My mother was alone at home with some of her younger children when she felt the first birth pangs. It was very painful, and she went outside, put her arms around a tree and banged her head against its trunk. This is why I think she must have felt very happy and relieved when at last I made my entry into this world.”

—Carl Nielsen

DanishComposers11:00 am hour
Riisager: Primavera Overture, Op 31
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Bo Holten, Dacapo 8.226147

Norgard Winter Hymn (sung in English)
Estonian Phil Chamber Choir/Paul Hillier, Harmonia Mundi HMU-907331

Knudåge Riisager

Knudåge Riisager was a student of Albert Roussel in Paris,and became a prolific composer of ballet music.

Egeskov Castle, Denmark

Egeskov Castle, Denmark

12:00 pm hour
Gade: Overture, Echoes of Ossian, Op 1
Danish National Radio Sym/Dmitri Kitayenko, Chandos CHAN-9075

 

DanishComposersLumbye: Queen Louise Waltz; The Copenhagen Steam Railway Gallop
Danish National Radio Sym/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Chandos CHAN-9209

Afternoons with Kerry Frumkin

1:00 pm hour
Nielsen: Symphony #4, Op 29, The Inextinguishable
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis, Virgin Classics 91210-2
 

Niels Gade

Niels Gade began his career as a violinist in the Royal Danish Orchestra, though his reputation as a composer spread quickly. Mendelssohn conducted his First Symphony with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig.

 

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Copenhagen Concert Hall opened in January 2009. The architect was Jean Nouvel.

2:00 pm hour
Buxtehude: Sonata in C, Op 1/5
Trio Settecento, Cedille CDR-90000114

Bach: Toccata and Fugue in d, BWV 565
Hannes Kästner, o (Thomaskirche, Leipzig), Capriccio 10035

Nielsen: Little Suite for Strings, Op 1
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra/Iona Brown, Virgin Classics 45224-2

 

Dietrich Buxtehude

Dietrich Buxtehude was an organist and composer, pre-dating J.S. Bach by around 50 years. His birth year and nationality are in dispute. Some say he was Danish, others that he was German; this is due in part to disputes over the territory in which he was raised. His year of birth is around 1637/9. His birth name was Diderik, but he took the German version of Dietrich later in life while working as an organist in Germany.

Imagebuxtehude

Kopenhagen

Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen, home of the Royal Danish Ballet

3:00 pm hour
Holmboe: Recorder Concerto, Op 122
Michala Petri, r; English Chamber Orchestra/Okko Kamu, RCA 62543-2

Wagner Tannhäuser: “Wie Todesahnung…O du mein holder Abendstern”
Bo Skovhus, br; English National Opera Orchestra/James Conlon, Sony SK-60035

4:00 pm hour
Impromptu: Live from Levin Studio, the Danish String Quartet

Emerging from “Cultural Black-out”

Evacuating the paintings of London's National Gallery

Evacuating the paintings of London's National Gallery

Myra

Dame Myra Hess plays a wartime concert

Live broadcast on Wednesday at 12:00 pm


On Wednesday, October 8, WFMT and the International Music Foundation commemorate the 75th anniversary of the wartime concerts at London’s National Gallery, which served as a beacon for Londoners through the brutal years of WWII. Wednesday’s concert features the Schubert String Quintet played by the Arianna String Quartet with cellist Nicole Johnson.

How it began

Imagine the walls of the National Gallery stripped bare, a city of 8.6 million people shrouded in darkness; theaters, cinemas, museums – all shuttered. As England entered the Second World War, authorities quickly took measures to remove cultural assets, while reducing the potential for civilian casualties by strictly enforcing black-outs and quashing the city’s nightlife. Kenneth Clark, the director of London’s National Gallery called it a “cultural black-out.” Clark recalled the eerie stillness of the National Gallery, “Every picture had been taken away, but the frames remained and multiplied the general emptiness with a series of smaller emptinesses. When I returned to the Gallery, after the first all-absorbing task of evacuation was more or less safely over, I walked round those large, dirty, and (as it turned out) ill-proportioned rooms, in deep depression.”

Mr. Clark didn’t require any arm twisting when the piano soloist Myra Hess suggested using the gallery for occasional lunchtime concerts. It was Clark who suggested making it a daily event, Monday through Friday.

A bombed-out room at London's National Gallery

A bombed-out room at London’s National Gallery

 

 

The 1:00 pm concerts would cost a shilling, to be applied to the Unemployed Musicians Fund, and repeated on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:00 pm for the price of two shillings. Steinway loaned them a piano, free of charge.

The first concert took place 75 years ago, on October 10, 1939. It came together so quickly that Dame Myra recalled expecting only 40 or 50 people; instead there were around 1,000, with more being turned away at the door. The concerts continued every weekday, even during the 267-day Blitzkrieg. During the daylight bombings, the musicians and public withdrew to the Gallery’s basement. In all, 1,698 concerts were given over a period of five and a half years.

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A wartime concert in Room 36 of the National Gallery

 

For her immeasurable gift to wartime Londoners, King George VI made Myra Hess Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1941. Following the War, Myra Hess resumed her international career. When she died in 1965, Dame Myra Hess left her estate to a fund benefiting young artists, with a requirement that they perform outside metropolitan areas.

It was in that spirit of creating opportunity for young artists, and increasing public access to high quality performances, that Chicago’s Al Booth established the weekly Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, free of charge, at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Cross-Pollination in Chicago Yields Black Oak Ensemble

Goran Ivanovic, Desiree Ruhstrat, Aurelien Pederzoli, and David Cunliffe

Goran Ivanovic, Desiree Ruhstrat, Aurelien Pederzoli, and David Cunliffe

Live broadcast, Tuesday at 7:00 pm


It’s like seeing old friends get together to make a new couple. Two members of the Lincoln Trio join a Spektral Quartet violinist – but he’s playing viola – and a Chicago guitarist who’s collaborated with Fareed Haque: they are the Black Oak Ensemble. Composed of Goran Ivanovic, guitar; Desiree Ruhstrat, violin; Aurelien Pederzoli, viola; and David Cunliffe, cello; this group is brand new. Its website is “coming soon,” and their Facebook page launched a week ago.

The Black Oak Ensemble’s inaugural visit to WFMT takes place on Tuesday, October 7 with a playlist suitable for a classy nightclub.

The live broadcast will be hosted by Suzanne Nance and starts at 7:00 pm.

Here’s an introductory Q and A with violinist Desiree Ruhstrat and WFMT’s Noel Morris:

Q. How did you get together?

A. Goran, David, and I occasionally got together to do concerts when we could fit them in. About a year ago, the four of us started hanging out, and “for fun,” after dinners and a bottle or two of wine, we would start putting some tunes together. We did it as a hobby, but then in June decided we might take it a little more seriously, and put a program together. We did our first unofficial concert in June at the Women’s Club for the Stradivari Society, and our official “outing” was at the Cliff Dwellers in August.

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The Black Oak Ensemble

Q. What are your plans?

A. There are many venues with no piano and our programming is very eclectic, catering to many different audiences. Goran brings his club and ethnic music knowledge. We blend it with our classical knowledge – not that the music is simplified, but it is presented in a relaxed manner while keeping the content at a very high level. We are looking forward to putting a season together for next year, although every one of us is very committed to our respective groups. This is a way for us to broaden our musical audience by bringing an eclectic mix – or as you well put it: “a playlist for a classy nightclub.”

Q. How did you pick the name?

A. A big black oak tree sits in front of our house.
 
 
Program

Ludwig Van Beethoven Serenade Op.8 for violin, viola and cello
Desiree Ruhstrat, Violin
Aurelien Pederzoli, Viola
David Cunliffe, Cello

Goran Ivanovic: Keltai
Goran Ivanovic, Guitar

Enrique Granados: Danza española
Goran Ivanovic, Guitar
David Cunliffe, Cello

David Ludwig: Lindy’s Tango from April Variations
Goran Ivanovic, Guitar
Desiree Ruhstrat, Violin
David Cunliffe, Cello

Manuel de Falla: I. El Pano Moruno and III. Asturiana from Siete Canciones
Goran Ivanovic , Guitar
Desiree Ruhstrat, Violin

Astor Piazolla: La Calle 92
Aurelien Pederzoli, Viola
David Cunliffe, Cello

Astor Piazolla: Libertango
Goran Ivanovic , Guitar
Desiree Ruhstrat, Violin
Aurelien Pederzoli, Viola
David Cunliffe, Cello

Manuel de Falla/Kreisler: Danse Espagnole
Goran Ivanovic , Guitar
Desiree Ruhstrat, Violin
Aurelien Pederzoli, Viola
David Cunliffe, Cello