The Classical Music Network (English) Fri, 14 Dec 2018 13:03:20 +0100 <![CDATA[Montreal - K. Nagano conducts the Mass in B Minor]]>
K. Nagano (© Felix Broede)

I’ve tended to avoid performances of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal under Kent Nagano during the past few years as they have invariably fallen short of expectations. Nagano demands little of his musicians, mostly focusing on marking time and indicating where musicians should start and stop. But it’s hard to resist an opportunity to hear Bach’s magnificent Mass in B Minor, the complexity, refinement and sheer breadth of which continues to astonish and inspire.

On Thursday evening, however, hopes were dashed right from the opening notes of the “Kyrie”. The high voices (]]>...
Tue, 04 Dec 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - Two Operas from Tom Cipullo]]>
T. Cipullo (© Hedwig Broukaert)

“I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.”
Josephine Baker (1906-1975)

When composing an opera about a historical figure, one inevitably wonders how the subject would react to the impersonation. With the case of Josephine Baker, the eponymous heroine of Tom Cipullo’s Josephine, one has no doubts. First, because the real Josephine Baker–like Eartha Kitt, the woman who idolized her–was open to every art, idea]]>...
Sat, 01 Dec 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[London - Revival of Carmen]]>
(© ROH/Bill Cooper)

One of the repertoire’s most exasperatingly standard operas, Carmen has returned to the Royal Opera House in a production that premiered last year. Bizet’s best known opera often degenerates into a caricature or cliché of itself. The saturation of espagnolerie – all those dances and castanets and bullfighting – has long wearied audiences. In an age of identity politics, it can even rely on stereotype. The flamboyant director Barrie Kosky thought it wisest to shear the opera of much of its Spanish character. Except for the costumes – which include hot pink leggings for Escamillo, the bullfighter for whom]]>...
Fri, 30 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - F. Caccini’s Alcina]]>
S. Mercer/F.Caccini (© Kathy Whitman/Public Domain)

“One goes to Tragedy to be moved. One goes to Opera to facilitate the digestion.”
Voltaire, 1732 letter

Nothing personal about the hosts of last night’s opera. But let’s face facts: The House of Morgan is both stingy and cash-strapped, compared to the House of Medici, which produced the original Alcina in 1625.

Yes, the production by the Boston Early Music Festival was a delightful one for singing, orchestra, even the faux-emotional libretto. But one would have assumed that the House of Morgan ]]>...
Mon, 26 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Philadelphia - The Philadelphia Orchestra]]>
C. Măcelaru (© Adriane White)

Conductor Cristian Măcelaru impressed on many musical levels during his three-year residency with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The maestro was back with The Philadelphians this month to conduct an American composer program on Thanksgiving weekend. It was a reminder of how dynamic Măcelaru is in bringing both depth and dimension to large orchestral works. And in the case of the full orchestra restoration of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, giving definitive readings.

The concert opener was Măcelaru’s own arrangement of a Suite to Jake Heggie’s opera <]]>...
Fri, 23 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The New York Philharmonic Orchestra]]>
E. Haïm (©

“What the devil do you mean to sing to me, Priest? You are out of tune.”
Jean-Philippe Rameau, on his deathbed.
“You have taken too much trouble over your opera. Here in England that is a mere waste of time. What the English like is something they can beat time to, something that hits them straight on the drum of the ear.”
George Frederic Handel to the young Gluck

From the moment Emmanuelle Haïm danced onto the stage for her New York Philharmonic debut, it was obvious that the Pilgrims–who we supposedly celebrate this week–have a lot to answer f]]>...
Wed, 21 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The Boston Symphony Orchestra]]>
A. Nelsons (© BBC/Chris Christodoulou)

“How I love you/ You my sun/ I cannot tell you/ with words/ Only my longing/ Can I pour out to you/ And my love/ My joy”
Lyrics by Willem Mengelberg for the opening theme of the Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth, quoted by Jens Malte Fischer in his biography, Gustav Mahler.

“She wondered what kind of music Mrs. Appleyard possessed. It seemed impossible that it could be anything very jolly. ‘Brahms,’ Mrs. Appleyard said, answering the unasked question. ‘And Mahler.’ The baby shifted restlessly as if disturbed by the prospect of Mahler.”
Kate Atkins]]>...
Mon, 19 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Toronto - The Latvian Radio Choir]]>
(© Claire Harvie)

This was the third time Soundstreams has presented this 24-member (six each SATB) choir. Aside from the group’s uncanny musical abilities, the outstanding feature of the program was just how little was sung in Latvian, despite the fact that the current tour celebrates the centennial of Latvian independence.

The program opened with Stars by Eriks Esenvalds to a poem by American poet Sara Teasdale. The sense of wonder that one feels when looking up at the night sky was evoked by legato layers of vocalism enhanced by the other-worldly sound of water glasses being rubbed – a DIY glass harmon]]>...
Sat, 17 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[London - Revival of Simon Boccanegra]]>
(© ROH/Clive Barda)

For those old enough to remember the momentous geopolitical changes of 1991, it may seem shocking that they happened 27 years ago. It has been just as long since the Royal Opera introduced Elijah Moshinsky’s production of Verdi’s most conspiratorial drama, the tale of a Genoese corsair who becomes doge on the on the same day his paramour dies giving birth to a daughter that the late mother’s father wants to raise. Fast-forward 25 years to Act I, and the daughter is rediscovered under a new name after a long disappearance, the corsair’s enemies abduct her as part of a plot against him, and he ends up poisoned bu]]>...
Thu, 15 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - Pianist J. Lin]]>
J. Lin (© Courtesy of the Artist)

“Neither snow nor sleet nor traffic-jam din can keep true music-lovers from Jenny Lin.”
The Postman’s Code (revised)

Those gutless scalawags too fearful to put their Pas sur la neige last night are hopefully regretting it today. The auditorium of the Jewish Museum was a mere three-quarters filled last night, a sad reminder that spoiled New Yorkers want their transport problem-free, even their trips to bountiful.

Too bad. Philip Glass himself made the trip uptown. So did members of the Bang on a Can ensemble who “presented” ]]>...
Thu, 15 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Montreal - The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal]]>
A. Altinoglu

This being the penultimate season of Kent Nagano’s tenure with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM), it is no surprise that audiences are being treated to a parade of guest conductors. Of the eight programs offered so far this season, seven guests have conducted the orchestra. This week’s subscription concerts were led by the music director of Brussels’ Théâtre royal de la Monnaie–Alain Altinoglu.

Altinoglu generally conducted with precision and a tight rein, but didn’t bring much extra to the interpretations of the evening’s works. The highlight was one of the OSM’s signature pieces— Ravel’s Daphnis et Chl]]>...
Tue, 13 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Melbourne - Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg]]>
(© Jeff Busby)

An essentially slight plot of “boy meets girl” set against a local singing competition belies the enormity of Wagner’s only comedy. The expansive splendour of Germany’s cultural, literary and musical heritage is a platform for the composer to construct a treatise on change, tradition and the power of self-interest. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg becomes then, a massive canvas upon which Wagner paints loving portraits of artistic conventions imbued with equally doting studies of the central characters, their loves, wants and foibles.

Nothing of the immensity of the opera is lost in Opera]]>...
Tue, 13 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - New York Choral Society and Orchestra]]>
D.Hayes, NY Choral Society

“I remain a humanist. We are a very curious race.”
Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1998)
“The world turns on its dark side. It is winter.”
Sir Michael Tippett, opening lines from A Child of Our Time

Such a wondrous piece as Sir Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time deserves an evening to itself. Nothing in literature, music, even philosophy compares to the composer’s achievement here. And David Hayes had his 75-voice choir, a large orchestra, and–above all–four soloists whose diversity of singing made the drama of the oratorio even more splendid.

Mon, 12 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - Quartetto di Cremona]]>
Quartetto di Cremona (© Courtesy of the Artists)

“To copy the truth can be a good thing, but to invent the truth is much much better.”
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

If God (or this writer) had to select the most appropriate music for a crispy cloudless Manhattan autumn afternoon, with pigeons cooing and dogs jumping and babies smiling, would have to be Luigi Boccherini’s C Major Quartet. So miracle of miracles, that was exactly how the young deft lyrical Quartetto di Cremona started their recital this afternoon at the Frick Museum.

Not that I]]>...
Sun, 11 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Orange County - Don Quixote]]>
Mikhailovsky Ballet (© Doug Gifford)

St. Petersberg’s Mikhailovsky Ballet has landed, once again, in Orange County after last year’s successful piratical Le Corsaire and 2014’s revolutionary Les Flammes de Paris. Now the esteemed company turns to Ludwig Minkus’ Iberian-flared perennial favorite, Don Quixote, in what can be deemed as brilliantly valiant while coursing like a roller coaster in an amusement park.

Don Quixote’s unifying strength rests in the hands (and boldly muscular legs) of “Russian Roc]]>...
Fri, 09 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Toronto - The Toronto Symphony Orchestra]]>
T. Pavlovskaya (© Jag Gundu)

With Remembrance Day upon us, and this time observing the centenary of the armistice ending World War I, Britten’s War Requiem is an obvious choice to mark the occasion.

The evening got off to a hesitant start when the conductor read, haltingly, without amplification, a preamble referring to ancient indigenous use of the land on which Toronto sits. When he began I thought it his statement was going to be more pertinent to the piece, even though the work itself says more than any speech could ever say. Many people (myself among them) are getting tired of the penchant for making]]>...
Thu, 08 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Toronto - Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir]]>
K. Szabó (© Bo Huang)

Steffani: Drama and Devotion was the title of this concert, and the first half consisted of two religious works that provided bookends to the rest. The first was Beatus vir a 8, composed when Steffani was 22. The five-minute work begins resolutely and sweeps briskly to its conclusion, with pictorial effects when the gnashing of teeth is referred to.

The Stabat Mater was first performed in the 1728, last year of Seffani’s life (he was 84). The 30-minute work begins with the soprano proclaiming the dramatic opening lines; subsequently ten choir members are given solos wh]]>...
Thu, 08 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Philadelphia - The Philadelphia Orchestra]]>
J. DiDonato, Nézet-Séguin (© Jessica Griffith)

Yannick Nézet-Séguin wants the artistic relationships he has as musical director at the Metropolitan Opera will extend to collaborations with Met stars performing in concert appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, his other gig. Nézet-Séguin and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato proved a powerhouse team for their revival of the rarely performed Poème de l’amour et de la mer by French composer Ernest Chausson. DiDonato has many avid fans in Philadelphia as an alum of the Academy of Vocal Arts. It was not the only highlight of Nézet-Séguin’s adventurous programming, Yannick prese]]>...
Thu, 08 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Melbourne - Revival of La Bohème]]>
J. Ede, C. Tonkin (© Jeff Busby)

It takes only one glance around the capacity State Theatre to understand why Opera Australia revives this production of Puccini’s La Bohème as the opener for the Spring Season. So many scheduled performances, so many young faces in the audience and such a buzz about the foyers attest to its popularity and potential to initiate new-comers to the art form. According to Artist Director Lyndon Terracini, Gale Edwards’ 2013 production of La Bohème has played more times than any previous version by the company. It not only inducts and instructs but delivers full houses every time as a bonus]]>...
Wed, 07 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - R. Mostel’s The Travels of Babar]]>
King and Queen B&C. Elephant (background), N. Goren & Ensemble (Foreground) (© JC Agid)

“Only children and animals understand my music.”
Igor Stravinsky

One doubts that Stravinsky was being serious in that quote. But composer Raphael Mostel obviously had a good starting point in this hour-look wondrous piece for narrator, orchestra and the timeless watercolors of Jean de Brunhoff. For his characters were all animals (elephants, of course, and rhinos, birds, monkeys and a lazy bear) and his audience this afternoon were mainly children.

Kids as young as five years old. And]]>...
Fri, 02 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The Mariinsky Orchestra]]>
V. Gergiev

Last night’s concert of the Mariinsky Orchestra, with two gigantic late 19th Century works and one gigantic 21st Century conductor, did not sit well with the dozens of protestors outside Carnegie Hall.

Their screed was not unreasonable: The conductor Valery Gergiev had signed a letter of cooperation with Putin, not as a citizen but as a musician. So their point–outside of the posters and shouters etc–was that a) Music and politics don’t go together, and b) this was not a question of politics, but of ethics.

Good point. But we have our own problems. And...gulp...while I wouldn’t walk across]]>...
Thu, 01 Nov 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The New York Philharmonic]]>
J. Valcuha

Eugene Ormandy took a month some eight decades ago, to lead his Philadelphia Orchestra in two world premieres by two Romantic composers. New York is much faster. Only a 15-minute intermission, and the New York Philharmonic played the same pieces.

This time not the Hungarian-born Ormandy, but the Slovak-born Juraj Valcuha was on the dais last night for Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto (first played February 1941), and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s final work, the Symphonic Dances (first played January 1941). Both composers were gently scorned in their time for being neither Stravinskyan or Schoenbergia]]>...
Wed, 31 Oct 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The Czech Philharmonic]]>
S. Bychkov (© Chris Christodoulou)

“Mahler seems very logical to me in its completely crazy, illogical way. It never seemed like a puzzle which one needs to solve.”
Iván Fischer
“…Mahler, a Jew who is currently assistant conductor at the Royal Court Theatre, has been named principal conductor…This satisfied the different racial types, the Germans having all the work, while the Jew received all the credit. Oh what fun it was to help turn a dear old Jew into a genius by writing and talking him up.”
Unnamed newspaper article quoted in Gustav Mahler by Jens Malte Fischer

I grew up ]]>...
Sun, 28 Oct 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - Revival of Tosca]]>
S. Radvanovsky, J. Calleja (© Marty Sohl)

As it does in most seasons, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to the Met for a hefty performance run. Sir David McVicar’s production has given the work a new lease on life in this house, premiering last New Years’ Eve after an eight-year interregnum dominated by a cheap, bland, and universally despised flop designed by the late Swiss director Luc Bondy. McVicar’s major virtue was that his approach gestured toward recreating the long beloved Franco Zeffirelli production, which had been discarded in what the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb publicly called a mistake. The visuals are a bit ]]>...
Thu, 25 Oct 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Toronto - One-act works by Charpentier & Rameau]]>
M. Lindsay, C. Ainsworth (© Bruce Zinger)

These two one-act works from the classic era of French opera-ballets display exactly what Opera Atelier does best.

Charpentier’s Actéon is a pastorale dating from 1684. The hunter Actéon comes across the goddess Diana and her female companions as they bathe in a stream. He is discovered and the enraged Diana turns him into a stag. Soon after, his own hounds tear him to pieces, as he has run afoul of yet another goddess, Juno, wife of Jupiter, who is angered at her husband’s affair with Europa, Actéon’s relative. (Greek mythology is so full of fatal entangl]]>...
Thu, 25 Oct 2018 00:00:00 +0200