January 23, 2012 |
The John Cage Centennial has come roaring into 2012, as if the avant-garde theorist/composer's advocates couldn't wait to bedevil traditional music circles with his expansive, unmediated embrace of all sound and all possibilities. In Philadelphia, the year was inaugurated Friday by a smart, enterprising, inviting Cage concert at thefidget space (a homey warehouse in Kensington), the first in a series of three. The one work on the program was the 30-minute Four 6 , a late Cage work in which the composer provided perimeters and the musicians supply content.
October 1, 2012 |
Never wanting for artistic status, Rachmaninoff's Vespers (a.k.a. All Night Vigil ) showed the Russian composer-pianist fusing his taste for symphonic grandeur with lesser-known talents for opera and art song - while tapping into the Russian Orthodox liturgy, the deepest vein of his national identity. Yet the music's cultural specificity is exactly what made the Choral Arts Philadelphia's brave, often-accomplished Saturday performance a blue-moon event. Only after years of more open cultural exchange and a greater Russian presence in the United States has the piece been truly in reach of American choirs.
March 27, 2012 |
Anniversary mania is so prevalent in classical music that any landmark year ending with a zero or a five will be celebrated and marketed - and, with luck, will help focus the attention of a public faced with a millennium's worth of music to choose from. With immense wit and perhaps tongue in cheek, Lyric Fest, the Philadelphia art song collective, unveiled the program titled "A Very Good Year: Happy Birthday to 1912" last weekend. Why not? Not only was 1912 a hundred years ago - two zeros!
February 7, 2012 |
Even if Symphony in C's Saturday performance of the Mozart Requiem wasn't everything one could dream of, it was a model in partnerships that makes fantasy possible. Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and a quartet of vocal soloists from the Academy of Vocal Arts joined the orchestra under its music director, Rossen Milanov, assuring professionalism that won't bust the budget. So what wasn't there to love? The concert was titled "Unfinished Masterpieces," encompassing not just the Requiem (left incomplete at the composer's death)
May 7, 2012 |
When Wolfgang Sawallisch was winding up his Philadelphia Orchestra tenure, some of his concert programs became curiously modest. Remember Richard Strauss' 45-minute wind band piece, The Happy Workshop? In contrast, Charles Dutoit is veering toward the gargantuan in his last three subscription concerts as chief conductor. His Strauss choice is the opera Elektra later this week. And on Friday, he poured on waves of sound in Scriabin's unapologetically extravagant Poem of Ecstasy with the Verizon Hall organ powering the climaxes from within.
March 10, 2012 |
Since the age of Arthur Fiedler, light classics have easily slipped through the cracks. Pops concerts are oriented around living personalities. Symphonic programs are often steeped in Mahlerian seriousness. So Friday's program of semiclassical pieces (Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue) and music meant to serve a larger visual element (Bernstein's On the Waterfront film score and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake ballet) was a welcome break indeed, especially when thoughtfully programmed and performed by guest conductor James Gaffigan with pianist Stewart Goodyear.
February 28, 2012 |
You'd think this town would finally be ready for Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. That infamous Philadelphia Orchestra concert version of the opera - it started with a well-populated Academy of Music and ended nearly empty - was long ago in 1986. But with far fewer tickets to sell, the Academy of Vocal Arts opened a five-performance run on Saturday with something seldom seen in its tiny Helen Corning Warden Theater - empty seats. Not a lot, but some. And this production is close to the real thing, not the shortened Impressions of Pelleas seen occasionally at the Curtis Institute.
January 13, 2012 |
Even when the piano on the Perelman Theater stage is a sturdy Steinway concert grand, an on-site tuner is needed when the recitalist is Vladimir Feltsman. On Wednesday, the need arose first at intermission, after a pair of Haydn sonatas. Then, midway through Chopin's four ballades, more was required, though Feltsman probably wouldn't have stopped otherwise for anything less than an earthquake. The 60-year-old Russian-born, U.S.-based pianist is not a pounder. But he plays a piano as though he is speaking through it. And he has a lot to say, which meant that the Haydn Piano Sonatas No. 34 and 49 - conversational even in the most conventional performances - have rarely seemed more eventful.
April 13, 2012 |
In any symphonic performance, there's a point when those in charge need to stand back and let it happen, to allow a larger collective consciousness to take over and reveal something bigger than the considerable talent of the individuals. So it was not with guest conductor Gilbert Varga, who had clearly delineated priorities in his guest-conducting stint with the Philadelphia Orchestra Friday at the Kimmel Center, but kept his concert so anchored and controlled that some of the more imposing pieces in the repertoire felt surprisingly safe and unengaging.
April 12, 2012 |
Some of the more reckless philosophers I've known claim that music is not sound. What? The idea is that sound is just the vehicle of some greater experiential entity that we call music. Such notions were put a casual test by the 27-year-old European ensemble Quatuor Mosaiques in a sold-out Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert on Tuesday. Even in the good Perelman Theater acoustics, Mosaiques' period instrument sound was demure compared to such vigorous groups as the Emerson Quartet.