Archive for the ‘Music - Classical’ Category
First it was Philip Glass’ “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Now, with Astor Piazzolla’s opera, “Maria de Buenos Aires,“ which opens this Saturday, Chicago Opera Theater is signaling a trend toward more contemporary, unconventional programming. Such an approach fits the artistic outlook of its new general director, Andreas Mitisek.
COT was founded in 1974 by Alan Stone who led and tirelessly built the company for the next quarter-century. He handed the reins to Brian Dickie in 1999 who built upon Stone’s foundation and added his own strong vision for 13 seasons, a time that saw the company gain immeasurably in local and national prominence.
Dickie exposed Chicagoans to a wider range of operas beyond the standards (he produced 22 Chicago premieres). He championed operas from Handel and Mozart to Dimitri Shostakovich and John Adams. For his imaginative leadership, he was twice named a “Chicagoan of the Year’ by the Chicago Tribune.
Last April, Mitisek was named COT’s third general director. He is currently also Artistic and General Director of Long Beach Opera and will retain his association with that company. He is championing the idea of a close artistic partnership between Long Beach and Chicago Opera Theater as a synergistic solution for shared costs and musical ideas.
At his introduction, he offered a vision of alternative programming and bold ideas, including expanding future seasons from three to five productions. A company brochure lists five of Mitisek goals: Out of the box, Provocative, Engaging, Relevant, Adventurous repertoire. Such artistic ambition can only be applauded. If successful, it can only further raise Chicago’s profile in the opera world.
This month will see the Chicago premiere of the work first presented at Long Beach. According to Mitisek, “Maria is the ultimate metaphor for the heart and soul of Argentina.” She is meant to symbolize the hope, fear and resistance of a generation of Argentine women to the repressive rule of military juntas during the “Dirty War” of the 1970s during which an estimated 10,000 to 30,00 Argentinians were killed or disappeared.
The opera had its world premiere in Buenos Aires in 1968. The surreal story revolves around Maria, a prostitute, both during her life and following her death. It pulses to the passion of Piazzolla’s arresting “nuevo tango” beats and the poetry of Horacion Ferrer’s imaginative story. The opera will have four performances, beginning on Saturday, April 20 with subsequent performances on April 24, 26 and 28.
Closing the season in September will be an opera rarity, Giuseppe Verdi’s “Giovanna d’Arco” (Joan of Arc). Mitisek says that the unifying theme of the three productions is their focus on the tension between the power of love and the love of power.
It is noteworthy that, preceding “Maria de Buenos Aires earlier in April, COT has presented several enrichment programs providing added context to each opera’s plot. There was a film screening at Facets Multimedia of the 1985 Academy Award-winning foreign film, “An Official Story,” and a documentary at Istituto Cervantes, “Burnt Oranges”, about the effects of state terrorism in the country during the 1970s.. This Wednesday, Latin American art expert, Gregorio Luke will speak on the art and politics of the Dirty War at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen. For more information about Luke’s talk and to purchase tickets to the opera, contact www.chicagooperatheater.org.
At the beginning of this month, I urged you to put the upcoming European Film Festival on your calendar. Today, I’m alerting you to two April music festivals. They should but may not get much mainstream coverage. If you like alternative, creative music programming, these two festivals are definitely worth your attention–and attendance. And don’t overlook Fulcrum Point’s newest offering.
Two words–Collaboration and Convergence–define the themes for two upcoming, highly promising music festivals. The 9th annual Spring Festival presented by Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music will run from Tuesday, April 2 through Saturday, April 13. Its 7-concert schedule, titled “Side by Side“, kicks off with a collaboration between the ebullient string Quartet, Ethel, appearing with rock musician Todd Rundgren.
The next evening features award-winning jazz vocalist, Kurt Elling, teaming with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra to celebrate the songbook of Cole Porter. Then, classical guitarist Jason Vieaux matched with accordion and bandoneon virtuoso, Julien Labro. The closing weekend features the Asphalt Orchestra, a unique, cutting-edge, 12-piece marching band of top musicians on Friday, April 12 and guitar virtuosos, Sergio and Odair Assar, along with jazz reed giant, Paquito D’Rivera, on Saturday. For the full schedule and additional artist information, go to www.pickstaiger.org.
The man responsible for all this musical alchemy is Richard Van Kleeck, director of concert activities at the Bienen School. He is responsible for programming 250 concerts a year on campus which includes 100 student recitals and performances by 20 performing ensembles. The Spring Festival follows on the heels of a John Cage festival last fall. For the festival’s kickoff in 2005, Van Kleeck had 10 Steinway Grand Pianos on stage with a bevy of distinguished pianists, including Leon Fleisher and Marcus Roberts, performing.
Van Kleeck’s view of collaboration is that 1+1 is greater than 2. He says pairing artists in collaboration is “just like a chemical experiment where something special goes on.” To be part of hearing something special, go to www.pickstaiger.org to download a full festival schedule.
CIMMfest 2013 stands for the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival. If you haven’t heard of it until now, neither have many other Chicagoans. Though it’s celebrating its 5th anniversary, it’s still under the radar though not amongst local indie musicians. It’s a festival with a relatively miniscule budget but with large ambitions matched by the lollapalooza determination of its two founders. It literally gets the job done with a lot of help from its friends, a coalition of 50 trade, media and college partners. That high level of convergence could make 2013 CIMMfest’s breakout moment.
CIMMfest rolls out over four days, April 18-21, with an incredible 99 events spread over 15 different venues. Now that SXSW has ended, the action moves to Chicago. I spoke with co-founder, Josh Chicoine, last week. Chicoine, a talented musician whose band once opened for Wilco and The New Pornographers, joined forces with documentary filmmaker and visionary, Ilko Davidov, in 2009.
The fest’s overriding mission is to spotlight music-centric films. This year, Chicoine says they are “dialing it way up” in terms of activity. They will screen 70 films from 25 countries and showcase more than 50 musical acts around town. Eleven music films will be world premieres! There’s no way you can avoid CIMMfest this year.
Opening night features music, film and conversation with composer, producer and performer Van Dyke Parks. The next night is a must-see, a monster mash at the Congress Theater with headliners, the Funky Meters from Louisiana, local band, J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound plus the funk, jazz and boogaloo sounds of The Greyboy Allstars. The live show also includes a “Music in Movies” panel discussion. Its scheduled to run from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. or later. Another highlight of the long weekend are 10 films documenting 50 Years of the Rolling Stones.
On Saturday evening, CIMMfest will present its inaugural lifetime achievement award to filmmaker, actor, director and Chicago native, Melvin Van Peebles, most noted for his 1960s film, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” The 80-year old artist will then perform with his band, Laxative. That has the makings of a truly wild event.
I’ve not made it to prior festivals but I plan to get onboard this year. Listen to what one of CIMMfest’s many musical fans, Louis Black, co-founder of the South by Southwest Festival, has to say. “CIMMfest has been really wonderful. It reminds me of what SXSW was when we were starting it. It has the same intensity and intention and it cares about music and movies.”
Tickets are only $10 for the films and an incredible $25 for the live shows. The April 19th show is a special limited sale online so buy your tickets in advance. Besides individual sales, CIMMfest offers a 4-day Fest Pass for $79, less than the cost of a one-day pass to Lollapalooza. Check out the full schedule lineup at www.cimmfest.org.
Footnote: If you are looking for still more music after CIMMfest, I’d recommend you catch the ever-inventive, top-flight new music ensemble, Fulcrum Point, at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance on Tuesday, April 23rd. Music Director Stephen Burns has once again devised a special program. He will lead a 100-member orchestra in the complete film score to the accompanying screening of Ken Russell’s 1980 sci-fi classic, “Altered States.” The film was scored by noted composer, John Corigliano, and received a Best Original Score Academy Award nomination that year. Fulcrum Point’s performance is part of the citywide celebration honoring the composer’s 75th birthday.
Each year, around Christmastime, arts critics recollect top performances of the past year. Well, 90 days later (due to other commitments), I’m ready to offer my own compliments to Lyric Opera. My tardiness offered the unexpected bonus of seeing an additional production, “La Boheme” last month. So far, my Lyric viewing has consisted of two stellar productions and Lyric appears set to end its season on a high note with Anna Netrebko in “Boheme” and Renee Fleming in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
While I am a great fan of Strauss, opening the season with his challenging “Elektra” took courage. I even confess that I was not sure I wanted to relive the Trojan War and hear Greeks venting full-throated anger. But I am so glad I went. Christine Goerke’s incredible portrayal of Elektra will remain an all-time operatic high point. Her full-out singing and committed portrayal of a woman in the throes of grief and vengeance earned her the lustiest curtain calls I have ever heard at Lyric. Those who missed it now know they missed a milestone.
Following “Elektra,” Lyric paid the first of two tributes to the bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth with the rarely-performed “Simon Boccanegra.” Proper respect was paid with a strongly-cast production headed by baritone Thomas Hampson as Simon and great Italian bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto, as the wronged father, Jacopo Fiesco. The story is packed with political and romantic intrigue that, at times, is hard to follow, just like Italian politics today. The opera had its premiere 156 years ago this week (March 12, 1857) and is full of Verdi’s passionate commitment to the unification of Italy that resulted 13 years later.
It was a treat to hear the musical interplay between these two great voices. When they took their final bows, their respect and enjoyment of one another’s artistry was visible. While I exited the hall after Elektra feeling emotionally overwhelmed, I left Simon in a mood of pure contentment, having heard two master singers deliver a stirring performance.
My reaction to “La Boheme” must be more muted. I had the misfortune to attend a performance in which the role of Rodolfo was played by an understudy, Jose Luis Duval. This, unfortunately, affected my enjoyment. Duval, reportedly, has sung lead roles in Houston, Dallas, LA Opera and Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, but I’m sure not recently. He is now a singer in his late 50s with a very weak middle register that made it hard to hear his words. He gave a game performance but was unable to make Rodolfo’s youthful ardor for the young seamstress, Mimi, believable.
One could have no qualms about Ana Maria Martinez performance. She was in fine voice and endowed her arias with colorful phrasing. Soprano Elizabeth Futral was a winning and vain Musetta who brightened the proceedings at the Cafe Momus. Catch the remaining performances through March 28 when two new operatic stars take over. Anna Netrebko, the international diva of the moment, will be Mimi with Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo. I’m willing to give Lyric a mulligan on that ill-starred performance and bet the new duo makes everything right.
Let me close with a note about “Rigoletto” which also continues this month. Lyric is presenting the classic staging set in 16th Century Italy. Since I haven’t seen it, I must rely on critics who have proclaimed it ‘first-rate.” Instead, I had the pleasure, and that’s the word, of seeing the Metropolitan Opera’s production, set in 1960s Las Vegas with the Duke of Mantua and his retinue evoking the Sinatra “Rat Pack” and Cosa Nostra cronies.
It was perhaps a touch gimmicky but great fun nonetheless. It proved that moving the setting over 400 years forward to our recent memory could be done without trashing the original. Based on the MetLive performance I saw, Lyric director, Anthony Freud, should give Chicagoans a chance to hear Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, an outstanding Duke, while bass Stefan Kocan as Sparafucile looked and sounded like the new Sam Ramey and the perfect Mephistopheles for a future “Damnation of Faust”.
Perhaps Lyric had sound artistic reasons–or financial ones?–for sticking with its version. But if it wants to fill seats with a more youthful audience, it might adopt some of Peter Gelb’s thinking. The news that 7 of Lyric’s 8 operas next season will be new productions augurs well and shows Freud seems ready to set Lyric on a more adventurous course.
Lyric’s season continues through April 7. Performances of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” start in May. For tickets, visit www.LyricOpera.org.
When James Ginsburg founded Cedille Records in 1989 at the ripe age of 24, the classical record industry was bustling with activity. Four labels dominated the field: Deutsche Grammophon, Decca (London), Columbia and RCA Victor. In the quarter-century since, those labels have had a mighty fall. Multiple mergers, acquisitions, corporate shifts and free music downloading have rendered all four shadows of their former selves.
The one that remains, gaining in strength and stature each year, is tiny Cedille. After years of issuing well-reviewed releases that made a minor splash, Cedille recordings, in recent years, have garnered six Grammy nominations and taken home the prize three times, all for recordings by the new-music sextet, eighth blackbird. Its latest recording, “meanwhile,” captured top honors at last week’s ceremony for Best Chamber Music/ Small Ensemble Performance while “Lonely Motel” won in 2012.
In addition to its roster of fine Chicago musicians and composers, Cedille’s catalog now boasts top young Chicago artists who are crafting major music careers and gaining national media attention: Rachel Barton Pine, Jennifer Koh, The Pacifica Quartet, eighth blackbird, The Lincoln Trio and Wendy Warner.
A full listing of Cedille’s distinguished artist roster can be found on its website at www.cedillerecords.org.
Ginsburg is even making news of his own. Not content simply with his roles of record executive, producer and chief engineer, he has a new mountain to climb: host of a program on WFMT highlighting Cedille artists and their discography.
“Cedille Chicago Presents” airs each Wednesday evening at 10 p.m. as well as streaming live at wfmt.com. The station has hosted Cedille Day each May for the past three years. Ginsburg is ever the promoter of both his artists and his vision.
That vision, unchanged since the label’s founding, is to preserve Chicago’s classical music heritage and to feature excellent Chicago-area musicians and composers “performing important music overlooked by the major labels.” Even now, Cedille rarely records mainstream masterworks and then only in distinctive interpretations by its artists.
Ginsburg, now 47, got the music bug while working at Nonesuch Records as a summer intern in 1986 and from writing record reviews for American Record Guide. Cedille’s first release (Dmitry Paperno playing Russian Piano Music) came out while he was enrolled at the University of Chicago Law School. Cedille soon became a consuming passion and he dropped his legal studies.
Running a record label is an expensive undertaking. After five years, Ginsburg chose an innovative approach to enable him to produce more recordings and larger projects. Cedille was reconstituted in 1994 as a not-for-profit label under the auspices of The Chicago Classical Recording Foundation.
The move permits Ginsburg to solicit donations and foundation grants to sponsor his ambitions. Recently, the foundation received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Aaron Copeland Fund for Music.
Ever the entrepreneur, Ginsburg even offers music lovers subscriptions to the label. Subscribers automatically receive each new release (the catalog now numbers close to 140 releases) at a discounted price of $10 plus shipping.
Such moves have insured Cedille’s expansion as well as its survival. They have enabled Ginsburg to upgrade the quality of the CD cover artwork, accompanying booklet and overall production values.
Highly-acclaimed recordings in recent years have brought a new level of success. While commercial labels might issue 30 or more recordings a year, Cedille has heretofore devoted its full attention each year to just six to nine projects. Sales have doubled in the past five years to more than 20,000 discs annually.
Plans are to release nine new CDs this year. The newest, at the end of this month, Celloquy, features the world-premiere recording of composer Lera Auerbach’s “24 Preludes with Postlude” with cellist Ani Aznavoourian and Auerbach on piano.
While Ginsburg’s official title is President, he admits his greatest satisfaction comes from being a producer, helping shape future repertoire with artists and sitting at the controls for every studio session. He claims his achievement is “letting the world know the quality of what we have here.”
A Tribune Chicagoan of the Year in 2009, Ginsburg’s vision and dedication have made a lasting contribution not just in Chicago but throughout the universal realm of Music.
The most evident centennial being celebrated in Chicago right now is that of Poetry Magazine. You can’t walk anywhere in the Loop and miss the lightpole banners, streetside bulletin boards and even poets reading work from buried loudspeakers along State Street. I salute Poetry founder Harriet Monroe’s cultural achievement of 1912, especially when Chicago was more popularly known at the time as “Hogbutcher for the World.”
This Sunday, Chicago marks another centennial honoring one of the greatest and enduring musical conductors of the 20th Century, Sir Georg Solti. Fifteen
years after his untimely death, members of the Chicago Symphony will join many other first-chair musicians from top international orchestras in a World Concert for Peace. This was an orchestra Solti founded in 1995 because he believed in the “unique strength of music could be as ambassador for peace.” The concert will be led by Russian conductor, Valery Gergiev and feature many headline soloists from the worlds of opera and classical music.
For details about Solti and his years with Chicago, go to a special Chicago Symphony website, Solti at 100, www.cso.org/solti100. An excellent biography of Solti and his career can also be found on Wikipedia. Rather than repeat the known facts of his illustrious career with leading orchestras as well as the Chicago Symphony from 1969 to 1991 (conductor laureate until 1997), I will share personal memories of this great musician as my contribution to the occasion.
While I attended the University of Chicago in 1966-67, I would usually attend Friday afternoon concerts. The orchestra was nearly a decade removed from its glory days under Fritz Reiner and the new leader was Jean Martinon. The orchestra sounded fine but a sense of excitement was missing. I only read about Solti’s appointment in 1969 since I had graduated in 1968 and moved back to New York City.
My first chance to hear the orchestra came in December, 1972 during the orchestra’s appearance at Carnegie Hall. Solti was 60 at the time but his intensity on the podium belied his age. I remember being thrilled at what I was hearing and so were other members of the audience at intermission. When the orchestra sounded the final note of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, I will never forget the sight of patrons in the upper balcony of Carnegie casting program confetti down on the audience below. Orchestra members gazed up at the spectacle (which I have only witnessed one other time) and smiled.
That was the beginning of Chicago’s conquest of the New York music world! For several years, I held a box seat subscription to the symphony’s twice yearly appearances. And when I moved back to Chicago in 1977, I kept my box seat and always scheduled my semi-annual business trips to New York to coincide with the orchestra’s appearances. Those were such memorable and musically uplifting evenings! The orchestra always sounded better in Carnegie’s warm acoustics than at home.
Then, around 1991, Solti conducted a great performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass with an all-star cast of Annie Sophie von Otter, Felicity Lott and Siegfried Jerusalem. I was very moved by Solti’s reading (always highly energetic and musically revelatory ) and went to meet him afterwards in the conductor’s Green Room. He was seated, his shirt open and obviously spent following the performance.
I approached and told him how moved I was by the concert. He thanked me and I then offered a token gift of my appreciation–a pencil with the orchestra’s name on the side. He held it in his hand and said, “Yes, this is my orchestra,” reflecting a self-evident fact, not realizing my intent.
As I continued to stand there, he appeared puzzled and repeated the fact of it being his orchestra. Finally, he asked, in his Hungarian accent, “Why you give me this?” I told him that I had presented a similar gift to each soloist. With tears welling in my eyes, I replied, “Because I have nothing else I can give.” Waiting a few seconds, he answered, “In that case, I will keep it.” That moment revealed the humanity and big heart of the man, a musician who remains one of the three greatest conductors in my experience–Solti, Leonard Bernstein and Claudio Abbado.
If you cannot attend the concert, the next time you are around Symphony Center, visit his memorial inside the southeast corner of Grant Park at Jackson where you will find a bust of Solti (not a good likeness, unfortunately) and pay your respects to this man who put the Chicago Symphony on the map worldwide. (The orchestra’s first European tour under Solti resulted in a ticker tape parade down LaSalle St. and set the orchestra’s present reputation). Today’s orchestra rests on the shoulders of this renowned musician whose legacy will only grow greater with time.