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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

C'est Thais! Really?

As I continue my rush into decrepitude, I enjoy looking back and using opera recordings to cite benchmarks in my life.

I can find no such benchmark for the RCA Red Seal production of  Massenet's Thais, recorded in London in 1973 and published as a three LP set a year later.

What I do remember is the exhaustive PR campaign surrounding this release and the incredulity once the recording was released.

Thais has a luscious high calorie score by French composer, bon vivant and amour des femmes  Jules Massenet (1842-1912). It's based on a novel by the same title Anatole
France, published in 1890.

Thais is lovely Catholic porn, yummy to the abbes and their friends running around between holy orders in the Parisian Cafes. Even Notre Dame closed at night.  Le coupole never did.

A grande horizontale, a courtesan in first century C.E. Alexandria is rescued from her life of debauchery and spirited away to a convent in the desert by a crazed holy man called Athanel. There she dies peacefully, with vision of the deity and his/her angels while Athanel orgiastic ally confesses his own lust for her. Curtain.

What's not to love? We have Massenet with his velvet jackets, sophisticated tunes and atelier complete with sopranos Sybil Sanderson (from Sacramento, California) and Mary Garden (Aberdeen out of Chicopee, Massachusetts). Sybil became a celebrated Manon and created Massenet's Esclarmonde.
Sybil Sanderson as Thais
complete with divas

Thais was also a vehicle for La Sanderson, known for her dazzling upper range. F above high C was her party note. She was a beauty, and Thais fit with her reputation for gambling, booze and morphine. Sybil succumbed to all of these at the age of 38. Mary Garden, who thought Massenet made love like a slob, lived into her 90s.

Mary Garden as Thais


Today, Thais is best known for its lovely Meditation for violin and orchestra, played to the curtain between scenes 1 and 2 of the second act. The rest of the opera is every bit as beautiful. This ain't exactly Cosi fan Tutte or Carmen, but Thais has a rich orchestration, some colorful choral orgies (literally) and a superb final duet for soprano and baritone. In every way, Thais is stage worthy.

In my youth this was an onstage vehicle for Beverly Sills in late career.  It was a mistake.  The lady retained her stunning coloratura but by the late 1970s the long, elegant lines Massenet required were a memory.

Beverly got there second. Thais had lived on the edge of the repertoire and no closer for a generation leading up to the 1970s. It was then that RCA decided Anatole France's whore-nun was the perfect vehicle for American soprano Anna Moffo.


To be fair, Anna Moffo (1932-2006) had been a star for RCA Red Seal since the late 1950s. Check out her recordings of Rigoletto, La traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Luisa Miller and La rondine and you'll hear lots to enjoy. She was a gorgeous woman. That's not much help on records, but Moffo recorded sexy. Her physical charms and dramatic gifts made her an audience favorite. Anna Moffo was the real deal.

In the late 1960s there was a high profile divorce and a very high profile courtship and marriage to Robert Sarnoff of the RCA family. Wags suggested that this marriage was responsible for the spate of Moffo recordings dating from this period, as her voice rapidly eroded.


(The Sarnoffs were happily married for 25 years until his death in 1996)

RCAs production of Thais meant to be a spectacular come back for a much loved diva in distress. How could this lose? If the lady needed careful editing, she'd get it. The rest of the cast was magnificent. The French baritone Gabriel Bacquier lent authenticity and a fine voice. Jose Carreras had a supporting role in this, this first major recording. The golden honey of that voice was a joy. Justino Diaz, still quite young but no slouch himself was cast along with an authoritative conductor,  Julius Rudel. The maestro;s production of Massenet's Manon with Beverly Sills remained a top tourist attraction in New York into the 1970s.

What happened? Magazines, newspapers and billboards everywhere carried a full length portrait of Anna Moffo in harem pants and Cleopatra wig hailing l'essence de Thais! RCA had her on the Merv Griffin-Mike Douglas talk show circuit. She flashed her engagement ring with its Volkswagen sized diamond. She was still lovely and everyone still loved her. There was little talk about Thais, or Massenet, or music, or opera (that's a shame, Anna Moffo was a Curtis trained musician) There were plenty of cheesecake photos, with a somewhat jowl-y lady. It wasn't even camp. It was tragic. And it was everywhere.

After the exhaustive and ridiculous PR campaign, RCA's recording of Thais, starring Anna Moffo, Gabriel Bacquier, Jose Carreras and Justino Diaz, conducted by Julius Rudel, was published with lurid cover art intact (To be fair the back of the  LP box had Miss Moffo costumed as a nun).



Eventually you had to listen to the records. The press was unmerciful. The PR assaults couldn't save a recording with a heroine whose performance was pieced together in bits of tape and over dubs. She crooned, she sighed and she shrieked. She rarely sang. The men were wonderful. But Thais with no soprano was like kissing your sister. This recording was not going to get you laid. Callas could get you laid. Tebaldi and Corelli could get you laid.  RCA's tug rag art stimulated no one.. 

Now in 2017, eleven years after her death, Anna Moffo's recording of Thais has been digitized for the first time and is back in circulation. The RCA catalog has reverted to SONY. I suspect no one at SONY has any idea of the history, controversy and sorrow of this recording. I'm sure its been digitally remastered and sounds better than ever. We can only hope the labored, desperate singing does not sound better than ever. Amazon calls this Moffo's "controversial" recording and adds, "Perhaps its time for a reassessment?"

I'm going to buy this. Even after all "that". I began to understand show business and fun house mirrors when this LP was new. The men sound great. Rudel was a wonderful conductor. I like Thais.
I've always loved Anna Moffo, a crush of my callow young manhood. Mowing lawn money bought me her recording of Madama Butterfly. She's in heaven now, hopefully forgiving us all for listening to Thais, and for even enjoying it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Columbus Symphony Klezmer Showcase Jan. 13-14

The Columbus Symphony presents A Klezmer Showcase, with David Krakauer, clarinet and conductor Rossen Milanov, Friday and Saturday, January 13 and 14 at 8 PM in the Southern Theater. 

Csardas from Ritter Pasman by Johann Strauss is on the program, along with Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody 2. David Krakauer plays selections from Golijov's Dreams and Prayers of Issac the Blind, his own music and arrangements, and the Klezmer Concerto written for Krakauer by Wlad Marhulets.

Pre-concert interview with David Krakauer one hour before each concert.


Klezmer music, as understood by this elderly Irish boy from Boston, is the music if dance and the music of joy. It is the music of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. There's an influence form the Romany people of Romania. It's music for weddings, for celebration and bolts of light in what ca be a nomadic existence in a loveless world.

I was thinking of this music when recently watching Sidney Lumet's 1960 TV production of The Dybbuk. I don't think there's much in the way of klezmer music to be heard, but the village celebrations, even as done in a cramped NYC TV studio over fifty years ago, shouted for joy. I wonder if there are parallels with the African-American spiritual. Joy coming out of sorrow. There's happiness and laughter in the klezmer music I've heard, but tears are never far away.





"Joy" seems to be the operative word. The term klezmer means 'instruments of music' ;kli means tool or utensil and zemer, making music, or the tools for making music.

Klezmer music came to this country via the great wave of immigration from Eastern Europe . Its improvisation style made a connection American jazz inevitable. I often wonder just how much jazz, or klezmer music is truly improvised, of if part of the special talent to make this music involves making it sound completely spontaneous.

I'm saying "I wonder" a lot, because I don't know. I'm not doing a lot of reading up before these concerts. Instead, I'm listening to a lot of music I have not encountered before now.

David Krakauer will be joining the Columbus symphony this weekend. He's a clarinetist of such phenomenal technique that he can play anything. He's also a composer, and his on Synagogue Wail for Clarinet Solo is on the program



The clarinet was not an feature of the earliest klezmer music. Jews at the time were forbidden to play loud instruments. The violin was the dominant instrument, with added strings, a cymbalom, maybe a xylophone. By the 1850s the prohibition against loud instruments had been lifted-or people stopped caring-and the clarinet took its place as the voice of klezmer music. An instrument fully capable of tears and laughter.

We'll be meeting to composers at these concerts. Saad Haddad was born in Georgia in 1992 and raised in California. Manarah had its first performance on April 1, 2016, with the American Composer's Orchestra at Carnegie Hall conducted by George Manahan. The work is scored for two digitally processed antiphonal trumpets and orchestra.  I've heard it elsewhere. Manarah, indeed, makes a joyful noise.

We'll also hear a Klezmer Concerto by Wlad Marhulets. 
"Klezmer music came into my life when, as a sixteen year old living in Gdansk, Poland, my brother Damian brought home a CD by a band called Klezmer Madness, featuring the clarinetist David Krakauer. This was music that was so boldly Jewish,. so full of wild energy that a kind of madness enveloped my senses as I listened to it. And even though at the time I had high hopes of becoming a successful visual artist, I decided to become a musician on the spot."




Marhulets wrote his Klezmer Concerto for David Krakauer, who gave the premiere with the Detroit Symphony conducted by Andrew Litton on December 1, 2009.

The composer writes, "Numerous musicians combined klezmer with free jazz, hip-hop, drum and bass, concert and folk music. Hence, klezmer is not a distinct musical style but rather a mixture of multiple influences, It constantly evolves and reinvents itself."


Thursday, January 05, 2017

Columbus Symphony Russian Festival January 6 and 7 2017

The Columbus Symphony performs a suite from Prokofiev's Romero and Juliet, the 1947 edition of Stravinsky's Petrushka, and Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D on Friday and Saturday January 6 and 7 in the Ohio Theater at 8 Pm.

Rossen Milanov conducts, with Elena Urioste, violin.





Pre concert talks one hour before each performance.

Most people enjoy their honeymoon. Tchaikovsky fled his. The composer married Antonia Miliukova on July 18, 1877. He described her as "a woman with whom I am not the least in love." Clearly, Tchaikovsky's was succumbing pressure to marry, and considered Miliukova little better than a stalker. Reminds me of my cousin Kathleen, who married her boyfriend of 20 years just to get rid of him. But that's another story.

Tchaikovsky fled Russia within weeks of this marriage. He never lived with his wife and seldom saw Kotek. The two enjoyed making music, and the latest hit from Paris, Lalo's Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra as a great favorite as the two passed the time playing music with Tchaikovsky working to recover his spirits.

her again. He went to Switzerland, where he was soon joined by his pupil, the young violinist Josef Kotek.

Dabbling with the Lalo work made Tchaikovsky admire his French colleague all the more, and led to a revealing comment: "It has a lot of freshness, lightness of piquant rhythms, of beautifully harmonized melodies. He, in the same way as as Leo Delibes and Bizet, does not strive after profundity, but he carefully avoids routine, seeks out many new forms, and thinks more about musical beauty than about observing established tradition as do the Germans.

(That was me adding the bold type.)

This may be another way of saying that Schumann, Brahms and certainly Wagner were always in their music striving for more. Listeners were meant to be moved, charged and overwhelmed, to take the listening experience with them. There were expectations of the audience.  Tchaikovsky, like Verdi and Bizet was writing to music to uplift, yes, but also to entertain. They wanted to tell stories.

Josef Kotek (l) with Tchaikovsky
Sight reading Lalo;'s music with Kotek led to some discussion and finally a planned concerto for violin and orchestra, Tchaikovsky's first (and last). There was a first draft that became his popular Souvenir d'un lieu cher the title perhaps a reference to the comfort having young Kotek nearby.

The Violin Concerto in D was completed in 1880 and dedicated not to Kotek but to Leopold Auer. It was not a successful dedication. "I don't know whether Auer was flattered by my dedication, or that despite his sincere friendship for me, he never wanted to master the difficulties of this concerto, deemed it too difficult to play..."

(A dedication to the young Kotek, gifted he may have been , would not have guaranteed performances)


Auer thought the piece was poorly written. He disliked what he considered the slashing and banging required of the solo instrument against a rumbling and fiery orchestra. The premiere went to Adolf Brodsky, in 1881 in Vienna. The audience cheered and the critics raged. Eduard Hanslick,  then the most influential music journalist since Berlioz, nailed the coffin shut: " The violin was not played but beaten black and blue."

This concerto to me is a celebration, a joyous one, between the violin and orchestra. I hear little of matching tones, of playing musical catch. I do hear drama, and virtuosity and pure entertainment. This concerto dazzles and rages along, with a second movement that sings, leading straight into the finale.



The two ballet scores on this program, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and Stravinsky's Petrushka give us music not to be heard but to be watched.

Romeo got Prokofiev into hot water with the soviet authorities and the literary world in general. He insisted the story should have a happy ending. Juliet would revive before Romeo takes poison, and rather than die graciously in each other's arms, they would dance off into the night. The composer was convinced that a tragic ending "could not be danced." " Live people can dance, but the dying can hardly be expected to dance in bed. " (Somewhere there is an opera where that happens, trust me)
The composer lost, at least with the ending. The young couple dies, graciously, but there;'s plenty of dancing throughout the two act spectacle.

As with Tchaikovsky's violin concerto being deem unplayable, so Prokofiev's music was decreed bloody well undanceable. The ballet's premiere was not in the Soviet Union, but in Czechoslovakia. Prokofiev had already fashioned three orchestral suites from the complete, two hour score. Still, it didn't do much for the Sophie author ties to have such a high profile premiere given outside of the Soviet Union. Romeo and Juliet  was introduced to Prokofiev's homeland at the Kirov Theater on January 10, 1940. The leads were f danced by Konstantin Sergeyev and Galina Ulanova



Petrushka brings us into Diaghilev territory. Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) was the consummate showman, impresario, spendthrift, charlatan and genius. He knew what the public wanted and he gave it to them. Sometimes he gave the public performances and music they didn't know they wanted, but by and large the public was convinced. His choreographers were Nijinsky, Fokine, and Massine. His designers were Picasso, Benois and Bakst. His composers were Satie, Myaskovksy, Prokofiev, Ravel and Stravinsky. He was either rich or flat broke and never let a creditor get in his way. Diaghilev's Ballet Russes owned the world until his death, just after the market crash in 1929 (just in time?)


Petrushka is a Punch and Judy show complete with puppets, put on at a Shrovetide Fair. The puppets are the ballerina, the Moor and Petrushka himself. Petrushka loves the ballerina who loves the Moor, who opens a coconut and, convinced this is a God begins to worship...the coconut.

This doesn't keep the Moor from flirting with the ballerina.


Petrushka was first danced in the Theatre Chatelet in Paris on June 13, 1911. Diaghilev produced the premiere with the Ballet Russes, Nijinsky danced Petrushka, Michel Fokine was the choreographer and Alexandre Benois did the designs. Nijinsky was the star. Stravinsky, with his humorous blend of rhythm and color-he gives the ballerina a cornet!-made the first real sensation of what became a long career, and an influence in music and art equal to Mozart and Wagner.

By the way, the film Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky is on youtube, and is well worth a look, especially as it recreates the scandalous opening of The Rite of Spring




Wednesday, December 28, 2016

MUSIC HAS LOST IN 2016

Yes I know, Prince and George Michael but they are globally appreciated and their passings are widely mourned. 

Here are outstanding figures in classical music, artists who gave, and gave, and gave to the benefit of us all, who may have had less reach but touched so many:

For Columbus and the World


Anne Melvin, philanthropist

Donald Harris, teacher, composer, 'Uncle figure' former Dean of the OSU College of The Arts





Bill Conner, Impresario, CEO of CAPA, mensch

Donald McGinnis, clarinetist, teacher, artist, OSU music administrator




...and for the rest of the world:

Pierre Boulez, composer and conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano




Gilbert Kaplan, financier and conductor
Denise Duval, Poulenc's muse





Aurele, Nicolet, Swiss flautist





Saulius Sondeckis, Lithuanian violinist and conductor
Ulf Spoderblom, Finnish conductor
Louis Lane, American conductor
Steven Stucky, American composer
Robert Baustian, American opera conductor and teacher
Otto-Werner Mueller, German born American conductor and teacher
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Austrian conductor




Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, British composer
Gegham Grigorian, Armenian opera singer
Royston Nash, British conductor
Elsie Morison, Australian soprano
Brian Asawa, American counter tenor
Gustav Meier, Swiss-born American conductor
J. Reilly Lewis, American conductor
Alberto Remedios, British tenor
Edoardo Muller, Italian conductor
Maralin Niska, American soprano
Gregg Smith,m American choral conductor and composer
Einojuhanni Rautavaara, Finnish composer





Patrice Munsel, American soprano





Johan Botha, South African tenor




Sir Neville Marriner, British conductor

Peter Allen, Canadian born American radio announcer and past host of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts




John Del Carlo, American bass baritone
Pauline  Oliveros, American composer
Russell Oberlin, American counter tenor




Gigliola Frazzoni, Italian soprano
Karel Husa, Czech-American composer
Heinrich Schiff, Austrian cellist

60 members of the Russian Red  Army Chorus, killed in a plane crash


Thanks to the peerless critic, writer and friend of music Tim Page, for this list.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Books Read in 2016

Every year as a tip of the hat to my OCD nature I keep a list of all the books I've read.
This does come in handy hosting the occasional book show on WOSU.
Even better, I'm just nosy and I really want to know what everybody else has been reading. It becomes I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours.

So where's my list this year?
I've lost it (!)
New computers, new configurations, forgot to save some files, whatever.
OCD and senility.

But I do remember several of the titles that I Most enjoyed in 2016.

I still want to know what YOU have been reading.
Can you share on this blog?

My favorite reads of 2016:

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Nearly a fairy tale in the beauty of the writing, but the depiction of war and he aftermath of war makes it vivid and troubling.



Moonglow Michael Chabon

A man sits with his dying grandfather and wonders ensue!


Eileen Otessa Moshfegh

She has no redeemable qualities but Moshfegh is a writer who makes you care about and root for Eileen 

The Heavenly Table Donald Ray Pollock

Great characters, completely authentic diction and locales. Another winner from Donald Ray Pollock. So much fun to cheer on the bad guys!


Patient HM  Luke Dittrich

Part memoir part horror story. A troubling page turner.


The Underground Railroad  Colson Whitehead

You ARE there !

Hillbilly Elegy J.D. Vance

What it is to be poor fifty miles from where I am typing these lines, where drugs are a way out and a death sentence

Evicted: Politics and Profit in the American City Matthew Desmond




On my ten page per day journeys in 2016 I read

The Pickwick Papers Charles Dickens

The Idiot Fyodor Dostoevsky

Middlemarch George Eliot

and am hoping to begin Tom Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again

 C'mon what did YOU read and love this year:


Monday, December 19, 2016

Classical 101's 2016 Holiday Programming! Merry Christmas***Happy Chanukah***Happy New Year

Late addition! The 2016 Lessons and Carols from St. Joseph Cathedral, Columbus airs at 8 PM Christmas Night on Classical 101..



Classical 101 presents the world's finest music "all day, every day"and all night too, and all through the holidays. Make Classical 101 a part of your family this Christmas, in the days leading up to December 25 and "all day every day".  We're proud to present local favorites: Columbus Symphony Holiday Pops, Carols for Christmas from First Community Church plus holiday favorites from around the world.

Listen locally at 101.1 FM or on line from anywhere, any time: www.wosu.org/classical101


Here are some of our 2016 holiday specials:

Monday, December 19

8 PM Advent Voices: Advent is a time of quiet contemplation and waiting.  It's waiting for darkness to become light and for hopes to be realized.  Throughout the centuries Advent has been observed musically in sacred and secular ways.  Join Lynne Warfel for an hour of the most beautiful vocal music inspired by and written for Advent.

Tuesday, December 20

8 PM Welcome Christmas! The perennial Christmas favorite from VocalEssence, one of the world's premiere choral groups.  An hour of traditional carols and new discoveries.

Wednesday, December 21

8 PM A Chanticleer Christmas A one hour program of holiday favorites, new and old, presented live in concert by the superb 12-man ensemble known as "an orchestra of voices".


Thursday, December 22

8 PM The Rose Ensemble live in concert; Christmas in Malta The Rose Ensemble's celestial voices team up with a Baroque band to present this unique seasonal program of glorious 17th century music from Italy, preserved in the Cathedral archives on the Island of Malta, and now being heard for the first time in hundreds of years.  Imagine the splendor of the great Baroque churches of Venice and Rome, resounding with choral music as opulent and ornate as the buildings themselves.  Now imagine that same music lost forever in Italy but miraculously preserved for centuries on the Island of Malta. The Rose Ensemble takes us on a fascinating journey to celebrate these musical treasures in a seasonal program featuring lush harmonies, prophetic poetry, a tender lullaby, and shepherds' songs bursting with exaltation.  Joined by a band of period instruments the voices of The Rose Ensemble invite us to spend Christmas in Malta, and welcome the season with Baroque majesty and joy!

Friday, December 23

8 PM A Handel and Haydn Society Christmas:  Celebrate the season with this hour-long special featuring Christmas choral music from America's oldest continuously performing ensemble, Boston's Handel and Haydn Society. Founded in 1815, the Society is celebrating their bicentennial season, including their 400th performance of Handel's Messiah. Join host Cale Wiggins for this program featuring music from the late 15th century to the late 20th; a Christmas for all times.


CHRISTMAS EVE

10 AM A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: A great favorite, and a long standing tradition for our listeners, live from King's College, Cambridge

7 PM Columbus Symphony Holiday Pops: A Columbus area favorite, recorded in the Ohio Theater a few weeks ago. The Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Columbus Symphony Chorus conducted by Ronald Jenkins, with the Columbus Children's Choir, dancers from Ballet Met Academy and a special appearance by Santa! Your favorite carols, and music by Biebl, Respighi, Britten and our own Craig Courtney.

9 PM Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

CHRISTMAS DAY

12 NOON A Chanticleer Christmas

1 PM        Welcome Christmas!

2 PM St. Olaf Christmas Festival

4 PM Carols for Christmas from First Community Church: Boyce Lancaster hosts this annual presentation from Columbus's s First Community Church, conducted by Ronald Jenkins

8 PM Lessons and Carols from St. Joseph Cathedral, Columbus with the Cathedral Schola conducted by Richard K. Fitzgerald (recorded December 10 2016)

Monday, December 26

8 PM Candles Burning Brightly A one-hour celebration of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, with an exploration of Chanukah foods and traditional activities, and plenty of music

NEW YEAR'S DAY

11 AM New Year's Live from Vienna: Gustavo Dudamel will lead the Vienna Philharmonic from the Golden Hall of the Musikverein for this traditional kick-off of the new year.



Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sensory Friendly Holidays: New Albany Symphony Dec 17 and More!



The New Albany Symphony offers a sensory friendly holiday program this Saturday December 17 at 11:30 a.m. at the McCoy Performing Arts Center in New Albany.

SANTA AND THE SYMPHONY
A 45 minute concert of short holiday tunes with lots of clapping and audience interaction.  Perfect for young children, those of the autism spectrum, and our friends with dementia or Alzheimer's. Includes cookies and Santa! Tickets $12, $15.


http://www.newalbanysymphony.net/

rformance
I'm proud of this excellent community based orchestra, lead by Heather Garner and Luis Biava, who have been at the forefront of introducing sensory friendly performances .

What do I mean by sensory friendly?

There are people who find too much sound, too many lights, a lotta of movement and stimulus hard to take. No such caveat for pizza or chocolate in my view, but for many sensory over load is a problem. More and more we are hearing of 'sensory friendly offerings'.

Locally, movie theaters at Polaris, Crosswords and Lennox Town Center offer films with the volume turned down, the lights dimmed not darkened and  walking around and  welcomed for those who find longer than a few minutes to be a long sit.

The Columbus Children's Theater has long offered sensory friendly performances.

http://www.columbuschildrenstheatre.org/sfp.html

Opera Columbus, Ballet Met and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra have all offered sensory-friendly performances, as has the Columbus symphony. Attach sensory friendly to any web search and you'll find untold riches! Perfect opportunities for kids and their friends who benefit from a little more show and a little less 'surroundings'.

And come to New Albany Saturday morning!