Thursday, March 29, 2012

Columbus Symphony: Spotted Snakes and Summer Nights

The Columbus Symphony performs the incidental music to a A Midsummer Night's Dream, Berlioz song cycle Les Nuits d'ete and his three choruses, Tristia March 30 and 31 at 8 and Sunday, April 1 at 3-Southern Theater.

Saturday night's performance is broadcast live over Classical 101. FM, on line

Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducts the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with Alisa Jordheim, soprano and Michele Losier, mezzo-soprano

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

I first heard the Berlioz six songs for voice and orchestra, Les Nuits d'ete about 175 years ago during my college years. One fast song, four slow ones and a fast finale. Complicated French poetry. One voice. no chorus, no blood, no splash and dash. I was unimpressed.

Oh to be young and stupid! Oh to be (much) older and less stupid! The Berlioz cycle has become an obsession in recent weeks. I welcome the chance to hear it live--again.

Berlioz was in his thirties when he prepared these songs for voice and piano. The orchestration followed in 1856. Jose van Dam made a fine recording of the set with pianist Jean-Phillipe Collard. I'd like to hear these sung by Bryn Terfel or Juan Diego Florez or Jonas Kaufman. But the women have truly owned the cycle. Odd, since Berlioz initially wanted at least four different singers and voice types to share the wealth.

Theophile Gautier's poetry is rich, hedonistic, suggestive and more than a little perfumed. Literally. The second song Le spectre de la rose is a narrative by the ghost of the rose "you wore last night at the ball." Said rose so rich, so glorious, good enough only to adorn "her".

Upon the alabaster where I rest
A poet has written with a kiss:
Here lies all rose
Which kings could envy

In the final song, L'Ile inconnu, The Unknown Island-she (the eternal she?) is offered a boat with sails of pure silk, to sail to Java, or the coast of Norway, or the Baltic, or the Pacific, or to the coast of love-a coast still unknown

Berlioz liked it big. He was no minimalist, not even in his many melodies. (Zaide is practically a mad scene.) The combination of Berlioz' grandeur and Gautier's sensuality is, well...let's just say its a borderline healthy obsession I'm having with these songs, and if you think Le spectre de la rose is about a flower, think again.

We have the bonus this weekend of hearing the three choruses making up Tristia (sadness is not suggested). Berlioz published this collection in 1852. The three were written separately, between 1831 and 1844. There's a wordless song inspired by the final scene of Hamlet, a setting of Gertrude's lament for the drowned Ophelia, and the opening Meditation religeuse to poetry by Tom Moore. Why don't we hear Tristia more often? Especially the Mort Ophelie with its long melodic lines and dark harmony, this music doesn't try to be grand and operatic, but simple, direct and heartfelt.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Mendelssohn's name was made by his Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream written at age 17 when the young man was well into his career as a pianist, conductor and composer. Eventually the young man landed a prestigious gig as musikdirektor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. He came to the attention of the King of Prussia, who loved music and Shakespeare. The Bard had already infiltrated the opera house with Bellini and several lesser lights-Verdi was to come, so was the young Wagner (Die Feen) and more Berlioz. His Majesty wanted music for a production of Shakespeare's Sommernachtstraum to be staged at his palace.

Felix Mendelssohn obliged with music that almost-I said almost-eclipses Shakespeare in its humor and seductiveness. Mendelssohn added the overture he had written fifteen years earlier and his success was complete. The strings and high winds prance for Puck and his cohorts-and we all know the sumptuous march at the heart of the score:

Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducts these concerts, with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Ronald Jenkins, conductor)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Steal this Book. BUY this Book: Liebestod, Opera Buffa with Leib Goldkorn, by Leslie Epstein

What do George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Lili Lehmann, the Satmar rebbe, Carmen Miranda, and James Levine have in common? Give up? All are featured in Leslie's Epstein's new continuation of the saga of Leib Goldkorn, "Graduate, Akademie Institut der Musik, member of the Steinway Quartet, principal in the National Biscuit Company Orchestra, A. Toscanini, conductor". Und so weiter.

At 104, Leib Goldkorn is recalled to his hometown of Jihvala (Iglau) to be feted as the town's oldest holocaust survivor. Leib decides he is the abandoned son of one Gustav Mahler. Papa conducts Tristan at the Hofoper in Vienna with Lili Lehmann in blonde tresses bewitching the young Mahler Jr., along with a pasty young man in a checkered suit with pockets supplied with candy and pants with the unspeakable. (Think who said young man might be) And this is early the book.

Welcome to a zany world that makes perfect sense to the title character. We climax, if that's the word, at the Metropolitan Opera house at "A. Lincoln Center", where our Leib conducts the world premiere of Papa's abandoned opera-starring Renee Fleming. She of the intoxicating voice and presence who proves her devotion to elder Mahler-Goldkorn, along with Luciano Pavarotti as the Prince and Placido Domingo as the head turnip. Or whatever. All ends not well.
Leib's cousins turn out to be...oh, never mind.

This book is worth reading if only to imagine dubbyah the opera. Sitting down front, yet. It's even more worth reading for the plot twists and broken diction of Mr. Goldkorn and his enjoyment in his own reality, if that's the word. I read this novel in one sitting and then read it again. The more you read, the more you enjoy.

Leslie Epstein comes by his creativity honestly, as the son and nephew of Hollywood royalty-screenwriters for Casablanca-among others. Mr. Epstein has for many years chaired the program in creative witting at Boston University. There must be something great in the air on Bay State Road. Read this book, then go find Ice Fire Water, King of the Jews and San Remo Drive. Epstein gives us a magic carpet ride through one man's enviable mania.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yesterday was Bach's birthday

Thee I was browsing through the murder mysteries and trash novels for the gym at my local library yesterday, when an older lady in running gear, lean and not mean-approached. "It's Bach's birthday! Why didn't you play more Bach on the radio today?"

I don't know-I suspect there was plenty of Bach sent out across the Central Ohio airwaves, and worldwide on the web-but for many people one can't have too much Bach. Since recordings became widely available beginning 100 years ago-you can hear any of Bach's works sliced, diced, played by saxophones and synthesizers, or by historically informed performers attempting to recreate Bach's music as Bach they say intended,. It's all good.

I reiterate: Lucky the music loving kid growing up in Boston. You could take the streetcar to Back Bay of a Sunday morning and hear Craig Smith and his peerless choir at Emmanuel Church perform the Bach cantata appropriate fort that day. This Bach cycle went on for years. RIP: Craig Smith.

One must revere Bach. Who was more astonishing as he practically re invented the canon of Western music after my beloved Monteverdi? Revere but not always love. For me, the lack of blood and guts, poison, murder and freewheeling nookie is sometimes a problem. I like raunch in music. That said, I've heard Bach's violin partitas described as 'pure music'. I can only agree:

My own introduction to Bach was the 4th cantata, appropriate for this time of year, Christ lag in Todesbanden

A good high school choir. No xylophones here. I think Bach attracts wide re instrumentation because as a composer he offers everything-including spirituality and challenges hard to resist.

I love the fact of 2 wives and all those children-and the fact that JS himself spent a weekend in the hoosegow fro drunken brawling-then went home to write the St. Matthew Passion. What's not to love?

Friday, March 02, 2012

Latonia Moore

A high profile opportunity for a fine young American singer is always good news.

Latonia Moore makes her Metropolitan Opera debut tomorrow at 1 PM, as Verdi's Aida. The performance is broadcast internationally. It's my understanding this debut comes at short notice.

Latonia Moore is hardly unknown. She's appeared throughout Europe: Hamburg, Trieste, London, and in the States--Philadelphia, New York, Dallas, etc. Still, a Met debut on a broadcast in Verdi's most arduous role is a Very Big Deal. Ms. Moore is barely thirty. The voice is the real deal, big, rich, gleaming. This girl is ready:

I'll be listening tomorrow and so will anyone who loves great opera. Ms. Moore's colleagues for Aida are Stephanie Blythe and Marcello Giordani, conducted by Marco Armiliato.
The singing will be great and the applause loud and long.

Be there!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Davy Jones

I readily admit to being a big fan of the Monkees when I was ten years old.

Rest in Peace, Davy Jones.

Nicholas McGegan Invites Composers to Dinner

Nicholas McGegan is in town this weekend to conduct music by Rameau, Mozart, Haydn and J.C. Bach with the Columbus Symphony.

Beverly Sills used to say, "I don't share praise, I don't share blame and I don't share deserts."
I don't often share my pre-concert talks. BUT McGegan is irresistible. When he was here a few years ago, he took over, and loud was the laughter! So this weekend he'll be joining me, one hour before concert time.

Come early. Seriously.

During an interview yesterday, McGegan offered these bon mots:

Were I to invite a group of composers to dinner at the same time, there would be guests you absolutely do not want. Wagner would have been awful. He'd have only talked about himself. Bruckner would have prayed a lot, no harm in that, but not great dinner conversation. Mozart would have been nice. He probably would have thrown bread rolls at pretty girls, but that would have been okay. Mendelssohn would have been wonderful, he would have answered your questions in any language. But Haydn would be the ultimate guest. Handel of course
would have eaten your food as well as his own, and Bach would have wanted more beer."

See what I mean?