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Rouse Oboe Concerto at Orchestra

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Philadelphia Orchestra, Alan Gilbert, conducting,
Richard Woodhams, oboe
Jan. 20, 21, 22, 2011
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center,
Review of Friday’s performance:
WRTI, 90.1 fm: Jan. 24

The Kimmel Center is a a pleasant place to be when snow is sprinkling although the snow was sparse and so was the audience in Verizon Hall as New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert led the Philadelphians Friday afternoon in a series that’s been dwindling for the past couple of years. This was disappointing. The orchestra program and its performance were winning as Magnus Lindberg’s Expo(2009) and Christopher Rouse’s Oboe Concerto (2004) got their local premieres.

Lindberg penned EXPO’s nine minutes to inaugurate Gilbert’s first season at the New York Philharmonic. EXPO leaves no instrument un-tuned in its search for color or range. The Philadelphians burst into sonority, smiles, some players looking gleeful. The 44- year -old conductor, known to many from his time at the Curtis Institute, led with calm brio, helped along by Don Liuzzi’s firm tympani and Tony Orlando’s percussion. Expo is an explosive piece.

Christopher Rouse’s Oboe Concerto also invigorates but the balances are scaled down, colors tempered, textures astute. Everything is refined as medieval tapestry. With principal Richard Woodhams as soloist, the tones were ravishing. Flourishes that sound like birdcalls, delicate interactions between the celesta, the harp and clarinet kept the ear intent t. I’ve never heard a nightingale but Dick Woodhams qualifies. In one continuous movement, Rouse manages lyricism and rhythmic bite in a concerto that should be heard again and again.

Completing the satisfying afternoon, Gilbert led Beethoven’s Sixth, a sturdier Pastoral than usual, more vigorous than gentle but pleasing for that with a grand, almost perfect storm.


Written by Lesley Valdes

January 24, 2011 at 1:36 am

Macbeth: The Wilma’s first Shakespeare

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The Wilma
Oct. 7-Nov. 7, 2010

The Wilma‘s first foray into Shakespeare is Macbeth, The theatre has done itself proud with a production that features a handsome score by Czech composer Pavel Fjat (pronounce Fight) and sound design by Daniel Perelstein (it includes birds, street and battle noises.) There is aerial choreography Philly’s gifted Brian Sanders. Mimi Lien’s two-tier set evokes the menace and modernity that suits a monarchy edging toward its doom.

C.J. Wilson as Macbeth is convincing in his ambivalence; the warrior’s ambition at war with his morality and fear. As the play moves forward, the evil of his seductive spouse takes hold. I found Jacqueline Antaramian compelling as the self- centered Lady Macbeth, a character as determined in joy with evil – and sadly truer than even the wonderful Iago of Mark Delavan heard recently at the Opera Company’s Otello. These Macbeths are very modern. The interpretations are fascinating: the way the couple switch gears, his growing misdeeds give him power –and madness. Her evil dissolves into a lunatic despair.

The women who play the three weird sisters – or witches – are riveting. Some silly supernatural masks could go in the boil- and- bubble scene; the Sixties’ references in London seems unnecessary whimsy. But the handling of the ghost of Banquo is well done and Macbeth’s hallucinations; also the battle in the Burnham forest.

Least successful is the inconsistent delivery of the iambic pentameter: A challenge for the ensemble unpracticed in Shakespeare. The Bard must not be stilted or sound like poetry. Still: more lines and characters work than don’t: MacDuff, Banquo and Duncan also held my interest.

The beauty of this production is its momentum; the dramatic thrust. Director Blanka Zizka has made a good and oddly suitable operatic start with her first Shakespeare. The Wilma’s Macbeth until Nov. 7.

Written by Lesley Valdes

October 11, 2010 at 3:42 am

fireworks for orchestra and overture

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Tchaikovsky & Fireworks
Philadelphia Orchestra
Rossen Milanov, conducting
Efe Baltacigil, cello
Mann Music Center
July 26, 2010

Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise from Eugene Onegin; Marche slave, Op. 31; Variations on a Rococo Variations, Op. 33, Selections from Swan Lake; Solemn Overture 1812

Written by Lesley Valdes

July 27, 2010 at 6:41 am

New Romeo from the PA ranks

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Romeo and Juliet
Pa Ballet
Academy of Music
June 5 matinee
(June 4-12, 2010)

It’s heartening to watch a gifted company member step into a lead for the first time. PA Ballet’s Ian Hussey chance at Romeo turned out very well Saturday afternoon. Lucky fellow: his Juliet was Pa Ballet principal Arantxa Ochoa.

The late John Cranko’s choreography for Romeo and Juliet is strong on the solos and duos; the development of character. It bogs down in the work for the ensemble, too much unison, predictability. The company injects flair with interpretative gesture. The work dates from 1964.

With his pals, Benvolio (Andre Vytoptov) and Mercutio, Romeo danced a fine trio. Mercutio was the ever inscouciant Jonathan Stiles. Even near death, Mercutio won’t lose his sense of gallantry or humor. The death will stick in the memory.

Hussey’s dancing is lithe, centered. Excellent turns. A lift or two were awkward during the first pas de deux but then the signature overheard and backward lifts accomplished what they should. A sense of ectasy and yearning. Hussey showed many states. He was bashful, playful, longing. A young Romeo with promise upon whom Ochoa lavished her attentions. Her gifts.

Shakespeare’s death love, death and more death brought the best out of Prokofiev. Beatrice Jona Affron
led the band. Not her fault the horns could not overcome humidity. The production’s a beauty, autumn colors, twilight balconies.
The gypsy girls were worth remarking –Gabriella Yudenich, Laura Bowman, Hawley Rowe– so natural their gestures for the lovesick Romeo and the dying Mercutio.

This is an excellent time to support the ever struggling company. Until the end of July, all contributions no matter how small will be matched by a $200,00 grant from the board. Hurry.

Written by Lesley Valdes

June 7, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Sunday at the Arden

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Sunday in the Park with George
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Arden Theatre new production
June 2 – July 4, 2010

Arden director Terry Nolan’s got a way with Sondheim. His second time out with Sunday in the Park with George at the Arden now is a top notch. Music Director Eric Ebbenga (PRO: Ebb-an-gay) does well by the full out original orchestra and the 15-member cast of singing actors works like a true ensemble. They don’t shout or screech as happens at several houses here where the amplification is routinely over the top and (still) doesn’t disguise inferior singing.

Sunday in the Park at the Arden is not Sondheim at the top of his game no matter that it’s the one for which he got the Pulitzer. It is a sweet musical making good points and platitudes. Given all the ones we love, you come away feeling this Sondheim doesn’t have enough music.

Jeff Coon’s the perfect lead as George Seurat he really can sing and he looks the right age and painterly

As Dot, Kristine Freilich’s singing is superb, superior to her acting. She’s a pretty woman but the mousey wig and makeup scream for a makeover. This role walks in the shadow of Bernadette Peters and Dot’s supposed to be the face George paints on every woman!

As Jules, a Seurat rival, Scott Greer is capable of stealing any scene he’s in and almost does as. Greer’s a marvel of tone and gesture. Maureen Torsney -Weir does well with the role of Seurat’s mother; later the imperious critic. Michael McKinsey makes a salty boatman. It’s a pleasure watching all these characters come to life on the Grand Jatte on the Arden stage. Sound and video designer Jorge Coiseneau ‘s hard-working projectors and laptops accomplish a feast for ear and eye. Images not of Parisians’ Seine but ours – on Kelly Drive. Sunday in the Park with George runs until 4th of July.

Written by Lesley Valdes

June 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Sound the trumpets: Black Pearl

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Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra
Jeri Lynne Johnson, music director
with Rodney Mack Philadelphia Big Brass
Baptist Temple, Temple University
May 29, 2010
Airs June 2

Black Pearl, Philadelphia newest chamber orchestra turned the close of its first season into a celebration at the renovated Baptist Temple Saturday night. Maestra Jeri Lynne Johnson, a conductor who has smart ideas about programming, even if they don’t all work (and better ones about community!) mixed and matched her Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra with her principal trumpeter Rodney Mack’s Philadelphia Big Brass. The first half: lyric shorts by Americans Copland, Bloch, Ellis Marsalis and George Walker, came and went, easy and well.

Good strings are expected here, Black Pearl has them. Ms. Johnson is fortunate in her soloists, Mack’s trumpet was arresting in Copland’s movie score, Quiet City, Geoffrey Deemer’s English horn intense; the piece was the highlight of the first half with George Walker’s Pulitzer- winning understated Lyric Suite running a close second.

The second half mixed pops and classics performed by Rodney Mack’s six- year- old ensemble The Philadelphia Big Brass. A Rossini overture, a howling good quintet version of “He Walks with Me,” Elgar’s Nimrod variation and the finale to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Rodney Mack is a fabulous entertainer with a fine sound but he spoils things leaning too hard on a phrase, stretching or overstating like the toreador solo that he played to the house. His better gift is to support superlative musicians: Tubist and arranger Matt Brown, leader and trumpeter Wayne du Maine, whose part time gigs include playing the Met Opera and leading the South Pacific on Broadway now; du Maine led the better part of the Big Brass’s second half and when he was playing his tone was Brita pure. Rex Richardson’s trumpet made a blistering impression (Look him up on YouTube;) Jose Sibaja from Miami by way of Costa Rica with the Boston Brass. Johnson led the brass in the finale from Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, which began ragged and turned tornado. It’s good to know the Black Pearl has access to these virtuosos. , marketable enterprise. Certainly it’s time has come.

But the best was the encore “Billie Jean.” Three trumpets Richardson, Sibaja and du Maine trading, no! igniting riffs on MIchael Jackson – in the beauty of Baptist Temple’s green glass windows. This was thrilling.

NB: They also have Board Chair James Undercoffler, the Drexel professor of arts admin and former president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra before he threw up his hands at the deficit and other ills there. Let’s hope Undercoffler sees Black Pearl as more manageable. Word is Ms. Johnson, who trained at Wellesley, and U. of Chicago, has excellent funding, including fine family backing. The maestra once served as assistant conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

Dudamel Rocks Verizon

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Gustavo Dudamel
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
May 19, 2010

Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
First U.S. Tour
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
May 19, 2010

It had to happen. The media who went wild for Gustavo Dudamel and the LosAngeles Philharmonic at the start of his first season begins its joyless task of picking apart the charismatic and enormously gifted maestro.

Unlike some of the press here, I found the Tchaikovsky Pathetique heard recently at Verizon Hall a compelling interpretation. Perfect, of course not, the Venezuelan maestro is not even 30! Compelling because of the direction, shape and flow the young man gave the 45- minute masterpiece as he clearly inspired his charges. Unlike others observed on this podium, Dudamel, whose work I have observed on four separate occasions (*twice in Disney Hall) is not manipulative or aggressive. The music director does not beat music into submission. Dudamel is dominant. He appears to ride the sounds he summons.

The composer’s contrasts and pauses were keenly expressed; the pleasures best served by the woodwinds. Tchaikovsky’s low bassoon solo which opens coming up out of welter of basses was arresting. There were many clean exchanges among woodwinds. Violins may not be the Philharmonic’s treasure but the almost waltz theme- its return and transformations were nicely exposed.
The brass had some snafus – they had gotten a workout in the cinematic, jazzy and 25- minutes of City Noir by John Adams.

Principal cello Peter Stumpf, Philadelphia’s former assistant principal led the cello-rich symphony well. But the sold out house did not keep still after the lone cellos which take the Pathetique beyond hearing. You could tell it wasn’t the usual crowd. The huge sonority of the scherzo’s thumping lurched them into applause. So what: A joy to see nearly so many new people.
Can we get them to the Philadelphia Orchestra?
Yes. When there is leadership on stage to ignite the talent. L.A. has the dominant, assertive Deborah Borda as ED. Fingers crossed about Philadelphia’s director Allison Vulgamore, who did smart things for Atlanta….

Written by Lesley Valdes

May 24, 2010 at 12:25 am