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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

Yannick’s Mozart Requiem

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The Philadelphia Orchestra,
Yannick Nezet-Sequin, conducting
Mozart/Sussmayr Requiem
Verizon Hall, January 7-10, 2011
Review of Saturday night’s performance airs on WRTI, 90. 1 fm Jan. 11

Photo: Pete Checchia

Verizon Hall sold out for music director- designate Yannick Nezet- Seguin’s recent performances of the Mozart Requiem with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I heard Saturday night’s performance of the Requiem, which was finished by Mozart’s student, Sussymayr. The finest impressions came from the singing. A quartet of un-celebrity soloists blended well together. Soprano Lucy Crowe, who looks a Masterpiece Theater heroine, sang with ample ease and lovely fullness. The young bass-baritone, Andrew Foster-Williams, also has a beautiful limpid tone. Mezzo-soprano Birgit Remmert and tenor James Taylor completed the pliable ensemble.

David Hayes, as usual, had rehearsed the Philadelphia Singers Chorale to produce splendid sonorities following Nezet-Sequin’s markings and baton. Michael Stairs was authoritative at the organ. The 35- year -old Nezet-Seguin, who formally takes the Philadelphian Orchestra podium in the fall of 2012, has a keen interest in vocal matters. He got his start as a boy chorister in Montreal, studied choral conducting at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ.

There were interesting placements. Nezet-Sequin put the vocal quartet stage- rear adjacent to the double basses. The violins were divided. Reducing the orchestra to roughly half the size of the chorus, may have been un-wise for the instruments did not come across with this orchestra’s customary fullness or given acoustical challenges. Bottom and top harmonies sounded of more concern than inner voices.

The Requiem, only 60 minutes long, felt longer, as movements changed to pleading and churning; the “Lacyrmosa” was particularly lugubrious. A rhythmic undercurrent was missing to the expressive whole: no gulfstream propelling this ocean of moods.

I’m in the minority: The Requiem received many standing Os.

(The Mozart/Sussmayr Requiem cannot shake – indeed enjoys -its “Amadeus” celebrity and deathbed myths. People are prepared to cheer before a note’s begun. A good thing to have this box office draw but indulge the critic for maintaining the highest standards for this orchestra!)

Nezet-Seguin excels in quiet, shimmering, transparencies: those so-called Gallic passages. Debussy’s Nocturne, “Clouds” was perfect and graced by Elizabeth Star- Masoudnia’s fluid English horn. Less satisfactory were “Festivals,” the nocturne sounding more rushed rather than impeutuous through its transitions, and “Sirens,” whose wordless singing projected heavier than one imagines such fictional creatures.

Like “Clouds,” the encore, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus floated: quiet and sublime.

During an audience meet and greet in Verizon Hall after the concert, Nezet-Seguin, answered questions. (The host was Orchestra President Allison Vulgamore.) Fresh from his triumph with the Metropolitan Opera’s Don Carlo, Nezet-Sequin gave a definitive “Yes!” to concert operas during his tenure; explained his rehearsal process for the Mozart Requiem and his theory of programming “combinations.” The parque was almost full to hear the charismatic maestro, who gives the impression of a being an open and very happy fellow.

NB: Above photo: Maestro Nezet-Seguin (left) with Principal Tympany Don Liuzzi.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm

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

Yannick’s visit: Corrado’s Orfee

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Orfee et Eurydice
Opera Company of Philadelphia
/Curtis Opera collaboration
Corrado Rovaris, conducting
June 17-25, 2010
Perelman Theater

Good news energizes: Yannick Nezet -Seguin’s appointment as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director elect has put the city in a good mood. The French Canadian’s visit to the Kimmel and to Citizens Park on Friday brought in 200 hundred new subscribers according to a marketing rep for the orchestra. While Yannick was working the neighborhoods, Opera Company music director Corrado Rovaris was steering a fine Orfee et Eurydice at the Perelman. The Gluck is the Opera Company’s anticipated and usually sold out chamber opera collaboration with Curtis Opera Theater. This season’s production was changed from the planned three to five performances.

Designer Phillipe Amand strips the stage to sensuous color (teal/sky blue) and projected light. The underworld has a way of appearing and disappearing that is fabulous. There are only three principals: Mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Dunose as Orfee, soprano Elizabeth Reiter as Amor and Maureen Mckay as the doomed Eurydice. Dunose has a triple challenges in her first time out in the arduous role, she’s nearly always singing on an empty stage and the blocking doesn’t cut her any slack. One end of the stage to the other (or prone midcenter). the distinguished mezzo can’t always be heard. The grief and pain; the burnish of her art does comes through. Gluck’s timeless arias grow stronger, deeper as Orfee finally finds Eurydice and the lovers prepare to gain or lose each other – again. Mckay as the doomed wife shows many facets of Eurydice’s character in a soprano that is brilliant and can soar.

The austere staging clearly inspires director Bob Driver but perhaps to match the minimalism of the modernism, he keeps gestures at a minimum nor are there are any helpful props. Nary a flower for the grave, no instrument for the musician Orfee, any of which could have been projected but I am sure the idea was to avoid sentiment. (Instead the dancing veered toward sentiment.) Most confusing are Orfee’s trials: though we have the supertitles to remind that husband must not look at his wife as he takes her from the Underworld they are staged so near each other singing it feels ridiculous to have them pretending they do not see each other each other at all. Some productions use a blindfold which has its merits.

Reiter, a standout as Amina in Curtis Opera’s Sleepwalker not so long ago, is terrific in the feisty role of Love. Her costume makes her look like a punk hellion, the main wit in the opera. Richard St. Clair clearly had fun with the get up.

Amanda Miller’s choreography has a lot to recommend it particularly during the Elysian Fields panorama. Miller (of Miro Dance Theatre) ’s dances take up 50 of the opera’s entire 90 -minutes but there is some mannerism to the choreographic effort that detracts. Melding the chorus into the dance is a good idea that doesn’t quite work. Using an aerialist for Orfee’s descent is a brilliant stroke.

Maestro Rovaris, who has achieved so much for the professional company, doesn’t push too hard; his band usually aims for and achieves the subtle. It would have been nice to have a drier, more detached style of string playing to suit the period of Christoph Willibald Gluck instead of the fatter legato achieved. Still, such ardor to Orfee and Eurydice’s music – humanity here, real beauty. Rare opportunity to hear this version Berlioz arranged from Gluck’s two earlier French versions.

The poet Louise Glueck writes: “Everyone wants to be Orpheus.” True enough, since he gets the adulation and the best parts.But Eurydice’s part, though smaller, is pretty amazing too.

The last performance at the Perelman is June 25.

Written by Lesley Valdes

June 22, 2010 at 11:34 pm

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

Terell Stafford Jazzes up Temple Premieres

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fourth stream La banda Bill Cunliffe (World Premiere)
Ansel Adams: America, Dave & Chris Brubeck
Temple University Symphony Orchestra & Combined Choirs,
Luis Biava, Alan Harler, conducting
Terell Stafford, trumpet,
Verizon Hall, March 21, 2010
Alice Tully Hall, April 9, 2010

We’s so used to cheering the Curtis prodigies, we forget how good the Temple music students are. Until we hear them play full out, burnished, something like Barber’s Essay No. 2, Op. 17, rousing, burnished, and eureka, after all these kids, who are their teachers? Members of the Philadelphia Orchestra! Sunday Temple Symphony and Combined Choirs impressed a crowd at Verizon under maestros Luis Biava and Alan Harler. When jazz trumpeter Terell Stafford got up to play, the house was over the moon.

Grammy artist Stafford was the soloist in fourth stream…La Banda, Bill Cunliffe’s world premiere. He’s also a Grammy artist. Stafford’s horn can make anything sound over the moon but La Banda (which has a jazz quartet fronting the orchestra) is strong. It swings. Having Luis Biava to conduct doesn’t hurt. To its influences of Django, John Lewis, and Dizzy, La Banda adds claves, Latin percussion. Cunliffe smartly keeps different strains of music separate, nothing messy – at first. Great solo riffs for trumpet, but not until the themes have been announced. There’s a beautiful theme for cellos, which played it well. Stafford’s tone is long and pure and gold. Then, a blizzard of tones. But never shrill. He was Sunday’s mentor-hero.

The fizzle was Ansel Adams: America the commission a handful of orchestras (Stockton to Baltimore ) have paid $12 grand apiece to premiere (Additionally, a $15,000 grant. Temple alum, concert pianist and philanthropist Susan Carson who lives in Northern California brokered the deal which is written up in Symphony Magazine. The Stockton Symphony realized many benefits from the commission, according to the Symphony article. ) Jazz legend Dave Brubeck wrote the tunes, his son Chris arranged them. The score is a pastiche for 100 photographs by the late master. Snatches of waltz time, a little syncopation; the Brubecks said Bach and Chopin are influences since Adams wanted to become a concert pianist. These composers aren’t much in evidence in the soupy score. There is little to suggest musical depth or visual: the artist who caught Yosemite’s grandeur. The video projections (two screens above the stage) lack sophistication. No dissolves or fades. The slideshows on my Apple are dazzle. A friend pointed out: There might have been restrictions from the estate on how the photographs are. Still:

Stafford’s solos in La Banda better expressed Ansel Adams’ aesthetic eloquence.
Andrea Clearfield’s The Golem Psalms is a Passover tale for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Golem Tales shimmers with color, and the chorus enunciated Ellen Frankel’s text perfectly But I was weary by the 5th of its 7 parts. Baritone Sanford Sylvan was masterful and so was Alan Harler who is retiring after 30 years. Harler will be missed.

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 22, 2010 at 5:01 am

Maestro in Waiting? Jurowski & Philadelphia?

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Vladimir Jurowski conducts
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Benedetto Lupo, piano
Verizon Hall
March 18-20

Sounds like Vladimir Jurowski’s convinced the Philadelphia Orchestra he’s the one- the new music director. The guest conductor’s program Thursday night was captivating. The Russian maestro who doesn’t smile on stage was given a speech before the music started. Jumping from the back row, violinist Jonathan Beiler thanked Jurowski, who’s guested for three previous seasons (this is his fourth). He called the Muscovite a favorite. He mentioned some 1,000 details their music making has involved. This is so special, Bieler said. The appreciation read quietly was emotion, almost embarrassing. But the praise held up once everyone delved into Brahms’ Tragic Overture all that intensity laced with flow.
The key to Jurowski’s magic was the Eroica Symphony. So many maestros sweep an audience off its feet with those Romantics. Beethoven shows what you’re made of. How clean are your thoughts. Jurowski made us sit up and sit still. Everything was noticeable: The first movement’s levels of loudness, keenly felt, keenly varied. The Funeral March that wasn’t pounced upon us but allowed to flow — so that when the flute slips in you really feel the solo. When music flows, is not unduly stretched or beaten, there is no end of difference in how wde feel about it. We aren’t manipulated.
Too many conductors rush us this way and that making their points. Juroswki makes his by expansion and discretion. Thursday’s Eroica did not pull the heartstrings. Beethoven kept us focused line by line and note by note.

At the concert’s heart, a beautiful surprise: Benedetto Lupo made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut playing Robert Schuman’s tender Piano Concerto in A Minor which requires delicacy, power and soul. If you been there you are doubtless in love with Benedetto Lupo too. href=”″>file0446

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 19, 2010 at 5:51 am