Press

Fri, May 19, 2017

This week: concerts in New York (May 15, 2017 – May 21, 2017)
I Care if You Listen

The contemporary music orchestra of Trinity Church, NOVUS NY, conducted by Julian Wachner, premieres Jessica Meyer’s Through which we flow as part of the church’s “Sunken Cathedral” series. The series features diverse arrangements of Debussy’s classic and haunting prelude La Cathédrale engloutie, alongside a variety of newer compositions focusing on climate change and water. The program also features John Luther Adams’s Pulitzer and Grammy-winning Become Ocean and Luna Pearl Woolf’s After the Wave.

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This week: concerts in New York (May 15, 2017 – May 21, 2017)

by SAM REISING on May 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

MICHAEL RIESMAN AND ENSEMBLE SIGNAL CELEBRATE PHILIP GLASS | POP-UP CONCERTS

Joined by Doug Perkins and Lauren Radnofsky of Ensemble Signal, Michael Riesman takes to the Miller stage for a program surveying Glass’s legendary opera and film music.
Monday, May 15 at 6:00 PM
Free
Miller Theatre, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY

RADICALS IN MINIATURE | AIN GORDON WITH JOSH QUILLEN

Radicals in Miniature is a series of textual-sonic odes to personal icons of 20th century “alternative” culture that lost their toehold on immortality and (in the pre-Internet era) their place in public memory. Radicals is performed by 3-time Obie Award winner Ain Gordon and So Percussion’s Josh Quillen.
Tuesday, May 16 to Saturday, May 20 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, May 21 at 2 PM
Tickets $20
Baryshnikov Arts Center, Howard Gilman Performance Space, 450 West 37th Street, Suite 501, New York, NY

FOR THIS FROM THAT WILL BE FILLED | CLARICE JENSEN AND JONATHAN TURNER

This first-time collaboration between cellist Clarice Jensen and artist Jonathan Turner presents three world-premiere compositions and explores the variable differences between acoustic and electronic sound, and between simulation and the unconscious, through repetition and layering.
Wednesday, May 17 at 7:30 PM
Tickets $15
The Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street, New York, NY

CONCERTS AT ONE: SUNKEN CATHEDRAL

The contemporary music orchestra of Trinity Church, NOVUS NY, conducted by Julian Wachner, premieres Jessica Meyer’s Through which we flow as part of the church’s “Sunken Cathedral” series. The series features diverse arrangements of Debussy’s classic and haunting prelude La Cathédrale engloutie, alongside a variety of newer compositions focusing on climate change and water. The program also features John Luther Adams’s Pulitzer and Grammy-winning Become Ocean and Luna Pearl Woolf’s After the Wave.
Thursday, May 18 at 1:00 PM
Free
St. Paul’s Chapel, Broadway and Fulton Street, New York, NY

TERRY AND GYAN RILEY

Terry Riley and Gyan Riley come to National Sawdust for a special performance. Longtime music collaborators, this father-son duo of pianist + classical guitarist draws influences from their studies and experiences around the world.
Thursday, May 18 at 7:00 PM
Tickets $35
National Sawdust, 80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY

DAY 1 | LOOK + LISTEN FESTIVAL

Helping to usher in the festival’s Opening Night at Pratt Manhattan Gallery is Ione from the Deep Listening Institute who will lead Pauline Oliveros’ The Heart Chant. Hosted by Bill McGlaughlin, the evening’s program features violinist and violist Miranda Cuckson, septet ensemble yMusic performing selections from their latest album, First, composed by Son Lux; and tenor sax quartet Battle Trance is performing an excerpt from Blade of Love.
Thursday, May 18 at 8:00 PM
Free
Pratt Manhattan Gallery, 144 West 14th Street, 2nd floor, New York, NY

DAY 2 | LOOK + LISTEN FESTIVAL

Day 2 of the festival at BRIC is hosted by Lara Pellegrinelli and features So Percussion performing the New York premiere of Paul Lansky’s Springs, as well as Michael Gordon’s Timber, joined by Yarn/Wire percussionists. Yarn/Wire then takes the stage to perform Žibuoklė Martinaityte’s Look + Listen commission, Unique forms of continuity in space. Jen Shyu presents excerpts from her newest solo work, Nine and Look + Listen’s Composer’s Competition winner, Nina C. Young’s Spero Lucern, will be performed by Ensemble Échappé.
Friday, May 19 at 8:00 PM
Free
BRIC, 647 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY

REVOLUTION X3

A concert featuring Sexmob, Jaimeo Brown Transcendence, and the premiere of Beats Per Revolution by Martha Mooke and Rahzel. Featuring a performance of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and an all-star ensemble.
Friday, May 19 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $35-$65
Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway, New York, NY

PHILIP GLASS’S SYMPHONY NO. 5

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Downtown Voices, and NOVUS NY join forces to perform Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 5.
Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20 at 8:00 PM
Free
Trinity Church, Broadway at Wall Street, New York, NY

AERIALITY | ANNA THORVALDSDOTTIR

The New York Philharmonic premieres Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Aeriality on a concert that also includes the New York premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Wing on Wing featuring sopranos Anu Komsi and Piia Komsi and Brahms’s Violin Concerto performed by Leonidas Kavakos.
Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $19-$104
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY

MARIEL ROBERTS: CARTOGRAPHY, WORKS FOR SOLO CELLO+

Cellist Mariel Roberts explores the outer limits of her instrument as she celebrates the release of her second solo album, Cartography, out May 19 on New Focus Recordings. The program features music by Davi∂ Brynjar Franzson, Cenk Ergün, George Lewis, and Eric Wubbels (who guests on piano).
Friday, May 19 at 7:00 PM
Tickets $25
National Sawdust, 80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY

IL TRAMONTO: MUSIC OF RESPIGHI, TAKEMITSU, MAHLER, IVES + LASH

Guest soloists Sarah Heltzel (mezzo-soprano), Catherine Gregory (flute), and Melanie Genin (harp) join the String Orchestra of Brooklyn to perform works by Hannah Lash, Respighi, Ives, Takemitsu, and Mahler.
Saturday, May 20 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $16, $11 students/seniors
St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, 157 Montague Street, Brooklyn, NY

DAY 3 | LOOK + LISTEN FESTIVAL

The festival concludes with a program curated and hosted by Terrance McKnight, in partnership with The Studio Museum in Harlem. L+L is delighted to have Craig Harris and The Saints and Aint’s Brass Choir performing selections, along with Carman Moore’s Skymusic Ensemble performing several of his own works, including the gospel themed Think In An New Way.
Sunday, May 21 at 3:00 PM
Free
The Studio Museum, 144 West 125th Street, New York, NY
 

Wed, May 17, 2017

NOVUS NY: Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 5
The New Yorker

An ambitious run of spring programming at Trinity Church wraps up with a performance of one of Glass’s grandest works, a hopeful, evening-length piece for voices and orchestra (subtitled “Requiem, Bardo, Nirmanakaya”) that draws on religious texts from several world traditions. In a smaller-scale midday event on Thursday, at St. Paul’s Chapel, Julian Wachner and his outstanding players offer a welcome performance of John Luther Adams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning piece, “Become Ocean,” in addition to works by Jessica Meyer (a world première) and Luna Pearl Woolf.

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GOINGS ABOUT TOWN

CLASSICAL MUSIC ORCHESTRAS AND CHORUSES

NOVUS NY: Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 5

Photograph by Eamonn McCabe / Camera Press / Redux

An ambitious run of spring programming at Trinity Church wraps up with a performance of one of Glass’s grandest works, a hopeful, evening-length piece for voices and orchestra (subtitled “Requiem, Bardo, Nirmanakaya”) that draws on religious texts from several world traditions. In a smaller-scale midday event on Thursday, at St. Paul’s Chapel, Julian Wachner and his outstanding players offer a welcome performance of John Luther Adams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning piece, “Become Ocean,” in addition to works by Jessica Meyer (a world première) and Luna Pearl Woolf.

May 18 at 1; May 19-20 at 8.

Trinity Church

Broadway at Wall St.

Downtown

212-602-0848

Mon, May 15, 2017

Julian Wachner leads his last concert as music director of Washington Chorus
The Washington Post

Wachner brought a somewhat different approach to D.C.’s choral landscape. Rather than seeking a life partner in an ensemble, he made no secret of wanting to continue his career as a composer and conductor of other orchestras and operas. His innovations included a series devoted to new music, a series on prominent composers not mainly known for their choral works (Bernstein, Wagner, Mahler) and significant contemporary works. He also had a populist flair, manifest in his exuberant carol arrangements for the chorus’s popular Christmas concerts.

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Julian Wachner leads his last concert as music director of Washington Chorus

Julian Wachner is leaving the Washington Chorus after 10 years as its music director. Replacing him is Scotland-based conductor Christopher Bell. (Scott Suchman)
By Anne Midgette May 15 

When Julian Wachner arrived in Washington to head the Washington Chorus, he was seething with unfocused energy: a man with a lot to prove. On Sunday, nearly 10 years later, he led his valedictory performance as the chorus’s music director. It was in many ways a typical Wachner performance — big and ambitious, pairing two 20th-century works with roots in the distant past, Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex” and Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” But Wachner has less to prove now, and this was an amicable parting. The chorus announced his successor, the acclaimed Scotland-based conductor Christopher Bell , earlier this week.

Wachner brought a somewhat different approach to D.C.’s choral landscape. Rather than seeking a life partner in an ensemble, he made no secret of wanting to continue his career as a composer and conductor of other orchestras and operas. His innovations included a series devoted to new music, a series on prominent composers not mainly known for their choral works (Bernstein, Wagner, Mahler) and significant contemporary works. He also had a populist flair, manifest in his exuberant carol arrangements for the chorus’s popular Christmas concerts. But partway through Wachner’s Washington Chorus tenure, a new post at New York’s Trinity Wall Street emerged as an even better vehicle for his disparate interests. In New York, he has become a darling of the new-music scene and early-music scene at the same time, while marrying and starting a family. His official departure from D.C. is a natural step. 

Wachner leaves the chorus in good shape. It sounded fine Sunday, joining with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington in Stravinsky’s pounding, archaic lines, while the exuberant orchestra — Wachner is never too quiet — often all but drowned out the soloists. Margaret Lattimore was a clean, silvery Jocasta, firm and clear of tone in contrast to the men: Vale Rideout, who sang the tough role of Oedipus; Christopher Burchett, in several roles; and Morris Robinson, as a stentorian and deluxe Tiresias, all sounded a little furry.

“Oedipus” offers dark austerity; “Carmina Burana,” bright austerity. Wachner brought a fluidity and verve to this familiar piece, emphasizing less the work’s powerful sound than its sensuality and theatricality. The Children’s Chorus of Washington and the boy and girl choristers of Washington National Cathedral sang angelically from the top balcony at the back of the hall, while the tenor Robert Baker rose from a side box and moved around the stage, singing plangently in the role of a roasting swan. The soprano Colleen Daly showed a mezzo-tinted lower register rising to a wonderful warm top.

Wachner takes up a lot of space, drawing the spotlight; Bell, his successor, may offer a more conventional approach. But the chorus was perhaps able to snare someone of Bell’s international stature because Wachner has elevated its profile. Sunday’s farewell was a happy goodbye between two parties looking forward to new beginnings — as smooth a transition as an organization can have. In a few days, Wachner will be back at the Kennedy Center, conducting a multimedia new-music project from New York, “The Hubble Cantata.” Washington won’t lose sight of him in the years ahead. 

Mon, May 15, 2017

The Shimmering Nebulae of Paola Prestini’s ‘Hubble Cantata’
WQXR

And the project’s other collaborators are no less – and there is no other word for them – stellar. The libretto is by Royce Vavrek, the wordsmith behind the 21st-century’s most acclaimed American operas (Breaking the Waves, Dog Days), and soprano Jessica Rivera’s passionate solos transmute the scientific stuff of the text into pure theater. Baritone Nathan Gunn’s voice reminds you why he is one of opera’s biggest names, and Julian Wachner steers not only his own Washington Chorus and Novus NY but also the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and the Norwegian string ensemble 1B1 through Prestini’s shimmering nebulae of sound.

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Q2 Music Album of the Week

The Shimmering Nebulae of Paola Prestini's 'Hubble Cantata'

May 15, 2017 · by Daniel Stephen Johnson

Paola Prestini is more than a composer. Co-founder of the production company VisionIntoArt (VIA) and its recording offshoot VIA Records, her latest institutional triumph is National Sawdust, the audiophile listening venue in Williamsburg that instantly became Brooklyn's not-just-classical hotspot.

And her new VIA Records release, The Hubble Cantata, is a more than a piece of music. It is a new kind of collaboration: a nexus of art and science. 

On the scientific side, the piece features spoken narration by astrophysicist Mario Livio, exploring the place of Earth and its passengers among the stars and generally asking the Big Questions provoked by our view of the heavens. A stereo recording, unfortunately, cannot fully convey the 3D virtual reality sound – designed by Arup, the same firm that created the acoustics of National Sawdust and, among other high-profile projects, New York's new Second Avenue Subway – that accompany live performances of the work, but vestiges of the experience remain in the atmospheric electronic elements of the score.

And the project's other collaborators are no less – and there is no other word for them – stellar. The libretto is by Royce Vavrek, the wordsmith behind the 21st-century's most acclaimed American operas (Breaking the Waves, Dog Days), and soprano Jessica Rivera's passionate solos transmute the scientific stuff of the text into pure theater. Baritone Nathan Gunn's voice reminds you why he is one of opera's biggest names, and Julian Wachner steers not only his own Washington Chorus and Novus NY but also the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and the Norwegian string ensemble 1B1 through Prestini's shimmering nebulae of sound. 

For a piece that explicitly takes as its subject the seeming insignificance of mankind against the sublime and infinite expanses of outer space, The Hubble Cantata's focus is very much on the human. This studio recording is not awash in reverb but as raw and clear as a live recording, allowing us to hear the minutest details of these terrestrial voices as they lead us on a voyage through the stars.

Paola Prestini: The Hubble Cantata
VIA Records | Released May 19, 2017 | Available on iTunes

Fri, April 28, 2017

5 Sublime Minutes by a Maverick: This Week’s 8 Best Classical Music Moments
The New York Times

The centennial of Lou Harrison — maverick American composer, instrument inventor, pacifist and gay pioneer — was celebrated with a joyous concert at Trinity Church [Julian Wachner, Director of Music and the Arts], featuring a fine choir and impressive percussion ensemble from Rutgers University. Harrison’s ecstatic Concerto for Organ and Percussion and his mesmerizing setting (in Esperanto) of “The Heart Sutra” for chorus and percussion were full of wondrous moments. But the one that lifted me out of myself came in the final Chaconne movement of the Suite for Violin with American Gamelan. As a stately yet smile-inducing bass theme was played over and over on various tubular instruments, the violinist Krista Bennion Feeney spun out beguiling figurations and subtle melodic twists, supported by an increasingly animated chorus of percussion sounds. Imagine American church bells mingling with pagoda chimes.

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5 Sublime Minutes by a Maverick: This Week’s 8 Best Classical Music Moments

APRIL 28, 2017

LOU HARRISON CENTENNIAL, APRIL 23

An American Gamelan

The centennial of Lou Harrison — maverick American composer, instrument inventor, pacifist and gay pioneer — was celebrated with a joyous concert at Trinity Church, featuring a fine choir and impressive percussion ensemble from Rutgers University. Harrison’s ecstatic Concerto for Organ and Percussion and his mesmerizing setting (in Esperanto) of “The Heart Sutra” for chorus and percussion were full of wondrous moments. But the one that lifted me out of myself came in the final Chaconne movement of the Suite for Violin with American Gamelan. As a stately yet smile-inducing bass theme was played over and over on various tubular instruments, the violinist Krista Bennion Feeney spun out beguiling figurations and subtle melodic twists, supported by an increasingly animated chorus of percussion sounds. Imagine American church bells mingling with pagoda chimes. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

BACH FESTIVAL & SYMPOSIUM, APRIL 21

Hipip Hooray

Speculating about future performances of Bach’s Mass in B minor during a panel discussion on the work at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the distinguished Bach scholar Daniel R. Melamed broached a concept that had panelists and audience members alike scratching their heads. Building on the acronym HIP, as historically informed performance is known by its practitioners, Mr. Melamed spoke of Hipip and tripped slightly over the words: no surprise, since they are hard to sort out even in print, using hyphens. Is it simply historically informed practice-informed performance, or historically-informed-practice-informed performance? The idea, Mr. Melamed later clarified, is performance (by early-music groups or not) informed by historically informed practice. So better, Pihip? Naw, it doesn’t sing. JAMES R. OESTREICH

‘EUGENE ONEGIN,’ APRIL 22

A Mist of Nostalgia

“Happiness was within our reach,” Tatiana sings to the man who years before had spurned her. “So close, so close.” At the Metropolitan Opera, Anna Netrebko sent the line into a hovering hush, a mist of nostalgia and regret. “So close” was faint, a remembrance of things past; its repetition, meatier, a recognition of implacable fate. ZACHARY WOOLFE

RED PRIEST, APRIL 27

Mournful Interruption

The wildly virtuosic little band — recorder, violin, cello and harpsichord — that sports Vivaldi’s nickname played his “Four Seasons” in entertainingly eccentric fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and filled out the program with charming pieces by lesser-known Baroque composers. As perverse as it may seem to single out a sober little violin tune amid so much great musicianship and irreverent good humor, David Greenberg’s account of “Lament for the Death of His Second Wife,” by the Scottish fiddler Niel Gow, in the best Celtic manner, was exquisite. JAMES R. OESTREICH

PAUL JACOBS, APRIL 27

Cagean Rumblings

In a video on the New York Times Facebook page, the excellent organist Paul Jacobs issues an invitation for viewers to visit his class at the Juilliard School. I did so on Thursday, and it was a heartening experience to see seven young players display their immense talents. It was also a welcome chance to experience new sounds and techniques from the fine Holtkamp instrument in Paul Hall. The most startling came from — who else? — John Cage, in his “Souvenir,” when the player, Daniel Ficarri, repeatedly reached to the bottom of the pedalboard with his left foot to sound a tone cluster in the organ’s deepest register that was mostly sheer vibration, devoid of recognizable pitch. JAMES R. OESTREICH

UMASS BACH FESTIVAL CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA, APRIL 22

Wrenching Plea

The mounting plea for peace (“Dona nobis pacem”) that concludes Bach’s B minor Mass comes as a wrench these days, in a nation riven by politics. It proved particularly stirring at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, as sung by the 35-member UMass Bach Festival Chorus, prepared by Tony Thornton, which was unquestionably the star of the festival’s two performances of the Mass. In line with much current practice, the conductor, Simon Carrington, benched the chorus for several earlier passages, allotting them instead to the vocal soloists. Given this chorus and the soloists at hand, that may have been a mistake. Happily, he left this final number to the young choristers, who repaid him handsomely. JAMES R. OESTREICH

NATALIE DESSAY, APRIL 26

Sleepwalking Soprano

In an intense recital by Natalie Dessay, a potentially campy moment, pulled off. Ms. Dessay had left the stage so that her collaborator, Philippe Cassard, could play a couple of Debussy piano preludes. As he got to the gauzy end of “Ondine,” the stage door opened and Ms. Dessay floated in like a sleepwalker, blending the end of the prelude with the start of Debussy’s song “Regret.” ZACHARY WOOLFE 

ORCHESTRA OF THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT, APRIL 26

Outsider’s Input

As expected, this period band gave stirring performances of symphonies by Haydn and his model C.P.E. Bach. But the heavy lifting was Mozart, the Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 5, with Isabelle Faust as splendid soloist. Ms. Faust became ever freer and more spontaneous-sounding in her embellishments, and a listener was prepared to believe that the inventive, unattributed cadenzas she added — especially that eerie, barely audible passage of harmonics in the finale of the First Concerto — were her own. But no, they were the work of a German fortepianist and harpsichordist not onstage, Andreas Staier. JAMES R. OESTREICH

Mon, April 24, 2017

New York Celebrates a Composer Who Left Town
The New Yorker

Harrison lived mostly in New York from 1943 to 1953. It was a desperately unhappy period for him, leading to a mental breakdown. Before he left, he wrote to his mother, “I long to live simply and well and that just isn’t possible here.” (This is from Bill Alves and Brett Campbell’s “Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick,” a superb new biography.) Making partial amends, Trinity Wall Street [Julian Wachner, Director of Music and the Arts] will pay tribute to Harrison in late April. His 1950 score for the ballet “Solstice,” one of his first gamelan-influenced works, will be heard on April 20, and on April 23 the Rutgers Percussion Ensemble will present “La Koro Sutro,” “Song of Quetzalcoatl,” and the Suite for Violin and American Gamelan, a work that employs the bespoke versions of Javanese instruments that Harrison built with his longtime partner, Bill Colvig.

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CLASSICAL MUSIC APRIL 24, 2017

New York Celebrates a Composer Who Left Town
Trinity Wall Street will honor the centennial of Lou Harrison, whose life and work blossomed in California after a troubled decade in New York. 

By Alex Ross

The centennial of the late Lou Harrison, the gentle maverick of postwar U.S. composition, will be marked by concerts in New York and California.

“Cherish, conserve, consider, create”: you could do worse than to live your life according to the principles propounded by the composer Lou Harrison, who would have been a hundred in May. He died in 2003, his profile inextricably associated with the cultures of the West Coast, where he spent most of his life. He was a vegetarian; he spoke Esperanto; he practiced calligraphy; he embraced non-Western music, especially the Javanese gamelan; he was openly gay long before it was acceptable, or even safe. Behind the affable exterior was a keen, questing intellect. Harrison’s music traverses a huge stylistic range, from adamantine dissonance to melodies of homespun sweetness. What is striking now, in an age of bloated genre-blending, is his lucid synthesis of extremes. Arnold Schoenberg, who taught Harrison in the early nineteen-forties, passed along advice that became a mantra: “Use only the essentials.”

Not surprisingly, Harrison’s centennial festivities will crest in California, where he lived from 1953 until his death, making his home in Aptos, near Santa Cruz. In his last years, he built an airy straw-bale house just outside Joshua Tree National Park, which was to have been his ideal retreat. Sadly, he died shortly after it was finished, but it now stands as a shrine to his art. The dancer and filmmaker Eva Soltes—who has made an affecting documentary entitled “Lou Harrison: A World of Music”—curates residencies and performances there. On May 14, Harrison’s birthday, Soltes will host a twenty-four-hour celebratory marathon. In an un-Lou-like touch—for part of his life he had no telephone—the event will be streamed on the Internet.

Harrison lived mostly in New York from 1943 to 1953. It was a desperately unhappy period for him, leading to a mental breakdown. Before he left, he wrote to his mother, “I long to live simply and well and that just isn’t possible here.” (This is from Bill Alves and Brett Campbell’s “Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick,” a superb new biography.) Making partial amends, Trinity Wall Street will pay tribute to Harrison in late April. His 1950 score for the ballet “Solstice,” one of his first gamelan-influenced works, will be heard on April 20, and on April 23 the Rutgers Percussion Ensemble will present “La Koro Sutro,” “Song of Quetzalcoatl,” and the Suite for Violin and American Gamelan, a work that employs the bespoke versions of Javanese instruments that Harrison built with his longtime partner, Bill Colvig.

Unfortunately, little attention is falling this year on Harrison’s major orchestral scores: the Symphony on G and the “Elegiac Symphony,” which show his command of jagged sonorities after the fashion of Ives and Ruggles; and the Piano Concerto, whose gloriously unhinged Stampede movement rouses audiences into a frenzy on the rare occasions that the work is played. Mark Morris, a brilliant choreographer of Harrison’s scores, has written, “You either love Lou’s music or you haven’t heard it yet.” Someday, the former may outnumber the latter. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the April 24, 2017, issue, with the headline “To Lou, with Love.”

Fri, April 14, 2017

Mozart, Made New: This Week’s 8 Best Classical Music Moments
The New York Times

Eight hard-working singers of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, doubling as soloists and mercilessly exposed choristers in a performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion” with the early-instrument ensemble New York Baroque Incorporated, conducted by Julian Wachner at St. Paul’s Chapel on lower Broadway, offered many satisfying moments. Perhaps the finest was the tenor Brian Giebler’s aria, “Erwäge” (“Consider”), rendered with lovely tone and deep expressivity, and beautifully accompanied by the violinists Lorenzo Colitto and Beth Wenstrom.

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Mozart, Made New: This Week’s 8 Best Classical Music Moments

APRIL 14, 2017

In addition to reviews, features and news during the week, our critics and reporters collect the best of what they’ve heard: notes that sent shivers down their spines, memorable voices, quotations that cut to the heart of the story.

METROPOLITAN OPERA, APRIL 13

Ghostly Dancers

At first I thought I was going to disdain a staging touch in Robert Carsen’s new production of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier.” As Sophie and Octavian sang their love-at-first-sight duet, some eight similarly dressed couples — men in uniforms, women in white dresses — danced in the background, twirling slowly and bowing in courtly fashion. But what first seemed a distraction soon became a captivating moment, an elegant choreographic representation of the magical music, which these artists sang beautifully. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

ENSEMBLE RESONANZ, APRIL 10

Mozart, Made New

When forced laborers built the massive flak tower on Feldstrasse in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg during World War II, surely none could have imagined the scene that was to unfold in one of its utilitarian spaces when the chamber group Ensemble Resonanz performed the stormy first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 to a room packed with Syrian and other refugees. Earlier in the program, the lucid violinist Isabelle Faust had performed extracts from a fidgety new concerto by the Argentine composer Oscar Strasnoy. Now she sat in the concertmaster’s chair and led a brilliant reading of the Mozart, which the audience seemed to receive with stoic patience. CORINNA DA FONSECA-WOLLHEIM

BARROW STREET THEATER, APRIL 8

Sparse Sondheim

“Sweeney Todd” may be a musical theater piece, but Stephen Sondheim’s score has more sophistication than many contemporary operas. That ingenious music comes through with chilling immediacy in the up-close production at the Barrow Street Theater, played by just three instruments: a piano (the impressive Andrew Garle on the night I attended), violin and clarinet. For me, the sparseness of the trio’s sound revealed the harmonic pungencies and rich details in the music, like the transfixing moment when the avenging Sweeney haltingly sings the lines “There was a barber and his wife, and she was beautiful,” and the piano gently jabbed the word “beautiful” with a piercingly dissonant chord. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY, APRIL 7

Delightfully Deflating

Gautier Capuçon gave a fine account of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting his orchestra at Carnegie Hall — especially strong in the finale, which evokes the composer’s splendid cantata “The Execution of Stepan Razin.” But Mr. Capuçon, once finished, immediately set any grand notions aside with a delightfully deflating solo encore, “Walk of the Small Soldiers,” arranged from a march in Prokofiev’s piano collection “Music for Children.”JAMES R. OESTREICH

ELBPHILHARMONIE, APRIL 12

An Ebullient Indictment

“They’re bringing me to the sea without any right,” goes the first line of “A la mar me llevan,” by an anonymous Baroque composer from Peru, performed in Hamburg as part of “The Routes of Slavery,” Jordi Savall’s profoundly moving evening of music, text and dance dedicated to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Marked “for voice, bass, for dancing,” this work blends Iberian folk forms with African rhythms, resulting in irrepressibly ebullient music that becomes both a celebration of the vitality of the culture of slaves in the New World and an indictment of their captivity. CORINNA DA FONSECA-WOLLHEIM

NEW YORK CHORAL SOCIETY AND ORCHESTRA, APRIL 8

Triumph in Death

Good intentions abounded in the New York premiere of James MacMillan’s “St. Luke Passion,” with the society and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, conducted by David Hayes at St. Bart’s in Midtown Manhattan. But clarifying this kind of text-heavy composition is no easy assignment for a massed chorus of amateurs, and words and textures were largely subsumed in a mushy overall sonority. Still, the composer’s great effect, after the final chorus in “Chapter 23” and the death of Jesus, came through clearly, when an intentional mush of orchestral improvisation gave way to the triumphant strains of the ancient Passion chorale. JAMES R. OESTREICH

CHRISTINE GOERKE, APRIL 13

“They went insane.” That’s how the director Francesca Zambello described the audience response to Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde, and it is the response Ms. Goerke has generally had in the dramatic roles that have become her specialty. Michael Cooper sat down with her and tells the pretty harrowing, ultimately inspiring story of how she revamped her career after a vocal crisis. ZACHARY WOOLFE

BACH AT ONE, APRIL 10

Deeply Considered

Eight hard-working singers of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, doubling as soloists and mercilessly exposed choristers in a performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion” with the early-instrument ensemble New York Baroque Incorporated, conducted by Julian Wachner at St. Paul’s Chapel on lower Broadway, offered many satisfying moments. Perhaps the finest was the tenor Brian Giebler’s aria, “Erwäge” (“Consider”), rendered with lovely tone and deep expressivity, and beautifully accompanied by the violinists Lorenzo Colitto and Beth Wenstrom. JAMES R. OESTREICH

Fri, April 14, 2017

Bach’s ‘St. John Passion’ Has More Humanity Than Anti-Semitism
The New York Times

The performance that most resembled Tenet’s came on Monday, with Julian Wachner leading the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and New York Baroque Incorporated at St. Paul’s Chapel on lower Broadway. (New York Baroque and the Sebastians draw on many of the same players, mostly alumni of the Juilliard School’s historical-performance program.)

As usual, Mr. Wachner, conducting from the organ, whipped up plenty of drama, though he used even smaller forces than Tenet: essentially, a vocal quartet on either side of the altar, doubling as choristers and soloists; an Evangelist (Timothy Hodges) in the pulpit; and 12 instrumentalists.

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Bach’s ‘St. John Passion’ Has More Humanity Than Anti-Semitism

By JAMES R. OESTREICH APRIL 14, 2017

How passing strange. Typically, in the lead-up to Easter, Bach’s surviving Passions, the “St. John” and “St. Matthew,” each attract a performance or two in New York. But this spring, for whatever reasons, brought five major presentations of the “St. John” and none of the “St. Matthew.” And several new recordings arrived in recent weeks, all of “St. John,” as if to drive the point home.

But what, exactly, is that point? True, the “St. Matthew Passion” — first performed in Leipzig, Germany, in 1727, three years after the “St. John” — is a bigger, more complex work, and harder to present, with its multiple choruses and orchestras. On the other hand, it would seem an easier sell, being more majestic and ideologically trouble free.

Almost inevitably these days, the “St. John” courts controversy, with its bald use of the Gospel of John’s words, harping on “the Jews” as the prime instigators of Jesus’ death. All too vividly, it depicts Jesus facing his accusers, and the Roman prefect Pilate becomes an almost sympathetic figure, parrying with “the high priests and servants,” who shout, “Crucify, crucify!” to a frenzied orchestral backdrop, blood lust almost palpable in the sneering harmonies.

Even for those of us who treasure it, the “St. John,” as Alex Ross wrote recently in The New Yorker, “remains a little frightening.” The American choral master Robert Shaw, a secular humanist who loved the “St. John” ardently and performed it throughout his career, summarized the plight of Bachians in 1995: “Many of us never will cease to be embarrassed by its occasional vehement-to-vicious racial attribution regarding the Crucifixion of Jesus. There can be no doubt that its traditional text has added to the waves of anti-Semitism for generations and centuries since its composition.”

As this suggests, and as the musicologist Michael Marissen seconded in a lecture before the vocal group Tenet and the early-instrument band the Sebastians performed the work at the German Lutheran Church of St. Paul in Chelsea on March 25, the “St. John” problem has become ever more troubling in the decades since World War II and the Holocaust. With the horrible potential latent in anti-Semitism ever more apparent, any performance or hearing of this work must be cause for sober reflection, not mere mindless pleasure.

Is the Passion’s savage depiction of the Jews simply the work of a master storyteller? It is surely that, but not simply that. Bach’s own attitude becomes clearer in his music and in the poetry of the choruses and arias with which he surrounds John’s narrative.

An early chorale, for example, “Wer hat dich so geschlagen,” asks of the wounded Jesus, “Who has struck you so?” The second verse answers, “Ich, ich und meine Sünden”: “I” — we all, that is Protestant, Catholic and Jew alike — “I and my sins.”

Here, as Mr. Marissen notes in his book “Bach & God” (2016), “Bach moves the focus away from the perfidy of ‘the Jews’ and onto the sins of Christian believers.” And the work as a whole moves in an epic arc from turmoil to profound fellow-feeling and consolation, from inhumanity for the sake of effect, as it were, to a humanity deeply felt and registered.

The Tenet-Sebastians production was a riveting example, easily the most compelling of the recent spate of New York performances. It was conceived over a year as something of a group effort, led by Jolle Greenleaf, the performance’s artistic director, and Jeffrey Grossman, its music director. The chorus of 12 was deployed in three quartets that moved independently around the altar space, often making close contact with the audience in this intimate setting, singing separately, or combining for full effect.

To make the essential theological point of shared guilt in that crucial chorale, “Wer hat dich so geschlagen,” four singers performed the first, questioning verse in an exquisite pianissimo. Then all three quartets joined in full-throated affirmation in the confessional “I, I and my sins.”

Aaron Sheehan sang the tenor role of the Evangelist beautifully and with just the right drama from the pulpit, and Mischa Bouvier was superb as Jesus, with a warm, full baritone. The other stellar singers included Molly Quinn and Ms. Greenleaf, sopranos, and Sumner Thompson, baritone. Mr. Grossman led the terrific orchestra of 18 from the organ.

The performance that most resembled Tenet’s came on Monday, with Julian Wachner leading the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and New York Baroque Incorporated at St. Paul’s Chapel on lower Broadway. (New York Baroque and the Sebastians draw on many of the same players, mostly alumni of the Juilliard School’s historical-performance program.)

As usual, Mr. Wachner, conducting from the organ, whipped up plenty of drama, though he used even smaller forces than Tenet: essentially, a vocal quartet on either side of the altar, doubling as choristers and soloists; an Evangelist (Timothy Hodges) in the pulpit; and 12 instrumentalists. Still, there was not a sense of directness or intimacy like that achieved by Tenet in its peregrinations, and Trinity’s two quartets, widely separated, lacked a comparable unity and force.

I unfortunately missed the first of this year’s New York performances, on Feb. 9, with Ted Sperling conducting MasterVoices at Carnegie Hall. It must have been quite a spectacle, a curious mix of the old-fashioned and the newfangled that could only have suggested the gamut of performance techniques and styles to follow. The performance celebrated the 75th anniversary of MasterVoices, which was founded by Robert Shaw in 1942 as the Collegiate Chorale. But Mr. Sperling used a full complement of 125 singers, as Shaw would probably not have done in Bach, and he set this hefty choir against the period instruments of New York Baroque Incorporated.

What’s more, MasterVoices performed the work in a modern English translation by Michael Slattery, who also sang the role of the Evangelist, and invited the audience to sing along in the chorales — practices that Shaw, who worked on his own translations over the years and favored directness of communication, would undoubtedly have endorsed. (Mr. Slattery, like Shaw, referred in his translation not to “the Jews,” but to “the people.”)

Also working with sizable forces, Dennis Keene conducted his fine Voices of Ascension Chorus and Orchestra at the Church of the Ascension in Greenwich Village in a throwback performance of sorts, on March 30. Though it is no longer what we are used to in today’s mainstream, historically informed accounts, the beefy sound of Mr. Keene’s 37-voice choir and his orchestra of modern instruments offered gratifications of their own, at least for a listener who came to Bach in a different era.

Mr. Keene had a superb Jesus in the bass-baritone Kevin Deas, and a terrific alto soloist in Avery Amereau, the only female singer in the performances I heard to venture the low-lying aria “Es ist vollbracht” (“It is accomplished”), accompanied by viola da gamba. Ms. Amereau is herself something of a welcome throwback at a time when countertenors have all but displaced contraltos in early music.

A performance by the Choir of New College, Oxford, and the English Concert Players, conducted by Robert Quinney at St. Bart’s in Midtown Manhattan on March 28 harked back to a different tradition, that of the English choir of men and boys. This, alas, was not the best display of it: a performance polished enough, but largely lacking in excitement, apart from the strong performance of the Evangelist by Nick Pritchard.

It would be nice to say that a new recording by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and the Academy of Ancient Music, conducted by Stephen Cleobury and released by King’s College, better represents the tradition, and it does have, in addition to the excellent Evangelist of James Gilchrist, the affecting Jesus of Neal Davies. But it, too, offers little more imagination and drive than we might have expected from, say, New York’s beloved St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys.

That group somewhat sidestepped the Bach wars this spring, as Daniel Hyde, a former acolyte of Mr. Cleobury in Cambridge, in his first Passion season as music director at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, offered a more modest 1772 “St. John Passion” by Bach’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. C.P.E. was expected to produce a new Passion in Hamburg every year and evidently did so, in eclectic style.

This “St. John” has attractive original music, though nothing involving enough to stir particular consternation at mentions of “the Jews.” And it is all put in the shade when C.P.E. simply lifts the culminating chorus, the magnificent “Ruht wohl” (“Rest well”), from his father’s work, surely a homage born of desperation.

Among the other new recordings of J. S. Bach’s “St. John,” one is first-rate, a good choice, at least until Tenet can produce something better: a documentation of presentations by Jeannette Sorrell’s ensemble Apollo’s Fire last year in Cleveland and New York. Notable, especially, for Nicholas Phan’s Evangelist, Jesse Blumberg’s Jesus and Amanda Forsythe’s soprano arias, it is a deeply considered account, rendered with consummate skill and artistry.

It was wonderful to hear “St. John” in such variety this year. But next year, maybe also a “St. Matthew”?

Wed, April 12, 2017

Opera Composer Thrusts Grim World of Human Trafficking Back Into the Spotlight
Foreign Policy Magazine

The opera “Angel’s Bone” premiered in New York [conducted by Julian Wachner] early last year to rave reviews, both for its artistry and the innovative way it tackled such a bleak topic. Wall Street Journal opera critic Heidi Waleson called the performance “an 80-minute descent into extreme cruelty…that leaves the listener shocked and drained.” Washington Post’s Anne Midgette praised it as “a work that gave me nightmares, yet one that I would nonetheless see again.”

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Opera Composer Thrusts Grim World of Human Trafficking Back Into the Spotlight

BY ROBBIE GRAMER
APRIL 12, 2017 - 1:35 PM

It was around midnight on Monday when Du Yun got an excited text from a colleague. “He just said, ‘Holy shit!’ That was his text,” she recalled. Then a follow-up text: “You just won a Pulitzer.”

It was for a piece of work she did to put the grisly world of human trafficking back on the public’s radar. And not through reporting or book-writing, but through opera. “I didn’t want a didactic telling of ‘this is what this problem’ is but rather to offer this shared experience to really address the evilness,” she said in an interview with Foreign Policy at its Abu Dhabi Culture Summit (fittingly, where she learned she won the prize).

The opera “Angel’s Bone” premiered in New York early last year to rave reviews, both for its artistry and the innovative way it tackled such a bleak topic. Wall Street Journal opera critic Heidi Waleson called the performance “an 80-minute descent into extreme cruelty…that leaves the listener shocked and drained.” Washington Post’s Anne Midgette praised it as “a work that gave me nightmares, yet one that I would nonetheless see again.”

The opera comes with a twist: It’s through the point of view not of the victims, but of the traffickers themselves. The opera tells the story of two angels who fall into the hands of a down-and-out married couple. They begin “pruning” the angels’ feathers and exploiting them to gain wealth. “A lot of times politics, global issues, are very black and white,” Du Yun said. “There is a place for that, but it’s also fantastic to have art side by side, from different viewpoints open for interpretations.”

And if opera carries an effete, elitist reputation, Angel’s Bone is anything but. It weaves medieval, punk rock, electronica, and slew of other genres into its disturbing tale.

Despite the grim subject of her work, Du Yun herself comes across as friendly and expressive, weaving a sense of optimism and hope into the backstory of her opera. She said she drew a lot of inspiration from the survivors she worked with over the five years she composed it. She said she hopes her newfound ‘Pulitzer Prize winner’ title can highlight their stories for a wider audience.

Du Yun’s not a trafficking survivor herself, but she worked with numerous survivors, organizing meetings and workshops with them as she drafted her composition. “That really was just the most humbling experience I had,” she said. “They helped me to understand how to really tell the story.”

And it’s a story millions know too well. There are 21 million human trafficking victims worldwide, the International Labor Organization estimates, who are forced into labor, sexual exploitation, or slavery. Over half are women and girls.

For Du Yun’s audiences in United States, it’s closer to home than they might realize. “Often times when you think about these stories, you think it’s happening really far away…like in a Thailand or eastern Europe,” she said. “But the more research you do, the more you realize it happens right in New Jersey, right in Queens,” the New York-based artist said. While the numbers are inherently difficult to track, the anti-trafficking organization Polaris Project estimates the United States alone has hundreds of thousands trapped in sex and labor trafficking.

Du Yun, born and raised in Shanghai before moving to the United States, is returning to China to work on several new theater performances. After that, she says plans are in the works for a new project on Syrian refugees.

Tue, April 11, 2017

The Pulitzer Prize Winner for Music Is an Ambitious, Punk-Influenced Opera About Human Trafficking
SPIN Magazine

This year, the Pulitzer Prize winner in Music was as big of a surprise in the world of contemporary classical music as some of the other prize winners have been in their respective spheres. 39-year-old Chinese-born composer Du Yun–an accomplished singer and multi-instrumentalist as well as composer of genre-bending vocal and instrumental music–won for her opera, Angel’s Bone. The work has so far only been staged twice: in a initial chamber version in Philadelphia in 2011, and then in its full form during the Prototype Festival for experimental opera in New York City. The performance took place at the 1000-seat venue 3-Legged Dog in Manhattan early last year [conducted by Julian Wachner].

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The Pulitzer Prize Winner for Music Is an Ambitious, Punk-Influenced Opera About Human Trafficking

Winston Cook-Wilson // April 11, 2017

This year, the Pulitzer Prize winner in Music was as big of a surprise in the world of contemporary classical music as some of the other prize winners have been in their respective spheres. 39-year-old Chinese-born composer Du Yun–an accomplished singer and multi-instrumentalist as well as composer of genre-bending vocal and instrumental music–won for her opera, Angel’s Bone.The work has so far only been staged twice: in a initial chamber version in Philadelphia in 2011, and then in its full form during the Prototype Festival for experimental opera in New York City. The performance took place at the 1000-seat venue 3-Legged Dog in Manhattan early last year.

But Du Yun’s music-drama, with text by accomplished opera librettist Royce Vavrek (who recently wrote the text for Mizzy Mazzoli’s acclaimed opera adaptation of Lars von Trier’s 1996 film Breaking the Waves, which also premiered at Protoypre), embodies a smorgasbord of musical and dramatic elements which speak to its place as a forward-thinking work of “classical” music, and certainly makes sense as a Pulitzer awardee. The relatively small scale of its premiere is more a testament to the modest circumstances in which the most talented and innovative new composers are forced to mount ambitious new works these days, rather than some intentionally obscure pick.

The opera, which involved a surreal staging featuring video projections and elaborate sound design, deals with two fallen, fully-winged angels who are rescued by a “middle-American” married couple before becoming victims of sex trafficking. The narrative feels vaguely allegorical, as well as bearing a specific political thrust, while the music is chock full of disparate reference points. NewMusicBox described it in 2014 as a mixture of “church motets, punk, and quasi-European post-expressionism.” In a thank-you note Yun posted to Facebook yesterday, she cited influences “from Renaissance to chant to meticulously notated modern music to screaming songs that I like to sing.”

In addition to standard-issue opera singers, the cast for the New York premiere included Jennifer Charles, an accomplished singer of avant-garde music who is primarily known for being the lead singer of the Brooklyn-based art-pop band Elysian Fields, who came to prominence in the late ’90s. “I did not want to write an indie-rock opera, an opera that had that voice, but the story called for that,” Du Yun told NPR.

Du Yun seemed overwhelmed and ecstatic about the news of her win in her Facebook post: “It is ridiculous I get this award…(Thank you for all your kind words, which I first thought were pranks.) To win the award with this piece means so much for me. Let’s keep being part of the dialogue. Let art be that poetic space where we can initiate such conversations.”

Thu, March 30, 2017

Review: REV. 23
La Scena Musicale

Cerise Jacobs’ imagination knows no bounds – which she quite literally proves again in REV. 23, an opera that takes us on an excursion beyond the Last Judgment, and tells a tale St. John couldn’t bring himself to jot down in Revelations. The trumpet may have sounded and the saints may have marched in, but Jacobs hangs back with the restless rebels of creation, refusing to go gently into that bright light. Instead, in a wild caper aimed at undoing the Rapture, Lucifer, Hades, and a motley band of immortals try their damnedest to crank up the whirligig of history again – and, heaven help us, it’s impossible not to root for them. REV. 23 is a madcap yarn, spun with all of Jacob’s trademark wit, irreverence, and mythopoetic virtuosity – gutsy, unique, hilarious and, ultimately, profoundly moving in its affirmation of the spirit’s irrepressible need to be free.

—Charles Geyer

Tue, January 10, 2017

They Sing the Body Dissected: anatomy theater
La Scena Musicale

anatomy theater is produced by Beth Morrison Projects, along with HERE, as part of the 2017 Prototype Festival of new works, with performances on January 7, 8 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, 2017 at Brooklyn’s BRIC Arts | Media House, 647 Fulton Street. The entire Prototype Festival this year runs from January 5 through the 15th, with other productions at various venues around the city, ranging from the New York premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s and Royce Vavrek’s musically dense and morally disturbing Breaking the Waves (the Opera Philadelphia world premiere of which was reviewed here on September 29, 2016) to a workshop reading of REV. 23 – a mischievous riff on St. John’s Apocalypse with a score by Julian Wachner and an original concept and libretto by Cerise Lim Jacobs (whose grand and extravagant Ouroboros Trilogy was reviewed here on September 14, 2016).

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They Sing the Body Dissected: anatomy theater

BY CHARLES GEYER ON 10 JANUARY 2017

OPERA REVIEW: anatomy theater, a new opera by David Lang and Mark Dion, part of the 2017 Prototype Festival, New York City (New York premiere, viewed January 7, 2017).
INTERVIEW: Composer David Lang.

She’s been hanged for murder – but men still can’t keep their hands off her.

Signs posted at the entrance to Brooklyn’s BRIC Arts | Media House for performances of anatomy theater warn of “simulated hanging” and “nudity” featured in the show. And, yep, both appraisals prove quite true (with nothing “simulated” about the latter, by the way). But no tipoff can adequately prepare one for the more existential disquietude meted out by the sly deviltry ahead.

The David Lang/Mark Dion opera, anatomy theater, begins with the execution of an 18th-century prostitute convicted of multiple homicides, but hardly ends there. The lady is still in for a few unkind cuts, as the opera’s principal action revolves around her body’s dissection at the hands of some gentlemen with some rather dicey agendas.

“People have always cut people open looking for things,” says composer Lang. “We imagine that people are cut open to heal them, or to learn how to heal people in the future. But of course people have been cutting people open forever, for all sorts of other reasons.”

And anatomy theater gets, quite literally, to the heart of some of those reasons, while also slicing away at layers of operatic propriety, and probing at questions of bodies and power, medicine and morality, the repression of women and the mystery of evil.

And, in its own uniquely macabre and rascally way, having a lot of fun doing it.

Quite a Body of Work

“I have always loved the work of the visual artist Mark Dion,” says Pulitzer-Prize-winning composer David Lang, “and so much of what I saw in his work I thought was theatrical.” It was thus that Lang contacted Dion and asked him if he’d be interested in a collaboration.

“We got together and we talked about one of the things he’s interested in,” says Lang. “The history of knowledge. The accumulation – and sometimes the mis-accumulation – of knowledge.” And out of that conversation came the idea of exploring how knowledge about something as intimate as the human body has been acquired – and exploited – by contending power structures.

The 18th Century seemed the right setting, the hinge between the modern and pre-modern worlds. But the period would only be a metaphor – our contemporary time and place would not be exempt from scrutiny.

“We didn’t want to have it too locked in the historical period,” says Lang. “I go to the theater and I only want to think about myself.”

To wit, Lang now waxes warm about a particular contemporary resonance he finds in the opera, albeit one he never intended at the time of composition.

“We just had a horrible election in which half of our population didn’t vote,” he says. “They were just bystanders.” And while “we didn’t make this piece with the events of our election in mind, it’s not a terrible thing occasionally to say that to watch something horrible is in a way to vote for something horrible.”

Not all anatomy theater audience members, of course, will share Lang’s specific opinion as to where modern horror lies. But it’s clear Lang hopes that, along with some good fiendish shivers, all will at least see some reflection of their own lives and times in his glass darkly.

For, you see, anatomy theater not only seduces us into watching; it makes us take responsibility for it.

Invitation to a Hanging

The anatomy theater experience begins before one enters the performance space proper. In a successful gambit of immersive theater, a large adjunct gallery space – its walls swathed in black – serves as an 18th-century “town square,” strewn with barrels and barrows, bales of hay and stands of merchants’ wares. Here, a bevy of wenches, sprung perhaps from Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, dispense savory sausages and tankards of ale and induct audience members into the carnival atmosphere of a scheduled public hanging, while assigning each visitor a membership in one of the privileged attending guilds – surgeons, physicians, barbers.

Suddenly, a drummer in tricorn hat appears, leading a procession. Two hooded figures (borrowed from some fever-dream auto-da-fé) escort the lovely, bedraggled, haunted-looking victim toward her fate. The audience follows into the theater and takes its seats. A heavy hangman’s noose dangles at the edge of the stage. The woman stands beside it, hands bound before her, staring stoically, silently at her assembled witnesses.

At length, the woman’s voice surges forth, and, in a tumult of rich emotion and gorgeously eloquent 18th-century diction, she both confesses and explicates her crime, narrating the sordid personal saga that has led her to the gallows: sexual abuse by a depraved stepfather, a descent into alcoholism, debasement at the hands of a cruel, pimping husband, and a final, desperate bid for escape in a spree of spectacular murder.

The language is remarkable, and the eloquence is of the essence here. The entire libretto of anatomy theater is putatively drawn largely from actual 17th– and 18th-century sources (legal documents, medical treatises), thus ensuring its Augustan sonority and marvelously persuasive redolence of place and period. Yet, via a thoroughgoing program of irony in the music, the staging, and the design, anatomy theater provokes and vexes with implications as unconstrained and corrosive as free radicals rampant in an organism’s depth structures. Cruelty, misogyny, intellectual imposture and flagrant ignorance may have wreaked havoc in the body politic of the 18th Century; could they not recrudesce with equal virulence today?

Slice of Life

The opera is populated by a quartet of richly defined characters; but none is so central as the woman hanged in its prologue – murderess Sarah Osborne. The rest of the evening not only revolves around her, it is quite literally extracted from her.

The flamboyant and seedy mountebank Joshua Crouch has obtained Osborne’s corpse, and now offers it up for spectacle. He has engaged the famed and aristocratic anatomist, Baron Peel, to conduct a demonstration autopsy – at least for those gentlemen among us willing to pay the fee (admittance to women is strictly barred!). The stated objective: to discern in which part of the woman’s body the physical sign of her wickedness lies (though the satisfactions of sheer transgressive voyeurism are winked at, as well).

Crouch becomes the evening’s subversive master of ceremonies; Peel, its rhapsodizing and polymath monomaniac of clinical misogyny. It falls, however, to the opera’s fourth character – the anatomist’s obliging young assistant, Ambrose Strang – to perform all the actual anatomical excisions from the woman’s remains, Peel having presumably risen above such menial, sullying piecework.

The opera’s main episodes, thus, are structured around the removal, one by one, of the woman’s vital organs – stomach, spleen, uterus – each held up to scrutiny, their terrifying and esoteric functions each musically eulogized, with texts of orotund alchemical and cosmological palaver from Baron Peel about humors and the elements and flesh and the devil.

Yet, to the anatomist’s chagrin, each organ fails to exhibit any pathology.

Crouch’s and Peel’s frustrations mount, while Strang, by contrast, seems gradually to start appreciating the elegance, beauty, even miraculous perfection of the female body he is dismantling – knowledge cutting both ways.

A final sortie yields the woman’s heart, and also inaugurates a stunning and sui generis denouement of lurid, palpitant, and deeply affecting theater, featuring (spoiler alert) an aria of melting poignancy and ravishing surprise performed by the woman’s corpse.

Bunch of Cut-Ups

anatomy theater is a wondrously unlikely amalgam – part Grand Guignol, part morality tale, part science lecture, part horror show. Ghoulish, gruesome, disquieting, and thoroughly engrossing, it might understandably prompt those of more delicate sensibility to leave early, but will defy any hardy enough to remain to look away.

The four principal performers, each with grounding in somewhat different musical genres and disciplines, all work marvelously together, and approach the thrills and challenges of anatomy theater with uncompromising conviction.

“I like to set up little problems for myself,” says Lang. “The problem in this piece was getting singers who are from different kinds of worlds, who have these different skills – how do you build a musical world where all of them feel equal and welcome and appropriate?”

Broadway baritone Marc Kudisch, as the evening’s sinister, sybaritic host, Joshua Crouch, proves to be oily perfection. His manner by turns leering, seductive, assaultive, crude, he might be the very Devil himself, wielding his ornate and arrantly phallic walking stick or lustfully caressing a demo skeleton in dissolute intimations of necrophilia. Kudisch’s voice is rich and flexible, yet capable of jarring deviations into insinuating nasality for moments of special, make-your-skin-crawl vocal effect.

Besides integrating performers of varying styles, Lang also bucks operatic orthodoxy by deploying discreet head mics for performances of anatomy theater. “Everything I listen to is amplified,” says Lang. “While it’s amazing to think that singers have the power to use their voices to fill a space acoustically, I feel like we respond to amplified music differently. And I like that sound.”

Legit operatic bass-baritone Robert Osborne (any relation to the opera’s central character?) plays the anatomist Peel with majestic authority and vigorous zeal. Bedecked in Isaac-Newton-like wig and voluminous academic robes, his physical and gestural life are dazzlingly convincing. Moreover, the clarity of Osborne’s diction is exemplary, and the potency of his chthonic voice can be felt in the listener’s own bones.

The role of the dutiful assistant, Strang, is portrayed with a beatific lambency by single-named tenor Timur (“who’s completely classically trained but also has a pop music background,” notes Lang). Timur’s voice has both light and warmth, and evinces admirable dynamic and coloristic range. And whether disemboweling a corpse or palpating body parts in his crimsoned hands, Timur brings poetry and humanity to the proceedings.

Perhaps the most heroic and uncompromising performance is that of mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell, portraying convict and corpse. Southwell’s voice is rich, sensuous, kaleidoscopic. Her confessional prologue is a tour de force – an unparalleled fusing of vocal technique and hypnotic, hard-edged, raw emotion. Nor can one gainsay the bravery of her turn on the dissection slab. Southwell spends the better part of the evening lying fully inert and fully exposed, while her body is subjected to indignity and mutilation (one has to attend to see how that coup de theatre is pulled off).

Indeed, it was Southwell herself, says Lang, who insisted on the verisimilitude that gives such uncanny impact to the spectacle of the naked cadaver. “I would like to point out that that was her idea,” says Lang. “She said it makes absolutely no sense to do this any other way than naked.”

Quite so. “We’ve sort of forgotten that she’s a person,” Lang observes. “She’s there as a body on the slab and all these horrible things are being done to her. I sort of thought that that was a way we were complicit in her degradation.”

Music in Cut Time?

Lang has crafted a score chockful of ingenious effect and theatricality, all rendered with a deceptive economy of means.

“I played the trombone part in Threepenny Opera when I was in college,” says Lang, reflecting on the inspiration for his chamber scoring of anatomy theater which, indeed, doesn’t lack for a certain Brechtian touch. “There’s a nod to Kurt Weil and that kind of theater sound.”

But the comparison, apt as it may be on the surface, belies so much that is unique and remarkable in the score of anatomy theater. If one were to venture upon description, an overall (post)-minimalist, or even – (dare one say?) – neo-primitivist aesthetic governs (“I understand why all the labels exist,” interjects Lang. “It’s a shorthand; but I always bristled at it”); yet there is also fascinating variety within the tight and coherent sonic parameters Lang lays out for himself.

Some passages (such as the confessional prologue) evoke the naked immediacy of church plainchant (“I sang in a Gregorian chant choir at one point in my life,” says Lang, “and that music has had a very big effect on me”); other sequences conjure up boneyard-inflected strains of forlorn folksong.

But, by contrast, a wildly eccentric and extended trio vaunting the anatomist’s intention to display the instruments of his trade (“presently, I shall reveal”) reels out like a fevered scherzo variation on a Handelian canon – “The Trumpet Shall Sound” as scored for the inmates of Bedlam (indeed, the number even features a flashy solo line for the apposite brass player).

And yet another high-octane set-piece (“the instruments commonly required”) – cataloguing the anatomist’s grim panoply of knives, forceps, bellows and bone-saws – mounts with such terrifying intensity, so obsessively rhythmic, percussive and driven, it feels more harrowing than anything by Steve Reich or Philip Glass at their most daemonic.

“The way I tried to arrange the libretto,” says Lang, “was to have scenes begin with something that you feel is rational, and, as it goes farther, you realize, ‘oh, this is actually dangerous.’”

Musical Director Christopher Rountree, leading a nine-strong chamber klatch of accompanists drawn from the International Contemporary Ensemble, keeps all the complex rhythms and vibrant melodies whirring in keen operation, sharp as a scalpel and tight as a suture.

Director Bob McGrath exhibits unflagging inventiveness in shaping the action over and around the many eye-catching, gothic elements of the set (designed, of course, by collaborator Mark Dion).

Video and projection designers Bill Morrison and Laurie Olinder, respectively, contribute indispensable visual support to the multi-layered implications of the show, while sound design by Garth MacAleavey provides crucial and transparent support, and costumes by Alixandra Gage Englund are rich in character detail and period feel.

All that Remains

The themes and sensibility of anatomy theater might well owe something to a reading of social historians such as Michel Foucault, whose seminal Birth of the Clinic (1963), The Order of Things (1966), and Discipline and Punish (1975) did much to excavate and distill the psychosocial latencies of Western medical, scientific, and penal practices through the ages. It’s patently not for the squeamish or faint of heart, but the ideas in anatomy theater are important, and its targets are rich.

“Trying to figure out how to protect ourselves from evil,” says Lang, “these are unfortunately issues which never go away.” Yet the opera is written and performed with such affirmative energy, verve, ingenuity and lightness of touch that it transcends any portentousness that might otherwise have hobbled it. There is also much humor here, even if much of it is of an intentionally squirm-inducing variety – delayed guffaws here; sudden, goosed shrieks of micro-scandal there. In short, anatomy theater is that rare kind of theatrical one-off, successfully admixing equal parts intellectual ambition and in-your-face gross-out. It’s sure to pierce through to the darker folds of your cerebral cortex.

All it needs is its 90-minute playing time to get under your skin.

________________________________________

anatomy theater is produced by Beth Morrison Projects, along with HERE, as part of the 2017 Prototype Festival of new works, with performances on January 7, 8 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, 2017 at Brooklyn’s BRIC Arts | Media House, 647 Fulton Street. The entire Prototype Festival this year runs from January 5 through the 15th, with other productions at various venues around the city, ranging from the New York premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s and Royce Vavrek’s musically dense and morally disturbing Breaking the Waves (the Opera Philadelphia world premiere of which was reviewed here on September 29, 2016) to a workshop reading of REV. 23 – a mischievous riff on St. John’s Apocalypse with a score by Julian Wachner and an original concept and libretto by Cerise Lim Jacobs (whose grand and extravagant Ouroboros Trilogy was reviewed here on September 14, 2016). Full programming and scheduling information for the 2017 Prototype Festival may be accessed here.


 

Mon, January 9, 2017

Prototype Festival’s Striking Heroines
The New Yorker

Several decades after Catherine Clément wrote “Opera, or the Undoing of Women,” a classic feminist critique, women still frequently come to grief on opera stages. The form can’t seem to dispense with what Clément describes as a punitive adoration of female singers: “They suffer, they cry, they die.” Yet modern tales of doomed heroines tend to reflect a more progressive, critical sensibility, particularly when female composers take the helm. Such revisionism could almost be the theme of this year’s Prototype Festival, which, in the past four years, has become essential to the evolution of American opera. On the bill are Missy Mazzoli’s “Breaking the Waves” (Jan. 6-9), about a Scottish wife who sacrifices herself to aid her maimed husband [conducted by Julian Wachner]; David Lang’s “Anatomy Theater” (Jan. 7-14), which shows the dissection of an eighteenth-century English murderess; and Matt Marks’s “Mata Hari” (Jan. 5-14), about the seductive Dutch dancer who allegedly spied as a double agent during the First World War.

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Prototype Festival’s Striking Heroines
Women of indestructible spirit dominate this year’s slate of operas.

By Alex Ross

Several decades after Catherine Clément wrote “Opera, or the Undoing of Women,” a classic feminist critique, women still frequently come to grief on opera stages. The form can’t seem to dispense with what Clément describes as a punitive adoration of female singers: “They suffer, they cry, they die.” Yet modern tales of doomed heroines tend to reflect a more progressive, critical sensibility, particularly when female composers take the helm. Such revisionism could almost be the theme of this year’s Prototype Festival, which, in the past four years, has become essential to the evolution of American opera. On the bill are Missy Mazzoli’s “Breaking the Waves” (Jan. 6-9), about a Scottish wife who sacrifices herself to aid her maimed husband; David Lang’s “Anatomy Theater” (Jan. 7-14), which shows the dissection of an eighteenth-century English murderess; and Matt Marks’s “Mata Hari” (Jan. 5-14), about the seductive Dutch dancer who allegedly spied as a double agent during the First World War.

“Breaking the Waves” had its première at Opera Philadelphia in September. The libretto, by Royce Vavrek, is based on Lars von Trier’s 1996 film, which, like other von Trier works, has drawn accusations of misogyny because of its brutal treatment of the principal female character. Bess, a member of a strict religious community on the Isle of Skye, marries an oil worker named Jan; when he suffers a paralyzing accident, he asks her to have sex with other men. Bess becomes convinced that by abasing herself to the point of death she will cure him. Her scheme succeeds, through a supernatural logic reminiscent of the redemptive self-sacrifices of various Wagner heroines. As with Wagner, we wonder whether Bess’s act confirms or transcends stereotypes of feminine devotion.

In Mazzoli’s opera, such issues quickly recede: we trust that the lead character is not undergoing degradation for the sake of male fantasy. The story is no less harrowing—it’s perhaps more so, given that Kiera Duffy, who sang the lead in Philadelphia and reprises it at Prototype, must act out cruel scenes night after night, at times in the nude. Nonetheless, the desperate scenario of self-destruction and redemption seems to be a projection of Bess’s will to believe, her reshaping of the fabric of the world. Mazzoli’s score supports that dynamic by wedding strong lyric invention to an unsettled, insidiously dissonant chamber-orchestra texture that evokes the jagged beauty both of Skye and of Bess’s inner landscape. Benjamin Britten is a palpable influence, particularly in thrashing orchestral tempests and some melismatic, Peter Quint-like writing for tenor. Yet Mazzoli absorbs these and other elements into her own spare, propulsive voice.

Lang’s “Anatomy Theater,” which was first seen at L.A. Opera in June, offers some of the grisliest images ever shown in an opera house. But the composer handles the material with an eerie grace, creating space for another courageous solo turn. The mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell also spends much of the evening naked, lying on a table and singing as examiners scour her body for signs of evil. They find none, and she goes on singing. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the January 9, 2017, issue, with the headline “In Extremis”

Tue, December 27, 2016

Mazzoli-Vavrek WAVES Gets Second Break, at New York’s Prototype Festival in January
Broadway World

BREAKING THE WAVES was co-commissioned by Beth Morrisson Projects, which also happens to be one of the producers of Prototype (full name: Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now) with HERE. The third presenter in New York is Trinity Church Wall Street, whose music director, Julian Wachner, is conducting the performances, with the church’s choir along with NOVUS NY. (As composer and conductor, Wachner also has his own piece on the Prototype schedule, REV. 23, a work in progress billed as “the hitherto unpublished last chapter of the Book of Revelation as dictated by St. John the Divine and transcribed by Cerise Lim Jacobs,” at National Sawdust on January 14.)

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BWW Preview: Mazzoli-Vavrek WAVES Gets Second Break, at New York's Prototype Festival in January

Richard Sasanow Dec. 27, 2016  

For a new opera to have its second major showing less than four months after its premiere is unheard of--but then BREAKING THE WAVES, based on the Lars Von Trier film of the same name, isn't just any opera. This triumph by composer Missy Mazzoli, librettist Royce Vavrek, and direction by James Darrah--with a star-making turn by soprano Kiera Duffy in the central role of Bess--debuted at Opera Philadelphia on September 22, 2016. It is having its New York premiere on January 6-9, 2017, over the first weekend of the Prototype Festival at NYU's Skirball Center. (The Festival runs from January 5-15, 2017, starting with the World Premiere of MATA HARI by composer Matt Marks and librettist/director Paul Peers on the 5th, at HERE's Mainstage, 145 6th Ave, New York, NY.)

BREAKING THE WAVES was co-commissioned by Beth Morrisson Projects, which also happens to be one of the producers of Prototype (full name: Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now) with HERE. The third presenter in New York is Trinity Church Wall Street, whose music director, Julian Wachner, is conducting the performances, with the church's choir along with NOVUS NY. (As composer and conductor, Wachner also has his own piece on the Prototype schedule, REV. 23, a work in progress billed as "the hitherto unpublished last chapter of the Book of Revelation as dictated by St. John the Divine and transcribed by Cerise Lim Jacobs," at National Sawdust on January 14.)

Of the other major characters in the Philadelphia production, baritone John Moore is back in the crucial role of Jan, Bess' husband, whose accident sets the drama in motion, and mezzo Eve Gigliotti returns as Bess' sister-in-law, Dodo McNeill.

The opera's creative team, including the composer, librettist, director, some of the singers and the original conductor, Steven Osgood, gathered together back in September at the Guggenheim Museum's Works & Process series to talk about the development of the work. Here are some excerpts from the piece I wrote then.

Quick: What film won the Golden Globe for Best Movie in 1997? It was THE ENGLISH PATIENT. But more important for composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek, the question is "What film didn'twin the Golden Globe in 1997?" The answer (for them, at least) is Lars von Trier's BREAKING THE WAVES, which they've transformed into an opera of the same name, co-commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and Beth Morrison Projects.

It's the story of Bess, living on the Isle of Skye (off Scotland's west coast) in the '70s, who meets Jan, a Norwegian oil rigger working nearby and marries him. Much of the opera takes place in the aftermath of an accident on the rig that renders him paralyzed, after he suggests she satisfy her sexual needs with other men. (Needless to say, there's a caveat that "the production includes nudity, sexual content, and explicit language.")

I promise not to give away any major secrets--though if you saw the von Trier film, you know it doesn't end happily for the heroine--except that the opera should foster much wider appreciation for the music of Mazzoli and help people "discover" Kiera Duffy's soaring soprano. It's a dark film--and the perfect source for an opera, says the composer. "Each of the characters is infinitely deep and incredibly complicated and I feel that opera's superpower is creating a subtext and saying two things at once."

Here are a few things you should know about this new, unconventional--and exciting--opera, taken from the "Works and Process" discussion.

This was not Mazzoli and Vavrek's first time working together. It is a follow-up to SONGS FROM THE UPROAR, a 75-minute chamber opera based on the life of Swiss explorer Isabelle Eberhardt, which premiered in 2012 at The Kitchen in New York City.

Librettist Vavrek became obsessed with the film version as a teenager. Vavrek is the "poster boy" for contemporary opera librettos--he has already had a major success this year with JFK, which premiered in Dallas, with a score by David T. Little (also his composer on the acclaimed DOG DAYS). He had the task of paring down a two-hour movie to give the opera the bones on which the music would have room to get into the heads of the characters. "This is my favorite film of all time. I found it--or it found me--when I was 14 years old," says Vavrek. Growing up on a farm in northern Alberta, Canada, he first became aware of it watching a film clip at the Golden Globe Awards on television and, he says, "It changed my life." It was his idea to turn it into an opera, as a follow-up to his work with Mazzoli on UPROAR.

Composer Mazzoli didn't think it was a good idea--at first. Mazzoli loved the film so much that she thought it was a terrible idea to make it into an opera. "The idea blew my mind," she says. "Why adapt something that was already amazing?" But she couldn't get the idea out of her head: "It resonated with me and I could hear the music from the characters."

She worked two Scottish musical traditions into the piece: First, traditional Gaelic songs of the Highlands, "the way that members of a church sing a melody that they all know but don't line up together, and you get this wash of sound." Second, the sound of bagpipes. "In researching this project I found that I love bagpipes, which worked itself into the piece but not in an overt way; there are no bagpipes in it, but there's this dense harmonic language that comes out of listening to them."

Director James Darrah also didn't buy the source material as an opera--at first. Darrah, the third of the opera's creators, first heard Mazzoli's music ["Symphonia for Orbital Spheres"] at an LA Philharmonic concert in Los Angeles and knew he wanted to work with her--but when he heard she was working on an opera of BREAKING THE WAVES (BTW), he didn't buy it instantly.

"It was in many ways a perfect film," says the director, but while he thought of it as "intimate, quiet," he found that Mazzoli's take used it as a jumping off point to tell the same story in an almost totally different direction. He calls it a "fever dream of an opera" that takes the story and goes in a way that is "visceral and evocative and full of real human beings, beauty and sexuality."

The opera was developed through Opera Philadelphia's Composer-in-Residence program. This included a workshop in January of this year, where all the principles, cast and orchestra were assembled under one roof for the first time. Musical director Osgood recalls, "In the course of those five days, we had several goals, the first being to get a sense of the full piece.... But it was also our chance to discover the language of the opera. Missy, Royce and James had worked together and had a language that they shared, but the rest of us, the musicians and cast, had just received the score a few weeks before the workshop.

"It was a room where everyone entered extremely nervous.... It's complex music. And, yes, we wanted to get it right, but ... it was more important to be as curious as possible, as patient as possible.... Along the way, instead of asking 'what is it supposed to be?', it became 'why is it supposed to be that way?', 'why is she saying it to him?' and 'why is that pause there?'"

The Scottish landscape was inspiring to the creators. The OP Composer-in-Residence program allowed Mazzoli, Vavrek and Darrah to go off to Scotland, to the Isle of Skye, where the opera--and film--takes place, going to the sites where von Trier chose to film. They were inspired by the physical landscape and the violence of nature there. Vavrek took along some of his libretto and had the landlady at the bed-and-breakfast where they stayed read it to hear it with the local pronunciation, for a sense of place. (Later, they would have a coach specializing in this accent--different from Scottish--to act as the "dialect police.")

Mazzoli says they didn't know what to expect. She recalls, "We had an outline of where we wanted to go--all the places where the film was shot, but what ended up being inspiring... were the contrasts, the violence of the landscape. It is a very loud landscape--even though it is a quiet place, it seemed to be screaming at me--and... on one of our walks, I knew the opera was going to begin with this massive chord at the start of [the aria], 'His Name is Jan.'"

Evoking the Isle of Skye, but not literally. According to Darrah, von Trier evokes a gut response when you watch the film, while the opera needed to have designers who help the piece make sense on stage. This meant scenery--here, a unit set by Adam Rigg with projections by Adam Larsen and lighting by Pablo Santiago--that would evoke the Isle of Skye without being too literal, because otherwise "it would feel like a Disneyland ride." With all its surfaces taking projections, the set portrays an ever-shifting landscape that conjures up the places and the sense of place of the island, but also creates "an abstracted environment that doesn't compromise character." The costumes by Chrisi Karvonides also help create an atmosphere rooted in time and place, the early 70s.

"Missy writes musically what I equate to a dream state: The sense of time and space is surreal," says Darrah. "What's incredible is that the piece starts out linear, structured and blurs as it goes on. It rockets to its conclusion, becoming increasingly fractured and increasingly upsetting."

Music director Osgood already knew Mazzoli's work when he received the score, but was unprepared for what he saw. Osgood found it vastly different from her other work: "Location, these incredible complex people, all of that is wrapped up in the piece." He describes the musical language as "wonderfully kaleidoscopic"--"very dark, very expressionistic."

He found that Mazzoli has imagined "very, very deeply what was going to happen on the stage," naturalistic theatre "in all its gravitas and angst," including the temperature of the room at any moment--and how interactions change the temperature.

While Mazzoli's score for BREAKING THE WAVES is unquestionably modern, opera-goers have nothing to be afraid of. The Works & Process preview was the second time I'd heard excerpts from the wonderful score. (It was featured as part of American Lyric Theatre's showcase at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, last February.) The music is gorgeous--lyrical, accessible and often "eloquent" though it can be spiky and is decidedly of this moment. As music director Osgood put it, "It's like Janacek lived now and wrote an opera about culture and society and mothers."

###

BREAKING THE WAVES will have three performances at NYU's Skirball Center on LaGuardia Place in New York, January 6, 7 and 9.

Sat, December 24, 2016

Perfect Pitch: A Candlelight Christmas
Washington Life Magazine

During the holidays, the Washington area offers a rich variety of concerts for everyone to enjoy, and many happen right at The Kennedy Center. This year, The Washington Chorus under the direction of Julian Wachner continued its tradition of presenting “A Candlelight Christmas.” One of the fascinating features of this concert is the intentional inclusion of audience participation. Before the concert, as his tradition, Wachner came out on stage prior making all to feel comfortable and encouraging everyone to participate in the singing.

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Perfect Pitch: A Candlelight Christmas

BY PATRICKMCCOY · DECEMBER 24, 2016

The Washington Chorus presented annual “A Candlelight Christmas” at The Kennedy Center

During the holidays, the Washington area offers a rich variety of concerts for everyone to enjoy, and many happen right at The Kennedy Center. This year, The Washington Chorus under the direction of Julian Wachner continued its tradition of presenting “A Candlelight Christmas.” One of the fascinating features of this concert is the intentional inclusion of audience participation. Before the concert, as his tradition, Wachner came out on stage prior making all to feel comfortable and encouraging everyone to participate in the singing.

Beginning with a beautiful processional by the chorus, there was a feeling of awe and mystery as the voices moved into the hall with the glow of candlelight. The traditional carol “Once in Royal David’s City” grew from a lone solo voice to the full chorus accompanied by Christopher Betts at the organ. Continuing in the grand tradition of the festive carol, the program continued with the “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Marked by the glorious fanfare of the brass ensemble and organ, the favorite carol was sung lustily by the full house.

Three choral settings of beloved carols were featured next by The Washington Chorus. “Sing We to this Merry Company” by John Rutter was an expression of joy as the brass, organ and percussion seemed to announce the good news. The setting of “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” arranged by Gerre Hancock was especially a gorgeous showcase for the women’s voices of the chorus. Soaring tones and expressive legato singing was such a hallmark during the rendering of this carol. Closing the group was the rousing “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” by John Gardner. The dance-like, syncopated rhythms and precision from the drums carried the spirit of the text forth with joy.

Educational outreach has been a major part of Julian Wachner’s tenure as music director of The Washington Chorus. Continuing in that spirit, The H-B Woodlawn Chamber Singers under the direction of Bill Podolski performed four seasonal favorites. Of special interest was a lovely contrasting arrangement of the carol “Ding Dong, Merrily on High” arranged Chester Alwes and a jazzy take on the traditional spiritual “Mary Had a Baby” by Philip Kern which quoted the familiar tune “Ode to Joy.”

The full Kennedy Center audience was eager to join in singing of Christmas Carols. Favorites of the evening were “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and Julian Wachner’s setting of “Joy to the World” which put the voices of the audience on full display. Wachner seemed to enjoy quick, fast tempos that definitely kept the audience on their toes.

A special treat was the appearance of the internationally acclaimed tenor Carl Tanner in Adolphe Adams’ classic “O Holy Night.” Tanner sang with a bright, resonant tenor that projected into the hall with great ease. Building the momentum with the full organ and surrounded by the seraphic voices of the chorus, the holiday favorite resounded with majestic power and wonderment.

Ending a wonderful evening of music was the chorus’ signature “The Dream Isaiah Saw” by Glenn Rudolph and “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.”

Thu, December 22, 2016

Singing Our Way Back to Hope
Sojourners

Even today, as I write this, I feel the tears welling up again, having just taken my college son to hear those carols again last night at the Kennedy Center where the Washington Chorus (under the direction of Julian Wachner) presented “A Candlelight Christmas,” something I try to hear every year.

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Singing Our Way Back to Hope

Lessons in Resistance from the Christmas Carols

By Jim Wallis 12-22-2016

My son just came home for Christmas after his first semester in college. I remember doing that too, many years ago. As a college student, I wasn’t a Christian; I had left my childhood faith over the issues of racism and war, both in my country and in my church.

Having rejected and having been rejected by my church, I wasn’t practicing any faith during my college years, which were marked by an intense social and political activism over the very issues that had separated me from my church’s faithlessness on justice and peace — a church that my parents helped to start and was our family’s second home.

I need those carols to remind me of who was most important in this world that I wanted so much to change. 

But every Christmas, I would drive home on Michigan’s snowy roads, from Michigan State University to my home just outside Detroit, listening to Christmas carols. I still have vivid memories of those teary drives as I listened to carols telling us what the coming of the Christ child meant for the world — the baby born into a manger.

Even today, as I write this, I feel the tears welling up again, having just taken my college son to hear those carols again last night at the Kennedy Center where the Washington Chorus presented “A Candlelight Christmas,” something I try to hear every year.

I still need to listen to those Christmas carols — sometimes desperately, especially this year. Even as that college activist kid, I needed those carols to remind me of what and who was most important in this world that I wanted so much to change. One of the reasons I always wanted to come home is that I knew those Christmas carols would be playing non-stop in my family’s house over the holidays, and the non-religious son would be quietly listening without admitting how carefully he was.

I needed those Christmas carols, and still do, to remind me of what God’s world is all about and, therefore, what our lives should be too. I listen to the carols as the foundation and inspiration for what I do, for what and my life and vocation is all about.

Because our only hope is that light does come into the darkness, that this child born in an animal stall is still more important than all the kings and rulers, that the “lowly” are closer to God than all the “high”-placed people that we are forced to watch and listen to all the time. I needed last night to remind me again.

Mary had a Baby, Oh Lord!
What did she name him? Oh, Lord.
Named him King Jesus, oh, Lord.
Where was he born? Oh, Lord.
Born in a stable, oh Lord. 

Mangers are more important in God’s world than hotels.

The first Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay…
Born is the King of Israel!

The Word comes to poor shepherds before billionaires in God’s world.

Angels we have heard on high …
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord the newborn King

Humility wins over pathetic boasting in God’s world.

Hark the Herald, angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

Peace and mercy triumph over angry attacking in God’s world.

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.

When politics destroys the “calm” and “bright,” God brings both back.

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus Lord at thy birth!

Love’s pure light will win over all the hate in God’s world.

Oh Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth,
A thrill of hope, the weary word rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

When politics gives us nothing but weary words, how we need the “thrill of hope” from a new and glorious morn.

Truly he taught us to love one another,
His law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name, all oppression shall cease.

This is the great reversal of Christmas. In God’s name, all oppression, and racial bigotry, and the fueling of division and conflict for political self-interest … shall cease.

The concert always ends with the Hallelujah Chorus.

The Kingdom of this world
Is become the Kingdom of our Lord
and of his Christ, and of his Christ;
and he shall reign for ever and ever ... 
King of Kings, and Lord or Lords,
Forever and ever. Hallelujah!

Who is in charge? Who will reign? Not the would-be rulers who now think they are in charge or believe they soon will be. Not in God’s world. Not in the hearts of those who begin with God’s word and are reminded this Christmas of what the coming of Christ means.

When it came to the carol service’s triumphant ending with the Hallelujah Chorus, we all rose to our feet, as, legendarily, did English King George II when he first heard it and people have traditionally ever since. And when we proclaimed who will reign forever and ever at the top of our lungs, I felt like pumping my fist into the air this holiday season (but didn’t for fear of embarrassing my college son).

I desperately need the hope that Christmas brings me every year, and still do; that the new order that this child brings to the world literally overturns the world of our politics today. And it is that hope allows me to sing out:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room…..
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love.

I especially need my Christmas carols this year when darkness seems to be settling in on all sides, and faith will mean finding a little light in that darkness.

For reasons that some of you can understand, I have also been drawn to German theologian and political resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer this Christmas season, and to the Christmas sermons he preached as darkness grew in his own country many years ago.

Bonhoeffer said, “God is in the manger.”

"No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged. …

“ Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness. …

“And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly … God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
―Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger

So that is where I go back to this Christmas — to the manger. As we approach a new political world that proudly and brazenly puts success, wealth, power at the top of everything, we go back to the “lowly,” who are at the bottom of that political world but are at the top in God’s world.

Bonhoeffer calls us to a faith that will abide.

“I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men [and women] who make the best use of everything. I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us to resist in all times of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone. A faith such as this should allay all our fears for the future.”

After the carol service, a black pastor who was also there came up to greet me and said, “We have our work cut out for us don’t we?” Yes, I said, but what we just heard and sung reminds us of what it true, and what is not. Christmas tells us what is true and what is a lie. Singing Christmas carols reaffirms in me what is true — and deepens my resolve.

The Christmas carols remind us that truth, love, peace, and justice will abide — and will abide in us.

Fri, December 16, 2016

A Diva, Two Pianists and a Pair of ‘Messiahs’: Classical Music This Week
The New York Times

Thursday’s performance at Trinity Church, by contrast, felt gripping, raw and searching. It wasn’t without imperfections: The quality of the solo voices ranged widely this year, and there were some coordination hiccups. But the energy these musicians project is of a community engaged in an urgent act of soul-searching — even in purely instrumental moments, like the overture’s fugue, which came across as a warren of voices intent on debate.

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DECEMBER 16, 2016

A Diva, Two Pianists and a Pair of ‘Messiahs’: Classical Music This Week

By James R. Oestreich

If the silver-throated mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato wants to sing glorious music by Purcell and Handel, I’m easy. Any old pretext will do. The pretext on Thursday at Carnegie Hall was “In War and Peace,” a well-traveled, predominantly Baroque program with the early-music band Il Pomo d’Oro, which has already been released on disc by Erato.

Ms. DiDonato has a lot on her mind, which she alluded to in a program note, a form letter stuffed into the booklet and a little talk at evening’s end. War and peace, all this made abundantly clear, are also to be taken metaphorically as emotional states in a journey from discord to harmony, from chaos to serenity. The program was thus divided (“War,” “Peace”), though the two were not always clearly distinguished in works that themselves subtly mingled moods.

Musically, for example, Handel’s sublime aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” (from “Rinaldo”) might seem peace itself to anyone unaware that its singer is being held captive by a sorceress. Happily, matters were somewhat clarified by projected titles and by heavy doses of theatricality — lighting effects, video backdrops, costume changes, even rudimentary dance (Manuel Palazzo) — with Ms. DiDonato listed as executive producer and Ralf Pleger as director.

It could all be a bit much at times, and Ms. DiDonato’s burnished tone, especially in Purcell’s incomparably moving lament “When I am laid in earth” (from “Dido and Aeneas”), and blazing coloratura, especially in Niccolò Jommelli’s spitfire aria “Par che di giubilo” (from “Attilio Regolo”), carried most of the freight dramatically as well as musically. The Jommelli was repeated in part as an encore, and here the projected fireworks seemed just right.

Il Pomo d’Oro was excellent in instrumental interludes as well as the arias, exuberantly conducted from the harpsichord and, once, from a cornetto by Maxim Emelyanychev. A second violinist, Anna Fusek, showed similar versatility, doubling on soprano recorder in the high-flying bird song of Handel’s “Augelletti che cantata” (from “Rinaldo”), and brought the house down.

In announcing the second encore, Ms. DiDonato gave a little speech on the power of music to transform darkness into light. “The sun is going to rise tomorrow,” she promised in league with Richard Strauss, in his song “Morgen.” The concertmaster, Edson Scheid, proved a worthy foil as violin soloist in the Strauss. And it was entertaining to hear these early musickers, who generally shun vibrato, try to beef up their tone to late-Romantic standards.

 

PETER SERKIN AND ANDREW TYSON

Juxtaposing Old and New

Mr. Serkin performed Dec. 10 at the 92nd Street Y, and Mr. Tyson on Dec. 13 at Weill Recital Hall, Manhattan.

By Anthony Tommasini

It’s unlikely that the outstanding young pianist Andrew Tyson had the veteran Peter Serkin specifically in mind when he planned the program of mostly 20th-century pieces he played so excitingly at Weill Recital Hall on Tuesday. Still, some decades ago, among the many adventurous aspects of his artistry, Mr. Serkin, now 69, was a pioneer of unconventional programming that juxtaposed old and new works. He took some heat at the time for his experiments. But he certainly shook up protocols, helping to embolden artists of later generations like Mr. Tyson, who turns 30 on Monday.

Mr. Serkin was at it again, and at his best, in a recital last Saturday at the 92nd Street Y. His program offered several Renaissance keyboard works written well before the invention of the piano and some scores by 20th-century giants, including Wolpe, Takemitsu and Schoenberg. Given the novelty of the program, you might have expected him to speak to the audience about it. That has never been his way. Mr. Serkin prefers to let music speak for itself.

He began with Josquin’s “Ave Christie,” a four-voice motet, as reset for piano in 1988 by the composer Charles Wuorinen. Unfolding in steady, ruminative contrapuntal lines, this modal music practically invited the audience to settle in and listen. Various Renaissance pieces by Sweelinck, John Bull and William Byrd were juxtaposed with Takemitsu’s crystalline “for away” (1973), Oliver Knussen’s rhapsodic, modernist Variations (Op. 24, 1989), and Wolpe’s “Form IV,” aptly subtitled “Broken Sequences.” The final work, Schoenberg’s landmark Suite, Op. 25, came across in this exhilarating performance like an ingenious, 12-tone homage to Bach.

My. Tyson, presenting the Juilliard School’s Leo B. Ruiz Memorial Recital, opened with Henri Dutilleux’s Three Preludes for Piano, music of plush colorings and pointillist outbursts. The composer Michel Petrossian, a friend of Mr. Tyson’s, came from Paris for this performance of his fantastical “The Raging Battle of Green and Gold.” Like the Dutilleux, this piece had such improvisatory and skittish qualities that Scriabin’s wild-eyed Piano Sonata No. 3 sounded almost coherent in comparison.

Playing six Gershwin selections was another great idea. The arrangements of these songs, with their jazzy harmonies and splashy riffs, set the mood perfectly for Ravel’s “Miroirs,” a French Impressionist masterpiece given a scintillating yet sensitive performance here. Mr. Tyson is a poetic virtuoso.

 

NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC AND TRINITY WALL STREET

A Messiah With Mixed Signals

The Philharmonic performs Saturday at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, nyphil.org; Trinity Wall Street performs Sunday at Trinity Church, Manhattan, and Monday at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, trinitywallstreet.org.

By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

Handel’s “Messiah” has become such a staple of the Christmas season that New Yorkers can choose from dozens of performances offered in concert halls and churches throughout the city. Some command fierce loyalty for their distinct qualities. There is the purity of St. Thomas Church’s, rooted in Anglican tradition with its choir of men and boys; the pageantry of the big choral societies that flood the stage of Carnegie Hall; and the immediacy of Trinity Wall Street’s, in which the solos are shared among members of the small choir and the orchestra plays on period instruments.

It’s the New York Philharmonic that has had trouble standing out with a clearly defined “Messiah.” That feeling was confirmed this week when I attended Tuesday’s performance at David Geffen Hall — conducted by its departing music director, Alan Gilbert — followed by Trinity Wall Street’s version on Thursday, under the direction of Julian Wachner.

The Philharmonic’s selling point is glamour. The quartet of soloists consisted of the honey-toned Christina Landshamer, a rising German soprano; the mezzo Sasha Cooke, with her stunning deep register; the clarion tenor Matthew Polenzani, a stalwart of the Metropolitan Opera; and the bass-baritone John Relyea, who delivered Wagnerian amplitude and gravitas. The Concert Chorale of New York, meticulously prepared by its director James Bagwell, sang with warmth and finesse.

Yet this was a “Messiah” marred by mixed signals. The orchestra’s string section, using minimal vibrato, slimmed down its trademark plush sound to something approximating the lean tone of period-instrument bands, but without those ensembles’ buoyancy and grace. Balance was an issue throughout the evening, with the low strings seizing outsize attention. And emotionally, too, the Philharmonic’s “Messiah” never quite found its center of balance. Too many of the solos felt like operatic set pieces.

Thursday’s performance at Trinity Church, by contrast, felt gripping, raw and searching. It wasn’t without imperfections: The quality of the solo voices ranged widely this year, and there were some coordination hiccups. But the energy these musicians project is of a community engaged in an urgent act of soul-searching — even in purely instrumental moments, like the overture’s fugue, which came across as a warren of voices intent on debate.

Sun, December 11, 2016

‘The Messiah’ from opposite ends of the economic spectrum
The Los Angeles Times

Julian Wachner conducted ostentatiously, micromanaging details but with little sense of actual drama. A dozen members of the chorus also served as soloists, somberly stepped forward as though auditioning, singing with studied formality, with the exception of a natural warmth from soprano Molly Netter.

It was, however, a happy touch that the light-tone bass, Edmund Milly, understood his role as a Wall Street chorus member was to make sure that his “For this corruptible must put on incorruption,” was pronounced with perfect diction and indignation.

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'The Messiah' from opposite ends of the economic spectrum

11/12/2016 - 17:10

By Mark Swed, Music Critic

Handel’s “Messiah” — by far the finest and most sophisticated of any Christmas staple, whether carol, ballet, poem, painting, cartoon or Jimmy Stewart movie — has always been a people’s musical messiah. The oratorio arrived on the scene to help the needy. Its 1742 premiere in Dublin was a benefit concert for the infirm and the incarcerated in debtors prison.

Today, however, you can have your own “Messiah” however you want it: as a fancy concert experience, a spiritual sacred occasion in church or homey sing-along. Should you have trouble finding exactly what you are looking for in a “Messiah” this time of year, unlikely as that may be, you can find recordings galore.

Last week there happened to be something remarkable: two different (and they couldn’t have been more different) performances of Handel’s oratorio oriented around the one percent — the top and bottom one percent, that is. On Wednesday, Trinity Church Wall Street — built a half-century before the “Messiah” was written and now encircled by hedge funds and a few paces from the New York Stock Exchange — brought its noted Trinity Baroque Orchestra and Choir to the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge for a historical Handel.

Two days later on skid row in downtown Los Angeles, Street Symphony — an ensemble made up mostly of members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Colburn students performing outreach at jails, homeless shelters and mental-health institutions — offered its second-annual “Messiah Project” at Midnight Mission.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn which “Messiah” mattered more, which souls are easier to save. The Midnight Mission event included Street Symphony Chamber Singers, core of members from the Los Angeles Master Chorale along with amateurs, as well as Urban Voices Project, whose members are part of the skid row community.

Only a few excerpts of “Messiah” were given. Tenor Don Garza, a Desert Storm combat veteran who is a longtime skid-row resident, made every word in “Comfort ye” intense. When he got to “that her iniquity is pardoned,” his conviction was such that there were shouts of affirmation from the audience and members of the chorus had to put down their scores to dab their eyes.

That alone made this not only the most relevant “Messiah” in my experience but also the most historically authentic. At the Dublin premiere, a reverend, moved to tears by one of the singers, declaimed for all to hear: “Woman, for this, be all thy sins forgiven.”

The “Hallelujah” Chorus, played and sung by superb musicians and filled out with the richest assortment of beautiful and broken voices in the audience, soared with unimaginable power.

I am always reminded upon hearing the “Hallelujah” chorus of a time when, after railing against it, John Cage was approached by an offended woman who asked, “Mr. Cage, don’t you like to be moved?”

“Yes,” Cage answered, “I just don’t like to be pushed.”

There was no pushing Friday at Midnight Mission, none whatsoever, just a need to connect, a need to make “Messiah” something to hold on to. Zanaida Robles, an educator who also works in film and television, conducted with a sense of mission.

Street Symphony’s founder, L.A. Phil violinist Vijay Gupta, told the crowd that “the musicians were walking away with a far greater gift than we can ever hope to give back to the community.” Musician after musician thanked the skid-row community for being their more most rewarding audience. However suspiciously this might sound like TED talk, the fact is that even a “Messiah-ed”-out visitor could hear every note anew. 

There were no huddled masses of homeless to maneuver through to get to Valley Performing Arts Center, and there was obviously no way Trinity could come close to creating the indescribably valuable sense of occasion that Street Symphony did. And to be fair to Trinity, which clearly has the resources to support an active music program that is widely hailed by the New York press, the church has an admirable and extensive outreach program. Moreover, VPAC goes out of its way to serve Cal State Northridge and the Valley with reasonably priced tickets.  

Still, if this uncaring “Messiah” is evidence, the church’s resources are probably better spent on the community than on music. Julian Wachner conducted ostentatiously, micromanaging details but with little sense of actual drama. A dozen members of the chorus also served as soloists, somberly stepped forward as though auditioning, singing with studied formality, with the exception of a natural warmth from soprano Molly Netter.

It was, however, a happy touch that the light-tone bass, Edmund Milly, understood his role as a Wall Street chorus member was to make sure that his “For this corruptible must put on incorruption,” was pronounced with perfect diction and indignation.

The orchestra, said to be the best period-instrument group in New York, is made up of fine professionals who played like callous freelancers on a job. Appearances matter. Dressed overly formally in white tie and tails, nearly all wore casual shoes, as though the whole thing was, and is, a sham. An oboe player, when not playing, sat kicking a crossed leg, his striped socks and lime-green water bottle the main visual attraction on stage. It was “Mozart in the Jungle” in the flesh.

Dress at Midnight Mission was, of course, varied, sometimes surprisingly so, with some members of skid row finely decked out. There weren’t just bits of the “Messiah” but also an engaging new piece by the young Street Symphony composer-in-residence, Reena Esmail, “Take What You Need,” that sounded like Sondheim at his most lyric and without the cynicism. The engagement included places for the strings to vamp while three members of the Urban Voices came forward to tell their stories.

Another moving addition was two verses from the late Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as sing-along following Handel’s. This could become a new tradition.

In the coming days, many of the “Messiah Project” players and singers will be participating in L.A. Phil’s back-to performances of Handel’s “Messiah” and John Adams’ “El Niño,” a latter-day, Latino-inspired “Messiah” that looks at the life of real people in relation to the concept of Nativity.

Although Walt Disney Concert Hall is but a healthy walk from Midnight Mission, it might as well be as far away for the skid row residents as the Goldman Sachs headquarters near Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. But skid row will surely be felt.

I would love to see a video of Don Garza singing “Comfort ye” shown to set the mood for those performances. But when Street Symphony performers can show it’s a wonderful life lived for music, I think we will be in good hands. 

Sun, December 11, 2016

Compelling ‘Messiah’ from a chorus of soloists
The San Francisco Chronicle

The choral singing sounded robust and finely detailed. The orchestral playing was a blend of seamless ensemble work and a few superb solo turns (trumpeter John Thiessen’s dazzling contribution to “The trumpet shall sound” only reconfirmed his status as one of the great Baroque instrumentalists of our time).

And Wachner, who has proved himself an inspired but sometimes mannered conductor in recent appearances with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, shaped the entire evening with an eye to giving these familiar strains new and vivid life. Not a chorus, not a solo aria, not an orchestral interlude sounded casual or pro forma — every moment crackled with interpretive energy.

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Compelling ‘Messiah’ from a chorus of soloists

By Joshua Kosman

December 11, 2016

If you were searching the program booklet for a listing of the vocal soloists in the performance of Handel’s “Messiah” presented by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street on Saturday, Dec. 10, you would have found the task a slightly tricky one. It turns out that this is a vocal ensemble so rich in talent that its members just step to the fore, one after another, whenever there’s a solo that needs singing.

That was just one of the novelties in the vibrant account of this Baroque masterpiece, presented in Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall by Cal Performances. With conductor Julian Wachner leading a performance that also featured the excellent Trinity Baroque Orchestra, it was an evening calculated to rejuvenate the spirits of anyone beginning to weary of the annual “Messiah” tradition.

The choral singing sounded robust and finely detailed. The orchestral playing was a blend of seamless ensemble work and a few superb solo turns (trumpeter John Thiessen’s dazzling contribution to “The trumpet shall sound” only reconfirmed his status as one of the great Baroque instrumentalists of our time).

And Wachner, who has proved himself an inspired but sometimes mannered conductor in recent appearances with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, shaped the entire evening with an eye to giving these familiar strains new and vivid life. Not a chorus, not a solo aria, not an orchestral interlude sounded casual or pro forma — every moment crackled with interpretive energy.

True, an element of calculation crept in here and there, when Wachner seemed a little too intent on underlining passages that would have been perfectly effective in a more traditional guise. In particular, the glacial tempos he chose at key junctures (the opening “Comfort ye,” the alto aria “He was despised” or the concluding “Amen”) came off as bids for eccentricity.

Yet not even those episodes could stall the gripping sense of engagement that suffused the performance overall. And there were many interpretive decisions — from the mellifluous cast of the bass aria “The people that walked in darkness” or the momentum-driven account of “I know that my Redeemer liveth” to the placement of trumpets in a high balcony for the chorus “Glory to God in the highest” — that paid rich rewards.

The music program that Wachner oversees at the Trinity Church in New York City’s Lower Manhattan, an ambitious undertaking that encompasses early and contemporary music alike, has been the object of increasingly admiring attention in recent years, and this performance was as good a reminder as any of why that is so.

Certainly it’s the rare chorus that can simply pluck vocal soloists from among its ranks and give them the spotlight — although the success of most of these artists made one wonder why it’s not done more often.

Among the most dazzling contributors was countertenor Timothy Parsons, whose magnificently muscular singing in “But who may abide” made one want to coin a new vocal category just for him — the heldencountertenor, ready to sing Wagnerian roles in his powerful falsetto. Soprano Sarah Brailey brought tonal elegance and expressive fervor to “He shall feed his flock” and again to a splendid closing account of “If God be for us,” countertenor Clifton Massey offered a fluid rendition of “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” and bass Christopher Dylan Herbert leaped into tenor territory for a wonderfully unhinged “Thou shalt break them.”

At the dark, luminous center of the evening came “He was despised,” sung with glorious intensity and pathos by mezzo-soprano Luthien Brackett. Even taken at a snail’s pace, the lushness and delicacy of the performance were magical.

Thu, December 8, 2016

Tuning into holiday recordings
The Bay Area Reporter

Julian Wachner continues to do fantastic work with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, as their atmospherically recorded The Snow Lay on the Ground: Festive Carols from Trinity Wall Street (Arsis) shows. Together with the Trinity Youth Chorus and Novus NY, these renditions of Wachner’s arrangements, along with his four unedited, first-take organ improvisations, score a 10. Dynamics are excellent for CD, with the beginning of “Joy to the World” strong enough to bolster a crumbling empire.

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Tuning into holiday recordings

Music

Published 12/08/2016

by Jason Victor Serinus

For the latest installment of B.A.R. 's annual holiday recording round-up, we begin with the one that's received the Upper/Downer Pairing of the Season Award for 2016, Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker & Symphony No. 4(Mariinsky SACD). The source is that happiest of campers, Valery Gergiev, and the Mariinsky Orchestra. Tchaikovsky's delightful fantasy ballet zips along at a pace that will keep dancers on their toes. In case they're flying too high, the fate theme from the Fourth Symphony will remind you of the consequences of living a closeted life amidst societal pressure to partner with a member of the opposite sex. Since Tchaikovsky's possible suicide is not a fate you wish to bestow on any young child, please encourage them to explore their full potential with pride. You also might encourage them to stop the disc once The Nutcracker ends.

While we're wallowing in downers, how about the hi-resolution disc pairing Ricardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Schoenberg:Kol Nidre; Shostakovich: Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti(CSO Live SACD)? It's the wrong Jewish prayer for Hanukkah, and the Michelangelo is no romp in the park, but the recording does help us acknowledge that Jews are celebrating Hanukkah amidst a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. It also reminds us that some of the greatest artists of all time, e.g. Michelangelo, were homosexual. Narrator Alberto Mizrahi, dramatic though he may be, sounds far too arch and evil for the Schoenberg. But bass Ildar Abdrazakov is magnificent in the Michelangelo .

Time to clear the air with The King's Singers' Christmas Songbook(Signum). "Get on down/Santa Claus, he's comin' to town" is not what you'd expect from these six proper Englishmen, but their renditions are coy and comfy. Gustav Holst, Meredith Wilson, Irving Berlin and Franz Xavier Gruber gather round the Christmas tree on this a cappella follow-up to the boys' sometimes campy The Great American Songbook project.

Sporting two different dos, one for her natural trumpet, and the other for her fuller-sounding modern version of same, Alison Balsom joins the Academy of Ancient Music, Stephen Cleobury and Tom Etheridge on organ, and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge for Jubilo (Warner), a very fine disc of trumpet music by Fasch, Bach, Torelli, and Corelli (his Christmas Concerto).

Carolae: Music for Christmas (Naxos) is a fitting showcase for the craft of Grammy-nominated English composer James Whitbourn (b. 1963). Several world premiere recordings, including the portentous "Veni et illumine," accompany the disc's centerpiece, the various Missa carolae. Medieval influences abound, as does a weighty musical sensibility that seems equally fit for a TV miniseries soundtrack or a Christmas procession for a long-forgotten King and Queen. In answer to the question, "What is the world coming to?" it's been there for far longer than your lifetime, honey.

If only great tenor Fritz Wunderlich hadn't drunk too much and, shortly before his 36th birthday, tripped on the laces of his boots, falling down the stairs to his death in a hunting lodge. Thankfully, his glorious gifts were recognized early. Thus do we have Fritz Wunderlich Sings Festival Arias (SWR Music), comprised mainly of early, rare radio tapes of Bach, Handel, Buxtedhude, Schuetz, and Telemann. Arias from Des Messias are gorgeous, with historically apt embellishments but sometimes ponderous tempi. The earliest recording was made shortly after Wunderlich turned 25.

Julian Wachner continues to do fantastic work with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, as their atmospherically recorded The Snow Lay on the Ground: Festive Carols from Trinity Wall Street (Arsis) shows. Together with the Trinity Youth Chorus and Novus NY, these renditions of Wachner's arrangements, along with his four unedited, first-take organ improvisations, score a 10. Dynamics are excellent for CD, with the beginning of "Joy to the World" strong enough to bolster a crumbling empire. Only the over-enunciation (the t's could kill) and extra effort to sound like anything but singers from New York detract from an otherwise superb production.

Canadian pop singer Sarah McLachlan's Wonderland (Verve) uses a modest amount of percussive and spacey effects to frame McLachlan's sweet, upbeat, breathy voice. The feeling may be pop, but the optimism is like a blast from the past. It feels like what you might expect from a cozy family Christmas where all talk of politics is banned.

The NOLA Players' Christmas in New Orleans (Verve) is a retro, jazz-tinged big-band visit to a land where good cheer compensates for a lack of snow. Forget about breaking new ground, and instead pass the egg nog.

Christmas with Septura (Naxos) features an excellent bass septet performing arrangements of music by Bach, Handel, Rachmaninov, and Warlock. The arrangement of "Ich freue mich in dir" ("I am delighted in thee") is a joy to listen to. This is a great one to play in the background to lift everyone's spirits.

Voces 8's Winter (Decca) offers a spacious, New Age take on music by Olafur Arnalds & Arnor Dan Arnarson, Arvo Part, Peteris Vaska, Ola Gjeilo, Sergei Rachmaninov, and Judith Bingham. The eight singers are quite accomplished, and the presentation a variation of the Great Pyramid Meets the Crystal Cathedral. The sound is as lovely as the mixed a cappella ensemble is photogenic.

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