Tue, January 21, 2020

Julian Wachner’s Rev 23 at Prototype: Biblical Opera is Fun
Berkshire Fine Arts

With jazzy, propulsive lines and big lyric sound, the score by Wachner is irresistible. Daniela Candillari conducts for full effect. This production captures the humor and daring of the participating creative and performing artists.

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Julian Wachner's Rev 23 at Prototype
Biblical Opera is Fun
By: Susan Hall - Jan 21, 2020

Revelation 22 is the last book of the New Testament. We are given a redacted version to read before we are to see Rev. 23.  At the end of Rev 22., we are told the time is at hand. The book must not be sealed.  And so the pages left blank when Rev 22 was written are now filled in by composer Julian Wachner and impish librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs.  How could anyone possibly have known when 22 was written that God had such fun in mind for humans?  Yet fun it is on stage at the Gerald Lynch Theater as part of the Prototype Festival.

We are immediately struck by the lime color of the set: the walls, lights, desks in a school room where God’s lessons are being taught, or unlearned.  Clever James Darrah captures both the weight of Rev. 23 and its surprising hopefulness in his production.  Responding to an exuberant score by Julian Wachner, the Furies dance together across the classroom, lofting comments, instructions and denigrating the ideas of Lucifer.  This is his world and Alexander Birch Elliott makes a virile, big-voiced demon. Kyle Van Schoonhoven is a rattled Hades with a commanding voice. 

Borrowing from Greek mythology, we find Persephone in Hades, now his wife.  She is of course the bridge between Hell and Earth. Coleen Daly as Persephone is a superb singing actress and so beautiful you can easily imagine Hades falling for her. 

In order to bring destruction to the peaceful world above, the denizens of Hades bring in Sun Tzu who suggests infecting the minds of earthly beings with subversive literature.  Darkness will then come again. The Hades' inhabitants ascend to distribute dirty ideas.

In Rev 22, the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve are introduced for the first time since Genesis, thousands of pages ago.  Sophia Byrd looks like an Eve Barbie doll as she first appears amidst the garden’s shrubbery. She describes her voice as soprano with belt which this Eve has.  She moves well reflecting the dancer she also is. Still a college junior, she has appeared at BAM and with Riccardo Muti.  Listening to her and watching is a real treat. 

Adam and Eve cast out of the garden are charged with cleaning up the literature distributed widely.  This is Fahrenheit 451 without the fires. 

Archangel Michael arrives to protect and heal. Michael Maniaci is a compelling counter tenor, who weaves good will with his charming style.  He orchestrates the conclusion when good and bad people seem joined in joy, following Rodney King’s admonition: why can’t we all get along. King probably got this idea from Archangel Michael. 

With jazzy, propulsive lines and big lyric sound, the score by Wachner is irresistible. Daniela Candillari conducts for full effect. This production captures the humor and daring of the participating creative and performing artists.  

Tue, January 21, 2020

A Dance Steals the Show at an Opera Festival
New York Times

On a larger scale — by far the largest of this festival — “Rev. 23” was a madcap explosion of lovable ludicrousness for a large orchestra and a substantial cast. Performed at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it was a sustained exercise in a comic energy unusual for, and therefore welcome from, Prototype.

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A Dance Steals the Show at an Opera Festival

Prototype, an annual exploration of new opera, encompassed “Cion,” a haunting South African mixture of choreography and voice.

By Zachary Woolfe, Jan. 19, 2020

The Prototype festival’s tagline is “opera, theater, now,” and it is usually described as a presenter of new opera. But it speaks to this annual January event’s capaciousness, its wide-open eyes and ears, that the most memorable show this year — I saw five of the six offerings last week — was barely an opera at all.

Seemingly not even barely: “Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro” was plainly a dance, conceived and choreographed by the South African artist Gregory Maqoma. Its primary medium was bodies in space; it was performed at the Joyce, a dance theater.

And yet the human voice — the vehicle through which opera creates drama — permeated it. Chant, whisper, Xhosa-language clicking consonants: From its first moments, when a man stumbling across the stage wailed over the insistent march rhythm that runs through Ravel’s “Boléro,” crisply rattled out on a snare drum, “Cion” was, for me, as much a vocal event as a choreographic one.

Ravel’s strategy in his 1928 classic was to increase intensity, bit by tiny bit, through relentless repetition, an excruciatingly steady crescendo. Mr. Maqoma, the founder of Vuyani Dance Theater, realized that the piece is, in this way, like a ritual, a religious litany.

So with his collaborators — the music direction and arrangements were by Nhlanhla Mahlangu — he broke up and reconjured the Ravel, offering a kind of distant echo of molecules of “Boléro.” These fragments passed, by way of four singers, through other textures and sounds, including the mellow, melancholy a cappella style of Isicathamiya, familiar from Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

On a stage dotted with spindly crosses, a wall looking like craggy rock looming in the back, nine dancers created images of collective prayer that kept dissolving into violence. Celebrations continually became killings; mourning went on, in all its sadness and ecstasy. A vocabulary derived from traditional African dance was seamlessly married to contemporary street genres like krump and flex; anxious, seizurelike movements broke into sinuous floating.

Most moving was a sequence in which the dancers together formed a shape that suggested a boat surging through stormy waters, an evocation of forced migrations past and present. The piece ended with a graveyard dance, Ravel’s unflagging rhythm accelerating into ferocity: The effect — as of the whole hourlong piece — both somber and exhilarating, even hopeful. This was an impact achieved by voices as much as by bodies: opera, then, in the most fundamental sense.

“Cion” was hardly out of place amid the more characteristic presentations of this Prototype, which closed on Sunday and was produced by Beth Morrison Projects and the arts organization HERE. The festival’s work tends shortish in length, intimate in size, and darkish, ambiguous and poetic in mood. This describes Mr. Maqoma’s work as much as Danielle Birrittella and Zoe Aja Moore’s “Magdalene,” performed at HERE’s home in SoHo.

“Magdalene,” a song cycle delegated among 14 female composers, draws its text from poetry by Marie Howe that explores women’s lives, obliquely, through the virgin-whore archetype of Mary Magdalene. There was a nice tension between cohesion — everyone was composing for string quartet and harp, conducted by Mila Henry — and variety, with some numbers spare, some lush, some poppily alert, some sincerely mild.

I feared, in the first minutes, a tone of turgid solemnity. (“Who had me before I knew I was an I?”) But “Magdalene” grew on me. This was partly because of its inherent diversity of expression, and partly because of its eventual openness to humor, most winningly in a sly setting of “Their Bodies,” an enumeration of the physical and emotional qualities of different penises.

But mostly it was because of Ms. Birrittella, who gave an exposed, intelligent and earnest performance in what was essentially a one-woman show. (Her character, M., had a silent dancer double, the unflinching Ariana Daub, who joined her in moodily traipsing in and around a large, shallow pool at the front of the stage.)

Ms. Birrittella was asked to make an eerily elderly twang at one point, and to rise to grandeur near the end, in a long final monologue with music by Emma O’Halloran. She was persuasive and powerful throughout.

Persuasive and powerful, too, was Jennifer Zetlan as the tormented psychoanalytic patient at the center of “Ellen West”; Ms. Zetlan was focused through rangy, angry vocal lines and sweetly plangent in nostalgic reflection. The piece, presented at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center, is a setting of Frank Bidart’s long poem about a mid-20th-century case study of a woman suffering from body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria.

The text is an enigmatic and poignant expression of a self that feels itself unreal. But while Ricky Ian Gordon’s elegantly impassioned score drew dusky lyricism from the Aeolus Quartet, conducted here by Lidiya Yankovskaya, and though the baritone Nathan Gunn was a comfortably paternal presence as the therapist, the work strained to form this material into more than a monodrama. (Emma Griffin’s production also needlessly included two dancers, dressed as hospital orderlies, making twitchy movements on the sidelines.) You got the sense that Ms. Zetlan would have been more than capable of holding her own.

On a larger scale — by far the largest of this festival — “Rev. 23” was a madcap explosion of lovable ludicrousness for a large orchestra and a substantial cast. Performed at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it was a sustained exercise in a comic energy unusual for, and therefore welcome from, Prototype.

The title refers to an as-yet-unwritten next chapter of the biblical Book of Revelation, and the plot, such as it is, involves an effort by the forces of the underworld to balance out the prevailing goodness of the universe with badness, by bringing culture and politics — the messy substance of human life — up to Adam and Eve on Earth. Sun Tzu, author of “The Art of War,” acts as strategist for Hades and Lucifer; heaven is a re-education camp overseen by the Archangel Michael, wielding a sparkly yardstick.

But while Cerise Lim Jacobs’s libretto seemed to want to echo the zany yet cutting anti-authoritarian satire of Ligeti’s 1978 classic “Le Grand Macabre,” her story was difficult to decipher even by the standards of absurdism, and even given the bright, clear production by James Darrah, its prevailing color electric green.

The daffy libretto, however, inspired Julian Wachner, best known as the director of music and the arts at Trinity Wall Street, to create an explosively, virtuosically eclectic score, with the pummeling perpetual motion of John Adams, the burbling angularity and dark comedy of Stephen Sondheim, the arpeggios of Philip Glass, and the coloratura of Handel — all thrown into a blender with some amphetamines.

There were self-contained arias here, including one that ended neatly enough to garner applause — a rarity in Prototype-style contemporary opera — as well as moments of disarming pastoral prettiness. Mr. Wachner handled this 50-car pileup of styles with confidence and apparently inexhaustible verve; the singers and the orchestra, NOVUS NY, conducted by Daniela Candillari, shared both those qualities. However mystifying it all was, I enjoyed it.

Also confident, in a very different register, was Garrett Fisher’s score for “Blood Moon,” at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Mr. Fisher ingeniously transfigured the sound world of classical Japanese Noh drama, with a harmonium making a gently coppery wheeze and the willowy viola da gamba trading off with its more powerful descendant, the cello. Modern metal flutes coexisted with the antique sound of a bamboo flute; traditional taiko drums crashed as punctuation on the action.

The bass Wei Wu had a robust voice and presence. But the spirit tale related in Ellen McLaughlin’s libretto didn’t feel distinctive enough to fill the substantial running time. For me, the far more compelling ghost story of the festival was “Cion,” as inspiring a haunting as I can recall.

Tue, January 21, 2020

BWW Reviews: Once Again, PROTOTYPE Shows What ‘Opera-Theatre-Now’ Means to Musical Life in New York
Broadway World

Jacobs was matched by Wachner’s fearless score, that incorporated elements from everyone from Glass to Sondheim, with a little Handel thrown in for good measure. Not every bit of music was an eclectic compilation from the book of 20th and 21st century composers, but Wachner clearly had some fun throwing things together into a food processor and coming up with a less-than-Angel’s- (or in this opera’s world, Archangel) food cake.
The cast—under indie opera’s favorite director, James Darrah, and dynamic music director Daniela Candillari with the NOVUS NY—seemed ready for anything that Jacobs and Wachner had to throw at them. These included the clever and smooth baritone Alexander Birch Elliott as Lucifer, the wry tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven as Hades and the game soprano Colleen Daly as Persephone.

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BWW Reviews: Once Again, PROTOTYPE Shows What 'Opera-Theatre-Now' Means to Musical Life in New York

by Richard Sasanow Jan. 21, 2020  

This year's edition of PROTOTYPE, which refers to itself as "Opera-Theatre-Now," has comes and gone. You never know what to expect, for better or for worse: Try guessing what's going to be "the next big thing" at your own peril, even if it has played somewhere else first, for they things might not be what you expected at all.

I had a look-and-listen at three of this year's six offerings and there wasn't one I was sorry to have seen, no matter how odd or needing some further work some of the material was.


I'll start with ELLEN WEST, which had its premiere last summer at Larry Edelson's Opera Saratoga, in a co-production with Beth Morrison Projects (which also happens to be one of the producers of Prototype with HERE).

It's an agonizingly rendered chamber work by composer Ricky Ian Gordon, who managed to combine many musical styles in his score, including snippets of Puccini (TOSCA) and Bellini (NORMA)and a libretto/poem by Frank Bidart. Bidart started out writing what he refers to as "lugubrious plays" before turning to poetry and "lugubrious" pretty much describes ELLEN WEST as well. It walks that fine line between opera and music theatre and, luckily, had a small but highly effective cast to help pull it off.

For me, the highlight of the evening was the portrayal of the afflicted title character by the brilliant soprano Jennifer Zetlan; I've heard her a number of times before, but never in quite so virtuosic a performance. In truth, I thought she made a strong case for finetuning the work into a monodrama rather than a multicharacter piece.

I wasn't sure whether it was the opera itself that needed more development or that director Emma Griffin that was unable to wrangle more facets of the main character into a clearer whole. But, for me, it was hard to monitor enough of West's decline as the short but tortured evening went on.

Nonetheless, Zetlan did outstanding work in making the tale of gender and eating disorder issues an emotional tour-de-force with the material she was given. Her strong soprano showed off some of the best aspects of Gordon's score, though I thought some nonsinging aspects of the score that brought in Maria Callas's weight issues went a bit overboard--making them highlights rather than simply elements of the score.

The other major characters--doctor, husband, poet--went to baritone Nathan Gunn, who too often was assigned a declarative rather than singing style in setting out West's problems. Having heard him at the Met and elsewhere I couldn't help that he (and we) had been short-changed by this.

I'm not sure that Marla Phelan as the Woman and Carlo Antonio Villanueva as the Man as orderlies dealing with West's behavioral neuroses brought enough to the rodeo, but I thought it was more about the material they were given than the work they did.

Music director Lidiya Yankovskaya and the Aeolus Quartet did a fine job in bringing out the best elements of Gordon's score, while the simple scenic design by Laura Jellinek and effective lighting added smartly to the overall stage effect.


BLOOD MOON has a fascinating score by Garrett Fisher and modern libretto by Ellen McLaughlin based on a centuries-old Noh play. The story is simple, yet not so simple: If only we had the chance to go back and make amends for the lights we have made against those who have died. It was brilliantly put together by director Rachel Dickstein, who managed to cover some holes in the libretto.

The story in brief: a nephew abandoned his elderly aunt 40 years before and never looked back--until it is too late though he tries to make amends. It is a fairytale with no happy ending, just haunted characters that have no hope of redemption (at least that's how I saw it). The nephew is brought back by the Blood Moon, sung by countertenor Juecheng Chen, who was a strong physical presence but was less successful in verbally conveying his part of the story.

The nephew and aunt have a complex relationship, even in death. It is made even more so by the bifurcation of the aunt's role between the richly powerful singing actress, mezzo Nina Yoshida Nelsen, and a puppet version (designed by Erik Sanko), brought alive by Takemu Kitamura. The nephew, sung by the strong-voiced bass Wei Wu, interacts with both versions of the abandoned relative, although it seems unclear why at any particular moment. Nonetheless, their music has been written in such an assured idiom that any dramatic shortcomings don't quite seem to matter

Fisher--who incorporates elements of Western and Japanese music--has scored the piece for an unusual ensemble, including a viola da gamba and harmonium, a taiko (a kind of drum), flutes and keyboard that run the gamut of emotions that the character may be thinking but not vocally expressing. As conducted by the conductor Steven Osgood--who has worked his magic on many contemporary operas--it is hypnotic and magical.

The imaginative scenic design by Susan Zeeman Rogers, lit by Yuki Nakase Link, and the costume design by Maiko Matsushima drew us in to the piece--and to the characters and their unhappy lives.

REV. 23

You might be able to tell from the descriptions of the two operas above that, as usual, there is little (if any) humor in their stories. (Indeed, humor seems to have little place in contemporary opera at all.) Cerise Lim Jacobs' and Julian Wachner's REV. 23, coproduced by Trinity Church Wall Street, made up for it, in spades.

When I spoke to Jacobs last week, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she clearly believes that too much is never enough. Thus, she decided that there was room for one more chapter after the Apocalypse in the New Testament's Book of Revelation 22: REV. 23--or, at least, there is in the world of opera. (And a darkly comic vision, no less.) It is the fictional, hypothetical chapter that St. John the Divine would have written if he had gone one step further. The gist: There's more to life than fun--even if you'd never know it from the shenanigans of REV. 23, where light is dark and dark is light.

I can't say I understood all the allusions she incorporated into her libretto, but what was there was more comic that the usual rundown of works at Prototype has in total. The gist: Now that Judgment Day has arrived, only Paradise remains, made of perfection and endless summer--the equivalent of Fort Lauderdale during Spring Break.

Lucifer has been banished to the bowels of hell and conspires with Hades, one of several Greek characters Jacobs has added to the Book of Revelation, to plot the destruction of Paradise. They bring along the Furies for good measure, since they've been out of work since goodness and light took over.

They find their perfect collaborator in Persephone, the queen of the Underworld, the only god who can pass back and forth between Paradise and hell, who's gotten tired of all-that-goodness-all-the-time and coerce her into bring winter and darkness back, just for kicks.

Bringing on Sun Tzu, whose "Art of War" is devoted to an aspect of warfare and how it applies to military strategy and tactics, as a consultant, she heads for the Garden of Eden to get the ball rolling.

You get the picture: It's what some people might call blasphemy but others will see it as a long overdue hoot and a holler for Prototype.

Jacobs was matched by Wachner's fearless score, that incorporated elements from everyone from Glass to Sondheim, with a little Handel thrown in for good measure. Not every bit of music was an eclectic compilation from the book of 20th and 21st century composers, but Wachner clearly had some fun throwing things together into a food processor and coming up with a less-than-Angel's- (or in this opera's world, Archangel) food cake.

The cast--under indie opera's favorite director, James Darrah, and dynamic music director Daniela Candillari with the NOVUS NY--seemed ready for anything that Jacobs and Wachner had to throw at them. These included the clever and smooth baritone Alexander Birch Elliott as Lucifer, the wry tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven as Hades and the game soprano Colleen Daly as Persephone.

Also in the mix was countertenor Michael Maniaci as Archangel Michael and the amusing Paul An as Sun Tzu. Soprano Anna Schubert, soprano Naomi Louisa O'Connell and mezzo Melanie Long were a perfect trio as the Furies. Brian Giebler's high tenor made for a fine Adam and soprano Sophia Byrd his match as Eve.

I can't say that Adam Rigg's scenic design had me dancing in the aisles, but I suppose it's what Darrah had in mind, although Molly Irelan had some good ideas for the costumes.

Prototype 2020 is now a memory. I can't wait to see what they have up their collective sleeves for the next time around.

Thu, January 16, 2020

6 Classical Music Concerts to See in N.Y.C. This Weekend
The New York Times

The annual Prototype festival, now at the heart of new opera in New York, concludes on Sunday, but not before it has squeezed in three performances of this opera based on a new, “unpublished” chapter of the Book of Revelation by the librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs and the composer Julian Wachner, the music director at Trinity Wall Street. James Darrah directs a production that features Daniela Candillari conducting Novus NY.

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6 Classical Music Concerts to See in N.Y.C. This Weekend

By David Allen

Jan. 16, 2020

Our guide to the city’s best classical music and opera happening this weekend and in the week ahead.

LAUREN CAULEY at Miller Theater (Jan. 21, 6 p.m.). Miller’s first free pop-up concert of the year showcases this violinist, a mainstay of the local new-music scene and a member of Ensemble Signal. She performs six recent works for solo violin, including world premieres by Richard Carrick and Piyawat Louilarpprasert and pieces by Clara Iannotta and Jessie Montgomery.

LUCAS DEBARGUE at National Sawdust (Jan. 22, 7 p.m.). In what is billed as his New York recital debut, this idiosyncratic but tremendously insightful French pianist, who shot to fame at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2015, performs Ravel and Scarlatti, marking his release of 52 Scarlatti sonatas in a worthwhile new boxed set from Sony. Note that Debargue also appears at Carnegie Hall on Jan. 31, playing Galina Ustvolskaya’s Piano Concerto with the American Symphony.

TAKA KIGAWA at the Greene Space (Jan. 17, 12:30 p.m.). Appearing as part of Beginner’s Ear, a series curated by the New York Times contributor Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim that combines meditation with musical performances to create more mindful listening, Kigawa plays Boulez, Chopin, Debussy, Messiaen and Bach.

NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC at David Geffen Hall (Jan. 23, 7:30 p.m.; through Jan. 25). Gustavo Dudamel concludes his two-week stint at the helm of the Philharmonic with performances of Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 and Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” with Michelle DeYoung and Simon O’Neill as the vocal soloists.

‘REV. 23’ at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater (Jan. 17, 8 p.m.; Jan 18, 3 and 8 p.m.). The annual Prototype festival, now at the heart of new opera in New York, concludes on Sunday, but not before it has squeezed in three performances of this opera based on a new, “unpublished” chapter of the Book of Revelation by the librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs and the composer Julian Wachner, the music director at Trinity Wall Street. James Darrah directs a production that features Daniela Candillari conducting Novus NY.

RODERICK WILLIAMS AND JULIUS DRAKE at the 92nd Street Y (Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m.). The British baritone Williams is joined by Drake, the pianist and artistic director of the Y’s Vocal Series, for Beethoven’s “An die Ferne Geliebte” and Brahms’s “Die Schöne Magelone,” but it will be a “Die Schöne Magelone” with a difference, featuring readings by the essayist Adam Gopnik and animated films by the filmmaker Cristina Garcia Martin.

Tue, December 31, 2019

Trinity Produces New York Premiere Of Wachner’s REV. 23 at Prototype Festival
Broadway World

In the last decade, Trinity’s music program has steadily gained traction as an influential voice in the wider cultural conversation, frequently serving as an incubator of important new concert and theatrical works whose topics have ranged from coal mining, climate change and water justice to human trafficking and gender inequality. To date these have included three Pulitzer Prize-winners. REV. 23 itself comes to its new production after receiving glowing notices at its 2017 premiere. New England Theatre Geek found the work to be “bursting with innuendo and cheeky wit,” and praised Wachner’s “magnificent beast of a score.” Describing the music as “an endlessly unfolding chain of highly controlled polystylism,” the Boston Musical Intelligencer noted that “amidst this entertaining gallimaufry, Wachner often reveals deep emotional intelligence,” and the Boston Globe declared that the “protean score deftly employs a grab-bag of 20th-century operatic and musical-theater styles to hold a mirror to the libretto.”

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Trinity Produces New York Premiere Of Wachner's REV. 23 at Prototype Festival

by BWW News Desk Dec. 31, 2019       

This winter, Trinity Church Wall Street co-produces the New York premiere of REV. 23, the latest opera by its own Director of Music Julian Wachner, along with the cutting-edge Prototype Festival and Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Performances take place at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater in Manhattan, on January 17 at 8pm and January 18 at 3pm and 8pm. Composed to an audacious, satirical libretto by Cerise Jacobs, founder of the Boston-based activist opera company White Snake Projects, which commissioned the work, REV. 23 explores an "unpublished" new chapter of the Book of Revelation. Los Angeles-based director James Darrah creates a striking new production for this New York premiere, leading the audience on a fantastical journey through the myths of The Collective Unconscious. Noted conductor Daniela Candillari leads Trinity's in-house contemporary orchestra, NOVUS NY.

In the last decade, Trinity's music program has steadily gained traction as an influential voice in the wider cultural conversation, frequently serving as an incubator of important new concert and theatrical works whose topics have ranged from coal mining, climate change and water justice to human trafficking and gender inequality. To date these have included three Pulitzer Prize-winners. REV. 23 itself comes to its new production after receiving glowing notices at its 2017 premiere. New England Theatre Geek found the work to be "bursting with innuendo and cheeky wit," and praised Wachner's "magnificent beast of a score." Describing the music as "an endlessly unfolding chain of highly controlled polystylism," the Boston Musical Intelligencer noted that "amidst this entertaining gallimaufry, Wachner often reveals deep emotional intelligence," and the Boston Globe declared that the "protean score deftly employs a grab-bag of 20th-century operatic and musical-theater styles to hold a mirror to the libretto."An eclectic roster of characters drawn from the Bible, mythology and Chinese history populates Jacobs's libretto. For the Prototype Festival production, soprano Colleen Daly reprises the role of Persephone, whose "mournful second-act aria was a highlight of the evening" in the premiere (Boston Musical Intelligencer), and male soprano Michael Maniaci - "one of the greatest singers of his generation" (Toronto Globe and Mail) - returns as the Archangel Michael. Joining them are baritone Alexander Elliott - "simply perfect" (The Observer) in New York City Opera's recent La fanciulla del West - as Lucifer; and the "rare and amazing" tenor (Opera West) Kyle van Schoonhoven as Hades. The cast is rounded out by tenor Brian Giebler - praised by the New York Times for "lovely tone and deep expressivity" - as Adam; "magnificent" (Broadway World) soprano Sophia Byrd as Eve; and the "deep, warm sound" (The Examiner) of bass Paul An as Sun Tze. A chorus of three Furies comprises mezzo-soprano Melanie Long, reprising her role from the 2017 premiere, soprano Anna Schubert, and mezzo-soprano Naomi Louisa O'Connell.Julian Wachner's compositions have been variously described as "jazzy, energetic, and ingenious" (Boston Globe), "a compendium of surprises" (Washington Post) and "bold and atmospheric," demonstrating "an imaginative air for allusive text setting" (New York Times). Besides being an active composer in many genres, Wachner oversees an annual season of hundreds of events at Trinity Church Wall Street, and serves as artistic director of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival. He is also an in-demand guest conductor, and was named one of Musical America's Top 30 Professionals for 2018.Librettist Cerise Jacobs creates new American opera inspired by the myths that live in our imaginations and the excitement of current events and people she encounters. She is the author of six original opera libretti, including the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winninga??Madame White Snake. She was named a 2017 Mover & Shaper by Musical America, an award given to music professionals for driving the performing arts towards a future shaped by their vision, and one of Boston's 100 Most Influential People of Color in 2018. Jacobs's production company, White Snake Projects, commissioned and produced the premiere of REV. 23 in Boston in 2017.Director James Darrah, known for creating visually and emotionally arresting work at the intersection of theater, opera and film, has led projects around the world, including the world premieres of two operas that won "Best New Opera" from the Music Critics Association of North America. Darrah recently collaborated with Wachner, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and NOVUS NY on the world premiere of Ellen Reid's Pulitzer Prize-winning p r i s m at LA Opera and the Prototype Festival, and the production will be reprised at Washington DC's Kennedy Center this spring.

PROTOTYPE - OPERA | THEATRE | NOW is a co-production of Beth Morrison Projects and HERE, two trailblazers in the creation and presentation of contemporary, multi-disciplinary opera-theatre and music-theatre works. The pioneering festival is the only one of its kind in New York City and is a model now emulated around the country - producing and presenting a wide spectrum of works, from intimate black-box experiences to larger chamber opera productions, valuing artistic, curatorial, and producorial risk-taking.

PROTOTYPE is committed to surprising audiences and confounding their expectations through content, form, and relevance. The festival gives voice to a diverse group of composers, librettists, performers and musicians across all genres, backgrounds, and cultures. In providing a recurring showcase of visionary opera-theatre and music-theatre pieces, the touring life of the work extends around the world. The festival also presents groundbreaking new works by International Artists and has become a global reference of artistic excellence in the field of opera and music-theatre.

Trinity Church Wall Street's groundbreaking music program - "the top of musical life in New York" (New York Times) - has changed the landscape of performing arts in New York City, re-envisioning the impact arts organizations have with its peerless ensembles, a uniquely broad range of expertise from early to new music performance, a long tradition of championing underrepresented composers, and an extensive and growing discography. A pioneer in amplifying the voices of female artists, Trinity has helped incubate many new compositions, including three large-scale Pulitzer Prize-winning works by women: Julia Wolfe's oratorio Anthracite Fields, Du Yun's opera Angel's Bone and Ellen Reid's opera p r i s m. Conductor and composer Julian Wachner serves as the director of music at Trinity and the principal conductor of The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, NOVUS NY and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra.

Anchor components of Trinity's music program include the midday Bach + One and Pipes at One concert series, improvised Sunday evening Compline by Candlelight services, annual performances of Handel's Messiah that the New York Times declares to be "New York's best," annual Time's Arrow and 12 Nights themed festivals, and additional new programs each season.Trinity's musical education initiatives reach more than 400 children in New York City's underserved schools. Students perform in their local community, as well as at least once a year at Trinity, and the church offers an annual music camp for children involved with its partner organization, Hour Children. The Trinity Youth Chorus program, now in its 14th year and with 100 young singers enrolled, has its own schedule of performances and collaborations, and provides support for liturgical music, concerts and recordings. Trinity also provides opportunities for adults in the community to further their own musical education and experience, with the semiprofessional choir Downtown Voices and the volunteer St. Paul's Chapel Choir.

Sat, December 28, 2019

Some Seen and Heard-International reviewers pick their Best of 2019
Seen and Heard International

Musical life in northeast Ohio isn’t restricted to the Cleveland Orchestra and its associated activities. The region also boasts the residence of a world-class baroque orchestra, Apollo’s Fire. Created over a quarter century ago by Jeannette Sorrell, the ensemble has grown to become a major creative force thanks to innovative programming, expressive performing, and widespread touring. This year saw two Bach pillars brought to life by the ensemble, in April Sorrell leading a towering performance of the Mass in B minor the very same day that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned, and just this month, guest conductor Julian Wachner leading Bach‘s Christmas Oratorio.

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Some Seen and Heard-International reviewers pick their Best of 2019


Christopher Rouse’s Sixth Symphony commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and completed barely three months before his untimely death from cancer at the age of seventy spoke of a great life well lived nearing its end. The work’s now somber, now agitated, now elegiac tone uttered with profoundness what mere words cannot begin to convey, as moments of reflective stasis contrasted with blunt agitation, evoking life’s vicissitudes. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra gave a powerful, soulful performance, with Louis Langrée at the helm heroically holding together Rouse’s momentous creation (click here).

A variety of characters are subjected to the sorrowful vagaries of the American legal system and wrongfully convicted in Blind Injustice, David Cote’s and Scott Davenport Richards’s emotionally charged story of wrongful incarceration, ultimate exoneration, and eventual redemption in a memorable world premiere brilliantly staged by Robin Guarino and fiercely conducted by John Morris Russell offered a riveting musical/dramatic experience that will be remembered for a long time (click here).

Israeli director Omer Ben Seadia validated each and every aspect of her updated concept in a nimbly executed staging of Ariadne Auf Naxos for the Cincinnati Opera. She was greatly aided by designer Ryan Howell’s humorously over-the-top set as a celebration of nouveau riche bad taste. Ryan Park’s costumes were period-perfect, and James Geier’s wigs and makeup a hoot. Coloratura Liv Redpath sang her show-stopping 12-minute ‘Grossmächtige Prinzessin’ with uncanny ease and accuracy. Her seemingly limitless top voice — coupled with great looks and spontaneous acting — poises her on the brink of a major career (click here).

On a rainy September day in our mid-sized, mid-western, music-wealthy Cincinnati, two orchestras opened their seasons: one, the incontestably great Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the other the Philharmonia Orchestra at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), a terrific student group that alternating delicacy with bold assertiveness and led by the superb Mark Gibson sounded like seasoned pros in a concert of music by Brahms and Dvořák. The Brahms violin concerto was given a soulful, impassioned reading by the Israeli-American violinist Giora Schmidt, now on the CCM faculty. And Gibson, who listens closely to any soloist, supported Schmidt throughout the work’s forty minutes of quintessential Romanticism (click here).


Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Paris Opéra Les Troyens will surely prove a landmark in the history of this work’s chequered fortunes. Indifferent conducting could not blunt the impact of Tcherniakov’s searching interpretation, helped of course by some outstanding singing. What English Touring Opera’s Idomeneo lacked in ‘big house’ glamour and expenditure, it more than made up for with musicianship and dramatic commitment, making for the finest production and performance I have yet heard of this work in the theatre. The first staging I have seen of Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg, by Tobias Krätzer, will take some beating, not least on account of a commanding and moving performance by David Butt Philip. (Kratzer’s new Bayreuth Tannhäuser, which I did not review for this site, was to be another operatic highlight of the year.) Later in the year, Charlottenburg also played host to the premiere of Chaya Czernowin’s new opera, Heart Chamber. I can signal no higher praise than to say how keen I am to see it staged again as soon as possible.

To hear a Rameau opera performed by the likes of the Staatskapelle Dresden is a rare treat indeed; to hear it performed with such warmth and style as this year’s Platée is especially worthy of comment. Back to Berlin and two powerful repertory performances from the Staatsoper Unter den Linden demand mention: Andrea Breth’s Katya Kabanova and Hans Neuenfels’s Salome, both conducted by the excellent Thomas Guggeis. A few hundred yards away at the Komische Oper, Barrie Kosky’s new production of The Bassarids, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, was eminently worthy of the many plaudits it received.

2019 proved, as often, a golden year for pianists. The first highlight for me came with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s Wigmore Hall programme of Haydn, Schumann, Boulez, Ravel, and Prokofiev. From the same hall — ever a Mecca for instrumental music as well as chamber music and song — Louis Lortie’s sixtieth-birthday celebration with the three books of Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage will not soon be forgotten. Likewise Igor Levit’s outstanding account of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Across town, at the Southbank Centre, Pierre-Laurent Aimard offered an invigorating weekend of Stockhausen, joined by Tamara Stefanovich and friends. Aimard opened this year’s Musikfest Berlin with a spellbinding performance of Messiaen’s complete Catalogue d’Oiseaux: one for the ages, I think. Later in the year, Aimard’s Bartok Third Piano Concerto with François-Xavier Roth and the Berlin Philharmonic, accompanied by excellent performances of Haydn and Ligeti, made for another memorable evening of first-class music-making.

This time with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Roth conducted a further inspiring evening of Haydn and Ligeti, this time joined by Martinů. Haydn and Ligeti also featured in a fine string quartet programme from the Heath Quartet, completed by Beethoven’s op.127. That Wigmore Hall concert would be followed by an equally memorable evening of Bartók by the Jerusalem Quartet. Brahms and Dvořák from Vadim Repin and friends at the Vienna Konzerthaus proved to be my highlight from that musical capital. An evening of Brahms, Enescu, Webern, and Franck from Christian Tetzlaff and Alexander Lonquich at Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal offered another highlight. Though I was hardly short of first-class singing this year, I shall confine myself to a single Liederabend: Mahler from Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber, once more at the Boulez Saal.

Another keyboard highlight was provided by Mahan Esfahani’s harpsichord recital of music by Sunleif Rasmussen, Miroslav Srnka, and Anahita Abbasi. No harpsichord recital would be complete without some early music, for which Esfahani offered Berio and Cage. Would that the greater number of his fellow harpsichordists showed a fraction of his enthusiasm and musicianship in any repertoire, let alone this. Speaking of contemporary and new music, a Musikfabrik concert of music by Helmut Lachenmann, Toshio Hosokawa, and Peter Eötvös demands mention even in a crowded field.

Raphaël Pinchon’s Salzburg Festival Mozart Matinée with the Mozarteum Orchestra offered a model for festival performances: excellent performances, with a fine cast of young singers, offering illuminating context for Mozart’s operas both from his own œuvre and music by his contemporaries. Returning to Berlioz, Daniel Harding’s Berlin Philharmonic Roméo et Juliette proved equally refreshing and illuminating.

To conclude, Daniel Barenboim requires a category of his own. First up here was a Salzburg concert with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and Martha Argerich, no less: Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Lutosławski. A follow-up evening of chamber music by Schumann and Prokofiev proved no less rewarding (though Barenboim here played a less role). For the Divan’s twentieth anniversary, a programme of Bruckner and Beethoven (Barenboim on piano joined by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Yo-Yo Ma) will longer in the memory. Finally, two further portents for the Beethoven year to come: piano trios with Michael Barenboim and Kian Soltani, and the first in a series of the complete piano sonatas.


The top rewards of Philadelphia’s music year, for me, ran the gamut of physical size from those with just one or two people on stage to the whole orchestral, choral, and scenic shebang.

At the smaller end of that range, Brahms benefitted from a Garrick Ohlsson Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital that did justice to two sides of the composer’s musical personality, from the intimacy of Opus 76 to the virtuosity of the Paganini Variations, and from Ignat Solzhenitsyn and Korbinian Altenberger’s Academy of the Fine Arts presentation of the complete corpus of his music for piano and violin. To pass from two performers to three takes me to the pleasures of Lawrence Brownlee, Eric Owens, and Craig Terry’s Perelman Theater celebration of styles from Mozart and Donizetti to gospel and Broadway. There are recitals that deliver the profound experience associated with high art, and there are recitals that offer the more relaxed fun that comes from popular art. This one was both.

The violin provided some of the year’s most memorable experiences. The dazzling young Spaniard Francisco Fullana, at once technically commanding and thrillingly spontaneous, threw new light on a work I have tended to take too much for granted with his stunning account of the Beethoven Concerto with Dirk Brossé and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, who on another evening gave Mozart’s ‘Linz’ Symphony a splendidly polished and stylish work-out. Another of the three greatest truly classical embodiments of the genre, by Elgar (the third is Brahms’s), was compellingly realized by Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider with Stéphane Denève and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which also figured under Cristian Mâcelaru’s direction when the great Leonidas Kavakos scaled the expressive heights of Shostakovich’s post-classical and romantic First Violin Concerto.

Certainly, there were also some excellent piano-concerto performances: the one that gave me the most pleasure was Shai Wosner’s of Mozart’s Concerto No.14 in E flat major, K.449, with ECCO (the enterprising East Coast Chamber Orchestra).

Among several characteristically fine performances conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the most revelatory was his spine-tingling Bruckner Ninth Symphony with the largely student ranks of the Curtis Symphony Orchestra: it was hard to imagine that the monumental work could have been played better than this by any orchestra in the world.

Finally, there were two opera performances of rare quality. Conductor Gary Thor Wedow’s collaboration with director James Darrah in Opera Philadelphia’s Handel’s Semele was one of those performances that can change your world. I think of myself as pretty well clued up on Handel, who ranks for me – as he did for Beethoven – as the greatest of all composers. Greatness, though, has its gradations, and I used to think that the work itself might be thought to occupy a place fairly low down in the hierarchy of Handelian masterpieces. But not anymore, after this vivid and indeed implacable portrayal of a world where, despite the stately period environment, vain ambition and irresponsible frivolity form a combination that leads inevitably to self-destruction.

And aside from the greatest composer, it was an especial delight to witness a worthy production of the greatest work ever written. I have suffered through too many inadequate representations of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro:, but under Cristofer Macatsoris’s baton and David Gately’s directorial hand, the Academy of Vocal Arts got it exactly right, triumphantly illuminating the shifting relations among the principals, and carrying off the story’s challenging comic touches as deftly and clearly as its at least equally important explorations of profound human interaction.


Arguably the most significant event in opera in Buenos Aires in 2019 was the 20th anniversary of the independent company Juventus Lyrica. Conceived in 1998 and launching its first production the following year as a platform for young, up and coming singers, who at that time had few such performing opportunities, the company has survived and thrived while others have come and gone.

With more than 100 productions and the launching of artists on international or national careers, along with development of programmes for the youth and children, Juventus Lyrica has firmly established itself in the musical and cultural life of Buenos Aires. To mark the occasion – and in another first – the Teatro Colón opened its doors for the company’s ‘grand gala’. The nearly 30 arias and extracts from 26 soloists, a 20-strong chorus and a reduced orchestra in the hands of co-founder maestro Antonio Maria Russo provided a fine panorama of the company’s trajectory. And with the two nights both sold out, some funds are assured for its continued advancement.

In the Teatro Colón’s programme, two productions stood out, the local premiere of Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, but especially the new local production of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Set in a sunny sea view location, and with a modern twist, the almost completely local cast demonstrated that despite the variety they bring, it is not only visiting international singers that are requisite for an international level production.

Among the other local independents, Ensamble Lírico Orquestal broke new ground with its production of Il barbiere di Siviglia in a new for it and non-traditional opera venue. With the two performances almost sold out, it was successful in attracting a new audience in the city downtown.


2019 saw the end of the Cleveland Orchestra’s celebratory centennial season, followed by the opening of its 102nd season, which has so far been, if anything, even more brilliant.

It has been a great year for guest conductors in Cleveland, with no fewer than five notable debuts happening. First, the French conductor François-Xavier Roth led an outstanding concert mixing rarities with a trenchant, biting performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka last winter. Near the end of the spring season, the veteran Russian conductor Michail Jurowski made a stunning impact with a glowering performance of Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony in what was both his Cleveland and US debut. The lone outstanding concert from a rather drab Blossom Music Festival this summer was when Australian conductor Gemma New substituted for an ailing Bramwell Tovey and delivered an electrifying concert that peaked with a thrillingly expressive Elgar Enigma Variations.

This season has continued to bring in brilliant guests. Russian conductor Dima Slobodeniouk all but blew the roof off Severence Hall with a terrifyingly concentrated reading of Nielsen’s Fifth (including a breathtakingly quiet clarinet solo from principal Afendi Yusef that brought the audience to spellbound silence). Then, Swiss/Italian conductor Lorenzo Viotti, only 29 years old, made a startlingly strong impact with a powerfully controlled concert of French and Russian, culminating in a fascinating examination of Ravel’s sardonic La Valse.

Any discussion of notable guest conductors has to be led by Jakub Hrůša, who has been building an impressive relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra in recent years. In recent years, I celebrated Hrůša’s glorious renditions of Suk’s Asrael Symphony and Shostakovich’s Fifth. This year, Hrůša led two weeks of concerts. The first week contained an excellent Shostakovich First Violin Concerto, with a good but less impressive Beethoven Eroica. The next week, though, Hrůša was back at peak form with a concert pairing the local debut of John Adams’s On the Transmigration of Souls with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

Stéphane Denève brought an unrestrained sense of color in an adventurous concert ranging from Jennifer Higdon’s lovely blue cathedral to James MacMillan’s wildly inventive Piano Concerto No.3, through a colorful rendition of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (featuring the orchestra’s brilliant solo flautist, Joshua Smith), and closing with a roaring renditions of Scriabin’s sub-Wagnerian ravings in The Poem of Ecstasy.

Alan Gilbert had a fine moment leading the Cleveland Orchestra in stripped-down, standing-up fashion in Bach’s Orchestral Suite No.3. But his best moment was in leading the orchestra in Busoni’s ecstatic and slightly kooky Piano Concerto, which leads us to a discussion of soloists. That epic piece featured Garrick Ohlsson in a commanding performance, one of the highlights of last season. Yuja Wang not only provided star power, she even managed to hold Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto together to make a focused impact (see the Viotti link above). Vadim Gluzman made that most hackneyed of solo pieces new again with an effortlessly brilliant performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (see the Michail Jurowski link above).

In new music, Paul Jacobs was the busy soloist in Okeanos, a glorious organ concerto that served as a preview of work to come from the Cleveland Orchestra’s next Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow, Bernd Richard Deutsch. If the concerto is anything to judge by, we are in for fantastical adventures. Deutsch, a young Austrian composer, brings together the avant-garde and the popular touch, covering all the ground from imposing clangor to delicate delight, and with a sense of humor, no less. Okeanos marks the only time I have heard Cleveland audience members gasp and giggle in sheer joy during the local premiere of a new piece. Deutsch’s first commission is awaited eagerly.

Olga Neuwirth’s Masaot/Clocks Without Hands was the other outstanding modern piece presented. It starts with fragments of Jewish folk music but sends ripples through that warp and destabilize the music. If that sounds serious, it is, but it is also music of wit and humor, presented with conviction by the Cleveland Orchestra’s music director, Franz Welser-Möst.

Welser-Möst is riding high in Cleveland, with his contract just extended to 2027, which will make him the longest-serving music director in the orchestra’s history. The hallmark of his tenure has been insightful programming, putting together works that often shed tremendous light on each other. He has also made it one of his projects to explore lesser-known works of certain composers, including in last season and again this season, Schubert and Prokofiev. In regular repertory, Welser-Möst’s highlights have included a lithe Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony, a dramatically explosive first act of Prokofiev‘s Romeo and Juliet ballet, and a vital Mahler Fifth.

Also notable were two recitals programmed at Severance Hall this year. One was a dramatic exploration of Schubert’s song cycle Die Winterreise by Simon Keenlyside, supported and challenged at the piano by Natalia Katyukova. The Schubert exploration was continued by a thoughtful and sensitive program of piano sonatas played by the great Mitsuko Uchida.

Musical life in northeast Ohio isn’t restricted to the Cleveland Orchestra and its associated activities. The region also boasts the residence of a world-class baroque orchestra, Apollo’s Fire. Created over a quarter century ago by Jeannette Sorrell, the ensemble has grown to become a major creative force thanks to innovative programming, expressive performing, and widespread touring. This year saw two Bach pillars brought to life by the ensemble, in April Sorrell leading a towering performance of the Mass in B minor the very same day that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned, and just this month, guest conductor Julian Wachner leading Bach‘s Christmas Oratorio. Other worthwhile forays have included programs of medieval and renaissance English music and concerts of Vivaldi. Notable soloists have included the incandescent soprano Amanda Powell, the brilliant and engaging soprano Molly Netter, the subtle and intense lutenist Brian Kay, and the masterful violinist Olivier Brault.

One of the best solo recitals of the year came when Alexandre Tharaud substituted on short notice for an ailing Piotr Andreszewski to perform Bach’s Goldberg Variations at Oberlin College’s Finney Chapel as part of that institution’s 140th year of artist recitals. Tharaud led a wide-ranging performance that slowly grew in intensity, with one eye kept on the overall architecture of Bach’s keyboard Olympus.


As I write these lines, I am listening to Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony played by Mariss Jansons and his beloved Munich-based Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. The sound has a glorious intensity. Each note speaks. We are mourning the loss of a giant.

Earlier this year, another giant, Bernard Haitink, decided it was time to retire. I was lucky to be in Munich where he conducted his last Beethoven Ninth Symphony with Jansons’s orchestra and in Berlin where he conducted another Ninth, this time Mahler’s. I did not attend his Lucerne farewell but heard the broadcast and read John Rhodes’s account of a moving night.

A page is turning as we say farewell to these amazing artists, who have given us so much.

But a new generation has emerged. Yannick Nézet-Séguin replaced an ailing Jansons with some superb Shostakovich and Strauss in Salzburg, Philippe Jordan conducted an autumnal Brahms, Igor Levit played revelatory Beethoven, Beatrice Rana found a mastery in Ravel alternating between classicism and modernity, Lahav Shani is a huge talent … apologies to the many deserving who are not mentioned.

All have learned from these masters, but like Walther (in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger) are taking their art further forwards. We all look forward to many more discoveries.

On other topics, the most stunning performance I attended this year was also in Munich where I was lucky to hear Kirill Petrenko at the Bayerische Staatsoper in the last performance of a superlative Richard Strauss Salome. Krzysztof Warlikowski’s staging was not for all (conservative) tastes, but I personally found it a convincing and fascinating re-reading of the work that made many subtle and coherent references to Jewish culture. Marlis Petersen was not a ‘Wagnerian-sized’ Salome but supported by Petrenko’s silken orchestra, made every word audible and every spine shiver.

Finally, I was in Zurich a few times and had the opportunity to hear the Tonhalle Orchestra under its new chief conductor Paavo Järvi. I was struck by the parallel evolutions of both the Zurich Tonhalle and the Suisse Romande Orchestra. Both are definitely being positively challenged by their first-rate principal conductors, Paavo Järvi in Zurich and Jonathan Nott in Geneva. Both are stretching the mainstream repertory and taking musicians and audiences outside of their comfort zone.

Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony showed the standard of playing Järvi is developing while Jonathan Nott gave a sumptuous reading of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony that was the result of the work started already a few years ago.

Finally, both are operating in temporary halls which are not totally adequate. The Tonhalle will soon move back to their renovated classic hall in the centre of the city.

But there is a major difference for which I would like to ask for your personal support. There are plans to build a new ‘Cité de la musique’ which will also host the Haute Ecole de Musique (High School for Music); construction is underway (anticipated to finish by 2024) but the project has yet to receive public support. May I therefore please encourage readers to add their voice for this project (click here) to help enjoy the present and prepare for the future – and we hope to see many of you in Geneva.


Vancouver’s music in 2019 was unique in its combination of anniversaries: the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra had its centenary season, and festivities celebrating both Early Music Vancouver’s 50th anniversary and the Vancouver Recital Society’s 40th are in progress. Here is my list of ‘memorable’ events, relative to genre.

Best Orchestral/Concerto: Otto Tausk Brings Invigorating Style to Mozart’s Last Three Symphonies (March); Louis Lortie Shines in Bramwell Tovey’s Return to the VSO (May); A New Goldberg Variations Highlights Kraggerud’s Night of Magic (February)

Best Chamber Music: Striking Sensitivity and Intelligence in Brahms and Shostakovich from the Z.E.N. Trio in Vancouver (October); The Ehnes Quartet Makes an Inspired Vancouver Debut (January)

Best Piano Recital: Zlata Chochieva’s Unique Chopin and Rachmaninoff Arrive in Vancouver (November); The Astonishing Fillipo Gorini (February); Paul Lewis Shows Fortitude in Completing his Haydn-Beethoven-Brahms Project (March)

Best Early Music: Exalted Singing in Handel and Purcell at the Close of the 2019 Vancouver Bach Festival (August); The King’s Singers Push Forward to Their Next 50 Years (February)

Best Celebrations: The VSO Completes it Centenary Season in Style (June); Ton Koopman Maintains all his Energy and Spirit at 75 (November)


The concert year in Zurich has been dominated by the much-heralded arrival of Paavo Järvi as Chief Conductor of the Tonhalle Orchestra. His selection of Beethoven symphonies at the start of the year augured well (review), but we were blown over by a gripping performance of Kullervo (review) to kick off the new 2019/2020 season. Järvi is now recording all the Tchaikovsky symphonies with the orchestra; I was much taken by his view of the Fourth, in particular.

Other conductors who impressed during the year were Alan Gilbert with Nielsen’s Third Symphony (review) Robert Trevino with Heldenleben (review), and the veteran Herbert Blomstedt, who never fails to amaze, with Brahms’s Third Symphony (review).

The pick of the visiting orchestras, to my mind, was the Academia di Santa Cecilia – a scintillating Schumann Second Symphony under Sir Antonio Pappano (review).

Soloists who impressed me during the year were pianists Paul Lewis (review) and stylish Rudolf Buchbinder (review) mischievous violinist Pekka Kuusisto (review) and, at the other end of the spectrum, the somewhat austere Leonidas Kavakos (review) and virtuosic clarinettist Martin Fröst (review).

At the opera, the year started with a sparkling and spectacular Semele, the indefatigable Cecilia Bartoli in the title role (review).

Evelyn Herlitzius was stunning both as Elektra (review) and in The Makropoulos Case (review). Tamara Wilson as Chrysothemis made a fine impression in Elektra. Il turco in Italia was rollicking good fun (review). A revival of Der Rosenkavalier (review) in an excellent production was also memorable.

Operetta hit the spot in an unusual and hugely amusing production of Oskar Straus’s Eine Frau, die weiss, was sie will (review): Max Hopp was an absolute star.

Lucerne Festival at Easter featured Teodor Currentzis and his MusicAeterna and choir from Perm in Verdi’s Requiem (review): memorable perhaps more because it came over rather as a sacred rite than just an ordinary concert.

At Lucerne in the summer we collectively shed a tear when Bernard Haitink gave (probably) his last ever concert, Bruckner’s Seventh with the Vienna Philharmonic (review). Earlier in the year, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, he brought us Bruckner’s Sixth (review) (as did Juanjo Mena with the Tonhalle earlier in the year – review). My favourite Bruckner symphony, his Eighth, is always a highlight, especially when done well – Andris Nelsons and the Leipzig Gewandhaus hit the spot (review).

I was in Munich to see and hear Mariss Jansons with Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony at the Gasteig. As he emerged onto the stage, I was taken aback to witness his clearly fragile state of health and not at all surprised to hear of his sad demise less than a month later. I will hold his many marvellous concerts in fond memory.

I always particularly enjoy major choral works: the amateur choir, with which I sing, the Gemischter Chor Zurich, performed Mozart’s Requiem at Easter in a newish version by Pierre-Henri Dutron; and then Bach’s entire Christmas Oratorio (all the six cantatas, but thankfully without all the repeats).

Herreweghe’s B Minor Mass also with Collegium Vocale Gent was also a highlight earlier in the year (review).


The Los Angeles area has long had a thriving opera scene with LA Opera and Long Beach Opera at its core. Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic have taken to staging opera, and The Industry continues to present offbeat productions. Dance has always taken second place here, but that appears to be changing. With the maturing of homegrown companies like Los Angeles Ballet, BODYTRAFFIC and LA Dance Project, to name a few, plus visiting international companies performing all over the city, Los Angeles is no longer a distant outpost for dance. Here are some highlights from the season in dance and opera:

In a triumphant collaboration, music, dance and art came together in Thomas Adès and Wayne McGregor’s The Dante Project Part 1(Inferno) to create that rarest of species, a perfectly realized contemporary ballet that takes its place in a line of classics beginning with the nineteenth century’s famed story ballets. Adès’s score for Inferno is 45 minutes of pure excitement, evoking but never imitating Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and, by the composer’s own declaration, Liszt. The piece premiered at Disney Hall in May with Gustavo Dudamel leading the LA Phil. Conducted by Adès and exquisitely danced by the Royal Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in July, its success as a ballet score was wildly apparent.

The Mariinsky Ballet brought Balanchine’s Jewels to town. Maria Khoreva, Timur Askerov and company were at their glorious best in the last section, ‘Diamonds’, which distills the splendor of every nineteenth-century Russian ballet into one abstract dance and honors the tradition of the Russian school through the lens of Balanchine’s vision.

BODYTRAFFIC reprised their marvelous rendition of Matthew Neenan’s A Million Voices and channeled the world of James Brown in Micaela Taylor’s thought-provoking Snap. Taylor, dancing a principal role, was a galvanizing presence throughout with her long limbs and elastic line. Also worthy of note was the collaboration of choreographer Lucinda Childs, composer David Lang, dancer Wendy Whelan and cellist Maya Beiser in Childs’s THE DAY.  Divided into two parts, the day and the world to come dealt with the pangs of memory and loss and, though too literal at times, had committed performances by Whelan and Beiser.

LA Opera continues to embrace the unique productions of Barrie Kosky of the Komische Oper Berlin. In addition to reprising his popular The Magic Flute this season, LAO staged his new version of La bohème, which placed the bohemians in loft-like digs in an industrialized Paris circa 1900. The story became personal to our time by shelving sentimentality and nostalgia and creating an honest exploration of youth. Beautifully sung and acted and rendered with tantalizing freshness under the baton of James Conlon, the result was nothing short of revelatory.

An outstanding cast led by tenor Russell Thomas and more exceptional music making from Conlon and the LAO orchestra marked the company premiere of La clemenza di Tito. Even the lavish sets of director Thaddeus Strassberger and Mattie Ullrich’s over-the-top costumes couldn’t distract from the expressive singing of Thomas, Elizabeth DeShong, Janai Brugger, Guanqun Yu, James Creswell and Taylor Raven.

At Disney Hall, the LA Philharmonic New Music Group conducted by Paolo Bortolameolli created a sensation with Yuval Sharon’s staging of Meredith Monk’s Atlas. And LAO, in their ‘Off Grand’ series at Redcat, presented the world premiere of Ellen Reid’s prism, which was awarded the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for music. Once again Los Angeles proves that it is in the forefront of presenting new music by contemporary composers.


Big changes involving music directors of San Francisco’s two major establishments drove some of my most memorable concert moments of 2019.

First was San Francisco Symphony, which had surprised the music world with its December 2018 announcement that Esa-Pekka Salonen, who had sworn off being anyone’s music director, signed a five-year contract to succeed Michael Tilson Thomas as the orchestra’s music director. With excitement levels high for his already-scheduled January concerts in Davies Hall, he delivered big time in a program that bracketed Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra with pieces from the conductor’s native Finland.

The evening offered a tantalizing preview of what might be in store. The canny program found musical ties among the works, and Sibelius’s Four Legends from the Kalevala emerged with subtle thrusts of rhythm. His palpable connection with these musicians demonstrated the conductor’s masterful tone-painting skills.

For his part, as he enters his final year as music director Tilson Thomas provided several program gems, not least a revelatory revisit of Mahler’s Symphony No.7. Mahler has been a touchstone of his 20-year tenure, and this traversal gleamed with sassy brass playing, seasoned with let-it-all-hang-out percussion work and dazzling colors from the woodwinds. The finale wallowed in every wry swing the composer took in his pastiche of the music of such forebears as Beethoven, Mozart and, especially, Wagner.

The year ended with another surprise announcement from San Francisco Opera, which has been without a music director since Nicola Luisotti’s final performances of his seven-year tenure in December 2017. The Korean-born Eun Sun Kim, the standout among a parade of guest conductors who were up for the job, made a huge impact with her work on the company’s Rusalka in June 2019, a highlight of an already excellent 2018-2019 season.

That Rusalka had plenty of star power, featuring rich-voiced Rachel Willis‐Sørensen in the title role, heroic Brandon Jovanovich as The Prince, a gruff Kristinn Sigmundsson as The Water Goblin, and the glorious Jamie Barton as Ježibaba. Kim’s sense of timing, impeccable balance, and flair for the dramatic touch made the whole thing fly. Reports from friends within the opera gave Kim the highest marks for pulling together all the details with deftness and heart.

Kim takes over an orchestra that has been on a brilliant roll since Donald Runnicles (who had preceded Luisotti as music director) returned for a memorable traversal of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in June 2018 that seemed to whip the band into fantastic shape. The level of musicianship, responsiveness, and sheer sound went up several notches and hasn’t backed off. The orchestra’s work buttressed several of the company’s highlights this year. Aside from that Rusalka, performances of Billy Budd (conducted by Laurence Renes), The Marriage of Figaro (Henrik Nánási), and Hansel und Gretel (Christopher Franklin) benefited from the sheen of the orchestra’s sound.

Violinist Daniel Hope, the new leader of the conductorless Century Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco, kicked off his tenure in January with a delicious program, a collection of pieces ‘recomposed’ centuries after the originals. The poster child for this idea was the minimalist composer Max Richter’s highly personal contemporary take on Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, in which the Presto finale of ‘Summer’ skids off into the occasional seven-beat measure and the original repeated rhythm of the opening Allegro of ‘Autumn’ sprouts modernist overtones. The violinist not only gave the piece a dynamic and rhythmically lively reading, he got the ensemble into the spirit for a satisfying and coherent performance.

Written for Hope, who recorded it in 2012, the piece capped an evening that included a couple of lightly tweaked 20th-century arrangements by Benjamin Britten of Baroque and Romantic works, and a re-jiggered Renaissance-era dance suite by the all-but-forgotten Peter Warlock. It made a great calling card for Hope’s introduction as the group’s leader.

The Silkroad Ensemble fairly lifted the roof off Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley in their Cal Performances appearance in May. After 21 years Silkroad’s immensely talented musicians continue to make something new and exciting by freely drawing from their respective cultures. Especially delectable were pipa artist Wu Man, drummers in a taiko version of Elektra (the Greek story, not Berg’s music), and Sandeep Das’s superb tabla playing in violinist Colin Jacobsen’s ‘Arjuna’s Revelation’.

Guest artists provided major highlights in San Francisco Symphony’s fall programming, most especially the awe-inspiring singing of heldentenor Stuart Skelton in an Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre in November that seriously put me in mind of Lauritz Melchior’s recordings, with a haunting pianissimo at the start of ‘Winterstürme’ that built to a thrilling climax. Conductor Simone Young, soprano Emily Magee and bass Ain Anger completed a near-perfect performance all-round.

The best orchestral moment during my annual six-week stay for the music festival in Aspen, Colorado, came with a sensational performance of the Elgar Enigma Variations conducted with intensity and beauty by Leonard Slatkin.

Percussion played an outsized role in other Aspen moments, including a thrilling debut of Christopher Theofanidis’s Drum Circles. The Percussion Collective played with an intoxicating mix of musicianship and showmanship, delivering with rhythmic and sonic inventiveness. Conducted with flair by Michael Stern, the piece was also a big crowd pleaser. The Collective registered my pick for encore of the year — a driving performance of Astor Piazzolla’s ‘Le Grand Tango’ arranged for four mallet instruments.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein topped off a recital with Viktor Derevianko’s delicious chamber reduction of the Shostakovich Symphony No.15 in A major. It celebrated the composer’s witty and often delicate writing for percussion. Visiting artist Colin Currie and festival stalwarts Jonathan Haas and Douglas Howard chimed, tinkled and tumbled engagingly along with Weilerstein, violinist Philippe Quint and pianist Inon Barnatan.

Other highlights in Aspen included a deliciously eclectic recital by violinist Augustin Hadelich and piano partner Orion Weiss. They made Debussy’s Violin Sonata into a rainbow of colors and transcending the mind-boggling demands of playing the notes in Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin in E major, Hadelich made it into a tour-de-force of sun-drenched brilliance.


As usual, my concert-going was dominated by the Three Choirs Festival and by performances by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. However, a few events elsewhere also stood out. I have long been an admirer of the music of David Matthews but until this year my experience of his works had been confined to radio and CD. At the end of May, however, I heard live performances of two major works and, what is more, both were world premieres. In the closing concert of the Chipping Campden Music Festival the Festival’s Academy Orchestra and Thomas Hull unveiled Matthews’s Concerto for Orchestra, Op.150, a Festival commission (review). A matter of days later, Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan included the world premiere of Mathews’s work for soprano and orchestra, Le Lac, Op.146. In this we heard an engaging and sensuous performance by the soprano, April Fredrick (review). Both of these important scores are fascinating and beautifully crafted, and I should like to hear them again soon; in the case of Le Lac I would wish to hear it in a more pleasing acoustic than that of The Play House, Stratford-upon-Avon. The Chipping Campden Festival was also the occasion for a memorable performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang by baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Susie Allan (review).

It is a long journey to London from where I live but it was worth making the journey to hear the first London performance since 1889 of Parry’s oratorio Judith. The work is musically somewhat uneven, though the strong passages definitely outweigh the less interesting ones. However, if the music could be described as uneven the same could not be said of the performance led by William Vann, which was magnificent (review). Subsequently, the same artists made a recording which I hope will be released in 2020.

Several trips to Symphony Hall, Birmingham found the CBSO in fine fettle. In November their Principal Guest Conductor, Kazuki Yamada was on the rostrum for an exciting performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah (review). The orchestra’s Music Director, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla led a blazing traversal of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony in June (review). To launch the 2019/20 season Ms Gražinytė-Tyla directed gripping performances of two major English works: Tippett’s A Child of our Time and Britten’s searing Sinfonia da Requiem (review). The CBSO has launched an extended celebration of their centenary, which falls in autumn 2020 and, on the evidence I have heard in 2019, the orchestra is in peak condition to mark this notable anniversary.

This year’s Three Choirs Festival was on my doorstep, in Gloucester and Artistic Director Adrian Partington had constructed an enticing and varied programme. My personal highlights in a packed week began with the marvellous concert by Merton College Choir which included a compelling performance of James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross (review). Roderick Williams gave a distinguished recital of English song which included the song cycle Maud by Arthur Somervell in a performance that showed the cycle in a revelatory light (review). His recording of a full disc of Somervell songs, due for release in 2020, is eagerly awaited. I wish an enterprising label would record the memorable and moving sequence From your ever-loving son, Jack. This was the second time I had heard tenor Joshua Ellicott and pianist Simon Lepper give this recital and it was just as affecting as the first time (review). I was delighted that Adrian Partington revived An English Requiem by the late John Joubert. It is a fine, eloquent work and it received a performance wholly worthy of it (review). Look out for the BBC Radio 3 broadcast which should air sometime in early 2020. However, in the year that we marked the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz it is fitting that the most exciting concert I attended in the whole of 2019 should have been the Three Choirs Festival performance of La damnation de Faust. Adrian Partington led an electrifying performance of this extraordinary work of genius. Though the conductor and all the performers deserve the highest praise, the show was stolen by Christopher Purves’s unforgettable portrayal of Méphistophélès. 

Thu, December 26, 2019

Nagano, Nézet-Séguin headlined a classic decade in Montreal
Montreal Gazette

The Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal performs Monteverdi’s Vespers under Julian Wachner as a tribute to SMAM co-founder Christopher Jackson (1948-2015).

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Nagano, Nézet-Séguin headlined a classic decade in Montreal

Updated: December 26, 2019

Maison symphonique, Yannick-apalooza, the decline of the CD, the rise of #MeToo. How will the OSM fare, post-Kent Nagano? A classic decade, selectively remembered.


Quebec exports music like hydroelectricity. Yannick Nézet-Séguin ascends to the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Jacques Lacombe and Jean-Marie Zeitouni (products, like YNS, of the Montreal Conservatoire) take over the orchestras of New Jersey and Columbus, Ohio. The New York Philharmonic performs Handel’s Messiah with soprano Karina Gauvin, contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux and conductor Bernard Labadie. Presumably rehearsals are in English. Mezzo-sopranos Julie Boulianne and Michèle Losier are heard in New York and London. Tenor Marc Hervieux finds his chez-nous niche. Prodigy-gone-to-seed André Mathieu (1929-68) is fêted with a biography and movie. Kent Nagano and the OSM play for 1,700 millennials in an east-end Molson warehouse. Wagner’s Das Rheingold as made in Quebec by Robert Lepage opens to mixed reviews at the Metropolitan Opera. The OSM kisses Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier goodbye (and good riddance).


The Maison symphonique opens its doors. The interior as designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects is “airy, spacious and curvier than the established description of its geometry — a shoebox — would suggest,” the Montreal Gazette writes. Initially grouchy reviewers soon realize they are in a fine facility. Then Bourgie Hall opens. Chamber and baroque entities flock to the deconsecrated church, while the Arte Musica Foundation adds a plethora of presentations to what is already, classically, the busiest city in the country. Yuli Turovsky, battling Parkinson’s, leads his last performance with I Musici de Montréal. The Concours musical international de Montréal awards first prize to an 18-year-old Italian, Beatrice Rana. Good call. Andrew Megill is named chorus master of the OSM four years after the retirement of Iwan Edwards. The Montreal Gazette declares the concert of the year to be the gargantuan Mahler Symphony No. 3 as squeezed into Pollack Hall by the McGill Symphony Orchestra under Alexis Hauser. Good call.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Orchestre Métropolitain in 2010, the year he ascended to the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra. DARIO AYALA / MONTREAL GAZETTE FILES


The Toronto Symphony Orchestra pays a visit with Peter Oundjian in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 12. “Très solide,” writes Claude Gingras of La Presse. Pianist Lang Lang plays a knockout recital. The Montreal Baroque Festival stages an equestrian ballet, à la Louis XIII, in the Old Port. Joseph Rouleau, 83, sings Gonzalo in Thomas Adès’s The Tempest in Quebec City. Franz-Paul Decker, 88, cancels what would have been his last OSM appearance. Alas. Menahem Pressler, 89, pours all his wisdom into Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 110. Nagano and the OSM start an August tradition with a free outdoor concert at Olympic Park followed by an indoor Place des Arts festival eventually called the Classical Spree. DJ Champion visits the OSM in a supercool outreach effort. The New Orford Quartet unites first-deskers from the OSM and TSO. Très solide.


The Opéra de Montréal scores an audience success with Jake Heggie’s manipulative but oddly stageworthy Dead Man Walking. It sets the stage for Silent Night (2015), Les Feluettes (2016), Another Brick in the Wall (2017), JFK (2018), Champion (2019) and Written on Skin (2020). Walter Boudreau’s large-scale Concerto de l’asile gets an OSM debut with Alain Lefèvre at the piano. films Nagano and the OSM in Bruckner’s Sixth. The Lanaudière Festival mounts a concert performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin, with YNS leading the Orchestre Métropolitain and an international cast. Labadie and Les Violons du Roy present Handel’s Theodora, which, of course, is in English. The crowd in the Maison symphonique is overwhelmingly francophone.


Casavant’s Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique proves impressive. A piece by Montreal-born Samy Moussa (Jean-Willy Kunz, soloist) blows away a boring concerto by the Finnish pseudo-superstar Kaija Saariaho (Olivier Latry). Kent Nagano’s cycle of Beethoven Symphonies appears in time for Christmas. Also in time to be compared in the Montreal Gazette to recordings by Karajan, Klemperer and Szell. Rough justice. Bourgie Hall launches an eight-year cycle of Bach Cantatas. Claude Vivier (1948-1983) is the subject of a perceptive biography by the Ulster musicologist Bob Gilmore (1961-2015).

In 2015, violinist Angèle Dubeau hit one million streams with an Analekta recording of music by Ludovico Einaudi. ANALEKTA


A star is born: Charles Richard-Hamelin wins silver at the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Violinist Angèle Dubeau hits one million streams with an Analekta recording of semi-classical music by Ludovico Einaudi. The CD is not quite dead: Sony issues Glenn Gould’s commercial recordings in a big box. The Azrieli Prize in Jewish Music is established. A star is reborn: Labadie returns to the podium after a year-and-a-half struggle with lymphoma. Bravissimo.


A certain Charles Dutoit makes his Maison symphonique debut and first OSM appearance since the meltdown of 2002. Berlioz, Stravinsky and Beethoven, the last with his ex-wife, the pianist Martha Argerich. Good concert. Just like old times. The Opéra de Montréal presents Verdi’s Otello with the title character in whiteface. The Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal performs Monteverdi’s Vespers under Julian Wachner as a tribute to SMAM co-founder Christopher Jackson (1948-2015). The OSM records for Decca, the label that put Montreal on the musical map. The orchestra celebrates the 50th anniversary of the métro system. Another offbeat Nagano idea: acquiring an octobass — a giant double bass — ostensibly to firm up low frequencies. The world awaits an octobass concerto.

Kent Nagano (pictured in August) announced in 2017 that the 2019-20 season would be his last with the OSM. CHRISTINNE MUSCHI / MONTREAL GAZETTE


The final chords of Moussa’s multimedia Symphony No. 1 “Concordia,” celebrating the 375th anniversary of Montreal, fade away in time for Nagano to announce that the 2019-20 season will be his last with the OSM. Let the search begin. The OM tours Europe under Nézet-Séguin. More external accomplishment: Marc-André Hamelin supplies the “imposed” piece for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Conductor Jordan de Souza, formerly of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, becomes Kapellmeister of the Komische Opera in Berlin. Alain Trudel is named music director of the Toledo Symphony. At home, the Ladies’ Morning Musical Club turns 125. The Montreal Chamber Music Festival hires Julie Payette as a narrator. The mood darkens at the end of the year as allegations of sexual abuse are made against James Levine and Charles Dutoit. Several orchestras disown Dutoit and CBC Radio 2 prohibits the mention of his name (but not the broadcast of OSM recordings).

For the first time since his resignation in 2002, Charles Dutoit returned to conduct the OSM in 2016. One year later, he faced allegations of sexual abuse. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTE FILES


Nézet-Séguin is named music director of the Metropolitan Opera two years ahead of schedule. Nagano tries out a Concert in the Dark, including the Electric Candlelight Concerto of John Anthony Lennon as played by guitarist Steve Hill. Not that the maestro has lost sight of the high road: after leading a Beethoven Symphony cycle at home, he takes the OSM to Kraków and the Salzburg Festival to perform Krzysztof Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion in the presence of the composer. YNS and the OM issue a box of Bruckner Symphonies on ATMA — and get started on Sibelius. Not to be out-recorded, Nagano and the OSM issue a low-fat version of Leonard Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place. Pro Musica turns 70. Jean-Willy Kunz follows John Grew as artistic director of the Canadian International Organ Competition. Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach’s Cello Suites in the Maison symphonique. The recital sells out so quickly that the Montreal Bach Festival sets up a live transmission to nearby St. James United Church. The public-spirited cellist pays a real visit to the virtual crowd during intermission.


Nagano opens the OSM season with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (“Babi Yar”). Pianist András Schiff accuses OSM musicians of sabotage. (They accuse him of ineptitude as a conductor.) Michael Tilson Thomas makes a somewhat better impression. YNS is declared artistic director for life of the OM. This calls for a road trip! Bruckner’s Fourth sounds good in Carnegie Hall. The Quatuor Molinari leave their 20 Opus Awards at home and tour Germany, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. Étienne Dupuis and Frédéric Antoun, Montreal boys with European careers, return in OdM productions of Eugene Onegin and Lucia di Lammermoor. The McGill Chamber Orchestra rebrands itself as the Orchestre classique de Montréal. Boris Brott leaves his name unchanged. Noël Spinelli, at 91, receives the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Volunteerism in the Performing Arts. Nagano and the OSM tour Europe in March and the Americas in September. They go to Carnegie Hall in March 2020. They must be from Montreal.


István Anhalt, Dale Bartlett, André Bourbeau, Clarice Carson, Jean Cousineau, Raymond Daveluy, Franz-Paul Decker, Jacqueline Desmarais, Maureen Forrester, Claude Gingras, Mildred Goodman, Irving Gutmann, Bruce Haynes, Yaëla Hertz, Jacques Hétu, Eugene Husaruk, Christopher Jackson, Otto Joachim, Maryvonne Kendergi, Pierre Rolland, Joseph Rouleau, Jacob Siskind, Ethel Stark, Eleanor Stubley, Huguette Tourangeau, Miklós Takács, François Tousignant, Gilles Tremblay, Eleonora Turovsky, Yuli Turovsky, Robert Verebes, Patrick Wedd, Hellmuth Wolff.

Thu, December 19, 2019

5 Classical Music Concerts to See in N.Y.C. This Weekend
The New York Times

Julian Wachner leads the best “Messiah” in New York City, and probably one of the best, period, with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the singers of which also take on the solo parts.

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5 Classical Music Concerts to See in N.Y.C. This Weekend

By David Allen

Published Dec. 19, 2019Updated Dec. 23, 2019

Our guide to the city’s best classical music and opera happening this weekend and in the week ahead.

BLUE HERON at Corpus Christi Church (Dec. 22, 4 p.m.). This choir, rightly cited for recording one of the albums of the year by my colleague Anthony Tommasini this month, returns to New York as part of the Music Before 1800 series. With the Dark Horse Consort, they perform “Christmas in Baroque Germany,” with works by Praetorius, Gabrieli and others. Scott Metcalfe conducts.

‘THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL PASSION’ at the Met Cloisters (Dec. 21, 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.). David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning choral work surely ranks among one of the most successful recent pieces around, and here it receives two performances from the excellent Philadelphia-based choir the Crossing, led by Donald Nally. Before that, they give the premiere of “Spectral Spirits,” a new work by Edie Hill on poems by Holly Hughes.

MAKE MUSIC WINTER at various locations (Dec. 21). Make Music’s winter festival may not have the sprawl of its summer counterpart, but there are still 13 participatory parades and other events dotted around the city, one of around 40 involved this year. Of particular note is an eight-hour performance of Satie’s “Vexations,” a one-page work played 840 times in succession, by amateur and professional pianists under the Oculus at World Trade Center, from 10 a.m. onward.

‘MESSIAH’ at St. Paul’s Chapel (Dec. 20-21, 7:30 p.m., Dec. 22, 3 p.m.). Julian Wachner leads the best “Messiah” in New York City, and probably one of the best, period, with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the singers of which also take on the solo parts. It’s a sellout, but the Saturday performance will be streamed live on Trinity’s website. For a live alternative, check out Kent Tritle conducting Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall (Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m.)

NEW YORK STRING ORCHESTRA at Carnegie Hall (Dec. 24, 7 p.m.). Jaime Laredo presides over the annual Christmas Eve concert by a crop of young players brought together for a short period of intensive study. They play Mozart: the overture to “The Marriage of Figaro”; the “Jupiter” Symphony; and the Violin Concerto No. 5, with Nancy Zhou as soloist.

Wed, January 9, 2019

Broadway World

The result is spectacular, not only for the two principal singers—soprano Anna Schubert as Bibi and mezzo Rebecca Jo Loeb as Lumee were stunning—but for the orchestral ensemble NOVUS NY and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, under the firm grip of Julian Wachner.

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by Richard Sasanow Jan. 9, 2019  

Where are our Violettas, our Salomes, our Elektras--even our Lulus--for opera to move forward as an art form for the 21 century? They're all victims of stress and suffering of one sort or another, but still worth meeting up with--not only musically but dramatically--more than once.

I began thinking about this while watching the three new opera/music-theatre pieces--THE INFINITE HOTEL, 4.48 PSYCHOSIS and PRISM--that I visited during the opening days of the current edition of PROTOTYPE: OPERA/THEATRE/NOW, co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE.

Each was very different in its story-telling, each musically compelling in its own way. Yet, they had me wondering whether I was ready to bring these people back into my life again any time soon.

Michael Joseph McQuilken's THE INFINITE HOTEL

The first was THE INFINITE HOTEL, an immersive work conceived and directed by Michael Joseph McQuilken. It has quite an eclectic score: music and lyrics by Firehorse & The Few Moments (aka McQuilken himself), with select songs adapted from material written by Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls) & Jason Webley (experimental folk multi-instrumentalist) for this production and additional music for the composer-pianist character, Ben, by Sky White Tiger. (There's also "You'll Never Walk Alone" by Rodgers & Hammerstein early on.) All--plus some other music--were arranged by McQuilken for the production and the variety of styles somehow add up to a cohesive whole. Musical director Freddy Epstein kept it all moving swiftly.

It's a music-theatre/film/concert piece (rather than opera-ish) that consisted of a number of story strands that, eventually, formed a cohesive entity, helped by the scenic/lighting design of Maruti Evans and video design of Josh Higgason and Maxx Berkowitz. Not the least of its threads is a meta-"Star is Born" line that I thought took way too long completely exposing itself, though Leah Siegel as Jib (the Janet Gaynor-Judy Garland-Barbra Streisand-Lady Gaga character)--also a co-composer as part of Firehorse--was an almost constantly compelling presence.

The physical production, creative direction by Jon Morris, took good advantage of the large performing space at Brooklyn's Irondale Arts Center--incorporating a subway platform and a major concert space, among other locations. It combined live action and video of the same action from different angles (the sync was annoyingly out of whack at my performance) and added sound-mix through headphones for some of the audience.

There was also audience participation--stressing the interconnectedness theme--that worked well in bringing out a liveliness in the piece (giving a new meaning to "crowd funding," as the piece had underwriting from Kickstarter Performance).

I admit to feeling somewhat frustrated during the first part of the evening at the disjointed nature of the piece and the seemingly too-leisurely story-telling. The effectiveness of it all changed dramatically in the second part, where the story-telling was simplified and better at drawing us in, particularly when the truth [spoiler alert] about one of the characters being dead better clarifies some confusion.

According to McQuilken, the piece was lovingly created as "a balm for the division of people in our modern world," though I'm not sure it was as successful at putting across this aspect of the work.

Co-produced with Old Sound Room and The Windmill Factory.

Philip Venables's 4.48 PSYCHOSIS

Next came 4.48 PSYCHOSIS, an opera version of a play by Sarah Kane, the troubled, much-touted playwright who committed suicide before she was 30. Directed by Ted Huffman as it was at its premiere in May 2016, it has an arresting score by Philip Venables that was commissioned by the Royal Opera in London (though not for its Covent Garden location but for its indie-opera Lyric Hammersmith site, where this production was also rehearsed).

The play--her shortest and most fragmented work, with no plot or character or indication of how many actors were intended to voice the play--was completed shortly before her death. It was first performed in 2000, at London's Royal Court Theatre.

It was written when Kane was severely depressed and it deals with the "psychotic mind," according to David Grieg, a playwright and friend of Kane's. Grieg, who wrote the introduction to her collected works published after her death, says 4.48 was the frequent morning wake-up time for Kane in her depressed state.

Venables has scored it for six singers (three sopranos, three mezzos), including one who may be a stand-in for Kane herself (soprano Gweneth-Ann Rand), another a staff doctor (mezzo Lucy Schaufer) who may or may not exist, and four women (Lucy Hall, Susanna Hurrell, Samantha Price and Rachel Lloyd) who play a mysterious variety of roles, including voices in her head, hospital staff, a quartet of Valkyrie-like figures, among others. The demands on the singers is significant and sometimes call for unearthly sounds; they all succeeded notably.

Not all of the libretto is sung; some is projected on the wall. This is particularly unsettling when dealing with her drug regimen, varying dosages and their side-effects, and the homilies voiced to her about "getting better" to help stanch her pain, though it's likely she--as well as the audience--knows the truth.

The score, as played by Contemporaneous, an ensemble of 22 dedicated to current music, conducted by William Cole, did a superb job on the sometimes brutal, fierce and relentless music. Venables clearly understands what the playwright has to say and lets it crawl under his skin--and ours.

Surprisingly, the most unnerving music was the Muzak piped in through a loudspeaker at various times, trying to give the patients a false sense of calm. (But, as any of us who have been Muzak-ed, stuck in an elevator, know, it's hardly a breath of fresh air.)

Hannah Clark's simple set and costumes fit fluidly into director Huffman's production, where the singers slip in and out of character, with the musicians hovering over the stage.

Though it's hardly surprising given Kane's reputation, there is no humor whatsoever, as if the author's suicide is understood to be forthcoming, from the first notes of the score. I'm glad to have seen it and appreciate the creative forces that turned the play into such a raging work, but for me, the excesses of Kane's pain trumps the vitality of Venables's score.

Ellen Reid's PRISM with librettist Roxie Perkins

Finally, we get to PRISM by Ellen Reid and librettist Roxie Perkins, directed by James Darrah, which came with much build-up from its acclaimed premiere in Los Angeles a couple of months ago. The consensus: It was a stunning creation.

Reid has a vast, eclectic musical vocabulary that she shows differently in each of the three sections of the piece, here impressionistic, there electronic dance music, then a sort of Gregorian chant and what amounts to more traditional arias musically, among other styles used. Of course, the composer didn't simply toss this off--the opera has been in progress for five years or so, giving her the time to develop her musical voice. I particularly liked the soaring aria-like piece for Lumee, the mother, in the flashback to the disco where the trauma to Bibi, her daughter, took place.

The result is spectacular, not only for the two principal singers--soprano Anna Schubert as Bibi and mezzo Rebecca Jo Loeb as Lumee were stunning--but for the orchestral ensemble NOVUS NY and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, under the firm grip of Julian Wachner. (There's also a quartet of dancers who play key roles in the spectacle.) Darrah, who has been involved with PRISM through its development, has done some of his best work here--he's a very busy guy--elucidating the intricacies of the piece.

Yes, Reid is a significant talent in the contemporary music field and her commissions from the LA Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale and LA Chamber Orchestra--along with PRISM from the LA Opera and Beth Morrison Projects--are clear examples of the high esteem in which she's held. Yet, as with many contemporary operas, the libretto is key to its success, and Perkins has played her job well.

She's been entrusted with providing the haunting framework that describes "the elasticity of memory after trauma" and, for the most part, she has succeeded in dealing with Bibi's plight, as she tries to crawl back from the edge of madness where she retreated to protect herself from her experience. The librettist has used her own interest in color--how it can emotionally structure repressed memories--and how trauma can "corrode" language to enrich the story in interesting ways. Perkins shows Bibi's world in two colors: yellow is safe, blue is what she's trying to forget. And she sees what at first seems like nonsense words, which reveal themselves as syllables of words that have run together in her mind.

Of course, Bibi has a major problem to deal with: Her mother--now trying to protect her--as the cause of her trauma. She dragged her daughter along to a dance club because she didn't want to leave her home alone and the result was catastrophic. The trauma of the event is always there, unexpectedly rearing its ugly head when Bibi lets down her guard for a moment.

Yes, loose ends may get tied up a little too neatly, as Bibi makes her escape (though I certainly don't want to make light of the creators' own traumas that may have been incorporated into the work, as implied in the program notes). Finally, Bibi recognizes that she's caught in Sartre's hell--and that the "other people" is her mother. As Bibi starts to come to grips with her trauma, she begins to understand that while her room, and being with her mother, is not a place of physical torture--there are no flames engulfing her--it is impossible to stay there. Like Ibsen's Nora, she has to slam the door behind her before she can begin to truly recover.

PRISM was quite an experience and I look forward to hearing more of Reid's work. As for living through her trauma again, well, that's another story.

Produced by Beth Morrison Projects in association with Trinity Church Wall Street.

Wed, January 9, 2019

Portraits of Pain at the Prototype Festival
The Wall Street Journal

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the instrumental ensemble NOVUS NY, conducted by Julian Wachner, were splendid.

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Portraits of Pain at the Prototype Festival
The opera-theater festival’s two big shows, ‘prism’ and ‘4.48 Psychosis,’ portray varieties of mental chaos

By Heidi Waleson
Jan. 9, 2019 4:50 p.m. ET

New York

The opera-theater pieces of the Prototype Festival tackle unconventional subjects, often in uncomfortable ways, and two big shows of its seventh season are no exception. At La MaMa, Ellen Reid’s gripping “prism” (it had its world premiere in November at the LA Opera) starts out mysteriously. Who are these two women, Bibi (Anna Schubert) and Lumee (Rebecca Jo Loeb), snuggled in bed together in a cozy white room whose door has multiple locks? Bibi can barely stand. Lumee tries to get her to take medicine; she spits it out. They recite a sequence of nonsense words and enact rituals. There’s talk of memory and forgetting; that yellow is safe, but blue, which is outside the door, is not; that Bibi is getting worse, and her bones will soon turn to dust. Is Lumee Bibi’s protector, or something more sinister?

The strangeness of Roxie Perkins’s libretto turns out to be deliberate. This is an internal struggle, a depiction of PTSD following a sexual assault, and the things ricocheting around inside the sufferer’s head probably don’t make sense to anyone else. However, Ms. Reid’s urgent, kaleidoscopic music clearly supplies the turbulent emotional soundtrack of Bibi’s world: the sweet, Copland-like melodies with strings, harp and flute that evoke the safety of forgetting; the horn and percussion that accompany her will to remember and heal; the alluring offstage chorus that tempts her to stand up and open the door. The music gets wilder, with infusions of rock and electronics, in the flashback Act II, which depicts the precipitating event—a sexual assault in a club. Act III is a swifter, grittier replay of Act I, ending with Bibi’s escape.

Ms. Schubert’s pure, naked soprano gave a piercing intensity to Bibi’s pain, and her acting of physical impairment was persuasive; Ms. Loeb’s mezzo, alternately soothing and threatening, made her an intriguing foil. (It’s not clear if Lumee is really Bibi’s mother, who left her child alone to be assaulted and is now overcompensating, or simply a voice in Bibi’s head, but the ambiguity is interesting.) The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the instrumental ensemble Novus NY, conducted by Julian Wachner, were splendid.

James Darrah’s elaborate production provided this mental world with a vivid, concrete shape. Designer Adam Rigg’s creepy all-white room gave way to 24 hanging disco balls to represent the club, and then to the messy squat of Act III; Pablo Santiago drenched the sets with colored light; Molly Irelan did the costumes, which included a childish baby-doll nightgown for Bibi in Act II. Four dancers, in writhing choreography by assistant director Chris Emile, represented the danger and excitement of the world outside the room of forgetting.

As an experience of psychological disturbance, Philip Venables’s “4.48 Psychosis,” at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, makes “prism” look like a walk in the park. Based on the final play of Sarah Kane, who suffered from mental illness and killed herself at age 28 in 1999, “4.48 Psychosis” is 90 relentless minutes of raw pain and mental chaos.

Six women, headed by soprano Gweneth-Ann Rand, speak and sing as the voices of the protagonist; they are often drowned out by the heavily amplified 14-member orchestra (Contemporaneous, conducted by William Cole), which includes saxophones and an accordion. Mr. Venables varies his techniques, but even the musically calmer moments are full of agony. A Baroque-like lament is overwhelmed by strings that wail like sirens; texts of conversations between the patient and her doctor, projected on the wall of the set, are violently pounded out by two percussionists (at one point, the doctor is represented by a snare drum, at another, a saw). A long list of drugs, with their terrible side effects and ultimate failure to make any difference, becomes a litany, accompanied by a rollicking orchestra, that is almost comic in its grotesqueness. A blast from an organ ushers in a moment of religious contemplation and clarity, soon exploded into a vocal and instrument cacophony so extreme that the only recourse is electroshock therapy. Yet through the noise you hear the patient’s longing, however hopeless, for some connection that will allow her to stay alive.

This Royal Opera House, Covent Garden production, originally staged at the Lyric, Hammersmith in London in 2016, was directed by Ted Huffman.Hannah Clark’s simple set is a shallow white box with three doors, a few chairs and a table (the orchestra is positioned above); D.M. Wood’s stark lighting alternately floods and shadows this bleak world. The six women, all in the same gray sweater, jeans and sneakers, convincingly portray the protagonist’s fragmented mind, whether they are challenging and throttling each other or singing in ensemble. It’s a place where no one could want to live. If 90 minutes is too long, it’s excruciating to imagine what it would be like for years.

—Ms. Waleson writes on opera for the Journal and is the author of “Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America” (Metropolitan).

Mon, January 7, 2019

Trauma Queens
Parterre Box

They were magnificently supported by the 14-member NOVUS NY orchestra led by Julian Wachner whom I’ve previously admired conducting early opera and here who drew keenly virtuosic playing from his forces. The principals and the 13-person Trinity Choir were ably abetted by Garth MacAleavey’s sensitive sound design and discreet micing.

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trauma queens

by Christopher Corwin | 12:08 pm | Jan 7, 2019

Though barely a week old, 2019 has already provided New Yorkers with an essential, breathtaking music drama focusing on two women struggling for their very survival. The Met’s Adriana? No, that’s so last year! 

Sunday night saw the local premiere of Prism, an inscrutable yet mesmerizingly beautiful new opera by Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins that serves as one of the centerpieces of the wildly ambitious PROTOTYPE Festival currently running for the next week throughout the city.

I must admit that contemporary opera doesn’t always float my boat and yet for every turgid The Exterminating Angel there’s a provocative and satisfying Written on Skin.

So when La Cieca exhorted several of us to get our butts downtown to this year’s Prototype, I was both wary and cautiously optimistic as the festival since 2013 (in conjunction with Beth Morrison Projects and HERE) has been enlivening bleak Januarys with some of the most interesting new works like Breaking the Waves and Acquanetta.

But I wasn’t prepared for Prism, the riveting work that greeted me at the East Village’s fabled La Mama Ellen Stewart Theater, an often baffling yet haunting experience that has continued to disturb me hours and hours later.

The friend who attended Prism with me had recently confided to me his fascination with the work of the American director Peter Sellars. I mentioned that I learned back in the day to just let his productions work their magic and to never read Sellars’s pages and pages of single-spaced explanations before the show began.

Perhaps with that in mind, in the moments before the opera started, I failed to scan Reid’s and Perkins’s brief notes on Prism and thereby struggled mightily to make sense of their work which eschews traditional forms of operatic storytelling.

After the performance I learned that their intention was to create a piece about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from a sexually traumatic event. I must admit that my initial deciphering of the clues presented to me on stage often led me to some wildly different guesses yet their work proved so richly engrossing that it will surely engender many varied interpretations.

The setting of the work’s three brief acts moves from a small stark white bedroom to a vast dance club cluttered with hanging mirrored disco balls to a return to that same bedroom cluttered with boxes of clothes with walls now completely covered by flowery murals.

In those spaces the older Lumee and the younger Bibi enact a blighted ritual of illness and violence, confinement and escape. Are they lovers (they are first glimpsed sleeping together in a small double bed) or mother and daughter or caretaker and patient as Bibi appears to suffer from a debilitating disease which has left her unable to walk.

Their stylized, poetic dialogues range from debating the mysterious “Blue” which has caused the sickness and which waits ominously outside the bedroom door to Bibi’s determination to free herself from their oppressive confinement.

The work’s daring elusiveness made me grasp at its possible allusiveness. Somewhere I remember reading of a connection to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film The Bitter Tears of Petra van Kant and the floridly painted walls of Adam Rigg’s third-act bedroom set seemed to explicitly evoke the German director’s baroque vision of lesbian hell.

It was easy then to interpret the first act as perverse game-playing by unhappy lovers but that reading only led me so far. Then, the torturous cat-and-mouse between a nurse and her patient in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona in which one of the roles is played by an actress named Bibi also came to mind as I attempted to untangle the work’s threads. That line of inquiry too wasn’t fully fruitful but my growing mystification only increased my curiosity.

Reid’s eclectic, gorgeous score is helped immeasurably by Perkins’s pungent yet graceful text which skillfully avoids the common traps that befall many contemporary librettists who either become numbingly prosaic or bewilderingly abstract.

A special joy was Reid’s grateful vocal writing which instead of tormenting the singers allowed them to soar not scream. The plush tonal writing eventually turned harsh and dissonant as the turbulent subject matter became more and more harrowing yet it was never off-putting in the way some difficult new operas can be.

The two sopranos, Anna Schubert as Bibi and Rebecca Jo Loeb as Lumee, were astonishing, singing their demanding music with lustrous freedom while enacting their rigorously punishing roles with compelling intensity.

Loeb with the bigger richer instrument shone especially in Lumee’s rapturous second-act dream/suicide aria while Schubert’s lighter higher voice coped impressively with her ever more dramatic writing embodying Bibi’s frightening journey.

They were magnificently supported by the 14-member NOVUS NY orchestra led by Julian Wachner whom I’ve previously admired conducting early opera and here who drew keenly virtuosic playing from his forces. The principals and the 13-person Trinity Choir were ably abetted by Garth MacAleavey’s sensitive sound design and discreet micing.

The supertitles were helpful for the dense, sometimes fugitive text but the performers’s clear and communicative diction made almost them superfluous.

James Darrah’s elegantly vivid, consistently involving production was a gift to this difficult piece. Despite his intricate work, I feel I haven’t begun to plumb the depths and intricacies of this prismatic work and it surely deserves multiple viewings and further study.

When I spotted Isabel Leonard at intermission, I was reminded of Marnie, Nico Muhly’s recent Met stumble that dealt more conventionally if far less interestingly with complex female psycho-sexual issues. And there is more music in ten minutes of Prism that I long to hear again than in the whole of Marnie!

Five performances of Prism remain this week in New York but it seems clear that after its Los Angeles Opera world premiere last month it should have a long life worldwide and a recording would definitely be in order. One awaits the next Reid-Perkins collaboration with awe and eager expectation.

Mon, January 7, 2019

Prototype Festival, New York — from awkward to superb
Financial Times

What makes Prism so compelling is not just its text and the fine singing of Anna Schubert and Rebecca Jo Loeb. There is a brilliant production from James Darrah, with striking decor and lighting, and fine playing and choral singing from the forces of Trinity Wall Street and its commanding conductor, Julian Wachner. Above all there is Reid’s score. The vocal lines for the two women are compelling, often beautiful, but the thrill lies in the orchestra and the kaleidoscopic musical idioms Reid so deftly deploys.

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Prototype Festival, New York — from awkward to superb

Musical theatre works performed over the opening weekend varied in quality but all evinced a sterling professionalism

John Rockwell JANUARY 7, 2019

The annual Prototype Festival of new works of musical theatre, this year scattered among 11 venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn, has become a New York institution. The offerings vary widely in quality. The 2019 crop range from the superb to the awkward, but all evince a sterling professionalism and attracted eager audiences.

Often Prototype’s highlights have been first seen out of town. That was true for Ellen Reid’s Prism at Café La MaMa, which premiered in November in Los Angeles, where most of her big successes have come. With Prism she takes her place among the host of promising young American opera composers (she’s 35). Her opera explores the disorienting impact of post-traumatic stress disorder in relation to sexual assault. Reid and her librettist, Roxie Perkins, write in the programme notes that they have been victims themselves. The allusive, poetic text, caught between dream and nightmare, starts out with a traumatised girl and her smothering mother. Eventually the girl is transported to a flashing disco and finally breaks free altogether.

What makes Prism so compelling is not just its text and the fine singing of Anna Schubert and Rebecca Jo Loeb. There is a brilliant production from James Darrah, with striking decor and lighting, and fine playing and choral singing from the forces of Trinity Wall Street and its commanding conductor, Julian Wachner. Above all there is Reid’s score. The vocal lines for the two women are compelling, often beautiful, but the thrill lies in the orchestra and the kaleidoscopic musical idioms Reid so deftly deploys.

Philip Venables' adaptation of Sarah Kane's '4.48 Psychosis' started in London in 2016 and was reprised there last year; in New York it is showing at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, with further stops planned for Germany and France. Kane’s play was first seen in 2000, a year after her suicide. The opera depicts the acute depression, not to say madness, of the protagonist, and the fragmentary text is set for six women singers plus a recorded spoken voice, a swirling coven of friends, nurses and hallucinations. Venables’s writing for voices and instruments remains unflinchingly intense, and Gweneth-Ann Rand is deeply disturbing as the central figure.

Prototype’s opening weekend also included Train with No Midnight at the HERE Arts Center’s downstairs space, a droll blend of comic narration and art-pop songs from Joseph Keckler. (I had to leave this one a few minutes early because of the festival’s tight schedule.)

Otherwise, at HERE’s Mainstage, we had This Tree by rock singer/cellist Leah Coloff, the tree in question being her family tree, which she is not continuing because of her inability to conceive. It is musically strong but thematically self-involved. Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance at the Bric House in Brooklyn tries to portray the Texas-Mexico border country through the lens of the Mexican revolutionary. But the text seems disjointed and the music by Graham Reynolds lacks individuality and flavour.  

Mon, January 7, 2019

Cataclysmic Suffering Sprawls Through the Prototype Festival
The New York Times

Ellen Reid’s score is accessible in the best way, disconcertingly sweet without being syrupy, with occasional whispers of choral voices so soft they’re almost more odor than sound. The truly prismatic Choir of Trinity Wall Street is astonishing here; Trinity’s new-music ensemble, Novus NY, plays beautifully under Julian Wachner.

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Cataclysmic Suffering Sprawls Through the Prototype Festival

By Zachary Woolfe

Jan. 7, 2019

Opera is an art form of affliction. It’s a genre that has long made a specialty of giving trauma stature and structure.

But even by that standard, the marquee productions of this year’s Prototype, the festival of new music-theater that sprawls throughout the city and runs through Sunday, are extreme. There are scenes in “Prism,” “ThisTree” and especially “4.48 Psychosis” of almost cataclysmic suffering, the kind of pain that lingers without reason or resolution.

“4.48” is an adaptation of the final work by Sarah Kane, the British playwright who died in 1999. A fragmented, incantatory immersion in clinical depression, filled with descriptions of psychotropic drugs, sets of numbers, angry rants and stark wordplay, the script specifies neither characters nor precise plot, nor even the number of performers.

Seen on the page, the words scattered amid expanses of white, it can seem more like modernist poetry than theater. It is, in other words, as easily made into a score as into anything.

In his opera, which had its premiere with the Royal Opera in London in 2016, the composer Philip Venables has found in Kane’s material a landscape of iciness and sensitivity, in which speaking and singing flow into one another with uncanny ease.

Six women — one a loosely defined protagonist, the others her echoes and tormentors — chant and babble in shifting configurations, sometimes glassy and sometimes full-cry. Faint drones of organ (produced by synthesizer) rise to Grand Guignol surges, helped along by accordion. Heavily amplified, almost cartoonish stomping, heavy on low brass, gives way to coolly rending lyricism, like a Baroque lament by John Dowland, thinly frosted by violins playing in their highest register.

The score, played here by the ensemble Contemporaneous under William Cole’s direction, ingeniously translates some fraught conversations between a doctor and patient into a percussion duet. Syllables are rhythmically tapped out as the words appear, projected on the set, while waiting-room Muzak plays — softly, infuriatingly — in the background. A hammer harshly clinking against a pipe, with a bell providing the question mark, is answered by despairing deep thwacks of fists on a drum: Mr. Venables gives us wit, hostility and poignancy, all at once.

Ted Huffman’s clean yet passionate, intimate production adds, intentionally or not, a newly bitter element. The main performer, Gweneth-Ann Rand, is black, and the other five women are white, giving their relentless persecution of her yet another facet of horror. All in all, this “4.48” avoids neither the text’s moments of pitch-black humor nor its passages of luminous air; it doesn’t prettify Kane, nor does it make her brutality unendurable. Elegantly ferocious, it is this unclassifiable play as music.

“Prism” (the creators make the title lowercase and place spaces between its letters) is also an attempt to depict the brutality of interior life. Its first act poses an intriguing mystery: What is this strange scene?

A mother and her daughter, dressed in white, are locked in an immaculately clean room — outside of which some strange force, referred to as Blue, threatens. The daughter seems to have a progressive wasting illness that has left her with barely any use of her legs. Together they repeat lines of seeming nonsense — Roxie Perkins’s libretto is full of the ominously capitalized words of dystopian fiction — and follow eerily precise rules as they try to cure the daughter’s illness.

Ellen Reid’s score is accessible in the best way, disconcertingly sweet without being syrupy, with occasional whispers of choral voices so soft they’re almost more odor than sound. The truly prismatic Choir of Trinity Wall Street is astonishing here; Trinity’s new-music ensemble, Novus NY, plays beautifully under Julian Wachner.

It’s a haunting beginning, but the next acts answer its questions too literally. Jumping back in time, we learn that the daughter, Bibi (Anna Schubert), was raped after being left alone at a dance club by her mother, Lumee (Rebecca Jo Loeb), the aftermath of which is rendered as painful pricks of sound and the barest noise of voices breathing.

In a violent reaction of remorse and PTSD, they retreat together into a messy rat hole — the reality of the pristine idyll we saw at the start — in a grimly ineffectual attempt at healing. The question: Can Bibi escape the regressive world her mother has invented to protect her?

James Darrah’s staging is striking, with the locked room a frightening terrarium and the club a sea of low-hanging disco balls. But visual elegance can’t take away from the fact that that thumping club scene and the rushed-feeling finale come off as letdowns after Ms. Reid and Ms. Perkins’s spookily suggestive opening.

Leah Coloff’s “ThisTree” is mellower than “Prism” and “4.48 Psychosis,” but still unstinting. A cellist, composer and vocalist, Ms. Coloff leads a six-woman band in what is, at heart, a cabaret show: a series of memoir monologues alternating with folky, bluesy numbers sung in her sometimes feathery, sometimes husky, sometimes warbly voice.

She intertwines her family’s pioneer past and the parentage secrets it kept with an account of her struggles with infertility. This is forbidding stuff, but Ms. Coloff’s touch is light, her presence warm. She’s not sentimental — and idiosyncratic touches, like a giant red bonnet, an enormous hand-stitched denim cape and tough-to-pin-down lyrics, keep things helpfully weird — but she isn’t unemotional. She is, simply, honest.

These aren’t the only productions in this year’s Prototype, presented by Beth Morrison Projects and the arts center HERE. “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance,” composed by Graham Reynolds and with a libretto by the collective Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, is a cozy, bilingual, semistaged oratorio for two singers (including the soaringly sweet tenor Paul Sanchez) and a rollicking roadhouse band.

Reflections on the famous revolutionary’s life and death — and, pointedly, on the gringos who watched the war in which he took part from the safe distance of the title — are interspersed with quietly riveting footage of interviews with a Mexican teenager who claims to have heard voices urging him to immerse himself in Villa’s story.

Written and directed by Michael Joseph McQuilken, “The Infinite Hotel,” a shotgun marriage of “A Star Is Born” and a ghost story, is an ambitiously busy show that fills the Irondale Center in Brooklyn with cameras and screens. (You may think of Ivo van Hove’s signature style of self-reflexive multimedia explosion.) Some of the audience watches from above, with the sound mix coming through headphones. Some participate as extras — directed in real time — in the filming of the production, which results in a unique feature-length creation from each performance.

Often sounding uncannily like Lady Gaga, Leah Siegel sings with earthy rock authority as a subway singer-songwriter turned arena sensation. But all the technical bells and whistles, while smoothly produced, ultimately feel less like integral elements than a distraction from stock characters and a thin, overlong plot.

“The Infinite Hotel” ends with the mawkish spectacle of a dead father holding his daughter. “4.48 Psychosis” closes with apocalypse — and inevitably, for all of us who see it now, with thoughts of Kane’s actual suicide. “ThisTree” concludes with moving modesty: the simple recognition that this is how things are.

And does Bibi escape at the end of “Prism”? In a culture so single-mindedly focused on personal empowerment and victory over victimization, how could she not? But this rings false. Opera doesn’t need its heroines merely to suffer. But it needs their victories to feel genuine rather than tacked on.

Sun, December 23, 2018

John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio
The New York Times

The small ensemble of Trinity singers, some doubling as percussionists, responded to the score in kind, performing with compassion. Mr. Wachner kept them so quiet, his hands almost never came above his waist while he conducted; by contrast, he practically danced through Handel’s spirited Dixit Dominus in the evening’s second half.

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John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

By Joshua Barone

Dec. 23, 2018

New Yorkers are never wanting for Handel’s “Messiah” during the holidays. It’s on the calendar of every major concert hall and may be the only musical work performed in all five boroughs this month.

Nothing could dethrone Handel’s oratorio, but worthy alternatives in choral music are out there. (And I’m not just talking about Bach.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently offered two modern holiday oratorios that are intimate, affecting and quietly rich with activism: John Adams’s “El Niño” and David Lang’s “the little match girl passion.”

As part of the soprano Julia Bullock’s yearlong residency with the museum, “El Niño” came to the Fuentidueña Chapel at the Met Cloisters on Friday in the program “Nativity Reconsidered” — though a more appropriate title would have been “Nativity Condensed.” This was the premiere of a new version of the work, trimmed by an hour and arranged (by Preben Antonsen, with contributions by Chad Cannon and Christian Reif) for four singers and a small ensemble, conducted by Mr. Reif.

Such a small scale may sound nothing like “El Niño,” a sweeping, nearly two-hour Nativity oratorio written for vocal soloists, a trio of countertenors, a full orchestra and choir, and a children’s chorus. In her program notes for the Met, Ms. Bullock called it one of the greatest collaborations of Mr. Adams and Peter Sellars, who compiled the libretto’s text and directed the work’s staged premiere in 2000.

I’d tend to agree with Ms. Bullock. The daunting “El Niño” doesn’t get performed often, which is a shame because it may be the peak of Mr. Adams and Mr. Sellars’s partnership: the awesome choral and orchestral writing of “Nixon in China,” and a poignant found-text libretto that shows a restraint lacking in later operas like “Doctor Atomic” and “Girls of the Golden West.”

The abbreviated “El Niño,” however, showcases just a slice of the work’s greatness. Gone are the choruses (even the dizzying Part I finale “The Christmas Star”) and some of the most earthshaking instrumental passages. What remains are about a dozen of the oratorio’s more meditative and lyrical numbers that dramatically streamline the Nativity story. It’s not necessarily worse — just unfortunate if you know what else is possible with this piece.

Some of the sections were spoken where they used to be sung, giving Friday’s performance the feel of a Catholic Mass’s readings and responses. The concert began with Ms. Bullock, standing under an apse depicting the Archangel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, reciting an English translation of Rosaria Castellanos’s poem “La Anunciación” over a cello drone. Joined by the mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges, she sang “Se habla de Gabriel,” a melodic duet with a coda by the bass-baritone Davoné Tines.

With these three singers, “El Niño” was in safe hands. They starred in “Girls of the Golden West” last season at San Francisco Opera; Ms. Bullock was also a standout in the recording of “Doctor Atomic” released this year. So they were well equipped to navigate Mr. Adams’s vocal music: its exquisite and enveloping lyricism, but also the way it treats syllables as musical notes to be repeated and rearranged, creating an entire breathless passage from a single word. (The fourth soloist was the countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo.)

Ms. Bullock, her voice by turns warm and teeming with urgency, felt at times larger than the chapel itself: towering in the “Magnificat” and chilling “Memorial de Tlatelolco.” And the way she programmed “El Niño” elevated an already-revisionist work to something much more powerful.

She put together the concert with help from the fledging yet formidable American Modern Opera Company, which supplied instrumentalists. (She is a member, as are Mr. Tines and Mr. Costanzo.) While “El Niño” reclaims the Nativity story for women — shifting the focus to Mary and motherhood, and incorporating texts by female poets from Latin America — Ms. Bullock went a step further by bringing the piece, and performers of color, to a space typically associated with European history and power.

There is subtle activism, too, in “the little match girl passion” (2008), which the Choir of Trinity Wall Street — led by Julian Wachner, a master of “Messiah” as well — recently sang at the Met’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Mr. Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorioblends the form of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” with Hans Christian Andersen’s story about a poor girl who tries to sell matches on the street but is ignored and freezes to death, for a haunting portrait of homelessness during the holidays.

Mr. Lang’s music here is direct but not forceful, and simple enough to linger in your mind long after a concert. In the passages where the little match girl’s story is told, the text comes through with crystal clarity; there is no way to avoid the details of her sorrowful tale.

The small ensemble of Trinity singers, some doubling as percussionists, responded to the score in kind, performing with compassion. Mr. Wachner kept them so quiet, his hands almost never came above his waist while he conducted; by contrast, he practically danced through Handel’s spirited Dixit Dominus in the evening’s second half.

Like the reduced “El Niño,” Mr. Lang’s piece is brief. In the future, the two could make for a stirring double bill. One oratorio would prompt you to reconsider the story of Christmas; the other, to think twice before ignoring someone in need as you head home.

Fri, December 21, 2018

Favorite Christmas Sounds: The Week in Classical Music
The New York Times

Two, yes two, versions of this year’s iteration of The Best “Messiah” in New York are currently available for streaming on the website of Trinity Wall Street, one from last Friday, the other from Monday.

Monday’s, in particular, is a classic demonstration of what the conductor Julian Wachner and his forces have been trying to do with this piece over the years — overwhelming vibrancy in the choral work; somewhat patchy but undeniably honest solo singing; virtuosic period-instrument playing; and, overall, a unmatched sense of drama.

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Favorite Christmas Sounds: The Week in Classical Music

Dec. 21, 2018

Readers! This week we covered

— the slow and steady demise of subscription sales at Lyric Opera of Chicago

— five (count ’em!) “Messiah” performances in New York

— “Otello” at the Met, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel

— Ensemble Correspondances, in music of Charpentier

— The Met’s abridged, English-language, family-friendly “Magic Flute”

I leave you with four favorite Christmas selections. Enjoy, and may your holidays be full of music! ZACHARY WOOLFE


Last weekend was the second annual Run AMOC! Festival at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., a celebration of the American Modern Opera Company, a troupe of young and preternaturally talented musicians and dancers dedicated to collaboration and experimentation, led by artistic directors Matthew Aucoin and Zack Winokur.

The three intimate concerts I heard on Saturday were blindingly impressive. One fun hour had Emi Ferguson playing Bach’s flute sonatas with a six-part continuo band, Ruckus, improvising on the figured bass, a fizzing, daring display of personality and imagination. Another was a concert of duets, everything from Mr. Aucoin’s ferocious “Dual” (played by the cellist Coleman Itzkoff and the bassist Doug Balliett) to a demonstration of raw power, virtuosity and feeling from the percussionist Jonny Allen and the dancer Julia Eichten in Iannis Xenakis’s “Rebonds.”

None of that quite came close, though, to the spell cast by the pianist Conor Hanick in a complete account of John Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes” at The Ex, probably the best instrumental concert I have seen all year by virtue of its rethinking of the basics of what a recital might be. Performing with his back to an audience seated in an arc around him, Mr. Hanick’s playing was breathtaking, at once penetrating and mystifying. But it benefited immeasurably from imaginative lighting in this black-box theater from Christopher Gilmore — a spotlight down on the open piano here; torchlight slowly roaming there; and, as the last, tender sonata drifted away, darkness, lit only by the score on an iPad, until it, too, turned to black. DAVID ALLEN


The annoying scaffolding that proliferates around New York can sometimes seem permanently affixed to buildings in perpetual repair. But outside a drawing studio on Broome Street on the Lower East Side, it provided a makeshift refuge on a rainy Friday for the intrepid performers and music lovers who gathered at noon for “Characters of the Dance,” one of the programs for this year’s citywide Make Music Winter, an annual solstice event. (The program was supposed to have taken place down the block in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park.)

The star (and host) was the flutist Andrew Bolotowsky, who wore a Santa Claus hat and had the physique to match, complete with beard and chortling manner. He began by leading the 20 or so people who showed up in a singalong of holiday favorites, everything from “Jingle Bell Rock” to “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming.” Then three dancers, dressed in colorful costumes and 18th-century-ish powdered wigs, performed a montage of early ballet steps as Mr. Bolotowsky played Jean-Féry Rebel’s “Les Caractères de la Danse” (1715). The dancers had about a seven-square-foot patch of protected sidewalk on which to execute their bouncing steps and turns. To end the program, before “everybody melts from the rain,” he said, Mr. Bolotowsky performed some lively Couperin, and kept right on playing even as a garbage truck bellowed nearby. ANTHONY TOMMASINI


At this time of year, I inevitably end up working my way through recordings of “Messiah,” if only to be reminded of the tremendous diversity of ideas performers of Handel’s masterpiece have had over the decades. Two, yes two, versions of this year’s iteration of The Best “Messiah” in New York are currently available for streaming on the website of Trinity Wall Street, one from last Friday, the other from Monday.

Monday’s, in particular, is a classic demonstration of what the conductor Julian Wachner and his forces have been trying to do with this piece over the years — overwhelming vibrancy in the choral work; somewhat patchy but undeniably honest solo singing; virtuosic period-instrument playing; and, overall, a unmatched sense of drama. But for sheer satisfaction I usually find myself turning back 50 or 60 years, to three takes on “Messiah” undimmed by age: Colin Davis’s wholly reliable account from 1966 with the London Symphony; the unending glory of Otto Klemperer’s profoundly spiritual taping with the Philharmonia in 1964; and, the maddest of all recordings, Hermann Scherchen’s drawn-out version from 1959, from Vienna, at once bafflingly monumental and unbelievably tender. DAVID ALLEN


Kathryn Lewek, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2013 as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” is back singing the role in a family-friendly, trimmed-down, English-language version of the opera, a holiday presentation of Julie Taymor’s popular production. On Wednesday, in the character’s two big arias, this fearless soprano dispensed the fiery runs and multiple leaps to F with utter confident and coolly radiant sound. Here she is in an earlier Met performance of the role (in the original German). When is the Met going to give her opportunities in other roles? ANTHONY TOMMASINI


Over the last two seasons, the exceptional young lyric tenor Ben Bliss has been on a roll in Mozart at the Metropolitan Opera. He just returned to the house as Tamino in “The Magic Flute,” and he sang beautifully. Last spring he was Ferrando in Phelim McDermott’s vividly reimagined new production of “Così Fan Tutte,” which sets the story in 1950s Coney Island. Here’s Mr. Bliss, looking like a everyday guy in Brooklyn pining over his girlfriend, singing the ardent aria “Un’aura amorosa.” ANTHONY TOMMASINI


The soprano Sissieretta Jones sang for four consecutive American presidents before she died in 1933, toured Europe and South America, and was a headliner at both Steinway and Carnegie halls. (Michael Cooper wrote her long-belated obituary in August.) On Monday at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, a tribute event sought to reclaim some of her past glory.

“Sissieretta Jones: Call Her By Her Name,” which the soprano Jessye Norman has long been developing alongside Adina Williams, of National Sawdust, and the soprano Harolyn Blackwell, included poetry by Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison as well as readings from Ms. Sissiereta’s own notes by Alicia Hall Moran. Operatic tunes culled from a varied career were recreated; Darryl McDaniels of the rap group Run-DMC recited Langston Hughes; dancers whirled to the music of Scott Joplin and Richard Strauss.

While the selections were not always the most inspired — I could have done without another rendition of Angelou’s “I Rise” — the chance to hear Ms. Norman and Ms. Blackwell in conversation after the show more than made up for it. Ms. Norman was her usual winking, wry self: “Oh, that old thing?” she said with a laugh, when asked to reflect on her voice. “I have no memory of not wanting to sing something. I sing all day to myself — sometimes it disturbs others in the house who don’t know what’s going on.” JOEL ROZEN

Fri, December 21, 2018

A Critic Gives Prizes for 5 ‘Messiah’ Concerts in New York
The New York Times

Most relevant: Trinity Wall Street

There’s a reason Trinity’s “Messiah” sits at the top of critics’ lists each year. Mr. Wachner’s take on the score is fresh and urgent, and members of the nimble professional choir step out to sing solos, creating a sense of the oratorio as town hall meeting. In this year’s intimate setting — George Washington prayed at St. Paul’s Chapel after his inauguration in 1789 — even modest voices shone, and certain phrases of the text were especially resonant, like “and the government shall be upon his shoulders.”

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A Critic Gives Prizes for 5 ‘Messiah’ Concerts in New York

By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

Dec. 21, 2018

Handel’s “Messiah” plays no part in the Christmas memories of my childhood in Brussels. In our German Lutheran home, Bach provided the soundtrack. The jubilant opening to his Christmas Oratorio, with its excited trumpets and timpani, rang in the exchange of presents.

It was as a high school exchange student in Pittsburgh that I first encountered Handel’s oratorio, at a “Messiah” singalong where your voice type, rather than your ticket, determined where you sat in the hall. I fell in love with the work’s endless variety of melody and mood, the earthshaking bass arias, the airy calm of the later soprano solos. The pungent beauty of the Tudor text was a revelation to me right at the time that English was becoming my chosen first language. When I returned home, I built Handel’s oratorio into my holiday ritual, listening to my parents’ Neville Marriner recording while wrapping presents or decorating the tree.

I’ve since converted to Judaism, but the work’s themes of yearning for peace, empathy and redemption continue to touch me. This year, I embarked on a “Messiah” marathon, taking in five performances over two weeks. While my professional ear tried to figure out which was the best, I was also curious to hear how the piece changes from one setting to the next and how this music, written in 1741, fits into the fabric of our time.

I began at David Geffen Hall with the New York Philharmonic, joined by the Westminster Symphonic Choir, led by Jonathan Cohen. Next was the Choir of Trinity Wall Street with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Julian Wachner at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Two “Messiahs” at Carnegie Hall followed, both conducted by Kent Tritle: one with the Oratorio Society of New York, featuring a 200-member amateur choir, the other with the professional group Musica Sacra, accompanied on period instruments.

The final performance, at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side, featured the 12-member vocal ensemble Tenet and the Sebastians playing on historical instruments — with no conductor.

Most relevant: Trinity Wall Street

There’s a reason Trinity’s “Messiah” sits at the top of critics’ lists each year. Mr. Wachner’s take on the score is fresh and urgent, and members of the nimble professional choir step out to sing solos, creating a sense of the oratorio as town hall meeting. In this year’s intimate setting — George Washington prayed at St. Paul’s Chapelafter his inauguration in 1789 — even modest voices shone, and certain phrases of the text were especially resonant, like “and the government shall be upon his shoulders.”

Best choir: Westminster Symphonic Choir

Handel puts a chorus through its paces in dazzling numbers like “For unto us a child is born,” full of fleet runs. The small professional ensembles belonging to Trinity and Tenet nailed these virtuosic passages, as they should, but the students of Westminster Choir College dazzled with singing that was precise and radiant, with the warmth that comes from a large ensemble.

Best orchestra: The Sebastians

In Handel, period-instrument ensembles are on their home turf. Trinity is reliably eloquent, but this conductorless group brought laserlike focus to the music and delivered a “Messiah” as chamber music, in which individual instruments became active participants in the drama.

Best rage aria: John Brancy

Handel’s operatic genius comes through most powerfully in his arias for lower voices. The baritone John Brancy, singing with Musica Sacra, summoned real fire-and-brimstone energy in “Why do the nations so furiously rage together.” His onstage colleague Brian Giebler showed that tenors can storm, too, in a temperamental “Thou shalt break them” that ended with him slamming his score shut.

Most majestic ‘Hallelujah’: Oratorio Society

Whether you’re honoring a tradition said to have begun with King George II or are quietly grateful for the chance to stretch your legs, chances are you experience the “Hallelujah” chorus as part of a sea of standing bodies. At Carnegie, the audience members in the hall’s tiered balconies look like modern-dress angels in a Renaissance fresco. And with a huge, diverse amateur chorus onstage, the room tingles with exhilaration.

Most cherubic: Margot Rood and Lauren Snouffer

I heard many wonderful soloists in these performances, but two sopranos stood out. With the Philharmonic, Lauren Snouffer was effervescent in coloratura numbers and gleaming in meditative arias. Margot Rood, a member of Tenet, embodied the spirit of “Rejoice greatly” with a brilliant, zippy tone.

Least performance-like performance: Jolle Greenleaf

The soprano Jolle Greenleaf, of Tenet, sang “I know that my Redeemer liveth” with her customary piercing clarity and straight tone. There’s high art in it, but it sounded untrained and unguarded, a statement of soul-baring sincerity that spread effortlessly through the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer’s large interior and, for an instant, dissolved the line between art and faith.

Tue, December 11, 2018

In Ellen Reid’s p r i s m, an Abstract Story Communicates Concrete Truths
I Care If You Listen

The score for p r i s m lists three characters: Lumee, Bibi, and something called “Chroma,” a psychological and dramatic force sung here by 12 members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street. In this production, “Chroma” acts less like a third character and more like a startlingly beautiful addition to the small orchestral ensemble. Embedded among the strings and woodwinds, they performed exceptionally on opening night, conducted with enthusiasm and skill by Julian Wachner.

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In Ellen Reid’s p r i s m, an Abstract Story Communicates Concrete Truths

on December 11, 2018 at 6:00 am

Content warning: sexual assault

In the opening act of Claude Debussy’s 1902 opera Pelleas et Melisande, the audience is dropped into a mysterious forest with no explanation of time or place. A woman peers into a fountain. She is cold. Why? Who is she and where is she from? Playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s sparse French symbolist libretto does little to explain these circumstances. Instead, Debussy’s music provides the clues we need to settle into the story: ambiguity is the point, and this might be a dream.

In p r i s m, a riveting new opera from composer Ellen Reid and librettist Roxie Perkins, audiences are given a similarly disorienting Act One experience. This concise, 80-minute dramatic punch of an opera received its world premiere in Los Angeles November 29 through December 2 at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) via LA Operaand Beth Morrison Projects (the work’s commissioner). Next month its “rolling premiere” continues in New York, where it will be presented with the same cast as part of BMP and HERE Arts Center’s PROTOTYPE Festival in collaboration with La MaMA and Trinity Church Wall Street.

As p r i s m begins, audiences are drawn immediately into a bright white cube, a Sanctuary “(as it should be).” In this space a mother and daughter named Lumee and Bibi recite strange incantations and perform well-rehearsed rituals and games. Draped in flouncing gossamer white gowns, they react emotionally, physically, and psychologically to their unexplained confinement.

Reid and director James Darrah draw their audience into this unusual world instantly, skillfully. Instead of questioning why, where, or when, we accept the premise and are swept up by the music and the characters’ emotions. What is that intense blue light seeping under the door that so frightens Lumee and Bibi? Perkins offers no immediate explanation; the characters’ visceral, terrified reactions give us all the information we need.

Inside this odd cube of bright white light, Bibi is in pain. Her legs are bruised and limp, incapable of bearing her slight weight. Her face is expressive. Her voice is powerful, precise, with round, elegant edges. Soprano Anna Schubert is revelatory in this role.

Suddenly, it is intermission. It must have been at least 40 minutes, but it felt like 20. There is so much to absorb in Reid’s eclectic score–the timbre, texture, melody and harmony of which transport listeners to an alternative reality. Perkins’ libretto is challenging: sparse and angular, ambiguous and abstract. But sometimes a challenge is a gift. Here, it provides Reid with ample space for inventive musical storytelling.

Reid’s score for Act One is cinematic, impressionistic, romantic. Woodwinds meander like Debussy’s Faun before melting into more contemporary, dissonant territory. This is a familiar soundscape–call it modern opera-land–and with Schubert as Bibi and the strong mezzo-soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb as Lumee giving voice to the story, it is a musically satisfying place to exist.

The score for p r i s m lists three characters: Lumee, Bibi, and something called “Chroma,” a psychological and dramatic force sung here by 12 members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street. In this production, “Chroma” acts less like a third character and more like a startlingly beautiful addition to the small orchestral ensemble. Embedded among the strings and woodwinds, they performed exceptionally on opening night, conducted with enthusiasm and skill by Julian Wachner.

Reid is an adept choral composer, and in p r i s m she wields that strength to maximum effect. “Chroma” receives some of the composer’s most inventive writing–music with inherently dramatic impulses. “Chroma” is at once a character’s psyche and a sort of Greek Chorus. Chroma is pain and joy. Chroma is memory and dementia.

This opera should be experienced without spoilers. It should unfold, as it is so carefully crafted to do, through Perkins’ smart, abstract libretto. It should pour over audiences in crashes of unexpected musical moments. And it should reveal itself in waves of understanding, like the discovery of a repressed memory. But even if you know what is coming, you won’t be prepared for the sheer force of the music and acting that propel this story forward in Acts Two and Three.

In the lobby during intermission at REDCAT, Bibi appeared. Having just been sucked out into “the blue” by a pack of grabbing, pawing dancers, she was vaulted above the crowd, carried by those same dancers back into the theater. The audience followed.

Now, in place of Lumee and Bibi’s Sanctuary cube are disco balls and bass drops. Reid’s music shifts wildly; lush strings and harp are replaced by amplified and distorted percussive elements that mimic aggressive club music. As the intensity of the story ramps up, so does the frenetic virtuosity of Reid’s writing. To communicate extreme physical and psychological experiences, she pushes voices and instruments to their most extreme ranges.

Things come into focus slowly, barely. Lumee and Bibi’s “Sanctuary” mantras begin to make sense. The blue light appears. We understand in flashes that Lumee left Bibi alone, underage and vulnerable in the club. While her mother partied, Bibi was assaulted and raped.

“Oh no, I liked that scrunchie,” Bibi whimpers, lying along in the middle of the floor.

So often on the opera stage traumatic assaults happen to women. Here, an assault–or the relived memory of one–is experienced by the lead character. Intimate, seemingly trivial details like the loss of that scrunchie or the blue glow of the club’s lights draw the audience viscerally into Bibi’s experience. For survivors of assault, small details like these often seer themselves irreversibly into the memory, embedded forever into the material of the brain.

Both Reid and Perkins drew from lived experiences to create this story. Because of that, this surreal story is strikingly realistic in its portrayal of trauma and repressed memories. The result: fully developed, compelling female characters that audiences can connect and empathize with on a deeply personal, intense level.

Act Three begins abruptly, drawing us back into Sanctuary “(as it is).” Now, we see Lumee and Bibi’s environment unfiltered. Rags. Trash. It is a dirty, sad existence. The “safe” space in which Lumee imprisoned Bibi is not a happy one.

We learn that Lumee is desperate to forget, to make Bibi forget, to erase the past. But Bibi understands that freedom comes not through suppression, but through remembering. She decides to run, run, run towards truth and freedom. Above all, p r i s m is about the power that comes from choosing to survive.

Through endlessly creative, eclectic music, Reid takes us into a fuzzy place where repressed memories and reality blur. It is not always an easy space in which to sit, but it is one that sticks, lingering in ears and minds for days like mist. It serves as a reminder that when women tell their own stories, when the complexity of a victim’s internal experience is fully fleshed out, the result can be powerful.

Sat, December 8, 2018

Voce di Meche

If you want to hear a valid rendering of Tchaikovsky’s luscious score, get yourself to John Jay College’s Gerald Lynch Theater by 2:00 this afternoon. Maestro Julian Wachner, using his expressive body (and no baton), leads The Mannes Orchestra in fine fashion, laying down a silken carpet of strings, and bouncing the themes around among the various wind sections. We heard some mighty fine solos from the oboes, horns, and trombones.

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Saturday, December 8, 2018


If you want to hear a valid rendering of Tchaikovsky's luscious score, get yourself to John Jay College's Gerald Lynch Theater by 2:00 this afternoon. Maestro Julian Wachner, using his expressive body (and no baton), leads The Mannes Orchestra in fine fashion, laying down a silken carpet of strings, and bouncing the themes around among the various wind sections. We heard some mighty fine solos from the oboes, horns, and trombones.

We were happy with the fine singing of the cast, comprising soprano Clara Lisle dealing with Tatyana's desire, anxiety, rejection, and ultimate dignity; mezzo-soprano  Wan Zhao as her flighty sister Olga; baritone Hyunsoon Kim as a rather likeable Onegin; and the terrific tenor Oleksii Kuznietsov, well remembered from his stint with IVAI, as the ill-fated Vladimir Lensky.

This Ukrainian tenor was so superb in his deeply felt and carefully modulated"Kuda, kuda" that when he was shot by Onegin in the duel scene, we were wishing that the director Jordan Fein had been shot instead.
Although there was thankfully no lengthy exegesis in the program to "conceptsplain" the production, we were left to our own devices, trying to figure out the point of betraying Pushkin's verse to such an egregious extent.
This story is rooted in Russian soil and the times of serfdom and duels. Fein's iteration places it absolutely nowhere and in some amorphous contemporary time. We were surprised that Tatyana did not write her letter to Onegin on a laptop and that her name-day party guests were not taking selfies on their phones.

The story cannot be shoehorned into a modern dress production.  It simply DID NOT WORK! The duel scene was a joke with Onegin's "second" a drunken passed out Triquet (Jens Ibsen, whose tribute to Tatyana was delivered in French not worthy of an identified Frenchman). Onegin and Lensky just pulled pistols out of their respective backpacks and shot at each other.

The chorus sang well but instead of peasants they were just a group of young friends of the Larin girls who called Madame Larina "Mother", causing us to question "Did Madame bear 19 children or did she adopt them?" They sang of hands hardened from work!  The work of studying?

When the two young men are discussing the sisters, the girls are standing right next to them! And why was Madame Larina coming on to Onegin?

The party for Tatyana's name day involved some of the worst choreography (Chloe Kernaghan) we have ever seen. There was absolutely no relationship between Tchaikovsky's music and the movement of the young guests.  Come to think of it, there was the same problem in Act III at Prince Gremin's ball where the guests were doing some kind of conga line. The audience tittered.

Terese Wadden's costumes were similarly rebarbative. The young folks wore short shorts and backpacks. Madame Larina was rather more bejeweled than one would expect in the provinces. Only in Act III were the singers dressed appropriately with Gremin and Onegin in dinner jackets and Tatyana in a long gown.

Amy Rubin's set was nothing but a curved wall with chalk writing on it. It served to alter the acoustics with a few dead spots, impairing the audibility of the singers who deserved better.

Now that we have gotten our dismay off our chest, let us praise the singers for doing a swell job with this difficult opera. Although we do not speak Russian, it sounded fine to the ear. Roles were performed sensitively with good variety of coloration.

Bass Michael Pitocchi made an excellent impression as Prince Gremin as he sang of his love for Tatiana and how it changed his life. Taryn Holback sang the role of Madame Larina; Perri Di Christina made a fine Filippyevna.

Each young artist succeeded in making us care for their character which was quite an achievement since they had to surmount an insulting production.

Thu, December 6, 2018

This Is the Best ‘Messiah’ in New York
The New York Times

If you grew up thinking of Handel’s “Messiah” as a sweet, staid pageant, a holiday ritual involving a little nap and a stand-and-deliver “Hallelujah” chorus, the forces of Trinity Wall Street offer the gritty, fearless cure, from Dec. 13-17, with what stands apart as New York’s best. (The Dec. 16 performance will be webcast live at 3 p.m., then available on demand.)

“We want to touch people,” Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts and the conductor of its “Messiah,” said in a recent phone conversation. “We want it to not be your grandmother’s ‘Messiah.’”

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This Is the Best ‘Messiah’ in New York

By Zachary Woolfe

Dec. 6, 2018

If you grew up thinking of Handel’s “Messiah” as a sweet, staid pageant, a holiday ritual involving a little nap and a stand-and-deliver “Hallelujah” chorus, the forces of Trinity Wall Street offer the gritty, fearless cure, from Dec. 13-17, with what stands apart as New York’s best. (The Dec. 16 performance will be webcast live at 3 p.m., then available on demand.)

“We want to touch people,” Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts and the conductor of its “Messiah,” said in a recent phone conversation. “We want it to not be your grandmother’s ‘Messiah.’”

That desire can be a cliché — after all, no one says they want to perform your grandmother’s “Messiah” — but Trinity, more than anyone else, actually makes it happen, expanding your sense of what the piece can be and do.

I remember my first encounter with the annual Trinity presentation, in 2011. Most takes on “Messiah” have settled into a pattern: A chorus is joined by a quartet of soloists — often fancy opera singers — who trade off Handel’s gorgeous arias. But Trinity drew its soloists, more than a dozen of them, from the ranks of its own choir.

Immediately a formal concert became a collective rite. Not all of those soloists were perfectly polished, but there was something affecting about the bits of roughness. The arias were transformed beyond the usual displays of sumptuous vocalism; they were urgent, even desperate communication.

The choir included male altos, with a whiteish, trumpeting tone; the Trinity Baroque Orchestra was composed of period instruments, with a reedy tang. Dense yet airy, with biting diction and dramatic dynamic shadings, the Trinity choir sang a furious “Surely he hath borne our griefs” and an “All we like sheep have gone astray” of rollicking, almost celebratory intensity, egged on by a muscular, unrelenting orchestra.

“We’re very much believing it’s Baroque music,” Mr. Wachner said. “There’s dance, there’s energy to it. There’s not this sense that you do one movement, wipe your brow, turn your page, and do the next movement. Opera was the basis of everything that Handel knew, and oratorio was a development through that.”

Trinity continues to experiment with its performance. Last year, Mr. Wachner switched the traditional genders of all the solos, inspired by the strengths of the roster he had at the time. (Imagine a bass singing “He was despised,” traditionally taken by a female alto.)

There was, Mr. Wachner admitted, a bunch of hate mail in the aftermath, but also a lot of responses that spoke of how special the experience had been and how much it revealed about the score. This year, some but not all of the assignments will be gender-switched, for a version neither fully experimental nor fully traditional.

Perhaps even more important, while Trinity Church is closed for two years of renovations, “Messiah” will be performed in the far more intimate St. Paul’s Chapel. “Trinity elicits hushed tones,” Mr. Wachner said. “There is a separation, like at Carnegie Hall. At St. Paul’s, it’s more of a communal feeling.” This fresh location promises to emphasize what is most memorable about Trinity’s presentation: its visceral drama and elemental energy.

As it happens, Mr. Wachner was first exposed to “Messiah” as a boy chorister at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, which often is the first high-profile performance of each holiday season (this year, Dec. 6) and sets a generally high, graceful standard for the weeks that follow.

Other notable performances

• After practicing a few weeks ago with a program of early music — including Handel’s “Water Music” — under the baton of Emmanuelle Haïm, the New York Philharmonic is turning to another Baroque specialist, the conductor Jonathan Cohen, for “Messiah” this year (Dec. 11-15).

The instruments will, of course, be modern, but the orchestral forces are likely to be substantially reduced from full symphonic strength and vibrato, one assumes, will be at a minimum. The quartet of soloists includes the countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, fresh from a series of ambitious staged performances juxtaposing works by Philip Glass and, happily, Handel.

The Philharmonic will be joined by the Westminster Symphonic Choir, which also does the piece (through Dec. 9) with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who just made his debut in the same position with the Metropolitan Opera and who leads a notably sensitive “Messiah,” operatic without being overblown. 212-875-5656,; 215-893-1999,

• Masterwork Chorus, one of the amateur groups that dominated the “Messiah” scene a few decades ago, brings the work to Carnegie Hall on Dec. 20. Also at Carnegie, Kent Tritle leads the 200-voice Oratorio Society of New York (Dec. 17) and, not long after, the far smaller Musica Sacra (Dec. 19). 212-247-7800,

Trinity Wall Street’s Messiah
Dec. 13-17 at St. Paul’s Chapel, Broadway and Fulton Street; 212-602-0800,

Wed, December 5, 2018

Anthracite Fields Honors Hard Life Of Coal Miners
Classical Voice America

Anthracite Fields, a vivid multi-media oratorio by Philadelphia-born Julia Wolfe, did receive a Pulitzer for music, in 2015. Wolfe, Musical America’s 2019 Composer of the Year, is a founder of Bang on a Can, whose six Bang on a Can All-Stars made a funky continuo for the Choir of Trinity Wall Street Dec. 1 in Carnegie Hall’s chamber-scaled Zankel Hall. The performance was conducted by the vigorous, insightful Julian Wachner…

...Wachner, with no stick, was terrific – so into it – making beats slide or precisely punctuate.

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Anthracite Fields Honors Hard Life Of Coal Miners

Julian Wachner led Bang on a Can All-Stars in their funky continuo to the Choir of Trinity Wall Street during Julia Wolfe’s ‘Anthracite Fields’ at Zankel Hall. The multi-media oratario won a 2015 Pulitzer Prize. (Photos © Richard Termine) 

By Leslie Kandell

NEW YORK – If there were a Pulitzer Prize for forms of coal, it would go to hard, slow-burning anthracite. Anthracite is mined in Eastern states including West Virginia and Pennsylvania, in areas associated with poverty and fist-waving resentment. Anthracite Fields, a vivid multi-media oratorio by Philadelphia-born Julia Wolfe, did receive a Pulitzer for music, in 2015. Wolfe, Musical America’s 2019 Composer of the Year, is a founder of Bang on a Can, whose six Bang on a Can All-Stars made a funky continuo for the Choir of Trinity Wall Street Dec. 1 in Carnegie Hall’s chamber-scaled Zankel Hall. The performance was conducted by the vigorous, insightful Julian Wachner.

Mining, dangerous and dirty, has a mystique that draws people to celebrate the drama of unsmiling guys in caps, trooping onto carts that carry them into deep tunnels of rock: the thorough washing up before dinner, the terrified women running toward the mine entrance when the baleful siren screams. How Green Was My Valley is a classic film. Mining songs, many from immigrants, are part of our folk culture. Merle Travis, whose “Sixteen Tons” is inspired by Kentucky miners, is just one troubadour, who also wrote, “It will form as a habit and seep in your soul / Till the stream of your blood runs as black as the coal” in the song “Dark as a Dungeon.” 

The work’s sounds and concept, clever and appealing, don’t have to be original, and they aren’t. For example, Wolfe is not the first to put this mineral into oratorio format, which seems a strange bedfellow: In 1994, Judith Shatin introduced her oratorio Coal, in Shepherdstown, W.Va. It was a tribute to the plight, power, and music of local miners, and also the result of study, visits, interviews, and homegrown music.

Julia Wolfe, in black, at first thought ‘Anthracite Fields’ would be a short work.

In a talk preceding the performance, Wolfe said Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club had commissioned a ten-minute choral piece. Instead they got this hour-plus, five-movement celebration of the addictive culture around a dirty job. Photographs, maps, and diagrams, some from the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton, appeared on a rear scrim designed by Jeff Sugg.

Since its premiere, Fields has been performed at several events, including the New York Philharmonic Biennial, after which this ensemble heard at Zankel Hall recorded it for the Cantaloupe label.

Over time, Wolfe has taken control of elements that best express her style. She is a musical minimalist and a list-maker, interested in labor issues. The first movement, “Foundation,” is a choral recitation, in measured beats, of names of miners who died in accidents. The accompaniment is loud machine-like noises – David Cossin was the busy percussionist – and a photostat of the sung names on the rear scrim. “Breaker Boys” describes the risky job of underage laborers who cleared debris from the coal processing line, with bare hands.

Mark Stewart, who played electric bass, sang the setting of words from a moving speech by John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers of America in 1920-1960:  “…before God I assert, that those who consume the coal, and you and I who benefit from that service because we live in comfort, we owe protection to those men and we owe security to their families, if they die.” The chorus’ sung notes became shouts of protest. The music sits comfortably for choristers, with uncomplicated beats in mid-range, and no vocal frills.

Images of flowers drenched Zankel in color during the fourth movement, based on recollections of the miners’ gardens.

“Flowers,” the fourth movement, came about from an interview with a miner’s daughter, who pointed out that families – particularly immigrants – kept gardens with varied flowers (listed onscreen and sung softly, in even beats). Colored drawings of flower bulbs descended on the scrim. After all the black-and-white photos, the hall, walls and all, was lighted up with pink flowers, and the scrim displayed colored floral images.

The final “Appliances” showed assorted assembly lines, collectively demonstrating (and listing) our uses for coal and electricity, not only to run the machines, but in uses of products. Choristers yell, the clarinet (played by Ken Thomson) whinnies, and the piece ends with extended tones and words. (Wolfe said there were hymns somewhere, but in performance they got plowed under.)

Wachner, with no stick, was terrific – so into it – making beats slide or precisely punctuate.

Wolfe’s next premiere is with the New York Philharmonic on Jan. 24. Called Fire in My Mouth, it is similar in labor advocacy, and was inspired by young women who managed to survive the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and spoke out against the perilous working conditions.

Leslie Kandell has contributed to The New York Times, Musical America, Musical America Directory, and The Berkshire Eagle.

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