As part of our celebration of Black History Month, WUOL will present a series on Blackness in Opera. The very first opera to feature an African-American theme was written by an Englishman. Frederick Delius wrote about the American slave trade in his third opera “Koanga.” Written in 1896-97, Delius drew upon his experiences while living on a Florida orange plantation. He lived near the home of a black family and spent many evenings there playing music with them. As he did, he soaked up the unique harmonies of the American black tradition.
The story tells of an African prince, Koanga, who is sold into slavery in the American south. Also an Voodoo priest, Koanga curses his captors. His owners introduce Koanga to the beautiful slave Palmira in hopes to assuage his wrath. It is an ill-fated love however as the opera ends with the execution of Koanga and Palmyra’s suicide.
Although Koanga was Delius’s third opera, it was the first to be performed. It was first staged publicly in Elberfeld, Germany in 1904. Koanga received its British premiere in London in 1935. The opera’s first performers were not of African heritage. The London debut featured the noted Australian baritone John Brownlee and the Russian soprano Oda Slobodskaya as Palmyra. There is currently only one complete recording of Koanga available on compact-disc. One of Delius’s most popular pieces is an arrangement of a dance from the opera called “La Calinda.” The work is still performed in live performances sporadically.
Teddy Abrams was chosen as the eighth Music Director for the Louisville Orchestra earlier this season, and this week unveils his first season with the ensemble (2014-2015). Jorge Mester will conduct about half of the concerts, and the rest are left to the youngest music director in the orchestra’s history.
Here are some highlights from the concerts Abrams will be conducting:
September: Kevin Cole returns to play the other Second Rhapsody by Gershwin, and Storm Large will sing The Seven Deadly Sins of Kurt Weill.
October: An ambitious concert of Ives, Monteverdi, Mozart, Bach and recent Pulitzer-winner Caroline Shaw’s Courante from , precede Orff’s Carmina Burana.
January: Haydn’s “Mercury” symphony, Brahms’ First and a new work by Sebastian Chang.
March: Frenchmen Lully, Couperin and Ravel, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and most recent Grawemeyer-winner On the Guarding of the Heart by Djuro Zivkovic.
April: Beethoven’s Fifth, and John Williams’ The Cowboy Overture and the band Time for Three.
Cello-lovers everywhere rejoice! Here are two recent releases featuring cello music:
Beethoven Cello Sonatas
The title pretty much says it all. This release on the Hyperion label covers all five cello sonatas written by the beloved German composer (as well as some of his variations on works by Handel and Mozart, plus an arrangement of his Horn Sonata in F major for cello and piano). The cello sonatas of Beethoven span all three of his composition periods, making this survey album not only a collection of great pieces for cello, but also an interesting look at the musical growth of the composer himself. Beethoven’s sense of humor and drama remained constant throughout his career, and pianist Robert Levin and cellist Steven Isserlis truly let these qualities shine in their interpretation of each sonata. Levin and Isserlis play dynamically together, making for a truly captivating performance. Both use period instruments, which allows for closer adherence to the score and greater expressiveness within the framework of Beethoven’s original intentions.
If you were looking to add quality recordings of the Beethoven cello sonatas to your music library in one fell swoop, this album is perfect.
The cellistic drama continues on this Telarc release. Along with the North Carolina Symphony under Grant Llewellyn, Zuill Bailey performs the Cello Symphony of Benjamin Britten. Originally written for the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the work is intensely dramatic, beginning with an ominous rumble in the tubas before the cello enters, moaning. The most transfixing moment of the piece is the cadenza leading from the third to fourth movement, which is nothing but the lament in the cello and Bailey’s concentrated breathing.
Bailey also tackles the Cello Sonata in C major with pianist Natasha Paremski. This piece predates the Symphony and was the first that Britten wrote for Rostropovich. Like the Symphony, it is a virtuosic work which requires great technical precision from the performers as well as expressive playing. Paremski and Bailey meet both these demands, giving a tight yet moving performance.
While they’ve performed on several shared concerts for the past year, this Sunday at 3pm marks the Louisville Chamber Choir’s official debut concert at St. Agnes Catholic Church. Kent Hatteberg stopped by to talk about what’s on the program.