Giveaway: Joshua Bell “Bach”

Bell Joshua Perf shot_PC Chris Lee

The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is known for its prolific recordings, mostly under the baton of Sir Neville Mariner. Violinist Joshua Bell became the ensemble’s music director in 2011, the first since Marriner, and almost immediately launched into recording with the group, starting with Beethoven symphonies 4 & 7, and in 2014 releasing an all-Bach disc.

Celebrate Bach’s birthday, coming up on March 21st, by entering to win a copy of Joshua Bell “Bach” from Classical 90.5.

The giveaway is closed. We’ll announce the winner on April 1, 2015.

Bourbon Baroque’s Dido and Aeneas

Bourbon Baroque

Louisville’s period instrument ensemble Bourbon Baroque will be presenting Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theater on Saturday, March 14 at 8:00pm.

Co-artistic directors of Bourbon Baroque, Austin Clark and Nicolas Fortin sat down with Daniel Gilliam to discuss their upcoming production.

How this production of Dido and Aeneas is different from the rest

“This production of Dido and Aeneas is the quintessential example of what our mission is for Bourbon Baroque. We have gathered together a group of a variety of disciplines to create a visual concept for this production that includes contemporary dance, pantomime actors on mask, as well as of course the orchestra, the chorus, and minimalist costume and scenic design.”

How Bourbon Baroque puts on an opera without being an opera company

“I am a big fan of surrounding yourself with smarter people. I think it makes it so that you don’t feel like you have everything on your shoulders. Obviously with the opera form that is a whole contingency of collaboration…. Through my own personal musical work and musical theater direction, I have met many people in the theater community and through those projects and introductions I have formulated this wonderful Baroque dream team, a local group that is going to help us make this happen.”

On Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas

“It is based on the Aeneid by Virgil and retells the story of the sad and unfortunate fate of Dido getting betrayed by her lover Aeneas… It’s beautiful music, very intricate fast paced one hour opera with dance music. The characters are making the story in front our eyes, but always with short and compelling interjections of 24 piece chorus in our production.”

On working with the Youth Performing Arts School

“This program is great for us because the YPAS students are able to dedicate the time needed to make the music really speak. When I’m coaching young musicians, particularly singers, I’m like, well it’s one thing to learn the notes but it’s quite another to then add on that extra layer, all the gestures and the Baroque styling, which I am often equating to musical theater. Musical theater has their own little bitty ways of doing things and if you can understand that then you can understand that the Baroque music has it’s own toolbox of vocal techniques that makes things really sell.”

On the short orchestral suite to begin the evening

“There is a short 20 minuet orchestral suite that we’ve actually performed a handful of times before. It’a a piece that we really hold true to what we do with Bourbon Baroque and that’s of course the central component of collaboration. We are performing Georg Philipp Telemann’s La Putain.”

You can purchase your tickets to see Bourbon Baroque’s Dido and Aeneas here.

Review: Louisville Orchestra Offers Discovery in the Old and New

Abrams-Photo-by-Sam-English

Teddy Abrams continues to show that orchestra concerts don’t have to be formulaic, and that discovery manifest in different ways. This past Friday and Saturday evening, we discovered, for example, that a conductor doesn’t have to wear a tuxedo or black socks. We discovered that hearing a 5-7 minute harpsichord improvisation could be interesting and fun, if not a little too long. We discovered the 2014 Grawemeyer winner. Ultimately no one was harmed by these discoveries, that I’m aware of, and we are all the better for them.

First of the evening were selections from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman), a comédie-ballet from the early Baroque. Teddy Abrams led from the harpsichord (not as Lully would have done, but as most of his contemporaries would have) and the orchestra moved through the score like a jazz band reading through charts. It felt informal, welcoming, unpretentious and fun.

Lack of rehearsal, due to last week’s snow storms, meant no Ravel. It also might explain a handful of messy entrances in the Lully and Vivaldi. Just starting a piece can be the hardest and most nerve-racking part of leading an ensemble. Add the layer of conducting almost entirely from the harpsichord and things get messy sometimes; though messy isn’t necessarily bad.

A welcome addition to this Louisville Orchestra season is a recent Grawemeyer winner, the 2014 awarded On the Guarding of the Heart by Djuro Zivkovich, a Serbian composer living in Sweden. He describes the work as an “instrumental cantata,” paying homage to Bach. Zivkovich’s 20-minute score is an exploration of sound and timbre; the fourteen musicians are frequently required to play outside their traditional sounds, including singing along with their instrument. Overall, the work is a delicate layering of harmony, shifting imperceptibly, showing off an inner beauty.

Though Abrams explained before the piece that structure in this new work is important and clear, to a new listener form and musical architecture are largely inaudible. We are naturally drawn to phrases and ideas that return. Here Zivkovich gives some ideas too little time to settle, while others are afforded too much time, including several insurmountable piano drones. While the Brown Theater was a better venue than Whitney Hall for On the Guarding of the Heart, an even smaller, more resonant hall would have better suited Zivkovich’s (and Lully and Vivaldi’s) music.

For the second half, Teddy Abrams brought in four student violinists from his alma mater, The Curtis Institute of Music, through “Curtis on Tour,” a program that puts students in professional settings around the world.

Each violinist took on one of the Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi, a set of concertos written in 1720 and part of a set of 12 concertos (op. 8). The fact that “Spring” (and all the seasons) are ubiquitous is all the more incredible when you consider that Vivaldi was virtually unknown until the early Twentieth century. Despite their over abundance in playlists and “Best Of” compilations, these seasonal vignettes are inventive and imaginative. The two cheerful seasons, “Spring” and “Autumn,” are contrasted with the more tumultuous “Summer” and “Winter.”

Eunice Kim played a light and fluid “Spring,” delicately bouncing through the score, and smiling the entire time. Dayna Anderson drew on the earthiness of “Summer,” giving her bow a rustic growl here and there. The most flamboyant soloist was Luosha Fang, mostly interested in a dialogue with the orchestra and the audience, moving around the stage like an actor. The “iceman” Nikki Chooi was calculated — each gesture focused and transparent. Chooi found every timbre available in “Winter,” from dark and guttural to airy and shimmering.

The orchestra, playing no small part in these finely crafted concertos, was colorful and sensitive to the score: never plodding and always attuned to the nuance of Vivaldi’s music. Seeing the conductor equally involved in the playing of music changes our level of involvement. We are drawn in closer. The implied barrier between us and them is no longer present, and the music is about all of us.

Nico Muhly’s Cello Concerto

Nico Muhly

Nico Muhly

Steinway & Sons record label recently released a new album featuring the world premiere recording of American contemporary classical Composer Nico Muhly’s Cello Concerto. The album was recorded by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jun Märkl and features premiere cellist Zuill Bailey. It was commissioned by The Barbican, Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue and preimered by Britten Sinfonia with cellist Oliver Coates at the Barbican Center on March 16, 2012. It then was performed by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on January 25, 2013. The concerto is 18 minutes in length and in three parts, alternating fast-slow-fast. When 33 year-old Muhly studied music at the Julliard School he worked with American Composer Phillip Glass who is known for his minimalist works. Muhly demonstrates minimalist techniques in this concerto beautifully with drones and steady motoric rhythmic and lyrical development.

Here is Composer Nico Muhly with his London Premiere of Gait.

Here is cellist Zuill Bailey performing on the NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert series.

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Ernest Bloch

Featured along with this premiere is Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo: Habraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra and Three Jewish Poems. Bloch was a Swiss-born American composer of the 20th century who passed away in 1959. He is most well-known for his works that reflect Jewish culture. His compositions are approachable, yet challenging. These two pieces from Bloch compliment Muhly’s Cello Concerto perfectly.

Here is cellist Sol Gabetta performing Bloch’s From Jewish Life: Prayer accompanied by pianist Andreas Kern.

You can purchase the world premiere recording of Muhly’s Cello Concerto on iTunes or Amazon.

Featured Album: Avi Avital’s Vivaldi

avi avital harald hoffmann

Mandolinist Avi Avital embarks on a Venetian journey in his latest Deutsche Grammophon album, with the Venice Baroque Orchestra and guests artists Juan Diego Flórez, Mahan Esfahani, Ophira Zakai and Patrick Sepec. “Vivaldi” includes the landmark concertos for mandolin (RV 356, 93 & 425), the Trio Sonata, RV 82; and a new recording of the “Summer” concerto from the Four Seasons. Listen to Avi Avital’s “Vivladi” this week on Classical 90.5! (Photo credit: (c) Harald Hoffermann/DG)