Review: Mester’s Final Concerts with the Louisville Orchestra Colorful and Lyrical

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(Photo credit: Louisville Orchestra)

The first Louisville Orchestra concert of 2016 also represented Jorge Mester’s penultimate concert as director emeritus of the Louisville Orchestra. Before the concert, Brad Broecker (LO CEO 2006-2009), who was crucial in securing the Maestro’s return to Louisville as music director following several tumultuous years, honored Mester’s two terms as music director.

Though Mester’s earliest and longest term in Louisville centered around the ground-breaking First Edition recordings, his last statement in official capacity was reserved and thoughtful: pairing the beloved Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff with Bohuslav Martinů’s imaginative Symphony No. 6 (Zoltan Kolday’s Dances of Galánta will be added to the Saturday evening concert).

If you’re unsure of Martinů’s legitimacy, a quick look at his musical pedigree should dissuade any doubt: Mozart taught Ignaz von Seyfried, who taught Brahms. Brahms mentored Dvorak who taught Josef Suk, who was Martinů’s first and only composition teacher. Martinů was a professional violinist for most of his career, only turning to composition seriously in his thirties and writing his six symphonies in his fifties, after emigrating to America. Add to this over a dozen ballet scores, over a dozen operas and hundreds of solo and chamber works, Martinů’s output reaches the 400 mark, and legitimacy, quickly.

Martinů’s sixth symphony, subtitled Fantasies symphoniques (“Fantastical symphonies”), was written after his recovery from a serious head injury in the early 1950s. He had taken a four year hiatus from his fifth symphony (first recorded by the Louisville Orchestra), and returned to the symphonic genre with a new idea – a free-form, fantasy for orchestra. This stream-of-consciousness approach wasn’t new to music, but for a neo-classicalite like Martinů, not adhering to formulaic rigor was atypical.

Despite this lack of structure, the sixth symphony does return to familiar motives, most notably a whirling, curtain of sound heard at the beginning (reminiscent of insect buzzing), and a cryptic, four-note motive, first announced by the principal cello. Martinů’s symphony is colorful and rhythmically challenging. The latter only caused some minor problems for the orchestra, but the former suited the orchestra well. Strings were biting and also lyrical, woodwinds pristine and balanced, and the brass gave an impeccable performance. This symphony also gives you the rare treat of seeing tubist John DiCesare use a mute — you can’t miss it.

Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, like Martinů’s sixth symphony, was born out of recovery. For Rachmaninoff, in the form of recovery from severe depression and self-doubt after a tepid reception to his first symphony. For a modern audience, this concerto is one of the most enjoyed of Rachmaninoff’s. It bears all the hallmarks of a Rachmaninoff: undulating piano arpeggios under long, velvety melodies; tender and intimate solo passages; and athletic runs up and down the keyboard.

Soloist William Wolfram is a towering figure, broad shouldered and standing at around 6 foot, 5 inches (Rachmaninoff was just as tall). The adjectives “nimble” or “agile” wouldn’t typically describe someone like Wolfram, but his calm demeanour gave him the physical freedom to glide effortlessly across the keyboard. Wolfram is a decisive player, often pensive, with little showmanship. For the orchestra’s part, the long, lush melodies that permeate Rachmaninoff’s score felt natural and sincere.

Guest concertmaster Phillip Palermo, from the Indianapolis Symphony, joined the orchestra for Friday’s concert, and returns for the Saturday evening concert, which will also include Zoltan Kodaly’s Dances of Galánta.
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In-Studio: Les Ordinaires

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Our next In-Studio features the baroque ensemble Les Ordinaires, January 14th at 1pm, here at Classical 90.5 (619 S. Fourth Street). Free and open-to-the-public. No reservation required.

Les Ordinaires, meaning The Ordinaries to the king, made its debut at the 2014 Twin Cities Early Music Festival to critical acclaim. Comprised of leaders in the field of Early Music performance, Les Ordinaires presents programs that provide a personal and intimate connection between the performers and the music. Performing on copies of 18th century instruments, the combination of traverso, theorbo, and viola da gamba are known as the royal trio. Les Ordinaires’ musicians are Leela Breithaupt on Baroque flute, Erica Rubis on viola da gamba, and David Walker on theorbo.

Video: 2015 Young Artist Competition Winners

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Classical Music Deaths in 2015

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The year had many highs and lows in the classical music world. And also many notable deaths during 2015.

Conductor Kurt Masur was musical director at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the London Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic. Masur will be remembered equally for his role during the last days of the Soviet Union. Although loyal to the East German government, when demonstrations broke out in 1989 Masur acted as a peace-keeper. Government soldiers could have killed many of the protesters if not for Masur’s intervention.

Sir David Willcocks was a legend in the choral arts world. He was choral director for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, for 17 years and the Bach Choir for 38. His legacy will live on forever in his choral arrangements of Christmas carols and his hundreds of recordings.

Robert Craft will be best remembered as the close-working associate to composer Igor Stravinsky. A conductor, Craft met the composer in 1948 and worked with Stravinsky as collaborator until the composer’s death.

Clarinetist Dallas Tidwell was a Louisville Orchestra member for 27 years. He was a part-time instructor at the University of Louisville School of Music and a member of the Kentucky Center Chamber Players, a group that performed on Classical 90.5 several times.

David Roth was the energetic general director of Kentucky Opera for nine years. His unique combination of artistry and business sense helped the company flourish both economically and artistically. Seemingly tireless, Roth worked closely on every aspect of the company’s productions.

Joseph Silverstein was concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra before taking up the baton as a conductor. He ultimately led the Utah Symphony for 15 years. He recorded both as conductor and violin soloist with the orchestra.

Tenor vocalist Jon Vickers was born in Saskatchewan in 1926. After training at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, he joined London’s Royal Opera House. He later joined the Metropolitan Opera. He was known for his impressive stage presence and heldentenor voice.

You heard Margaret Juntwait on Classical 90.5 every Saturday as host during the Metropolitan Opera’s broadcast season. She was used to being on the concert stage as well as a lyric soprano. In 2001, Juntwait became the Met announcer Peter Allen’s understudy. After he retired in 2004, Juntwait became the voice of the Metropolitan Opera until her untimely death this year.

Gunther Schuller made several appearances on Classical 90.5’s From the Top. Schuller was an American composer and musician. He started his musical career as a horn and flute player. He became principle horn player for the Cincinnati Symphony and later the Metropolitan Opera. In 1959, he gave up his performing career to concentrate on composition. He had a great love of classical and jazz music and melded them seemingly effortlessly in his works.

Other notable losses in 2015:

Paul Freeman, Alan Curtis, John McCabe, Ezra Laderman, Ivan Moravec, Aldo Ciccolini, Seymour Lipkin

New Year’s Day From Vienna 2016

The Vienna Philharmonic as seen in ÒFrom Vienna: The New YearÕs Celebration 2015Ó on ÒGreat Performances.Ó 
Photo credit: Richard Schuster

The Vienna Philharmonic presents its ever popular annual New Year’s Day concert from the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna. You’ll hear your favorite waltzes, polkas and more — a festive way to start off the New Year. This year’s concert will be conducted by Mariss Jansons. View the program below or click here. Presented by NPR Music and hosted by WBUR’s Lisa Mullins. New Year’s Day at 11am.

New Year’s Day From Vienna 2016 – Program

Robert Stolz
Uno-Marsch

Johann Strauss, Jr.
Schatz-Walzer. op. 418
Violetta. Polka francaise, op. 404
Vergnügungszug. Polka (schnell), op. 281

Carl Michael Ziehrer
Weaner Madl’n. Walzer op. 388

Eduard Strauss
Mit Extrapost. Galopp, op. 259

— Pause —

Johann Strauss, Jr.
Ouvertüre zu Eine Nacht in Venedig (Wiener Fassung)

Eduard Strauss
Ausser Rand und Band. Polka schnell, op. 168

Josef Strauss
Sphärenklänge. Walzer, op. 235

Johann Strauss, Jr.
Sängerslust. Polka francaise, op. 328

Josef Strauss
Auf Ferienreisen. Polka schnell, op. 133

Johann Strauss, Jr.
Fürstin Ninetta – Entr’acte zwischen 2. und 3. Akt

Èmile Waldteufel
Espana. Walzer, op. 236

Josef Hellmesberger sen.
Ball-Szene

Johann Strauss, sen.
Seufzer-Galopp, op. 9

Josef Strauss
Die Libelle. Polka mazur, op. 204

Johann Strauss, Jr.
Kaiser-Walzer, op. 437
Auf der Jagd. Polka schnell, op. 373