Concerto for Ukulele, “Campanella”

shimabokuro

A concerto for ukulele and orchestra by Byron Yasui will be premiered by the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra with soloist Jake Shimabukuro this weekend. The conductor will be JoAnn Folletta.

Byron K. Yasui has been on the music theory/composition faculty at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa since 1972, where he presently chairs the graduate studies in music. Jake Shimabukuro became well-known after his ukulele version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral on Youtube. Shimabukuro has appeared in the Kentuckiana area several times in the past decade. This is the first concerto to be written for ukulele and traditional orchestra. It is also very virtuosic. Yasui’s composition was created specifically with Shimabukuro in mind, giving it the nickname “Concerto for Jake.”

Classical 90.5 will post a recording of the concerto when it becomes available. In the meantime, learn more about the production of this work’s premiere.

Margaret Juntwait, voice of the Metropolitan Opera, dies at age 58

Juntwait-in-booth

(Photo credit: Metropolitan Opera)

The following comes from the Metropolitan Opera:

The Metropolitan Opera mourns the death of our radio host Margaret Juntwait, who passed away this morning after a long battle with ovarian cancer. For millions of listeners around the world, Margaret was the voice of the Met for the past decade.

She was appointed to the post in October 2004, and her first Saturday matinee broadcast was a December 11, 2004 performance of Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani. She went on to host a total of 229 live Saturday broadcasts, as well as 898 live broadcasts on the Met’s Sirius XM channel. Her final Sirius broadcast was the new production premiere of Lehár’s The Merry Widow on December 31, 2014.

“Margaret Juntwait was the soul of the Met’s radio broadcasts,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “She will be sorely missed by her loving colleagues here at the Met, as well as the countless opera stars who she so deftly interviewed over the years, and by the millions of devoted fans who listened to her mellifluous hosting of our broadcasts three or four times a week, season after season.”

Margaret was diagnosed with ovarian cancer more than ten years ago, but before January 2015, she missed only one Saturday matinee broadcast due to her illness. Even after she was unable to host live performances, Margaret retained her tremendous passion for the Met, and was in the building just a few weeks ago to pre-record content for future Sirius XM broadcasts.

Margaret, a trained singer and a former WNYC classical music radio host, loved opera and the Met. In her role as interviewer, she displayed a remarkable grace for putting artists at ease. Before and after the curtain went up for performances, her passion for the art form allowed her to convey to the audience the excitement of what would happen on the Met stage.

She was justifiably proud of her role as one of only three regular hosts of the Met’s Saturday broadcast series over the course of its 84-year history. She replaced Peter Allen as host in 2004 and joined the Met staff full-time in 2006, when the company’s Sirius XM channel launched.

We extend our sincerest condolences to Margaret’s family and friends, including her husband Jamie Katz; mother Florence Grace; and children Gregory, Bart, and Steven Andreacchi, and Joanna Katz; on behalf of all those who loved her, in the Met company and in the radio audience around the world.

Great Contemporary Concertos

zhongruan

Alan Brandt begins a new blog series about great concertos from the past 40 years.

“Reminiscences of Yunnan” is the title of the concerto for zhongruan and orchestra by Chinese composer Liu Xing (born 1962) written in 1984. The zhongruan (pictured), or ruan for short, is sometimes called the “Chinese lute.” It has four strings and circular body. Although the instrument is over 2000 years old, “Reminiscences” was the first major work to feature the ruan in a solo role.

At the age of 12, Liu’s parents intended for him to learn the violin. But a neighbor was an exponent of traditional Chinese instruments and convinced the boy to learn the yueqin, which is similar to the ruan. He mastered the instrument and four years later was enrolled in the Shanghai Music Conservatory. Liu became bored with his classes and instead took to improvising on the zhongruan and listening to Stravinsky.

Since the premiere of the concerto, the ruan has become more popular in both traditional and popular Chinese music. Liu Xing recently wrote a 2nd concerto for zhongrun which premiered in 2014.

Enjoy the third movement of Reminiscences of Yunnan in the original arrangement for folk orchestra.

American Opera Series 2015

Photo: Ben Gibbs

(Photo credit: Ben Gibbs)

The Metropolitan Opera broadcasts are on break until this fall, but we’ll continue to showcase some of the great opera companies in the United States on Saturdays at 1pm. View the complete schedule here.

Review: Kentucky Opera’s “A Woman in Morocco” Complex and Challenging

Kentucky Opera A Woman in Moracco

Kentucky Opera concludes its 2014-15 season with a new production of the 2014 opera “A Woman in Morocco,” by composer Daron Hagen and librettist Barbara Grecki, as part of its Composer Workshop series. In partnership with the University of Louisville, the workshop series showcases new operas in early stages of development, giving composers a chance to hone a work with a professional company before making the production available for wider distribution. This is the second time Hagen and Grecki have worked with Kentucky Opera: their three one-acts “New York Stories” were presented in 2010 through Kentucky Opera’s Studio Artist Program.

Hagen’s ninth opera is set in mid-Twentieth century Morocco at a hotel run by English ex-pat Teddy Forsythe (Joe Flaxman), which also acts as a front for human trafficking. The plot unfolds in a lobby and hotel room — confined, as it were, by the dark and disturbing subject matter. Any glimpse of the outside world comes through soundscapes of street noise, calls-to-prayer and a recurring BBC radio broadcast featuring a sultry jazz singer performing a song called “Love comes with a knife.”

Lizzy Holmes (Danielle Messina), a young journalist, arrives at the hotel and immediately becomes enamored by a charming staffer, named Ahmed (Joe Shadday). Their love affair unlocks a web of other love affairs and soon we’re engrossed in overlapping love triangles, while Lizzy unravels through drug addiction and the experience of seeing a kidnapping and murder. Hagen’s complex score works to underline these issues with leitmotifs, musical cues assigned to different characters, and music that never settles or rests. This isn’t a show with “numbers,” so when singers get soaring arias, they emerge naturally from this intricate texture. Hagen has a gift for writing sensually-rich tunes and uses this skill to release the music at important moments.

Danielle Messina was clear and confident portraying Lizzy’s metamorphosis from innocent Midwesterner to fragile addict. Her vocal prowess, self-assured and nimble, served her through this emotional descent. Ahmed, eloquently sung by Joe Shadday, uses his charisma to gently guide Lizzy through a kief-haze into squalor. With a captivating voice, Erin Bryan was strong as Lizzy’s friend, the curious Asilah.

A particularly captivating device occurs during Lizzy’s letter writing scenes to her sister Claire. The content of her letters and Lizzy’s inner monologue were delivered by the women of the cast, each character singing a thread in the harmonic fabric. These ensemble pieces, which included Natasha Foley (also portraying Asilah’s sister Habiba) and Krista Heckman, were vocally lush and homogeneous.

Sporting a consistently despicable swagger and wardrobe, Flaxman played a sleazy Teddy Forsythe. His frequent accomplice, the loathsome American businessman Harry Hopkins, was sung by Brent Smith whose brassy tone added a certain cockiness to his role. We were allowed brief moments of empathy towards the male characters, but those feelings were easily trumped by their unwavering filth. It’s through Harry we meet Claire, on a mission to find her sister Lizzy, portrayed by Melisa Bonetti, a singer with a mellow, warm voice.

Acting out everyday emotions and gestures (a kiss or embrace, a friendly exchange, etc) will always come easier than a struggle with another person, abusing someone, or driving a knife into someone’s heart. They are uncomfortable places to go, but essential to be convincing, and opera must be believable musically and dramatically. While Messina’s struggles were palpable, and Shadday seemed genuinely conflicted, others needed more emotional investment in their character’s despicable nature.

Words were sometimes difficult to understand in ensemble moments (like Lizzy’s letter-writing scenes) or anytime a singer turned away from the audience, even in the intimate Victor Jory Theatre. Given the complexity of the story, supertitles would have helped the audience. Conductor Roger Zahab confidently led a 10-piece ensemble (from behind a scrim) that held together despite several rough patches.

Grecki’s story is wholly original and equally familiar. While the behavior Harry, Teddy or Ahmed, or even Lizzy, is unpalatable, their essential struggle is universal: love. “A Woman in Morocco” doesn’t preach about the perils of human trafficking; Hagen and Grecki assume we’re all on the same page regarding its atrociousness. It doesn’t even suggest a solution to the problem. It does make clear that love can be ambiguous and even dangerous at its worst.

Kentucky Opera presents “A Woman in Morocco” for two more performances May 15th and 17th at the Victor Jory Theatre at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.