Monday, July 6, 2009

Ballet Florida folds

Ballet Florida, the resident contemporary and classical ballet company of West Palm Beach, announced on July 4 that it would cease to exist after 23 years. Artistic Director Marie Hale and her staff will focus their efforts to open a new nonprofit school in September in a new location to be announced. It's sad news after the long, hard struggle fought by the staff to keep the company afloat. In March, Ballet Florida canceled the remainder of its 2008-09 season for lack of funds.

The company of 20 included dancers from France, Cuba, Chile, Spain, Brazil and Venezuela, as well as the United States. Ballet Florida was known for its intriguing and imaginative repertoire, from full-length story ballets, to major historic works to modern ballets by top and emerging choreographers. As well, the company taught dance to youngsters who might never get the opportunity to learn ballet.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Martha!

As luck would have it, I sit watching a DVD of the great pianist Martha Argerich. She plays Ravel's Jeux d'eau with such beauty, delicacy and ease that I'm awed.

The DVD is from 1977, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation telecast featuring the 36-year-old Martha that lives on. As I read the program notes, I realize that Argerich was born June 5, 1941, and my DVD is due back to the library on her birthday. Ah, lovely coincidences.

Her Liszt Funerailles is powerful, but still less commanding than I'd prefer. Here her playing is exciting, yet it lacks something: a depth, a heightened sense of color and nuance -- that is, Argerich's hallmarks. I instantly forgive her as I listen to the Jeux d'eau for a second, third and fourth time.

The program opens with Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor (Conductor Franz-Paul Decker leads the Radio-Canada Orchestra), and here the poetry just ripples off her fingers. The tempo is fast but hearty, nothing fluffy or breezy. Here is the earnest Martha; she lets escape only one brief, tiny smile during the performance. Flashy mannerisms she leaves to someone else who might need them. Here the music is all-important.

And even though I'm not fond of Schumann (oooh, did I really admit that?!?), I'm compelled to listen to her. Not that I don't know what comes next, but I don't know what she will do next! Her turns of phrase, her choice of what to highlight, it's such a sense of spontaneity, joy and adventure. Here's Schumann even a detractor could love.

Although I've never been fortunate enough to catch one of her live performances, I count Martha Argerich as one of the Top 10 living pianists.

Thanks for the hours of rapture, Martha, and Happy Birthday!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cinderella needs to get out of the fireplace

Vocally and musically, the singing on Saturday afternoon was really first rate and often exquisite. Aside from the Latvian mezzo-soprano who could do no wrong, Elina Garanca in the title role, I was formally introduced to a major rising star that I knew by name only, African-American tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Prince Charming.

And I'll give the conductor Maurizio Benini a B+ only because at times, the action just seemed to stop for yet another requisite show-off aria, although most of the time, the opera bounced right along in the crucial vocal ensembles. Benini even upshifted to turbo as if daring the vocal ensemble to keep on track (they did, mostly).

I tremendously enjoyed the supporting actors and the irony they presented. Baritone and comic actor Alessandro Corbelli was a rascal, a bully and even a sympathetic figure at times as the idiot Stepfather, Don Magnifico -- Rossini's answer to the hateful Stepmother. And instead of a Fairy Godmother, Rossini offers us the equally sympatethic Alidoro, Cinderella's guardian angel, sung in an angelic bass by the young, newly named Beverly Sills Award Winner, John Relyea.

The ever-cavorting ugly stepsisters sang well, that is, if you noticed their singing over the shenanigans that began well enough, but grew more tiresome as the three hours wore on. Far better as a comedian was bass-baritone Simone Alberghini as Dandini, the valet-in-prince's-clothing.

But compared to other Met productions, Caesare Lievi's 1997 design dates itself for its limited compatibility with what HD film/television has to offer. There seemed to be far fewer cameras, and those were focused front-on. In the finite, box-y set -- very much like looking into the fireplace by way of the front grate only -- we got lots of close-ups. There were also views of several backstage scenery changes, but little else. In effect, we saw mostly what the Lincoln Center audience saw as opposed to productions that have captured side angles and views from different perspectives. HD movie-goers got little of that being-in-the-center-of-the-action feel.

I'm sure that my disappointment lies in part from realization that this season-ending Saturday matinee of Cenerentola is the one and only HD satellite production, out of the Met's 11 this season, that I've managed to see. So I was pretty well starved for stimulation by the time I took my seat at Royal Palm Beach's Regal 18.

So with Cenerentola's rather "flat" set and costumes -- bare, plain, minimalist even -- and the prominent lack of great detail, even the close-ups had limited effect. Compared to the wealth of stage and costume ornamentation in, say, "I Puritani" last season, the visuals were a let-down.

That seems like quite an oxymoron considering that Cinderella is a fairytale, and the over-embroidered Disney version has surely affected my mental image. Nor did the designers go with another obvious choice: plain and simple for her "lean" days, ornate and fanciful after the transformation (the ball, the wedding).

But in this new artform called Live HD Opera, perhaps there are other artists to consider, like the cinematographer who must interpolate an older production into newer techniques, showing off its strengths, not its limitations. And does s/he play well with others, like the lighting designer? The most obvious example of a mismatch was revealed in Cinderella's all-important ballgown. I've seen better still photos after the fact, images that offered richer, more intriguing details, than I could catch during the broadcast.

And what of that little ol' decision-maker -- finances? As the Met's season closer, how much money was left in the budget to address which priorities? Maybe the just-shut-up-and-enjoy-whatever-you-can-get rule applies here.

Famed baritone Thomas Hampson was the backstage host -- we've all seen him do better. He was stiff, mixing up the names of the singers in front of him, even narrowly missing a flub of Angela Gheorghiu's last name. He didn't rise to the ever-so-engaging speaker he is during interviews or when talking from stage to an audience about his solo program.

So my final verdict is divided for Cinderella:

Vocal: A+
Orchestral: B+
Visuals: C-

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Happy Birthday, Leopold!

from Composers Datebook, American Public Media:

On today's date (April 18) in 1882, a child was born in London to a Polish father and Irish mother -- a baby christened Leopold Boleslawowicz Stanislaw Antoni Stokowski.

In 1882, Brahms completed his Second Piano Concerto and Wagner introduced his last opera, "Parsifal"; Gustav Mahler was a promising opera conductor aged 22; Richard Strauss was a young man of 18; Arnold Schoenberg a lad of seven; and Igor Stravinsky still a few months away from being born!

Leopold Stokowski would grow up to become a famous conductor of all those composers' works. For 25 years, Stokowski led the Philadelphia Orchestra in an astonishing variety of music, ranging from his own dramatic symphonic arrangements of works by J.S. Bach to cutting-edge, avant-garde works of Edgard Varese and dozens of other contemporary composers.

Stokowski cut a glamorous figure on stage and off, hung out with movie stars, and played himself in a 1937 movie, "100 Men and a Girl." He shook hands with Mickey Mouse in Disney 's animated classic "Fantasia," and Bugs Bunny did a devastating Stokowski imitation in a famous Warner Brothers cartoon.

For some, his flamboyance was hard to take, but the list of old and new music Stokowski performed before his death in 1977, at the age of 95, remains as impressive as his recorded legacy, which continues to live on via compact disc reissues.

April 21: Holocaust Remembrance Day

from Jay Hoffman & Associates:

Kaddish on Performance Today on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Tuesday, April 21)

On Tuesday, April 21 (Yom Ha Shoah), Performance Today, the nationally syndicated classical music radio program, will present selections from a major new choral work: Kaddish, written and composed by Lawrence Siegel.

Kaddish is an hour-long oratorio for chorus, soloists and chamber orchestra, whose libretto is fashioned from the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust. Kaddish tells their stories in their own words, providing a window into their lives, allowing us to share their experience directly. As the youngest of the survivors approach their eighties and nineties, this window is beginning to close. Kaddish will allow us to hear their voices forever.

The world premiere of Kaddish took place in Minneapolis, MN, on November 15th, 2008, given by VocalEssence, under Philip Brunelle. On November 18th, 2010, a full symphonic version will be premiered by the Houston Symphony and Houston Symphony Chorus. In the period leading up to that performance, a series of significant workshops and presentations will feature the composer and Holocaust survivors. These activities will be produced by Holocaust Museum Houston in partnership with the Houston Symphony.

Performance Today features live concerts by famous artists in concert halls around the globe, and is one of America's most popular classical music radio programs, with more than 1.2 million weekly listeners on 237 stations around the country. To find your local station and airtime, go to:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dreams of Paris

"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

Here's where I want to live and write some day.

Paris, the City of Lights; the most exquisite place on earth.

In my first visit, as a music student in 1967, I felt I was home, more at home than I ever felt in my home town. The sounds, sights, tastes were astonishing -- and I remembered for decades, perhaps too well.

So I returned to Paris in 1996. And yes, the myth is true. April is Paris is enchanting. I recognized that my memories hadn't been overly rosy, my initial impressions held. I was still in love with a city.

Now I need not only passion, but also a plan to turn dreams into a destination.

"We do not want merely to see beauty, though God knows even that is bounty enough - we want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it." - C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New magazine on classical music

By Kyle MacMillan
Denver Post Fine Arts Critic
Posted: 04/12/2009 12:30:00 AM MDT

Listen: Life With Classical Music, a U.S.-based publication, will face tough competition from rivals Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine. (The Denver Post)

A surprise arrived in the mail the other day — a new classical-music magazine.

Titled Listen: Life With Classical Music, it is the first general-interest classical magazine published in the United States since the 1992 demise of Musical America, which exists in a restructured form online.

Given the dreary economic climate, continuing fall in magazine advertising, and recent closings and cutbacks in the classical-music world, the timing could hardly be worse for such a venture.

But founder Eric Feidner is undeterred. He faced a similarly inopportune business environment in February 2002, when, just months after 9/11 and the dot-com crash, he established ArkivMusic, a successful online retailer of classical CDs and DVDs.

Will the creation of Listen turn out to be equally prescient or utterly foolhardy? Only time will tell. Either way, the arrival of this new publication, which is published by ArkivMusic but editorially independent, is exciting news for classical devotees who can't get enough about their favorite performers and composers.

But the magazine faces some tough competition. Dominating the field are the British-based Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine, both literate, well-edited publications that do a thorough job of covering the field internationally.

In the United States, there are also a range of niche classical publications, such as Opera News, Chamber Music Magazine and Symphony Magazine, as well as Fanfare and the American Record Guide, which focus exclusively on recordings.

Certainly, Listen's introductory subscription price of $14.85 for one year is an enticing deal. But how many readers of those older publications are going to be willing to drop one of them and/or add yet another magazine to their list of subscriptions?

Given the level of competition the new magazine faces, it is surprising how similar it is in look and focus to its two well-entrenched rivals — Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine.

The biggest differences are Listen's emphasis on features over news, considerably fewer but longer recording reviews, and added focus on the nonmusical aspects of artists' lives, such as pianist Helène Grimaud's favorite vacation spot.

All this got me thinking about my notions of what a new, 21st-century classical-music magazine, especially one published in the United States, should be like.

First off, it should address the American experience. What makes the American classical scene different from that in Britain and the rest of Europe? And what is happening not just on the two coasts but in the rest of the country?

The first issue of Listen contains a profile of Seattle's classical scene, titled "Scene and Heard in Seattle." Such city overviews are a great beginning, but there could be even more — perhaps looks at trendsetting people and projects in unexpected places.

Second, the magazine should focus on the now. While Beethoven and Brahms will always have their place, an exciting new group of musicians and composers are radically rethinking what classical music is and how it relates to other forms.

Musical pioneers

Who are these musical pioneers and what drives them? What is their music like, and is it any good? Why are 20- something indie-rock fans attracted to this adventuresome brand of classical artists? What roles do forward-looking venues like New York's Le Poisson Rouge play?

Finally, given the incredible changes in media and technology in recent years and the resulting changes in listening habits, a regular look at the business of classical music makes sense as well. Subjects could be everything from the future viability of traditional concert formats to radical changes in the recording industry.

But those are just the musings of a potential reader. It will be up to Listen's editors to define its identity and find a way to make it viable. Here's wishing them luck.

Kyle MacMillan: 303-954-1675 or

As Newspapers Downsize, Cities Lose Arts Critics

by Laura Sydell (National Arts Journalism Program Fellow)

Listen at:
[4 min 2 sec]

From: All Things Considered, April 14, 2009 ·

In the past, the place to find out what was happening in the clubs and theaters of your city was the local paper. But as cash-strapped newspapers lay off their local arts critics, the future of arts criticism is up in the air.

Although some people love to hate critics, Doug McClennan, the director of the National Arts Journalism Program, says that critics fulfill an important role in helping communities understand the arts and their role in society. He warns that culture doesn't happen in isolation — and that we need full-time professional critics devoted to getting to know those communities.

"The critic defines the territory, walks the perimeter of that territory and comes back and tells you, 'OK ... here's the interesting stuff I found,' " says McClennan, also the editor of

Critics can be instrumental in introducing an artist to a community. Seven years ago in Miami, local critics discovered a new choral group called Seraphic Fire and helped the group build a committed audience in the city.

[They] "made a real point to feature us for a number of our performances over the next couple of years, which drew attention to us as an ensemble before we really had any money to do any sort of significant advertising," says the group's founding director, Patrick Quigley.

But it may be harder for the next small new arts group to get that kind of attention, says Lawrence Johnson, the former classical music critic for The Miami Herald.

"In all of southeast Florida there is now no full-time classical music critic employed by any newspaper," says Johnson, who lost his job over a year ago. He has since created a Web site called, which features his criticism as well as the work of other laid-off critics. "I felt there was a real void. No paper was really covering the region's classical music organizations the way they deserved to be, so I started the Web site to fill the void," says Johnson.

All over the country, cash-strapped newspapers are cutting back on coverage of local museums, theaters and dance groups.

"There are dozens of journalists now starting their own Web sites, banding together [and] trying to create electronic publications, looking at for-profit models, nonprofit models, low-profit models," says McClennan. "Things aren't just falling apart. ... They're ... reordering themselves."

For some small arts groups, the move to the Web is an opportunity. Take the Lorraine Hansberry Theater in San Francisco. It focuses on the work of African-American playwrights, and for many years it didn't get much attention in the local papers.

"The newspapers and the powerful interests were using information as a power. ... That's when we talked about the historical legacy of exclusion and invisibility of people of color," says Executive Director Quinton Easter.

Easter believes that the Web offers him a way to reach out directly to audiences and speak to smaller groups. Still, he remembers the days when there were two major daily newspapers in San Francisco and each one had two critics. When the reviews came out, the phones at his theater would ring off the hook — and if it was a good review it would draw in people who had never been to his theater before.

Easter worries that on the Internet people only seek out what already interests them — and that both audiences and artists are losing out on an opportunity to discover each other.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Grammy winners -- classical

Best Classical Contemporary Composition

Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems Of Bob Dylan

John Corigliano (JoAnn Falletta)
Track from: Corigliano: Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems Of Bob Dylan

Best Classical Album

Weill: Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny

James Conlon, conductor; Anthony Dean Griffey, Patti LuPone & Audra McDonald; Fred Vogler, producer (Donnie Ray Albert, John Easterlin, Steven Humes, Mel Ulrich & Robert Wörle; Los Angeles Opera Chorus; Los Angeles Opera Orchestra)

Best Opera Recording

Weill: Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny

James Conlon, conductor; Anthony Dean Griffey, Patti LuPone & Audra McDonald; Fred Vogler, producer (Donnie Ray Albert, John Easterlin, Steven Humes, Mel Ulrich & Robert Wörle; Los Angeles Opera Orchestra; Los Angeles Opera Chorus)

Best Orchestral Performance

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4

Bernard Haitink, conductor (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
[CSO Resound]

Best Choral Performance

Symphony Of Psalms
Sir Simon Rattle, conductor; Simon Halsey, chorus master (Berliner Philharmoniker; Rundfunkchor
Track from: Stravinsky: Symphonies
[EMI Classics]

Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with Orchestra)

Schoenberg/Sibelius: Violin Concertos
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Hilary Hahn (Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra)
[Deutsche Grammophon]

Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra)

Piano Music Of Salonen, Stucky, And Lutoslawski

Gloria Cheng

Best Chamber Music Performance

Carter, Elliott: String Quartets Nos. 1 And 5
Pacifica Quartet