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Samuel Barber

Monday, January 23, 2017


My Classical Notes

January 13

The Creamy Voice of Renee Fleming

My Classical NotesSoprano Renee Fleming has been entertaining and thrilling audiences for a long time. Still, there is excitement when we get a new recording by this fine artist. Her new CD is titled ‘Distant Light’, and it features the following: Samuel Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24 Bjork: Virus Joga All is Full of Love, arr. Hans Ek Hillborg: ‘The Strand Settings’ the world premiere recording. All selections performed by Renée Fleming (soprano), with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo conducting. ‘Distant Light’ is Renée Fleming’s first journey into the amazing world of Scandinavian music. For her first new studio album in three years she has chosen to inspire us with a daring mix of music. The title comes from a poem in a new song cycle dedicated to Renée and here receiving its world premiere recording: Anders Hillborg’s ‘The Strand Settings’. “At once atmospheric, elegiac and unsettling, the work was crafted with Ms. Fleming’s creamy voice in mind”, wrote the New York Times at its first performance in 2013. One of Sweden’s brightest star composers Hillborg has a close relationship with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic where this recording was made in February 2016 with its principal conductor Sakari Oramo. Renée couples this with three songs by Björk in specially commissioned orchestrations by the brilliant Swedish composer and arranger Hans Ek, recorded here for the first time. Why Björk? Both she and Renée are recipients of Sweden’s Polar Music Prize. Both dare to be original. In the fascinating booklet interview Renée talks about her admiration for Björk: “Her originality is breathtaking. She just blazes her own path forward”. Renée chooses the songs which mean the most to her personally and musically. The Guardian wrote a few days ago: “As a vehicle for the soaring purity of Fleming’s voice, and as an evocation of Strand’s very finely etched sensibility, Hillborg’s settings are genuinely beautiful and their cumulative effect is powerful…” Here is Renee Fleming:

The Well-Tempered Ear

January 16

Classical music: The Ear asks again — why hasn’t an opera about Martin Luther King Jr. been written? What classical music should be played to honor him?

By Jacob Stockinger Today is an important and, in some parts of the United States , still controversial holiday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Such an occasion and it artistic celebration assumes even greater importance now that we are on the verge of the Trump Era, which starts this coming Friday with the Inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump . Once again The Ear looked for classical music to mark the occasion and the holiday. But the results he found were limited. Do we really need to hear Samuel Barber’s famous and sadly beautiful but overplayed “Adagio for Strings ” again on this day? So The Ear asks the same question he asked two years ago: Why hasn’t anyone written an opera about the pioneering civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in 1968 and would today be 88? Here is a link to that more extended post that asks the same question: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/classical-music-why-hasnt-anyone-written-an-opera-about-martin-luther-king-jr-and-the-civil-rights-movement/ If you know of such an opera, please let The Ear know in the COMMENT section. Or perhaps a composer could write something about King similar to Aaron Copland ‘s popular “A Lincoln Portrait .” King certainly provided lots of eloquent words for a inspiring text or narration. And if there is classical music that you think is appropriate to mark the occasion, please leave word of it, with a YouTube link if possible. In the meantime, in the YouTube video below The Ear offers the first movement from the “Afro-American Symphony ” by the underperformed black American composer William Grant Still (1874-1954): Tagged: -elect , A Lincoln Portrait , Aaron Copland , Activism , Adagio for Strings , African Americans , Afro-American , Arts , assassination , beautiful , beauty , Civil and political rights , civil rights , Donald J. Trump , Donald Trump , era , inauguration , inspiration , Jacob Stockinger , Martin Luther King Jr , Martin Luther King Jr. Day , Music , narration , Nobel Peace Prize , opera , Politics , President-elect , sad , Samuel Barber , symphony , text , Trump , United States , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , William Grant Still , Wisconsin , words




The Boston Musical Intelligencer

January 13

Carpenter Constructs Glittering Edifice

Cameron Carpenter, an organist of prodigious technique and an immensely creative bent played throughout a compelling BSO program under the direction of guest conductor Bramwell Tovey on Thursday evening. Carpenter presents proudly as a maverick of the “classical music” stage. Sporting a Mohawk, he cuts a lively and glittery figure in the embrace of the curvaceous Symphony Hall Skinner organ, with its console at center stage. His hands and feet flew across the key and pedal boards and stop jambs. Those feet, incidentally, were shod in black leather with a plethora of sparkling rhinestones bedecking each heel. And, why not? The man stands every inch a showman, and he possesses the facility to play virtually anything with panache and virtuosity. While clearly his own man, there is no denying that the has inherited the platform style of another great organ showman, Virgil Fox. Indeed, Cameron may well be Fox incarnate. The opener, Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva, op. 36, commissioned for the Philadelphia Orchestra to inaugurate its 1960 Academy of Music Aeolian-Skinner instrument, bears it age quite well. Much of what is remembered fondly of Barber is present in this showpiece for organ and orchestra: bold, thrusting themes contrasted with romantically elegiac, longline melodies, all handsomely scored. I remember being mightily impressed with an LP of this music recorded by Eugene Ormandy and E. Power Biggs for Columbia, a disk I nearly wore out from so many listens. I still have it, and hearing Tovey and Carpenter play it stirred many fond memories. While perhaps not quite so incisive, this BSO performance felt well integrated and extremely effective. In the extended pedal solo, not only did we hear the beat of those dancing feet, but we heard musical expression from the most rapid and elaborate flicking of individual stop knobs that we have ever witnessed. Overall, we enjoyed the mighty sound of a modern symphony orchestra and organ joining forces. Whoops and hollers permeated the applause. Was a Carpenter claque in the house? Before moving on, Tovey made engaging conversation with the audience to prepare them for what they were about to hear: the 30-minute, three movement At The Royal Majestic, Concerto for Organ and Orchestra (2014) by American composer Terry Riley. At Tovey’s first mention of the composer’s name, more cheers and applause emanated from the audience. It would appear that a sizable Terry Riley fan club was also present. Tovey then gamely and charmingly expanded upon Robert Kirtzinger’s excellent and comprehensive printed essay. Tovey also pointed out the interesting instrumentation of the music: no fewer than five bassoons plus a contra bassoon and two bass clarinets at the low end, three piccolos and an alto saxophone at the high end, a huge battery of percussion: five players playing fifteen groups of instruments—four trumpets plus flugelhorn, no oboes or English horn. The organ, he explained, would fill in much of the middle. Then, we dashed off to the Riley races. The composer’s valuable notes about his composition appeared alongside of Kirtzinger’s observations mentioned above. In essence, Riley is a compiler of sonorities and an orderer of fragments. Some describe this music as “minimalist,” and while other of his output is indeed so styled, I found something different afoot in this new concerto. The “motoric” element of traditional minimalism was largely absent, and Riley’s aim seems to be of the offering of a myriad of short, cannily scored bits and pieces of melody and sonority, the result of which could be compared in a visual sense as parallel to a very complex and colorful patchwork quilt. I was intrigued for most of the time by the music’s craft and unique play of sound, also of the organ’s almost constant contributions to its overall presentation. And I watched and listened with fascination as percussionists Kyle Brightwell, Daniel Bauch, and Matthew McKay were kept very busy as they rapidly moved balletically from one instrument to another. Yet I must admit that my interest slackened after 15 or so minutes of this, with no dramatic arc or audible emotional objective part of the mix. I was surely impressed with what I heard—this music has a unique sound and spirit—but ultimately I was not moved. I’m going to give it another chance by attending Saturday’s performance, to hear what I perhaps missed on Thursday. If ever a piece demands a second hearing, this is one. The audience’s very positive response led to Tovey’s insisting that Carpenter play an encore, and that he did: his transcription of the joyful Gigue from J. S. Bach’s French Suite No. 5, much of which he played on the pedals. This so delighted the crowd that it demanded another encore, and Carpenter enthusiastically complied with his amazing arrangement of Bart Howard’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” and to the moon it went. Perhaps no other organist has revealed more creative sonorities of the Symphony Hall organ in so short a space. Carpenter’s ingenious registrations transformed this venerable concert instrument into a colorful theater organ, a “Mighty Wurlitzer” if you will. Again, his remarkable technique astonished in its clarity, facility and rapidity and variety of touch. And not only was the audience entertained, broad smiles beamed among the orchestra members. They recognized a true virtuoso at work. After intermission, Tovey directed a beautiful take on Edward Elgar’s sublime Enigma Variations, op. 36 (1899) that recalled the stunning revelations that Colin Davis brought to his performances with the BSO many years ago. The orchestra brought nobility and genous emotion with particularly beautiful solo contributions from Martha Babcock, Acting Principal Cello; Steven Ansell, Principal Viola; and William Hudgins, Principal Clarinet. The entire brass section sounded glorious, and there, at the organ console, now moved to stage right, presided Cameron Carpenter. Bramwell Tovey and Cameron Carpenter (Winslow Townson photo) If you decide to attend Saturday’s concert, I’m sure you‘ll be glad to have heard this unique program. John W. Ehrlich is music director of Spectrum Singers, which he founded 37 years ago. He has been a singer and conductor in the Boston area for more than 45 years. The post Carpenter Constructs Glittering Edifice appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

January 7

Five Concerted Works Reveal BSO Depth

Toby Oft solos with BSO and Masur (Hilary Scott photo) The Boston Symphony began 2017 on Thursday, with many felicities of programming and execution, not the least of which entailed disclosures of works new to the orchestra, and even composers of the past whose output had up till now been totally or almost totally neglected. The concert also served to limelight some worth back benchers. And it also found Assistant Conductor Ken-David Masur leading at Symphony Hall for the first time since November 2015. The entire evening, with more pieces on it (five, all multi-movement) than any we’ve seen in recent memory, consisted of concerted works for winds and brass, starting with Vivaldi’s Concerto in C for piccolo, strings and continuo, RV 443, with Cynthia Meyers as soloist. It is entirely possible, indeed probable, that this was written originally for sopranino recorder rather than the transverse piccolo, but the modern instrument, especially in Meyers’s capable hands, is especially good at conveying the combination of virtuosic brilliance and quicksilver smoothness of Vivaldi’s writing. While our sometime BMInt colleague Zoe Kemmerling’s printed note did its best to gin up enthusiasm for the musical substance of the concerto, it struck us as not at the pinnacle of the composer’s inspiration, except (and this observation will be carried forward to most of the pieces on the program) in the slow movement, with its wistful pastoral quality conveying hints of the pan-pipe in the solo part. Masur led his reduced forces, including the continuo grouping of cellist Martha Babcock and harpsichordist John Phinney, in a dynamically deferential but rhythmically assertive accompaniment in the jaunty outer movements. Meyers, ever fluid and nimble, with restrained but effective vibrato, received thunderous approbation from the audience. Before the concert began, Masur announced a change in order, which produced as the next item André Jolivet’s Concertino for Trumpet, Strings and Piano, with principal trumpet Thomas Rolfs as soloist and BSO staff pianist and frequent BSOCP collaborator Vytas Baksys at the keyboard. Jolivet (1905-1974) was a composer of enormous subtlety and charm, a student of Edgard Varèse and collaborator with Olivier Messiaen who first adopted, and then rejected, the modernist atonal esthetic for a nuanced diatonicism laced with moments of spikiness, which integrates all tendencies into a perfect Gallic stew. As with contemporaries like Poulenc and Françaix, it would be a mistake to consider his music as charming fluff; nobody who went through World War II came out unscathed and unsobered. The Concertino, dating from 1948, tightly integrates three movements into one 10-minute package, with a jazzy and sometimes noisy first, a slow movement sounding like the score to a film noir, with especially effective chromatically sliding string harmonies against a lyrical solo line, and a clattering and mostly jolly finale. Rolfs executed all with brilliance and a tone of utmost clarity and purity. The piano part is mostly subdued and integrated with the orchestra, making this concerto kind of the flip side of the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto, though Baksys had a brilliant passage between the slow movement and finale. Masur, who separated the three movements more than other conductors do, achieved excellent balance of forces and a nicely clipped sound for the orchestra. The BSO has only performed two compositions by Jolivet, the Concerto for Ondes Martenot in 1949 and this Concertino, which Rolfs and Baksys played with the Pops in 2004. There should be more from Jolivet here in the future. The first half ended with the Concerto No. 2 (!) in E-flat major for Two Clarinets and Orchestra by the Moravian-born František Vincenc Kramář, yclept Franz Krommer (1759-1831), a distinguished Viennese classicist from whom, as with François-Joseph Gossec until last year, not a note has heretofore been heard from the BSO. Though himself a string player, Krommer, like contemporaries Franz Danzi and Anton Reicha, bequeathed a wealth of repertoire for wind players. A good thing, since despite being highly regarded in his day, he suffered the humiliation any composer would of being in competition with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. This concerto dates from 1815, when Beethoven was in full flower, and while it very occasionally nods in the direction of the developing Romantic esthetic, it gets nowhere near as far into it as, say, Hummel. That’s not to say that this piece is without interest, far from it. Krommer had a keen ear for what the clarinet could do, and with two at his disposal (the soloists were BSO principal William R. Hudgins and colleague Michael Wayne) devised for them fiendishly intricate parallel passagework and interweaving lines, and some highly effective orchestration. The opening movement displays many standard orchestral and harmonic flourishes (and an occasional chromatic surprise), but here it’s all about the clarinets, and Hudgins and Wayne were at it like squirrels chasing each other through the trees, matching each other’s dexterity while sustaining a Mylar-coated slickness and sheen. The slow movement was easily its best, more emotive, with the soloists well paired but displaying distinct personalities, Hudgins with the edgier sound and more inflected phrase endings, Wayne with a uniform smoothness. The finale, alla Polacca, didn’t strike us very much like a Polonaise as one has come to know it post-Chopin, but it went down well, and brought forth some distinctive and clever pizzicato accompaniment. As with most virtuoso showcases, the job of the conductor is to keep things together and moving without getting in the way, and in this Masur never faltered. After the intermission came what struck us as the night’s best work (Schumannites might cock an eyebrow at that), the Trombone Concerto in C of Nino Rota, again the first time the BSO has played anything by this composer. Giovanni Rota Rinaldi (1911-1979) was, of course, one of the most acclaimed composers of film scores of the 20th century, but he also studied with Rosario Scalero at Curtis (along with Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti), and like other distinguished film composers such as Korngold, Rozsa, and Herrmann, produced a significant body of concert music. Over recent years we have become familiar with his chamber music, of which the clarinet trio, string quartet and mixed nonet are all wonderful exemplars. The Trombone Concerto, dating from 1966, was written for the principal of the orchestra of La Scala, and has in short order (admittedly against scant competition) become the leading concerto for the instrument. It would be hard to imagine an improvement over section principal, Toby Oft, who executed with tonal purity, elegant legato, careful phrasing and, as called for, jubilant bounce. In a compact three movements, it is a gem, with a direct and vigorous opening movement that is over, seemingly, in a trice. The slow movement is lyrical and motivic at once (there’s a two-short, one-long motif that underpins all the movements, with intimations of Shostakovich), building to an intense climax before subsiding into something like one of Rota’s classic evil-clown passages before closing on a heartbreaking shift from minor to major. The finale works the motto rhythm into a characteristic Rota number that will remind listeners of his Fellini scores. Soloists and conductor bow after Schumann (Hilary Scott photo) Schumann’s Konzertstück in F for four horns and orchestra, op. 86 from 1849, the most familiar piece we heard, though the BSO has not done it all that often, closed the evening. A concerto in all but name, in three attached movements (though Masur took a longish pause after the first), the “soloist” here is an entire horn section, which in this case comprises BSO principal James Sommerville, along with colleagues Rachel Childers, Michael Winter and Jason Snider. With four space-consuming players in the soloist’s spot next to the conductor, the orchestra, which was the largest complement of the evening, got rearranged a bit and squashed back against the walls, which may have contributed to a somewhat muffled orchestral sound. From the get-go the horns were gloriously creamy and suave. The stück itself, of which Schumann thought rather highly (for good reason), is one of those upbeat “Florestan” entries in his catalogue, like the Rhenish symphony, whose slow movement hardly counters this, but offers a wonderful duet taken by Childers and Snider. It is perhaps a function of the acoustic issues mentioned before, but the orchestral sound was not as bright in this performance as some others we’ve heard, and while the tempi were appropriate, and Masur certainly looked like he was calling for a vigorous approach, we sometimes found the horns underplaying their phrase endings. Vance R. Koven studied music at Queens College and New England Conservatory, and law at Harvard. A composer and practicing attorney, he was for many years the chairman of Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble. The post Five Concerted Works Reveal BSO Depth appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .



Samuel Barber
(1910 – 1981)

Samuel Barber (March 9, 1910 - January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is his most popular composition and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music. He was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music, for his opera Vanessa and his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. His Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a work for soprano and orchestra, was an acclaimed setting of prose by James Agee.



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