Weekend roundup: so many premieres, so little time.
As so often happens these days in Washington, this weekend saw a veritable cornucopia of performances — including no fewer than three world premieres, and one piece presented the day after its world premiere. The world premieres were John Tavener’s “Three Hymns of George Herbert” from the City Choir of Washington and Shenandoah Conservatory Choir; Donald Crockett’s “Dawn Dance” from the 21st Century Consort, and Urban Arias’s presentation of the opera “Paul’s Case,” by Gregory Spears. And “Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States,” which Gabriel Kahane wrote for the chamber group Orpheus, came to the Clarice Smith Center the night after its world premiere at Dartmouth. (Links lead to reviews by me, Joan Reinthaler, and Roger Catlin.)
In addition, the Virginia Opera brought the Marriage of Figaro to Fairfax; the violinist Ray Chen played at Dumbarton Oaks; the German choir Calmus dazzled in Alexandria; the Freer presented excerpts of Handel’s Belshazzar; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet played at the Phillips Collection; and the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra played Mozart. And that’s just what we reviewed. (Not to mention the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Keller Quartet, and Stile Antico last week.)
With all of this going on, it’s small wonder that presenters seem to be having a harder time selling tickets. Contemporary music lovers are already a subset of the mainstream clasical audience; on Saturday, they had to choose between three different concerts.
This isn’t a bad thing: it’s testimony to what I perceive as a new wealth of performances here. Every season, it seems, there are more and more interesting concerts. When I got to D.C. in 2008, I was always pretty clear about what I wanted to hear on a given night; this season, I’ve often found myself making tough choices between two or three performances. My impression of the audience, too, has shifted. My initial feeling was that the classical audience here tended to be somewhat conservative, but very large and very passionate; now, my sense is that there’s a wider range of concerts, but audiences are smaller.
What do you think? Do you agree that more is going on here these days than in the past? Do you notice more contemporary music being played, or is it about the same as it always was? Do you find yourself having to choose between two concerts in a single night? And if you had to pick one of the four new works that was performed this weekend, which one would, or did, you go to?
Above: An excerpt of “The Filthy Habit” by Thomas Pasatieri, which Urban Arias, a company devoted to contemporary opera, staged in 2012. This weekend, they offered the world premiere of “Paul’s Case” by Gregory Spears, based on the story by Willa Cather (runs through April 28) — one of three world premieres offered in the area this weekend.
Of revivals and rebirths: Tavener in DC, Aspern Papers in Dallas
A few years ago, Sir John Tavener, the eminent choral composer, was so sick he thought he might never write again. And Robert Shafer, the choral conductor, was fired from his job and thought his conducting career might be over. On Sunday, Shafer and his City Choir of Washington, a new arrival in a city with plenty of choruses, will present a Tavener world premiere at Washington National Cathedral-- in the presence of the composer. And it all happened thanks to a public-policy think tank. Only in Washington. Read the full story here — tickets are still available.
One problem with getting contemporary opera into the repertoire is that a lot of operas, even good ones, remain underperformed after the glow of the world premiere has worn off. This month, the Dallas Opera took a big gamble in a financially compromised season by reviving Dominic Argento’s “The Aspern Papers,” which it commissioned and gave its world premiere in 1988. Beautifully cast and staged, the revival made a great case for this opera as worthy of a wider audience. My review here. (Other views: Scott Cantrell in the Dallas Morning News; Gregory Sullivan Isaacs on TheaterJones.)Continue reading this post »
Of Pollini and Pulitzers.
There were two big concerts for Washington on Sunday. At Strathmore Maurizio Pollini, one of the great pianists, was a little hard-edged in Chopin but gave Debussy room to blossom, according to critic Stephen Brookes. And at the National Presbyterian Church, Scott Tucker made his official debut as Norman Scribner’s successor as the artistic director of the Choral Arts Society; in her review, Cecelia Porter called him an “ardent, driven champion.”
I attended a perhaps less significant concert that represents what you might call the bread-and-butter of the classical music world: the fine cellist Carter Brey in a workmanlike recital at the JCC.
Meanwhile, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday, and the Post celebrated the well-deserved criticism prize win of the polymathic art and architecture, cultural, and erstwhile classical music critic Philip Kennicott. The music prize winner was also recently heard in DC; the composer Caroline Shaw is a member of the vocal octet Roomful of Teeth, which performed part of her winning work, “Partita for 8 voices,” on its program at the Atlas in March. And no, the reviewer didn’t mention it in the review (that would be me). We are all fallible.
Shaw’s win brings the Pulitzer to a younger generation of composers, and has to be a shot in the arm for her label, New Amsterdam Records, which released the CD containing the complete work, the self-titled debut recording of Roomful of Teeth, in October. New Amsterdam, you’ll remember, was devastated by flooding from Hurricane Sandy, and is still getting back on its feet.
The two finalists were Aaron Jay Kernis and Wadada Leo Smith, the latter reflecting the Pulitzer’s ongoing efforts to open up the music prize to a broader and arguably more representative spectrum of music. So far, jazz is making its way slowly in, but so-called pop is still outside the gates.
Above: “Passacaglia” by Caroline Shaw, one movement of her Partita for 8 voices, which won the Pulitzer Prize for music, performed by the ensemble Roomful of Teeth at Mass MoCA in 2009. (The piece was released on the ensemble’s self-titled CD in October, making it eligible for this year’s prize.)
Sir Colin Davis, 1927-2013.
RIP, Sir Colin Davis. He was too urbane to be widely considered a maverick, but his unorthodoxy is precisely what led to his particular interests and particular strengths, and to his championing some composers who occupy their own slightly offbeat niches in the mainstream classical music canon: Berlioz, Sibelius, Tippett. But he was also a consummate Mozartean. My obituary for the Washington Post is here, but of necessity does not include personal reminiscences of the concerts I heard him lead with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra during the years I lived in in Munich. Nor did I mention the afternoon in Würzburg, when I was sitting with friends in the Bavarian Radio Chorus in a cafe after a rehearsal and Sir Colin and his wife passed by, began chatting, and ended up hanging out for a couple of hours - an encounter from which I concluded that they were among those celebrities, like Yo-Yo Ma, who are just the same when you meet them in person as they appear in public.
Above: Sir Colin Davis conducts the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and Chorus in the Mozart Requiem in Munich’s Herkulessaal.
WPAS, Vocal Arts DC announce 2013-14
The last season announcements are coming in. The Washington Performing Arts Society has laid out a younger, fresher, perhaps slightly leaner but also slightly more diverse season for 2013-14 — a season much of which was effectively planned in the interim period between the departure of the group’s former president and CEO, Neale Perl, and the arrival of his successor, Jenny Bilfield.
And Vocal Arts DC is announcing the first season fully planned by its current general director, Peter Russell. In 2013-14, the men dominate: the tenors Michael Fabiano and Lawrence Brownlee, and the countertenor Iestyn Davies, are the season’s highlights. Also appearing are the sopranos Ana Maria Martinez and Hei-Kyung Hong (often underrated), and the bass-baritones Luca Pisaroni and Brandon Cedel, a young Curtis graduate who will inaugurate a series named for Vocal Arts’s founder, Gerald Perman, focusing on rising talent. More information on the group's website.
Above: For those who know Lawrence Brownlee mainly as an opera singer, here’s evidence that his recital work is well worth a listen — something Washington audiences will have a chance to do when he wraps up Vocal Arts DC’s next season in May, 2014.