La Scena Musicale

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 24 (Farinelli, Hoffmann)

1705 - Farinelli (Carlo Boschi), Andria, Italy; castrato soprano

1776 - E.T.A. Hoffmann, Königsberg, Germany; author, composer, music critic

Harp Quintet by E.T.A. Hoffmann (Floraleda Sacchi, harp, with the Arion String Quartet)

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Van Zweden Galvanizes Dallas Symphony!

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels


Conductors come and go, but it is always a thrill to see one who really makes a difference. At the beginning of this season, Jaap Van Zweden assumed the music directorship of the Dallas Symphony (DSO) and musical life in Dallas has not been the same since.

Van Zweden is not your Hollywood central casting conductor – in fact if you met him on the street you might mistake him for a wrestler or a weight-lifter – but conducting has less to do with how you look than what you can do with an orchestra.

Van Zweden is obviously a driven man and he expects that same drive from his players. At the concert I attended, there was no one sitting back and taking it easy. Instead of the lazy, half-hearted bowing one sees so often in string sections, every man and woman was bowing as if their lives depended on it. Not since Sir Georg Solti commanded a podium have I seen such intensity from a conductor.

Van Zweden’s message to the players? Music is serious stuff - I stayed up all night to figure this piece out and the least you can do is practice every waking hour until you are able to play it perfectly! Then we will start to work on interpretation and phrasing.

As it happens, earlier in his career, Van Zweden did play under Solti and other great conductors when he was concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, recently voted the number one orchestra in the world by a group of respected luminaries. Van Zweden learned the repertoire as a player in a world-class orchestra and he also learned what it takes to make music at the highest level. He has clearly brought that attitude to Dallas and the DSO players seem to like it a lot.

What I heard at the Myerson Symphony Center was remarkable by any standard and as a glimpse of things to come, it was tremendously exciting.

The concert was a somewhat belated New Year’s celebration, loosely modeled on the annual event by the Vienna Philharmonic broadcast worldwide. This means music by the Strauss family, and it also means finishing up with the likes of the Blue Danube Waltz and the Radetzky March. To give the occasion an American flavor, Van Zweden ended the evening with Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, and earlier had presented Leroy Anderson’s somewhat dated novelty piece, The Typewriter.

Stokowski’s Orchestration of Pictures Rivals Ravel
The tour de force of the evening was Leopold Stokowski’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano piece, Pictures at an Exhibition. There are those who still wonder whether Stokowski actually wrote the many transcriptions attributed to him. There is strong evidence that much of this work was really done by Lucien Cailliet, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Stokowski era (1912-1936). The fact is that this orchestration is a fine alternative to the famous Ravel arrangement of the Mussorgsky original.

One of the devices Mussorgsky used to link the ‘pictures’ (by the composer’s friend Victor Hartmann) depicted in the piece is the ‘promenade” - walking music, if you will - as the visitor strolls from one exhibit to another in the gallery. The piece begins with just such a promenade and in the Ravel version, it is given to a solo trumpet. It is one of the best-known passages in classical music.

The Stokowski version starts quite differently, with rich and dark sonorities in the string section (with some reinforcement from an organ), and in the performance by Van Zweden and the DSO one was taken aback by the weight and opulence of the sound. This was the special quality of the hall yielding to a conductor skilled at eliciting the sound he wants from an orchestra. The performance went on from there to surprise and thrill us with playing of razor-sharp precision and a vast range of color.

Curiosities abound in Stokowski’s version of Pictures. Nearly always, Stokowski chose instruments and combinations of instruments far removed from the Ravel version. In several sections of the score, however, he seems to be saying - ‘Ravel’s choice of instrument was so inspired and so right I couldn’t possibly do better’; ergo, both the Ravel and Stokowski orchestrations feature a solo saxophone in 'Il Vecchio Castello' and a solo trumpet in 'Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle.'

Van Zweden, DSO & Myerson Symphony Center - Triumphant Trio!
I look forward to returning to Dallas for more music-making from Jaap Van Zweden and his newly-galvanized Dallas Symphony. I’ll certainly have a lot more to say about Van Zweden, but I can’t emphasize enough that Dallas has one of the world’s great concert halls.

There are only a handful of concert halls in North America that come anywhere close to the quality of the Myerson Symphony Center. What makes it great? In a few words - the sound jumps off the stage and involves the listener. The sound enhances the timbre of every instrument in the orchestra and makes them sound well together. It helps too that the Myerson looks so good inside and out, and that you can get a good meal there!

Later this year, the Myerson will be joined by the new Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theatre just across the way. Within the span of a few blocks, one can also enjoy the treasures of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art.

This is the Dallas Arts District, a work in progress for many years but now coming to completion. Big D is about to become bigger and better than ever.

From Triumphant Trios to Cuatro Leches at La Duni – Dallas Delights!
It is not in the Arts District, but La Duni, a Latin Café on Mckinney - where the Cuatro Leches cake alone would keep me coming back - is one of the places we always visit on our return trips to Dallas, where we lived several years.

There is much more to savor at La Duni, however, than cake; for example, several dozen kinds of coffee, and a wide variety of amazing tortas (sandwiches), including our current favorite - the 'Choripan' with Argentinian sausage, avocado and manchego cheese stuffed in a fresh popover and served with yucca fries!

La Duni’s McKinney Street location opened in 2001 with founders Espartaco and Dunia Borga at the helm, and there are now two other locations in Dallas. Word on the street – actually, from one of the La Duni staff members – is that within a year or so, there will be a La Duni in Austin. Great news for Austinites, like us!

Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar; Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music; and Stokowski (Spring 2009), all available at

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Copenhagen's Pricy New Concert Hall

Six years under construction, Copenhagen's new concert hall opened Saturday night with a gala, "invitation only" audience and the Danish queen in attendance. The hall, coming in at nearly 300 million dollars, is close to the cost of Disney Hall in Los Angeles - which still narrowly holds the record for most expensive.

Set in a grim industrial area north of the city center, the 1800 seat auditorium is only the largest in the building which also houses three smaller venues for chamber music, jazz and other events. It is all part of a complex for the Danish radio and television service (DR Byen - Danish Radio Town) and the 3000 employees have already been relocated from downtown to the new site.

A dramatic cobalt-blue cube, its fabric-like exterior hosts video projections but will also show the activity inside on performance nights. Inside, in a dramatic reference to the interior of Berlin's famed Philharmonie, blond wood and "vinyard" shaped sections completely surround the stage.

Pritzker Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel's design makes a major architectual statement for the main orchestra in Denmark, the Danish National Symphony. It will also host visiting orchestras and recitalists. Two years overdue and with a hugh cost overun, it could suggest what the new Philharmonie in Paris, by the same architect, might be like. That is scheduled for 2012 but final approvals and construction has not yet started.

You can see the spectacular interior and who is in the Royal Box on opening night when Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman sings Massenet's L'extase de la vierge. This is from the live telecast Saturday night:

- Frank Cadenhead

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This Week in Toronto (Jan 24 - Jan 30)

Photo: Adrianne Pieczonka sings her first-ever Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio for the COC

(photo credit: Andreas Klingberg)

By Joseph So

The Toronto vocal music scene in this, the last wintry week in January, is dominated by the return of Beethoven's Fidelio to the Canadian Opera Company, in a co-production with L'Opera national du Rhin and Opera Nurnberg. The COC has assembled a superb cast, where all the prinicpals - except one - are well known to and well loved by Toronto audiences. It stars Canada's reigning prima donna, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, in the title role of Leonore. She is making an infrequent foray into the dramatic soprano repertoire and it will be her debut in this role. I think this Fidelio may actually be her debut in a trouser role! Slim and statuesque, Pieczonka certainly looks more believable as a man than many sopranos who sing Leonore, Christine Brewer and Elizabeth Connell, for example. While the Canadian won't have quite the powerhouse volume or the cutting edge to her tone as these two dramatic soprano ladies, Pieczonka will bring her trademark gleaming tone and dramatic conviction to Leonore.

American tenor Jon Villars was to return to the COC after several seasons as Florestan. He last sang here as Calaf in Turandot. So it came as a bombshell when it was announced that Villars had been replaced after Wednesday's final dress reheaersal. There had been disagreement between him and the conductor Gregor Buhl over tempi throughout the rehearsal process, and the disagreemenet came to a head when, according to eye witnesses at the final dress, Villars threw up his hands and walked off the stage in the final ensemble. It was also reported that he was in poor voice throughout the rehearsal period and appeared unprepared - rather strange when you think he has sung Florestan previously as well as having recorded it with Sir Simon Rattle. Villars is certainly a "big name" and it is regrettable that he has departed, but the COC were able to pull not one but two Florestans out of the hat! It was announced Thursday that Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson and Canadian tenor Richard Margison will share the ten performances of Fidelio, with Ketilsson singing the first five. Heldentenors don't grow on trees, so my guess is that the COC had been working behind the scenes to line up the two replacements just in case. The internationally ranked Ketilsson has sung Florestan in Gothenberg and Marseille. Canadian tenor Richard Margison has sung with the COC on several occasions in the past - I remember a Trovatore about seven or eight years ago. He has been expanding his repertoire into the Germanic heldentenor repertory, such as Bacchus and Florestan, the latter he has sung at the Met and Vancouver. This will be his debut in the new opera house.

The evil Don Pizarro is taken by another COC stalwart, bass Gidon Saks, who has made operatic villains his specialty all over the world. His Scarpia in the Bregenz Tosca, now available on DVD, is guaranteed to make your skin crawl. He last sang with the COC in the title role of Boris Godunov. Swedish bass Mats Almgren, who made a sensational COC debut as Hagen in the inaugural Ring Cycle, returns as the more sympathetic Rocco. Rounding out the principals will be current COC Ensemble member Adam Luther as Jacquino and former Ensemble member soprano Virginia Hatfield as Marzelline. German conductor Gregor Buhl, who received critical acclaim in his conducting of the Ring Cycle in Stockholm, will make his COC debut. Performances of Fidelio run from Jan. 24 to Feb. 24 at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

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Today's Birthdays in Music: January 23 (Clementi, Żylis-Gara)

1752 - Muzio Clementi, Rome, Italy; composer

Muzio Clementi Society website

Angela Hewitt plays the Presto from Clementi's Piano Sonata No.. 25, Op. 5

1935 - Teresa Żylis-Gara, Wilno, Poland; opera and concert soprano

Biography and pictures

Teresa Żylis-Gara sings "Gdyby rannem slonkiem" from Stanislav Moniuszko's Halka

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Breaking News: Jon Ketilsson COC's new Florestan

Photo: Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson, COC's new Florestan

(photo courtesy of IMG Artists)

By Joseph So

This just in:

In the soon-to-open COC production of Fidelio, American tenor Jon Villars has just been replaced by Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson. He will sing the first five performances of Florestan, with Canadian tenor Richard Margison singing the latter five performances. There is no information at this point as to the cause leading to the cast change at such a late stage - opening night is only two days away, on Saturday, Jan. 24. I will post more information as they become available.

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Today's Birthday in Music: January 22 (R. Ponselle)

1897 - Rosa Ponselle, Meriden, CT, U.S.A.; opera soprano

Rosa Ponselle Foundation website

Rosa Ponselle sings:

"Suicidio" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda (1925

"Pace, pace mio Dio" from Verdi's La Forza del Destino (1928)

Rosa and Carmela Ponselle sing Schubert's Ständchen (1926)

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens charment à nouveau la métropole

C’est le 30 décembre que se concluait à Place des Arts le cycle magique du ballet Casse-Noisette. Après 10 représentations, depuis le 13 décembre dernier, la petite Clara et son merveilleux monde laissent place à l’année 2009. Retour sur les traces enneigées de cet univers unique, bercé par les immortelles mélodies de Tchaïkovski.

Ce qui charme à tout coup tout au long des aventures de Clara et de son cher Casse-Noisette, c’est l’harmonie de l’auditoire, cette symbiose entre petits et grands. Les regards sont lumineux, la magie opère : l’atmosphère des fêtes irradie. L’interprétation joliment ensorcelante de l’Orchestre des Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal et la maîtrise de son chef d’orchestre Allan Lewis lancent le bal de cette féerie musicale. Fête des couleurs des costumes imaginés par François Barbeau, des décors fabuleux de Peter Horne, le ballet nous replonge directement dans le rêve d’une enfant qui devient le nôtre, encore en 2008.

Casse-Noisette recèle une richesse multiculturelle par les danses des peuples divers de la seconde partie. Que ce soit à travers la danse chinoise, russe, arabe ou flamenco, l’harmonie règne et chacun y a sa place. L’authenticité des traditions, des sources qui définissent chaque individu, parsème avec bonheur le ballet. La classique chorégraphie de Fernand Nault, datant de 1964, est exécutée par les danseurs avec justesse. Le talent débordant des danseurs épate. L’inoubliable Fée Dragée, personnifiée par la première soliste japonaise Mariko Kida, ensorcelle. Quant à la mise en scène de Gradimir Pankov, elle cadre parfaitement avec le plus universel des hymnes hivernaux. Vivement l’édition 2009 !

- Hélène Boucher

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Cast your Vote for Les Victoires de la Musique Classique

You don't have to be French. Votes can be cast online by anyone for the candidates in the "Discovery" (Révélation) category on the site of the Victoires de la Musique Classique. You can listen to the three young candidates in each of the two categories, Voice and Instrumentalist, and decide. Vote at the site ( or at A December 19 concert with the finalist is available for viewing there.

There is a long list of awards in other categories which are selected by the academy: Recording of the Year, Soloist of the Year, Vocalist of the Year, etc. and features brief live performances by the candidates before the awards are announced.

This popular annual French program, comparable to the "Grammy" awards, airs on Sunday, February 8 at 4:30 pm. on France 3. This year's program is from Metz and announced guests include famed piano duo Katia & Marielle Labèque, keyboard star Lang-Lang, American soprano Joyce DiDonato, counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky (already a two-time winner) and the Ensemble Matheus with their conductor, Jean-Christophe Spinosi.

- Frank Cadenhead

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Today's Birthday in Music: January 21 (Domingo)

1941 - Plácido Domingo, Madrid, Spain; opera and concert tenor, conductor

Official website

Plácido Domingo sings:

"E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca (1992 production, on-site in Rome; Zubin Mehta conducting)

"No puede ser" from the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda by Federico Moreno Torroba (Operalia concert, 2006)

César Franck's Panis Angelicus at the Papal Mass for Pope Benedict, Washington Nationals Park (April 2008)

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 20 (Chausson, Loriod)

1855 - Ernest Chausson, Paris, France; composer


Elly Ameling sings Chausson's Le Colibri with Dalton Baldwin, piano (1980 recording)

1924 - Yvonne Loriod, Houilles, Seine-et-Oise, France; pianist


Yvonne Loriod plays "Le Moqueur Polyglotte" from Olivier Messiaen's Des Canyons aux étoiles

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Gennady Rozhdestvensky Spins Magic

Last November there was a slightly-larger-than-a-teapot tempest in the music world when the esteemed Russian conductor, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, left Boston in a huff when he found himself listed as second fiddle to a cellist in the BSO brochure.

The 77-year-old living legend received a back-of-the-hand apology from Symphony management but Boston critic Jeremy Eichler took them to task for their McMarketing approach, a dumbed-down pitch too often found with American arts organizations.

A few days before the January 9 concert by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, a press release announced than conductor Mikko Franck, the young Finn, was ill - a not infrequent event for this fine talent. When their permanent conductor Myung-Whun Chung is not on the podium, the emphasis recently has been on hot emerging conductors and I was not the only one surprised to find Rozhdestvensky was flown in as the replacement.

Hearing this man conduct the orchestra at Salle Pleyel was a spiritual experience. His broad tempos and depth of understanding are combined with a magic - is there another word? - he has over musicians. Keeping the same program, the first half took on Wagner with a symphony created by the overture to Meistersinger, the prelude to Parsifal and the overture to Tannhauser with Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor to finish off the evening.

Watching the musicians, members of an orchestra which gets little respect, in total awe and playing like they have never done before, was a lesson in the alchemy of great conductors. With a single-minded commitment, finding the right balance between raw passion and precise musicianship (not usually their forte) they were simply inspired. The leader's stretched-to-near-breaking phrasing and unpredictable retards seemed second nature to them, like he was their long-time music director instead of someone who appeared only a day or so before. This is both the blessing and curse of French orchestras. They love the challenge of intemperate music making but dislike the discipline of night-after-night perfection.

On those intemperate nights, however, miracles can happen.

- Frank Cadenhead


Today's Birthdays in Music: January 19 (Rattle, Hotter)

1955 - Simon Rattle, Liverpool, England; conductor


Just Simon: Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmoniker

1909 - Hans Hotter, Offenbach am Main, Germany; opera bass-baritone

Obituary (The Guardian, December 2003)

Hans Hotter sings "Die Frist ist Um" from Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Today's Birthday in Music: January 18 (Ricciarelli)

1946 - Katia Ricciarelli, Rovigo, Italy; opera soprano

Official website (in Italian)

Katia Ricciarelli sings:

The Mad Scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (Bregenz, 1982)

"Bel raggio lusinghier" from Rossini's Semiramide (1981)

Katia Ricciarelli and Lucia Valentini-Terrani sing "Quando corpus morietur" from Pergolesi's Stabat Mater (chorus and orchestra of La Scala, Claudio Abbado conducting; 1979)

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