Thursday, July 28, 2016

Calmus Vocal Quintet. July 27, 2016.

Richardson Auditorium, Princeton.  Balcony Left (free).

Anja Poche, soprano; Sebastian Krause, counter-tenor; Tobias Poche, tenor; Ludwig Bohme, baritone; Manuel Helmeke, bass.

Program: ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE - Shakespeare a Capella

The was the fourth and last of the Princeton Summer Free Chamber Music series for this season, and is the third one I attended.  The ensemble is all all-voice group, and I believe this was my first encounter with a group like this (not counting the isolated instances.)

The group at the end of the first half.

While I can carry a tune, I don’t think I have as much appreciation of the voice as an instrument as “instrument” instruments.  So my expectations weren’t that high when I sat down.  Anne and I came away very satisfied, happy that we went even though we couldn’t get tickets on line and had to drive to Princeton without knowing if we would be turned away.  Of course that wasn’t really expected as we had never seen a full auditorium.

The selection of music reminded me of yesterday Mostly Mozart concert.  Yesterday the songs were picked because they had to do with emotions.  For today most of the songs were selected because they were written to Shakespeare’s lyrics.  Many of them were arranged for the quintet by one of the musicians in the group.

The Concert Program.

Each of the members also took turn to talk a bit about the music, which added quite a bit of appreciation when the songs were performed.  There were some musicological insights as well, but I frankly didn’t get all of it, and in any case don’t remember much of it.

The one aspect that was interesting to me was while the pieces range from being written in the 17th century (or even earlier) to the 20th, the “styles” were not all that different.  Take as an exmaple the group of three songs chosen for their association with “Twelfth Night.”  One was written by Purcell, the other two were written by the Finnish composer Jaakko Mantyjarvi (b. 1963) and Nancy Wertsch (b.1943).  If I hadn’t read the program, I wouldn’t have placed the composers that far apart.  Now that may just point to my lack of music knowledge, but I certainly won’t make the same mistake with instrumental music, or operas for that matter.

One reason I put forward is one can make an inanimate instrument do all sorts of atonal stuff.  As long as you hit the right key or have the finger in the right place, the music will come out.  With a capella singing however, the artists are limited by more natural intervals (I won’t go into the physics, but octaves, fifths, and thirds are more natural than fourths and sevenths, for instance.)  With instruments provided a reference (from an accompanist, for example), most competent musicians can get the note right.  However, if all you have are other people’s voices, then the music has to be written more “naturally.”  And perhaps all this is nonsense.

Each of the individual voices was great, but when put together they just produced incredibly nice music.  Perhaps due to their German background (the group hails from Leipzig), the singers for the most part just stood there, but the coordination among them was simply incredible, they all did their t’s and d’s and the same time, and ended their notes at the same time.

While the songs were sung in English (it’s Shakespeare after all), I had trouble with a lot of the words.  For encore they sang Brahms’s Waldensnacht, in German of course.  An all-Shakespeare program for a first encounter is a bit on the heavy side, so one wish I have is a more varied program so I could appreciate more the musical range a vocal ensemble can provide.

There is something about Princeton during the summer.  At 9:30 pm there were still lots of people out and about.  Of course there was no one on Broadway when we got back to South Amboy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Louis Langree, conductor. July 26, 2016.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat JJ15, $39.50).

The Illuminated Heart – Selections from Mozart’s Operas

Kiera Duffy, soprano; Christine Goerke, soprano; Ana Maria Martinez, soprano; Nadine Sierra, soprano, Marianne Crebassa, mezzo-soprano; Daniela Mack, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Polenzani, tenor; Christopher Maltman, Bariton; Peter Mattei, baritone.

There were quite a few sales for Mostly Mozart tickets by Lincoln Center and through, and I have bought tickets for five of these concerts so far.  We decided we will take advantage of our being in New Jersey through early September.

Having been busy with a couple of issues, I didn’t have the time to research tonight’s program, other than it’s selection from Mozart’s operas.  And I made the mistake of thinking the concert starts at 8:00 pm.  Chung Shu came by to pick us up at 5:30 pm – I having turned down his suggestion of 5 pm because of said mis-conception – and we got to Lincoln Center only a little before 7 pm, so we managed to get into our seats a few minutes before curtain after grabbing a quick meal at Europan.  That also meant I had no time to read the Playbill beforehand.

That might have helped.  I will get back to that later.

The selected pieces are from the operas Le nozze di Figaro (1786), Die Zauberflote (1791), La clemenza di tito (1791), Zaide (1779-80), Don Giovanni (1787), and Idomeneo, re di Creta (1781).  The one opera I had not seen – nor had heard of – is Zaide.

As the opera stage, we have a box that tapers a bit, and for different arias different projections were used to depict scenery for the occasion.  The orchestra occupied the first few rows at the orchestra level.  The singers were all in costumes, most period, but some period-indeterminate (e.g., Idomeneo.)

The stage worked quite well.  Although the projections would fool no one, they did provide proper settings for the arias being sung.  Most interesting was what happened during the overture.  Mozart’s signature was projected on to the back of the box, and as the overture progressed a maid was there erasing the signature, and the signature actually disappeared.  I couldn’t figure out what the trick was.

The overture was delightfully performed.  It also illustrated the limitations of the MM Festival Orchestra: as the pace accelerated towards the end, one sensed that the orchestra was barely hanging on and began to lose the crispness called for in the piece.  Since my attention was on the singers after the overture, I cannot comment on how they did.  To their credit the cooperation with the singers was seamless.

The singers all did well.  The two names I recognized were Goerke and Polenzani.  Turns out I had heard quite a few of them at the Met, mostly in secondary roles.  Sierra was a new name, and I was impressed with how well she sang.

Curtain call.  Singers and Langree on stage.  This is Mostly Mozart's Fiftieth Year.

After the concert both Anne and I thought this was an opportunity lost.  Perhaps it is just us, when we think of these operas (except Zaide that we didn’t know anything about), we all have their iconic arias in mind (e.g., the Queen of the Night song from the Magic Flute) and most of them were not sung.  The program concluded with the Act IV finale from the Marriage of Figaro, where all nine singers were on stage.

Before I wrote the above, I had the chance to read up on a couple of articles in the Playbill.  They added some insight into the selection of pieces: they reflect intense moments in the operas.  Indeed, in the Program Notes there is a short description of each of the arias and the emotions associated with them.  But still I insist there could be a better selection of pieces.

We also wonder how much this set up (it is a debut) cost, and if it could be reused somewhere else.  At least today’s attendance was close to a “full house” (no third tier), but I imagine MM can’t be awash with money.

The New York Times review is based on the Monday performance.  Despite all the praise of the individual aspects of the production and singers, the reviewer in the final analysis panned it, describing the program as “while clearly organized with care, it felt a bit scatter shot.  And also a bit insubstantial …”, concluding with “The performance, attractive and polished, didn’t teach us anything about Mozart that we didn’t already know.” (Ouch!)  I think Woolfe is expecting too much of these events.

The 90-minute program was performed without an intermission, so it was around 10:15 pm when Chung Shu dropped us off at home.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The International Organ Summer Hallgrimskirkja 2016 - Sigrun Magna Thorsteinsdottir, organist. July 7, 2016.

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik (ISK 2000).

Konan og drekinn by Hildigunnur Runarsdottier (b. 1964)
-          A woman clothed with the Sun
-          The Salvation and the Power
-          Michael’s Angels
Chorale, op. 3, No. 1 in B-dur and Andante, op. 3, No. 5 in a-moll by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1874).
Festal March (1993) and Adoration (1951) by Florence B. Price (1887-1953).
Fiesta by Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927).

This church, designed with a basalt theme, is the tallest building in Reykjavik.  The Klais Concert Organ dominates the entry to the building.  Quoting the brochure, the organ has 4 keyboards and pedals, 72 voices and 5275 pipes.  It is 15 meters high, weighs about 25 tons, and the largest pipes are about 10 meters tall.  The brochure makes the further claim that the organ has an international reputation as a magnificent concert instrument.

Hallgrimskirkja.  The columns are supposed to represent basalt lava flows.  One can ride an elevator to the top of the tower and get a 360-degree view of Reykjavik.

The pipe organ dominates the backwall of the nave (i.e. the main entrance).

Closeup view of the keyboard.

During summer various organ concerts are held at the church, including one every Thursday.  We caught this one after our city tour.  We were surprised that there were over 100 people in attendance.

Today’s concert was an all-woman affair.  The soloist is the organist at the Akureyri Church.  There is a short description of each work in the program.  Of note is Florence B. Price, who was African American.  She lived during a period when a black person wasn’t welcome everywhere in the country, and moved around until she settled in Chicago.

We sat very close to the organist, and could see how she worked the different parts of the instrument.  At some point someone had to help with some switches.

They served coffee afterwards, which makes this very much like a church function.  We took the elevator to the top of the tower and had a great view of the city.

Reykjavik Classics @ Harpa – Mozart. July 5, 2016.

Eldborg Hall at Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland. Orchestra Center (ISK 3500).

Prograasy in D minor, K. 397 by Mozart.
Flute Quartet in D major, K. 285.

Artists.  Nina Magret Grimsdottir.  Ari Thor Vihjalmsson, violin; Ashildur Haraldsdottir, flute; Sigurdur Bjarki Gunnarsson, cello; Thorunn Osk Marinosdottir, viola.

We landed at the airport this morning, and after putting our luggage in a locker, we went on a puffin-seeing cruise before we came to Harpa to purchase tickets.

Harpa was started during Iceland’s halcyon banking days, but work had to stop as many of the banks that funded the project had collapsed during the financial crisis of 2007.  There was much discussion of what should be done with the half-completed building, from tearing it down to repurposing it.  The final decision was to proceed with the $200 million (US) project, but at a lower pace.  Harpa was completed in 2012.

It is a building enclosed by a glass structure consisting of mostly polygons, situated right at the water front.  Most of Reykjavik’s buildings in this area have a conservative design, so the building really stands out.

Harpa as seen from the Harbor.

What we were told was that there was tremendous demand from “international visitors” (tourists?) to hear the acoustics of the hall.  Since there are usually few classical concerts during the summer, this series of short concerts filled the gap.  Hopefully the modest ticket price can provide some struggling artists with support.

Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor is a familiar piece for piano students, and we had heard it practiced multiple times in our house.  Grimsdottir, who is also the artistic director for Reykjavik Classics, was the soloist.

The Mozart piece is mostly flute, with several thematic violin passages.  The players, especially the flutist, put in a spirited performance.  The movements are Allegro, Adagio, and Rondo.

Indeed our seats had great acoustics.  All the musicians, except the violist, were trained at some point in the US.

Curtain Call.

The hall seats 1,800, perhaps 50 people showed up.  The quartet played a short encore piece, thus we end up over the 30-minute time limit by a little.

It was an enjoyable half hour, and we got to see the inside of the concert hall.