L’Opéra: On Se Souviens De Toi, Sappho (We Remember You, Sappho)

April 12, 2015

OrpheusShot1

Présenté pour la première fois avec mis en scène, [à la compagnie Ballet-Opéra-Pantomime, directeur Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse] l’opéra Orpheus on Sappho’s Shore de Luna Pearl Woolf s’est révélé une fascinante et onirique proposition artistique: la rencontre de ces deux figures de la Grèce antique, Orphee et Sappho, deux allegories anciennes de l’art et de la passion. L’oeuvre s’enracine dans l’idéal des grans madrigalistes italiens qui désiraient marier poésie et musique, danse et theater. D’ailleurs, la partition de Woolf comporte de nombreuse mélopées ayant un je-ne-sais-quoi de baroque dans la souplesse et la délicatesse de la ligne vocale. La compositrice fait prevue d’une belle sensibilité et d’un grand attachement pour ses personnages, ce qui reflète dans une musique simple et brillante, efficace et théàtrale. Et comment ne pas être touché à la fin de l’opéra par ce vers authentique de Sappho: “Je crois qu’un jour, on se souviendra de nous,” chanté avec toute la douceur du monde sur un éclairage entre chien et loup.

Jana Miller et Hubert Tanguay-LabrossePresented for the first time with staging [by Québec company Ballet-Opéra-Pantomime, director Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse], the opera Orpheus on Sappho’s Shore by Luna Pearl Woolf proved itself a fascinating and dreamy artistic proposal: the meeting of two figures of ancient Greece, Orpheus and Sappho – two ancient allegories for art and passion. The work is rooted in the ideals of the Italian madrigalists who sought to combine poetry with music, dance and theater. Moreover, Woolf’s score includes numerous melodies with a Baroque je-ne-sais-quoi in the suppleness and delicacy of their vocal lines. The composer proves herself to have a lovely sensitivity and great affection for her characters, reflected in a music both natural and brilliant, effective and theatrical. And how not to be touched at the end of the opera by the words of the real Sappho: “I think someone will remember us,” sung with all the sweetness in the world on a twilit stage.

By: Éric Champagne

Read at: L’Opéra

New York Classical Review: Haimovitz and O’Riley team up for intimate and revelatory Beethoven

April 12, 2015

Cellist Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley, at the fortepiano, played Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano in two separate concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday. As pioneering as the best of this music is, there is relatively little of it. On the fine CD that Haimovitz and O’Riley issued early this year, “Beethoven, Period,” the total works amount to two hours and twenty minutes.

The CD title, and O’Riley’s choice of instrument, gives away the special quality of these performances. Haimovitz played an early 18th century cello, fitted with gut strings and a rosewood tailpiece, and wielded a bow made by the celebrated 19th-century luthier Dominique Peccatte. At the museum, O’Riley played a modern replica of a six-and-a-half octave, 1830 Viennese fortepiano.

Period instruments commonly means a specific manner of playing, characteristically fast tempos and no vibrato in the strings, but what made this concert special was how the musicians used the instruments as a means to express their own interpretations, free of any particular stylistic dictates for how the music should go and of any didactic extremism.

Their brief but informative program notes described their thinking, how the fortepiano, with its jangle-y color and curt sustain doesn’t have the sonic power of the modern piano, and how the period cello, itself less resonant than its modern counterpart, has to leave space for its companion to be heard.

Beyond that technical challenge, at the second and final program Saturday evening, the pair played with a vibrant level of communication with each other and with the music. Every phrase and gesture was an opportunity to share, or respond, with each other and the audience, something they found meaningful in the music. Everything had a dynamic and rhythmic shape, and an expressive purpose. That seemed an ideal approach; like Beethoven’s violin sonatas, these are lively conversations.

The concert began with the Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen,” Pamina and Papagano’s duet from Die Zauberflöte, and the prominence of the fortepiano as an equal with what is usually the solo instrument is immediate—the keyboard plays Pamina’s opening melody, the cello the response.

The seven variations that follow make for one of Beethoven’s parlor works, music meant for pleasure and entertainment. The music perked up everyone’s attention—without the carry of modern instruments, the audience had to extend their ears a bit more toward the musicians. And so the sonatas that followed were intimate and absorbing. Working in chronological order, Haimovitz and O’Riley played Op. 69, then the two Op. 102 sonatas, Beethoven’s final works in the form.

The fundamental contrast in the instruments made the music sound that much better, the sharp, bright attack of the fortepiano expressed charm and rhythmic vitality, while the cello’s gut strings, which naturally emulate the human vocal chords, added a few milliseconds of envelop to every attack. The contrast between colors and long and short sounds seemed exactly what Beethoven was hearing in his head when he wrote the music.

The rhythmic tension in parts like the scherzo of Op. 69, the finale of Op. 102, No. 1, and the opening movement of Op. 102, No. 2—where the fortepiano seems to egg on the reluctant cello—was unusual and deeply satisfying. Haimovitz and O’Riley amiably debated exactly how the phrases should go, with no single correct answer. There was sufficient common ground so that the agreement to disagree opened up a whole new way of hearing the music.

With the fortepiano especially, O’Riley could play Beethoven’s tense, jaunty, explosive rhythms with a minimum of effort and a maximum of natural effect, they sounded far more danceable than usual. Meanwhile, Haimovitz played the melodic lines in the sonatas—some of Beethoven’s loveliest—with a light touch of vibrato at only the start of sustained tones, and with a swelling expression that followed the rise and fall of his phrases. He made everything sing.

The musicians’ grasp of the large-scale form was impressive. They took a minimum of breaks between individual movements, mainly so Haimovitz could retune, and were constantly driving forward, playing each note and measure with great musicality while also grasping the role each passage had in the powerful logic of Beethoven’s architecture.

Hearing these two gifted musicians working together with such pleasure and mutual understanding was like seeing two people collaborate on a challenging crossword puzzle, at high speed—fascinating in the moment, and, once the mind caught up to what they were doing, uncanny and dazzling.

By: 

Read at: New York Classical Review

Second Inversion: NEW VIDEOS: Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley at the Tractor Tavern

February 19, 2015

In case you missed these on Facebook and Twitter, be sure to check out these videos with Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley from the iconic Tractor Tavern in the heart of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

(Yes, that is a styrofoam cup in Matt’s cello)

(Beethoven in a Bar… why not?!)

Read at: Second Inversion

The New York Times: Her Art, Her Passion, Her Torment: Joyce DiDonato Celebrates Camille Claudel at Zankel Hall

February 6, 2015

Joyce DiDonato at Zankel Hall with the Brentano String Quartet: from left, Serena Canin, Mark Steinberg, Nina Lee and Misha Amory. Credit: Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

The life of the French sculptor Camille Claudel is a tangle of art, passion, madness and betrayal. A student and lover of Rodin’s, Claudel was a critically acclaimed artist when she began to show signs of mental distress, which led her family to commit her to an institution, where she spent the remaining 30 years of her life.

On Thursday at Zankel Hall, the incandescent mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato presented the New York premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Camille Claudel: Into the Fire.” Set for voice and string quartet, the work compresses a tragic life of operatic dimensions into a song cycle of great beauty and emotional resonance.

Ms. DiDonato is one of this season’s artists in the Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall, tasked with assembling a group of concerts that reflect her own interests. At first glance, these seem eclectic: Thursday’s program, which featured the fiercely eloquent Brentano String Quartet, also included instrumental music by Charpentier and Debussy, as well as the world premiere of “Mother Songs,” a set of lullabies composed by amateurs, resulting from an outreach program of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.

But at a closer glance, there was a narrative cohesion to the concert that revealed Ms. DiDonato’s intelligence as a storyteller. Debussy’s seething String Quartet provided a backdrop for Claudel’s personal drama, a Parisian arts scene humming with innovation yet anchored in the kind of classicism of which Charpentier’s “Concert Pour Quatre Parties de Violes” is an elegant example. The Brentano Quartet performed both with stylistic finesse; in the Debussy, the juxtaposition of blurry textures and bright explosions of sound vividly evoked Impressionist painting.

The titles of Mr. Heggie’s songs, with texts by Gene Scheer, are those of some of Claudel’s sculptures, allowing her work to remain in the foreground, even as the songs explore her personal turmoil. Ms. DiDonato gave a riveting performance that ranged from the unkempt eroticism of “Shakuntala” to the hollow despair with which she sang the final line, “Thank you for remembering me.”

The touching simplicity of “Mother Songs,” written in a gospel-tinged American vernacular, with spun-sugar arrangements by the composer Luna Pearl Woolf, may seem far removed from Claudel’s wild genius. But the authors, women who had teamed up with teaching artists from the Weill Music Institute during their pregnancies, drafted these lullabies facing their own struggles. Of the four women represented in Ms. DiDonato’s performance, one had been homeless during her pregnancy, two were teenagers, and one was incarcerated on Rikers Island.

Ms. DiDonato’s tender performance of their songs alongside her tribute to Claudel thus became a gesture of defiant compassion.

By: CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM

Read at: The New York Times 

SF Examiner: Duo plays Beethoven as Beethoven would have wished

February 05, 2015
Cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley play Beethoven on period instruments at the S.F. Conservatory or Music. - COURTESY  PHOTO

Rarely does an encounter with the past forever change a musician’s relationship with his instrument. But when Grammy-nominated cellist Matt Haimovitz joined with pianist-NPR host Christopher O’Riley to perform and record Beethoven’s Sonatas and Variations for Piano and Cello on period instruments, he hardly expected that their move to authenticity would open an entirely new range of musical possibilities.When Matt, as he prefers to be called, outfitted his precious 1710 Goffriller cello with the same authentic ox-gut strings that were used in Beethoven’s day, and played them with a bow from Beethoven’s era, he discovered the changes were like night and day.

“I love the gut so much!” he exclaimed in a conference call with his duo partner. “Gut is so much more human to me, and it allows me so much more flexibility and range of attack and resonance. My fear with gut strings all along was that I was going to lose my voice. Quite the opposite has happened. More and more, I’m finding that the sound of gut strings is my ideal.”

That’s quite a switch for someone who wrote his graduate thesis on Beethoven at Harvard 25 years ago, and who has struggled ever since with the fact that, in Beethoven, a cello outfitted with modern metal strings does not balance well with a modern piano.

When the duo arrives at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Tuesday night, Chris will play the same 1823 Broadwood fortepiano he used for the recording. On loan from the Beethoven Center at San Jose State, it’s very similar to the Broadwood in Beethoven’s possession. Tuning both fortepiano and cello a microtone lower than “modern pitch” will further replicate the sound that Beethoven heard in his head.

“There’s a whole world of color and articulation available when you’re not having to worry 80 percent of the time whether you’ll be heard or not,” says Chris of the period instruments’ superior blend. “If I had known 30 years ago what I know now, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the fact that the modern Steinway’s bass, as much as I love it, is at complete odds with a lot of Beethoven’s music. On the fortepiano, the bass is still penetrating, but the upper, lyric registers are much more singing.”

Since Chris no longer has to hold back, and Matt no longer needs to struggle to be heard over a 9-foot concert grand, Beethoven’s music should flow in a manner seldom heard with modern instruments.

“When we play the slow movement of the last sonata,” says Matt, “I don’t think you have to know anything about music to just close your eyes and take in such a hauntingly beautiful sound world.”

IF YOU GO

Beethoven, Period

with Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley

Where: S.F. Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10

Tickets: Free

Contact: (415) 503-6275, http://www.sfcm.edu

Read at: SF Examiner

The Morning Call: Review: Symphony, guest cellist show passion, poise, panache

November 4, 2014

Elgar’s brooding, anguished cello concerto is a beautifully bitter pill to swallow, taken by itself. So when the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, joined by renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz, tackled the monumental work Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Miller Symphony Hall, it cleverly sweetened the bill. Sugar coating the Elgar on one side was the Pennsylvania premiere of Roberto Sierra’s bouncy “Montuno.” On the other side: Beethoven’s uplifting Symphony No. 5 on the other.

It is difficult to hear Elgar’s E Minor Cello Concerto without some comparison, subliminal or otherwise, to the version performed by the English cellist Jacqueline du Pré. If Haimovitz lacked some of du Pré’s spontaneity, he more than made up for it with his passion and poise.

His rich, buttery tone was a perfect match for the work’s weeping tearfulness. Indeed, in the first movement his cello sounded almost chant-like, channeling a sense of sadness akin to Max Bruch’s setting of the Hebrew prayer Kol Nidrei.

The work was not without its flights of idyllic release, but these were brief and countered with stuttering cello pizzicatos and bowed sighs. Smooth glissandos rounded out the lyrical second movement, while in the third Haimovitz soared up into the instrument’s highest registers. The orchestra, sounding string-rich, performed splendidly — an ideal soul-mate for the anguished voice of Haimovitz’s cello.

“Montuno” was a slinky, seductive fusion of Spanish guitar and vocal music with the vibrant rhythms of Afro-Cuban percussion. Heavily based on the clave, a traditional Latin rhythmic pattern, the piece opened with the slow, rhythmical tapping of the claves — a pair of short wooden dowels found in African, Cuban and Brazilian music.

From there it bloomed into a vibrant series of variations, each successively more energetic — à la Ravel’s “Bolero” — before coming to an exhilarating close. The work’s complex Latin rhythms were wonderfully orchestrated, and played by the orchestra with finesse at the Sunday afternoon concert I attended.

Conductor Diane Wittry put new life into Beethoven’s fifth symphony by performing the old warhorse at the scalding tempo of nearly 108 beats per minute, which is where Beethoven originally wanted it. Not only that, she re-arranged the string section, placing the second violins on stage right — again, a common practice in Beethoven’s day. The outcome was a stunning gem of a performance, with clarity, crispness and panache.

Most surprising in the performance was the second movement, which at its brisk andante con moto pace revealed more da-da-da-DUMs in its structure than usually heard. They were everywhere — in the main theme, the counter-themes, the cellos, the woodwinds. The entire orchestra was a pleasure to hear throughout the work — too bad the rapid pace brought it to a close so quickly.

By: Steve Siegel

Read at: The Morning Call

Arts ATL: Review: Locked-out ASO musicians perform DIY concert with guest cellist Matt Haimovitz

October 16, 2014

 

IMG_3255-credit-Mark-Gresham-1024x640

On Tuesday evening, the ATL Symphony Musicians presented their most recent concert at the spacious Dunwoody United Methodist Church. The small orchestra was led by Richard Prior, composer and director of orchestral studies at Emory University. They were joined by cellist Matt Haimovitz as featured guest soloist in the evening’s interesting mixed bag of orchestral, chamber and solo works.

The performance was one of several scheduled by the musicians since they were locked out by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra management on September 7 after the two sides failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The concert was attended by about 400 people, less than a full house.

Haimovitz opened the concert with a pair of unaccompanied cello works: the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 and “Seventh Avenue Kaddish” by David Sanford, the latter a remembrance commissioned by Haimovitz after the tragedies of 9/11. The emotionally harrowing work places the cellist near Ground Zero, in the guise of a saxophone-wielding street musician playing “as buildings collapse, debris blinds, dust suffocates” and yet continues to wail because he can do nothing else.

He was then joined by ASO principal percussionist Tom Sherwood for a deeply moving performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s “Mariel” for cello and marimba, in which the composer “attempted to capture that short instant before grief, in which one learns of the sudden death of a friend who was full of life.”

Three ASO cellists — principal Christopher Rex, Brad Ritchie and Dona Klein then joined Haimovitz for Sanford’s four-cello arrangement of “Blood Count” by jazz composer and pianist Billy Strayhorn, his last finished composition for Duke Ellington before dying of esophageal cancer in 1967. This version captured well the bittersweet beauty of Ellington’s rendition, with solo part by Haimovitz echoing the spirit of saxophonist Johnny Hodges, who died only a few years after Strayhorn.

While Haimovitz took a break, the orchestra assembled and Prior conducted one of his own compositions, “elegy for aurora,” a poignant work written for the Aurora High School in Colorado in response to the tragic movie theater shooting that occurred in that city in 2012.

Aside from the Bach Prelude, the concert’s centerpiece, Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C — which closed the concert — was the only respite from what seemed the program’s relentless themes of tragedy and death. With the Haydn work, Haimovitz and the orchestra succeeded in bringing the evening to an energized, sunny and, most importantly, hopeful close.

Haimovitz had already been scheduled to be an artist-in-residence at Emory University this week, but agreed to arrive a day early to perform with the ATL Symphony Musicians, a move that some warned him was a professional risk. Haimovitz provided the following statement to ArtsATL about his decision to play:

I have never before taken sides in a labor dispute, but my gut said, “Yes!” In tumultuous times we need music more then ever, for the musicians, for the community, for music’s sake. 

Before confirming my participation, I polled some music industry folks whose expertise and opinion I respect. Nearly across the board I received stern warnings against participating in such a concert and “appearing to take sides” in the dispute. I was told “if you do this, you will never again be hired by a major symphony orchestra.” I have never made life or artistic decisions based on that, so the warnings sounded hollow to me.

I do not profess to have any knowledge of the orchestra’s budget or deficit. Clearly there are issues to work out with the model. Will any symphony orchestra look the same 20 years from now? I doubt it, and I hope not. But I am a musician who is concerned about the priority and state of culture in our society today. If that debate were taking place, in good faith, with the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony, I would not have played. But it is not, and the decision to join them and make music was an easy one. 

Haimovitz will premiere Prior’s Concerto this Saturday with the composer conducting the Emory University Symphony Orchestra in a free concert at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Just so there is no public confusion: that concert is unrelated to the ATL Symphony Musicians, who will themselves present a chamber music concert on Friday, the night before, in Kellett Chapel at Peachtree Presbyterian Church.

By: Mark Gresham

Read at: Arts ATL

The Montreal Gazette: Review: OSM’s Classical Spree a great way to discover music

August 17, 2014

MONTREAL — When a weekend leaves you shaking at the doctor’s with bloodshot eyes and dehydration, it’s not usually because of classical music. This one was an exception. The Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal’s Classical Spree filled Place des Arts with 25,000 people for a musical triantathalon of concerts, and us obsessives, the ones who tried to hear all of them, came to recognize each other by sight and smell.

The programming was excellent despite some unavoidable padding by mouldy or well-connected soloists. Friday’s highlight was a concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place, his sequel to Trouble in Tahiti that jumps thirty years to see how the family ends up. It’s a dark work, a montage of dysfunction whose hopeful notes of reconciliation are overshadowed — literally, in this minimally-staged production, by her coffin above the stage — because it is suicide that brings the family together.

There are a few versions of the opera, which premiered in 1983. Bernstein reworked it in 1986 to include many parts of Trouble in Tahiti as flashbacks, but there’s no time for any of that on a spree, so we heard the North American premiere of Garth Edwin Sunderland’s edit, commissioned by Nagano last year in Berlin. It zips by at 90 minutes and brings out the contrast between the musically adventurous first act, which takes place between a sardonic wash of half-intelligible commentary from a group of mourners and the tense arrivals of the family — an isolated, angry father, Sam, and his two estranged kids, now adults, who live in a bisexual marriage triangle — and the clearer, more dramatic second and third acts. Baritone Gordon Bintner was electric as troubled Junior — though his character’s connection of mental illness and homosexuality is troubling — and bass baritone Nathan Berg was superb as the desperate and furious Sam. There were no duds in a cast of 14 — not bad — and the OSM winds and brass had a particularly fine outing.

Saturday put the Orford Academy Orchestra with tenor Marc Hervieux, who sounds better in recital than running around an opera, for four of Mahler’s break-up cycle, Songs of a Wayfarer, in a very full Maison. Hervieux’s German has a softness that suited the tender songs best, and conductor Jean-François Rivest’s attentiveness brought out their most delicate textures with the talented ensemble of young musicians, who were brought together only three weeks before the performance. They finished with a totally appropriate whipping of Stravinsky’s Firebird; explosions and stops like a trap door blowing open and slamming shut. Great stuff.

After that we ran to hear a rare concert of Bartok’s exhaustingly youthful Quintet. Special events like the Spree can take programmatic chances, like this one, because they have an unusual flexibility in rooms — there were empty seats even in the Cinquième Salle — and a fantastic selection of musicians. Violinists Vadim Repin and Andrew Wan, violist Neal Gripp, cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Andreï Korobeinikov produced a jewel, murky in a few facets, but one of those performances that lodge in your head for years. A strong case for this forgotten piece.

The Spree is a great time whatever my doctor says. It’s a pleasure to jostle through Place des Arts past grandparents and families gathering to see how instruments work up close. We need more of this friendliness in our concerts.

By: Antoine Saito

Read at: The Montreal Gazette

All Things Strings: Montreal Chamber Music Festival: Bravo Beethoven

May 23, 2014

Montreal Chamber Music Festival: Bravo Beethoven

Thursday, May 22, 2014, St. George’s Anglican Church

It was billed as “Bravo Beethoven,” but it might just as well have been called “Bravo Denis Brott.” For even though the distinguished cellist, who founded the Montreal Chamber Music Festival 19 years ago and has since served as its heart and artistic director, was laid up at home with a bad cold, the music that was made at St. George’s Anglican Church on Thursday night was the ideal that Brott had envisaged: teamwork and technique, all combined into a series of performances that illuminated Beethoven with eloquent poetry and stunning beauty.

Throughout the evening, the phrasing was linked to a compelling musical flow in which violinist Giora Schmidt, violist Marcus Thompson, cellist Matt Haimovitz (subbing for Brott as if he had been the intended cellist all along), and pianist Angela Cheng explored the dimensions of the music with the kind of ensemble playing.           Continue reading

Mountain Lake, PBS: Mélange à Trois

May 17, 2014
MÉLANGE À TROIS is an instrumental theater work, set for violin, cello and percussion. In this voiceless opera, each musician embodies a character in an enchanting tale of misplaced love.

MÉLANGE À TROIS is an instrumental theater work, set for violin, cello and percussion. In this voiceless opera, each musician embodies a character in an enchanting tale of misplaced love.

After first hearing Krystina Marcoux’s fiery, solo performance of Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto back in 2013, it was with a lot of anticipation that I attended Luna Pearl Woolf’s original voiceless opera Mélange à Trois with the BIK ensemble last Friday, May 16th at McGill University’s Pollack Hall. Continue reading