Frank Dominguez

WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto: Westminster Choir & Waiting for Godot

 

There are few settings in Charleston more idyllic for a concert than the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul. Watching the late afternoon light as it slants through the windows on the west side of the sanctuary, with the stained glass behind the altar providing a dramatic backdrop to the Westminster Choir in their evening attire, you feel like you’re in for a special experience, and indeed, you are.

The Westminster Choir has been the Choir in Residence at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston for many years, since the days when the ensemble was led by the legendary Joseph Flummerfelt. Upon Flummerfelt’s retirement, Joe Miller assumed the role, and he continues the tradition of presenting sublime a cappella concerts in that special hour before a late spring evening gets underway. Miller has distinguished himself by programming especially thoughtful and inventive choral performances, and the concert I attended on Memorial Day is a perfect example of his approach.

Westminster Choir perform at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul.

The Westminster Choir at Charleston’s Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul at the Spoleto Festival USA. Photo by Julia Lynn Photography.

Contemporary settings of sacred texts in Latin formed the bookends of the first part of the concert. “Lux surgit aurea” – “See the golden sun arise” – by Bernat Vivancos harkens back to medieval chant and Renaissance polyphony at the opening and close, but in the middle enters an ethereal, contemporary realm. On the far side of the concert program, “Laudibus in Sanctis” – “Celebrate the Lord Most High” – by Ugis Praulins had dramatic shifts in mood propelled by driving rhythms reminiscent of Carl Orff.

In between there was an Abendstandschen, or Evensong, by Johannes Brahms that featured his characteristically rich choral writing, and a setting by Kile Smith of the words of the Apollo 8 astronauts on Christmas Eve of 1968 which was made otherworldly by the use of hand bells and the resonant droning of high soprano voices.

Spoleto Festival USA's Director of Choral Activities, Joe Miller.

Spoleto Festival USA’s Director of Choral Activities, Joe Miller.
Photo by Julia Lynn Photography.

There was also an infectious pair of folk hymns, sung in the distinctive, American 18th century shape note style of singing. These were sung by a subset of the choir separating from the group and assembling in the crossing between the transepts of the cathedral; and a stirring spiritual, “Yonder Come Day,” with alto soloists Taria Mitchell and Pauline Taumalolo, as well as percussion provided by choir members using a tambourine and a broom handle. Paul Crabtree’s “Death and Resurrection” brought us back to the present day. It concludes with a haunting Shaker text: “Do all your work as though you had a thousand years to live/And as you would if you knew you must die tomorrow.”

The second part of the program consisted of the American folk tunes in choral arrangements that have become a signature of the Westminster Choir, including the nostalgic “Shenandoah.” I have never been to concert by this choir at the festival that hasn’t received a standing ovation at the end, and this one was no exception. In exchange, we were rewarded with two encores, one of them an apt and exquisite setting of the standard, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The choir repeats the program on Saturday, June 3rd.

Druid's Aaron Monaghan, Garrett Lombard, and Marty Rea in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

Druid’s Aaron Monaghan, Garrett Lombard, and Marty Rea in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Photo by Matthew Thompson.

Playwright Samuel Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot has attracted legendary performers, from familiar movie character actors Tom Ewell and Burt Lahr in the first U.S. production, to comic icons Steve Martin and the late Robin Williams, and more recently distinguished knighted thespians Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. No doubt the attraction for performers is the challenge of keeping an audience engaged over two and a half hours of theater where the meaning can be elusive, though the rewards are plentiful. By turns bawdy and poetic, and frequently hilarious, in one sense the play isn’t all that mystifying when taken at face value as a rumination on existence.

The cast of this production from Ireland’s Druid Theater is more than up to the challenge. In their tattered costumes, and with their distinct physical types, they have some of the pathos of silent film comedians, but with their broad physical humor, exaggerated stances, heightened gestures and manic expressions, they seem like Warner Brothers cartoon characters come to life. The team of director Garry Hynes and designer Francis O’Connnor, who worked such magic with the Festival production of the Vivaldi opera Farnace, deliver another visually rich experience with this play. To borrow a recurring bit of dialogue between Vladimir and Estragon: “Is this a good thing?” “It will pass the time.” To which I would add, “It will pass it very well.”

Waiting for Godot has numerous performances through the end of the festival at the Dock Street Theatre. Check the schedule at spoletousa.org for show dates and times.


Make sure you receive each episode of our WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto podcast automatically to your computer or smartphone, visit the WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto page to subscribe.

WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto: Farnace & Yo, Carmen

 

This WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto reviews two productions from the 2017 festival: the US premiere of a once-celebrated, now obscure opera; and the return to Charleston of an internationally acclaimed flamenco dance company.

Antonio Vivaldi is one of my favorite composers, but like most classical music lovers, I know him primarily because of his instrumental concertos, with the set known as The Four Seasons his most familiar and ubiquitous. Yet during his career, Vivaldi enjoyed far more success as an opera composer, and of his more than forty operas, Farnace enjoyed the greatest popularity. So I really looked forward to seeing and hearing my first Vivaldi opera, and the Spoleto Festival USA production running at the Dock Street Theater did not disappoint, with a staging and performance that matched Vivaldi’s music in energy, invention and sheer beauty.

Scene from Farnace. Photo courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA/Leigh Webber Photography.

Scene from Farnace. Photo courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA/Leigh Webber Photography.

The libretto is the opera’s weakest point. The title character is the defeated King of Pontus, who orders his wife to kill their son and then herself rather than subject to humiliation and slavery at the hands of the Roman conquerors. So it’s hard to warm up to this character, to say the least. And his captured sister, the beautiful Selinda, seduces two enemy suitors in order to turn them against their leaders and win her freedom, as well as restore her brother to the throne. By the time all the conflict is resolved happily in the final act, the abruptness of the resolution drew laughter from the festival audience that I’m certain wasn’t the intent of librettist Antonio Lucchini.

But Vivaldi’s music helps you overlook the problems with the story. As in his concertos, the composer finds seemingly infinite variety within the strict formulas of Baroque opera, and his writing, for both voices and orchestra, conveys drama and atmosphere magnificently. The exuberance of military victory; the heartbreak of a father’s grief when he believes his child is dead; and the exquisite longing of an unfulfilled lover; all of these situations and many more are vividly realized in the score.

Augusta Caso performs the role of Gilade in Vivaldi’s Farnace at the Spoleto Festival, USA. Photo courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA/Leigh Webber Photography.

Augusta Caso performs the role of Gilade in Vivaldi’s Farnace at the Spoleto Festival, USA. Photo courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA/Leigh Webber Photography.

Every element of this production serves the opera beautifully, beginning with the exceptional cast. The audience is treated to the rare spectacle (in modern times, at any rate) of two counter-tenor roles: Anthony Roth Costanzo as Farnace, and Nicholas Tamagna as the Roman general Pompeo. Both sing with startling brilliance, and Costanzo manages the near impossible by making us care about Farnace in the heart-rending aria that closes the first act. As the warrior queen Berenice, contralto Kiera Duffy has a stage presence to match her commanding voice, and she masterfully utilizes the flowing headdress given her by costumer Terese Wadden. And soprano Augusta Caso is sensuous and touching in the role of Berenice’s captain Gilade (a role originally written for a male castrato singer, but in this staging turned unambiguously into a female character).

All of the singers act as well as they vocalize, and often do it while sitting, on their knees, and at one point in Farnace’s case, lying face down in grief. Stage director Garry Hynes arranges stunning tableau, and the set design by Francis O’Connor uses spare, simple elements to great effect. A lamp flown down from the above the stage creates Selinda’s prison cell in its shaft of light; a suspended portrait of Farnace draped in black evokes his monument; and the backdrop of an ocean receding into the horizon that’s visible throughout the performance captures as many shades and colors as Vivaldi’s music.

The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra handles the particular demands of the Baroque score deftly under the direction of David Peter Bates, who conducts from the harpsichord. They fill the Dock Street Theater with sound when necessary, but never overpower the singers, and at other times quiet to a thrilling hush that lets the voices shine with subtler emotions.

Farnace has four more performance during the festival on June 2nd, 5th , 7th and 9th. Details are at spoletousa.org.

Regrettably, the presentation by the Maria Pagés Company performed on only two consecutive days early in the festival. But if you ever come across this ensemble again, it will be well worth your while to catch it.

Flamenco luminary MarÍa Pagés brings her work, Yo, Carmen, to the Gaillard Center on May 27 and 28, 2017. Photo courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA / Davind Ruano

Flamenco luminary María Pagés brings her work, Yo, Carmen, to the Gaillard Center on May 27 and 28, 2017. Photo courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA/Davind Ruano

Their program Yo, Carmen – “I, Carmen” – is an ode to womanhood in the fiery language of the flamenco music and dance of the Spanish gypsies. The character from Bizet’s opera (and some of the more familiar parts of its score) serve as reference points for a series of dance vignettes that also employ poetry, song and even a quasi-rap, “Todas las mujeres” – “All the Women.” The production is at once authentic and sophisticated, with the traditional aspects of flamenco blended with elements of modern dance and performance art. The meticulously designed and executed choreography is viscerally stimulating and visually stunning. It’s a shame it couldn’t have a longer run at the festival.


Make sure you receive each episode of our WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto podcast automatically to your computer or smartphone, visit the WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto page to subscribe.

WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto

 

As WDAV embarks on another season visiting the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, it’s inevitable to look back and reminisce. As the writer and producer of our blog posts and podcasts this year, I can’t help but remember my first visit to Spoleto in 2009.

I had heard about the festival for years before that. My mother-in-law – a violinist and music teacher – made an annual pilgrimage to the Dock Street Theater for the chamber music series. But I had no idea about the breadth and scope of the festival until I began covering it for WDAV.

Frank Dominguez

Frank Dominguez

In those days we had an entire team of hosts, producers, audio engineers and support staff gathering interviews, recording performances, and otherwise exploring the varied offerings of the festival. As you might imagine, the enterprise was expensive and proved impossible to sustain, and the festival staff struggled to accommodate our requests to record.

So over time we scaled back our residency, and last year we didn’t visit at all, but continued to bring the festival to WDAV listeners through the excellent Spoleto Chamber Music Series produced by our colleagues at South Carolina Public Radio, and heard on WDAV Saturdays at 11 a.m. April through June.

This year, however, we’re back, and with a slightly different approach: a series of previews, reviews and interviews focused on the current festival season, and available through our blog Of Note, and also through our WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto podcasts. I’m looking forward to sharing the sights and sounds with you, and we’ll still bring you past Spoleto performances through highlights played during our weekday programming, as well as the Saturday radio series.

Let us know what you think about the new Spoleto Festival USA coverage on WDAV, visit our Contact Us page.

And make sure you receive each episode of our WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto podcast automatically to your computer or smartphone, visit the WDAV Dispatch from Spoleto page to subscribe.

The Genesis of Concíerto

Frank Dominguez

Frank Dominguez, WDAV General Manager and Content Director, Host, Concíerto

When Hispanic Heritage Month ends in mid-October, it will coincide with an important milestone for me: the 5th anniversary of the debut of my bilingual classical music program Concierto.

Back then I had been working at WDAV for sixteen years, and had never thought of producing such a program. It was our general manager at the time, Ben Roe, who asked me if I was bilingual, and whether I could produce a classical music program in Spanish. My response was, “Sure… but why?”

Ben explained the potential he saw in such a program to attract a new audience based on the demographic trends evident in the region and the country. I set about the task, and the result has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.

Even though the idea had evaded me, I knew that classical music was loved by many Hispanics and had always been an important part of their cultures. My parents, who immigrated to this country in 1948 with the equivalent of a grade school education, did not know much about classical music. But they knew enough to tune the radio to WQXR in New York where I grew up, and soon realized how drawn I was to the music as a child.

I also had working class relatives who listened to classical music, like my older cousin Frankie who had a bust of Beethoven in his bedroom. And we had neighbors who were passionate about the music like Domingo, who was a doorman on the Upper East Side, but never failed to buy season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera.

On Concierto we alternate classical music by Spanish and Latin American composers with more familiar fare from the likes of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but performed by Hispanic and Latino musicians and ensembles. In this way we demonstrate the deep roots classical music has in Spanish-speaking countries. The bilingual presentation adds an element of authenticity, and hopefully announces to newcomers that they are welcome.

Now five years later Concierto is heard on about 35 stations nationwide, ranging from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the San Fernando Valley in California. The feedback we get from listeners is overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Spanish speakers are delighted to hear their cultures represented in a different and positive way, while English speakers are pleased to discover appealing repertory and artists unfamiliar to them.

I would never have imagined it when I started working at WDAV, but I sure am glad.


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Listen to Concierto on Sunday evenings at 10:00 p.m. on WDAV Classical Public Radio.

Are you in the Charlotte area? Tune into 89.9FM Classical Public Radio.
Prefer to stream? Listen live at WDAV.org or on Apple and Android apps.

WDAV has Olympic Fever

With the Summer Olympic Games starting Friday, the world will be focused on London as athletes from across the world compete for medals in sports from rugby to table tennis. WDAV is turning our focus to the British capital, too. Join us from Friday, July 27 to August 12 for a festival of English music and performers!

The Line Up

FRIDAY: The Opening Ceremonies

  • Our festivities kick off Friday morning with Matt Rogers as he plays each of the Olympic Themes written by composer and conductor John Williams – one per hour of Matt’s program.
  • At noon, Matt brings you the Mozart Café featuring – what else? – Haydn’s “London” Symphony as the main course, plus recipes from Charlotte’s Big Ben Pub.
  • At 5pm, Fred Child hosts Beethoven’s Ninth: Live from London, a special concert to kick off both the BBC Proms – the world’s largest classical music festival – and the London Olympic Games. The broadcast begins with a music-rich pre-game, which includes highlights of the BBC Proms as well as colorful comments from Daniel Barenboim, Olympic athletes, and London locals. Then hear conductor Daniel Barenboim lead the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Beethoven’s last and greatest symphony.

JULY 28-AUGUST 12: The Games

Hear a feast of music by English soloists, conductors and orchestras, and works by composers ranging from William Byrd, John Dowland and Henry Purcell to Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and William Walton.

  • Each weekday at 2pm you can hear a different English Artist Spotlight. We’ll feature a recording by English classical musicians such as pianist Stephen Hough, conductor John Eliot Gardiner, and trumpeter Alison Balsom.
  • Enjoy a different complete symphonic work by an English composer each weeknight on the Symphony @ 7.

It’s a “jolly good show” chock full of English classics from July 27 through August 12.

And keep checking our blog for more Olympic surprises!

 Cheerio,
-Frank Dominguez
Program Director
frdominguez@wdav.org

Happy Birthday Mexico (and “Hola,” Hispanic Heritage Month)!

Today Mexicans are celebrating their nation’s bicentennial, and it’s also the start of Hispanic Heritage Month here in the US. So today we’re sampling selections from a new 2-CD set called Mi alma Mexicana My Mexican Soul – featuring the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas led by their founder, the dynamic young conductor Alondra de la Parra.
You can hear more from conductor Alondra de la Parra this Sunday afternoon at 5 when WDAV premieres her exciting four part series, Mexico at 200, for Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a retrospective of Mexican symphonic music, from the avant-garde of the past to the rising stars of the present.
And be sure to join me Saturday nights at 10 for music by Spanish and Latin American composers and performers on Concierto presented in English and in Spanish.

Remembering a Friend of Classical Music in Charlotte

Last Sunday, the Charlotte-area arts community lost one of its more beloved figures, Dr. George Stegner. For decades he was a music teacher at Queens University (then College) in Charlotte.
He was also well known to Charlotte Symphony patrons for his 37 years of writing the detailed and enlightening program notes for the CSO concerts. He and his wife, Jackie, were a constant presence at local music events. If you bumped into them at a concert, they were always available for pleasant chats about music.
The Stegners supported WDAV from the very beginning. I have many fond memories of George phoning me here at the station to chat about the music I was currently playing on the air, or a piece of music that he felt WDAV listeners would enjoy. And it was always a highlight of my day whenever I saw George and Jackie at the concerts.
I will always hold George dear in my heart. And I am comforted to know that I will still be able to see Jackie at the Friends of Music at Queens concerts.
Details about Dr. George Stegner’s wonderful life are here.

– Ted Weiner, WDAV Music Director

Holiday specials begin on WDAV

Call me crazy, but while other folks are anticipating the turkey and gravy, the favorite side dishes made from family recipes, and the overall feast of goodwill that is Thanksgiving, I look forward to the start of the holiday specials on WDAV.
As Program Director for the station, one of my responsibilities is setting up the broadcast schedule. That means I personally select the holiday specials which we’ll carry, and I decide where on the program schedule they belong to bring good cheer to the maximum number of listeners.

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