After eight years of hosting Sunday evenings at WDAV, Thomas “Tom” Burge will host his final show on June 24, 2018.
Upon reflecting on his time working with the station, Burge shared the following message:
Sunday, June 24 is my final show. I can’t believe it. WDAV took a chance eight years ago, and we’ve been going strong since then, and loving it. But unlike Leonard Bernstein who seemed to fit many professional lives into one, the time has come for me to hang up the mic and focus on my performance and teaching career.
Thank you so much for the opportunity, for the fun, for the good friends I have made at WDAV and in the community, and through this true wonder of classical music.
It’s not really a goodbye, though! Please come and find me at performances! I’ll still be around the cultural circles and sharing music – it’s what I do!
Please keep the love of classical music alive, and support this wonderful station, and all the live music organizations in this region!
And so, as Beethoven said so beautifully in his 25th Piano Sonata,
Pictured: Elliot Madore in the US premiere of Tree of Codes, with music and libretto by Liza Lim. Photo by William Struhs.
By Lawrence Toppman
Every opera at Spoleto Festival USA that gets a U.S. premiere – in this case, both fully-staged offerings for 2018 – begins as a mystery. Have long-lost pieces by masters been unreasonably neglected? Have current composers remained obscure for a reason?
On the evidence of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Pia de’ Tolomei” and Liza Lim’s “Tree of Codes,” which run in repertory through June 8, I’d answer “Yes” to both questions.
Donizetti and librettist Salvatore Cammarano, who collaborated on eight operas, premiered “Lucia di Lammermoor” in 1835. “Pia” came along two years later and seems like a little sister: Beautiful, worth knowing, but living in the shadow of an immortal.
Amanda Woodbury and Valdis Jansons in the U.S. premiere of Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei. Photo by William Struhs.
The authors took “Pia” from a quatrain in “Purgatorio,” where Dante writes of people who were penitent at the times of sudden violent deaths. Nello, Pia’s jealous husband, imprisoned her after an accusation of infidelity by Ghino, who wanted her but couldn’t tempt her. The man she keeps in the shadows is her brother, Rodrigo, who has escaped jail as a political refugee.
The libretto’s no clumsier than most from the mid-19th century, and director Andrea Cigni makes it more plausible and relevant by updating it to Fascist Italy in the pre-war 1930s. Rodrigo has been jailed not for belonging to a different family but for leading the Resistance; Ghino’s unconvincing fatal wound in battle in the original narrative has become an accidental killing at the hands of sentries.
Cassandra Zoe Velasco (center) in Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei. Photo by William Struhs.
Pia now tries to save great art from destruction by right-wingers, including a portrait of her by Eliseo Sala (painted after the opera premiered). This irrelevant but unobtrusive subplot doesn’t hold the production back. Nothing could on opening night, including a power outage at Sottile Theatre that left only one floodlight operating at last. (Well, the final scene is set in a dungeon.)
Matthew Anchel (center) in the U.S. premiere of Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei. Photo by Leigh Webber.
The melodies show Donizetti near the peak of his skill, from one of the soprano-mezzo duets he loved — this time in friendship, not enmity — to a somber “Lucia”-like ensemble for four soloists and chorus. Amanda Woodbury’s creamy soprano served the title role well, and Cassandra Zoe Velasco’s hefty voice made Rodrigo a presence with whom to be reckoned. Isaac Frishman’s small, flexible tenor put Ghino’s arias across in the smallish hall, and baritone Valdis Jansons brought unexpected complexity to the mostly snarly Nello.
Spoleto’s pick-up orchestra, augmented in “Pia” by Westminster Choir, remains a marvel, and Lidiya Yankovskaya conducted with the brio and tenderness this opera demands. Those same musicians played with equally scrupulous dedication for conductor John Kennedy in “Tree of Codes,” though nobody in the audience would’ve known if they’d hit clinker after clinker.
Elliot Madore in Tree of Codes, with music and libretto by Liza Lim. Photo by William Struhs.
Virtually everything about Lim’s opera seemed random, from the wisps of orchestration to the rambling dialogue. (She wrote her own libretto.) Extensive program notes promised a philosophic piece I’d like to have seen onstage but never did, except for hints of one theme: Received wisdom from the past lies heavily and perhaps foolishly on us in the present.
The disconnection between idea and execution began with Scott Zielinski’s set. According to the notes, an “onstage monolith evokes the loss of Jewish lives in the last century, which is the loss for all mankind.” This edifice resembled a maquette for a six-story parking deck that had sunk into the ground at a 30-degree angle, and nothing in the text referred to it. (I did enjoy the lights that slashed across it, from bilious green to celestial white.)
Elliot Madore and Marisol Montalvo in the US premiere of Tree of Codes. Photo by William Struhs.
Soprano Marisol Montalvo and baritone Elliot Madore had excellent pitch and diction as Adela, a mystic, and Son, a boy mourning (or perhaps simply missing) his father. Yet singers can’t seem anything but ridiculous while sitting at center stage, clutching megaphones and repeatedly uttering “I wish. I want. I wish. I want.” (Or, to be precise, “I wiiiiiiiish. I waaaaant.” Melismas were the order of the day.)
Elliot Madore and Marisol Montalvo in Tree of Codes. Photo by William Struhs.
A mute character dubbed The Dreamer (costume designer Walter Dundervill) placed props, occasionally dressed or undressed the singers and pulled them around on wheeled platforms meant to lend mysterious grace to their movements. Dundervill retained a stone-faced dignity even as Son ranted in Russian (or was it Esperanto?), which suggested he wisely wasn’t paying attention.
Pictured: Geoff Nuttall (far left), the Director of the Bank of America Chamber Music series, with members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet and pianist Pedja Muzijevic at the Dock Street Theatre. Photo by William Struhs.
By Lawrence Toppman
Geoff Nuttall, host of every chamber music concert at Spoleto Festival USA, was about to begin the downstroke of a Mozart piano concerto adapted for sextet. Suddenly, upon a sign from another member of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the first violinist turned to the audience.
“There’s a secret signal we use – I’m not going to tell you what it is – to let me know…my fly is open,” Nuttall informed the Dock Street Theatre crowd. Hiding his indiscretion behind his instrument, he fiddled with his trousers. Somewhere, the ghost of Mozart giggled. Then pianist Pedja Muzijevic, double-bassist Doug Balliett and the quartet galloped happily into the reduction of Piano Concerto No. 12.
That’s the reason seeing music live makes a delightful difference. Recordings and broadcasts can’t capture the excitement, humor and full educational value of a live concert. (Who but violists knew that violas carry so much emotional weight in the string orchestra version of Barber’s “Adagio”?)
Here are six more reasons, all made palpable in the second and third of 11 concerts in the Bank of America Chamber Music Series, which runs through the last day of Spoleto on June 10.
1)Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, perhaps the most-anticipated of the fine guest artists on opening weekend, broke your heart one day with a Handel aria from “Amadigi di Gaula.” The next day, aiming for hipster credibility with the Peggy Lee song “Fever,” he tried in vain to flick a lighter open and set a “cigarette” aflame in the break between verses. Even he laughed. (He eventually succeeded.)
2) Charles Wadsworth, now 89 and creator of the chamber music program at Spoleto USA, missed only his second festival in 42 years. Nuttall, who took over for him nine years ago, asked the crowd to holler “We miss you, Charles!” We did, and wife Susan Wadsworth recorded us on her cell phone. After that tender moment, Nuttall and Costanzo segued into a conversation about the 17th-century process for creating castrati and the unresonant noise Costanzo would make if he had vocal chords but no head: “It would sound like a kazoo.”
3) The St. Lawrence played a relatively early Haydn quartet, the sixth and last of the Op. 20 set, with such passionate affection that the room rocked and strings came loose from their bows. Nuttall, who all but idolizes Haydn, preceded it with a mini-lecture on the revolutionary use of folk music and democratization in the string quartet, where each instrument got a chance to shine. You could see this music pointing the way for Mozart, Beethoven and their descendants.
4) The St. Lawrence Quartet and the JACK Quartet (named for the first initials of its original members) lined up at opposite sides of the stage for a 16th-century rarity by Giovanni Valentini. With Balliett accompanying both quartets as “referee,” this “Enharmonic” Sonata turned into a battle of the bands, and variations bounced back and forth. The visual element added suspense. Who can guess the last time any American – perhaps anyone at all – heard this music?
5) Balliett, this year’s composer in residence, debuted “Gawain’s Journey.” The music was lush, angry, sweet and melancholic, always in conjunction with supertitles telling a chunk of the British legend in which Gawain battles the Green Knight. Someone hearing a broadcast at home would wonder why the crowd laughed. The answer? A title reading, “He had no one to talk to but God…and his horse.” The work dealt with Gawain’s bloody, violent, footslogging attempt to reach the castle of the Green Knight, without knowing if he ever would – Arthurian chivalry meets “Waiting for Godot.”
6) In Pauline Oliveros’ mystical “Horse Sings From Cloud,” the JACK quartet spread out around the hall. They and selected members of the audience activated xylophone-like cell-phone apps that played tones of various pitches, volumes and durations. That created a contemplative atmosphere and made the wood and cloth of the theater part of the piece. Was this really “music?” A discussion for another time, perhaps – but it was worth hearing, either way. And you had to be there in person to appreciate it.
Soaring was the main activity of the opening weekend of Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston. Literally so in exuberant performances by Miami City Ballet and metaphorically so in “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk,” a captivating play about the loving, tempestuous marriage of painter Marc Chagall and writer Bella Rosenfeld.
Kneehigh Theatre has come from its Cornwall, England, home to Charleston four times in 12 years. If you’ve seen “The Red Shoes” or “Tristan & Yseult,” you know what to expect from “Vitebsk:” a total-theater piece with song, dance, drama, circus skills, even mime. Versatile Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood, who looked eerily like the Chagalls, played not only the couple but all the smaller parts.
Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall in Kneehigh’s “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk,” presented at the Dock Street Theatre. Photo by Steve Tanner.
Their story is a microcosm of Eastern European history from the early 1900s to World War II: pogroms against Jews by the tsar, Marc’s travels to study in Paris and Berlin, his return to Russia for World War I, persecution by the Bolsheviks, artistic freedom and productivity in France, the destruction of Vitebsk and most of Belarus by the Nazis, eventually an escape to America. The story ends with her death from a viral infection in 1944, though she reappears as a sweetly comical angel.
The play at Dock Street Theatre has undergone a 25-year transmigration, from the time author Daniel Jamieson wrote it as “Birthday” and starred in it with Emma Rice. (She directed the current production, done in partnership with Bristol Old Vic.)
It retains a zany wildness while exploring serious issues: Marc and Bella might stomp about with a papier-mache fish and cockerel on their heads, singing a tune in Yiddish, then fall into a discussion about the artist’s responsibilities to his family and the world. He blithely clings to ideals about the transformative power of art while government thugs smash the windows of her family’s jewelry store, and he doesn’t take notice of his daughter until she’s four days old. (“Have you named her yet?” he asks with wistful embarrassment.)
Kneehigh’s “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk” presented at the Dock Street Theatre. Photo by Steve Tanner.
Rice keeps the show surging forward through 90 intermission-free minutes, as multi-instrumentalists James Gow and Ian Ross sing and play anything from a cello to an accordion. By the end, our sympathies are evenly divided between pragmatic Bella and dreamy Marc, who outlived his first love by four decades and produced masterpieces in every one.
The play runs through June 10, the last day of the festival. The ballet, alas, stayed only through the opening weekend. (There’s still lots of good dance, up to “One of Sixty-Five Thousand Gestures/NEW BODIES” on the last day; it offers three New York City Ballet dancers, including Columbia native Sara Mearns, in works by Trisha Brown and Jodi Melnick.)
Nineteen years have passed since I saw Miami City Ballet on its second visit to Spoleto. Edward Villella, who founded the company in 1985 and ran it until 2012, brought in a talented troupe that specialized then in the work of George Balanchine and aspired to greatness.
Miami City Ballet’s Shimon Ito in Justin Peck’s Heatscape with set design by Shepard Fairey. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
The company that danced this year under artistic director Lourdes Lopez has achieved it. I recently saw back-to-back performances at American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, Balanchine’s former company. Miami can stand alongside those two great troupes, based on the evidence at Gaillard Auditorium.
The corps in Balanchine’s “Walpurgisnacht,” an elegant piece set to the mostly insipid ballet music from Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” moved as if one body and filled every gesture with meaning. Jennifer Lauren and Chase Swatosh told a complete story in seven minutes in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Carousel Pas de Deux,” she as a tomboyish Julie discovering yearnings she didn’t know she had and he as a brash Billy discovering tenderness he didn’t know he had.
Members of Miami City Ballet in Justin Peck’s Heatscape. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
MacMillan won a Tony for choreographing that 1994 Rodgers and Hammerstein revival, and many people think Justin Peck will get one this year for the new production. Spoleto audiences saw Peck’s “Heatscape,” bursts of perfectly executed energy that didn’t amount to a great deal. The concert’s highlight came from Alexei Ratmansky: “Concerto DSCH,” set to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto. It spoofed Soviet ballets about the glorious future of the USSR while incorporating poignant and romantic episodes.
Dignified, expressive Simone Messmer stood out in the slow movement. Messmer danced for more than 12 seasons at American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet before moving to Miami in 2015. Two decades ago, that would have been a step down from the summit. It isn’t any more.
For those of us who once dreamed of becoming a princess, following the romantic lives of real-life royals is a truly magical experience. Watching the 2011 marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was as close as most of us would get to reliving our childhood fantasies. But Charlotteans and WDAV listeners have another reason to feel connected to the upcoming royal wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle: the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s own Christopher Warren-Green will be conducting the orchestra on Harry and Meghan’s big day.
Warren-Green is the music director for the CSO and a longtime friend of WDAV. With such an exciting honor ahead of him, we decided to look into what kind of music royal weddings have traditionally featured.
A Whole Lot of Edward Elgar:
Both Will and Kate’s wedding and that of Princess Diana and Prince Charles featured recessional marches by the 19th-century British composer Edward Elgar. Will and Kate closed their wedding with his Pomp and Circumstance March No. 5; Diana and Charles chose his fourth Pomp and Circumstance, with a melody you might recognize here.
Tributes to Past Royals:
At Will and Kate’s wedding, several pieces were played that had been featured in Princess Diana’s 1981 wedding and 1997 funeral. “Middleton [walked] up the aisle to The Introit, from the Latin meaning “entrance,” which was used as The Anthem at 1981,” an Independent article on the 2011 royal wedding music explains. Other links to Charles and Diana’s wedding include Edward Elgar’s Sonata for Organ, Op. 28, William Walton’s Crown Imperial and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Rhosymedre. Notably, these works come from three of the most prominent British composers.
Religious Choral Music:
Royal weddings have traditionally featured religious ceremonies filled with beautiful hymns. You can read about what hymns were sung at Will and Kate’s wedding, along with the other wedding music they chose, in this article. The 1986 marriage of Prince Andrew to Sarah Ferguson, for example, featured three religious solo motets by Mozart, sung by sopranos Felicity Lott and Arlene Auger. Listen to them here.
Romance! Royalty! Revelry!
The royal weddings of the British monarchy always feature lively, extravagant pieces performed by talented choirs, orchestras, and organists. As a spokesman for Prince William explained, “The theme of the whole wedding [was] Britishness, accentuating traditional forms and crafts. A lot of these pieces [were] chosen for their theatre. They are stunning pieces of music that fill the abbey and give a sense of grandeur to the occasion.” While the pieces chosen for past royal weddings have all emphasized the significance of the matrimony to the British people, they certainly also celebrate the love each couple found. Kate Middleton and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, both picked British composer Gerald Finzi’s Romance for String Orchestra Op. 11 for their wedding ceremonies. Have a listen here.
We can’t wait to see what Warren-Green masterfully conducts for Harry and Meghan in just a few days!
Hear Warren-Green give hints about the music for the ceremony and insights on being a musical liaison to the royal family here.
Hannah Lieberman is a senior at Davidson College where she studies Political Science and Theatre.
Pictured: Christopher Warren-Green; photo credit: Jeff Cravotta.
Charlotte Symphony Music Director Christopher Warren-Green has become the “go-to” conductor for British royal weddings. The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Saturday, May 19 marks his third time on the podium leading the orchestra for royal nuptials. (Previously, he conducted at the ceremonies for Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles and for Prince William and Kate Middleton.) Although he’s now a royal ceremony veteran, Warren-Green shares with WDAV a few of his (minor) worries for what could go wrong. He also gives some hints about the music for the ceremony. And he gives insights on being a musical liaison to the royal family, including his 35+ year association with Prince Charles.
Major Themes is a new monthly feature from American Public Media, in which classical stations and programs around the country recommend a must-hear recording based on what’s happening with them.
For the first installment, they checked in with friends in New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas, as well as the producers of Performance Today. Here are their picks, with an emphasis on soloists and chamber works from Bach to Brahms and beyond.
Anne Akiko Meyers, Serenade: The Love Album (eOne)
Anne Akiko Meyers, Serenade: The Love Album eOne
Cincinnati’s 90.9 WGUC begins its 100 Days of Bernstein on May 18 in celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial year. For each of the 100 days leading up to his birthday on Aug. 25, 90.9 will spotlight a piece of music he either composed, conducted or performed. One album that will be in the rotation is Serenade: The Love Album from Anne Akiko Myers. On it, she beautifully performs both his “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”) and “Somewhere” from West Side Story, alongside Keith Lockhart and the London Symphony Orchestra. Myers has been a longtime friend of WGUC, and this album provides the perfect addition to our Bernstein celebration.
– Jessica Lorey, classical music director, WGUC (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Brahms: Clarinet Sonatas; Jon Manasse, clarinet, and Jon Nakamatsu, piano (Harmonia Mundi)
Brahms: Clarinet Sonatas; Jon Manasse, clarinet, and Jon Nakamatsu, piano Harmonia Mundi
Ah, April! A month to celebrate poetry, spring and sometimes Easter. At WXXI Classical 91.5, we celebrate the musical riches of our town with Performance Rochester, a local on-air and online celebration where we present live performances drawn from concerts throughout our city. There’s so much going on in the Rochester music scene that it’s impossible to get to even a small portion of the events. So each year Classical 91.5 brings these performances to our audience with concerts recorded in local concert halls and churches, featuring music that spans the ages: Monteverdi motets, arias from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, a psalm by Lili Boulanger, even Bach’s magnificent Mass in B-minor. This year, two international soloists were featured with local ensembles: pianist Jon Nakamatsu, playing Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 with members of the Society for Chamber Music in Rochester, and clarinetist Jon Manasse, performing Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet with the Amenda Quartet for the First Muse Series. So we’ve chosen a CD that features these two gentlemen who came to play in our fair city: their Harmonia Mundi CD of, naturally, Brahms Clarinet Sonatas.
– Ruth Phinney, program director, WXXI (Rochester, N.Y.)
Brad Mehldau, After Bach (Nonesuch)
Brad Mehldau, After Bach Nonesuch
Right now I’m listening to Brad Mehldau’s new album, After Bach. Mehldau is often called a jazz pianist, but over the past 20 years he has proven that his artistry goes way beyond the limits of the genre. He works in capital M “Music.” In this case, the music starts with Johann Sebastian Bach. Tracks on the album alternate between Mehldau performing movements from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier and Mehldau’s own compositions, inspired by those figures from Bach. The new music stunned me with its inventiveness and variety while never straying far from Bach’s original. If The Well-Tempered Clavier were a small boxing ring in which Mehldau moved, he not only used the entire floor space; he also figured out how to bounce from rope to rope without ever touching the ground. Bach was the consummate improviser in his day. I think he would have been fascinated by Mehldau’s musical parkour.
Cypress String Quartet, The American Album Basil Childers/Avie
WDAV sees classical music as a way to build community. Chamber music is especially well-suited for this, because it’s so intimate and portable – it can be performed almost anywhere. Recently, we’ve explored this in a number of ways. Our Classical Harvest Concert Series brings chamber musicians to farmers markets on autumn weekend mornings to surprise and delight patrons. In a contrasting effort, we launched the Small Batch Concert Series this year at a micro brewery in the urban setting of Charlotte’s trendy NoDa neighborhood. Its success has been staggering and has drawn a vibrant cross section of the city’s growing population. Finally, the annual Young Chamber Musicians Competition we launched in 2013 has provided an inspiring glimpse of the future of classical music performance with contestants from the major conservatories in the country. The live broadcast of the competition on April 22 capped off our monthlong WDAV Festival of Chamber Music, when listeners had four opportunities each weekday to hear a beloved chamber masterwork. This recording of Kevin Puts’ Lento assai by the Cypress String Quartet is typical of the kinds of performances we featured to highlight the power and appeal of chamber music.
– Frank Dominguez, general manager and content director, WDAV (Davidson/Charlotte, N.C.)
Ludovico Einaudi, In a Time Lapse (Ponderosa)
Ludovico Einaudi, In a Time Lapse Ponderosa
Ludovico Einaudi will be performing in Austin this summer. You’ve probably heard his music in films and commercials. You may have seen him on YouTube, playing the piano on a platform in the Arctic Ocean in support of Greenpeace. Einaudi’s artistry has inspired remixes by electronic music artists, and arrangements by classical musicians such as Angele Dubeau. It’s hard to choose just one disc, but his 2013 release, In a Time Lapse, is a favorite, from the propulsive energy of “Experience” to the dreamy expansiveness of “Waterways.” Einaudi’s cinematic minimalism is the perfect accompaniment, whether I’m working or relaxing.
– Sara Schneider, announcer and producer, KMFA (Austin, Texas)
Jennifer Stasack, professor of music at Davidson College, talks to WDAV about what it is like being a female composer in today’s age, and what female figures she used as role models to get to where she is today.