Homecoming

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Philip Glass’s senior-year student ID, provided by the composer.

Last weekend, minimalism’s reluctant hero returned to his alma mater. My meager coverage for the Maroon doesn’t quite encapsulate the philosophical potency of Mr. Glass’s residency, though I feel fortunate to have attended all of the events and gotten the chance to speak to the composer himself.

The day after our conversation, I was listening to the Kronos Quartet’s recordings of Glass’s quartets when I realized just what it was about Glass’s music I found so compelling. It doesn’t assert itself, selfishly demanding your undivided attention. Rather, it embraces and enhances the world as it—like his music—slowly, inexorably moves around you.

So often artists present audiences with a canvas to survey. For me, Glass’s music is the lens through which we view that image. The image itself is one of our own creation.

Taut, timely Bel Canto receives long-awaited Lyric premiere

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Unlikely friends Gen (Andrew Stenson) and Roxana (Danielle de Niese) are brought together by a hair-raising hostage situation.  © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

*WARNING: Spoilers ahead. Read at your own discretion.*

Before the premiere performance of Bel Canto, I was wandering around the grand lobby of the Civic Opera House when I ran into some friends from WFMT. They were asking patrons why they were attending the performance, then collecting soundbites from their responses for a segment.

My answer was easy: When you have the opportunity to attend the world premiere of an opera, you go—especially a show as anticipated as Bel Canto. Billed as a dream collaboration between Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis, creative consultant Renée Fleming, director Kevin Newbury, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, and upstart composer Jimmy López, Bel Canto would also be the notoriously conservative Lyric’s first commission in more than a decade.

In the end, Bel Canto didn’t quite meet its hype—how could it’ve? But it was certainly memorable, not to mention a laudable showing for López and Cruz, who made their first foray into opera with the commission.

Continue reading

July 2015 recap

Although the recent lack of activity on Dialoges wouldn’t lead one to think so, July has been an eventful month in the classical music world. Of note:

  • Friedemann Weigle of the Artemis Quartet passed away earlier this month at the age of 53. Artemis was scheduled to play in Chicago next April as part of The University of Chicago Presents concert series. Understandably, the quartet has not yet cancelled nor confirmed its future engagements, and has asked for “time to mourn, reflect, and regroup.”
  • On July 17th, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has established a fellowship to support young musicians of color on the professional track. The grant will support graduate-level string musicians in the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, who will be offered coaching from members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and get the chance to perform in subscription concerts five weeks per season. The program will launch in fall 2016 with the first class of fellows. Mentioned in the article is Anthony McGill, the recently-appointed principal clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic, who was the first African-American appointed to a principal position in that orchestra in its 173-year history. In January, McGill is performing in Chicago with the Musicians from Marlboro touring program.
  • On the same evening, “The Dream Unfinished: A Symphonic Benefit for Eric Garner” took place in New York City to mark the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death. New Yorkers from all walks of musical life participated, from Broadway pit musicians to players in the New York Philharmonic. The concert on the 17th was the project’s most publicized concert, but you can read about The Dream Unfinished’s other projects and mission statement here.
  • Ravinia may soon be without a music director, according to this article by Wynn Delacoma of Chicago Classical Review. Delacoma spoke with Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman about what the future could hold for the festival post-Conlon. One enticing prospect—if done right—is Kauffman’s vision of a different “musical curator” per season, perhaps by 2018. Based on Kauffman’s thinking, that curator would have to be a musically omnivorous one, the kind who could “talk about pop programming and jazz programming, as well as chamber music recitals and what goes on at the CSO.”
  • Paul Freeman, founder and longtime music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta, died on July 21st at the age of 79. He directed the Sinfonietta from its founding in 1987 to 2011, being succeeded that year by Mei-Ann Chen. The Sinfonietta is known for the diversity of its personnel and the eclecticism of its programming—two principles championed by Freeman since its inception.
  • Recently, Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its doors to WFMT and the Chicago Tribune for a sneak peak at composer Jimmy López’s new opera Bel Canto, commissioned by creative consultant Renée Fleming. Bel Canto doesn’t open until December, but next month, López’s CD Perú Negro will be released on Harmonia Mundi. You can sample some of the works on the album on López’s SoundCloud. Based on what I’ve heard from López already, I have to say that Bel Canto‘s premiere is easily the performance I’m most excited for next concert season, bar none.
  • If you have a Digital Concert Hall account, you can watch Kirill Petrenko’s 2009 and 2012 concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic on its website for free until the end of August. (Plus, signing up is free!)

March/April Recap and a pinky-promise

Lest online inactivity be misconstrued as musical inactivity, I thought I’d post to reassure readers that this blog is going on anything but hiatus over the course of the next month. I know MJ has some things cooking, and you can expect original content from me related to Semyon Bychkov’s upcoming appearances with the Chicago Symphony, which starts next week with a program featuring soloist Daniil Trifonov.

There’s been some exciting music news in our neck of the woods: According to a recent University of Chicago email blast, Riccardo Muti is slated to give a lecture at Logan Center for the Arts on September 21, 2015 to commemorate the coincidence of both the University and the CSO’s 125th anniversaries. No further details have been given yet. Also, clearly I was too busy spring-breaking in California to notice that UChicago Presents announced its 2015/16 season, including performances by Philip Glass (AB’56, who also just wrote an excellent piece for the University of Chicago Magazine), principal players from the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Pacifica Quartet and Paul Lewis, and much more.

In general music news, as speculation surrounding Alan Gilbert’s successor grows ever more deafening, another important torch was passed yesterday: Glenn Dicterow’s successor was announced. Frank Huang, formerly concertmaster of the Houston Symphony, will formally join the New York Philharmonic as its leader next season. Besides the New York Times article that announced his appointment, I rather enjoyed this article from the Houston Chronicle, written while he was still undergoing the auditioning process.

Earlier tonight, I got back from a CSO performance of Mahler 7 under Bernard Haitink, a performance I’m reviewing for the Chicago Maroon. Opinions tend to be split pretty strongly when it comes to this particular Mahler symphony; I, for one, am an unabashed fan. I vividly recall being unable to sleep one night the summer before my senior year; stupidly, I watched the YouTube video of Pierre Boulez and the CSO’s electrifying rendition to pass the time, which introduced me to the piece. I was more awake after watching it than when I started, with the tenorhorn’s eerie opening call stuck in my head for weeks afterward.

Funnily, I watched it while I was in Chicago, attending a summer program at UofC. Attending that concert a few hours ago as a full-fledged UofC student felt like coming full circle.

And once again, that damn solo is still making me lose sleep. Some things never change.

Happy birthday, Boulez!

Today CSO Conductor Emeritus Pierre Boulez celebrates a big milestone, which few people get to celebrate: He turns 90. In preparing to review the CSO’s “A Pierre Dream,” a multimedia retrospective of the conductor-composer’s life and career, I watched the following videos* of Boulez in rehearsal with the Vienna Philharmonic a few months ago. Alban Berg’s 3 Orchesterstücke and Boulez’s own Notations I–IV are featured.

*In German and English.

Recapitulation: February 2015

Gonna try a new segment here called “Recapitulation,” a succinct round-up of music news from the past few weeks. And what an eventful past few weeks these have been:

  • It has gone yet unmentioned here that the CSO announced its 2015/16 season last month. (The omission was my fault; I was going to write about it the night I went to see the Civic Orchestra open rehearsal, which I wrote about on this blog. I blame the maestro!) You can find a complete calendar of events, as always, on the CSO’s website, or in this comprehensive brochure. Particular focus will be given this season to works premiered or commissioned by the CSO in acknowledgement of the orchestra’s quasquicentennial season.
  • The Lyric Opera announced its own upcoming season this past week. Likewise, both the brochure and list of events are on Lyric’s webpage. I expect MJ will have plenty to say on this in upcoming weeks!
  • On a tragic note, Lyric announced only last night that president and CEO Ken Pigott unexpectedly passed away. John von Rhein enumerated Pigott’s myriad contributions to Lyric in an article written today for the Tribune.
  • Further east, it was announced last week that Alan Gilbert will step down from his post as music director of the New York Philharmonic at the end of the orchestra’s 2016/17 season. There is already plenty of speculation as to who will replace him, and yesterday New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini weighed in on what Gilbert’s departure could mean for the Philharmonic.

In blog news, the upcoming weeks are jam-packed with performances, especially the beginning of March. Depending on student ticket availability, a review of the CSO’s performances of Mozart’s Requiem may make an appearance on this blog next week. In any case, we’ll be bringing you topical content. Stay tuned!

BREAKING: 22-year-old fills CSO’s principal bassoon post

Keith-main-image-884According to the Interlochen Center for the Arts’ Facebook page and The Oregonian, the Chicago Symphony has a new principal bassoonist—and a young one, at that.

Only a year after being named principal bassoonist of the Atlanta Symphony, 22-year-old Keith Buncke was just announced as the principal bassoonist of one of America’s most prestigious symphony orchestras. This news comes several months after former principal David McGill’s resignation and just on the heels of fellow double-reed player Eugene Izotov’s announced departure for the San Francisco Symphony.

Of Buncke, Mark Eubanks, former principal bassoonist of the Oregon Symphony, said that he saw “poise, confidence and musical maturity well beyond his years” early on in his young student. According to the Oregonian, Buncke played with the Portland Youth Philharmonic and Columbia Symphony while living in Oregon. (He hails from Lake Oswego, a suburb of Portland.)

If you’d like to get further acquainted with Buncke, here’s an extensive Portland Tribune article from 2012 and a video of him playing the Beethoven E-flat Major Septet with fellow Curtis students from about two years ago.

It’s going to be exciting to see this story hit the headlines over the next few days. I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu from when I first heard about Peter Moore’s appointment as the co-principal trombone of the LSO at only 18. Young people, unite!