Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

RSO Metro Collection: frontier music

Several weeks ago, I attended a Richmond Symphony concert in its Metro Collection series, which brings a smaller orchestra (e.g. 10 violins instead of 22; 1 horn instead of 5) to venues in the counties surrounding  Richmond. My TD review is here, and it tells you all I'm going to say about the music except, dear Antonio, please forgive me-- by calling your piece "fluff," I didn't mean to imply it was disposable.

A few words about the space, though. The concert was held in a gym at Kingsway Community Church in Midlothian. At least I think it was a gym, because there were basketball court lines on the fake-wood floor, but no evidence of nets. You can sort of tell by this photo from the church's website that the room is shaped like a fan. It felt too wide for the size of the orchestra. And I can't have been much closer than most seats in the Carpenter Theatre.

At intermission, I chatted with the man sitting behind me, who said this was the closest concert to his home he had ever been to. I had been not-quite-grumbling about having to drive so far to it. I guess if the world isn't going to revolve me, it might as well benefit someone else along the way.

In fact, I really do like the Metro Collection concept, both because it invites a different sort of programming and because it puts the orchestra in settings that many people feel are more inviting or familiar. But I really hate the universal lighting that usually comes with these alternative territories. I don't care what the musicians wear--although I appreciate a subdued uniformity--and I don't care when people clap--as long as we do it alertly-- but please, please, at least dim the house lights so I can feel like the music is showing me something beyond myself. And, more realistically, so I'm less likely to be distracted by my surroundings.

Monday, January 24, 2011

From YouTube to Schoenberg in 3 simple steps

The YouTube Symphony Orchestra has announced the musicians selected for its second concert, to be held in Sydney, Australia, in March. (The first, in 2009, was at Carnegie Hall)

Richmond Symphony Orchestra trumpeter Mary Bowden is one of the chosen. You can hear her perform the Haydn trumpet concerto on Feb. 19 in a free concert with the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Photo by Lydia Danmiller
But that's not the only Richmond connection. YTSO composer and behind-the-scenester Mason Bates, whose track suit is as handsome in real life as in the photos, is a Richmond native.

One of Bates' composition teachers here in Richmond was Dika Newlin. In 1997, I served her cocktails during a short-lived waiting stint, but I didn't realize until later who she was. I wonder what she would think of the YTSO.

And Newlin was a noted Schoenberg scholar, which brings us to the end of this blog post, almost.

This Wednesday at the Modlin Center, eighth blackbird and six UR faculty musicians will present a free concert of Schoenberg's chamber works including the String Trio, Herzgewaechse, Weihnachtsmusik, Nachtwandler, and Anton Webern's arrangements of the Chamber Symphony No. 1 and Five Orchestra Pieces. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The RSO wonders if you love them now that they can dance

My preview article about this weekend's concert featuring The Contours performing with the Richmond Symphony appeared in today's Times-Dispatch.

This was a last-minute assignment that I initially wasn't going to take, but I'm glad I did. I mean, why not? Well, because I don't always relish the idea of giving valuable print space to out-of-town groups. Sure, they're appearing with our own RSO, but here's the thing: why? I didn't get a call in soon enough to arrange an interview with RSO Associate Conductor Erin Freeman, but I wanted to ask her, "What will a full orchestra add to The Contours' sound? What really is the artistic point of this concert?"

It's not a purely provocative question; I'm sincerely curious about Freeman's answer. If there is something musical to be gained, I'd be willing to have her convince me. But maybe the only reasons for having this concert are extramusical--attracting new audiences, helping people feel comfortable with the RSO, demystifying the Carpenter Theatre, etc. Good. But is that enough? I don't think so, in fact.

Oh, okay. I'll conclude that the artistic point of putting The Contours and a symphony orchestra on the same stage together is have some musical fun. Why not?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kelley Nassief, Richmond Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

My review of Saturday's Masterworks concert appeared in Monday's Times-Dispatch.

I was surprised how small the audience was, and I'm curious if Sunday afternoon's was any larger. I thought people would like the concept--many short pieces in a sort of "best of opera" format. (To be clear, it was not marketed as a "best-of" concert, and the programmatic choices were thoughtful, not just a riffle through old cartoon soundtrack archives.)

I wonder if the symphony erred in not posting/announcing the detailed program ahead of time. When I checked the website about two days before the concert, nothing beyond the Britten and Ravel was listed. (But just now when I checked, the whole program is up... hmm.) People like to know what they're buying.

By the way, be sure to check the RSO's blog now and then. The entries are a little unpredictable in their tone and content, but almost always of some interest. Associate Conductor Erin Freeman's post about this most recent Masterworks Concert is excellent. A commenter remarked that she should be writing the program notes. That indeed would be wonderful, since not only is Freeman an excellent communicator, but in an ideal world all program notes would be written locally and specifically, placing each performance in context. The RSO's notes are currently procured from John P. Varineau, associate conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony (I just looked this up), and are much better than they were several years ago.

Y'all come back to the land of sweets, y'hear?

Richmond was giddy with delight at NY Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay's praise for Richmond Ballet's "Nutcracker." (here --and there's more! here)

I enjoyed mulling over his description of the production as "the one that follows its own internal logic with most unflagging consistency and detail." His next sentence is the start of a new paragraph, but is intimately related: "It’s also the one that seems most right for its theater and its audience..." 

And speaking of related, here's another sentence from earlier in the review: "Just from the way people are greeting one another in the foyers here, I can sense I’m in the South: people take time over civilities here, and it seems as if half the people are well acquainted."

Isn't that nice? Bless our hearts.

Is this a sign that too many of the same people are always in the audience? (This isn't limited to the ballet's Nutcracker; I see this at Richmond Symphony concerts too.) Or just that the people who stand around talking to each other are more noticeable, because everyone else has already taken their seats?

Rhetorical questions are so easy to ask. I'm taking the cheap way out by ending here. (I was going to write more, but I'm already late in posting this.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Repeat Button

Tim Smith, classical music critic at the Baltimore Sun, in a review of a performance of David Lang's "A Little Match Girl Passion," writes:
The only disappointment, given the roughly 40-minute duration of the composition, was that it didn't get performed twice. I'm sure the sold-out crowd would have gladly stayed for a complete encore. 

I'm glad to hear of someone else who thinks this is a good idea. A single listen is not really enough for most new music and music that isn't performed frequently. A repeat encore performance would give the audience more time to really listen to the music.

Oh-- you noticed that I used the word "most"? I'm thinking about how I read new poems twice, once for feeling and once for a little more discovery--except that I don't read everything twice. I can decide quickly, and for myself, whether I think a poem is worth repeating. It's a different situation in a concert hall, where a conductor or an ensemble must usually make that decision in advance, regardless of audience reaction, being aware that some people trapped in the middle of rows won't want to hear a piece again.

I say what the heck, just play new works under 8 minutes long twice no matter what, and at least consider it in other cases.