Thursday, May 20, 2010


My review of Saturday's Masterworks concert ran in Monday's Times-Dispatch. To be honest, it was not a concert I looked forward to. "Chorus" and "organ" just aren't appealing words to me on a beautiful May evening. But as I listened to the opening work, "Rainbow Body," (which uses neither chorus nor organ), I could feel the day's tension leaving my  body; when "Gesang der Parzen" began, I thought, "Oh, that's right, I like Brahms!" And by the time the organ began playing in the Saint-Saens, I was completely relaxed and happy.

Mr. Van Pelt (see the comments below the review on the RTD site) contacted me personally to make sure I understood the location of the organ's pipes, which is pretty much directly behind the loudspeakers in the Carpenter Theater, hidden behind paneling, as pipes sometimes are. His correction clears up my confusion, and I was able to get more fascinating information from him about the Carpenter's organ-- for one thing, it's apparently made from parts of the organ that was originally in the building in the late 1920s.

I'm happy enough to blame Saint-Saens for writing an organ into an orchestral work; I think organs are best left to their own devices, of which they have many-- sort of the point, no? And I'm not going to spend the next 25 years grousing about the acoustics in the Carpenter Theater. It may not be the Schermerhorn, but it's no Dogwood Dell, either. (Plus, I've been to a concert in the Schermerhorn, in the balcony, and it was like watching a very good television. I'm fine with the middle ground between perfect acoustics and extreme intimacy that the Carpenter gives.)

The image, by the way, is of the only organ I've ever truly, truly appreciated. It's 25 years old this year and is installed in the chapel of Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas.

People who are far more dedicated writers than I am

I filed this story on journaling with this sidebar in response to an assignment. It ran on the cover of the Flair section in the Sunday, March 21, Richmond Times-Dispatch, which is why there aren't any men in the article.

I had a hard time finding a locally owned bookstore that sells journals, but discovered that Precious Memories on Idlewood Avenue both sells blank books and conducts journaling workshops. The shop is currently only open by appointment or for workshops (of various kinds) and I still haven't visited in person. I had seen signs for it, coming off the Downtown Expressway near the Kickers stadium, and had been curious about it despite the saccharine name.

I'm glad I called. It was an inspiring encounter with a woman who seems to be making her own way in the world, doing what she loves outside traditional models of success.

Before I made the call, however, I had asked the owner of another local bookshop--one not even a mile away--if she knew whether Precious Memories sold blank books. She had not heard of the store. This surprised me, and I was left to speculate why.

They Like Him

Here's an article about new Richmond Symphony Music Director Steven Smith. In print, it ran with a little sidebar that as I submitted it, went like this:

Steven Smith
In Four

1 Hometown
Toledo, Ohio

2 Schools
Eastman School of Music; Cleveland Institute of Music

3 Previous jobs (of many)
Assistant conductor, Cleveland Orchestra, 1997-2003; Faculty, Oberlin Conservatory, 2002-05; Concertmaster, Grand Rapids Symphony, 1985-88

4 Things he likes to do
Camp, garden, cook, study architecture

But the musical joke in the title was too subtle, so it ran without the title or the numbers.

Catching up on past reviews

From the Old News Department, created in response to the Insanely Busy Spring employment campaign:

Here's my review of the Richmond Symphony's Masterworks concert with violinist Elena Urioste playing Tschaikovsky Concerto in D and Erin Freeman conducting Higdon's "Concerto for Orchestra." Metaphors don't get any weirder than the one I used about two-thirds of the way in. I still kind of like it. I wish I had mentioned Ms. Freeman's excellent introduction of the Higdon piece from the podium: simple, respectful, enlightening, succinct. It was exactly the sort of speaking one wants to hear from conductors.

On the other hand, I wish I hadn't mentioned the applause after the first movement of the Tschaikovsky, even non-judgmentally. People can clap whenever they want, as far as I'm concerned, and I don't ever want to make someone feel like they broke a secret rule and shouldn't come back to the concert hall. Ringing, beeping, clicking and flashing electronic devices... that's a different story.

Next, here's my review of the Jupiter String Quartet's performance in the Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber series. Clearly the Bartok Quartet No. 4 was my favorite. Dvorak, though... Dvorak is like the band R.E.M. They're indispensable contributors to their genres. I like--love-- their music. Yet if I were asked to name the one really outstanding piece by either, I'd stammer. Jupiter put the "I Can" in the "American," for sure.

More Dvorak in this review of the first concert in the Richmond Music Festival. You can't tell from the online version that the performance was at the First Unitarian Church. The other concerts, unfortunately, were on weeknights and I just couldn't make it out to them.

I'm also glad to have attended many things I didn't review, including "Othello" and "Elizabeth Rex" from Richmond Shakespeare, as well as their staged reading of "Merchant of Venice." This was far more staged than the last one I saw, and thinking back on it now, two months later, I can scarcely see in my mind's eye the scripts the actors held.

I was the project manager for Richmond Shakespeare's Bardathon, which involved 74 high school students from 11 different schools doing "Twelfth Night." After rehearsing one or more scenes ahead of time at their own schools, they all came together to put on the play. Some scenes were set on a Caribbean island, some in a vaguely Transylvanian setting; one was set in the '80s, another in a proto-Victorian period. Totally charming.