Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bach and Kyr

Tonight David and I were on the town again. This time to Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, which is just down the street from our condo.

Tonight's bill of fare included the first three parts of Bach's Weinachtsoratorium and Robert Kyr's O Word of Light and Thunder, a world premiere of Cantata No.3 from his  Christmas Oratorio.

The Rockefeller Chapel Choir and Orchestra were conducted by James Kallembach. Soloists were Kaitlin Foley, soprano, Angela Young-Smucker, mezzo-soprano, Matthew Dean, tenor, and Andrew Schultze, bass.

After having heard Music of the Baroque just a week ago, this was a very different experience, as is to be expected. This is, after all, a college group. The chorus sang well, with enthusiasm, under Mr. Kallembach's direction. The orchestra was not always successful in hanging together and there were sometimes pitch problems.

The Christmas Oratorio is a joyous piece. Sometimes the orchestra felt a bit leaden. One wanted it to lift off the ground and fly.

Kaitlin Foley has a light soprano voice that could not always be heard in the Bach. In the Kyr, the part was higher and the balance better. Her upper voice is a bit sharp. A lower breath would help this.

Angela Young-Smucker has a truly lovely voice. Again she was sometimes covered by the orchestra, as she was in 'Bereite sich Zion', where the solo violin provided too much competition. Someone needs to sit in the hall and check balances!

Matthew Dean is an ideal Evangelist, with a light high effortless voice. His recitatives were excellent. He did not fare quite as well in the aria.

Andrew Schultze has a covered bass sound. He was able to negotiate the demands of range without much emotional connection.

The Kyr work is a tonal telling of the Christmas story, apparently in homage to the Bach oratorio. There are no surprises in it. It was interesting to hear it.

All in all this was an acceptable performance. To compare it to MOB would be unfair, but unavoidable.

I am hearing more music in Chicago in a week than I hear in Sandisfield all winter!


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Marathon runners

Last night David and I witnessed that musical marathon Parsifal at the Chicago Lyric Opera. Five hours of it.

Let me say at the outset that Parsifal  has never been my favorite opera. But in comparing Wagnerian singers I have heard in the past to last night's cast, only one singer was in that league: Kwangchul Youn, the Gurnemanz. He posesses a voice with the power and gravitas required to take command of this role. His vocal and dramatic power took over the stage. Many of the others fell short of the mark.

Paul Groves as Parsifal has a very good tenor voice but was holding back in Acts 1 and 2 to save up for Act 3. Understandable but under-powered. Daveda Karanas in Act 1 was present but not notable. In Act 2 the tessitura  was simply too high for her to sing without screaming. It was wearing on the listener.

Thomas Hampson as Amfortas seemed to feel the necessity to bellow in Act 1. After a long break for Act 2 and two intermissions, he came back to sing more comfortably in Act  3. Having worked years ago with Jerome Hines and heard him sing this role, this was a far cry from 'the good old days'. 

Tomas Tomasson as Klingsor sang very well and was impressive on stage. 

The male chorus was impressive, the women less so. The Flower Maidens had a couple of very thin sopranos voices who had solo parts. When singing with the men their sound was better.

Sir Andrew Davis conducted the orchestra with a good ear to balance; something that doesn't always happen at the Met these days.

The stage set was basically the same throughout: a large tilted circle that was changed by lighting effects and various round columns that rose from the ground or were lifted into the flies. In Act 2 a series of neon-looking tubes went heavenward while Klingsor rose and fell on a circular disc in the midst of the tubing. A large gold hand would emerge from the back of the stage from time to time. This, unfortunately, was a reminder of a commercial that is now showing on television where a large yellow hand knocks on someone's door to sell something.

With the exception of Mr. Youn, nothing happened to make me like the opera any more than previously.

Having heard the likes of Kirsten Flagstad, Laurence Melchoir, Birgit Nilsson, Jerome Hines and so on in Wagnerian roles, the evening's singing was far from the mark. I'll still opt for Meistersinger.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Chicago's Glorious Mobsters!

Tonight David and I were thrilled to hear a concert by Chicago's MOB: aka Music of the Baroque. This wonderful ensemble is conducted by the divine Jane Glover. Ms. Glover conducts with intense musicianship, grace, finesse, and just about anything else you could ask for. She shuns a baton, using her expressive hands to paint pictures of the music she is capturing from her ensemble in a way that a stick of wood could never do. She is a damn fine conductor!

The program opened with Schubert's Symphony #5 in B flat Major, D. 485. The orchestra followed her musical ideas to the letter, presenting a fine performance.

This was followed by Mozart's Piano Concerto #17 in G Major, K. 453. The very expressive pianist was Artur Pizarro, who played with a brilliant delicacy and impressive technique.


The program ended with a sensational performance of Beethoven's Symphony #2 in D Major, op. 36, which brought down the house. Ms. Glover and the orchestra received a standing ovation. Well deserved.

We have three more concerts by this amazing group coming up in future months. I look forward to hearing them again and again.

Chicago is certainly blessed to have a conductor of Ms. Glover's stature and musical abilities in their midst. I don't know when I have seen such sensitive conducting. In the old days we talked about Stokowski's hands. Now I recommend Ms. Glover's!

Final good thing- in 15 minutes we were home in our condo in Kenwood. Try that in New York!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Breaking the law

I think that it is probably illegal to publish two blogs in one day- but here goes anyway.

After this weekend's judging in Syracuse, it occurs to me that some strange training is going on in colleges and conservatories when it comes to the high voice of sopranos. We heard a number of very good singers at the 37th Annual Competition for Singers, sponsored by the Civic Morning Musicals, including some very promising sopranos. But an interesting syndrome is making itself apparent in regards the high range of the soprano voice.

Almost without exception, all of the sopranos I listened to, ranging from age 17-29, had a top that would shatter glass. Then, when they went into the middle or low part of the voice, there was no one home. 

It's called 'Focusing the voice!'

I would write on their critical sheet 'You must organize your voice.' I hope that they, and their teachers, know what that means.

If anyone has a good explanation about this, my email address is Explain it to me, please.

Whatever happened to messa di voce?

(The picture is of myself having breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel Danieli on the Grand Canal in Venice this summer. Eat your hearts out!!)

Wonderful weekend!

'I've been to a marvelous party! I must say, the fun was intense!' - (Noel Coward.)

And I was at a marvelous weekend in Syracuse to do a judging for the Civic Morning Musicals' 37th Annual Competition for Singers.

On Friday I went first to Syracuse University to listen to my former student, Katie Weiser, sing for me. She is studying with Janet Brown, who has been a friend and student of mine for many years. She is sounding just fine!

Then I attended Janet's rehearsal with the college orchestra with whom she was singing a new work that evening. Janet's voice is as pure and beautiful as ever. Then on to the gracious home of Neva and Dick Pilgrim, who were hosting me (elegantly!) for the weekend. My fellow guest was Marni Nixon, 'The Ghost Voice of Hollywood', who was also a judge,

Over cocktails and a delicious dinner, we listened to Marni relate  tales of her work in Hollywood when she dubbed the voices of Deborah Kerr (The King and I), Natalie Wood (West Side Story), Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady), and many others. Describing the varying egos of these ladies of the Silver Screen was a hoot! Marni and I were born in the same year, a month apart! So we are both 39, right?

On Saturday Marni and I listened to  about 34 singers who were competing in the competition. We heard some lovely young voices and a couple of extraordinary ones. In the evening the Pilgrims treated us to a fine dinner at Flame, a new restaurant near the University. Then on to a concert by the Kronos Quartet. They are quite a production. Amplified, sound tracks playing along, a circus of lighting effects, very irritating music written for them. I think once is enough, as far as I'm concerned. I would have given a lot to hear a few bars of Mozart!

I send my deepest thanks to Neva and Dick as well as the other organizers of the competition. I send my best wishes for success to all of the wonderful young singers we listened to.

As my first book on singing says : Sing On! Sing On!