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The Crossing’s Month of Moderns : A masterwork is born

The great but tragic American poet Hart Crane (1899-1932) can’t help but exert a magnetic attraction to composers with his fusion of lyricism, modernism and mad, extravagant fantasy.  Of course, no two composers are going to approach this material the same way - until, for a quick, curious moment, they do. Crane’s six-part love poem Voyages became a pair of polar opposite experiences in the second concert of The Crossing's Month of Moderns festival (June 17 in Philadelphia), where a distinct setting of Crane's poem, finished in 1926, … [Read more...]

Simon Rattle’s high-def 3-D Mahler festival with the London Symphony was a landmark in the New York season

So often when star musicians such as Simon Rattle hit a golden spot in their late 30s and early 40s, you stand back and ask, "Where can they possibly go from there?" Everybody's darling conductor in the 1990s, Rattle certainly invited that kind of speculation, though his Berlin Philharmonic years (2002 to the end of this summer) left only provisional answers: You never knew how much he was being filtered by that orchestra's strong, collective personality, especially after his famous quote that he and the Berlin players sometimes don't agree … [Read more...]

Fear and loathing in the Renaissance church: Stile Antico sings Victoria’s Holy Week music

Sacred music began tumbling from heaven to earth in the late 16th century, when the words it was sung to became something more than liturgical reference points. It took on more qualities of human speech and a greater intensity of meaning. The turn of that century was the essential tipping point from the rules-based music of the Renaissance to the more emotion-based music of the early Baroque.  Though Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) lived and worked right through that tipping point, his music always seemed to me distanced from it - until I … [Read more...]

Rehabilitating Stockhausen with a KLANG: Does less mystique enhance his stature?

Karlheinz Stockhausen has only been gone a little over ten years, but the infamous, trailblazing composer (1928-2007) seems like a name from the past, provoking as much suspicion as awe with music that seems purposefully opaque - one smoke screen after another, with the core being hard to locate, much less understand. At least in the U.S. That’s why the two days of Stockhausen’s KLANG at Philadelphia's FringeArts could be the start of a turning point in Stockhausen’s presence here. The first problem with his output is where to start. … [Read more...]

Historically informed performance: How does it translate into the real world?

Are we there yet? That classic question was inevitable after a weekend packed with early-music concerts in New York - including the New York City Opera production of Rameau's Pigmalion, the TENEbrae Pathway to Light concert of sacred music by Buxtehude, and The English Concert's annual Handel opera at Carnegie Hall, this one being Rinaldo. The performance of Baroque music has made such huge strides in recent decades that most of those old all-star recordings of Handel and Rameau from the 1970s and early '80s (with mainstream singers like … [Read more...]

Who is Kirill Petrenko? The incoming Berlin Phil chief conductor – at least for the moment – can do no wrong

Though not a stranger to New York, Kirill Petrenko showed every sign of being discovered by some highly engaged Carnegie Hall audiences during a two-day visit by the Bavarian State Opera - first in an all-orchestral Brahms/Tchaikovsky program and then with a complete concert performance of Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Two threads ran through both evenings: The bearded, charming, 45-year-old Petrenko is an ace problem solver and has a way of finding chamber-music interplay within all manner of symphonic grandeur. Should that be any surprise … [Read more...]

Anne-Sophie Mutter and André Previn: Music from the divorce that didn’t work

Anne-Sophie Mutter has long maintained supreme artistic poise in the classical violin world, but the wild card in her repertoire has often come from her ex-husband, the multi-Oscar-winning composer André Previn. Now 88 or 89 (depending on whom you believe), he has written ten works for her, and though his new piece The Fifth Season (given its world premiere on Sunday at Carnegie Hall) wasn't his best, he continues being a good counterbalance in her repertoire. In fact, The Fifth Season, which was a Carnegie Hall commission, suggested perhaps … [Read more...]

‘High Noon’ adapted for the stage, speaking sharply to 2018 and with no exit

NEW YORK - High Noon is a great movie, but does it immediately jump to mind as a story that's ripe for re-evaluation and revision? The 1952 original was a superior western, thanks to its strong psychological and political underpinnings. Those are the elements refracted in the new Axis Company stage adaptation, and they speak with remarkable specificity to 2018. Is there any way out of the cycle of justice, revenge and violence that is etched so clearly in this stage version? Not in a world where criminals promise prosperity. The same plot … [Read more...]

Pianist Menahem Pressler at age 94: Fragile, fallible, but still a credit to his legacy?

Human beings are living longer - and so are performing artists. The question of when they retire gracefully isn't going away, and, if anything, will only require more finesse as musical legends have increasingly few reasons to retire. That question inevitably arose as pianist Menahem Pressler, the multi-decade soul of the Beaux Arts Trio, was helped onto the Kimmel Center stage on Feb. 9 for a Philadelphia Orchestra return in Mozart's Piano Concerto K. 488, some 70 years after his debut. He's 94 and has continued to play well in recent … [Read more...]

Michael Gordon’s Acquanetta: Backstage carnage amid on-screen horror

Mystery is the canny substitute for substance. The less that is known, the more implication can spin grandeur out of the mundane. And that explains Acquanetta, the single-named Hollywood star of 1940s B-movies like Captive Wild Woman who wouldn't have had even her brief heyday without the veil of ambiguity. Certainly, she wouldn't be the namesake of Michael Gordon's recently revised opera Acquanetta, seen on Saturday in a high-impact video/theatrical package that's likely to haunt me in my dreams. Though its run in the current Prototype … [Read more...]

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