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The Guardian in action: A great newspaper is ready upon the death of a great public figure (this time, Neil Simon)

Important public figures always have their obituaries written in advance. I did this one on Neil Simon years ago and was allowed to give it time, thought and research. Excellent editing was another plus. Then, this past Sunday, hours after his death was announced, the piece appeared on line. It's another one of those things that newspapers do better than other media outlets. An even better example was Peter Dobrin's obit on philanthropist Gerry Lenfest in The Philadelphia Inquirer several weeks back. The world would be a rather less-informed … [Read more...]

‘Vanessa’ and ‘The Cradle Will Rock’: middle-aged operas speak to current ills

Even the mirrors lie in Samuel Barber's opera Vanessa. At least that's the world created in the new Glyndebourne Festival staging, which is likely to raise the profile of an opera that, sad to say, needs it. The production seemed to come out of the blue. Though the indoor intimacy of Vanessa fits this smallish, rural-England opera house perfectly, it's not characteristic of Glyndebourne, whose usual summer seasons combine very old and brand-new opera, plus standard works re-explored with unusual theatrical integrity. Samuel Barber … [Read more...]

John Luther Adams’s ‘In the Name of the Earth’: 600 singers make elemental music

"If you see 600 singers coming towards you, get out of the way." That advice from conductor Simon Halsey was no doubt a first for most people at the truly-full-house audience at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. But the Aug. 11 world premiere of the John Luther Adams choral work In the Name of the Earth was a singular occasion - 50 minutes of multiple choirs moving around the space while singing. Singing what? Nothing radical, but nothing so familiar either. Nobody should've been disappointed that the original venue - the earth … [Read more...]

Mayr’s Medea at Teatro Nuovo: Stars evolved and aligned for the opera and La Rowley

Giovanni Simone Mayr (1763-1845) is hardly the sexiest name in opera history, but he became exactly that between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m. on July 29 at Purchase College, Make that 4:35 p.m. Mayr’s Medea in Corinto needed time to warm up. Having written roughly 70 operas between 1794 and 1823, Mayr shows how Mozartean opera evolved without Mozart. An output of such volume could hardly be unknown, and it’s not. Any number of recordings are floating around – I previously encountered a number of them - and Medea in Corinto is the best known … [Read more...]

Leonard Bernstein: Free from gender with nothing to prove or lose

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON - The pre-performance corridors of the Fisher Center at Bard College appeared to have been invaded by The Radical Faeries – a madly colorful, gender-ambiguous subset of the gay community. Maybe it was a typical day in the life of a liberal campus? No. The cast of Christopher Alden’s production of Peter Pan - the Leonard Bernstein version - was revving up for the July 22 closing night  at Bard Summerscape festival. By the end of the show, I don't think there was really anything so gay about it, though it was great fun and … [Read more...]

Music from the attic: The Revelers return with a mellifluous secret garden

Attic music speaks quietly - and with wide-open possibilities. A secret garden, perhaps? Stacks of printed music found in closets and attics - having survived the decades by accident or design - often lose their purpose along with the last person who sang or heard the music. And re-discovering that purpose can confound the smartest historians with pages stored out of order and on paper that can crumble when touched. No such barriers, however, seem to be stopping The Revelers from resurrection. This quartet of million-selling recording … [Read more...]

The creative arc of Kile Smith: Do opportunities make the piece? Or does the piece create the opportunity?

The surprisingly large number of thriving Philadelphia composers is only partly about the city's relatively low cost of living and great conservatories. It's also about great opportunities that don't depend on the Philadelphia Orchestra. Certainly, composers such as Jennifer Higdon have had that lucky break with the Fab Philadelphians. But no realistic composer can put their muse on hold until something like that comes their way. Like Kile Smith (b. 1956). He worked for years overseeing the Fleisher Collection at the Philadelphia Free … [Read more...]

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...]

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