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Paul’s Case: An opera that buries carnations in the snow

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Sometimes an opera grows into the time in which it’s meant to be heard. Such is the situation with the unpromisingly-titled Paul's Case by composer Gregory Spears and librettist Kathryn Walat, first heard in ink-not-yet-dry circumstances in the 2009 Philly Fringe Festival. Now, in a new, late-April production by the Washington, D.C.-area company Urban Arias, the piece is nearly ready to claim a place in the chamber opera repertoire - thanks to a long-haul development process for which American Opera Projects deserves much … [Read more...]

Bennewitz Quartet: Young musicians with eternal hindsight

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The Frick Collection’s Sunday afternoon concerts are often portals into European music making, presenting one debut after another of artists for whom a larger U.S. presence has been stymied by post-9/11 security hassles. But on Sunday’s April 14th respite from tax deadlines, the Bennewitz Quartet went rather further by entering a temporary time warp – fitting for a venue that, with any performer, feels so blessedly distant from everyday American life. Modern musicians (well, a few of them) can convincingly echo the musical manners that died … [Read more...]

Poul Ruders at Curtis and N.Y. Phil: Transcending notes, rests and contradictions

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Danish composer Poul Ruders (b. 1949) made a post-Easter sweep through the northeast U.S. – though it didn’t feel brief in the least and was never likely to. “He strikes a huge stride over all kinds of music. Light, dark, contrapuntal, monophonic, high and low registers ... he revels in extreme contrasts. And like a tight-rope artist, he’s also an entertainer,” said guitarist David Starobin, a longtime advocate of Ruders, introducing the composer’s music at an April 3rd recital at the Curtis Institute of Music. To that, I would add that … [Read more...]

Cavalli’s Eliogabalo: An opera that needed rescuing…out of The Box

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The pickup truck pulled up alongside me and my bicycle on 47th Street in need of directions: “Where’s that street with all the strip clubs?” “You’re asking the wrong guy,” I said. And before I could disqualify myself by claiming to be gay, the driver’s head snapped the other direction and was off. In retrospect, that moment began my karmic payback for being so dismissive toward some guys with a simple need for risqué fun. Weeks later, I was in such a place, not wanting to be there, and discovering the meaning of that old adage: “The main … [Read more...]

Gloriously useless beauty on a rainy New York night

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“Beauty makes me sad,” said Steven Mackey, threatening to take a Byronic turn. “If you can’t have sex with it or eat it, what good is it? “Maybe that’s why people invented picnics. If they can’t eat it [beauty] they can at least eat in its presence.” So said the Princeton-based composer by way of introducing his piece Groundswell to the audience at American Modern Ensemble’s American Stories concert on March 26 at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music. The subject, on that rainy Monday in New York City, was what makes composers … [Read more...]

Van Cliburn and his fraught generation

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With any luck, Van Cliburn lived to watch the Oscars one last time. The legendary pianist, who died Wednesday at age 78 after a long struggle with liver cancer, was that kind of guy. In the years after his 1978 retirement from full-time concertizing, the way to engage him was not with some erudite conversation about music – such things seemed to pain him – but to discuss the latest movies and who might get the big prizes. He would just light right up. That’s not what the world expects from musicians who have been saddled with expectations of … [Read more...]

Star wars with Daniil Trifonov, Benjamin Grosvenor and Ingolf Wunder

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The old stereotype of the emerging Russian pianist was fast, loud and so physically massive that the New Yorker once ran a cartoon showing a Carnegie Hall-ish poster of a grizzly bear next to a tiny keyboard reduced to rubble. Not so with Daniil Trifonov, the slim, courtly 21-year-old winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition - even if he does require a piano tuner at intermission. But like many of his generation, he is making his name on his brains rather than his fingers. He can play with the best of them. But the centerpiece of his recent … [Read more...]

Composer Kate Soper: She is her own Eurydice (and Orpheus)

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When the much-missed soprano Barbara Bonney was singing lots of new music in the '90s, she stated, with equal parts rashness and shyness, that she was considering writing music herself - for herself. Not a bad idea, since nobody knew her voice better than she did.    She seems never to have gone through with it. And the idea seemed just as radical on Jan. 18 until Kate Soper sang an extended scena of her own making, titled now is forever: Orpheus and Eurydice, with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie's Zankel Hall.   Soper, 32, has … [Read more...]

Wozzeck on Ice!: It was a hoax.

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Damn, damn, damn! I was all set to go on Travelocity to book a flight to Freiburg, Germany when this poster for Wozzeck on Ice! arrived in my inbox this morning. Imagine: A genre normally associated with the lightest of light children's entertainment applied to a thoroughly adult, furrow-browed opera.  Imagine the most graceful and circular of the athletic arts being the frame for Alban Berg's incredibly angular music. With ice skates, singers could make entrances and exits with cinematic speed. They would also get sick more often. Then … [Read more...]

Ailyn and Steve: The new operatic power couple?

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When Audra McDonald called them an opera power couple on the recent PBS broadcast of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation Gala, I broke out laughing. Not at McDonald, and not because she was inaccurate: Soprano Ailyn Perez and tenor Stephen Costello fit the definition – both are headed toward the top of the opera profession if they aren't there already – but they don't fit the part, which was delightfully apparent in odd, peripheral moments on the telecast (still available for streaming here). Aren't power couples supposed to be … [Read more...]

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