an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise

Piffaro, the Philadelphia Renaissance Band: A new sun rises again and again

Once the upstart child of the early-music counterculture, Piffaro, the Philadelphia Renaissance Band is now, at age 40, downright venerable, as its founders are ceding leadership to a generation who learned about pre-Bach wind band literature by memorizing their recordings. Starting next season, Priscilla Herreid moves up from the ranks as the new director, replacing Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemken, who have jointly been given a lifetime achievement award by Early Music America. The world never asked for a Renaissance wind band, but Piffaro … [Read more...]

John Williams’ Violin Concerto No. 2: Is he raging at The Force?

So it seems. Having faced Darth Vader, John Williams is now arguing, it seems, with something more tangible — and in ways that suggest he has no fears about doing so. Or what his audience might think about it. Maybe this is me projecting my gloves-off exasperation at our COVID-dominated world, but Williams's Violin Concerto No. 2, premiered July 24 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, is saying a lot of things that I need to express in words but somehow cannot. Having collected numerous Grammy Awards and Oscars for his … [Read more...]

At last! Live music, pure and uncompromised

The July 4th weekend came with an obviously heightened sense of independence from the COVID-era restrictions. With it came my first entry into a concert that could've happened before March 2020: Bargemusic at Brooklyn's Fulton Ferry Landing hosted a July 3rd recital by the bold, provocative pianist Beth Levin playing selections from Brahms's Op. 119, Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, Mozart's Fantasie in D minor K. 397, and a new work by Jonathan Dawe titled The Emperor's Canon. If the venue seemed a tad musty in recent years, it certainly isn't now … [Read more...]

Hello, Toscanini. And Hello, Doris Day — Hiding out from 2021 in the 1950s, musically speaking

On many days lately, the last places I've wanted to be are 2020 and 2021. And living outside of the present is clearly optional. Encouraged by pandemic restrictions, I retreated to my decade of origin — the 1950s — creating in my apartment a musical time capsule that could only have been experienced in 1960 or before. That's thanks to Brooklynites who have been clearing out their closets while stuck at home, finding all manner of often-unplayed LP records and depositing them in second-hand stores, where I’ve stumbled upon them at giveaway … [Read more...]

Words to live by: Don’t shoehorn grand opera

Grand opera is somehow rising again — despite restrictions that limit its fundamental grandeur. That impossibly expansive genre, so greatly missed since the lockdown, faces profound challenges that are being met by the most resourceful minds in the business, and in ways that remind us what we're still missing, while attempting to deliver the goods — with much more success than not. The Metropolitan Opera is the greatest cause for concern, with its massive loss of money loss since the pandemic began and current negotiations with unions … [Read more...]

Is it possible to mourn James Levine?

Yes, but with an enormous asterisk. With an air of mystery that was typical around James Levine's private life, the Metropolitan Opera conductor's death in Palm Springs at age 77 was announced on Wednesday, roughly a week after his actual passing on March 9. No explanation, of course. With his history of hiding physical ailments (including Parkinson's disease) and dismissing sexual abuse accusations, Levine was such a creature of denial that it might've taken a full week to convince his restless spirit that he is indeed … [Read more...]

Camilla Wicks: Towering talent found, lost, and found again

Violinist Camilla Wicks was not being modest, but realistic. The clear, clipped voice at the other end of the phone was neither astonished nor impressed to learn that her 1952 recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto was a collector's item that, in its original LP incarnation, sold for as much as $125. "It's not that good," she said, sounding mildly exasperated. Oh, but it is. And I wonder what would she say if she saw that a re-issued CD of the Sibelius on EMI is now selling on for $985? Wicks, who died Nov. 25 … [Read more...]

Why composers shouldn’t attack each other in public

In the end, everyone comes out looking bad. So it was when composer Matthew Aucoin, age 30, took on Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) in the Nov. 5 New York Review of Books. The young Boulez trashed his compositional contemporaries left and right; now Aucoin takes up that mantle in his review of Boulez's Music Lessons: The Collège de France Lectures. Both composers have an avenging angel sensibility — except that Boulez pulled back in middle age, and had a rare moment of regret. Original issue of Pierre Boulez's Le Marteau sans … [Read more...]

Lang Lang, the Goldberg Variations and roads that were (long) not taken

We've all had some tough nights with Lang Lang. In recent years, Carnegie Hall audiences were treated to a pounded-out Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 1 and a showmanship-overdrive version of Rhapsody in Blue that left no one surprised when he had to take off more time than expected due to a hand injury. But the Goldberg Variations, which he recorded in two different performances released simultaneously on Deutsche Grammophon, occupied a significant part of his life well before he showed that classical artists could achieve rock-star status in … [Read more...]

Parallel musical universes? More lost continents? The early-music movement in New York explores an endless past.

Before the COVID lockdown, concert life in New York was such a breathless series of discoveries that you barely had time to digest what you were hearing. Now, one stands back and marvels how horizons have kept expanding in the music before J.S. Bach, with modern premieres of 400-year-old works by names you've barely heard of — and leave you wanting more. This look-how-far-we've-come realization came with the recent arrival of two recording releases: Monteverdi's Vespro Della Beata Vergine of 1610 by the Green Mountain Project, which has … [Read more...]

an ArtsJournal blog