Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween premieres

Two great works had their world premiere on October 31st: in 1955, Alan Hovhaness' Symphony No. 2 ("Mysterious Mountain"), was played for the very first time by the Houston Symphony, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

and in 1970, George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children, in Washington, D.C. as part of the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation's 14th Festival of Chamber Music.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Smaller Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio Thinks Big

On Friday October 26th the Chamber Orchestraof San Antonio opens its concert season. No, this is not a branch of the venerable San Antonio Chamber Society nor an extension of the San Antonio Symphony. Then, what is it? It is an extraordinary complement to both, filling in that large body of music ranging from the vast repertoire of chamber orchestral music and chamber transcriptions that are rarely heard. The world of nonets upwards; its musical contingent normally ranges from ten to thirty musicians. It’s that rich shadow world consisting of everything from Arnold Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night” and Charles Ives’s “The Unanswered Question” to the chamber works of Bliss, Enesco, Brahms (chamber version of his Serenade #1) and Copland’s original version of  “Appalachian Spring.

Where did COSA come from? It is the brain and heart child of, among others, co-founders Robert Ehlers, Paul Montalvo and Silvia Santinelli- Ehlers. They are each   professional musicians, adept amateurs or profound music lovers. They, on a given night at dinner a few years ago, decided that there was an entire body of music that was well worth hearing and rediscovering that was neglected because much of it fell between the two worlds of the grand orchestral tradition on the one hand and the classical chamber world of trio to octet on the other. More research uncovered that many of these works may have never been presented in public performance in San Antonio before. They decided to do something about it and began the arduous and extremely time consuming process of making this dream a reality; all have other very demanding jobs. The result is their upcoming first concert. It is an interesting historical survey of music from Claudio Monteverdi to Edgard Varese and Charles Ives with Richard Wagner and J.C. Bach thrown in for good measure.

To compliment this tantalizing night is a lecture-discussion component. In this case a conversation with Professor of Philosophy Kathleen Higgins (of the University of Texas )  with a concentration on music and the “philosophy of the emotions.” She offers her considered views on each of the musicians, the program and the historical context of the works as a survey of styles and musical thoughts in the western tradition.

Please take some time out Friday night at the Pearl Stables 7:30 pm Oct. 26th and you’ll hear some wonderful music. For a pre-concert peek, visit TPR.ORG to John Clare’s interview with conductor Carlos Izcaray who will lead the COSA orchestra and hear a complete interview with Kathleen Higgins.

- Ron Moore


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vivaldi’s Fanarce, A Revelation

Antonio Vivaldi and his titanic opera Fanarce, like George Frederich Handel and his many stage works are the product of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in the classical music repertory and performance practice over the last forty years. Beginning sometime in the late 1960's and early 70's a strange series or recordings began to appear. The music centered on the neglected works of Mozart (his then rarely heard Opera Seria’s); the unknown operatic world that Haydn cultivated in the little theatre at Eszterhaza and the works of the French and German baroque. The standard bearer and inspiration of this movement was Nikolaus Harnoncourt, his wife Alice plus a group of friends including Gustav Leonhardt , Franz Bruggen and Jaap Schorder. The tuning was odd, to ears modulated to equal temperament, the instruments sounded like something from another and very fascinating planet. Twenty years later many more groups had sprouted up all over Europe and America. By then these troupes began to tour widely after a generation of listeners had now absorbed their treasure trove of recordings. After recording the totality of Bach, and in the final and most extravagant gesture they began to present whole operas. Handel was the first to be completely reevaluated on the basis of works that had existed as only names in history - now refashioned as living things. There followed Rameau and Lully who arrived in New York with William Christie’s Les Arts Florrisants and finally, now Antonio Vivaldi and the much praised and little known Fanarce.

courtesy of Wikipedia

Like Handel before him Vivaldi is known almost exclusively as a composer of endless concerti, a series of deft sacred works and of course the Four Seasons. That he composed over forty known operas (he claims 90!) while also completing his more than 500 instrumental works has been little discussed and few of them heard.

The man known as a great violinist in his time, called ” the Red Priest”, sometime around 1727 began the first version of what is now considered perhaps his supreme masterwork for the stage, Farnace. The plot concerns a character taken up later by Mozart in Mitridate Re di Ponte. Fanarce. Son of King Mitridante rebels and briefly allies himself against his father and brother and sides with Pompey during the third Mithridatic War. Father and son battle over a women, split the kingdom and then reconcile. In Vivaldi the same character fights for his beloved wife (Tamiri)  after suggesting she commit suicide and murder their child rather than be taken prisoner. The plot is complicated by an implacable and bothersome mother-in-law, Berenice, Queen of Cappadocia. Moreover, two nobles vie for Tamiri’s affections, Aquilo and Gilade. Tamari must navigate these treacherous waters to save herself, her son and Kingdom, not lose her virtue and she hopes to even salvage her mad husband. Vivaldi worked and reworked the opera throughout the last years of his life. There are at least three extant versions written between 1727 and 1739. He was so proud of the result that he argued with theatre after theatre over its presentation, brooking no alteration. He claimed in one letter, like Mozart, that it was so well conceived that “Not a note could be cut, even with a knife.” Its incredible power and level of invention are presented in the first bravura aria:

                                              Benche vinto e sconfitto,

                                                Perfide stele, io son Farnace ancora.

                                        Though beaten and defeated,

                              Treacherous stars, I am still Farnace.

courtesy of Wikipedia

That he could write this single aria marks him as a master, what follows lifts him into the lofty company of Gluck, Handel, Rameau, Lully and early Mozart. What we have heard in the playfulness and virtuosity of the Four Seasons, the vocal agility and expressiveness of the Stabat Mater and Gloria and the lyrical tenderness of the Mandolin Concerto is now all combined and harnessed to a great dramatic idea. And although it continues in three acts and over three hours, he was right you can’t cut a note, even with a knife.

Hear the other side of Vivaldi this Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and the only baroque opera of the season with Antonio Vivaldi’s Fanarce.  That’s here at noon on KPAC and KTXI.     

by Ron Moore

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Orquesta Tipica Sexteto de Diez

It would be well beyond facts to make the claim that every comedian is also inherently musical. However, I expect the exceptions would be a meager number when compared to those comedians who are, or in the case of comedians of yesterday, were endowed with significant musical abilities. Consider Steve Martin, today as much musician/banjo player as comedian. Even the recently departed Phyllis Diller played piano, apparently well enough in her younger years to consider a career in music. And what about Charlie Chaplin, who wrote music for his films?

This consideration of comedians as musicians is prompted by a postcard I recently pulled out of a box of Mexico memorabilia. It pictures a mural called "Comedians of the 20th Century." I'm not sure who painted the mural, but I believe it might be in San Miguel Allende. Pictured, from left to right: Will Rogers, Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Cantinflas, Rafael Mendez, Buster Keaton, and Laurel & Hardy. Conducting, of course, is Charlie Chaplin. I'm not sure who the harpist is, but perhaps it is Harpo Marx. There's plenty of detail here to keep one engaged for quite some time. I especially like the humor of the group's name: Orquesta Tipica Sexteto de Diez (Sextet of Ten).

It was no less than Charlie Chaplin who crowned the Mexican comedian Mario Moreno, better known throughout Latin America as Cantinflas, "the world's best comedian." I think the title of best "musical" comedian might have to go to Danny Kaye, but perhaps Cantinflas would have run a somewhat close second. The musical scene in the 1952 Cantinflas movie, "Si Yo Fuera Diputado (If I Were a Deputy)," is pure joy. Here we find Cantinflas slipping past security to get backstage at a concert hall. The police are in hot pursuit, eventually leaving Cantinflas no where to go except, unwittingly, onstage. He's trapped, with no choice but to conduct the concert.

Hope you enjoy this excerpt as much as I did.

James Baker - host and producer of Itinerarios: Music with Latin American Roots.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

COSA begins

Carlos Izcaray, courtesy of the artist
The Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio begins Friday night at Pearl Stables with a concert called The Perennial Contest. Classical Spotlight host John Clare posed these questions from conductor Carlos Izcaray.

1. What sort of questions come to mind as you think of this program, “The Perennial Contest”?
This is a very interesting question, and quite a first question to ask! In the most obvious sense, the perennial contest deals with the seemingly endless debate regarding the aesthetics of tonality and its relevance in today's classical music world, that contest which is majestically inscribed without words in Ives masterpiece The Unanswered Question. This opener also leads to our "time travel" program that expands through almost 5 centuries, which also gives a sense of perennial or everlasting. But as the question also relates to "what comes to mind", then from a personal perspective I also add the fact that the separate words, perennial and contest, represent whole worlds in themselves. Perennial in the philosophical sense as it can relate to the concept of philosophia perennis, a term linked with the underlying traditionalist school of thought (Guenon, Schuon, Coomaraswamy, Hossein Nasr), as well as the writings of more popular thinkers such as Huxley and Osho. Then there is the other word, Contest, which on one side symbolizes the ongoing debate of such principles with modernity, and on the other side the much related topic of tonality vs. atonality. In other words, I believe there are esoteric and exoteric philosophical components to the title of the program.

2. How exciting is it to lead the first concert of COSA?
I am extremely excited about this wonderful opportunity that I have been entrusted with. At my age I believe I'm experienced enough to see when a music organization has a fresh outlook on matters such as the important role of culture and the arts in society. Fortunately that's the case here. On more than one occasion, I've observed organizations that have sadly fallen in the "same old, same old" approach to their performances and overall identity, and then curiously enough they wonder why they go though such perils as chronic financial instability and cultural irrelevance. In my conversations with the leadership at COSA, though, I've found a vibrant and in-tune attitude to what this event means for such an important city as San Antonio. To add the fact that all of this is being accomplished within these uncertain times is nothing short of miraculous. These wonderful people have been working arduously for years to make this happen, so it's quite an honor for me to be given the opportunity to kindle what I hope will be a great road ahead.

3. Are there different approaches to the music of different ages (Ives to Monteverdi?!)?
In a way all music must be approached the same way, meaning the search for homogeneity in sound, intonation, balance, beauty and exalting expression. The search for the latter two - beauty & expression - diversify the approach on how to tackle certain passages in the music at hand. When one is asking oneself "how should I play this piece?", one strives to attain the most sincere result by absorbing as many historical, aesthetic, and philosophical elements as possible that would have led to the creation it in the first place. One wants to hear that the Muse sang within the psyche of the composer. In the end, though, the approach of trying to understand how and why a piece is performed is intrinsically the same.

4. The ensemble varies in size in these works, is it difficult to arrange rehearsal and timings for these varied works?
Many of the great conductors I've been fortunate to meet and work with have told me the same thing: "The easiest part about conducting is conducting!". This is obviously not meaning to say that conducting is actually easy, but since it's such a pleasure to experience it once one is on the podium, specially if one's passionate about the art, then other aspects such as logistics become a heavier challenge. In this case, we've had to think a little extra regarding time and space management, but fortunately nothing to stress too much about.

5. What’s the philosophical bent for the JC Bach symphony? Other than a friend of Mozart, I don’t see/hear the connection.
There is a huge and important connection between JC Bach and Mozart. On top of being a good friend to Mozart, he was also a great mentor to the younger genius. Bach's departure from the aesthetics ruling over his father's mostly God-inspired perfectionist and baroque style, lead him to a lighter approach that would lead toward the "Stile galante", the classical concerto, and of course, Opera. This would be a great influence on Mozart, both aesthetically and personally. You can also hear the beginnings of the Sonata form in this Sinfonia which is also basically a pre-Classical symphony without the corresponding 4th movement. Regarding the "genius potential" of composition, obviously Mozart is quite apart from JC Bach, but that could be said about Mozart vs. most other composers in history.

Friday, October 19, 2012

San Antonio International Piano Competition: LIVE!

Use this link to watch the San Antonio International Piano Competition, live this weekend from the campus of Trinity University:

Watch live streaming video from saipc at

Monday, October 15, 2012

Music Monday

Today would have been the 107th birthday of composer Dag Wiren. He is not well known but wrote delightful music.
"Honest, straight to the point, balanced but uncompromising - such was the personality of the Swedish composer Dag Wirén. The same can be said of his music: it never tries to be anything but itself, it addresses the listener directly, it obeys unswervingly its own laws." -  Jan Carlstedt

Friday, October 12, 2012

Maria Padilla, a Surprise from Donizetti


In the years of furious and final creativity (between, about 1837-1843) Gaetano Donizetti would know great success and terrible tragedy. On the one hand he would experience the death of his parents; all three of his children would not survive to adulthood and his wife would fall to cholera. In parallel his fecund talent would ceaselessly enable him to work continuously, until his own final mental eclipse would overtake him in 1843. By some counts he would achieve 60-75 (I can find no agreement) operas; 16 symphonies; 19 string quartets (I’ve heard many and they are lovely) and over 190 songs. In his final years of work he would pen Don Pasquale, La Favorita, Roberto Deveraux, La Fille du Regiment and something called Maria Padilla. This latter is a true surprise and a work of rare beauty and extraordinary musical invention. It gives proof to the fact that there is just more great music, happily, than we can ever know.

Nothing in Maria Padilla happens as its outline might suggest. A prince, disguised as a commoner, falls in love with Maria. He is traveling under an assumed name (Mendez) and attempts a seduction. The usual romantic conclusion is her being forsaken or imagining she is (Lucia di Lammermoor), his marrying another noble or simply casting her aside (Rigoletto ,La Traviata) or some magical or improbable intervention (Tristan). None of these things happen in Maria Padilla, in fact all the romantic conventions are turned on their head. She does not go mad, her father (Ruiz) does. The father figure is not a baritone, true in all of the above operas, but a tenor. The royal story with its’ pageantry and court intrigue is all there but, overshadowed by the love of two sisters and their relation to their father, whose falls into derangement from shame. The seduction isn’t even a conquest, it resolves itself into mutual consent and an agreement- Maria will flee with her lover Don Pedro (Mendez true identity) if he will marry her and later crown her Queen, and he agrees! What follows are court intrigue, high politics, near betrayal and a stunning denoument . So stunning it exist in three versions! There are ensembles, arias and choruses on par with his greatest works and enough bel-canto virtuosity to make the near three hours and three acts fly by. One of the most moving a trio for two sopranos, tenor with harp and then English horn obbligato:

No… sola mi lasciate …

In tal punto solenne , che decide

No … leave me alone …

In this solemn moment which will

forever decide my fate

What follows is a royal apotheosis and debacle simultaneously, the complete “double” change of heart of the man who would be King and a completely unexpected Napoleonic gesture from a woman who rises to heroic dimensions in the causes of love and honor.

Find out how Donizetti manages all this with his unexpected opera Maria Padilla. The conventions start breaking at noon on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on KPAC and KTXI.   

by Ron Moore

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Remembering Glenn Gould - again

When my wife got home I showed her the new book Remembering Glenn Gould by Colin Eatock and she remarked “Didn't you have every book about him already”? She had a point there, I thought I had every book and the fact that a new title would be published thirty years after his death and it would be anticipated is a bit...different.

Gould's recordings are still unique. His Bach is the easiest to pick out, but he brought his own distinctive and incisive style to most of his repertoire. You hear it in the balance between the hands and the voicing of the notes. Gould didn't play with two hands, but ten independent fingers and they sing out - the tenor legato and loud and the baritone staccato and sharp and then, probably because he could, he changed it up and swapped the balances around as easily as an organist changes the registration of the various ranks of pipes. It is not surprising to learn that in his youth Gould was a very fine organist.

There is an old saying “music picks up where words fail”. I can't miss this irony when there is a book about a musician, a pianist no less, that joins the 14 plus books devoted to this Canadian musician that is somehow still worth writing and more importantly, thinking about. Consider other pianists, like one of the great virtuosos of the 20th century, Vladimir Horowitz, he gets one or two books, Artur Rubinstein, three or four and Rubinstein had to write two of those himself!

Clearly there is something about Gould. It started in 1978 with a very unusual book about the pianist by the Toronto educator Geoffrey Payzant, entitled Glenn Gould Music and the Mind. This is no florid, adjective strewn book about a piano virtuoso storming through concerts and life; what we get is a portrait of the mind and motives of a man who lived pretty much the contemplative life of a hermit. What started Payzant down this road was Gould's approach to music and the mental discipline the pianist put into all of his recordings.

With Glenn Gould's good looks and easy manner at the keyboard - he had no problem with   crossing his long legs while playing a concerto or warming his arms with scalding hot water before a performance. It wasn't long before reporters knew they had something rare in classical music - a musician that was good copy. And soon the stories and legends, not all of them true, became part and parcel of the GG mystique. This mass of information is compounded by the fact the young man enjoyed the attention and knew that being colorful and outspoken could get him even more column inches. The difficult part for the fans and those curious about the pianist was finding out what was he really like? With his life of music so well documented, one is left wondering about all that was left out.

In Remembering Glenn Gould, author Colin Eatock questions twenty people who knew or were somehow associated with the pianist. Sometimes asking the same questions to different friends and colleagues we gain insight that paints a more complicated portrait than is presented in previous books. I also appreciate that Eatock follows up each interview with an enlightening postscript and footnotes explaining some of the details that add interest to the story. Eatock categorizes the interviews in an interesting way. The first four are under “Working for Mr. Gould” then “Musicians Speak”, “Microphone and Camera”, “Two personal relationships” and ending with “Writing about Gould”.

In this book one finds out what Canada’s second most famous pianist, Anton Kuerti, thought about Gould; then there is the man that set up his recording venues, the piano technician, and the producer of most of his output Andrew Kazdin, who already published a tell-all book about the pianist - he gives us his final thoughts. Most interesting.

Mr. Eatock is thorough and kind to those who granted him an interview and his book gives us a multifaceted look at a man who amazed music lovers for too short a time. Considering that Gould looked at music in a unique manner and was so careful in the fine mental judgments that make a difference between a great and everyday performance, it is not surprising that this is topic worthy of study and yet another book about him. What is surprising is that in thinking about musicians over the last 60 years, who has come about to replace him?  

Reviewed by Randy Anderson

Remembering Glenn Gould - Twenty interviews with People who knew Him

by Colin Eatock

Penumbra Press   ISBN 978-1-897323-20-5    

Chicago Symphony in Mexico

After a brief work stoppage a couple of weeks ago, as the musicians of the Chicago Symphony and their management resolved several hangnails in their contract negotiations, the CSO went right back to work, then on the road. Last week the orchestra was in residence at Carnegie Hall, in New York City. This week, they are in Mexico, the orchestra's first visit to the International Cervantino Festival; on Wednesday they play in Mexico City's Bellas Artes. Needless to say, this great orchestra is being greeted as a conquering hero.

The Festival Internacional Cervantino, named after the Spanish writer Cervantes, is now a 40 year old Mexican cultural landmark. The trajectory has not always been true. There have been ebbs and flows, largely related to the Mexican economy, yet the Cervantino has continued to survive. Even in its leanest years there have been exceptional lineups of international artists. If one needs evidence that the arts are alive and well, a visit to the Cervantino surely provides substantial room for optimism. It is a street party. It is spontaneous artistic combustion. In addition to the constant and informal performers on the sidewalks, there are officially sanctioned events morning, noon and night. I am certain the Chicago Symphony is having a blast in Guanajuato, the 16th Century principal venue of the festival. ¡Viva the CSO!. ¡Viva Riccardo Muti, the orchestra's conductor! ¡Viva México! The orchestra continues its brief Mexico tour next week with a concert in Mexico City's Bellas Artes.

Here is a good account of the orchestra's first couple of days in Guanajuato. I sure wish I could be there.,0,5662411.column

James Baker- host and producer: Itinerarios

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wagner’s Meistersinger - A Human Comedy


courtesy Wikipedia
 There is no end of debate about Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. It is simultaneously the most genial, most humane woolly bear of an opera Wagner would ever compose. On the other hand it's most admiring critics are quick to point out the opera’s internal double life: it is the most openly nationalistic, perhaps covertly anti-Semitic and historically problematic of the Wagner canon. Nike Wagner, great- granddaughter of the composer and great- great- granddaughter of Franz Liszt, writes of this duality extensively in her book The Wagners (see chapter 7, Folly and Wit) for those interested in the ongoing intellectual argument. Having said all this I have the suspicion that at the distance of over one hundred and forty years since the premiere in 1868 and the approaching Wagner bicentennial (1813-2013), the statute of historical - aesthetic limitations may well be running out on Wagner’s comedy. Viewed as a stand alone piece, freed of its historical freight, it is for all its shortcomings a wonderful, if archaic nineteenth century treat. It is, some say, the longest opera ever written that is retained in the repertory. It’s “humor” is not exactly the rapier wit of Restoration comedy or Moliere, let alone Shakespeare. But, its musical delights pass all criticism. Accepting its epic length, running with intermissions, (usually two), Meistersinger can run a staggering six hours. As I say an artifact of another time, but a masterpiece none the less.

courtesy Wikipedia

The plot mixes history and fiction. Nurnberg and the historical Hans Sachs joined by a cast of dozens. At the heart of the drama is a love affair between Eva Pogner and Walter von Stolzing. She wants to wed the young aristocratic singer but to do so he must first qualify as a Mastersinger, with all its mad rules and then compete with others for her hand in a song contest. As always, the winner gets the girl. There is internal dissension in the singing group - how is the winner to be judged? And here is the truly modern twist at the heart of the opera. Are they to use the old rules challenged by Walter and questioned by Hans Sachs or rewrite them in the light of his new song?
Morgen leuchtend im rosigen Schein,
Von Blut und Duft,

Warm in the sunlight, at dawning of day,

Where blossoms rare, made sweet the air,

With beauty glowing past all knowing,

Here is the real Wagner symbolically claiming for himself, the romantics and the Music Drama, a new standard that must be understood in its own way by new rules and taking a not at all subtle swipe at his critics, especially the authoritative Hanslick of Vienna. The plot moves from Walter’s rejection by the ruthless “Marker”, Sixtus Beckmesse, a stand in for the critic. Walter learns from Sachs, blending the old and new styles and creates a new song accepted by the people, the Masters and vanquishes Beckmesser. The controversial close of the opera, for some, is when Wagner’s interpolation of verses praising a uniquely “German Art” (Heilige Kunst) which the National Socialist regime twisted toward its own end. For myself, taking a page from Jacques Barzun; let’s not confuse old fashion 19th nationalism, with 20th century politics of destructive nihilism. Leave the Great Master his personal eccentricities and ourselves hours of unalloyed delight.

Tune in to this Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and Wagner’s epic comedy, Die Meistersinger.  Remembering Fischer - Dieskau  as Hans Sachs and a young Placido Domingo - offering a Prize Song for the ages. Here at noon on KPAC and KTXI.  

by Ron Moore

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

San Antonio Symphony and Musicians Union Reach Agreement

Guest conductor Roman Teber leads the San Antonio Symphony. Photo by Joey Palacios
By Joey Palacios

The San Antonio Symphony was one of many orchestras across the country to be in contract negotiations, but now it's one of the few to come to finally an agreement. Symphony Board Chair Dennert Ware said the collective bargaining agreement will extend the length of the performance season.

"We're slowly increasing the weeks from 27 to 29, we think that's a positive step," Ware said. "We made some very modest increases in salary."

Salaries for the musicians will increase each year to just under $30,000 with greater health benefits and also allows for collaboration with an opera company in the third year. First Violinist Craig Sorgi represents the Musicians Society of San Antonio and said the contract sends a message to the community.

"It sends a message that we plan to be here, we're doing business, we are working together, we're getting it done, and we're moving forward instead of moving backward or standing in place," Sorgi said.

The Symphony and musicians operated under a verbal agreement last season since a contract was not finalized in time.  The new three-year contract will take them into the first year of performing in the Tobin Center for the performing arts.

This year’s operating budget for the Symphony is about $7 million, one-third of that comes from ticket sales and the rest from donations.

The first show for the season is this Friday at the Majestic.