Press

Mon, October 14, 2013

NSO offers sublime act from ‘Parisfal’ conducted by Eschenbach
The Baltimore Sun

“…The first rate Washington Chorus…prepared by Julian Wachner, summoned terrific sonic waves…”

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By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

The Wagner bicentennial, marked by opera houses and orchestras all over the place for 10 months now, is still going strong. The latest example in our region was the National Symphony Orchestra's presentation of Act 3 from "Parsifal" in concert form with a stellar ensemble of soloists and the first-rate Washington Chorus.

I caught Friday night's performance at the Kennedy Center and would have gladly gone back the next night for a second dose of musical redemption, if it hadn't been for a new production at Washington National Opera.

You do not have to buy into the religiosity of "Parsifal" to be moved by the story of the "fool" who discovers himself and his calling to save the Holy Grail. There is tremendous dramatic weight in his journey and how he affects the lives of everyone he meets -- the seductive Kundry, the ever-bleeding Amfortas, the knight-turned-hermit Gurnemanz.

And, of course, there is the glory of the music, which can carry the listener upward, with the characters in the opera, toward some higher plane. 

NSO music director Christoph Eschenbach is, above everything else, a spiritual artist. He can get deep inside a score and find not just its heart, but its soul. That he did on Friday, conducting with a refined sense of pacing and dynamics. 

The act unfolded in a single arc, held together by an underlying tension that, in the final measures, yielded to an extraordinary, radiant calm. Even at his very spacious pacing, the performance never felt draggy. I was especially impressed with how the conductor shaped the crescendo passages during the roughly 80-minutes so that each one had more visceral impact than the last.

All the while, Eschenbach had the NSO playing at a high level. There were exquisite phrases from the woodwinds, silken sounds from the strings, admirable warmth from the brass.

That rich orchestral fabric supported three singers who got fully into their characters.

In the title role, Nikolai Schukoff (pictured in thumbnail) offered superb musicality, relishing every syllable of text and sculpting phrases with great eloquence. Any dryness in the tone or effort in the highest notes meant little in light of the tenor's valiant vocalism.

As Gurnemanz, Yuri Vorobiev used his beautifully balanced bass to communicate with a mesmerizing mix of tenderness and intensity. The baritone Thomas Hampson likewise sang nobly and affectingly as the afflicted, conflicted Amfortas.

The chorus, prepared by Julian Wachner, summoned terrific sonic waves. Chorister Natalia Kojanova provided Kundry's moans and few words at the beginning of the act.

Sat, October 12, 2013

National Symphony Orchestra’s ethereal ‘Parsifal’
The Washington Times

Although Wagner’s chorus does not take part in this act until its final moments, the fine work of the Washington Chorus added a welcome power and richness to the conclusion. Entries were excellent as was this ensemble’s diction, something that choral groups occasionally neglect.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013 - Curtain Up! by Terry Ponick

If it’s 2103 it must be Verdi or Wagner. The Washington National Opera launched its season last month with Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde,” and they’re following it this weekend with their first-ever performances of Verdi’s “Force of Destiny.”

Meanwhile, over at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, the Virginia Opera is in town this evening for two performances of Verdi’s comic masterpiece “Falstaff,” an appearance foreshadowed by Wolf Trap Opera’s chamber version of the same back in August at The Barns at Wolf Trap.

Not to be outdone, the National Symphony Orchestra is getting on the Wagner bandwagon this weekend at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, dedicating its second regular season concert to a concert performance of the third act of the composer’s valedictory opera, “Parsifal.” Thursday evening’s impressive initial performance of this moving finale was a genuine revelation to the disappointingly sparse audience that came to hear it.

“Parsifal” is an esoteric opera, even for Wagner, focused as it is on the redemptive miracle of the Holy Grail and the need for a naïve but brave and persistent hero to unlock its holy powers. In the opera, country bumpkin Parsifal turns out to be just the guy to do it. After making a fool of himself in the early going, he embarks on an uncertain quest, returning in the finale a battered, wiser, nobler, and more humble knight who’s no longer errant.

Duly vetted by the hermit Gurnemanz, who stands watch for the Grail’s repository and for the holy knights who guard it, Parsifal is able to cure the incurable wound of Amfortas, restoring, to all who serve, sublime peace, harmony, and spiritual union with the divine, as all join once more in sharing the Beatific Vision.

This is deeply religious and philosophical territory for grand opera, as it focuses on the almost Zen-like inner spirit of ancient Christianity. But it’s also Wagner at his most intellectually and musically thoughtful. The music here focuses more on the uplifting sensuousness and inner sense of human longing rather than the pageantry of it all—which in a staged performance can indeed be most impressive.

Taking this approach, the composer succeeded in carrying his rather abstract finale into the realm of the sublime—precisely what the NSO, soloists, and chorus were also able to accomplish—magnificently, we might add—under the baton of music director Christoph Eschenbach, who knew exactly where to take the proceedings, serving almost in the manner of a high priest or bishop presiding over a sacred ritual.

The NSO played nearly flawlessly throughout the entirety of this roughly 80-minute act. Played without pause, it was the only item on the program—an excellent choice as any added musical tidbit surely would have broken the mood. At times, the orchestra’s performance reminded us of the Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of George Szell in a past age, sounding as if it were a single, unified instrument rather than an ensemble of individual musicians.

The strings were notable for their deep, woody richness of tone. The brass sections, largely but not entirely subdued in this act, accentuated the moments of high drama brilliantly. And, at key moments, haunting addition of the rarely heard, gong-like bass chimes added an almost spooky, incense-filled, medieval aura of the afterlife to the processionals.

Although Wagner’s chorus does not take part in this act until its final moments, the fine work of the Washington Chorus added a welcome power and richness to the conclusion. Entries were excellent as was this ensemble’s diction, something that choral groups occasionally neglect.

The NSO’s choice of singers was also most fortunate. The lion’s share of the evening’s work went to Russian bass Yuri Vorobiev, who sang the lengthy role of Gurnemanz, whose job it is in the finale to set the scene, to serve as the astonished greeter of an unexpected hero, and then to prepare that hero, Parsifal, for his redemptive mission to the Grail Community. Mr. Vorobiev’s deep, authoritative voice, calling up near visual images of the sights and sounds of the Russian Orthodox liturgy, was a near-perfect match that suited the solemn conclusion of an ancient and sacred tradition.

As Parsifal, Austrian tenor Nikolai Schukoff gets less to do in this act than Gurnemanz, but was notably successful in doing so. The English poet William Blake imagined the human journey to begin with innocence, to be shattered by the sorrows of experience, and then to be rebuilt into an informed joy and fresh innocence borne out of that experience.

We meet Parsifal in this act at precisely the moment when his spiritual transfiguration occurs. Mr. Schukoff grasped the essence of this moment, and, as the act proceeded to its conclusion, his vocal approach evolved to suit. Beginning tentatively and almost fearfully, his voice proceeded through understanding, eventually gaining conviction and authority, as he understood his final mission to be the redemptive cure of Amfortas and the community even as he ascended to become their new king.

Mr. Schukoff’s is a clarion clear tenor that, at the outset, still radiated a relative sense of innocence. But as matters proceeded, the darkness of his lower range became dominant, adding a different, almost unexpected, masculine sense of real authority to his persona—a phenomenal dramatic effect, particularly in an act presented without costuming, props, or scenery.

Last but certainly not least among the three key soloists in this act was American baritone Thomas Hampson as the despairing Amfortas. His role dominates the final third of this act before Parsifal returns to redeem him bringing blessed relief at last to his suffering. Tall and imposing, Mr. Hampson brought a powerful, dark, engulfing gloom to this role, and his time on stage proved genuinely electrifying, yet moving at the same time.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Hampson will be moving on soon to sing the role of Amfortas in a complete and fully staged “Parsifal” at the Chicago Lyric Opera. After his performances here, we can confidently assure Lyric Opera patrons that their Amfortas will not disappoint.
 

Thu, October 10, 2013

Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ is a fine fit for NSO’s classical concert staging
The Washington Post

In this concert performance, Parsifal and Amfortas simply strode off the stage and left the field to the chorus, which sounded good enough to make this, perhaps, a preferable solution.

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By Anne Midgette, Published: October 10

To mark one of classical music’s notable bicentennials, Washington’s fall season has gotten underway with a double dose of Wagner.

First, there was “Tristan und Isolde” at the Washington National Opera in September, in which the conducting took precedence over the nice, unobjectionable staging. Thursday, the National Symphony Orchestra and Christoph Eschenbach offered the last act of “Parsifal” in a concert version that dispensed with the staging altogether.

“Parsifal” is peculiarly suited to the ritualistic experience of a classical concert. It is about a group of people bound by an old tradition, clinging to life and staying alive as long as they can fix their eyes on the object they venerate (in the opera, the Holy Grail). That would seem to mean that their ideal is to live forever, growing ever more aged and anachronistic, fetishizing an object that has ever less relevance to the world around it. It doesn’t take a stage director to draw out the parallels to the classical music world; the sober tuxedos that represent standard concert wear seemed, on the men of the Washington Chorus and the three male soloists, quite costume enough.

That wasn’t intentional, of course. Nor was it intended that, though WNO’s “Tristan” ended up showcasing some wonderful conducting, the NSO’s “Parsifal” excerpt ended up presenting a more even balance between the opera’s different components. The result was what you might call a Wagner boost, a small, intense jolt of music — the act lasts for about 75 minutes — that is usually spread across a larger canvas.

A friend recently accused me of making too much of Eschenbach’s gestures in my reviews. But to my mind, you can’t talk about his conducting without them: They are not a byproduct of his interaction with the music, they are its expressive essence. Eschenbach’s great virtue is a dramatic sense of the moment, and the gestures are his physical striving to express the immensity of what the music is feeling and saying. Sometimes this means that the orchestra players sound as if they weren’t quite sure when to come in; sometimes this means that the orchestra drowns out a solo singer, be it Yuri Vorobiev, the sturdy Gurnemanz, or Nicolai Schukoff, who brought a light upper voice with a baritonal lower timbre to the role of Parsifal. And sometimes it leads to a moment of pure profundity, as when the music surged up during Parsifal’s first encounter with Gurnemanz and the particular quality of unassuagable yearning that is so much Wagner’s trademark found its full expression.

You can cast a single act of Wagner differently from how you can cast a full opera — or can you? Certainly, issues of stamina do not apply to the same degree — except for Gurnemanz, the loyal Grail retainer, who does most of the heavy lifting for the entire act. Vorobiev’s voice has a pleasant warmth, and he went about the assignment willingly, if not entirely idiomatically. He made some lovely sounds, faded a bit in places, but generally acquitted himself well.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Kundry, the sole female lead in this opera, has only two words and a couple of groans to deliver throughout the whole thing, so it represented something of a luxury to bring in a singer, Natalia Kojanova, to do it (rather than, say, a member of the Washington Chorus) — though it gave an extra and arguably essential dramatic fillip to the proceedings.

Schukoff benefited from not having had a whole opera to get through before he made his weary way onstage (his character having spent untold years roaming the world, conquering an evil sorcerer and any number of other things since Gurnemanz last saw him). The baritonal heft of the lower part of his voice was a pleasant surprise; his slender upper notes, paler in tone, were anchored by its larger firmness. His is a light voice for this role, even in this relatively short (but often powerful) act, but he imbued his characterization with dramatic conviction and brought it to life.

But it was Thomas Hampson’s Amfortas who showed everyone how it is done. Hampson was not a large-voiced singer in his prime, though his voice has been broadening and darkening over the years. But in this company, he sounded big, powerful and focused — an opera singer in truth, and even a Wagnerian one. He effectively carried the end of the evening.

The very end of the opera is hard to understand in a concert version, since it involves the magical healing of a long-open wound, a mystical vision and the apotheosis of “the Redeemer redeemed,” which some have interpreted as the anti-Semitic Wagner’s symbolic redemption of Christ for his one great failing, his Judaism. In this concert performance, Parsifal and Amfortas simply strode off the stage and left the field to the chorus, which sounded good enough to make this, perhaps, a preferable solution.

Mon, September 23, 2013

Marian Made
TheaterJones

Julian Wachner’s “O clarissima Mater” from Generosa was far more interesting. Featuring text from medieval writer, composer, and nun (among other pursuits) Hildegard von Bingen, Wachner’s composition was contemporary music with medieval text written for Baroque instruments. And it managed to be interesting, not just gimmicky…

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Review: Baroque Splendor | Texas Camerata | St. Patrick Cathedral

Marian Made
Texas Camerata opens its season with Baroque favorites and surprises, plus countertenor Ryland Angel.

by J. Robin Coffelt

Fort Worth — Authentic Baroque performance practitioners have their quirks. Their instruments are temperamental, they eschew modern conveniences such as valves on horns and chin and shoulder rests on violins and violas, and they even tune to a different pitch—their A is 415 cycles per second, rather than the 440 that most modern orchestras use. They tend to be serious about their craft and their goals, though, and the Texas Camerata gave precisely that impression on Sunday night in the appropriately ornate and acoustically friendly St. Patrick Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth.

While the instrumentalists were all competent, the definite standout of the evening was guest countertenor Ryland Angel. A countertenor is a high tenor, in range similar to that of a female alto. Angel’s voice is angelic indeed, and his grasp of Baroque performance practice is solid.

Although the concert was billed as a celebration of Marian music, or music about the Virgin Mary, the selections were actually quite diverse in style given that singular theme. In fact, while most of the concert consisted of music composed during the Baroque period, as one would expect, two of the selections weren’t really Baroque at all. They were contemporary compositions, both premiered in 2012. Among the expected selections from Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen and Arise My Muse and selections from Continental Baroque composers Krieger, Marini, and Leopold I, the contemporary compositions were interesting standouts.

While James Kennerley’s “Laude Novella” was neo-Baroque in form, very much a throwback to its ancestors of over 300 years ago, Julian Wachner’s “O clarissima Mater” from Generosa was far more interesting. Featuring text from medieval writer, composer, and nun (among other pursuits) Hildegard von Bingen, Wachner’s composition was contemporary music with medieval text written for Baroque instruments. And it managed to be interesting, not just gimmicky; plus Ryland Angel’s singing was again divine.

To be sure, there were some rough spots and some musically questionable choices, such as the odd little glissandi in the chromatic passages in Leopold I’s “Regina Coeli.” Those did not seem at all appropriate to Baroque style. But overall, this group is bringing some real solidity in Baroque performance practice to Fort Worth.


 

Fri, September 20, 2013

Trinity’s 4-month marathon celebrating Britten, renowned composer & gay pioneer
Downtown Express

From now through Jan. 2 Trinity Wall Street celebrates the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth by performing almost everything the renowned English composer ever wrote.

“I don’t think that anything like this has been done before,” said Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts. “We’ll be doing all the chamber music, all the vocal and chamber works, all the choral works, all the works for children.”

This amounts to around 100 pieces, rolled out at the rate of three or four a week during Trinity’s Thursday Concerts at One, its 11:15 a.m. Sunday worship service, its Bach at One and its 8 p.m. Sunday Compline by Candlelight. Most of the concerts are free.

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Trinity’s 4-month marathon celebrating Britten, renowned composer & gay pioneer

September 20, 2013

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER |

From now through Jan. 2 Trinity Wall Street celebrates the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth by performing almost everything the renowned English composer ever wrote.

“I don’t think that anything like this has been done before,” said Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts. “We’ll be doing all the chamber music, all the vocal and chamber works, all the choral works, all the works for children.”

This amounts to around 100 pieces, rolled out at the rate of three or four a week during Trinity’s Thursday Concerts at One, its 11:15 a.m. Sunday worship service, its Bach at One and its 8 p.m. Sunday Compline by Candlelight. Most of the concerts are free.

Everything except Britten’s operas and his large-scale works are part of the festival.

Britten achieved both popular and critical success during his lifetime. Though the son of a dentist in class-conscious Britain, Queen Elizabeth II made him a peer. When he died in 1976 at the age of 63, he was Baron Britten, and could have been buried in Westminster Abbey along with the other luminaries of British artistic, scientific and political history.

He chose instead to be buried in the churchyard of Aldeburgh, a small, seaside town in Suffolk, where he and his romantic partner and muse, tenor Peter Pears, had established a music festival in 1948. When Pears died in 1986, he was buried next to Britten as they both had wished.

Many of Britten’s works are on Christian themes and are suffused with an Anglican sensibility.

“Of Britten’s choral music, maybe 80 percent of it is sacred,” said Wachner. “His operas are not, but they all reference this British world with vicars — there’s always a vicar. There’s a vicar in ‘Albert Herring’ [a chamber opera in three acts] and there’s a parson and a vicar and a Methodist minister in ‘Peter Grimes.’ So he’s living in a world of Anglicanism.”

Wachner said that Britten was probably more of a secular humanist than a dogmatic Anglican.

“He was a pacifist,” Wachner said. “He was an open homosexual at a time when that was actually illegal in England. When he died, Queen Elizabeth wrote a letter of consolation to Peter Pears, which was kind of extraordinary.”

Wachner, who turns 44 this month, has been performing Britten’s music since he was seven years old and sang Britten’s “Te Deum in C” in a choir in Buffalo, N.Y.

“When I was young, I studied and performed all of his choral music,” he said. “In my early 20’s, I started working with the operatic repertoire. Now is the first time that I’m getting to know the chamber music.”

Like Britten, Wachner is a composer and pianist as well as a conductor. On Sept. 5 in the opening concert of the Britten festival, for instance, he paused in his conducting to sit down at a harpsichord and accompany mezzo-soprano Virginia Warnken as she sang “Phaedra,” Britten’s last completed work, which he wrote in 1975 for Dame Janet Baker.

For that same concert, Wachner programmed “Sinfonietta,” Opus 1, written in 1932 when Britten was a student at the Royal College of Music.

“For me, what’s interesting are the similarities between these pieces that were written more than 40 years apart,” said Wachner. “Britten sprang from childhood fully formed in some ways.”

Most of the pieces in Trinity’s Britten festival are not part of the frequently performed repertory. The musicians come from the Trinity Wall Street choir, the Trinity Youth Chorus and NOVUS NY, Trinity’s new music ensemble. The scope and volume of the works they must learn for the festival are a measure of their professionalism.

On Nov. 11, when the group performs Britten’s “Cantata Misericordium,” it will be after only one rehearsal, for instance, though most pieces will be presented following two rehearsals and a dress rehearsal. “These players are fantastic,” said Wachner. “They’re pretty quick with it.”

Many of the soloists come from the ranks of the Trinity Choir. However, some have concert careers outside of the Trinity fold.

Tenor Nicholas Phan, who sang “Nocturne” in the opening concert of the Britten festival on Sept. 5 (a role that Britten wrote for Peter Pears), returns on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. for one of the two ticketed concerts of the series. (The other concert requiring a ticket is the gala closing concert on Jan. 2, 2014.) Phan will sing works from his second solo album, “Still Falls the Rain.” Tickets are $30, or $15 for students.

In addition to his work for Trinity Wall Street, Wachner is music director and conductor of The Washington Chorus in Washington, D.C. On Nov. 3 at the Kennedy Center, Wachner will be conducting Britten’s “War Requiem.” Written for soloists, chorus, chamber ensemble and orchestra, it commemorates the dead of both World Wars.

Many people consider the “War Requiem” to be one of Britten’s masterpieces, but as Trinity Wall Street’s Britten festival will demonstrate, Britten’s artistry and his ability to marry music and texts can be found in his works both large and small.

Fri, September 13, 2013

A Seductive Dance of Horn and Voice
The New York Times

“It’s heavy stuff for a 1 o’clock concert,” said Julian Wachner, Trinity Church’s director of music and the arts, introducing Thursday’s lunchtime performance of [Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings], in a double bill with Britten’s mesmerizing Illuminations. Referring to a thunderstorm brewing over the Financial District, he added, “but it got dark outside, so we’re on our way.”

It’s possible that the storm drove some into Trinity Church, but the size of the audience was proof of a genuine appetite for Britten’s music, even during the lunch hour…

...Under Mr. Wachner’s direction, the ensemble Novus NY played with a rich tone and great rhythmic expression. In “Elegy,” set to a Blake poem about a worm-eaten rose, Ms. Kuhlmann’s melancholic line floated above dragging, viscous strings; her final note wilted downward, evoking the process of decomposition.

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New York Times Music Review
A Seductive Dance of Horn and Voice
A Britten Festival Program at Trinity Church

By CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM
Published: September 13, 2013

Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings is one of the wonders of 20th-century vocal music. Set to a collection of English poems on the subject of evening and night as a kind of inner dialogue between singer and solo horn, it marries an Impressionist visual allure with a northern pensive melancholy and morbid fascination with death.

“It’s heavy stuff for a 1 o’clock concert,” said Julian Wachner, Trinity Church’s director of music and the arts, introducing Thursday’s lunchtime performance of the work, in a double bill with Britten’s mesmerizing Illuminations. Referring to a thunderstorm brewing over the Financial District, he added, “but it got dark outside, so we’re on our way.”

It’s possible that the storm drove some into Trinity Church, but the size of the audience was proof of a genuine appetite for Britten’s music, even during the lunch hour.

In the Serenade the principals were the luminous tenor Vale Rideout and the horn player Danielle Kuhlmann, who played the French horn with a smooth, firm tone. She fearlessly leaned into the natural overtones called for in the part, allowing the raw, uncorrected notes to take shape in ways that were by turns rough and seductive.

The sound of Ms. Kuhlmann’s horn blended beautifully with Mr. Rideout’s voice, which has remarkable purity in the high range and is able to maintain a sleek polish across the dynamic range. With his excellent diction and natural, smooth-flowing delivery light on vibrato, he was an ideal match for Britten.

Under Mr. Wachner’s direction, the ensemble Novus NY played with a rich tone and great rhythmic expression. In “Elegy,” set to a Blake poem about a worm-eaten rose, Ms. Kuhlmann’s melancholic line floated above dragging, viscous strings; her final note wilted downward, evoking the process of decomposition.

There was more graphic music in Les Illuminations, a song cycle on texts by Arthur Rimbaud, here sung by the soprano Sarah Brailey with a radiant, liquid tone. The strings created gossamer harmonics in “Antique,” where the poet imagines hanging strings from steeple to steeple and gold chains across the stars; on the cue “et je danse,” the lower strings swayed in their seats strumming Spanish rhythms on their instruments.

I found myself wishing for more variety in Ms. Brailey’s singing, even though it was exquisitely phrased. Her sound was warm and vibrant, but in these texts, with their phantasmagorical sensuality that can suddenly turn morbid, I would have liked her to take more risks. In the final, “Départ,” it was up to the strings to recreate the poet’s sense of exhaustion; in Ms. Brailey’s voice there was a little too much life to fit the world-weary text.

The Britten Festival continues through Dec. 19 at Trinity Church, Broadway at Wall Street, Lower Manhattan; trinitywallstreet.org.

Thu, September 12, 2013

Britten at One
The Rest is Noise: The Alex Ross Blog

It was lovely to see Trinity Wall Street — not a small church — essentially packed for the second installment of Trinity’s epic, ninety-five-work Britten series. Today’s concert had the Serenade and Les Illluminations. You can watch a replay on the Trinity website. The soloists are Vale Rideout and Sarah Brailey; Julian Wachner is the conductor. Last week’s concert, with Nicholas Phan, is here. The NOVUS NY ensemble gathers many fine young New York freelancers; their account of the Sinfonietta made as persuasive a case for the piece as I’ve heard.

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Britten at One

It was lovely to see Trinity Wall Street — not a small church — essentially packed for the second installment of Trinity's epic, ninety-five-work Britten series. Today's concert had the Serenade and Les Illluminations. You can watch a replay on the Trinity website. The soloists are Vale Rideout and Sarah Brailey; Julian Wachner is the conductor. Last week's concert, with Nicholas Phan, is here. The NOVUS NY ensemble gathers many fine young New York freelancers; their account of the Sinfonietta made as persuasive a case for the piece as I've heard.

Sat, September 7, 2013

Upcoming Classical Music: Cantatas, Concertos and a Big Centennial
The New York Times

Trinity Wall Street’s invaluable music program is best known for its Bach at One series at St. Paul’s Chapel and its annual “Messiah” performances. But it may be the New York musical institution with the most comprehensive commemoration of Britten’s centennial: a four-month festival that has already begun and lasts until January. The composer’s works dot the church’s Sunday-evening Compline by Candlelight services (tonight, the collection “Sacred and Profane”) and Thursday-afternoon Concerts at One series, and will also appear alongside Bach cantatas at certain of the Monday-afternoon Bach at One events. The next Britten concert, at Trinity Church on Thursday, offers the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings and “Les Illuminations,” with Vale Rideout and Sarah Brailey as vocal soloists and Julian Wachner conducting Novus NY.

Fri, September 6, 2013

Heartily Proclaiming Their Health in an Exuberant Tribute to Britten
The New York Times

In early 2012 [Trinity] church’s thriving music program was cut to the quick pending a re-evaluation of its goals and finances. Last season it came roaring back to life under the energetic leadership of Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts, not only continuing to solidify its position near the center of the New York early-music scene but also adding outposts in modern and contemporary music.

This season promises to be even more ambitious, and Mr. Wachner wasted no time getting it started on Thursday afternoon with the first program of Britten 100, a four-month festival devoted to the composer in celebration of his 100th birthday (Nov. 22). It will include almost 100 works, woven through the church’s various concert and liturgical settings: Concerts at One on Thursdays and Sunday morning services, at Trinity; and Compline by Candlelight on Sundays and Bach at One on Mondays, both at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Thursday’s program, a little more than an hour long, ranged from early to late, opening with the Sinfonietta (Op. 1, 1932) and closing with Britten’s final vocal work, “Phaedra” (Op. 93, 1975), a dramatic cantata for mezzo-soprano setting a text from Robert Lowell’s verse translation of Racine’s “Phèdre.” In between came the “Nocturne” (Op. 60, 1958), settings of eight poems by Shelley, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Wilfred Owen and others for tenor…

...It was an auspicious start to a most exciting and worthy project.

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New York Times Music Review
Heartily Proclaiming Their Health in an Exuberant Tribute to Britten
Benjamin Britten Celebration at Trinity Wall Street

By JAMES R. OESTREICH
Published: September 6, 2013

If and when the Minnesota Orchestra comes back from the near-death experience of its present lockout, you have to hope that it does so as robustly as the music program of Trinity Wall Street has from its own seeming brush with death.

In early 2012 the church’s thriving music program was cut to the quick pending a re-evaluation of its goals and finances. Last season it came roaring back to life under the energetic leadership of Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts, not only continuing to solidify its position near the center of the New York early-music scene but also adding outposts in modern and contemporary music.

This season promises to be even more ambitious, and Mr. Wachner wasted no time getting it started on Thursday afternoon with the first program of Britten 100, a four-month festival devoted to the composer in celebration of his 100th birthday (Nov. 22). It will include almost 100 works, woven through the church’s various concert and liturgical settings: Concerts at One on Thursdays and Sunday morning services, at Trinity; and Compline by Candlelight on Sundays and Bach at One on Mondays, both at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Thursday’s program, a little more than an hour long, ranged from early to late, opening with the Sinfonietta (Op. 1, 1932) and closing with Britten’s final vocal work, “Phaedra” (Op. 93, 1975), a dramatic cantata for mezzo-soprano setting a text from Robert Lowell’s verse translation of Racine’s “Phèdre.” In between came the “Nocturne” (Op. 60, 1958), settings of eight poems by Shelley, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Wilfred Owen and others for tenor.

Mr. Wachner conducted Trinity’s orchestra Novus NY in the Sinfonietta, an exuberant compact work in three movements that provides wonderful opportunities for soloistic display, well handled here by Catherine Gregory, flutist; James Austin Smith, oboist; Alicia Lee, clarinetist; and others. The violinists Owen Dalby and Sharon Roffman played in lovely, seamless partnership.

Nicholas Phan, making his name widely as a Britten tenor, sang the “Nocturne” beautifully and strongly. He was almost too strong in the Tennyson setting “Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep,” with its widely fluctuating dynamics. Trinity is one of the better churches in the city for music, especially that for massed voices or instruments. But there is enough reverberation to be problematic for solo voices, and here Mr. Phan’s loud phrases tended to linger in the air, covering the softer ones.

There was no such problem in the other songs, and the Keats setting “What Is More Gentle Than a Wind in Summer?” was particularly gorgeous, with, again, wonderful contributions from those woodwind players. Nor did the acoustics hamper Virginia Warnken’s splendid performance of the more theatrical “Phaedra,” which lent itself better to full-out vocalization.

In “Phaedra,” as in many other works, Britten proved himself a master of the interlude, and those here — for percussion and for strings — showed off the rest of the excellent orchestra. Mr. Wachner joined in at times on the harpsichord.

It was an auspicious start to a most exciting and worthy project.

Works by Britten will be performed on Sunday at morning services at Trinity Church and evening services at St Paul’s Chapel, and on Thursday in the Concerts at One series at Trinity, Broadway at Wall Street, Lower Manhattan; (212)602-0800, trinitywallstreet.org/britten.

Thu, September 5, 2013

Classical Music and Opera Listings for Sept. 6-12
The New York Times

Trinity Wall Street’s four-month commemoration of Britten’s centenary continues with two concerts. Sunday’s, part of the church’s Compline by Candlelight series, features two of the eight unaccompanied medieval lyrics that form the “Sacred and Profane” collection. Thursday’s brings the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (with the singer Vale Rideout and the instrumentalists of NOVUS NY, the church’s new-music ensemble) and his setting of Rimbaud’s “Illuminations” (with the soprano Sarah Brailey). Both programs are conducted by Trinity’s superb music director, Julian Wachner.

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Classical Music and Opera Listings for Sept. 6-12
Published: September 5, 2013

OPERA

★ ‘The Return of Ulysses’ (Tuesday through Thursday) This English-language production of Monteverdi’s “Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria” marks a hat trick for the plucky Opera Omnia after sold-out runs of Monteverdi’s “Incoronazione di Poppea” and a sidesplittingly funny Cavalli’s “Giasone” at Le Poisson Rouge. For this production the same creative team of the producer, Wesley Chinn; the music director, Avi Stein; and the stage director, Crystal Manich, move into the acoustically more generous space at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, with a cast featuring the nimble mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn as Penelope and the elegant baritone Jesse Blumberg as Ulysses. At 7:30 p.m., Howard Gilman Performance Space, Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, Manhattan, (866) 811-4111, bacnyc.org; $20. (Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim)

CLASSICAL MUSIC

★ Bargemusic (Sunday and Wednesday) Most music institutions in New York either cut back their offerings or close shop entirely during the summer. Not Bargemusic, the popular and ideally intimate floating performance space for chamber music, moored on Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn. This Sunday afternoon Bargemusic presents the acclaimed, New York-based Cassatt String Quartet in a Masterworks Series program, playing Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, Beethoven’s “Harp” Quartet and, with the brilliant pianist Ursula Oppens, Fauré’s Piano Quartet in D minor. On Wednesday there will be a free memorial concert on the Sept. 11 anniversary, with works by Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Chopin and David Bottoms. Sunday at 4 p.m., $45, $40 or $25 students; Wednesday at 7 p.m., free (no reservations); Bargemusic, Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn, (800) 838-3006, bargemusic.org. (Anthony Tommasini)

★ Celebrating Britten (Sunday and Thursday) Trinity Wall Street’s four-month commemoration of Britten’s centenary continues with two concerts. Sunday’s, part of the church’s Compline by Candlelight series, features two of the eight unaccompanied medieval lyrics that form the “Sacred and Profane” collection. Thursday’s brings the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (with the singer Vale Rideout and the instrumentalists of NOVUS NY, the church’s new-music ensemble) and his setting of Rimbaud’s “Illuminations” (with the soprano Sarah Brailey). Both programs are conducted by Trinity’s superb music director, Julian Wachner. On Sunday at 8 p.m., St. Paul’s Chapel, Broadway at Fulton Street, Thursday at 1 p.m., Trinity Church, Broadway at Wall Street, (212) 602-0800, trinitywallstreet.org; free. (Zachary Woolfe)

Dedalus Ensemble (Monday) Since its founding in 1996, this French instrumental cooperative, now based in Montpellier, has championed Anglo-Saxon experimental and Minimalist music by composers like John Cage, Harry Partch, Cornelius Cardew and Christian Wolff. Surprising, then, that this performance of recent works by nine New York-based composers marks the ensemble’s debut appearance in the United States. At 8 p.m., Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, near Third Avenue, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, (917) 267-0368, roulette.org; $15, or $10 students and 65+. (da Fonseca-Wollheim)

★ Festival of New Trumpet Music (Tuesday and Wednesday) This three-week immersion in recent writing for the instrument begins with two concerts at Roulette. Music of Christian Wolff dominates Tuesday’s show, including a new Octet for Brass and Violin, as well as the premiere of a work from the Roy Campbell Jr. Akhenaten Large Ensemble. Wednesday brings John Zorn’s new “Antiphonal Fanfare” for six trumpets, a tribute to the pioneering jazz artist Butch Morris and Henry Brant’s “Flight Over a Global Map” for 52 trumpets and percussion. At 8 p.m., Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, (917) 267-0363, fontmusic.org; $20, or $15 students. (Woolfe)

★ Ian Hobson (Tuesday and Thursday) Though the British-born Mr. Hobson is well regarded as a conductor, educator and scholar, he is best known as a brilliant, probing pianist with a comprehensive repertory. And comprehensive is the correct word. He recently presented a 10-program survey of Schumann’s complete works for piano, also recording the entire canon. Now he brings a 14-program series of the complete piano works of Brahms, including the chamber works featuring piano, to the DiMenna Center for Classical Music. A roster of colleagues will join him for the chamber pieces. The first program, on Tuesday, offers Brahms’s Piano Sonata No. 1, “Albumblatt,” and the Scherzo in E flat. Joined by Claude Hobson, he will play the piano work “Variations on a Theme” for four hands by Schumann. Thursday’s program brings Hungarian Dances galore, both for solo piano and piano four-hands, as well as Brahms’s Piano Sonata No. 2. At 7:30 p.m., Benzaquen Hall, DiMenna Center for Classical Music, 450 West 37th Street, Manhattan, (212) 594-6100, brownpapertickets.com; $30, or $15 for students and 65+. (Tommasini)

Maverick Concerts (Saturday and Sunday) The summer season finishes this weekend at Maverick, where concerts take place in an atmospheric barn built in 1916. On Saturday the jazz pianist Dan Tepfer offers his impressive solo reconstruction of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, with each section followed by an imaginative reinterpretation. On Sunday the American String Quartet performs Haydn, Shostakovich and Beethoven. Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m., Maverick Concert Hall, 120 Maverick Road, Woodstock, N.Y., (800) 595-4849, maverickconcerts.org; $25 and $40; $5 for students. (Vivien Schweitzer)

★ Miller Theater Pop-Up Concerts (Tuesday) This series is a wonderfully informal way to experience bracing contemporary music. For these early-evening, 60-minute programs, the audience is invited to sit on the stage close to the performers and enjoy complimentary beer and wine. The season’s first Pop-Up concert presents Ensemble Signal, a dynamic contemporary music group. The program offers works for piano by Elliott Carter and Pierre Boulez and three pieces by the inventive Mexican composer Hilda Paredes: “Paráfrasis” for trombone (a world premiere); “Chaczidzib” for piccolo (an American premiere); and “Tzolkin” for percussion (a New York premiere). At 6 p.m. (doors open at 5:30), Miller Theater, Broadway at 116th Street, Morningside Heights, (212) 854-7799, millertheatre.com; free. (Tommasini)

‘The Named Angels’ (Friday) The prodigious young composer Mohammed Fairouz brings together an assemblage of colleagues to perform a selection of his own works as well as pieces by the violinist and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and Matt Marks’s “Disney Remixes.” At 8 p.m., Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, near Thompson Street, Greenwich Village, (212) 505-3474, lepoissonrouge.com; $20. (Woolfe)

Resonant Bodies Festival (Friday and Saturday) The ShapeShifter Lab becomes a petri dish teeming with odd and interesting life forms in this festival of contemporary vocal music. Friday features one-hour sets each by Amirtha Kidambi, in music by Darius Jones; the jazz-rooted Jamie Jordan in works by Henri Pousseur, Jacob Cooper, Evan Ziporyn and Paul Coleman; and Megan Schubert in a program spanning Modernist compositions by Milton Babbitt and Luciani Berio, as well as John Coltrane’s preview of “Giant Steps” and her own compositions. Saturday kicks off with a program of virtuosic vocal contortions by Jeffrey Gavett, including the indescribable “I, Purples, Spat Blood, Laugh of Beautiful Lips” by Aaron Cassidy. Christie Finn offers a performance of Georges Aperghis’s “Récitations Pour Voix Seule” while Kjersti Kveli, joined by the Cochlea Freedom Ensemble, offers her own “Animal Stories” and “Vampire Landmine.” At 7 p.m., ShapeShifter Lab, 18 Whitwell Place, Park Slope, Brooklyn, (646) 820-9452, resonantbodies.wordpress.com; one-day festival pass $15 (students $10); three-day festival pass $50 (students $40). (da Fonseca-Wollheim)

The Sebastians (Saturday) This excellent period-instrument ensemble offers a program of sonatas, concertos and suites by Bach, Corelli, William Boyce, Handel and Vivaldi. At 7:30 p.m., All Angels’ Church, 251 West 80th Street, Manhattan, (212) 362-9553, sebastians.org; $15, or $10 for students and 65+. (Schweitzer)

World Peace Orchestra (Tuesday) This ensemble, founded this year, consists of young musicians from 50 countries. Kevin Spacey will host the concert, which features the Lithuanian conductor Gintaras Rinkevicius conducting music by Beethoven, Bernstein, Rimsky-Korsakov and Vittorio Monti. The violinist Alexander Markov will play the “Meditation” from “Thaïs” and Paganini’s Caprice No. 24. At 8 p.m., Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, (212) 721-6500, lincolncenter.org; $55 to $1,000 remaining. (Schweitzer)

Sat, August 31, 2013

New York’s Must-See Opera and Song Events in 2013-14
WQXR Blog

Brooklyn Academy of Music spotlights cutting-edge song on November 22 and 23 with 21c Liederabend, Op. 3. Chock-full of world premieres (including scenes from Mohammed Fairouz’s opera-in-progress, Bhutto), the weekend features music by Paola Prestini, Missy Mazzoli, David T. Little, Eric Whitacre, and others; performers include the stellar Choir of Trinity Wall Street under the direction of Julian Wachner…

...Wachner and the Trinity forces spearhead local Benjamin Britten centennial festivities with fall Concerts at One featuring his music and an evening with tenor Nicholas Phan on September 21.

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OPERAVORE

New York's Must-See Opera and Song Events in 2013-14
Saturday, August 31, 2013 - 12:00 AM

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

With summer winding down, Operavores are busy digging out agendas and writing in musical dates. Here are our picks for New York’s most enticing vocal and operatic events in 2013–14.

WQXR's 2013 Fall Preview

SONG RECITALS

Princes of German-language song reign this season: Christian Gerhaher sings Robert Schumann at the Park Avenue Armory on September 29 and October 1; Wolfgang Holzmair performs Schubert at the Frick Collection on February 9; Gerald Finley’s sole New York date is a February 13 Winterreise at Zankel Hall; Matthias Goerne sings the composer’s Die schöne Müllerin at Carnegie Hall on March 5; At Carnegie on February 28, Goerne also takes on the title role in Berg’s Wozzeck with the Vienna State Opera forces under Daniele Gatti; Florian Boesch brings his shattering way with Die Winterreise to Weill Recital Hall on May 9.

Brooklyn Academy of Music spotlights cutting-edge song on November 22 and 23 with 21c Liederabend, Op. 3. Chock-full of world premieres (including scenes from Mohammed Fairouz’s opera-in-progress, Bhutto), the weekend features music by Paola Prestini, Missy Mazzoli, David T. Little, Eric Whitacre, and others; performers include the stellar Choir of Trinity Wall Street under the direction of Julian Wachner.

New York Festival of Song’s sparkling season includes a 90th-birthday tribute to Ned Rorem.

Last year Abigail Fischer’s powerful, great-hearted musicianship in Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar drew comparisons to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Kathleen Ferrier. On October 30 and November 1 hear Fischer in Respighi and the New York premiere of John Harbison’s Crossroads with the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble at the Morgan. She sings John Zorn at the Miller Theatre and the Metropolitan Museum in September and in Experiments in Opera’s Chorus of All Souls on November 2.

BRITTEN CENTENNIAL

Wachner and the Trinity forces spearhead local Benjamin Britten centennial festivities with fall Concerts at One featuring his music and an evening with tenor Nicholas Phan on September 21.

Rufus Müller and David Leisner perform Britten’s songs for tenor and guitar on October 18 at Symphony Space.

In October the Metropolitan Opera revives A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring the lustrous-toned alto Iestyn Davies as Oberon, who joins Ian Bostridge and Joshua Hopkins on October 20 to sing The Canticles at Zankel Hall.

And Carnegie’s Britten 100 series also includes Peter Grimes starring Anthony Dean Griffey and Susanna Phillips under David Robertson on November 22, and the War Requiem led by Robert Spano.

EARLY MUSIC

Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda is an exemplary 20-minute tragedy, complete with Aristotelian recognition and reversal. At the Miller Theater on October 19, early-music band Le Poème harmonique pairs the Combattimento with a Monteverdi spoof. Later, Gotham Chamber Opera sets it alongside a Lembit Beecher world premiere at the Metropolitan Museum on February 26 and 27.

New Yorkers also have multiple chances to hear Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers, performed by Gotham January 1, 3 and 5 at St. Paul's Chapel and by the Boston Early Music Festival forces March 17 and 18 at the Morgan Library.

THE DEVIL'S OWN JOB

With his smoldering voice and arresting presence, Eric Owens made Alberich the most gripping character in the Met’s recent Ring cycles. On November 6 at Carnegie, backed by the Collegiate Chorale, he takes on the urbane title role in Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele, a ripsnorting opera too long absent in these parts. (Incidentally, Abdrazakov stars as Boito’s archfiend in San Francisco this season, in the witty Carsen production co-owned by the Met. A future Owens-Abdrazakov satanic smackdown would be a heavenly treat for New York audiences.)

OPERAS OLD AND NEW

The Met gives Verdi a luxe bicentennial gift in December: a new Robert Carsen staging of Falstaff led by James Levine, whose way with Verdi’s magical score is a wonder of this or any other age.

In February Borodin's Prince Igor returns to the Met for the first time in nearly a century, directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov (in his company début) and starring Ildar Abdrazakov. The electrifying maestro Gianandrea Noseda conducts.

This year’s inaugural Prototype Festival left audiences stomping and whooping in delight. Prototype 2014 opens in January and features five new operas, including works by Kamala Sankaram and Du Yun. Experiments in Opera in 2014 offers a program of radio operas and Aaron Siegel’s Brother, Brother, inspired by the life of Orville and Wilbur Wright.

New York City Opera’s season includes Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle at St. Ann’s Warehouse and what promises to be a boisterous and bilious Christopher Alden staging of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, both led by music director Jayce Ogren.

Finally, catch rising stars at New York’s conservatories. Juilliard's opera and vocal season includes Handel’s Radamisto, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and Massenet’s Cendrillon, while Manhattan School of Music stages Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All and Haydn’s Orlando Paladino.

To all, happy listening!

Thu, August 22, 2013

Organistinn dansaði steppdans
Fréttablaðið (Iceland)

“One of the most magnificent part of the concert, was not the tap-dancing of the organist, but the jazz like composition of Julian Wachner. It was called Blue, Green, Red. Again the trumpet player walked into the church and played excellently. There was a little hint of Miles Davis in his playing. And just like Davis, Burns produced magical sounds/colors with his trumpet. Everything from subtle hums to colossal sounds.The music was pleasant to listen to. It was a bit cold and distant in parts but endowed with inner harmony and felt true to itself.”

Mon, July 15, 2013

At Caramoor, Verdi Grand Operas, Parisian Style
The Wall Street Journal

The Lincoln Center Festival presents more contemporary exotic fare, and “The Blind” (2001; revised 2013), Lera Auerbach’s hourlong chamber opera, which opened last week, was certainly unusual. Based on the play “Les aveugles” by Maurice Maeterlinck, about a group of blind people left helpless outdoors on an island, far from home, when the priest who cares for them dies, the story is a metaphor for spiritual and emotional blindness. John La Bouchardière’s unusual staging was intended to include the audience in that destitution…

The singers moved among the listeners, and while it was a little overwhelming (and loud) to have an operatic voice right behind you, it certainly heightened the intensity of the experience. The singers were excellent, particularly soprano Yulia Van Doren and tenor Dominic Armstrong (First Blind Woman and First Blind Man), who made the first moves toward comprehension and had a brief, tender interaction about flowers, and mezzo Faith Sherman (Third Blind Woman), whose lush, contraltolike timbre was riveting as she castigated the others for making the priest suffer. Julian Wachner was the capable conductor.

Thu, July 11, 2013

Review: The Blind, Kaplan Penthouse, New York
The Financial Times

Auerbach’s creation rambles and dabbles, often effectively, sometimes monotonously, in electronic distortion, stereophonic movement, stubborn droning and poignant sighing. It embraces ethereal harmony, religious nodding, explosive chant and pathetic recitative.

The musical performance, overseen by Julian Wachner, seemed appreciative.

Wed, July 10, 2013

Lincoln Center Festival’s ‘The Blind’ is a feast for the ears
The New York Post

Though the 1994 score [conducted by Julian Wachner] is a cappella — a dozen voices, with no orchestra behind them — Auerbach creates a disquieting mood with choral muttering of Latin prayers, interrupted by panicky solo cries of realization that the priest may never return.

Director John La Bouchardière’s dramatic concept is mostly effective: Sitting there in the tiny Kaplan Playhouse with mysterious voices swirling around me, I felt blind, all right — vulnerable and strangely alone…

Weird electronic moans and reverbing women’s voices so powerfully evoked a mysterious empty landscape…even temporary membership among “The Blind” does perk up the hearing, making every murmur of the score sound acute.

Wed, July 10, 2013

Audience Enters a Sightless World, Where Listening Becomes a Lifeline
The New York Times

There are some interesting cluster chords and layered choral textures in Ms. Auerbach’s score, which was sung with intensity by the skilled cast under the musical direction of Julian Wachner. Groups of characters are often heard quietly chanting prayers in Latin, which lends the work continuity.

Fri, July 5, 2013

Listening to a Disconnected Society
The New York Times

“He sees! He sees! But what can he see?” sings one of the sightless men in “The Blind,” an a cappella opera by the Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach opening this week at the Lincoln Center Festival [directed by Julian Wachner].

“It’s not the characters who are blind,” she said during an interview at a Manhattan cafe. “The message is that we are the blind. With all our means of communication we see each other less and connect to each other less. We have less understanding and compassion for other people. We have this screen between us.”

A new staging of “The Blind,” based on Maeterlinck’s symbolist play of the same name, has its premiere on Tuesday and continues through July 14 at the Kaplan Penthouse; audience members will be blindfolded throughout its one-hour duration…

Even singers with perfect pitch depend on instrumental accompaniment to orient their pitches, so a cappella opera poses daunting challenges. “It requires brave singers to go through the experience,” Ms. Auerbach said. “It’s like you are naked. There is a fragility and vulnerability and you have no safety net. It takes great courage, trust and openness. I think Maeterlinck’s play is about those qualities.”

Fri, June 14, 2013

Opus 3 Artists Signs Julian Wachner
Opus 3 Artists

Opus 3 Artists is pleased to welcome Grammy-nominated conductor Julian Wachner to our roster. Julian Wachner is one of North America’s most exciting and versatile musicians, sought after as conductor, composer, and keyboard artist. As Director of Music and the Arts at New York’s historic Trinity Wall Street, Wachner oversees an annual season of over 900 events, including concerts, series, festivals, museum expositions, dance and theatre performances, poetry and literary readings, and educational/outreach initiatives in partnership with New York City’s public school system. Wachner serves as the Principal Conductor of NOVUS NY (Trinity’s resident contemporary music orchestra), and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra & Choir of Trinity Wall Street, recently nominated for a 2012 GRAMMY for its recording of Handel’s complete Israel in Egypt. He also is the director of Bach at One, Trinity’s weekly performances of the Cantatas of J. S. Bach.  To open the 2012-13 Season, Wachner conceived of and directed Trinity’s Twelve in 12 Festival celebrating the Pulitzer Prize in music.  Of this festival, Steve Smith noted in Time Out that “some ideas seem so utterly obvious and right at a glance that you wonder why it took someone so long to hatch them. ‘Twelve in 12’ is that kind of notion…Mark your calendars, and give thanks.”

Recent and upcoming engagements include those with the Lincoln Center Festival, Juilliard Opera Theatre, New York City Opera, Philharmonia Baroque, Portland Baroque, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Montreal and Pittsburgh Symphonies, BAM Next Wave Festival, Virginia Opera, and The Rolling Stones 50th anniversary tour.

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OPUS 3 ARTISTS SIGNS JULIAN WACHNER

Opus 3 Artists is pleased to welcome Grammy-nominated conductor Julian Wachner to our roster. Julian Wachner  is one of North America’s most exciting and versatile musicians, sought after as conductor, composer, and keyboard artist. As Director of Music and the Arts at New York’s historic Trinity Wall Street, Wachner oversees an annual season of over 900 events, including concerts, series, festivals, museum expositions, dance and theatre performances, poetry and literary readings, and educational/outreach initiatives in partnership with New York City’s public school system. Wachner serves as the Principal Conductor of NOVUS NY (Trinity’s resident contemporary music orchestra), and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra & Choir of Trinity Wall Street, recently nominated for a 2012 GRAMMY for its recording of Handel’s complete Israel in Egypt. He also is the director of Bach at One, Trinity’s weekly performances of the Cantatas of J. S. Bach.  To open the 2012-13 Season, Wachner conceived of and directed Trinity’s Twelve in 12 Festival celebrating the Pulitzer Prize in music.  Of this festival, Steve Smith noted in Time Out that “some ideas seem so utterly obvious and right at a glance that you wonder why it took someone so long to hatch them. ‘Twelve in 12’ is that kind of notion…Mark your calendars, and give thanks.”

Recent and upcoming engagements include those with the Lincoln Center Festival, Juilliard Opera Theatre, New York City Opera, Philharmonia Baroque, Portland Baroque, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Montreal and Pittsburgh Symphonies, BAM Next Wave Festival, Virginia Opera, and The Rolling Stones 50th anniversary tour.

Wachner is also Music Director of the Grammy Award-winning Washington Chorus, with whom he won ASCAP’s Alice Parker award for adventurous programming in 2011.  A Baroque specialist, he was the founding Music Director of the Boston Bach Ensemble and the Bach Académie de Montréal, besides serving as Artistic Director of International Bach Festivals in Boston and Montreal.  In 2011 he founded New York City’s newest music festival, The Twelfth Night Festival of Early Music, most recently presented in collaboration with Gotham Early Music Society (GEMS) and featuring many of New York’s leading baroque and renaissance ensembles.

In 2010, Wachner was both conductor and composer at New York City Opera 's annual VOX festival of contemporary opera leading to the invitation to be the sole conductor of this Festival in 2012.  His original music has been variously described as “jazzy, energetic, and ingenious” (Boston Globe), having “an imaginative flair for allusive text setting” and noted for “the silken complexities of his harmonies” (New York Times).

CRITICAL ACCLAIM
“there was genius here and no mistaking it.”
Boston Globe

“Julian Wachner knows how to draw maximum drama from a score,” and noted that he was “emphatic and theatrical and so at home in opera that he could bring out the requisite sense of drama.”
The Washington Post 

“Few conductors have drawn such focused, committed, and meticulous music-making as Julian Wachner. … [He] built the music, line by line, as an architectural edifice, serving both the music’s emotional and more purely aesthetic elements.”  As a result, Stearns “couldn’t help fantasize that [Wachner] might do an annual Philadelphia Orchestra festival of Bach and Handel.”
Philadelphia Inquirer

Sun, May 5, 2013

Going for Baroque
Crain's New York Business

“New York was really ripe for this kind of music, and then Juilliard jumped into it in a major way,” said Julian Wachner, the musical director of the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, which is part of Trinity Wall Street church. Trinity’s orchestra had always had a Baroque-heavy repertoire, but when Mr. Wachner arrived in 2009, he decided to focus on early music to set his group apart because the city is already laden with opportunities to hear modern classical music. It began its Baroque-only focus about two years ago.

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GOING FOR BAROQUE
Musicians strive for authentic sound using priceless instruments.

By Theresa Agovino

WEN YANG became a fan of Baroque music while earning her master's degree at the Yale School of Music. She was especially drawn to the idea of performing with period instruments—either antiques or high-end reproductions—that can cost a small fortune but allow an ensemble to sound as it would have centuries ago.

"I liked the sound; it was richer; it had more color," explained the 31-year-old from China who plays the double bass and the viola da gamba, a cousin of the cello that was commonly used during the Baroque era.

Last year, she started New York Baroque Inc., an orchestra with about 20 musicians who play the works of such composers as Handel, Bach and Vivaldi.

She's not the only one following her passion for music from the 1600s and 1700s. At least four such groups have sprung up in the city in the past three years, with the largest and best-known being the Trinity Baroque Orchestra. They join such longstanding ensembles as the American Classical Orchestra and Early Music New York.

American Classical Orchestra musicians primarily use period instruments. When the group appears at Alice Tully Hall on June 4, for example, the 49 instruments will be worth about $2.5 million, and will include a violin from 1690 worth $175,000 and a bass valued at about $250,000.

By contrast, a high-end modern violin or reproduction can cost $18,000 to $28,000, while a cello could cost $30,000 to $45,000.

At least oboe players get a break. A reproduction of a Baroque oboe costs about $2,000, while a new one can run about $10,000 because it is a more complicated instrument with more keys.
Primed for growth

"The age of the instruments isn't important. It is the sound," said Benjamin Sosland, administrative director of the Historical Performance graduate program at the Juilliard School. Experts contend that even untrained ears can distinguish period instruments and reproductions from their modern counterparts.

Juilliard started the program in 2009, which helped jump-start the early-music movement in New York City. The program at the prestigious institution imbued the genre with more gravitas and brought even more specialized musicians here. Experts said the city was primed for growth in this genre because it was already popular in Boston and San Francisco, among other cities, as well as in Europe.

"New York was really ripe for this kind of music, and then Juilliard jumped into it in a major way," said Julian Wachner, the musical director of the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, which is part of Trinity Wall Street church. Trinity's orchestra had always had a Baroque-heavy repertoire, but when Mr. Wachner arrived in 2009, he decided to focus on early music to set his group apart because the city is already laden with opportunities to hear modern classical music. It began its Baroque-only focus about two years ago.

Mr. Wachner is fortunate that his orchestra is attached to a wealthy church. Newer groups, such as New York Baroque Inc. and Dorian Baroque, are still trying to establish themselves. That's never easy, but it can be especially challenging when the economy remains shaky and more established nonprofit music groups are snapping up donations. Founders like Ms. Yang are trying to squeeze developing their orchestras between classes and gigs.

"It's a lot of work," she said. "We are really grassroots and doing everything ourselves."

Marina Fragoulis, who founded Dorian Baroque last year, said she and her husband have spent about $10,000 of their own money on necessities for the group, such as lawyers and sound engineers. They are still waiting to get certified as a formal nonprofit by the state, and then they can decide the budget and fundraising needs.

"We need to figure out how big of a season we want to have," said Ms. Fragoulis.

The orchestras' programs differ vastly in size and scope. Trinity has weekly concerts, while the American Classical Orchestra will have four this season, which ends in June. The group's budget is only $1.1 million.

Vincent Gardino, executive director of the American Classical Orchestra, said the sharp focus on early music can be a benefit when seeking donations because it is less common.

MUSIC APPRECIATION

$175K
VALUE of a 1690 violin to be played at the American Classical Orchestra’s June 4 concert

$2.5M
VALUE of all the instruments at the concert

"The audience for this type of music isn't large, but it is extremely dedicated," said Mr. Gardino. He said the orchestra's concertgoers are typically people who already enjoy classical music and are now finding an appreciation for this niche.

The American Classical Orchestra plays Baroque, romantic and classical music, and Mr. Gardino estimates that about 80% of the orchestra's musicians play original instruments that they either own or rent. Musician John Feeney owns a double bass from 1750 that's worth about $250,000.

Caring for the genuine antique brings its own challenges. Mr. Feeney keeps the instrument in a humidity-controlled room and won't take it anywhere he can't drive, which can be an issue because many musicians have to fly to their gigs.

Some musicians transport their prized possessions by buying them a seat on a plane. Mr. Feeney won't take that chance because he is afraid he will be forced to check his. When that happened years ago, he was allowed to personally place the instrument in the plane's hold, something he said would never be permitted in the post-9/11 era.

"We've all seen the way baggage is handled," he said. "I won't do it."

Ms. Yang isn't focused on buying an antique. Right now, she is working on her bass to make it sound closer to a Baroque-era instrument. She said it's been a problem to find craftsmen to complete the work, so the next time she buys an instrument, she'll likely purchase a reproduction. "I think it is just easier," she said.

If you think it's really difficult to become a successful musician, imagine trying to earn a living making specialty instruments. Gabriela Guadalajara started her Harlem-based business crafting Baroque string instruments five years ago, and said it's still a struggle.

It took a year to sell her first one, and last year she sold just three: a small violin for $5,000 and two violas da gamba for $11,000 each. Of course, it's not a high-volume business—constructing one instrument can take three months. And there's plenty of competition from other artisans, as well as inexpensive reproductions from China. Roughly half her income still comes from repairing instruments.

"This is not something you do for the money," said the Mexico City native. "You do it because it makes people happy to play your instruments."

Ms. Guadalajara discovered the joy that music can bring from her father, who loved listening to everything from classical to Mexican folk. She started playing the cello as a child but eventually realized she didn't want to perform professionally, even though she wanted a career in music. When her mother learned about a violin-making school, Ms. Guadalajara knew she had found her dream job.

She started the five-year course when she was 24 and eventually moved to New York to work for William Monical & Sons Inc., a Staten Island-based business that repairs and restores violins.

Ms. Guadalajara said the combination of working there and playing an instrument has aided in developing her business. She developed contacts at Monical that have led to clients. The 36-year-old added, "It helps to play an instrument. I can try the instrument, really hear how it sounds."

Thu, May 2, 2013

Stravinsky’s Sacred Music, the Trinity Way
Musical America

The Rite of Spring, the centennial of which we celebrate on May 29, has been played everywhere this season and undoubtedly will the next. But while The Rite is forever ubiquitous, much of Stravinsky’s huge output languishes—such as his rarely played sacred works, which New York’s Trinity Church presented in toto in three concerts last weekend (4/26-28). It was a genuine event, well attended, and performed sympathetically by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Trinity Youth Chorus, and instrumentalists from NOVUS NY under the interpretive warmth of Trinity’s music director, Julian Wachner. Appropriate for a festival of such importance, the beautifully printed and illustrated program booklet, with thought-provoking notes by Matthew Guerrieri, was a keeper…

...I could never get into the 1948 Mass before this lovely Trinity performance…Requiem Canticles (1966)—which Stravinsky called his “pocket requiem” and which was performed at his funeral—is his last masterpiece, albeit a small one, and it was given an eloquent account.

The Symphony of Psalms, the final work in the concerts, was performed in a two-piano arrangement by Karen Keating…the superb Trinity chorus could be heard at its full stature without the acoustical confusion of orchestral textures, and the excellent pianists, Pedja Muzijevic and Steven Beck, were perfectly balanced.

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Stravinsky’s Sacred Music, the Trinity Way

by Sedgwick Clark

The Rite of Spring, the centennial of which we celebrate on May 29, has been played everywhere this season and undoubtedly will the next. But while The Rite is forever ubiquitous, much of Stravinsky’s huge output languishes—such as his rarely played sacred works, which New York’s Trinity Church presented in toto in three concerts last weekend (4/26-28). It was a genuine event, well attended, and performed sympathetically by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Trinity Youth Chorus, and instrumentalists from NOVUS NY under the interpretive warmth of Trinity’s music director, Julian Wachner. Appropriate for a festival of such importance, the beautifully printed and illustrated program booklet, with thought-provoking notes by Matthew Guerrieri, was a keeper. 

The rarity of Stravinsky sacred-music performances is no surprise. Most of it was written during his last period, when he was adapting Schoenberg’s “method of composing with 12 tones” to his own aesthetic. While the expatriate Russian’s unique voice could not entirely be quelled, the concert-going public has voted on Schoenberg’s technique (and Stravinsky’s use of it) with its feet. After more than a century since its genesis, few 12-tone or serial works are played with any frequency, and even those are capable of emptying a room of non-believers before you can say “boo.”

The real surprise is that Stravinsky, a devoutly religious man, wrote so few works on sacred subjects. On the other hand, Ralph Vaughan Williams, an avowed atheist, composed some of the most affecting music on religious themes in the 20th century. Of all the music performed at Trinity, only the Symphony of Psalms (1930) is an indisputable masterpiece, well known and often programmed. Several critics convened at the end of the first concert, wondering which works we could “cross off the list,” as the New Yorker’s Alex Ross amusingly put it, of music we had never encountered in concert. We both had looked forward especially to Threni (1957-58) and had come armed with our scores. Wachner’s heartfelt reading was a satisfying account, even if it lacked the clarity of the composer’s recording. The same could be said of Introitus: T.S. Eliot in Memoriam (1965) and Abraham and Isaac (1962-63), the latter a minor revelation due to Sanford Sylvan’s expert vocalism. The performance of The Flood (1961-62) was game, but I find the music arid.

I could never get into the 1948 Mass before this lovely Trinity performance, but whatever delights some find in Canticum Sacrum (which Time magazine headlined “Murder in the Cathedral” for its report on the 1956 Venice premiere) escape me still, as do most of the shorter pieces. But Requiem Canticles (1966)—which Stravinsky called his “pocket requiem” and which was performed at his funeral—is his last masterpiece, albeit a small one, and it was given an eloquent account.

The Symphony of Psalms, the final work in the concerts, was performed in a two-piano arrangement by Karen Keating—a decision that on paper seemed disappointing but that largely avoided the one serious drawback of these concerts: the muddying factor of Trinity Church’s cavernous acoustics, which compromised nearly every performance to some degree. Stravinsky’s rhythms and scoring thrive in utmost clarity, and these performances would have been even more successful in the drier Zankel or Tully halls uptown.

Nevertheless, in the Symphony the superb Trinity chorus could be heard at its full stature without the acoustical confusion of orchestral textures, and the excellent pianists, Pedja Muzijevic and Steven Beck, were perfectly balanced. I’d love to hear Bruckner Motets at Trinity someday.

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