Sun, November 11, 2012

Music in Review: Trinity Choir
The New York Times

As Julian Wachner, the music director of the Trinity Choir and Trinity Baroque Orchestra, said before a concert at Trinity Church on Saturday evening, “It’s no small feat to throw together a B minor Mass in three days.”

He was referring to Bach’s monumental work, which the ensembles prepared at short notice for a fund-raiser dedicated to victims of Hurricane Sandy. Mr. Wachner added that they could have chosen something easier, but that this piece — a Roman Catholic Mass by a Lutheran composer — “speaks to a wide variety of human emotions…”

The choir produced a full-blooded sound that belied its small size, boosted by spirited playing from the period-instrument orchestra. The vocal soloists — who included Sherezade Panthaki, Jolle Greenleaf, Dashon Burton and Kirsten Sollek — sang beautifully.

Thu, November 1, 2012

Review: Ruehr Choral Works

...the singing, playing and production are all first-class.

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RUEHR Choral Works

A cappella choral works from Boston-based composer

Malcolm Riley

Cricket, Spider, Bee
Gospel Cha Cha

Three American poets supply the texts for this enterprising release of music by Michigan-born, Juilliard-trained Elena Ruehr (b1963). She is probably best known for her chamber music and forays into dance and silent film.

Her setting of Emily Dickinson’s Cricket, Spider, Bee (the earliest work on the disc, dating from 1996) makes a charming eight-minute triptych. Langston Hughes’s Gospel Cha Cha (2000) provides a word-painter’s paradise. Here, Ruehr successfully blends such diverse musical references as 18th-century French courtly dances and Ghanaian drumming, while eschewing an overtly jazzy style.

The programme’s centrepiece is the recent 11-movement cantata Averno from 2010. Stylistically there is little to frighten the horses, with a fondness for diatonic, repeated phrases, occasional funky, irregular bar-lengths and a solid sense of ebb and flow in the musical narrative. The text is taken from a selection of poems by the Pulitzer prize-winner Louise Glück (b1943) and retells the dark story of Demeter, goddess of the earth, and her daughter Persephone. Due to the complexity of some of the vocal writing it is essential that the libretto is on hand. The scoring is a marvel of delicacy and brought to mind the fleeting lightness of John Williams’s score for Catch me if you can. At other moments there are hints of early Kenneth Leighton, especially in the writing for oboe and strings.

Of the two soloists, baritone Stephen Salters gives the more searingly satisfying performance. Marguerite Krull’s vibrato, recorded at close quarters, can become wearing. Otherwise the singing, playing and production are all first-class.

Sun, October 7, 2012

Keeping Up the Spirit of Bach and Carrying On
The New York Times

Mr. Wachner and his responsive troops performed with an irresistible spirit and a lilt that had some of the tourist passers-by swaying, almost dancing, along. And this goes to the heart of Bach at One’s accomplishment: it has made Bach, like St. Paul’s Chapel, part of the fabric of life in Lower Manhattan.

Tue, September 25, 2012

Two splendid historically-informed recent Handel oratorio releases
Classical Music Examiner

Both of these are absolutely delightful performances. Both groups appreciate the significance of the narrative and allow it to unfold at a suitably brisk, but never rushed, pace. The balancing of resources is always impeccably managed; and the historically-informed sonorities are absolutely ravishing…

At this point, however, I must confess to a certain “local boy” preference. Trinity Church may be on the opposite side of the country from my San Francisco base, but I was delighted to encounter many familiar names in the personnel listing for both the Choir and the Orchestra. These were names I recognized from historically informed performances that I have experienced in San Francisco, particularly by Philharmonia Baroque and the American Bach Soloists, whose summer festival, based at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, attracts some of the best talent for this repertoire on a global scale. I also appreciated that all the solo selections in HWV 54 were taken by members of the choir, rather than “special guest stars.”

In addition this recording is a valuable scholarly document for HWV 54…All these factors join to make this new recording of Israel in Egypt a valuable addition to anyone’s collection of recordings.

Sun, September 9, 2012

Spotlighting Prizewinning Composers
The New York Times

The music program of Trinity Wall Street, which was largely suspended and seemed in jeopardy in the spring as the church’s vestry was reassessing its costs and purposes, has come roaring back for the new season, more varied than ever. Under the direction of Julian Wachner the program has become a hotbed of early music, and Mr. Wachner has said that among other innovations he plans to do the same for contemporary music, giving greater scope to Trinity’s instrumental ensemble Novus NY.

The season opened on Thursday with the first in a series of four midday concerts called Twelve in 12, celebrating the Pulitzer Prize-winning composers of the last dozen years. The idea, Mr. Wachner said in opening remarks, came from Trinity’s “striving for excellence.” Where better to find it musically than among Pulitzer winners?

Sat, September 8, 2012

Original Music Workshop: “Skyful”
The New Yorker

In rapidly gentrifying Williamsburg, the attorney, organist, and impresario D. Kevin Dolan has made a last stand for culture by planning a new performance space on the spot of the old National Sawdust factory. In an open-air preview of things to come, the organization offers “Skyful,” an event that features “Inverted Sky,” an installation by the artist Erika Harrsch with music by Mario Diaz de Leon and Julian Wachner (performed by the flutists Claire Chase and Eric Lamb from the International Contemporary Ensemble), as well as performances by Brooklyn Rider, the Talea Ensemble, the soprano Tony Arnold, and the Mexican vocalist Magos Herrera.

Thu, September 6, 2012

A Watershed Moment For Early Music
The New York Times

Trinity Wall Street has gotten past last season’s crisis in its music program and — under its energetic music director, Julian Wachner — now features what Mr. Wachner calls the closest thing New York has to a permanent, regularly performing Baroque orchestra…

“This is truly a time when New York City can actually be big for early music,” Mr. Wachner said in an interview. “We’ll see how New York audiences do with it.”

Mr. Wachner has emerged as an influential voice on the scene since taking over Trinity’s music program two years ago. This season his professional Trinity Choir and Baroque Orchestra again offer a series of Monday performances called Bach at One, consisting mostly of Bach cantatas. The church’s second Twelfth Night Festival, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 6, will include Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” and his “Brandenburg” Concertos; Elizabethan Christmas music, performed by Parthenia, a respected quartet of viols; Monteverdi’s “Vespers,” by Jolle Greenleaf’s Green Mountain Project; and Monteverdi madrigals, by Tenet. Gotham Early Music Scene, a presenter and promoter, is helping to put on the festival.

Thu, September 6, 2012

Striking Notes Timely and Timeless
The New York Times

Julian Wachner’s music program at Trinity Wall Street, which did spectacular service in the first half of last season, especially for the Sept. 11 anniversary commemorations, only to be suspended for much of the second half for a re-evaluation of finances and purpose, is back and seeking new challenges. Under Mr. Wachner the program has become a hotbed of early music, especially with the Trinity Choir’s Bach at One series at St. Paul’s Chapel (which resumes on Oct. 1). Now, expanding the activities of Trinity’s instrumental ensemble Novus NY, Mr. Wachner plans to make contemporary music an equal partner. Here, in a series of hourlong midday concerts, he opens the Trinity season with works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composers of the last dozen years.

Sun, September 2, 2012

Twelve in 12
Time Out New York

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—and saying so takes nothing away from conductor Julian Wachner, who has revitalized the justly renowned music program at Trinity Church Wall Street since becoming its director in 2010. Parceled across four Thursday lunch hours, “Twelve in 12” offers a dozen pieces by as many recent Pulitzer Prize winners—few of whom have received the kind of sustained attention the honor would seem to warrant.

Mon, July 2, 2012

On an Evening of Wilting Heat, the Soaring Harmonies of Sacred Works
The New York Times

Last week Mr. Wachner conducted Novus NY, Trinity’s new contemporary-music ensemble, in Paola Prestini’s “Oceanic Voices.” And on Sunday evening he presided over a candlelit concert of recent sacred works by Nico Muhly, with oldies by Herbert Howells and William Byrd, at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Actually, Mr. Wachner and company could have easily lost the candles, given the heat in the chapel, but the choristers soldiered on with such robustness and energy that most listeners, however wilted, remained happily engaged…

...To open the second half Mr. Wachner gave a vivid account of Mr. Muhly’s “O Antiphon Preludes” (2010), a set of seven organ fantasies preceded by choral renderings of the Advent chants on which each is based.

Tue, June 26, 2012

The Mediterranean Sea, Singing Along in Italy
The New York Times

Paola Prestini has been at work on “Oceanic Verses,” a multimedia folk opera, since Carnegie Hall commissioned part of it for a composers’ and singers’ workshop in 2009. She presented a section of it at New York City Opera’s Vox readings last year, and offered the New York premiere of the finished piece on Monday evening at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University, as part of the adventurous River to River Festival…

...Julian Wachner conducted the Novus NY ensemble, the Washington Chorus and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus in a polished, robust performance.

Sun, June 24, 2012

Paola Prestini’s ‘Oceanic Verses’: Opera’s music is mostly compelling
The Washington Post

“Oceanic Verses,” the opera/event that had its world premiere at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Saturday night, arrives freighted with so many ideas that its program notes make it sound absolutely deadly: a “meditation on fading civilizations,” with videos presenting “an abstraction of [each character’s] essence” within a “larger ‘video environment’ ” and so on…

...The composer, Paola Prestini, and her creative team have high ambitions but also, evidently, some common sense about what works onstage: characters you can connect to, music that engages. They’ve also been working on this material for a long time: “Oceanic Verses” originated in 2009 as the result of a professional training workshop staged by Carnegie Hall.

Add video by Ali Hossaini, in the same vein of exalted symbolism (lots of crashing wave patterns), the Washington Chorus as the voice of the Mediterranean and the energetic participation of Novus NY, the contemporary music ensemble of Trinity Wall Street, all under the energetic baton of Julian Wachner, and you get, undeniably, a cohesive 80-minute package..and the applause, at the end, was long and loud. The show goes on to New York, where it will be performed as part of the River to River Festival on Monday night.

Sun, June 3, 2012

Forces of Nature and Ecstasy: Julian Wachner’s Trinity Choir at Zankel Hall
The New York Times

Since the conductor and composer Julian Wachner became the director of music and arts at Trinity Wall Street in September 2010 he has pursued at least two distinct agendas. He has increased the amount of contemporary music performed by the church’s admirable Trinity Choir, bolstering that move by inaugurating a new instrumental ensemble, Novus NY. He has also taken steps to make the choir more visible outside its native habitat of Lower Manhattan, like mounting one of its cherished annual performances of Handel’s “Messiah” at Alice Tully Hall last year.

On Thursday evening those two initiatives merged when Mr. Wachner led the Trinity Choir in a concert at Zankel Hall that consisted almost entirely of contemporary works. The program proved that the choir is up to Mr. Wachner’s challenges. In music that allowed no margin for error with regard to intonation and rhythm, its work was airtight. Singing in acoustics far different from those to which it is accustomed, the ensemble was superb…

Mr. Wachner’s “Rilke Songs,” six settings of poems about animals real and legendary, showed an imaginative flair for allusive text setting, evoking a caged panther’s restless stalking and contrasting a swan’s clumsy gait on land with its elegance in water. The chorus handled the silken complexities of Mr. Wachner’s close harmonies gracefully.

Mon, May 21, 2012

Wachner and Washington Chorus deftly navigate ‘Essential Wagner’
The Washington Post

There’s usually a difference between conductors and choral conductors. Conductors lead orchestras, and sometimes opera; choral conductors tend to have focused on the voice.

Julian Wachner, who has led the Washington Chorus since 2008, is something of an exception in that he trained as a conductor (as well as a composer), and has led several orchestras and operas across the country. This difference emerges in the Washington Chorus’s programming, particularly in the series performed for the past four years that focuses on musical highlights of composers such as Puccini and Mahler, who don’t often show up on amateur choral concerts. The latest installment came Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center, a program called “The Essential Wagner.”

To say this was risky is an understatement. Wagner is a challenge to conduct, especially with an orchestra that doesn’t regularly play together, and Wachner didn’t shy away from the big guns: Isolde’s “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde,” the overture to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” and “The Ride of the Valkyries” from “Die Walkuere.” A program like this, part artistic challenge and part pops concert, could be an act of hubris, and it could be a complete train wreck. It’s to Wachner’s credit that it was, instead, a rollicking good time.

Wachner is conductor enough to make it all go…emphatic and theatrical and at home in opera so that he could bring out the requisite sense of drama.

Mon, May 21, 2012

Wagner program reconciled the beauty of the music with the complexity of the man
DC Performing Arts Examiner

Sunday’s Kennedy Center concert by The Washington Chorus was a continuation on “The Essential Series” birthed by music director Julian Wachner.  First it was Puccini, then it was Rachmaninoff and crowning the 50th year anniversary of the chorus was an all Mahler blowout.  This time around, The Washington Chorus and orchestra with guest soloists performed a complete program of selected works by Richard Wagner…

The orchestra was superb and the brass and percussion particularly brought a sense of fiery execution to the music.  Conductor Wachner was a combustion of energy on the podium, which came across in the vocal delivery of the singers.  There were so many opportunities to hear wonderful combinations of voices.  In the ‘Norweigian Sailor’s Chorus,’ the tenors and basses of the choir sang with a nice, hefty sound that projected nicely over the orchestra.  In the ‘Festmarsch’ from Tannhäuser, the brilliance of the women’s voices created a cushion of sound for the resonant male voices.  The sopranos of the choir especially did not disappoint, wailing into the rafters with assured authority.

Fri, May 11, 2012

Operavore: The Jesus and Opera Chain

Opera traces its roots to Florentine composers enamored of a time that predates Jesus. For the first 20 years, works were exclusively devoted to the stories of classical antiquity…By definition, Jesus was never invited to the party. “Even though opera lived in the world of the aristocracy, it really was not necessarily a religiously-condoned activity,” explained Julian Wachner, the director of music and arts for Trinity Wall Street. “Certainly you’re not going to bring additional ire from the church, in the same way that you would never have a representation of Mohammed.”

What Wachner also points out is that, during the heyday of Baroque opera, stage works were prohibited during Lent. Such an edict gave way to the oratorio, a vocally dramatic loophole to the equation. As such, operatic composers prohibited from honing their craft for 40 days and 40 nights and supplementing this break with an Old-Testament–based oratorio work. The last thing many wanted to do upon returning to opera was look for another Biblical story. Opera went from depicting ancient myths up to the early works of Mozart, and then verged into nationalist and verismo works that were concerned with depicting real people. “Jesus had a hard time finding his way into that,” said Wachner.

Wed, May 2, 2012

Local conductor to embark on a series of Feldenkrais workshops
DC Performing Arts Examiner

Julian Wachner, music director of The Washington Chorus has inserted yet another feather into his cap.  This weekend, he will begin leading several Feldenkrais workshops in New York City and later this month in Montreal.  What is Feldenkrais?  Feldenkrais is an educational method aimed at improving movement repertoire through self awareness in order to reduce pain and limitations in movement and thus promotes well being.  Designed by Moshé Feldenkrais, the method leans towards body/mind exploration.  The upcoming classes are aimed at helping artists deal more effectively with issues such as stress, fatigue and discomfort.

Tue, May 1, 2012

CD Review: Triptych
American Record Guide

Wachner is both an unapologetic modernist and an open-minded elclectic, but his music has something to say. Each concerto requires patience and investment from the listener, but the careful pacing and colorful orchestration make for a big payoff. Some of that, of course, has to do with the performances - all excellent. Both soloists and orchestras play with professionalism and artistic conviction.

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Patrick Hanudel, American Record Guide

New York City conductor and composer Julian Wachner (b 1970) travels north to present a pairing of his Triptych for organ and orchestra (2004) with his earlier Clarinet Concerto (2002). The Triptych, performed here by French-Canadian keyboardist Philippe Bélanger and the Orchestre Métropolitain of Montréal, is a three-movement, 40-minute tour-de-force of imposing power, virtuosic toccatas, quiet meditation, and joyful celebration. In contrast, the Clarinet Concerto, courtesy of Saint Louis Symphony Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews and the McGill Chamber Orchestra of Montréal, is a single-movement, 13-minute piece in two sections - the first mysterious contemplation, the second a lively dance with hints of jazz.

Wachner is both an unapologetic modernist and an open-minded elclectic, but his music has something to say. Each concerto requires patience and investment from the listener, but the careful pacing and colorful orchestration make for a big payoff. Some of that, of course, has to do with the performances - all excellent. Both soloists and orchestras play with professionalism and artistic conviction.

Tue, May 1, 2012

CD Review: Triptych
The WholeNote

Sparked by multiple talents of composer-conductor Julian Wachner, this disc succeeds on all fronts! In Triptych…organist Philippe Bélanger and Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain offer an exciting, insightful performance… Wachner’s eclectic Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra receives loving treatment… Andrews’ clarinet manages to be Coplandesque, jazzy, klezmerish and more in the expressive introduction and motoric allegro. Highly recommended.

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Roger Knox, The WholeNote

Sparked by multiple talents of composer-conductor Julian Wachner, this disc succeeds on all fronts! In Triptych, commissioned for the 100th anniversary of St. Joseph’s Oratory, organist Philippe Bélanger and Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain offer an exciting, insightful performance. Out of orchestral chaos the organ enters with chordal grandeur in the introductory “Logos.” An introspective two-part organ passage plus its aggressive string response become the bases for the following allegro. I was especially struck by the quiet return of the organ passage over a pedal note, now continued effectively with chimes. Bélanger and selected instrumentalists are beautifully reflective again in the middle movement “Agape,” the violins serene and inspired in the closing melody. The organist shines in the final “Angelus,” building steadily with the orchestra through tricky metre changes to a great, moving conclusion. Himself a virtuoso organist, Wachner has created long sonorities, repeated chords, and busy passages that are static harmonically to suit the highly reverberant space. Producer Johanne Goyette and engineer Anne-Marie Sylvestre deserve special mention for the sonic results.

On a lighter plane, Wachner’s eclectic Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra receives loving treatment from St. Louis Symphony principal clarinettist Scott Andrews and the McGill Chamber Orchestra. Andrews’ clarinet manages to be Coplandesque, jazzy, klezmerish and more in the expressive introduction and motoric allegro. Highly recommended.

Mon, April 23, 2012

The Feldenkrais Method, and why singers should take note
Vocal Area Network

What do Jiu Jitsu, physics and neuroscience have in common? The answer is The Feldenkrais Method, so named for its founder, Moshé Feldenkrais, whose extraordinary life and professional career reads like it came from a John Le Carré spy novel. An Russian physicist, judo expert, mechanical engineer and educator, Feldenkrais drew on his wealth of experience to develop a ground-breaking form of somatic education—a category which includes such disparate forms as Yoga and the Alexander Technique—that aims to improve movement repertoire and the way in which the mind and body work together, in order to reduce pain or limitations in movement, and promote general well-being…

So, what does all of this mean in practical terms, and why should singers take note? On Friday, May 4 and Saturday, May 5 in New York City, and Friday, May 11 in Montréal, conductor/composer Julian Wachner (pictured above, of Trinity Wall Street) and dancer/choreographer Maud Tizon (Opéra de Lyon) will explore this very question with a Feldenkrais workshop designed specifically for musicians, actors, dancers and other artists…

Julian Wachner began his Feldenkrais training in order to maximize his own potential as a musician. He received his diploma as a certified Feldenkrais Practitioner following a four year course of study in the south of France. He has taught the Feldenkrais Method at the Tanglewood Music Center, Glimmerglass Opera Young Artists Program, McGill University, Yale University, and at Boston University, and maintains a private practice in New York City.

“Several years ago, I found myself in a very dark place where I would see a problem and not meet it with softness,” he says “When you are a conductor or leader, when you hit a problem, you have to find ways through it with creativity, with compromise and with team work. The Feldenkrais Method got me to the point where I have a more balanced approach. I think it’s part of the next wave of our human development.”

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