Press

Tue, March 2, 2010

Celebrating Lukas Foss:  Alea III Contemporary Music Ensemble in Residence at Boston University
Boston Arts Diary

Eighteen Epigrams formed the basis for the second part of the program. This collage piece is an amalgamation of short works in honor of Lukas Foss by his former students. Though highly varied in tone and orientation, it is a lovely work, a kind of testament not only to Foss but to modernism itself. How many composed collaborative pieces of this sort, in the world of classical music, do we typically hear? It is a pleasure to have the occasion to sew together the varied feelings of devotion to a beloved teacher and to witness the result in a singular form. I noted in particular the segment composed by Julian Wachner…in the end, it was the overall sense of Foss’ legacy and presence that governed the evening.

Fri, January 29, 2010

Concerts classiques - Stravinski en bonne et due forme
Le Devoir

Les spectacles de ce type sont toujours une intéressante revue d’effectifs de la relève, test d’autant plus signifiant que l’ouvrage de Stravinski est extrêmement retors sur les plans de l’intonation, du rythme et de la mémorisation. C’était prendre un grand risque de le programmer. C’était peut-être, aussi, bien connaître les potentialités des trois jeunes artistes portant le spectacle sous la houlette attentive de Julian Wachner.

Fri, January 29, 2010

Opéra à McGill : surtout pour Nick Shadow
La Presse

L’Atelier d’opéra de McGill avait monté The Rake’s Progress une première fois en 2002. Non seulement la distribution de cette année réunit-elle, forcément, de nouveaux sujets, mais la mise en scène et la direction musicale sont également nouvelles. Le Stravinsky de 2002 avait été réussi; de même, celui de cette année.

Sun, May 17, 2009

Review: World Premiere of “Come, My Dark-Eyed One”
The Boston Musical Intelligencer

For the 35th anniversary of their founding by the late beloved Larry Hill, the Back Bay Chorale chose an acknowledged masterpiece, Brahms’ German Requiem, and commissioned what one can imagine might turn out to be another, Julian Wachner’s Come My Dark Eyed One.  What the works have superficially in common are libretti based on miscellaneous poetry. While Brahms made his own selection of Biblical passages, Wachner relied on a libretto culled by Marie-Ève Munger, his Charles Jennens.  And Wachner excelled at word setting. The work developed in intensity beginning with his Randall Thompson-esque strains of crowd-pleasing choral writing to his own almost savage response to Emily Dickinson’s Wild Night. Chorus, orchestra and soloists David Kravtiz (baritone) and Arianna Zuckerman (soprano) and conductor Scott Allen Jarrett presented a determined and committed world premiere.

Mon, April 27, 2009

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra stages joyful return for Masterworks V
ISTHMUS: The Daily Page

Haydn Symphonies are usually the specialty of regular maestro Andrew Sewell, but this time the podium was occupied by a guest, the Canadian maestro Julian Wachner. An energetic, quite athletic conductor, Wachner is also an impressively “hands-on” interpreter, shaping things very distinctively his own way: freedom with tempos, minutely detailed attention to phrasing, to nuances, and to dynamics. The overture was paced a little more briskly than some conductors would take it, but nicely etched. The performance of the symphony was filled with unusual insights. Wachner had the strings play with minimal vibrato, suggesting almost a residual Baroque character, while his shaping of the work, and unleashing of the winds, seemed to anticipate Beethoven down the road. The treatment of the Menuet third movement was most individual: unusual speed for the flanking section, while the trio theme was begun each time around with a slow swoop leading into a more relaxed flow. This was an imaginative exploration of a work usually performed with superficial diffidence. ...Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto”, No. 5, with the guest soloist, the young Finnish pianist Pavaali Jumpannen….Between him and Wachner, we again were given fresh insight into a familiar warhorse.

Tue, April 7, 2009

Washington Chorus Gives Verdi’s Requiem an Urbane Reading
The Washington Post

... Julian Wachner, the conductor, led with spirit, he also tamed the music to such an extent that it was an unusually urbane trip….The chorus is sounding excellent: balanced and careful and clear…Wachner did beautifully detailed work with the singers, carrying them through every word, focusing on them with laser intensity…To his credit, he also resisted the obvious; his focus seemed to be on the less showy pieces and the chorus, rather than the big solo moments. The “Sanctus,” a rapid fugue, was especially vivid and fine.

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Washington Chorus Gives Verdi's Requiem an Urbane Reading
By Anne Midgette

Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Warhorse" is such an overused word we think of the beast it denotes as more a tired nag than a spirited charger. But the Verdi Requiem remains a warhorse indeed; however often it's brought out, it retains its fire, flares its nostrils, strikes sparks from the cobblestones and gallops itself, as often as not, into a lather.  On Sunday at the Kennedy Center, it was the Washington Chorus's turn to take the ride. And while Julian Wachner, the conductor, led with spirit, he also tamed the music to such an extent that it was an unusually urbane trip.

The chorus is sounding excellent: balanced and careful and clear. And Wachner did beautifully detailed work with the singers, carrying them through every word, focusing on them with laser intensity. He was less focused on the orchestra, which he put through its paces with ease and a hint of insouciance.

To his credit, he also resisted the obvious; his focus seemed to be on the less showy pieces and the chorus, rather than the big solo moments. The "Sanctus," a rapid fugue, was especially vivid and fine; while the "Dies Irae," though properly thunderous -- trumpets in the balconies and all -- could have gone up one more notch in intensity. Wachner may have done that on purpose, waiting for the reiteration in the final "Libera Me," when all the stops were finally pulled out.

Verdi voices are a rarer breed than ever, but the chorus marshaled a quartet that could at least get the job done. Wayne Tigges, the bass, had beautiful melodious low notes, though he got a little nasal when applying pressure to higher registers in, for instance, the "Confutatis." Arnold Rawls, the tenor, offered a lot of commitment and a workable voice. The weak link was the mezzo-soprano, Susana Poretsky, who sounded like a caricature of an opera singer: the voice artificial and hooty, the pitches erratic.

And the very strong link was the soprano Jennifer Check. I've heard Check a number of times in the past -- an alumna of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann young-artist program, she already has an active career around the United States -- and I was pleased with her here all over again. What's so wonderful about her singing is its freshness; she has a sizable voice, but she doesn't push it or try to make it sound like anything but herself. It's not exactly a Verdian voice -- which one thinks of as a richer, thicker sound -- but it's big enough to sing Verdi, and it has technique to burn. From shining, floating top notes, Check dug down into rich chest tones with abandon for the final words, "Libera me." You couldn't have asked for a better conclusion.

Fri, March 13, 2009

Washington Chorus at Atlas Performing Arts Center
The Washington Post

As a refreshing change from the Washington Chorus’s accustomed concert format, their music director, Julian Wachner, presented an evening at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Wednesday that focused on music by, and conversations with, a single composer…Hearing Trevor Weston describe his varied musical influences—everything from Hildegard von Bingen to Kiss, from roots-blues to Bernard Hermann—one might have expected to hear something more wildly poly-stylistic than his safely neo-Romantic, Anglican-tinged choral writing. Not that there weren’t novel features in a couple of the pieces: “The Gentlest Thing” set a harmonically ambiguous trio of solo singers against a warmly tonal background, to sly effect, and the 9/11-inspired “Ashes” introduced affecting moments of aleatoric babbling and call-and-response antiphony between a reduced contingent of the Chorus and their guest-artists, the Congressional Chorus…The Atlas’s mercilessly antiseptic acoustics worked for “Life Goes”, but denied the well-honed choral performances the bloom and blend they needed.

Sat, January 31, 2009

The Rape of Lucretia: pour quelques minutes…
La Presse

The Rape of Lucretia, de Britten, totalise à McGill deux longues heures de tergiversations politiques et matrimoniales au bout desquelles éclate enfin le dénouement, qui ne fait que quelques minutes et vaut le spectacle entier.  L’ensemble de la distribution reste néanmoins très convenable au plan vocal et dramatique…Mais de beaux costumes, d’intéressants décors stylisés et le relief voulu chez la douzaine d’instrumentistes requis par Britten.

Mon, December 15, 2008

‘Messiah’ with Philadelphia Orchestra, Singers
Philadelphia Inquirer

… few conductors have drawn such focused, committed and meticulous music-making from the Philadelphia Singers Chorale as Julian Wachner, who has extensive choral experience in Boston and had a better-defined viewpoint than some higher-profile conductors who have taken on the piece here. He created the kind of musical framework that ensured that the weaker links would not significantly diminish the overall picture.

Given how well he assembled a fine performance in limited time, I couldn’t help fantasize that he might do an annual Philadelphia Orchestra festival of Bach and Handel, since these giants in music history suffer from lack of representation in this community. That’s not unusual: Those composers tend to be left to period-performance specialists, whether or not they’re on the premises. And although I champion period performance more than most, Sunday’s generalist Messiah required no handicaps.  Orchestral introductions to fugal passages were skillfully phrased to telegraph the meaning to come. Individual fugal voices were initially inflected to consolidate that poetic meaning. From there, Wachner built the music, line by line, as an architectural edifice, serving both the music’s emotional and more purely aesthetic elements.

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'Messiah' with Philadelphia Orchestra, Singers

By David Patrick Stearns
Philadelphia Inquirer Classical Music Critic
December 15, 2008

To love Handel's Messiah is to be its watchdog.

Far from wearing out its welcome, Messiah's stature has grown continually: As Handel's other works are heard more often, the consistency and uniqueness of this perennial become increasingly apparent. Messiah remains a warhorse, but you don't want it kissed off with minimal rehearsal and inexpensive soloists, which was a possibility Sunday at the Kimmel Center, when the Philadelphia Orchestra initially seemed to be fielding its B team.

I hadn't heard of any of the guest musicians. But few conductors have drawn such focused, committed and meticulous music-making from the Philadelphia Singers Chorale as Julian Wachner, who has extensive choral experience in Boston and had a better-defined viewpoint than some higher-profile conductors who have taken on the piece here. He created the kind of musical framework that ensured that the weaker links would not significantly diminish the overall picture.

Given how well he assembled a fine performance in limited time, I couldn't help fantasize that he might do an annual Philadelphia Orchestra festival of Bach and Handel, since these giants in music history suffer from lack of representation in this community. That's not unusual: Those composers tend to be left to period-performance specialists, whether or not they're on the premises. And although I champion period performance more than most, Sunday's generalist Messiah required no handicaps.

Orchestral introductions to fugal passages were skillfully phrased to telegraph the meaning to come. Individual fugal voices were initially inflected to consolidate that poetic meaning. From there, Wachner built the music, line by line, as an architectural edifice, serving both the music's emotional and more purely aesthetic elements.

Wachner's brisk, exciting choral tempos didn't necessarily carry over into the arias, in which tempos seemed to be designed to accommodate the varying comfort zones of the vocal soloists. That's reality this time of year, when seemingly everybody this side of Renée Fleming who can sing Messiah is indeed doing so with an if-today-is-Thursday-it-must-be-Tulsa velocity. Stylistic congruent soloists may just be too much to hope for.

As much as David Kravitz's baritone was refreshingly clean, the voice didn't have much to say artistically. Soprano Sarah Coburn, a handsome presence and good singer, had much to say but not the enunciation to project it. For all of her Wagner credits, mezzo-soprano Laura Vlasak Nolen still suits Handel thanks to her projection of the words and endearing Nan Merriman vibrato.

Tenor William Hite was in his own class, not just because his medium-weight voice was ideal. His vocal ornaments were thoughtfully deployed to either emphasize or elaborate on what the music was saying. Something bigger was afoot, though: He didn't perform the music so much as he shared the profound experience he was having with it. That's what I call the Christmas spirit.

Thu, December 4, 2008

Flood concerto holds water
Montreal Gazette

Many American pieces start life as political commentaries or commemorations of tragic events…the Canadian premiere of Après moi, le déluge, by Luna Pearl Woolf, an American composer who has settled in Montreal with her husband, cellist Matt Haimovitz….And the music did sound inspired. Wails, whispers and other modernist devices were deployed to the greater good of the whole. The spirit was rhapsodic, but the effect strongly integrated. Not a moment dragged…It all ended, of course, with a bluesy New Orleans apotheosis. Perhaps Woolf could have found a more individual way of cross-pollinating the down-home syncopations with her own style. Anyway, the piece is a hit….Wachner drew a fiery sound…

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Flood concerto holds water
By ARTHUR KAPTAINIS, Montreal Gazette

December 4, 2008     

Many American pieces start life as political commentaries or commemorations of tragic events. On Tuesday, the 42-voice McGill Chamber Choir under Julian Wachner presented the Canadian premiere of Après moi, le déluge, by Luna Pearl Woolf, an American composer who has settled in Montreal with her husband, cellist Matt Haimovitz.

Hubby was on hand for the performance in Pollack Hall, providing an obbligato that both animated and deepened the 25-minute opus. Woolf admitted that she had started work on a concerto for cello and choir before the Katrina disaster (and a poem by Eleanor Wilner) stirred her creative juices.

And the music did sound inspired. Wails, whispers and other modernist devices were deployed to the greater good of the whole. The spirit was rhapsodic, but the effect strongly integrated. Not a moment dragged.

It all ended, of course, with a bluesy New Orleans apotheosis. Perhaps Woolf could have found a more individual way of cross-pollinating the down-home syncopations with her own style. Anyway, the piece is a hit.

Wachner drew a fiery sound from the student choir, made mostly of first- and second-year saplings. There were a couple of confident solos. The young 'uns were less interested, with reason, in Ma'at Musings, by Trevor Weston, an American who was present for the performance. This low-voltage number with two percussionists was supposedly pregnant with political content.

Also heard was Africa, a resolutely tonal effort by Vancouver native Brian Tate. There were tambourines in this pleasant work, popular with the small crowd.

You must permit me a grumble, however, when the Canadian piece on a program is called "Africa." How many Africans are writing works called "Canada"?

akaptainis@sympatico.ca
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Tue, November 18, 2008

New Director’s Fresh Look at a Bach Warhorse
The Washington Post

If Sunday afternoon’s performance of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor by the Washington Chorus was any indication, choral music fans in this town may be in for surprises. The season-opening concert, at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, was Julian Wachner’s first as the chorus’s new music director, and he did not play it safe.

Wachner employed his full 175-voice symphonic choir but backed them not with a beefy modern orchestra but with a smallish band of baroque specialists. Their sound was robust and colorful and rarely swamped by the choir..when the chorus was allowed to sing out, colors and textures popped. There was a dark, burnished glow to the basses, and in the exuberant “Et Expecto,” sopranos soared in tandem with gleaming trumpet fanfares…Wachner boldly made the Mass his own statement…it signals the arrival of a courageous new conductor.

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New Director's Fresh Look at a Bach Warhorse
By Tom Huizenga

Special toThe Washington Post,

November 18, 2008

If Sunday afternoon's performance of J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor by the Washington Chorus was any indication, choral music fans in this town may be in for surprises. The season-opening concert, at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, was Julian Wachner's first as the chorus's new music director, and he did not play it safe.

Choosing the revered B Minor Mass represents nothing new, but what the 38-year old conductor did with Bach's score -- he calls it a "transcription" -- could be viewed as innovative by some, willful by others. In program notes, Wachner eloquently argues against a single correct way to perform the Mass, especially when it comes to numbers of singers.

Wachner employed his full 175-voice symphonic choir but backed them not with a beefy modern orchestra but with a smallish band of baroque specialists. Their sound was robust and colorful and rarely swamped by the choir. That's because Wachner diligently kept the lid on his giant vocal forces. And therein lies a fundamental problem behind large swaths of the performance.

Wachner has said that to mitigate balance issues between chorus and orchestra he would lead the choir at a volume level "somewhere between 60 and 80 percent." Indeed, during the opening "Kyrie," amid sluggish tempos, the choir lacked urgency and tension. As Bach's five-part fugue was passed around, the sound was mushy and indistinct. Low volume begat low energy.

But when the chorus was allowed to sing out, colors and textures popped. There was a dark, burnished glow to the basses, and in the exuberant "Et Expecto," sopranos soared in tandem with gleaming trumpet fanfares.

Another Wachner experiment stems from a camp of scholarship holding that Bach envisioned only one singer per part in this music. For a taste of that theory, Wachner let his four solo singers substitute for, and share movements with, the entire chorus. It's an interesting idea that in practice fell flat.

Assigning the entire "Crucifixus" movement to four voices increased intimacy but overemphasized the contrast with the explosive "Et Resurrexit" that followed.

Some of the most impassioned, beautiful singing came from soloist Charles Daniels. The tenor's creamy tone and plaintively nuanced phrasing made for a truly blessed "Benedictus."

Unlike Bach's great St. Matthew Passion, the B Minor Mass was composed for no specific performance or practical use. Instead, near the end of his life, Bach built his enormous Mass, block by block, largely from music he had composed previously, achieving in the end a grand skyscraper of a composition, constructed in styles both ancient and contemporary. Still, for all its grandeur, the Mass remains his intimate, personal statement of music and theology.

Wachner boldly made the Mass his own statement. It may not have been entirely successful, but it signals the arrival of a courageous new conductor.

Tue, April 29, 2008

Wachner’s ‘Proud’ Debut With Washington Chorus
The Washington Post

It was certainly refreshing to see a choral conductor who knows how to handle an orchestra so well. Wachner is at home on the podium, cuing the responsive strings…with an understated motion of his hand, or focusing the beat with a jab of the baton.

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Wachner's 'Proud' Debut With Washington Chorus
By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, April 29, 2008; Page C08


What was originally scheduled as a guest appearance proved to be an inauguration. Julian Wachner's program with the Washington Chorus at the Kennedy Center on Sunday afternoon was his first concert as the group's music director-designate.

As I noted when he was appointed a few weeks ago, Wachner was a striking choice. In Washington's active but traditional choral scene, dominated by music directors who have worked with their ensembles for many decades, he is something of an exotic bird: a conductor who has, and plans to keep, a career in opera and the orchestral repertory as well as choruses.

Sunday's program, of course, was planned well in advance of Wachner's official designation. Still, it gave an interesting idea of where the chorus and its new director might be headed. It was certainly refreshing to see a choral conductor who knows how to handle an orchestra so well. Wachner is at home on the podium, cuing the responsive strings (the concertmaster was Nurit Bar-Josef, who holds the same position with the NSO) with an understated motion of his hand, or focusing the beat with a jab of the baton.

The $64,000 question is what kind of long-term relationship Wachner will be able to establish with the chorus itself. Choruses tend to benefit from intense, loving attention by devoted music directors -- at least, that has been the paradigm established by such luminaries as the late, great Robert Shaw. Whether this chorus can ever feel it comes first in Wachner's heart remains, after Sunday's concert, uncertain. Since it was my first time hearing this group, which has undergone considerable transition and some loss of personnel since the dismissal of its previous director, I cannot say how it compared to its own past incarnations, but while all sang with a will, they needed some more work in terms of balances -- the Fauré Requiem opened with a thicket of distinct voices rather than a yielding cushion of sound -- and the sopranos, in particular, sounded a little brittle.

Of the afternoon's three pieces, there was no question which one most interested Wachner: "Proud Music of the Storm" by Carlyle Sharpe, which he commissioned in 2001 and has performed several times since. Advocacy of new music is rightly accounted a virtue in a young conductor -- Wachner let the audience know he has commissioned more than 100 works -- but this piece was not a particularly striking specimen. Big and showy, it is almost ostentatious in its prettiness, but unimaginative in its execution, following the lines of Walt Whitman’s poetry with a sweet literal-mindedness. It calls for, but underutilizes, four vocal soloists, and altogether adds up to more sugar than substance. Brahms’ "Gesang der Parzen," which followed, sounded miraculously profound by contrast. But it also felt sluggish, with something slightly routine in the execution.

The afternoon's showpiece, the Fauré, was an interesting test for Wachner given that it played to none of his strengths: He appears to revel in the grand gesture, and this work is a masterpiece of delicate sensitivity. Rather than the dark agony of many Requiems, this one offers wistful, loving regret; even its "Dies Irae" is redeemed by a shimmering view of Paradise in the final movement. The two soloists were better suited to this piece than to Sharpe's, especially Aaron Engebreth, a baritone, who was audibly out of his element in Sharpe's bass line. Jessica Muirhead, the soprano, sang with beauty, though a little too much drama for the childlike purity of "Pie Jesu."

And the chorus had some strong moments: a wonderful intimacy at the start of the "Offertoire"; the dark amber of low women's voices at the "Libera Me." But overall the piece didn't quite have the limpidity, the soaring shine, it called for. As in the Brahms, there was a touch of routine beneath the glow. One hopes that Wachner can move beyond the heady excitement of a new relationship to find the beauty in small things, the allure of the moment, that will both illuminate and sustain this partnership into the future.

Tue, April 1, 2008

Wachner to Head Washington Chorus
The Washington Post

...he arrives as a young, dynamic force for change, a conductor who is active in opera and orchestra performance as well as in choral work….It was certainly refreshing to see a choral conductor who knows how to handle an orchestra so well. Wachner is at home on the podium, cuing the responsive strings with an understated motion of his hand, or focusing the beat with a jab of the baton.

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Wachner to Head Washington Chorus
Conductor and Composer Brings Diverse Résumé

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Everyone is looking for a new conductor these days. The National Symphony Orchestra is still engaged in what seems like a perpetual search to replace departing Music Director Leonard Slatkin. The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra has announced an "American Idol"-style season next year as candidates for its top post take turns leading the orchestra.

But the Washington Chorus is looking no longer. Its membership was told last night at a rehearsal that its new music director -- who is already scheduled to lead its April 27 concert -- is 38-year-old Julian Wachner.
The announcement marked the end of a year-and-a-half search that began when the chorus's board dismissed its director of 35 years, Robert Shafer, in 2006.

Wachner's appointment certainly signals a new direction for the chorus. In a local choral climate dominated by veteran directors who have led their organizations for many years, he arrives as a young, dynamic force for change, a conductor who is active in opera and orchestra performance as well as in choral work. The Washington Chorus will be a fixed point for him in a busy schedule -- he plans to establish a home in D.C. and be present, for the first season at least, at rehearsals every Monday night -- but he is also the principal conductor of Opera McGill at the university in Montreal. This season, he led the Pittsburgh Symphony (Handel's "Messiah") and the Honolulu Symphony, among others, and made his debut last July with the Glimmerglass Opera conducting Gluck's "Orphée."

He is also a composer. Next week, he will oversee the first recording in a three-disc series of his own choral music, scheduled to be released by Naxos during the 2008-09 season; also in the works is a new disc on the Arsis label, which has already put out two other recordings. He is not, of course, recording these works with the Washington Chorus.

For all his spirit of innovation, Wachner will spend his first year building on tradition. The chorus's '08-09 season will include some repertory warhorses: the Verdi Requiem, the Bach B Minor Mass and Rachmaninoff's Vespers. This selection is also a bid to show Wachner's range, from orchestral drama (Verdi) to the a cappella liturgical tradition (Rachmaninoff) to baroque and early music, one of the conductor's particular specialties.

Still, it will be a departure for the chorus to work with someone who does not have its activity as his sole primary focus. On the other hand, the chorus seems to have responded well during a season of being led by different conductors as the three main job candidates took turns conducting the public concerts. The group has improved, Wachner said yesterday, since his first concert leading it last fall. Last night's rehearsal was the first for his initial concert as music-director designate; he will officially take over on July 1.

The Washington Chorus hopes that with this appointment, it is setting a new tone for the future. The city is remarkable in having four big-budget choruses, but all of its choral administrators wonder how long this Elysian state of affairs can last. And Washington's other choral directors, many of them still close to Shafer (whose newly founded City Choir of Washington will perform Monteverdi's Vespers at Strathmore on April 17), are watching developments at the Washington Chorus with mixed emotions and strong interest.

"I think it's wonderful," said J. Reilly Lewis, the music director of the Cathedral Choral Society and the Bach Consort, "that the chorus, thanks to Bob's having built it up to such a level, can attract the equally high level of talent represented by the candidates whom they've been considering this year."

Wed, January 30, 2008

Review: Opera McGill - Mozart, Cosi fan tutte
La Presse

Bravo also to those responsible for the vocal and musical preparation, notably the ensembles, 
and for the expert musical direction of Julian Wachner.

Wed, January 30, 2008

Review: Opera McGill - Mozart, Cosi fan tutte
Montreal Gazette

Julian Wachner, the conductor, had a vivid sense of Mozartean motion

Sat, December 15, 2007

Exuberant ‘Messiah’ rings under young conductor
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Symphony guest conductor Julian Wachner brought fresh perspectives to Friday evening’s performance of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”...The opening of the concert showed Wachner’s awareness of contemporary musicology, but most of the rest of the performance went beyond scholarship to meaningful musical rhetoric based on the verbal text…Heinz Hall is a big hall, but there was ample power when needed because Wachner maintained a smart dynamic range with real softness for dramatic effect and to be considerate of the solo voices…Wachner’s preference for bouncy fast tempi was almost invariably effective…the joy in “For unto us a child is born” was irresistible. The conductor’s sensitivity to text produced many remarkable moments in slower music, too, including the end of All we like sheep have gone astray… In any music, but especially in longer works, it is the interpreter’s handling of contrast that sustains freshness. Wachner, 37, is a conductor on the rise.

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Exuberant 'Messiah' rings under young conductor
By Mark Kanny
TRIBUNE-REVIEW CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC
Saturday, December 15, 2007

True masterpieces thrive on interpretation. Pittsburgh Symphony guest conductor Julian Wachner brought fresh perspectives to Friday evening's performance of George Frideric Handel's "Messiah."

"Messiah" -- the most popular piece of classical Christmas music -- was actually written for Easter, but the buoyancy and ultimately optimistic spirit of Handel's music fits the winter holiday.

The opening of the concert, a brisk account of the first part of the Sinfonia, showed Wachner's awareness of contemporary musicology, but most of the rest of the performance went beyond scholarship to meaningful musical rhetoric based on the verbal text. And the main portion of the Sinfonia was at a fairly standard tempo.

Tenor Daniel Weeks began the singing adequately, but no more, with the recitative "Comfort ye, my people" and aria "Ev'ry valley shall be exalted." He coped well enough with Handel's notes as well as added ornamentation, but was emotionally stiff.

The performance hit its stride with the chorus "And the Glory of the Lord," with the Mendelssohn Choir singing with impressive exuberances achieved with clarity of rhythm and line.

The choir was small, 47 voices, as was the orchestra of 24 musicians including keyboard player -- plus occasionally two trumpets and timpani.
Heinz Hall is a big hall, but there was ample power when needed because Wachner maintained a smart dynamic range with real softness for dramatic effect and to be considerate of the solo voices. Contrast as much as bulk can create a feeling of power.

Bass-baritone Michael Dean was an impressive singer to encounter, with plenty of amplitude through the range Handel demands and with potent dramatic emphasis.

While soprano Joanna Mongiardo was a fine soloist, Handel actually assigns a larger role to mezzo-soprano. Margaret Lattimore's solid lower register was telling, as was her verbal emphasis and impressive legato.

Wachner's preference for bouncy fast tempi was almost invariably effective, apart from a few passages of rapid choral singing at medium volume which were dry. But the joy in "For unto us a child is born" was irresistible.

The conductor's sensitivity to text produced many remarkable moments in slower music, too, including the end of "All we like sheep have gone astray."

In any music, but especially in longer works, it is the interpreter's handling of contrast that sustains freshness. Wachner, 37, is a conductor on the rise.

Fri, December 7, 2007

Church choir in fine form
Montreal Gazette

World Aids Day occasioned an eve-of performance on Friday by the 44-voice choir of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul under its music director, Julian Wachner. It remains a robust ensemble, to judge by Zadok the Priest, Worthy is the Lamb and other full-hearted Handel hits… While Wachner identifies himself with period practice, he can adopt the old choral- society approach with conviction.

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Church choir in fine form

ARTHUR KAPTAINIS
The Gazette
Sunday, December 02, 2007


World Aids Day occasioned an eve-of performance on Friday by the 44-voice choir of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul under its music director, Julian Wachner. It remains a robust ensemble, to judge by Zadok the Priest, Worthy is the Lamb and other full-hearted Handel hits. Sing Ye to the Lord was perfectly balanced with the soaring soprano of Marie-Ève Munger.

John Tavener's Song for Athene (of Princess Diana funeral fame) made an appropriately solemn start to this program. I have my doubts about minimalist mumbo-jumbo of this type, but it can be made to sound like good music by a doubt-free ensemble.

There was reliable support from MSO musicians, including Russell DeVuyst, the brilliant trumpeter in the opening of Bach's Cantata No. 51. While Wachner identifies himself with period practice, he can adopt the old choral- society approach with conviction.

Witness the red-blooded and stately Dona Nobis Pacem from Bach's B Minor Mass. It was all a benefit for La Maison du Parc, supported by the Bank of Montreal.

akaptainis@sympatico.ca

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007

Fri, November 23, 2007

Albert Herring – Huge Success
La Presse

...In the pit, Julian Wachner drew from the small orchestra of 13 musicians prescribed by Britten all kinds of effects underlining subtleties of the text…The musical preparation obviously was as neat as the playing.

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Albert Herring : grande réussite
Claude Gingras
Montréal – La Presse
Le vendredi 23 novembre 2007


Albert Herring, le petit opéra de Britten qui fait quand même une soirée de trois heures, deux entractes compris, est davantage qu'une bouffonnerie: une réflexion sur une société victorienne étroite d'esprit et sur le cheminement de ce pauvre petit Albert qui, inventant malgré lui le masculin de «rosière» parce qu'aucune fille du village n'est digne du titre cette année-là, sortira de son aventure loufoque pour devenir un homme libre.

Et c'est ainsi, en mêlant comique et tragique, que le nouveau directeur de l'Atelier d'opéra de McGill, Patrick Hansen, a conçu sa mise en scène pour la production qui vient de prendre l'affiche à Pollack. Mes commentaires sur le jeu et les voix s'appliquent à la distribution de la première, mercredi, qui revient ce soir même (la distribution d'hier soir reviendra demain).

La dame patronnesse qui s'érige en gardienne des bonnes moeurs, le pasteur, le chef de police, le maire, la maîtresse d'école, les nombreux personnages secondaires et, bien sûr, l'interprète du rôle-titre: tous jouent, comme au théâtre, avec une vérité qui témoigne d'un profond souci de la direction d'acteurs, cet aspect tant négligé chez les metteurs en scène actuels d'opéra.

En même temps qu'il caractérise chacun des rôles et qu'il multiplie les trouvailles (les parapluies, par exemple), M. Hansen anime continuellement le plateau d'une sorte de contrepoint visuel et quasi chorégraphique qui illustre celui, souvent très chargé, de Britten. Dans la fosse, Julian Wachner tire du petit orchestre de 13 musiciens prescrit par Britten toutes sortes d'effets soulignant les subtilités du texte. Mais Britten n'écrit pas toujours bien pour la voix et lorsque tous chantent ensemble, on ne comprend pas un mot. Monologues et dialogues sont un peu plus clairs cependant.

La préparation musicale a manifestement été aussi soignée que le jeu. De la soirée de mercredi, on retient surtout la grande allure et la grande voix de Lara Ciekiewicz (en Lady Billows), le timbre de la mezzo Catharin Carew (sa servante) et le baryton solide et souple de Nicholas Laroche. Dans le rôle-titre, le petit Alexander Wolniak a plus de présence que de voix. Seule réserve sérieuse: la voix et la diction empêtrées du chef de police.

Très jolis costumes, éléments de décors déplacés par des figurants.

Fri, November 23, 2007

Britten opera gets a splendid treatment
Montreal Gazette

The Wednesday premiere was a triumph for the new artistic team of Patrick Hansen (stage director) and Julian Wachner (conductor)...Wachner led the 13 instrumentalists of the so-called Black Box Orchestra with a lively feeling for pace and a sure ear for colour…The soloists coalesced into a chorus of considerable power for the Threnody.

Sat, November 17, 2007

Heartfelt Veterans Day Salute From the Washington Chorus
The Washington Post

Wachner led a sharp account and brought out grave details…the orchestra’s tone was consistently brilliant…The chorus sang with a clear sound, clean diction and a faint halo of vibrato that added shimmer without distorting pitch…the performance was a commendable and touching memorial.

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Heartfelt Veterans Day Salute From the Washington Chorus

by Ronni Reich

The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Veterans Day songs of battle mixed with entreaties for peace as the Washington Chorus commemorated the holiday with Vaughan Williams's "Dona Nobis Pacem" and Haydn's "Mass in Time of War" Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center.

The former provided a landscape of war through parts of Walt Whitman's "Drum Taps," John Bright's "Angel of Death" speech, the Bible and the Latin Mass. Ominous drumbeats, dirges and shifting tonalities created a foreboding, uncertain atmosphere, well suited to Whitman's searing texts. The chorus sang with a clear sound, clean diction and a faint halo of vibrato that added shimmer without distorting pitch. Baritone Stephen Salters sang poignantly of kissing the lips of a dead enemy soldier. A beacon of light in this dark work, soprano Joanna Mongiardo's pure, well-rounded voice conveyed both innocence and urgency as she pleaded for peace.

The Haydn work took an entirely different tenor, combining the orderly fervor of war with effusive coloratura praise of God and C-major simplicity. Guest conductor Julian Wachner led a sharp account and brought out grave details -- a strong, militant call of "receive our prayer" and a weighty though upbeat ending. The orchestra's tone was consistently brilliant, and a simple, songlike cello duet with Salters was especially moving.

Soloists Mongiardo, Laura Vlasak Nolen and William Rite joined Salters to form a fresh-voiced, expressive quartet; Vlasak Nolen's rich, creamy sound was particularly pleasing. By the end of the second work, the chorus lagged in both energy and intonation, but by and large, the performance was a commendable and touching memorial.
 

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