Press

Fri, July 21, 2006

Team has a field day making music
The Boston Globe

Boston Landmarks Orchestra
“Lifting the Curse” by Bill Littlefield and Julian Wachner

Wachner, a onetime Boston composer who now lives in Canada, composed one of the earlier pieces in the Landmarks series, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Ansbacher says he went back to Wachner because Littlefield’s script “isn’t a narrative of specific actions, and I knew Julian could come up with something interesting.”

What Wachner came up with is a series of orchestral variations on “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” the grand old tune written in 1908 by Albert von Tilzer to lyrics by Jack Norworth.

Wachner puts the theme through some ingenious paces, surveying many musical moods and forms to match Littlefield’s text. In its first appearance, the theme is as majestic as the overture to Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger.” Later there is a playful variation on woodblocks; when the Curse is mentioned, there is a solemn chorale in the brass…

Littlefield did not meet Wachner until recently, at the first rehearsal for a private performance of the work. “I was so impressed by the music and by the tremendous sound of the group,” Littlefield says.

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Team has a field day making music
By Richard Dyer
The Boston Globe, July 21, 2006

Boston Landmarks Orchestra
“Lifting the Curse” by Bill Littlefield and Julian Wachner

Sandy and Andy, two kids, are sitting outside Fenway Park and talking in rhyme about the Red Sox and the Curse of the Bambino.

Sandy, a year older than her friend, doesn't have any truck with the dark legend but says, "People like it better if they think the team is hexed." Sandy's views are those of her creator, Bill Littlefield, host of NPR's "Only a Game." Littlefield wrote the poem to explain his feelings about this urban myth and to amuse an audience of children and their parents, who will hear it in the orchestral framework composer Julian Wachner has written for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. Their collaboration, "Lifting the Curse: A Story of the Red Sox," gets its official premiere Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common.

"Lifting the Curse" is the fourth work conductor Charles Ansbacher and the Landmarks Orchestra have commissioned for their free summer concerts in local outdoor venues. The model for all four is Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf," a piece with spoken narration that tells an appealing story while the music relates the tale in its own language, showing off the various solo instruments and sections of the orchestra.

"Music can illustrate a children's story in a different way from what a visual artist might do," Ansbacher says. "Developing and performing these new pieces has been challenging, but it has also been a lot of fun."

Ansbacher suggested this year's subject, Littlefield relates. "I said I'd give it a try, as long as everyone understood that I don't subscribe to the theory of the Curse," Littlefield says.

Littlefield, still a part-time professor of English at Curry College in Milton, says that when he wrote "Lifting the Curse" in "doggerel" (his word), he was not influenced by "Casey at the Bat," as you might think: "The real subliminal influence came from Dr. Seuss, whom I regard as a mentor, although I don't know what he would think about that. He was a genius, and I'm not."

Littlefield's tale advances a series of reasons for the 86 long years between Red Sox championships: "They signed the sluggers, not the pitchers, guys with feet of lead."

But his most serious point has to do with race. "There's a whole school of thought that the curse had less to do with Babe Ruth than with [passing on Jackie] Robinson and [Willie] Mays, Littlefield says. "The Red Sox were the last of the Major League teams to hire a black ballplayer."

Sandy puts it more bluntly: "The Sox in those days operated like their heads were full of rocks."

"So they were stupid," Andy said, "and maybe they were blind." / And Sandy nodded, "Yeah, they figured Mays was not `their kind.' "

The text looks at the Sox' woeful Series history and praises the team of 2004. " The team was part-Hispanic, it was black, and it was white / And up in that front office, every move they made was right. "

Wachner, a onetime Boston composer who now lives in Canada, composed one of the earlier pieces in the Landmarks series, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." Ansbacher says he went back to Wachner because Littlefield's script "isn't a narrative of specific actions, and I knew Julian could come up with something interesting."

What Wachner came up with is a series of orchestral variations on "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the grand old tune written in 1908 by Albert von Tilzer to lyrics by Jack Norworth.

Wachner puts the theme through some ingenious paces, surveying many musical moods and forms to match Littlefield's text. In its first appearance, the theme is as majestic as the overture to Wagner's "Die Meistersinger." Later there is a playful variation on woodblocks; when the Curse is mentioned, there is a solemn chorale in the brass.

Wachner says, "I was getting ready to conduct Kodaly's `Peacock Variations,' so that's what put the idea of doing variations into my head."

Wachner is delighted that "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" is being taken up by other orchestras, and he hopes "Lifting the Curse" will enjoy comparable success even though he knows no one is likely to schedule performances in New York anytime soon. Composers learn to be practical, so Wachner says, "I like the narration a lot, but it is addressed primarily to a local audience in Massachusetts. So I wanted to write music that could be arranged for performance without the narration in other places."

Ansbacher says he wants to keep the Landmarks Orchestra commissioning new works in this format. He holds positions with orchestras in Sarajevo, Moscow, and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and would like to see them embark on similar projects, perform the resulting pieces here, and take the American pieces abroad.

"Peter and the Wolf"' introduced so many people to music," Ansbacher says, "and it was so important to people who grew up with it. I was one of them."

Littlefield did not meet Wachner until recently, at the first rehearsal for a private performance of the work. "I was so impressed by the music and by the tremendous sound of the group," Littlefield says. "I can't perform the narration at every concert, but I can't wait to do it on Monday."

There's no doubt about what everyone's favorite line will be. It comes at the very end.

"They were the champs," said Sandy, and she smiled at Andy then / And said, "And now they've been the champs, hey, they might win again."

Tue, February 14, 2006

Ensembles make sweet energy
Montreal Gazette

It bears repeating that the McGill Chamber Orchestra is unrelated to the university. All the same, it occasionally joins forces with McGill ensembles, as on Monday night in the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, where the 38-voice McGill Chamber Choir performed Beethoven’s Mass in C under its director, Julian Wachner.

This bountiful, powerful work was treated in kind. Tempos were vigorous, but not at the expense of expressive flexibility in the Qui tollis sequence of the Gloria. The concluding Amen fugato of the Credo was fearlessly fast. Everything seemed to bristle with Beethovenian energy.

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Ensembles make sweet energy
By Arthur Kaptainis
The Montreal Gazette, February 15, 2006

Beethoven Mass in C

It bears repeating that the McGill Chamber Orchestra is unrelated to the university. All the same, it occasionally joins forces with McGill ensembles, as on Monday night in the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, where the 38-voice McGill Chamber Choir performed Beethoven's Mass in C under its director, Julian Wachner.

This bountiful, powerful work was treated in kind. Tempos were vigorous, but not at the expense of expressive flexibility in the Qui tollis sequence of the Gloria. The concluding Amen fugato of the Credo was fearlessly fast. Everything seemed to bristle with Beethovenian energy.

The quartet - Chantal Dionne, Mireille Lebel, Eric Theriault and Matthew Kassil - sang splendidly on their own and in concert. Wachner had them separated in pairs at either side of the back of the orchestra and front of the choir, creating a better-than-usual sonic balance. It says something about the local scene if four newcomers in their 20s can sound like pros in their prime.

Players (including a few ringers in the principal chairs) responded eagerly to Wachner's direction. Before the break Boris Brott led them through Mozart's Symphony No. 38 ("Prague"). The beat was vigorous, but there were traces of rushing and the first violins sounded understaffed. Still, they were not prepared to push and coarsen the sound.

First up was something called Mozartiana by a Saskatoon-born composer, William Rowson. No one not tipped off would connect the Schoenbergian beginning with Mozart's Dissonant Quartet, although the snatches of the Divertimento K. 136 were clear enough. Rowson led this soft-textured piece himself, rather timidly. Not that any other conductor would have brought it substantially to life.
The MCO is ahead of its peers in social benefits like post-concert receptions, but behind the game in documentation. Program notes were confusing, repetitive and loaded with irrelevant references. Beethoven's Mass, we were told after the gratuitous citation of three other works, "has little of their revolutionary fervour or inspiration." Evidently the annotator is as deaf as the composer.

Fri, January 6, 2006

Wachner’s ‘Evangeline’ is colorful and assured
The Boston Globe

In October, Julian Wachner conducted the world premiere performances of his first opera, ‘‘Evangeline Revisited,” at McGill University in Montreal, which is now his home base.

Its concept is unusual and bound to arouse controversy when the work begins to get around. And it will, because the music is colorful, varied, assured, and strong enough to carry the opera over the pretensions and rough spots of the libretto by Alexis Nouss. Wachner is a composer with a real sense of drama, and he knows how to solve practical problems. The work is scored, for example, for the same chamber orchestra that Benjamin Britten used for ‘‘The Turn of the Screw.”

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Wachner’s ‘Evangeline’ is colorful and assured
By Richard Dyer
The Boston Globe


In October, Julian Wachner conducted the world premiere performances of his first opera, ‘‘Evangeline Revisited,” at McGill University in Montreal, which is now his home base. Wachner arrived at Boston University as a student in 1987. Before he left for Canada 13 years later, he must have gotten awfully tired of being acclaimed as the most promising young musician in town. His activities as composer, conductor, organist, and choral director have been so extensive that it’s astonishing to realize he is still only 35.

‘‘Evangeline Revisited” was a university production and not widely reviewed, but Wachner recently sent the Globe a copy of the score and a DVD. The video was recorded by a fixed camera at some distance from the stage, so it wouldn’t be fair to comment on the qualities of the production, as they are only dimly visible. But the opera was audibly born kicking.

Its concept is unusual and bound to arouse controversy when the work begins to get around. And it will, because the music is colorful, varied, assured, and strong enough to carry the opera over the pretensions and rough spots of the libretto by Alexis Nouss. Wachner is a composer with a real sense of drama, and he knows how to solve practical problems. The work is scored, for example, for the same chamber orchestra that Benjamin Britten used for ‘‘The Turn of the Screw.”

The subject is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s once-popular 1847 narrative poem ‘‘Evangeline.” For decades it was required reading in junior high schools across America. I can remember spending six weeks on it in eighth grade, and if pressed, I could probably still recite the famous prelude about the forest primeval that all of us were required to memorize.

The story begins with the upheaval that took place when the residents of Acadia (Nova Scotia) were shipped into exile in 1755, many of them ultimately settling in Louisiana. The opera was written to commemorate the 250th anniversary of that event. The young Evangeline and her beloved Gabriel are separated on their wedding day, and the poem traces their lifelong efforts to find each other. They meet only when Evangeline is a gray-haired Sister of Mercy and Gabriel lies dying of a ‘‘pestilence” in Philadelphia.

It’s a great love story, but one that poses problems for opera because the lovers are together only at the beginning and end of the story. Wachner and Nouss, whose text is in French, decided that their opera would follow Longfellow’s story, but in a different, postmodern way. They aim for wider resonances, so the chorus sings of ‘‘Acadia, Treblinka, Hiroshima, Bosnia, Rwanda.” Longfellow appears as a character in the opera, serving as a narrator and as a whipping boy.

The part of Evangeline is shared by two sopranos. Evangeline I is the embodiment of Longfellow’s romantic vision, and Evangeline II is a sharp-tongued contemporary commentator who is constantly ragging on Evangeline I and Longfellow (‘‘Do you really believe what you are writing?”). Eventually there is a reconciliation between the two Evanglines, although Evangline II is still carping at the poet at the end (‘‘The forest primeval is always there, and it doesn’t give a damn”).

Some of this is preachy and confusing, and there are dramaturgical problems, too. Evangeline I and Gabriel are briefly introduced near the beginning, but she doesn’t do any significant singing until 30 minutes into the opera; Gabriel has to wait 15 minutes longer. Often they seem peripheral to their own story and to the opera’s commentary on it. And that introductory scene is labeled in the libretto as ‘‘Brechtian dramaturgy in which the characters present themselves as caricatures.” The Brechtian alienation effect the creators strive for here and elsewhere is something that is counter to the very nature of nearly every successful opera, which is to put raw emotion into your face. Brechtian alienation doesn’t even work in the operas Brecht wrote with Kurt Weill, because Weill’s music packs such a punch.

Wachner’s music packs a punch, too. The composer presents many styles without ever creating the effect of pastiche, although sometimes one wonders where his own voice is. There is quite a bit of folk or folk-influenced material; there are cabaret episodes and lots of dance music; Verdi, Stravinsky, Britten, and others are evoked. There are grinding dissonances, but also much melody, glisteningly orchestrated, and with prominent solos for many instrumentalists who become storytellers, too. The medieval purity of the second-act duet of the two Evangelines, accompanied by flute and harp, lingers in the mind. The chorus has the most prominent role, and much of the choral writing is superb – more convincing than some of the unidiomatic and extremely demanding writing for the two Evangelines, who sometimes seem to be running an obstacle course instead of expressing themselves.

‘‘Evangeline Revisited” doesn’t seem all there yet, but that was true of some of the most beloved operas in the repertory before their composers revised them. Still, there is already plenty in Wachner’s score. He needs to work on it some more, and then it needs to pass through the fire of a fully professional production, and then . . . who knows, perhaps future generations will enjoy ‘‘Evangeline Revisited” as much as some of their ancestors cherished Longfellow’s poem.

Thu, December 15, 2005

Messiah a rewarding experience
The Ottowa Citizen

Much of the credit goes to conductor Julian Wachner. His use of a reduced orchestra (30 or so players) and his historically informed performance style were a firm foundation for the solid efforts of the singers and musicians.

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Messiah a rewarding experience
By Richard Todd
The Ottawa Citizen, Friday, December 16, 2005

 

As recently as two years ago, Ottawa music lovers were able to choose among three professional Messiahs, and the version at the National Arts Centre was by no means the most exciting. This holiday season the NAC's Messiah is the only one in town. The good news is that it went well beyond the dutiful dullness of many past seasons. While not perfect, it was a rewarding listening experience.

Much of the credit goes to conductor Julian Wachner. His use of a reduced orchestra (30 or so players) and his historically informed performance style were a firm foundation for the solid efforts of the singers and musicians.

The Ottawa Choral Society and Seventeen Voyces joined forces to form a chorus that had sufficient weight to fill the NAC's Southam Hall convincingly. Their singing was of a decent quality, too, with generally deft coloratura, good tuning and ensemble and a mostly solid sound. Admittedly, there were a few instances where this section or that melted away for a few beats, undermining the counterpoint, and the sopranos exhibited some strain in the highest notes of the Hallelujah.

The four soloists were more or less up to the job. Despite some forced notes, soprano Dominique Labelle's I know that my Redeemer liveth was exceptionally beautiful and well ornamented. Tenor Frederic Antoun's voice is a little darker and more operatic than what we normally hear in Messiah, but his sense of style and superb diction won the day. Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy was solid, too, and bass James Westman, despite rounding his coloratura into near shapelesness, was dark and dramatic in places where it counted. There were the usual judicious cuts, mostly welcome, but the omission of Lift Up Your Heads was strange and caused Part II to drag a bit.

The orchestra played magnificently. The beauty of the string tone was enhanced by a transparency of texture that has become rare in the NACO's playing over recent seasons. While the performance as a whole was strong, the bass aria The trumpet shall sound was clearly the highlight of the evening. It was bass Westman's best effort of the evening, but what really made it shine was Karen Donnelly's brilliant and inspiring trumpet obligato. When an orchestra has players of Donnelly's calibre, there is no ceiling on what it may hope to accomplish.

Mon, April 11, 2005

Wachner: Requiem by a True Conductor
La Presse

We have Julian Wachner to thank for this masterful and moving Requiem. The 35-year-old American conductor is active in many Montreal fora, notably at McGill, where he skillfully directs the 250-member choir and an orchestra of 80 musicians… It was quite obvious that Wachner had studied the score in depth. This Requiem was one of reflection, with profound and unexpected detail from the very beginning of the piece, approaching “il più piano possibile” (Verdi’s marking), and even slower than prescribed.

Quickly, the mood was set. Further on, in unrelenting contrast, the repeated orchestral and choral fortissimos, the whistling of the woodwinds cutting through the blaring calls of the brass, never ceased to express an infinite grandeur.

There is more. When do we hear the restrained trumpet solo in the Lacrymosa? Or the divisi violin tremolos immediately before the Sanctus? Wachner thought about all this and other subtleties as well. And the silences. He is not afraid to emphasize them and even prolong them after the most terrifying tutti, or even between the repetitions of “Christ,” thus conferring an uncommon eloquence upon the discourse.

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Wachner: Requiem by a True Conductor
by Claude Gingras

La Presse
11 April 2005


Two weeks after Mikos Takacs' thunderous and uninspired performance on Good Friday at the Church of Saint John the Baptist, we encountered the Verdi Requiem once more, on Saturday night, at the same venue and again amid an audience of about 2,000 listeners, but this time the execution was far superior.

We have Julian Wachner to thank for this masterful and moving Requiem. The 35-year-old American conductor is active in many Montreal fora, notably at McGill, where he skillfully directs the 250-member choir and an orchestra of 80 musicians.

The same man who had delivered a rather flat Brahms German Requiem at SJB two years ago had obviously decided that his Verdi would be memorable. It was. It was quite obvious that Wachner had studied the score in depth. This Requiem was one of reflection, with profound and unexpected detail from the very beginning of the piece, approaching “il più piano possibile” (Verdi’s marking), and even slower than prescribed.
Quickly, the mood was set. Further on, in unrelenting contrast, the repeated orchestral and choral fortissimos, the whistling of the woodwinds cutting through the blaring calls of the brass, never ceased to express an infinite grandeur.

There is more. When do we hear the restrained trumpet solo in the Lacrymosa? Or the divisi violin tremolos immediately before the Sanctus? Wachner thought about all this and other subtleties as well. And the silences. He is not afraid to emphasize them and even prolong them after the most terrifying tutti, or even between the repetitions of “Christ,” thus conferring an uncommon eloquence upon the discourse.

There were a few small weaknesses (in the trumpets and in the sopranos) which were of no importance. This choir and this orchestra are comprised of students, and their performance was generally very solid and, most importantly, very moving.

Important comments about the soloists: Dominique Labelle. Suspect due to her participation in Peter Sellars’ madness, the former Montreal resident showed astonishing distinction. Moreover, her tiny stature produced the “sound” of a great Verdi soprano. I do not know what to make of the voice of Stefano Aligieri, ex-partner of Magda Olivero and just recently a professor at McGill. Saturday night, I perceived a touching yet inflexible voice and an older style. And, as always, Marcia Swanston favors the Ulrica type of role. The last soloist, the somewhat rough Daniel Lichti, gave us a Mors stupebit in at least three different keys. But these reservations have no effect on the superb vision put forth by Julian Wachner.

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VERDI: Requiem Mass (1874). McGill University Symphonic Orchestra and Choir. Guest conductor: Julian Wachner. Soloists: Dominique Labelle, soprano, Marcia Swanston, mezzo- soprano, Stefano Algieri, tenor, and Daniel Lichti, baritone. Saturday night, Church of Saint John the Baptist.

Mon, April 11, 2005

McGill crowd pleaser
Montreal Gazette

Was it the death of the pope? The fine weather? The good name of McGill and its choral boss, Julian Wachner? Or the drawing power of a chorus of 250 students and an orchestra of more than 80, most with friends and relatives?

Perhaps all these explanations can be invoked to account for the crowd of more than 2,000 that packed St. Jean Baptiste Church Saturday night for the annual extravaganza bringing together the McGill choirs with its Symphony Orchestra. Nor did Verdi’s surefire Requiem hurt, but it took a good performance to complete the success story.

And so it was: gentle and ominous in the opening Requiem Aeternum movement, thunderous in the Dies Irae sequences, with some extra fortissimo left in reserve for its final iteration in the Libera me. Raised a choirboy but animated by an organist’s sense of the flamboyant, Wachner is a good exponent of this 85-minute religio-operatic score. The listener felt uplifted and entertained in equal proportion.

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McGill crowd pleaser
2,000 pack church. And I Musici delivers offbeat repertoire
Arthur Kaptainis
The Gazette, Monday, April 11, 2005

 

Was it the death of the pope? The fine weather? The good name of McGill and its choral boss, Julian Wachner? Or the drawing power of a chorus of 250 students and an orchestra of more than 80, most with friends and relatives?

Perhaps all these explanations can be invoked to account for the crowd of more than 2,000 that packed St. Jean Baptiste Church Saturday night for the annual extravaganza bringing together the McGill choirs with its Symphony Orchestra. Nor did Verdi's surefire Requiem hurt, but it took a good performance to complete the success story.

And so it was: gentle and ominous in the opening Requiem Aeternum movement, thunderous in the Dies Irae sequences, with some extra fortissimo left in reserve for its final iteration in the Libera me. Raised a choirboy but animated by an organist's sense of the flamboyant, Wachner is a good exponent of this 85-minute religio-operatic score. The listener felt uplifted and entertained in equal proportion.

While this huge church does not distribute sound with perfect democratic equality - I found the balance better after moving to one of the balconies - it is a real and resounding space, where a bass drum sounds like a bass drum and a clarinet like a clarinet. The orchestra was in fine form, with the possible exception of the brass players, who were superb.

Where the performance was a tad inclined to the devotional was in the choice of soloists. Soprano Dominique Labelle and mezzo-soprano Marcia Swanston blended nicely in the Agnus Dei, and both were assertive on their own, but we did not feel the Aida-Amneris edge of some all-star treatments.

Still, Daniel Lichti was a firm and believable bass in the Confutatis. Newcomer Stefano Algieri has an operatic name and background, but he either overpushed his tenor or was slightly indisposed.

Quibbles aside, this was a big success.

Fri, February 25, 2005

Concert combines modern, traditional
The Providence Journal

Wachner, who has single-handedly built The Singers into a crack choral troupe, began the evening by talking about some of the techniques used by contemporary composers…

His own work, Sometimes I Feel Alive, used modal harmonies and shifting meters, but without sounding academic or fussy.

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Concert combines modern, traditional
Channing Gray
Providence Journal, February 26, 2005

 

Modern music for chorus. Sound a little off-putting?

Not the selections picked last night by the Providence Singers.

During nearly two hours of mostly a cappella choral music, the 100 or so voices treated an audience at St. Joseph's Church on Hope Street to some gorgeous stuff. The hit of the night had to have been Morten Lauridsen's lush, touching Magnum Mysterium, a piece that has become synonymous with great choral writing.

Henryk Gorecki's dramatic Amen ran a close second, though.

Conductor Julian Wachner even contributed a piece based on poems of E.E. Cummings. And there was John Tavener's Song of Athene, which was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana.

Wachner, who has single-handedly built The Singers into a crack choral troupe, began the evening by talking about some of the techniques used by contemporary composers. Then he had the audience sing different types of scales to show that modern music depends on more than just major and minor harmonies.

His own work, Sometimes I Feel Alive, used modal harmonies and shifting meters, but without sounding academic or fussy.

But really the point of the evening was not so much about the array of techniques out there, but that there are living, breathing composers writing music that's very easy on the ears. And that many composers, at least of choral music, have returned to traditional forms. Lauridsen's Magnum Mysterium could have been written a century ago.

The centerpiece of the concert was the premiere of a commissioned piece by Trevor Weston for chorus and a raft of percussion instruments. The 20-minute score Ma'at Musings was fashioned in four parts, all based on writings from ancient Egypt.

In the first section a king dies and joins the stars, next a man bemoans the state of the world, while the third section contains words to live by: "I am silent with the angry, patient with the ignorant."

In the end, the piece returns to the tale of the dead king as he feasts upon the gods.

Of the set, the so-called "Complaint Tapestry" was the tightest. Otherwise the score had its share of catchy, clever effects, but didn't hang together all that well. More could have been made of the percussion, too.

But it was well sung, as were all the offerings on the program. The Singers, who were at times joined by the junior choir, have developed a wonderful vocal blend, and an impeccable sense of voicing. Combine that with fine music and you had an enjoyable evening.
 

Wed, February 23, 2005

Egyptian myth inspires composer’s chorus-percussion work
The Providence Journal

Ma’at is a little like the Egyptian version of St. Peter. She weighs a feather against the heart of the dead. If the heart is the heavier, the deceased is in trouble.

Somehow, composer Trevor Weston became intrigued with this myth for his latest piece, Ma’at Musings, scored for chorus and percussion. The 20-minute work was commissioned by the Providence Singers.

“It’s a very, very cool piece,” said Julian Wachner, artistic director of the Singers, who’ll be conducting the piece.

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Egyptian myth inspires composer's chorus-percussion work
Channing Gray
Providence Journal, February 24, 2005

 

Ma'at is a little like the Egyptian version of St. Peter. She weighs a feather against the heart of the dead. If the heart is the heavier, the deceased is in trouble.

Somehow, composer Trevor Weston became intrigued with this myth for his latest piece, Ma'at Musings, scored for chorus and percussion. The 20-minute work was commissioned by the Providence Singers.

"It's a very, very cool piece," said Julian Wachner, artistic director of the Singers, who'll be conducting the piece.

The idea behind Ma'at Musings, said Weston, who teaches at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, is that we have a responsibility to the order of the cosmos, not just to ourselves.

Weston's piece, which uses translations of ancient and modern Egyptian poetry, is part of a program of new music slated for tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon.

The program contains pieces set to e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson and Weston's Egyptian death poetry, among other things. Wachner likes to point out that choral music is no longer necessarily sacred, but much more aligned with poetry, literature and the arts in general.

Most Providence Singers programs contain one or two contemporary pieces. But this one is a modern-music blowout with an all-contemporary lineup. Besides Weston's Musings, there is Wachner's prize-winning ode to e.e. cummings, sometimes i feel alive, and John Tavener's Song for Athene, a profoundly moving work played at Princess Diana's funeral. There will also be a song cycle based on Emily Dickinson's poetry, with music by Wachner; Cricket, Spider, Bee, by Boston's Elena Ruehr; as well as music by Henryk Gorecki and Morten Lauridsen.

Wachner plans to provide a running commentary about the music during the concert.

Ma'at Musings is the second Weston piece the Singers have tackled. A couple of years ago, they programmed Ashes, Weston's response to the 9/ll attacks. Wachner heard that piece in Spoleto and became a fan.

The Providence Singers' recording of Ashes was one of two submissions that won Weston the $15,000 Goddard Lieberson Award in 2003.

Weston's Musings is in four parts, based on an Egyptian history book Weston once read in college. The outer sections concern Unas, a fifth-century Egyptian ruler who died, and as myth has it, traveled to the stars to join his forebears. The men sing the earthly funeral music. The women represent the sky goddesses. Since scholars don't know what ancient Egyptian music sounded like, Weston had free rein. He included a lot of chanting.

In the second movement, a man wrestles with his soul about committing suicide. Things are not so good in the world, which Weston feels shows things have not changed all that much in a few thousand years.

Next, a man lists all his good deeds. And in the finale, Unas returns in a wrathful mode, eating other gods and the like. This is when Weston really lets the percussion loose.

Tue, February 8, 2005

Haydn: Lord Nelson Mass Review
La Presse

Boris Brott avait invité pour ce Haydn l’une des grandes formations chorales de McGill, le Concert Choir de 70 voix, dont le responsable est Julian Wachner.

Impeccablement préparée au plan technique (justesse, coordination, équilibre) et répondant instantanément à la direction du chef, la masse chorale se maintint au même haut niveau d’engagement, dans l’intériorit´ou dans l’éclat, du commencement à la fin de cette partition de 40 minutes où elle est sollicitée presque à chaque instant…

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Haydn: Lord Nelson Mass Review
Claude Gingras
La Presse, 9 février 2005

 

Jouant maintenant à Pollack Hall de l'Université McGill tout en n'ayant aucun lien direcy avec la vénérable institution, l'Orchestre de chambre McGill s'attaquait lundi soir à une œuvre ambitieuse: la célèbre Messe Lord Nelson, de Haydn, qui requiert un orchestre un peu plus nombreaux que l'habituelle formation de MM. Brott et, surtout, quatre voix solistes et un choeur mixte.

Boris Brott et l'ensemble fondé pas son père Alexander ne sont pas indentifiés aux plus mémorables réussites de l'histoire musicale de cette ville. Le concert de lundi nous a fourni l'occasion d'oublier un certain passé, pendant ces deux heures en tout cas. Boris Brott avait invité pour ce Haydn l'une des grandes formations chorales de McGill, le Concert Choir de 70 voix, dont le responsable est Julian Wachner.

Impeccablement préparée au plan technique (justesse, coordination, équilibre) et répondant instantanément à la direction du chef, la masse chorale se maintint au même haut niveau d'engagement, dans l'intériorit´ou dans l'éclat, du commencement à la fin de cette partition de 40 minutes où elle est sollicitée presque à chaque instant...

Mon, February 7, 2005

Young voices come on strong: McGill meets McGill
Montreal Gazette

At the heart of the success was the 76-voice McGill University Concert Choir. Students are unpaid, so they can be fully rehearsed. They are young, so they do not suffer the usual consequences of full rehearsal: fatigue and boredom. Another advantage, in their case, was preparation by, Julian Wachner. They sang intensely at the many climaxes and richly through the solemn beginning of the Sanctus.

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Young voices come on strong: McGill meets McGill
Arthur Kaptainis
The Montreal Gazette, February 8, 2005

 

A musical factoid that bears occasional repeating is that the McGill Chamber Orchestra is unrelated to McGill University. Nevertheless, the ensemble has begun a series of annual collaborations with the institution under the supervision of Boris Brott.

The installment last night in Pollack Hall featured Haydn's 37-minute Missa in angustiis, better known by its English name, the Nelson Mass. Even a casual reading of this exuberant piece makes a vivid effect. A positive one, like this, is electrifying.

At the heart of the success was the 76-voice McGill University Concert Choir. Students are unpaid, so they can be fully rehearsed. They are young, so they do not suffer the usual consequences of full rehearsal: fatigue and boredom. Another advantage, in their case, was preparation by, Julian Wachner. They sang intensely at the many climaxes and richly through the solemn beginning of the Sanctus.

Conducting with firm gestures but no baton, Brott captured the optimistic spirit of the score. His young and mostly female orchestra, supplemented by two trumpets, organ and antique timpani, sounded crisp. Soloists also were young. Soprano Fredericka Petit-Homme, a tad unfocused at the beginning, projected warmly in the Benedictus. Her good voice could do with another year of ripening. Mezzo Kelly Winter is in full bloom. Tenor Pascal Charbonneau and bass-baritone Luc Lalonde were sturdy in their lesser parts.

Before intermission we heard a remarkably idiomatic transcription for strings of Dvorak's Wind Serenade by Nicholas Ingman. Hearty rhythms and wide dynamics could not disguise some blending and intonation problems, notably in the Menuet.

The program began with one of Alexander Brott's effective arrangements of early Beethoven fragments, this one called Minuet and Canon No. 3. Astonishingly, the younger Brott was on the podium. The elder was in the hospital, recovering, we all hope, from urgent surgery. He turns 90 on March 14.

akaptainis@thegazette.canwest.com
© The Gazette ( Montreal) 2005

Sat, January 15, 2005

At large: Why can’t Providence hold onto its major talent?
The Providence Journal

As for Wachner, he did all he could to work the Singers into his busy schedule. In the end, it was about stepping down to make room for someone who could spend more time with the group.

“We need someone on the ground in Providence,” Wachner said the other day from Montreal, where he is a big deal in the music program at McGill University.

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At large: Why can't Providence hold onto its major talent?
Channing Gray
Providence Journal, January 16, 2005

 

Was it something we said?

First Oskar Eustis decides to pack his bags and head for New York's Public Theater. Now conductor Julian Wachner, the man who transformed the Providence Singers from a struggling band into one of the best vocal ensembles around, has said he's calling it quits after next season. That's four more concerts in 18 months.

What is it with this exodus of our cultural leaders? Is Providence just too much a Podunk to hold on to talent like Eustis and Wachner?

Apparently not.

Eustis, as most people know, turned down a couple of plum offers to remain in Providence -- first as head of Yale Rep, then as head of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

It was only after being offered what he said was the job of a lifetime, the position he'd wanted ever since as long as he could remember, that Eustis decided that after a decade at the helm of Trinity it was time to move on.

As for Wachner, he did all he could to work the Singers into his busy schedule. In the end, it was about stepping down to make room for someone who could spend more time with the group.

"We need someone on the ground in Providence," Wachner said the other day from Montreal, where he is a big deal in the music program at McGill University.

Wachner did just about all he could to devote time to Providence. When he first came here a decade ago, when the Singers were just a ragged group in need of discipline and focus, Wachner was head of the Marsh Chapel at Boston University, with a couple of other Boston choral gigs on the side.

When the job at McGill came along, he decided to drop his Boston duties and split his time between Montreal and Providence, not an easy act to pull off. For a while it worked. The Singers hired Andy Clark, a gifted young conductor, to prepare the singers while Wachner was in Canada. Wachner would then conduct the concert.

But life for Wachner has gotten increasingly complicated, and last June he began talking to the board about getting real.

For one thing, he's in increasing demand as a composer. He's just finished an opera that's going to be performed in March at McGill.

He's also up for three symphony conducting jobs, including the Sioux City Symphony in Iowa. The other two have not been made public.

He just couldn't put in the time required. It has gotten to the point, Wachner said, where the Singers needed someone on site, because the group has grown so. It now has an executive director and a board that has as many community leaders as it does chorus members, a big step for a chorus this size, he said.

What surprised me in talking to Wachner is that at one point he said he considered quitting McGill and moving to Providence to devote his time to a group he has come to love and respect.

The Singers have worked with the likes of jazz great Dave Brubeck and sung the past couple of seasons with the New Haven Symphony. This November, the group will perform the Verdi Requiem with the Symphony.

They were also the high point of the Beethoven Ninth the Rhode Isand Philharmonic mounted a couple of seasons back. This year they will provide the vocal forces for the Philharmonic's Carmina Burana.

The problem with being based in Providence, of course, is finding a job that will supplement whatever meager salary the Singers would pay. And in that case, Providence has its limitations.

That's why the Philharmonic's Larry Rachleff keeps a teaching job at Rice University in Houston, as well as the music directorship of the San Antonio Symphony. If Wachner could teach at Brown, say, he would probably be able to compose and be on hand not only to lead the Singers, but to carry out that important extra-musical function of schmoozing with the mayor and corporate types, something he can't squeeze in at this point.

But with Clark, who teaches at Tufts, the situation is a lot more sane. Wachner said the group had done a national search for Clark when it went looking for an assistant. Given the people he sees out there conducting, he said, Clark is the man for the music director's job, too.

The story here, though, is not so much about talent moving on to greener pastures, but what a difference a single person can make in the life of an arts organization.

Wachner said that after the second or third season, he gave the Singers an ultimatum. Either make something of the chorus, or Wachner wasn't interested in leading it any longer.

"I think they made a serious decision," he said. "I think everyone wanted to make something of it. They dedicated all the time they could muster."

Besides, said Wachner, he thinks his move will be a good one for the Singers.

"It will be exciting to see what Andy will do with it," he said.

Channing Gray and other Journal arts writers share the At Large column. Reach him by e-mail at cgray [at] projo.com.

Fri, January 7, 2005

Julian Wachner to leave Providence Singers next year
The Providence Journal

During his tenure, Wachner, a California native, has taken the Singers from a group of amateurs to a choir of distinction.

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Julian Wachner to leave Providence Singers next year
Staff Writer
Providence Journal, January 8, 2005

Conductor Julian Wachner, who led the Providence Singers from a rag-tag community chorus to a crack vocal ensemble, will be stepping down after next season -- his 10th with the group.

Andrew Clark, Wachner's assistant, will take over as artistic director effective July 1, 2006.

During his tenure, Wachner, a California native, has taken the Singers from a group of amateurs to a choir of distinction. But his growing activities as composer and conductor, as well as his duties as head of the choral music program at McGill University in Montreal, are requiring more and more of his time.

The group's board of directors decided Tuesday to hand the reins over to Clark, who is head of choral activities at Tufts University. Rhode Island Philharmonic conductor Larry Rachleff, who has worked with the Singers, said he was "delighted" at the news of the Clarks appointment. Rachleff said the orchestra had developed a "wonderful relationship" with the Singers, which number about 100 voices.

Sat, October 30, 2004

Haydn’s ‘Creation’ with a chorus at the forefront
CTcentral.com

And what a chorus it was. Since the group in question was the Providence Singers, the relative neglect of the soloists and orchestra was almost understandable. This choir not only took up half the stage with its 80 members; it also proved to be a tight, disciplined and strong-voiced performing machine…

Julian Wachner, the guest conductor for this performance, also happens to be the Providence Singers’ artistic director. His obvious familiarity with the group helps explain the splendid choral results.

In the overture, Wachner had the large-scale orchestral effects well in hand, shaping the aimlessly meandering phrases effectively to suggest the composer’s intended “representation of chaos.”

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Haydn's 'Creation' with a chorus at the forefront
David J. Baker
Entertainment.ctcentral.com, October 30, 2004

 

NEW HAVEN — Oratorios are not performed as often as they used to be. So it was especially rewarding last Sunday to hear the New Haven Symphony Orchestra perform "The Creation," an oratorio composed in 1798 by Franz Joseph Haydn.

The complex and appealing work, wildly popular in centuries past, took up the entire concert in Woolsey Hall and even ran into overtime.

Oratorio, a critic once said, is like a rehearsal for an opera, before the staging, sets and costumes come into play. There are other differences between opera and oratorio, of course. "The Creation," true to form, tells a biblical story but refrains from fully staging it.

Haydn chose as his text the oldest story of all, the creation of the universe, the world and the first human beings, before the emergence of Satan and the loss of Eden.

In an ideal performance, an oratorio would maintain an even balance among its three main musical elements: the chorus, the vocal soloists and the orchestral accompaniment. Haydn, after all, lavished detailed attention on all of them.

Instead, what we heard on Sunday was the dominance of a single element: the chorus.

And what a chorus it was. Since the group in question was the Providence Singers, the relative neglect of the soloists and orchestra was almost understandable. This choir not only took up half the stage with its 80 members; it also proved to be a tight, disciplined and strong-voiced performing machine.

This guest ensemble from Rhode Island made the most of its opportunities. Haydn took his inspiration from oratorios like George Frideric Handel’s "Messiah" that abound in choral fugues. In a fugue, separate groups of performers repeat the same theme in quick succession. It’s a more complex version of the form called a round (as in "Row, Row, Row Your Boat").

The choristers maintained remarkable balance and precision in these extended four-part fugues, often based on ornate, rapid note combinations. Their diction came across with surprising clarity for a group of this size. In the selection, "Ye valleys, hills, and shady woods," the chorus showed that it could increase or lower the volume at will, another demonstration of awesome concentration and control, as well as great expressivity.

Julian Wachner, the guest conductor for this performance, also happens to be the Providence Singers’ artistic director. His obvious familiarity with the group helps explain the splendid choral results.

In the overture, Wachner had the large-scale orchestral effects well in hand, shaping the aimlessly meandering phrases effectively to suggest the composer’s intended "representation of chaos." He failed, though, to maintain transparent textures that would have let individual woodwind passages emerge.

Haydn’s orchestration throughout this work favors descriptive, imitative effects such as flutes to evoke birds, or dark, low double-bass tones for the whale, "th’immense Leviathan." Yet some details were swept aside in the great wash of choral tone — exciting in its own right, but sometimes overdone.

Bass Curtis Streetman, in the longest role, as the angel Raphael who serves as narrator, revealed a commanding vocal timbre that had the least trouble prevailing against the orchestral and choral onslaught. He sang smoothly, forcefully and with good attention to detail.

In the role of the angel Gabriel, Joanna Mongiardo used her slender but appealing tone effectively. She handled difficult challenges well, including an optional high C, various rapid vocal ornaments and a well-controlled arched phrase crowning her solo, "With verdure clad."

Tenor Jason McStoots, also a lyrical, lightweight vocal presence, showed refinement and strong communication in passages accompanied only by the fortepiano (an antique keyboard instrument), as opposed to full orchestra.

The conductor’s lively tempos were mostly welcome, though the NHSO players were occasionally rushed through passages where they could have had a greater impact. This occurred, for instance, in the lilting oboe line that introduces the duet, "By thee with bliss." For the most part, the orchestra performed very well, especially the flutes and other winds. Only the horns, in two separate incidents, seemed to be having an off night.

David J. Baker of North Haven is a free-lance writer.

He can be reached at david3803@hotmail.com. Montreal, Canada.

Sun, August 15, 2004

Brief: Toccata, Adagio & Fugue
The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians

Wachner composition reviewed by staff writer

“A difficult piece, this title pays homage to the well-known Bach TAF.”

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From The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians (July/August 2004) p. 28

Wachner, Julian. Toccata, Adagio and Fugue (EC Schirmer, No. 5843), $12.60

A difficult piece, this title pays homage to the well-known Bach TAF. Composed mixing much chromaticism with tonal language, the work begins with a virtuosic Toccata. The writing uses punctuated pauses for effect and mixes contrapuntal sections with biting repeated chords. The Adagio is very lyrical, built with two primary sections. The Fugue is unconventional and flashy, punctuated with accented chords. The registration scheme for the whole work is simple and can be worked out on two manuals. A former chorister at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue under Gerre Hancock, Julian Wachner is currently Associate Professor of Music at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Fri, August 13, 2004

Musicians meet their match
Montreal Gazette

No one will be surprised to learn that the program included the Symphony No. 3 of Saint-Saëns. But it began with the premiere of Triptych (1 Logos), a 21-minute fantasy commissioned by the oratory from Julian Wachner, the organist of the Church of St Andrew and St Paul.

Starting with a fortissimo thunderclap from the orchestra, this was distinctly a work in the haut-monster-movie mode favoured by organists, regardless of’ their church vocation. There was much imperious playing from the von Beckerath instrument, which is more than a match for any orchestra.

Eventually, the idiom moved to something more sombre, including passages of chord progressions that revealed Wachner’s delight in harmony, another organist idée fixe. Might we have been allowed a few more moments of joy to lend perspective to all the gravity? Well, maybe this will come in a sequel. As it stands, this is a rugged, powerful work, and Nézet-Séguin led it with great passion and a sure sense of pace.

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Musicians meet their match:
von Beckerath organ looms large at concert
Arthur Kaptainis
Montreal Gazette, August 13, 2004

 

When Philippe Belanger assumed the post of organist at St Joseph's Oratory in 2002, it was hoped he would revive the summer recitals that had long made Wednesday evenings special for Montreal music buffs. This week he expanded on the formula by performing in tandem with the, under Yannick Nézet-Seguin, who were situated under the organ at the rear of the upper sanctuary.

No one will be surprised to learn that the program included the Symphony No. 3 of Saint-Saëns. But it began with the premiere of Triptych (1 Logos), a 21-minute fantasy commissioned by the oratory from Julian Wachner, the organist of the Church of St Andrew and St Paul.

Starting with a fortissimo thunderclap from the orchestra, this was distinctly a work in the haut-monster-movie mode favoured by organists, regardless of' their church vocation. There was much imperious playing from the von Beckerath instrument, which is more than a match for any orchestra.

Eventually, the idiom moved to something more sombre, including passages of chord progressions that revealed Wachner’s delight in harmony, another organist idée fixe. Might we have been allowed a few more moments of joy to lend perspective to all the gravity? Well, maybe this will come in a sequel. As it stands, this is a rugged, powerful work, and Nézet-Séguin led it with great passion and a sure sense of pace.

The Saint-Saëns followed with scarcely a pause. Aided by the reverberant oratory acoustics, the strings had a golden glow in the introduction and the Adagio. While some inner detail inevitably needed to be taken on faith during the more frenetic passages, the splendour of the music was strongly communicated. The big organ chords of the finale were splendid and the great hymn tune had its usual uplifting effect. What a wonderful symphony this is.

Bélanger surely thinks so, as he regaled us with an improvisation on its themes. The crowd of about 600 liked everything it heard, and with reason. Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra might do nicely as follow-up next summer.

Thu, August 12, 2004

Fiesta evening at the Oratory
La Presse

Another attraction was the composition of a concerto for organ and orchestra commissioned to Julian Wachner for the Oratory’s centenary…

...the piece by Mr. Wachner (present last night and with quite an entourage) is an imposing composition. It is the first of three movements in the work, published by Schirmer, and clearly impossible to perform entirely as the first movement alone lasts 21 minutes.

The piece is presented as a great fantasy with alternating sequences by the orchestra playing alone, the organ playing alone, and the two together, in which violent and dissonant episodes are interrupted by great moments of calm, and vice versa. At certain moments, where only the organ can be heard, the instrument becomes an orchestra in itself. Rather long in parts, but a gripping end: a soft monologue by the organ, which the orchestra invades aggressively, the whole thing ending in true combat.

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Fiesta evening at the Oratory
Claude Gingras
La Presse ( Montreal), August 12, 2004

 

There was quite a party atmosphere last night in Saint Joseph's Oratory. More than 1500 people climbed up there to hear the Metropolitan Orchestra of Greater Montreal with the famous, spectacular and irresistible Organ Symphony of Saint-Saens, performed by the new resident organist, Philippe Belanger, and conducted by Yannick Nezet - Seguin. Of all our musicians, he has certainly enjoyed the most public exposure this summer.

It was thus an event in itself, it being rare to hear a symphonic orchestra play in the Oratory, and rarer still for Saint-Saens to be performed on a real church or concert organ, the usual choice being to bring an electric organ into the auditorium.

For the event, the 65-musician orchestra was seated below the gallery dominated by the colossal 78-stop Beckerath. Another attraction was the composition of a concert for organ and orchestra commissioned to Julian Wachner for the Oratory's centenary. Julian who? Indeed, it could be considered somewhat curious that the Oratory, a Catholic sanctuary, should celebrate its 100 years by commissioning the organist of a Presbyterian temple, St Andrew's and St Paul's and, in addition to this, an American organist who has only lived here a short time. I do say: "it could be considered somewhat curious". I make no comment.

Such considerations aside, the piece by Mr. Wachner (present last night and with quite an entourage) is an imposing composition. It is the first of three movements in the work, published by Schirmer, and clearly impossible to perform entirely as the first movement alone lasts 21 minutes.

The piece is presented as a great fantasy with alternating sequences by the orchestra playing alone, the organ playing alone, and the two together, in which violent and dissonant episodes are interrupted by great moments of calm, and vice versa. At certain moments, where only the organ can be heard, the instrument becomes an orchestra in itself. Rather long in parts, but a gripping end: a soft monologue by the organ, which the orchestra invades aggressively, the whole thing ending in true combat.

With no interval, the concert moves straight on to the Saint-Saens, into more familiar territory. It must be said that the reverberation in the building, even with 1500 people in the nave, did rather spoil the sound. So strong was this "echo" (as they say), especially in the faster or fortissimo passages, that the softer episodes disappeared beneath the tutti of one or two seconds earlier; sometimes, one even had the impression that the sections of the orchestra were in disaccord and were not playing together.

In spite of such conditions, Nezet-Seguin, who had given all he had in the Wachner piece, did the same in the Saint-Saens, and managed a very moving rendition of the second movement, Poco adagio (which he took a little slower than usual because of the acoustics).

Philippe Belanger, the brilliant soloist in both works, had the last say, by adding an amazing improvisation to this hour-long program with no interval. He proved to be - to use an expression dear to his predecessor Raymond Daveluy – a "virtuoso like no other".

Fri, August 6, 2004

Orchestra brings Paul Revere’s ride to children
The Boston Globe

Wachner, a onetime Boston luminary now residing in Canada, returned to narrate the Longfellow poem in his piece, and he did a good job…

The composer’s music is clear in design and fastidious in workmanship, evoking period colors (fifes and drums) and responding to the imagery in the poem—spooky water music as the moon rose over the bay where the man-o-war Somerset lay; a bassoon solo for the invading boats; a string chorale for the Old North Church graveyard. The kids even got to participate by clapping on their legs the galloping rhythm of Revere’s horse.

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Orchestra brings Paul Revere’s ride to children
Richard Dyer
Boston Globe, August 6, 2004

 

Wednesday at noon, beneath the belfry arch of the North Church Tower, Charles Ansbacher led a performance of Julian Wachner's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" for an audience of children, neighborhood residents, passersby, and some lucky camera-toting tourists.

"The Midnight Ride" is the second Boston Landmarks Orchestra commission for a new work for children, following Daniel Pinkham's "Make Way For Ducklings" last year. Like "Ducklings," and Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf," the prototype for a children's piece with narration, Wachner's piece also serves as an introduction to the instruments of the orchestra.

By way of prelude, Ansbacher had players demonstrate their instruments and the orchestra offered a couple of brief light classics before the main event. There were also a few remarks by Charles C. Calhoun, the most recent biographer of poet Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, author of "Paul Revere's Ride" ("Listen, my children, and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere"). Calhoun reminded us that the immense popularity of Longfellow's poem made Revere a national hero -- and probably preserved Old North Church; he also pointed out that the poem was written when the nation was on the brink of another conflict, so it is a poem about the Civil War as well.

Wachner, a onetime Boston luminary now residing in Canada, returned to narrate the Longfellow poem in his piece, and he did a good job, considering that his profession is not public speaking; he of all people knows when he's supposed to come in.

The composer's music is clear in design and fastidious in workmanship, evoking period colors (fifes and drums) and responding to the imagery in the poem -- spooky water music as the moon rose over the bay where the man-o-war Somerset lay; a bassoon solo for the invading boats; a string chorale for the Old North Church graveyard. The kids even got to participate by clapping on their legs the galloping rhythm of Revere's horse. At the end there is a brief reference to "God Save the King," which 56 years after Revere's ride became " America" ("My country 'tis of thee . . .").

The performance under Ansbacher's direction was lively, the children were attentive, and it was stirring to hear these words and this music beneath the belfry windows where on April 18, 1775, the lantern signal sent Revere on his ride into history.

Sat, June 19, 2004

Red House Festival’s masterful show
The Providence Journal

The Red House Festival is the brainchild of composer and conductor Julian Wachner, head of the Providence Singers. Wachner is hoping, during a time when not much else is going on, to start a festival rivaling Charleston’s Spoletto, where concerts are held in halls and churches throughout the heart of the city.

This year he is starting off slow with just four events.

The festival opened Thursday with an evening of cabaret, then moved to the more serious stuff last night with the Rorem, three-dozen gorgeous songs based on poems by Whitman, Auden, Wordsworth, Frost and a host of others.

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Sparse audience doesn't detract from premiere
The Red House festival's masterful show mirrors the title in that the audience remains unseen
Channing Gray, Arts Writer
Providence Journal, June 19, 2004

As promised, the Red House Festival delivered. Too bad Providence can't be bothered with such a class act.

A class act, at least, based on last night's showing at First Unitarian Church. Four remarkable singers gave a wonderful performance of Ned Rorem's masterful song cycle Evidence of Things Not Seen, the kind of singing you just don't hear around here very often.

And only a dozen people showed up.

Now this may be one of the problems associated with being the new kid on the block, or trying to put on a fesitval during cultural downtime in the capital city. Or maybe Rorem, probably the best American songwriter living, is too esoteric for local listeners.

But you'd think a city that's supposedly on the upswing might have shown a little more interest in an event of this ilk.

It's not too late to get behind the festival, though. More music takes place tonight at the First Unitarian Church on Benefit Street, a program that includes Schubert's beloved Trout Piano Quintet. Tomorrow winds things up with choral music by Rachmaninoff.

The Red House Festival is the brainchild of composer and conductor Julian Wachner, head of the Providence Singers. Wachner is hoping, during a time when not much else is going on, to start a festival rivaling Charleston's Spoletto, where concerts are held in halls and churches throughout the heart of the city.

This year he is starting off slow with just four events.

The festival opened Thursday with an evening of cabaret, then moved to the more serious stuff last night with the Rorem, three-dozen gorgeous songs based on poems by Whitman, Auden, Wordsworth, Frost and a host of others.

The selections were sung in different groupings, sometimes as quartets, at others trios, duets and solos.

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," sang mezzo Krista River in a sweet solo setting of the popular Elizabeth Barrett Browning ode. Sumner Thompson, a fine, rich baritone, did the honors in a reflective treatment of a Whitman poem that ended with the line: "That we two, content, happy in just being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word."

Alice Tillotson, the soprano with a coloratura firepower, did a lovely turn with Auden's Their Lonely Betters, just letting that heavingly last note float, as pianist Linda Osborn-Blaschke scooted up to the top of the keyboard to join her.

Tenor Jason McStoots sounded bright and clear in a meandering song assigned to Whitman's brief I Am He.

Fri, June 18, 2004

Composer leads kids on wild ‘Ride’
The Boston Globe

If you think writing classical music for kids is easy, don’t tell composer Julian Wachner. Along with such highbrow projects as an organ concerto and an opera, Wachner, 34, has been busy this spring making a kid-friendly piece for orchestra - the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, to be exact - and narrator from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.’‘

The result, Wachner’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,’’ will receive its world premiere in performances on Boston Common tomorrow afternoon at 4 and 5:30 by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. Charles Ansbacher, the orchestra’s music director, will conduct. WCRB-FM’s Ray Brown narrates.

“Children are a much harder audience than adults,’’ Wachner said. “They’ll turn off in a second.’’ And in tailoring his telling of this Boston tale to the young, he said, “The first thing I had to do was chase away any inhibitions about what my adult colleagues are going to think of this piece.’‘

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The trumpets are coming! The trumpets are coming!
Composer leads kids on a wild `Ride' with Paul Revere
T.J. Medrek
Boston Globe, June 18, 2004

 

If you think writing classical music for kids is easy, don't tell composer Julian Wachner. Along with such highbrow projects as an organ concerto and an opera, Wachner, 34, has been busy this spring making a kid-friendly piece for orchestra - the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, to be exact - and narrator from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem, "Paul Revere's Ride.''

The result, Wachner's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,'' will receive its world premiere in performances on Boston Common tomorrow afternoon at 4 and 5:30 by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. Charles Ansbacher, the orchestra's music director, will conduct. WCRB-FM's Ray Brown narrates.

"Children are a much harder audience than adults,'' Wachner said. "They'll turn off in a second.'' And in tailoring his telling of this Boston tale to the young, he said, "The first thing I had to do was chase away any inhibitions about what my adult colleagues are going to think of this piece.''

In other words, Wachner hasn't written this 20-minute "Ride'' for, say, James Levine to spend a weekend analyzing or for a doctoral candidate to use as a dissertation subject. He's written music for kids - of all ages, of course - to enjoy.

"The audience is really meant to be the same as for Prokofiev's `Peter and the Wolf' or Benjamin Britten's `Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra,' '' Wachner said. ``It's for children to hear the story for perhaps the first time, get a sense of the orchestra and orchestration and composition - perhaps also for the first time.''

Wachner also cited Daniel Pinkham's 2003 ``Make Way for Ducklings,'' last year's delightful Landmarks commission for children, as an example of the form he hoped to emulate.

One of Wachner's biggest concerns - English teachers had better stop reading right here - was with the Longfellow poem itself. It starts with the famous lines, ``Listen my children and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere . . .'' But, said Wachner, ``The poem takes a good two pages before it gets exciting. There's a description of the Mystic River and ships sailing, and the music might have sounded a little bit static. So I was careful to make some elements rhythmic and jazzy so that (the kids) wouldn't go to sleep.''

Wachner has worked equally hard at creating immediately vivid musical pictures to illustrate the action - once the action gets going.

``The music has to take the parts of the characters and the horse, as well as portray the excitement of the British Army approach and the birth of America. So there are a lot of trumpet calls, horn calls, piccolo tunes, and fifes like those of revolutionary America'' - and every town's Memorial Day parade - ``to create that sound world. It's a combination of all these wonderful American images.''

But, Wachner said there are plenty of modern musical elements at play as well - so all those experts Wachner's not writing for shouldn't be too dismissive. ``It still sounds like music from a 21st century composer,'' he reassured.

Wachner was particularly pleased to get the commission from the Landmarks Orchestra because it brings the young composer and his music back to Boston. Wachner left the city three years ago to take an appointment at Montreal's McGill University, and since then his dual career as both composer and conductor has been increasingly active.

He's got another big premiere coming up in August, an organ concerto he wrote for Montreal's Metropolitan Orchestra to play at the St. Joseph's Oratory for the famous hilltop shrine's 100th anniversary. He'll spend most of the summer finishing up an opera for McGill based on another Longfellow poem, ``Evangeline.'' He's got gigs coming up conducting the New Haven and San Diego symphony orchestras, among others.

And if you think things let up for him for this weekend's premiere, think again. After Saturday's performance, Wachner drives to Providence to play chamber music that night for the Red House Festival, a project of Wachner's Red House Opera Group.

"Then the next day I drive back to Montreal,'' he said. "I'm conducting the Charpentier Mass on original instruments for the Montreal Baroque Festival'' - at 2 p.m.

It seems there's more than one "midnight ride'' in Wachner's immediate future.

Thu, June 17, 2004

Cabaret opens, liturgy closes four-day Red House Festival
The Providence Journal

That may seem like a strange way to launch a serious chamber music festival, but then conductor Julian Wachner is hoping to reach the widest possible demographic before settling into music by Schubert, Britten and Ned Rorem.

The idea behind the event, which has been in the planning stages for a couple of years, was to put on chamber opera and other chamber compositions during a time when most classical groups are “dormant,” as Wachner put it.

Someday Wachner would like to see the Red House rival Charleston’s Spoleto Festival, where concerts are held in churches and halls throughout the heart of the city.

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Cabaret opens, liturgy closes four-day Red House Festival
Channing Gray, Arts Writer
Providence Journal, June 17, 2004

 

It's a year late and smaller than expected, but the Red House Festival has finally come to Providence. The event, four concerts spread over as many days, opens tonight with a cabaret at the Hi-Hat Nightclub.

That may seem like a strange way to launch a serious chamber music festival, but then conductor Julian Wachner is hoping to reach the widest possible demographic before settling into music by Schubert, Britten and Ned Rorem.

The idea behind the event, which has been in the planning stages for a couple of years, was to put on chamber opera and other chamber compositions during a time when most classical groups are "dormant," as Wachner put it.

Someday Wachner would like to see the Red House rival Charleston's Spoleto Festival, where concerts are held in churches and halls throughout the heart of the city.

"Most organizations go into pops mode at this time of year," said Wachner. "We want to offer something slightly different."

A red house in Aldeburgh

The event takes its name from the home Benjamin Britten shared with his life's partner, tenor Peter Pears, in the small English town of Aldeburgh. Aldeburgh was the site of an annual community festival where much of Britten's music was performed.

So don't be surprised to find the occasional Britten score pop up in Providence's Red House Festival. On Saturday night at the First Unitarian Church, the British composer's Canticle III with tenor Brad Peloquin and horn player Whit Hill shares the bill with works by Schubert.

Next season, Wachner said, he has two Britten chamber operas planned: The Prodigal Son and Noye's Fludde, a sort of modern-day miracle play written largely for children and a folksy orchestra that includes teacups.

Wachner, who teaches at McGill University in Montreal and who heads up the Providence Singers, said he has kept to a modest scale this first summer so he can work out the kinks.

"The most important thing," he said, "is to structure a plan for a bigger festival next year."

Still, he said, "we're able to do four concerts with a grand finale by the Providence Singers."

The Singers will be tackling Rachmaninoff's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Wachner is just back from Ukraine, where he picked up a lot of tips on the performance of Russian Orthodox music. He has shared those with Andrew Clark, his assistant, who'll be leading the Sunday concert.

Wachner said he'd be more than pleased to see 1,000 listeners attend the four events. He tested the waters a couple of years ago in Newport with a mini-festival of Britten's music, and that sold well.

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