Press

Sun, September 28, 2003

NHSO’s ‘Music of the Spheres’: Lovely music, but light show casts a shadow
Register Arts Editor

The orchestra’s “Mercury” movement was taken at an unusually effervescent tempo, that of Holst himself conducting a performance in 1926, Pak said. In “Jupiter,” the “Roman hymn” trombone figure was especially delightful. And as Neptune drifted off with wordless singing offstage (by Yale’s Whim ‘n Rhythm), Pak blended in the world premiere of Julian Wachner’s tributes to “Planet X”: “Pluto, God of the Underworld” and “Epilogue, the Sun.”

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NHSO’s ‘Music of the Spheres’: Lovely music, but light show casts a shadow
Dale Robinson
Register Arts Editor, Sunday, September 28, 2003

 

Has it come to this? The New Haven Symphony Orchestra opened the 2003-04 season with the heavily promoted "Music of the Spheres" concert Thursday evening at Yale University’s Woolsey Hall.

New Haven

The program was unique for its choreographed light show by Stony Creek’s Projects for a New Millennium and, in the rotunda, hands-on telescopes provided by The Wandering Star Project and The Astronomical Society of New Haven. The event was funded in part by a $19,000 grant from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

The NHSO is doing many things right in a noble effort to stave off cataclysm.

It is everywhere, bringing educational outreach and performances far beyond New Haven.

It has trimmed staff and budget (Conductor Jung-Ho Pak and others now write the program notes instead of hiring an outside agent), moved its ticket office and pops performances to the Shubert Theater and shifted some symphony-series events to Saturday nights.

Pak’s "Prelude" talk at the Slifka Center before Thursday’s event was standing-room-only and fascinating.

The musicians, meanwhile, are aware of the difficult finances but play willingly and at the apex of their talents.

But when someone projects an entire planet on the pipes of Woolsey Hall’s Newberry Memorial Organ, it looks like a bowl of noodles. More on that later.

The hall was abuzz from the start, more than three-quarters full. There was a wider than usual demographic in attendance; many in the audience were younger and obviously neophytes, as they applauded after each movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, "Jupiter," which made up the first half of the program. This applause is like music to the marketing department at the NHSO.

The sound the orchestra made as it began Mozart’s allegro vivace came like a breeze through cedars — the stage made up mostly of strings and a scattering of flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani. The first music was formal, then shifted to a slow aria, poignant, light, but nowhere sentimental. The minuet had a sexy meter, and the wonderful four-note fugue of the last movement was stunningly played, dazzling in its counterpoint. Mozart is pure genius.

After the interval came the heralded "The Planets" suite, Op. 32, by Gustav Holst. The lights in the hall dipped. The audience waited in darkness. The orchestra shone onstage like a painting in the Louvre. The five-note meter introduction of "Mars" — eerie, menacing — immediately spoke of the grandeur and precision of the NHSO sound this night.

And: There was a magic lantern show. Initially impressive but eventually distracting was the crimson and magenta wash of lights on the organ pipes, and Woolsey’s columns lit up in amber and gold. On the hall’s oculus, which is painted with the sky, an image of the planet Mars was projected, but the image was hurt by pollution from the other lights. Then, for clarification, the word "Mars." It was all very Martian.

"Venus," played lovingly by the orchestra, brought a change to greenish everywhere, and the addition of an ambient liquid gel projection, and then really big dancing bubbles projected on the organ — and so on. This was not an edgy laser-light show, although Saturn, projected, was most in focus. Classical music, especially heavily programmatic classical music, does not need to be dumbed down like this. At one point, two of the columns began flashing stroboscopically and with abandon, and giant orange searchlights blasting the balcony were painful to the eyes.

The orchestra’s "Mercury" movement was taken at an unusually effervescent tempo, that of Holst himself conducting a performance in 1926, Pak said. In "Jupiter," the "Roman hymn" trombone figure was especially delightful. And as Neptune drifted off with wordless singing offstage (by Yale’s Whim ‘n Rhythm), Pak blended in the world premiere of Julian Wachner’s tributes to "Planet X": "Pluto, God of the Underworld" and "Epilogue, the Sun."

The diminuendo women’s voices grew, the stage-right door opened, and trance-like they came in, dressed in black and carrying pyramids aglow like Star Trek phasers. This chorus sang a disturbing, atonal song-without-words reminiscent of a pagan rite, repetitive and limpid, up the aisles and out the back door.

"Pluto" was a tone poem, wistful and composed, but upstaged by two Casper the Friendly Ghost white balls threatening the symphony. The music of the "Sun" movement was strangely disconcerting, too, for its lack of optimism until the very end, the wonderful power of the organ almost upstaged by the disco lights. How can we hear new music for itself?

It must be said that the long program was awarded a standing ovation by an exhausted audience. The hoped-for viewing of the heavens in the Beinecke Library courtyard was canceled due to clouds. The Clark Telescope, the priceless Yale instrument used by Olmsted and Loomis in 1835, the first in North America to view the return of Halley’s comet, lay in state in the rotunda.

And The Associated Press reported on Sept. 9 that the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, England, has discovered that the voice of a black hole is a deep bass B flat, 57 octaves below middle C, far beyond the hearing range of humans.

Sun, September 21, 2003

NHSO ascendant? Symphony fights hard to avoid fate of peers
Register Arts Editor

MacLeod is pinning much of his hope on getting people in the door for the first concerts of the season, which begins Thursday night at Woolsey Hall with “Music of the Spheres.” The program blends tradition (Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony) with spectacle (a visual-effects display by Projects for a New Millennium), novelty (a world premiere of a Julian Wachner composition commissioned by the NHSO) and interactivity (a post-show viewing of the night sky, telescopes included).

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NHSO ascendant?
Symphony fights hard to avoid fate of peers
Laura Collins-Hughes
Register Arts Editor, Sunday, September 21, 2003

 

On the wall in his office at the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, beneath a large map of Connecticut, Michael MacLeod sees two things when he sits down at his computer.

Hanging on the right is a luminous photograph of a smiling Mary Miller, his partner and the director of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. It is an alluring photo, and fittingly so. Miller is, after all, a key reason MacLeod came to New Haven from London two years ago to become the NHSO’s executive director.

To the left of his computer screen, in a larger frame, is a calligraphic copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, "If," the words of which serve as an affirmation now that MacLeod is here. The poem is what keeps him going, he says, particularly the first few lines:

"If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, / If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you / But make allowance for their doubting too...."

There are countless ifs in running a symphony orchestra right now in the United States, where the landscape is littered with carcasses of the dead and near-dead: here the San Jose Symphony and the Florida Philharmonic, there the Colorado Springs Symphony, the Tulsa Philharmonic, the San Antonio Symphony.

Many orchestras that haven’t succumbed to the ills plaguing them — a rapidly aging audience, a bad economy, an increasingly homebound culture — are struggling simply to hang on. The NHSO, with MacLeod as chief cheerleader and medicine man, is engaged in that fight for life even as he acknowledges that the orchestra is "in a situation of crisis."

"In round figures, we’ve been losing a quarter of a million dollars year after year after year, and that includes last season," he said bluntly over a recent lunch at a downtown restaurant.

For an organization with a $2.15 million budget last year and an endowment that is, he said, "dormant at $1 million," that is not a small sum. And yet MacLeod, inheritor of an organization whose financial troubles have been exacerbated by the post-9/11 climate, is insistently optimistic, aiming not just for the orchestra’s survival but for its health, not just for its health but for its vivacity.

"I’m very hopeful," he said, then paused to reconsider his wording. "‘Hopeful’ sounds a bit weak. I’m very hopeful. Or you could put I’m quietly confident."

MacLeod is pinning much of his hope on getting people in the door for the first concerts of the season, which begins Thursday night at Woolsey Hall with "Music of the Spheres." The program blends tradition (Mozart’s "Jupiter" Symphony) with spectacle (a visual-effects display by Projects for a New Millennium), novelty (a world premiere of a Julian Wachner composition commissioned by the NHSO) and interactivity (a post-show viewing of the night sky, telescopes included).

The other season starter, Oct. 17 at the Shubert Theater, is the NHSO Pops’ "The Road to Broadway," in which one New Haven institution, the 109-year-old NHSO, mines the history of another. Designed to highlight the Shubert, which is the NHSO Pops’ new home, the program is made up of famous songs from musicals that premiered there, sung by Broadway performers.

Both evenings, and the season that follows, reflect the desire of MacLeod and Music Director Jung-Ho Pak to make each concert an event.

"There needs to be a reason to come back," Pak said by cell phone the other day from Wilton High School, where he was spending part of the afternoon working with a group of students.

He and MacLeod are determined to change the concert-going experience, making it more contemporary and more thrilling, he explained.

"We’re like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: right over the cliff," Pak said, sounding upbeat. "We’re going to jump off together."

MacLeod uses a different metaphor, not of leaping but of climbing. In August 2002, on vacation with Miller in Tanzania, he undertook the five-day climb to the Uhuru Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. Miller made it to the top camp, and MacLeod soldiered on toward the summit.

"Even my guide didn’t make it to the top," said MacLeod, who enjoys casting himself as an adventurer. "I had to leave him on the path. He had malaria. I carried on on cq my own to the top and picked him up on the way back."

"I like a challenge," he said, "so it’s either Kilimanjaro or sorting out the NHSO."

Part of the way he is doing that is evident in the structure of the season: giving the pops concerts at the Shubert, where (in a cost-cutting move) MacLeod has also put the NHSO’s box office; adding Saturday night concerts to the Thursday night symphony series at Woolsey; mixing interactive symphony programs (coming in April: a face-off between Salieri and Mozart, with the audience casting a voice vote on who was the better opera composer) with programs that offer what MacLeod terms an escape from "sensory assault," also known as modern life. Pak, meanwhile, is in talks to bring Branford Marsalis to town — not for a pops concert, he noted, but for a symphony concert.

Other changes the NHSO has made are not so obvious: reducing its budget from $2.15 million in fiscal 2003 to $1.7 million in fiscal 2004, streamlining staff, canceling Kinder Konzerts, cutting overall expenses.

Ticket sales were up in 2003, but not by nearly as much as had been budgeted. Sponsorship and grants were down significantly, as is the trend for nonprofit arts groups; the $67,000 the state gave the NHSO in 2002 was reduced to zero in 2003.

What the NHSO needs, MacLeod said, is to fill seats.

"Now, the season will succeed or fail depending on whether Joe Public buys tickets," he said.

Pak, entering his fifth season with the NHSO, came to the orchestra when it was in dire financial straits. He signed on as music director in December 1998, just as the orchestra was announcing its need for an emergency infusion of $500,000 to keep it from going out of business. Since then, it has appeared to make progress toward stability.

What ails the NHSO now is much like what ails other orchestras across the country, he said.

"It is somewhat systemic, and part of it has to do with orchestras that aren’t willing to change, orchestras that don’t know how to change, and orchestras that are afraid to change," said Pak, who believes the problem goes beyond classical music.

"It’s a little bit of a canary in the mine," he said, explaining that other art forms so far have not suffered as much because they have lower overhead than orchestras do. "It is all connected. It’s like a great ecosystem of art that exists in our country."

But he does not blame all of the troubles on the economy.

"What is happening besides the economy," Pak said, "is that nonprofit arts groups need to see themselves on a continuum of entertainment. There’s that dirty word: the ‘e’ word."

The reality, he said, is that orchestras have to be more aggressive and meet their audiences halfway.

"We have to accept that we are no longer the platinum American Express card that we thought we were 40 years ago," he said.

If their revitalization strategy pays off, Pak said, the NHSO will be a more valuable institution to New Haven, and not just to the small segment of New Haven that is its existing audience.

"This will be the beginning of a new era for the symphony because ... we are completely consumed with broadening our audiences and creating a product which is meaningful for them," Pak said.

"If we fail, then I know that Michael and I will feel we have failed doing the right thing," he said. "We will have tried to secure the future of the orchestra."

While smaller American orchestras are struggling, larger ones, which inherently have bigger budgets, seem to be having less difficulty. But Pak said smaller orchestras like the NHSO — which has 70 contracted musicians and 1,700 subscribers — have one distinct advantage: Their size gives them greater flexibility, so they can more easily change the way they work.

MacLeod, too, is betting that the NHSO’s new agility will pay off.

"If that doesn’t work, might cq as well pack up," said MacLeod, who has indefinitely extended his original two-year contract, which would have expired in October.

He doubts that the NHSO can withstand another decade of "just trundling along" as it has done in recent years, but he realizes there is a chance that his efforts will not alter the status quo.

"Or," he said, considering a pleasant alternative, "people will realize the NHSO has begun its renaissance."

Fri, September 5, 2003

Organist makes it up as he goes along
Montreal Gazette

In fact we got a lot of Wachner, though with bracing contrasts between sections. A minor-mode variation with agitated figures was astonishing. Again, most people would have to practise to perform something like this. Wachner just made it up.

So far the recital had been an exercise in restraint. Harmonies of subsequent eras were forbidden fruit. In his Triptique moderne, Wachner could avail himself of anything and everything and the results were correspondingly free-spirited. There was nothing atonal in the Prélude, but much that was fun. In the concluding Toccata Wachner again demonstrated his formidable talent for reaching an impressive conclusion.

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Organist makes it up as he goes along
Julian Wachner has gift for improvisation. McGill professor demonstrates his talent on von Beckerath instrument of St. Joseph's Oratory
Arthur Kaptainis
Montreal Gazette, Friday, September 05, 2003

 

Improvisation, the lifeblood of jazz, became extinct in classical more than a century ago - except in that curious parallel universe occupied by organists. On Wednesday, Julian Wachner, the multitalented new McGill professor, mounted the mighty von Beckerath instrument of St. Joseph's Oratory to perform an entire program of improvisations on themes submitted to him 40 minutes before.

Adding to the challenge was his pledge to make the program a chronological review of styles from the 18th century to present. One expected to hear it all much as Dr. Johnson said we watch a dog walking on its hind legs: It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.

In fact the evening had much more than novelty value. In the opening Suite for Organ in the French classical style, Wachner pulled out the right stops and summoned the gravity and grace of the day. The concluding Grands Jeux rose to a resounding conclusion. People (there were fewer than 100) knew when to clap.

Nevertheless, a Fantasy and Fugue in North German style - on a theme submitted by Notre Dame Basilica organist Pierre Grandmaison - had the sound of an engine being started. Sequences were colourful and jubilant in the Bach manner, and the fugue, if not academically orthodox, moved forward with conviction. Imagine: a contrapuntal web of four voices, something a student composer might labour over for weeks, emanating directly from the head of Julian Wachner.

After intermission we heard a Theme and Variations in 19th-century style on a rather banal accidental-free tune by Gilles Vigneault. The 19th century was a big one. We were hoping for a little Beethoven, a little Schumann, a little Brahms, a little Wagner.

In fact we got a lot of Wachner, though with bracing contrasts between sections. A minor-mode variation with agitated figures was astonishing. Again, most people would have to practise to perform something like this. Wachner just made it up.

So far the recital had been an exercise in restraint. Harmonies of subsequent eras were forbidden fruit. In his Triptique moderne, Wachner could avail himself of anything and everything and the results were correspondingly free-spirited. There was nothing atonal in the Prélude, but much that was fun. In the concluding Toccata Wachner again demonstrated his formidable talent for reaching an impressive conclusion.

Maybe I should try improvising a column sometime.

Thu, September 4, 2003

Wachner: très impressionnant
La Presse

Pour terminer, un puissant exercise plus abstrait et de très haute virtuosité, un triptyque plein d’imagination rappelant Jean Langlais dans ses deux mouvements extrêmes et Messiaen dans son bref scherzo médian. En même temps, la confirmation d’une réelle science musicale, s’ajoutant à d’authentiques qualités d’organiste et d’interprète.

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WACHNER: très impressionnant
Claude Gingras
La Presse (Montréal) le jeudi 4 septembre 2003

 

Julian Wachner a fait grand impression hier soir dans son premier récital important ici en qualité d’organiste. On le connaît un peu comme chef de choeur, fonction qu’il exerce depuis récemment à McGill, mais on ne l’avait pas encore entendu à l’orgue.

Invité dans la courte série 2003 de l’oratoire - où, comme d’autres, il n’avait attiré qu’un très faible auditoire -, le musicien américain de 33 ans nous vient de Hollywood, Calif., mais il n’y a absolument rien, dans sa personne, ses choix d’oeuvres ou sa façon de jouer, qui puisse rappeler, même indirectment, ce monde clinquant et assez vulgaire qui l’a vu naître. Au contraire, M. Wachner a maintenu aux claviers une tenue exemplaire et une distinction de jeu dignes des artistes les plus raffinés d’Europe.

Il avait conçu un programme entièrement fondé sur l’improvisation. C’est-à-dire qu’à partir de thèmes qui lui seraient soumis au moment même du récital, il allait construire, en fait composer, diverses oeuvres selon une forme ou un genre précis. Reproduits sur le feuillet qu’on avait remis à la porte (et déposé sur le lutrin de l’organiste comme seul guide), les thèmes étaient variés: puisé au grégorien pour la suite classique français, écrit par Pierre Grandmaison pour la fantasie et fugue nord-allemande, ou basé sur une chanson de Gilles Vigneault pour le thème et variations de style XIXe siècle.

L’organiste s’imposa dès la suite classique française par sa connaissance du genre abordé: austérité, choix des anches, relief des dialogues entre claviers, clarté de l’ornementation, puissance des plenums. On nota la même envergure dans la fantasie et fugue à la Buxtehude où les timbres importent moins que la forme. Les cinq variations d’après Vigneault découvrirent un thème simple, la tendre chanson Qu’il est difficile d’aimer, considérablement élargi, harmonisé, modulè (parfois à la César Franck!), coloré de timbres creux de saqueboutes et débouchant sur une toccata à la Widor et une passacaille des plus chargées.

Pour terminer, un puissant exercise plus abstrait et de très haute virtuosité, un triptyque plein d’imagination rappelant Jean Langlais dans ses deux mouvements extrêmes et Messiaen dans son bref scherzo médian. En même temps, la confirmation d’une réelle science musicale, s’ajoutant à d’authentiques qualités d’organiste et d’interprète.

Fri, June 13, 2003

Organist, orchestra offer rousing finale
Charleston Post and Courier

Mr. Wachner’s own 1999 work, “Cymbale,” opened the concert with a bang. Described as a one- movement concerto for organ and orchestra, it is modeled upon ancient Baroque lines, but its language is as current as its salsa-jazz solo towards the end for unadorned, swinging cowbell. Densely plotted and cleverly scored, it features explosive organ and brass pronouncements and feathery high string passages, all framing a ferociously intricate keyboard and pedal challenges for the organist…

He controlled the third symphony of Charles Ives, entitled “The Camp Meeting,” with graceful authority befitting its unusually lyrical (for Ives) and sentimental use of old hymns and folk tunes for richly evocative effects. The final movement, a Largo denoted “Communion,” demonstrated immense sensitivity within the small orchestra, which managed the intellectualized and solidly structured material with beauty and tenderness.

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Organist, orchestra offer rousing finale
Jack Dressler

Charleston Post and Courier
June 13, 2003


Spoleto's fifth and final program in the Intermezzi series at Grace Episcopal Church on Friday drew upon the limited but richly endowed literature for organ and chamber orchestra by 20th century composers. Brought together by composer-conductor Julian Wachner, the selections were notable for the energy of their presentation as well as for carefully crafted musicianship throughout.

Mr. Wachner's own 1999 work, "Cymbale," opened the concert with a bang. Described as a one- movement concerto for organ and orchestra, it is modeled upon ancient Baroque lines, but its language is as current as its salsa-jazz solo towards the end for unadorned, swinging cowbell. Densely plotted and cleverly scored, it features explosive organ and brass pronouncements and feathery high string passages, all framing a ferociously intricate keyboard and pedal challenges for the organist.

Nancianne Parrella as featured soloist took charge of Mr. Wachner's vigorous complexity with gusto and aggressive control. Her physicality matched his role as conductor, which proved as vital and engaging as his music.

He controlled the third symphony of Charles Ives, entitled "The Camp Meeting," with graceful authority befitting its unusually lyrical (for Ives) and sentimental use of old hymns and folk tunes for richly evocative effects. The final movement, a Largo denoted "Communion," demonstrated immense sensitivity within the small orchestra, which managed the intellectualized and solidly structured material with beauty and tenderness.

For many in this audience, who wound up standing and cheering at the end, the highlight of the program had to be the joyous and nearly abandoned performance of the Concert for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G-Minor (1938) by Francis Poulenc. Combining toccata-like organ introductions and soaring full-orchestra interludes in its several internal episodes, the cracking power of the piece offered Mr. Wachner, Ms. Parrella and the superbly prepared string- percussion ensemble an opportunity to have the time of their lives. It was a mood of enthusiasm fully shared by the listeners.

Thu, May 29, 2003

Making it up as you go along
Charleston Post and Courier

Mr. Wachner made the Bach sound clear and unconfused, even in the generous echo of Grace Church, and he made the Duruflé not only beautiful, but often bouncy. He used a wide variety of registrations (that means he pulled out a lot of different stops) but kept them all within the bounds of good taste…

Mr. Wachner plunged into his improvisation, pulling out all the stops (literally and figuratively), turning Harold Arlen’s [“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”] into a virtual symphony of color and technique. He filled the piece with inventive harmonies and surprising modulations, and he even threw in a section with bells. The piece had everything but Judy Garland. The crowd loved the whole thing, and so did I.

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Making it up as you go along
Robert Jones
The Post and Courier, South Carolina
May 29, 2003

 

Organ recitals have never been this writer's favorite form of amusement. This is not because I am ignorant of that mass of pipes and bellows called "The King of Instruments." In my college days, I studied the organ with some enthusiasm, and even now I can flail away at Bach's "Gigue Fugue," pedals and all, with enough remaining skill that a passer-by would recognize what I am about.

But actually listening to a program of organ music played by someone else has always bored me. There is something magisterial and remote about organ music, and even organists have to admit that church acoustics tend to blur the musical lines until the textures go mushy and turn into a general roar. Moreover, organ consoles -- the actual instrument with all the keyboards and pedals and pull-out stops -- are usually placed in a choir loft or someplace where nobody can see the player. Thus there is seldom anything at organ concerts to provide a visual focus. In short, it's rather like sitting in a large auditorium listening to a huge radio.

But if you have a fine organist playing a fine instrument, and that instrument is right out there on the stage where you can watch him in action, an organ recital can be not only entertaining but exciting. So it was with Julian Wachner's brief concert on the Intermezzo series on Tuesday afternoon. The organ console was squarely in front, all its keyboards (four, plus the pedal one) in plain view. Mr. Wachner himself is young, very tall, with a wide grin, amused eyes and a thick head of floppy black hair. I liked him on the spot.

He played four pieces: J.S. Bach's big "Fantasia in G major, BWV 572," Maurice Duruflé's "Prelude and Fugue on the name of Alain," and "Les tres riches heures" by Marjorie Merryman. For a finale, the program promised he would improvise on some themes submitted to him.

A word about improvisation. There is more of it around than you might think. In the comedy field, this year has The Second City, also The Have Nots. Both do spur-of-the-moment improvisations on themes suggested by the audience. And of course the very spirit of Jazz is improvisation. In "Tamerlano" the repeat section of all those big arias is supposed to be improvised, and in a sense they are, even though the improvisations were probably improvised some months ago, written down and learned.

But in the time of Bach, all performers were expected to be able to improvise. Sometimes such busy professionals as Mozart would write out the orchestral part of a concerto and then go onto the stage and mostly improvise the solo part. Such skills survived into later centuries too. There's a wonderful story about Bèla Bartok and his wife Ditta onstage at Carnegie Hall, playing the Concerto for Two Pianos. During the performance, so the story goes, the tympanist became confused and pounded out some wrong notes. The wrong notes triggered something in Bartok's creative process and he instantly began improvising on those notes, throwing his wife and conductor Fritz Reiner into momentary panic.

Mr. Wachner made the Bach sound clear and unconfused, even in the generous echo of Grace Church, and he made the Duruflé not only beautiful, but often bouncy. He used a wide variety of registrations (that means he pulled out a lot of different stops) but kept them all within the bounds of good taste. I didn't much care for the Merryman work, which seemed to me one of those correct but uninspired things turned out by technically adept academicians.

When it came time for the improvisations, somebody handed Mr. Wachner a sealed envelope with several scraps of paper in it. He examined them and said one was the familiar "Ein Feste Burg" (or "A mighty fortress is our God"), the other was something on more or less the same lines, and the third was "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The crowd overwhelmingly chose "Rainbow."

Mr. Wachner plunged into his improvisation, pulling out all the stops (literally and figuratively), turning Harold Arlen's great tune into a virtual symphony of color and technique. He filled the piece with inventive harmonies and surprising modulations, and he even threw in a section with bells. The piece had everything but Judy Garland. The crowd loved the whole thing, and so did I.

Wed, May 28, 2003

Organist’s artistry amazes audience
Charleston Post and Courier

Organ improvisation is a rarely practiced art, and the chance to hear an improviser of such gifts as Wachner’s was no doubt an unprecedented thrill for the audience. Three themes previously undisclosed to the artist were presented to the audience, which then voted on which one Wachner would use. The winner was “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” the only non-classical tune of the lot.

But Wachner treated it like anything BUT a pop tune, giving it French symphonic-style elaboration. He used a wealth of registrations as he toyed with snippets and reprises of the familiar tune, ingeniously using its intervals to build cunning harmonic foundations. The theme kept coming back at us, often by surprise, from every part of the instrument: all four manuals and pedal. Perhaps most remarkable was his use of non-melodic sounds of certain key note-sequences to create various moods and impressions.

The final result had discernable form, development and calculated effect – something we usually expect only from finished works. This stupefying wizardry was the hit of the recital, and it had to be heard to be believed.

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Organist’s artistry amazes audience
Lindsay Koob
The Post and Courier, South Carolina
May 28, 2003

 

Tuesday afternoon’s Intermezzo recital – the second of the series – featured the supreme skills and musicianship of Julian Wachner in an unforgettable organ recital at Grace Episcopal Church.

Wachner, active as an organist, composer, choirmaster and conductor, is truly one of the most versatile musicians to grace the Spoleto Festival in recent years. This recital left no doubt as to his extraordinary abilities at the organ, particularly as an improviser. Grace Church’s mighty Reuter instrument, rebuilt in recent years, proved a marvelous vehicle for his artistry.

An organ recital without Bach seems somehow lacking, and Wachner obliged us with a fairly seldom-heard work by the master: his Fantasia in G Major, BWV 572, better known by its French title, “Piece d’Orgue.” The work, like most Fantasias, is quite free in form and style. It begins with delicate broken-chord progressions, softly scattering sound in all directions.

Then a powerful chorale emerges; seamlessly surging and receding like great tidal masses through its lengthy course. A skull-splitting chord both stops the onslaught and sets the stage for the piece’s gradual descent, with brief scale-snippets gently escorting the listener back down from heights of exaltation that only Bach can scale. Wachner plumbed the piece’s depths beautifully, using conservative, but well-chosen registrations.

Maurice Durufle left us very few works, but they are all of fastidious craftsmanship and wondrous effect. His “prelude and Fugue on the name of Alain” is probably his best-known instrumental effort. It is his tribute to his colleague, the brilliant composer and organists Jehan Alain, who died tragically young.

The prelude introduces a five-note thematic core – loosely based on the letters of Alain’s surname – in a ruminative, flowing manner; its tricky, repetitive metric patterns lending it a hypnotic effect. The four-voice fugue employs a slightly expanded version of the basic theme, with a second and faster subject soon joining the fray as the piece builds its way to a rip-roaring climax. Wachner redefined the cliché “letting out all the stops” in this one, leaving the audience breathless.

Marjorie Merryman (b. 1952) based her six-movement suite, “Les tres riches heures,” on a series of splendid miniature illustrations from a 15th century prayer book. Although all six sections are richly remarkable, highlights included the “Dialogues,” which expertly evokes a sense of solemn, inquiring conversation. “Rebellion” depicts the earthward plummeting of fallen angels with chaotic, swirling dissonances; but the final “Celebrations” reimposes majestic celestial order.

Organ improvisation is a rarely practiced art, and the chance to hear an improviser of such gifts as Wachner’s was no doubt an unprecedented thrill for the audience. Three themes previously undisclosed to the artist were presented to the audience, which then voted on which one Wachner would use. The winner was “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” the only non-classical tune of the lot.

But Wachner treated it like anything BUT a pop tune, giving it French symphonic-style elaboration. He used a wealth of registrations as he toyed with snippets and reprises of the familiar tune, ingeniously using its intervals to build cunning harmonic foundations. The theme kept coming back at us, often by surprise, from every part of the instrument: all four manuals and pedal. Perhaps most remarkable was his use of non-melodic sounds of certain key note-sequences to create various moods and impressions.

The final result had discernable form, development and calculated effect – something we usually expect only from finished works. This stupefying wizardry was the hit of the recital, and it had to be heard to be believed.

You can hear this amazing musician again – this time as composer and conductor – in next Friday’s Intermezzo V concert at Grace.

Sun, May 11, 2003

Philharmonic warms to the Ninth
The Providence Journal

The surpise of the night, though, was the impressive showing from the Providence Singers. The group has made great strides in recent years, under Julian Wachner. On Friday, this once ragtag neighborhood group proved a crack ensemble with a rich sound and enviable blend.

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Philharmonic warms to the Ninth
After a slow start, the orchestra catches fire
Channing Gray, Journal Arts Writer
The Providence Journal
May 11, 2003

 

It was almost as though the Rhode Island Philharmonic performed two Beethoven Ninths Friday -- the rather polite, scaled-back opening sections, which often did not scratch the surface of this masterpiece, then the crackling finale that almost blew off the roof of Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

That's when conductor Larry Rachleff loosened up, when the orchestra and chorus -- members of the Providence Singers -- caught fire.

The Philharmonic was scheduled to perform the Beethoven just once, last night, to close out its season. But when that concert sold out, the orchestra added a performance, or rather sold what was essentially the dress rehearsal. That was the most cost-effective way to go, seeing that the musicians would have been using the hall anyway.

But it didn't leave a lot of rehearsal time to put together such a huge, and demanding, work. And that may have been one reason for the flaccid feel to the opening movements, which rolled along without a lot of surprises.

On the plus side, Rachleff kept textures clear. There was lots of snap to the opening chords, where many a conductor chooses to go for a more atmospheric wash of sound.

But there was not a lot of fist-shaking to be heard, except maybe toward the end of the scherzo, that driving, demonic whirlwind of a piece that for years introduced the nightly newscast on NBC.

For a while, I wondered if pushing the orchestra to the lip of the stage and out from under the shell to make room for the chorus altered the hall's acoustics, taking some of the punch out of the sound.

But come the finale, when orchestra and chorus joined forces, there was punch to spare, along with joy, wit and grace.

The Philharmonic went all out, importing the same solo quartet that appeared in the Beethoven Ninth played by the Boston Symphony to mark then-music director Seiji Ozawa's 25th anniversary.

Baritone Robert Honeysucker, who has sung here many times over the years, fired off his big opening solo with ease and majesty. Joining him were tenor Richard Clement, mezzo Mary Westbrook-Geha and the luminous Dominque LaBelle in the soprano parts. As expected, the foursome had the edge and poise needed for a great reading of the Ninth.

The surpise of the night, though, was the impressive showing from the Providence Singers. The group has made great strides in recent years, under Julian Wachner. On Friday, this once ragtag neighborhood group proved a crack ensemble with a rich sound and enviable blend.

Tue, April 1, 2003

Music for Organ and Voices
The Diapason

At the Lighting of the Lamps, reviewed by James McCray.

“This is a sophisticated, well-crafted work that will require solid performers in all areas.”

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Music for Organ and Voices
James McCray
The Diapason 94:4:1121
April 2003

At the Lighting of the Lamps
Julian Wachner. SATB, organ and flute solo, E.C. Schirmer Co., 5810

No price given (M+).

There are three movements in this set, with the third longer than the first two combined. The texts are in Latin (translation on inside cover) and date from the fifth century. The flute part has a soloistic character, but is not overly difficult. The choral parts tend to be homophonic with some unaccompanied singing. The organ part, on three staves, has some challenging areas both as solo and with the choir. This is a sophisticated, well-crafted work that will require solid performers in all areas.

Mon, March 17, 2003

Not the same old Passion
Montreal Gazette

It was a St. John Passion with a difference at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul yesterday afternoon. The performance formed part of a church service, as it had done when Bach premiered it in Leipzig in 1723.

Thus, it began with an opening chorale for the congregation, followed by an address and a prayer. A short sermon was heard between Parts 1 and 2. Moreover, the congregation was invited to join in the singing of the chorales, which the choir sang alternately in English and French.

The performance - led competently by the church’s music director; Julian Wachner - also featured the church’s choir, plus a period-instrument ensemble with Hank Knox at the organ, and six soloists.

Although the opening, Herr unser Herrscher, sounded dense and muddy, clarity improved later and the performance proved very rewarding overall. The dramatic choruses and fugues in the second part proved particularly striking.

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Not the same old Passion
Ilse Zadrozny
The Montreal Gazette, March 17, 2003

It was a St. John Passion with a difference at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul yesterday afternoon. The performance formed part of a church service, as it had done when Bach premiered it in Leipzig in 1723.

Thus, it began with an opening chorale for the congregation, followed by an address and a prayer. A short sermon was heard between Parts 1 and 2. Moreover, the congregation was invited to join in the singing of the chorales, which the choir sang alternately in English and French.

The performance - led competently by the church's music director; Julian Wachner - also featured the church's choir, plus a period-instrument ensemble with Hank Knox at the organ, and six soloists.

Although the opening, Herr unser Herrscher, sounded dense and muddy, clarity improved later and the performance proved very rewarding overall. The dramatic choruses and fugues in the second part proved particularly striking.

Top credit must go to some very fine solos: Marcel van Neer proved a highly expressive and exquisite Evangelist with excellent diction, soprano Meredith Hall's two arias had thrilling radiance, and Daniel Taylor's aria Es ist vollbracht was filled with superb and deeply touching feeling.

Baritone Nathaniel Watson sand very good recitatives as Pilate (though his arias were less impressive), but baritone Michael Meraw was a merely adequate Jesus. The arias of tenor Brad Peloquin left something to be desired in German enunciation and evenness of tone.

The unusual historical-instrument sonorities heard in obbligato solos accompanying arias were as remarkable as they were attractive.

Sat, March 1, 2003

Julian Wachner Composer-conductor
La Scena Musicale

“Being a conductor is the hardest thing in the world. One has to combine the right gesture, a wealth of knowledge, the ability to inspire people and the vision to put together projects or seasons. The act of composition is a solitary activity; it is such a different mindset,” said Wachner, who prides himself as very much a composer’s advocate. “Gunther Schuller’s book The Complete Conductor blew the whistle on the major conductors and how they were distorting the masterpieces. As a composer, I am able to anticipate the direction another composer is taking, and it helps me better understand the work as a conductor.”

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Julian Wachner Composer-conductor
Wah-Keung Chang
La Scena Musicale, March 2003

Composers who are successful conductors are not that common. Gustav Mahler and Leonard Bernstein are probably the best examples. With a stirring performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in February, McGill's Julian Wachner is making a case for this rare double career.

Wachner, who has considered himself a composer since writing a Te Deum at age 6, has been conducting for about 15, years after receiving much encouragement. Last year the 33-year old maestro arrived from years of study in Boston and took over as head of McGill's choral department. He had already amassed a prolific oeuvre of 50 compositions --soon to be published by Schirmer--many studio recordings, and excellent reviews as a conductor.

"Being a conductor is the hardest thing in the world. One has to combine the right gesture, a wealth of knowledge, the ability to inspire people and the vision to put together projects or seasons. The act of composition is a solitary activity; it is such a different mindset," said Wachner, who prides himself as very much a composer's advocate. "Gunther Schuller's book The Complete Conductor blew the whistle on the major conductors and how they were distorting the masterpieces. As a composer, I am able to anticipate the direction another composer is taking, and it helps me better understand the work as a conductor."

Wachner's breakthrough as a conductor came two years ago when he met Emmanuel Villaumme at the Spoleto Festival. "His approach was just so wonderfully alive, and he gave me a new prioritizing of why we are making music. I think my generation has a different view on performance because of recordings. Particularly in early music which are recorded closely and perfectly, we need to rediscover what it is like to make music with other human beings. There has been a big change for me in how I approach rehearsals and the act of performing in concerts.

"So much of what I'm doing is highly architectural, much like taking a building apart and rebuilding it. How the different players work together. Why the cello references the horn line and affects how the altos sing. I try to integrate scholarship with a real expressive intuitive manner of music-making."

Wachner's strength lies outside the 19th century, in composers such as Machaut, Dufay, Ockeghem, renaissance and baroque polyphony and the 20th century. "I view the 19th century through the lens of the 17th and 18th centuries. I'm aware that Brahms is a Schütz fanatic. Then the idea of tactus means something; all of his links to polyphony that labeled him a stodgy classicist by the Wagnerites. There is an element of creating something really new by going back to the old, by putting a 19th century harmonic vocabulary on it. Many of the harmonies that are so radical are really 15th and 16th century style and harmonies. I try to look at a bigger rhythmic sense than taking more rubato; a more vital sense of rhythm and pulse is very important in the 19th century."

How does conducting affect his composition? "My music became much more accessible. I was writing some really wild stuff, and now I like to have my music have an audience, with a balance between sincerity and accessibility. It's post-Bernstein, it's a rich sort of French harmonic vocabulary with a New York City rhythmic energy to it, with melodies, tunes, lots of lydian and octotonic scales."

Wachner recently took up the prestigious post of musical director of the Church of St. Andrew's and St. Paul's. "I grew up with liturgical music, and I don't think I can do without it. I find that I need to be very busy in order for me to be inspired creatively in composition."

Mon, February 17, 2003

Old and new harmonize in Vespers
Montreal Gazette

This stylistic compendium of 1610, based on Gregorian chant yet full of innovative choral and instrumental effects, is a kind of gateway to classical music as it is broadly understood. Whether it should be viewed as an ancient curiosity or heard as something immediate is normally a dilemma for the modern listener. It can be both, as it was in this remarkably vivid, yet impeccably of-the-period performance under the new McGill choral honcho, Julian Wachner…The massed singers were splendid, whether in busy counterpoint or in radiant passages of sustained harmony…
A master of balancing diverse elements, Wachner deserved even more credit for the rhythmic exactitude of his conducting.

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Old and new harmonize in Vespers
Wachner leads dazzling performance - Monteverdi work could be heard as both ancient curiosity and something immediate

Arthur Kaptainis
The Montreal Gazette

February 17, 2003

The Faculty of Music at McGill University has made an interesting pest of itself by mounting symphonic, choral and operatic events that are too grand in scale and professional calibre for an overworked critic to ignore. Now the early-music people have got into the act. On Saturday, three McGill divisions - the Baroque Orchestra, Cappella Antica and Chamber Singers rented no less an edifice than St. Patrick's Basilica to present Monteverdi's Vespers.

This stylistic compendium of 1610, based on Gregorian chant yet full of innovative choral and instrumental effects, is a kind of gateway to classical music as it is broadly understood. Whether it should be viewed as an ancient curiosity or heard as something immediate is normally a dilemma for the modern listener. It can be both, as it was in this remarkably vivid, yet impeccably of-the-period performance under the new McGill choral honcho, Julian Wachner.

The 48 singers included 17 soloists, who moved from the rear to the front of the chancel - or, for echo effects, to the balcony - according to the individual needs of each of the 13 movements. These ranged from the poised and peaceful Audi Coelum to the glorious concluding Magnificat, a multi-sectional work that is major in its own right.

It was hard to select highlights from the dazzling array of sonorities. Certainly the silky tone of the plainchant (whether sung within or between movements) was a central element. The tenors were matched by the altos in this duty in the Et exultavit section of the last movement. The massed singers were splendid, whether in busy counterpoint or in radiant passages of sustained harmony.

Instrumentalists also were fine, notably in the Sonata Soprano Sancta Maria, an energetic concerto grosso with token choral lines. Far from making excuses for the period instruments, the listener could only admire the perfection of the sonority produced by the sackbuts and cornetts (the latter occasionally taxed by the high tessitura) and, in particular, the richness of the solo violins.

St. Patrick's was the right place to create a resonant but essentially lucid sound. A master of balancing diverse elements, Wachner deserved even more credit for the rhythmic exactitude of his conducting.

Monteverdi’s passages of static harmony can sound strange to the contemporary listener (or at least to non-fans of Philip Glass). Pace and punctuation were critical to maintaining interest.

It goes without saying that the space was visually uplifting – an aid to spiritual comprehension, even it seemed to dwarf the performers at first. The Vespers remain an intriguing mix of old, new, sacred and secular impulses. Perhaps this is why the work is relevant to a society that finds itself in a similar situation.

Sat, February 15, 2003

Mastering Monteverdi
Montreal Gazette

Wachner is currently in his second year as head of the choral program at McGill, where he follows the retired Iwan Edwards. His wife is a dean at Boston University and his cell phone still has a Boston exchange. This is not promising, but Wachner appears to be in Montreal for the long haul. He was recently named music director of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, where he will be undertaking not only Sunday-morning duties but special projects like Bach’s St. John Passion. He seems to be smitten by the city. It is, for one thing, a welcome change.

“In Boston, everybody knew who I was, the young kid,” he explained. “It was a little bit like (conductor) Yannick (Nezet-Seguin) here, or (conductor) Jacques Lacombe. I felt that to grow as a musician I really had to leave that comfortable market. “There is really a different aesthetic here. The approach is much more emotional than cerebral - Boston being such a heavy university town, it’s so German in its aesthetics and its approach to music-making. “I don’t want to sound cliché, but the French influence in Montreal really puts a different spin on it. I think there’s an immediate feeling vs. a ‘thinking’ approach. “This was reflected in some of the comments I heard in the first months I was working at McGill: ‘When are we going to get to the music? This is so analytical, so intellectual.”

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Mastering Monteverdi
Vespers to feature original instrumentation - Julian Wachner will lead McGill ensemble
ina work so demanding that professionals seldom perform it
Arthur Kaptainis
Montreal Gazette, 15 February, 2003

"Frankly; I don't know of any other North American university where you could put on a piece like this, with its original instrumentation," Julian Wachner said a few minutes before a rehearsal. "It's pretty remarkable." Yes, Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers are seldom enough performed by professional ensembles, so great are its demands. But this is McGill, where the massive symphonies of Mahler have been embraced as standard repertoire. Why not get into the Big M who was changing the face of Western music 300 years earlier?

The performance, involving the combined forces of the McGill Baroque Orchestra (under Hank Knox), the Cappella Antica (under Valerie Kinslow) and the McGill Chorus (Wachner), was originally planned for midsize Pollack Hall. John Grew, the organist who established the baroque program at McGill 25 years ago, had other ideas.

"That is absolutely the wrong space for this," were Grew's words as Wachner reproduced them, with a convincing Grew accent. The concert, accordingly; will unfold tonight at 8 in the more spacious and spiritual environment of St. Patrick's Basilica. Wachner will be at the helm.

While the 12 movements of Vespers are in essence choral- and can be performed in a "little" version with only an organ accompaniment -they are interesting to the unchurched public for their spectacular and varied use of instruments. Monteverdi put a lot of heart into his accompaniments. His 1607 opera Orfeo can reasonably be called the first ever piece of music to be orchestrated in the modern sense of the term. That makes his Vespers, published in 1610, the second. The McGill performance will comprise 24 instrumentalists, including players of that popular ancestor of the trombone, the sackbut.

There is variety in Monteverdi's choral writing as well. The first motet, Nigra Sum from the Song of Songs, is for tenor soloist. This is followed by a psalm, Laudate Pueri, for double choir. A duo and trio are intermingled with movements for multiple voices with echo effects. Some of these will require singers to be stationed in the balconies. "This was an audition piece, so he was showing off all the ways he could compose," Wachner said of Monteverdi, who probably wanted to escape his low-paying job in Mantua for something more princely in Rome (he settled for St. Mark's in Venice).

It is probable that the soprano and alto parts were sung by males in Monteverdi's time. True to contemporary trends, the McGill chorus of 45 includes some high-flying males. Wachner has taken care to mix voices carefully. Men will apply falsetto selectively and women will avoid the operatic sound known as chest voice. But do not be fooled by the liturgical title or Monteverdi's use of Gregorian tunes. The Vespers are not sombre. "It is an encyclopaedia of the possibilities of form, of texture, of style," Wachner said of the work, which, with Gregorian chants sung between movements to cleanse the palate, will last about 100 minutes. "It would be like going to a symphony program and hearing not only a sonata-allegro movement and a scherzo but a string quartet and a piece for oboe and piano -all the different textures that are possible in traditional classical music."

Born in Hollywood, Calif., Wachner, 33, was raised musically as an Anglican choir boy at St. Thomas's Church in New York City. More recently, he worked and taught in that early-music hotbed, Boston. More than 40 of his sacred compositions have been published by the reputable Schirmer firm.

Wachner is currently in his second year as head of the choral program at McGill, where he follows the retired Iwan Edwards. His wife is a dean at Boston University and his cell phone still has a Boston exchange. This is not promising, but Wachner appears to be in Montreal for the long haul. He was recently named music director of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, where he will be undertaking not only Sunday-morning duties but special projects like Bach's St. John Passion. He seems to be smitten by the city. It is, for one thing, a welcome change.

"In Boston, everybody knew who I was, the young kid," he explained. "It was a little bit like (conductor) Yannick (Nezet-Seguin) here, or (conductor) Jacques Lacombe. I felt that to grow as a musician I really had to leave that comfortable market. "There is really a different aesthetic here. The approach is much more emotional than cerebral - Boston being such a heavy university town, it's so German in its aesthetics and its approach to music-making. "I don't want to sound cliché, but the French influence in Montreal really puts a different spin on it. I think there's an immediate feeling vs. a 'thinking' approach. "This was reflected in some of the comments I heard in the first months I was working at McGill: 'When are we going to get to the music? This is so analytical, so intellectual."

Wed, January 1, 2003

Guide to Records: Julian Wachner
American Record Guide

And so it goes: deft touches of inspiration - notably in the nicely crafted Enchantment for flute, bassoon and piano…Undoubtedly gifted, Wachner is still finding his own voice…At any rate there is enough of value here to keep me interested.

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Guide to Records: Julian Wachner
Lehman
American Record Guide
January 2003

Julian Wachner; Quartet #1; Cycles; Landscapes; Enchantment; Dances and Apparitions; Cymbale
Boston Sinfonietta, others
Arsis 129 - 78 minutes

An earlier Arsis disc of Julian Wachner's choral music earned Philip Greenfield's appreciation for its idiomatic and effective vocal writing. Here now are six well-enough-performed-and-recorded instrumental chamber pieces, all from the 1990s, by this California-born (1969) composer who currently teaches and conducts at Montreal's McGill University.

Wachner's First Quartet is in three movements. I is a slow, tonal chorale overlaid by elaborate ornaments and - most annoying - long smears of glissando. II is a fast dance (old-fashioned enough to have been written by Dvorak) that fights off an attack of frantic Bartokian screeching. III begins with a

late-romantic adagio prologue, then moves into a brisk fugue that degenerates into a manic, cacophonous climax before subsiding into a slow, tonal chorale much like the one in the first movement. The subtext of all this is the typical post-modern struggle or conflation of tonality versus anti-tonality, and (though this may be the point) it leaves me impatient and frustrated. Why can't Wachner just choose a language and stick with it?

Cycles, for clarinet and piano, is more internally consistent and more satisfying; its free chromaticism encompasses sinuous melodic lines, post-impressionistic harmonies, and (in the exciting finale) driving asymmetrical ostinato rhythms. Landscapes, for flute, saxophone, cello, and piano (a wonderful grouping), is in five movements and again reveals Wachner's strengths and weaknesses. I presents long-lined cello and saxophone coloraturas over rippling marimba figures; it's quite lovely, except for the ungainly slow cello glissando. Why on earth does Wachner resort to this trite, ugly, mood-spoiling device? II and IV are solo interludes for saxophone and cello. Best of all if III, a limpid and delicately poetic trio for flute, marimba, and saxophone. But V ruins the whole effect of the piece by stating directly what's been hinted at all along (as for instance in the last notes of I): that the piece is a fantasy on Debussy's Des Pas sur la Neige (Footprints in the snow), one of his piano preludes - and one of the most haunting and beautiful works in the entire canon of Western music. Alas, blatantly rearranging this unfathomable masterpiece, as Wachner does in the last movement of Landscapes, not only leaves us with an impoverished and cheapened version of the original, but also undermines the subtlety and implication of Wachner's earlier hints of Debussy's prelude.

And so it goes: deft touches of inspiration - notably in the nicely crafted Enchantment for flute, bassoon and piano - alongside clumsy mishandlings and crudities. Undoubtedly gifted, Wachner is still finding his own voice, still in need of self-criticism. Since that puts him in company with most composers these days, I guess we should just keep listening and wish him the best. At any rate there is enough of value here to keep me interested.

Fri, November 29, 2002

Review: Wachner, Clarinet Concerto
The Boston Globe

Wachner led a fiery performance of Beethoven’s ‘‘Egmont’’ Overture and a compelling account of Brahms’s Third Symphony, a piece many conductors avoid because it is difficult - and because it ends quietly. Wachner’s handling of the limpid and sighing third movement was masterly.

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Richard Dyer
The Boston Globe
November 29, 2002

BRAHMS – Symphony No. 3
BEETHOVEN – Egmond Overture
RAVEL – Don Quichotte a Dulcinee
WACHNER – Clarinet Concerto

Wachner led a fiery performance of Beethoven's ''Egmont'' Overture and a compelling account of Brahms's Third Symphony, a piece many conductors avoid because it is difficult - and because it ends quietly. Wachner's handling of the limpid and sighing third movement was masterly. There were two soloists, both Boston Conservatory faculty members: baritone Sanford Sylvan and BSO clarinetist Scott Andrews. Sylvan sang Ravel's cycle ''Don Quichotte a Dulcinee,'' bringing a complex characterization to each contrasting song - lilting and seductive; prayerful and dignified; unbuttoned and, well, drunk. Sylvan's French was superb, his coloratura easy and ebullient. Andrews offered Wachner's own Clarinet Concerto, which another artist premiered a couple of weeks ago with the Quincy Symphony. The first movement begins with a pulse that generates cloudlike bursts of color and begins to push them around, like parts of a mobile; the other two movements are jazzy, energetic, and ingenious. Andrews offered big-time chops and wonderful subtlety of tonal coloration. The orchestra was unrecognizable as the willing but often challenged band of the past. The committed performances Sunday night were a tribute to Wachner - but also to the groundwork laid by his two predecessors this season, and to the recruiting skills of [Richard] Ortner.

Fri, November 1, 2002

CD Review: The Company of Heaven
American Record Guide

article by Charles H. Parsons

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Britten: "The Company of Heaven; Te Deum in C; Prelude & Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria" Marsh Chapel Choir, Back Bay Chorale & Orchestra/ Julian Wachner, org
Arsis 134--60 minutes
Charles H. Parsons
American Record Guide 65:6 [November-December 2002] p.86-87

Early in Britten's career he composed incidental music for plays. By 1935 he had entered into a contract with the British General Post Office to compose background music for the department's documentary films. Two years later he began a similar arrangement with BBC Radio. Two of his early part-songs had already been performed by the BBC Singers. In 1936 and 1937 the BBC broadcast a series of programs celebrating the major feast days of the Christian church: All Saints's Day, Christmas, Holy Week, etc. The programs were produced by Robin Whitworth, and the literary texts were selected by Ellis Roberts, who also devised the structure of each program. Harvey was engaged to select bits of already composed religious music to fit around the spoken selections. In 1937 one of the programs was to celebrate Michaelmas, the Feast of St Michael and All Angels (September 29). For this occasion the three men, citing a lack of music expressly for Michaelmas, chose to commission Britten to compose music for the broadcast. This was actually Britten's second BBC commission.

The texts chosen by Roberts are hymn verses, biblical passages, and a selection of brief poetic excerpts by Theodosius, Joseph the Hymnographer, William Blake, John Milton, Thomas Haywood, Christina Rossetti, John Bunyan, and a few probably written by Roberts himself. The two narrators generally speak their lines unaccompanied to introduce each musical selection, but on several occasions are require to speak over the music. The piece has three sections, all dealing with angels. Part 1 begins with an orchestral depiction of chaos, leading to passages speaking of the angels before creation. Part 2 deals with angels in Scripture and Part 3 with angels ''in common life and at our death''. There are 11 musical numbers, ranging from two to six minutes in length. As usual with the BBC, funds were not generous for the hiring of musicians, so Britten created a lot for small musical forces. Company is scored for soprano and tenor soloists, mixed chorus, and strings, with occasional passages for organ and timpani. A glorious setting of the hymn 'Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones' concludes the work.

Company has fared well in recordings. Philip Brunelle and the London Philharmonic Choir and English Chamber Orchestra is an excellent performance recorded in warm but slightly tubby sound (Virgin 91107, March/April 1991). Better still is a 1999 performance on Silva (July/Aug 2000) by the Crouch End Festival Chorus and National Sinfonia conducted by David Temple. The Crouch End folk are not as smoothly blended as their London colleagues, but there is a simple majesty and a greater enthusiasm. Crouch End's soloists are not as good as their London colleagues, but

Crouch End has the better, more imaginative speakers. (Will Todd's moving cantata The Burning Road is also part of the Silva recording, a two-disc set.)

With such a hard act to follow the Boston folk on Arsis seem a bit pale. They are quite solid, but more bland, less exciting, with a certain caution that holds them back. The two speakers are a strange mixture of American (Bostonian?) and English accents and interpretations, rarely as imaginative as the Crouch End speakers.

The Te Deum in C and Vittoria Prelude and Fugue also suffer by comparison. These are not poor performances (actually they are quite good), just not as impressive as the competition.

Texts are included.

Wed, September 4, 2002

McGill Orchestra returns to Mahler
Montreal Gazette

Review by Arthur Kaptainis

Sat, August 31, 2002

Cast sparkles in ‘Albert Herring’
The Boston Globe

Red House Opera Group review by Richard Dyer

Sun, August 25, 2002

Julian Wachner is orchestrating a new music festival
The Providence Journal

We’ve got WaterFire, Downcity and the mall.  Could it be that Providence is ready for a major classical music festival along the lines of Charleston’s Spoleto?  Conductor-composer Julian Wachner says yes.  And if anyone can pull it off, it’s probably Wachner, who during the past six seasons, has molded the once ragtag Providence Singers into a top-flight choral ensemble.

Fri, August 23, 2002

A musicological marriage
The Boston Globe

Indefatigable Julian Wachner continues to be a major presence on the New England scene, despite his move to Canada last year to teach at McGill University. 

The composer/conductor and some of his friends are hoping to create and American counterpart to the famous British festival created by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears at Aldeburgh in England.

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