Press

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.

Fri, June 11, 2004

A ticket to ‘Ride’
The Boston Globe

Wachner may have left his positions here, as music director at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel and conductor of the Back Bay Chorale, but he is keeping up his New England ties. On June 19 on the Boston Common, Charles Ansbacher leads the Boston Landmarks Orchestra in the world-premiere performances of Wachner’s new work for children, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” (many subsequent performances will follow during the summer throughout the region, and at some of them Wachner will deliver the narration himself). And next Thursday through June 20, the Red House Festival, curated by Wachner, presents its first season in Providence.

Wachner speaks with the precision of a program annotator and the verve of a composer in describing “The Midnight Ride”: “It is a 20-minute piece, and the model is Prokofiev’s `Peter and the Wolf.’ The idea is to tell the fun story of Paul Revere as it is narrated in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, and also to serve educational purposes by showing what it is possible for an orchestra to do, how the families of instruments connect with each other and play against each other.” This is the second Landmarks Orchestra commission for such a work; the first was Daniel Pinkham’s ” Make Way for Ducklings” last season. “I didn’t listen to it because I didn’t want to get freaked out,” Wachner confesses.

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A ticket to 'Ride'
Julian Wachner returns to NE with a new `Paul Revere'
composition and a music festival
Richard Dyer
Boston Globe, June 11, 2004

 

Julian Wachner, composer and conductor, is 34 now and lives in Canada, so the longstanding description of him as Boston's most promising and multitalented young musician no longer holds. "I'm getting gray hair," he says ruefully. He's speaking, characteristically, on the telephone from an airport, and the rush of words as usual threatens to break the sound barrier.

Wachner may have left his positions here, as music director at Boston University's Marsh Chapel and conductor of the Back Bay Chorale, but he is keeping up his New England ties. On June 19 on the Boston Common, Charles Ansbacher leads the Boston Landmarks Orchestra in the world-premiere performances of Wachner's new work for children, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" (many subsequent performances will follow during the summer throughout the region, and at some of them Wachner will deliver the narration himself). And next Thursday through June 20, the Red House Festival, curated by Wachner, presents its first season in Providence.

Wachner speaks with the precision of a program annotator and the verve of a composer in describing "The Midnight Ride": "It is a 20-minute piece, and the model is Prokofiev's `Peter and the Wolf.' The idea is to tell the fun story of Paul Revere as it is narrated in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, and also to serve educational purposes by showing what it is possible for an orchestra to do, how the families of instruments connect with each other and play against each other." This is the second Landmarks Orchestra commission for such a work; the first was Daniel Pinkham's " Make Way for Ducklings" last season. "I didn't listen to it because I didn't want to get freaked out," Wachner confesses.

"What was particularly interesting to me was the way I was living in a completely different world up in Montreal while I was writing this," he says. "The Canadians are very against the war in Iraq, and there I was in my own little patriotic shell, trying to re-create some of the optimism of the original story and of Longfellow's 19th-century version of Americana."

The Red House Festival represents a long-term project of Wachner's -- the name comes from the house in Aldeburgh, England, where Benjamin Britten lived and worked. Britten is one of the composer's musical idols. "This year we are laying down the embryonic skeleton of a festival," he says. "Next year we hope to do a double bill of two of Britten's church operas."

There will be four concerts -- a cabaret night; the Rhode Island premiere of Ned Rorem's evening-length song-cycle "Evidence of Things Not Seen"; a chamber music concert in which Wachner will play a piano piece for four hands with his old friend from Boston University days, Linda Osborn-Blaschke; and a performance of Rachmaninoff's "Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom." The venues are two churches and a nightclub.

"There are two reasons for this festival," Wachner says. "One is that we want to capitalize on the renaissance of Providence. . . . The other reason is so that my friends and I can get together and play some music."

Osborn-Blaschke, who is one of the Red House planners, says, "I studied at the Britten-Pears Institute in Aldeburgh, and I was very struck by the festival there. It covered everything from Celtic folk music to new works. The performers were all musicians who were friends who wanted to work together, and it was very connected to the community -- the people who lived there didn't feel as if the festival were something removed from their lives. . . . People learned not to be afraid of music. All of us wanted to see if we could create an atmosphere like that here."

Wachner inspires intense loyalty among his friends and colleagues. Osborn-Blaschke explains, "The reason is that there is so much joy when he is making music. When he was director of the Back Bay Chorale, sometimes the last thing I wanted to do after a full day's work was to go and play a chorus rehearsal. But I had the time of my life and never wanted to leave. Working with Julian on music is a learning experience for everybody, including himself." Things are busy for Wachner in Montreal, where he teaches and conducts at McGill University. He also supervises the music in the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. "It has the largest organ in Canada, a big choir, and a big music program," he says. "They came after me, and they have been generous in allowing me lots of flexibility to go and do other things, so it is a little paradise."

His life in Canada parallels his life in Boston, but he hasn't had to build it himself, as he did here. "In Canada, people know me as a professional musician with a lot of experience. It is easier to make things happen, and the relationships are more straightforward. In Boston I was a student of David Hoose's, a member of the Cantata Singers under his direction, and later a professional colleague, and it was all a bit confusing."

Wachner does have some regrets about leaving: "I don't know whether it was the wrong time to go -- two months after I left the whole world changed on 9/11, and Montreal became much farther away from the US than it was before. Personally I feel I have grown as a human being and as a musician, but I do miss being able to call up some random person I knew in Boston and say, `Hey, let's go out and do something.' "

Wachner is developing a busy career as a guest conductor of regional orchestras. "That's growing and percolating, the guest conducting, and I'm a finalist for the music directorship of the Sioux City Symphony," he says.

At the same time Wachner the composer finds himself in considerable demand. He has written 10 pieces within the last year, six of them big, time-consuming orchestral works. An organ concerto will be premiered this summer, and he's busy writing a 90-minute opera based on Longfellow's poem "Evangeline."

"This poem doesn't have a good reputation anymore," he says, "but the themes of exile and of displacement in general seem quite relevant these days."

So is he a composer-conductor or a conductor-composer? Wachner thinks it's still too early to tell: "My publisher sold 20,000 copies of my pieces in 2002, which gave me an incredible feeling -- people with no personal connection to me are performing my music now, mostly the choral pieces for use in church. My string quartet is not flying off the shelves yet -- but it did get trashed in one of the record magazines!"

Sat, May 8, 2004

Fears over Levine’s health
Montreal Gazette

The McGill Chamber Orchestra’s 2004-2005 season under Boris Brott looks notably more daring than usual - if you know where to look…On February 7 there is another choral event, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, along with the Canadian premiere of Julian Wachner’s Te Deum. McGill University choristers do the honours.

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Fears over Levine's health
Rumours circulate of conductor's poor concentration
Arthur Kaptainis
The Montreal Gazette
Saturday, May 08, 2004

 

Sixty going on 90? That is the inside word (and now to some extent the outside word) on James Levine, who is not only adding the Boston Symphony Orchestra to his duties next season but has extended his contract as Metropolitan Opera artistic director until 2011.

The American conductor (and gifted pianist) admits he has suffered from sciatica and tremors in his left arm and leg for a decade. The only good news is that his condition has not worsened.

At a Met performance last March of Mozart's Don Giovanni he seemed pretty much his rotund, semi-mobile, sweaty, cherubic self.

Like Luciano Pavarotti, Levine expanded to Michelin proportions early in his career. So poor to start with, such physiques show little evidence of decline.

And it is natural to expect conductors not to worsen at what they do best. Most get better as interpreters with age. Leonard Bernstein, who smoked his way to his grave, became a loftier interpreter in his shaky final years. Claudio Abbado, though much weakened, seems to be conducting his way out of a bout with stomach cancer.

As the most visible maestro of the Americas, Levine has been the subject of unrelenting rumours throughout his career. These are dismissed as fictions by former Met press secretary Johanna Fiedler in her excellent administrative history of the company, Molto Agitato.

Now, anonymous sources are talking about Levine's occasional losses of concentration on the podium. With so many anonymous sources biting at him, he might be entitled.

The conductor cannot win. By talking openly to the New York Times about his sciatica, Levine has guaranteed himself a season of high scrutiny. I suspect he will prevail.

- - -

Sixty-six-year-old Charles Dutoit is showing no signs of his age, according to Mark Swed. Commenting on his "jet black" hair two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times critic had almost nothing but praise for the former Montreal Symphony Orchestra music director as he faced the L.A. Philharmonic.

In a piece headlined " Montreal's loss is L.A.'s gain," Swed acknowledges Dutoit's new-found reputation as a tyrant but concludes that his rehearsal methods, "whatever they might be," get results.

"In the end, there seemed to have been little to worry about. Dutoit readily achieved with the Philharmonic the tightly focused, tart sound that was his trademark in Montreal."

The only problem: he dropped his baton in Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture. Stay tuned.

- - -

The McGill Chamber Orchestra's 2004-2005 season under Boris Brott looks notably more daring than usual - if you know where to look.

Opening night, while devoted mostly to hits by Bach, includes Pierre Mercure's Divertissement, one of a few works by that authentically gifted Quebec composer, who died in an auto accident in 1966.

Mozart and the Four Temperaments is the title of the next concert of Oct. 18, which couples Mozart's unsurprising Piano Concerto No. 14 (Sara Buechner, soloist) with the Four Temperaments of Paul Hindemith. While this is a relatively warm score by the mechanical standards of the composer, it is far from box-office candy. Nor is Joaquin Turina's seldom-encountered Symphonic Rhapsody Op. 66.

Next comes Handel's inevitable Messiah on Nov. 22, billed the first of the season (which is to say, too early). I remember trying to convince the late Lotte Brott, who managed the orchestra with legendary acumen, to program Handel's Judas Maccabaeus as an interesting alternative (and Hannukah celebration). No dice.

On February 7 there is another choral event, Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass, along with the Canadian premiere of Julian Wachner's Te Deum. McGill University choristers do the honours. This might be a good time to remind readers that the "McGill" moniker used by the orchestra for almost 60 years denotes no administrative connection to the university.

Pianist Anton Kuerti returns on April 18 to play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in a program including Beethoven's Symphony No. 8. There is some modern spice in this program as well, in the form of Celebrations, by the late Andre Prevost. The May 9, 2005, program that is not only strictly from the 20th century but a test of the orchestra's mettle: Stravinsky's Apollon Musagete, Ginastera's Concerto for Strings and Bartok's Divertimento. This looks like a repudiation of the old star system the orchestra cultivated for years.

The season finale of May 30, 2005, includes the Suite Hebraique No. 1 of the late Canadian Srul Irving Glick and Schubert's Symphony No. 5. Martin Beaver, whose Beethoven performance this season went unnoticed because of an outbreak of Nagano news, will be heard in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1.

Canadian content will surely rise on March 14 when the orchestra celebrates the 90th birthday of its founder, Alexander Brott, who continues to make cameo appearances in McGill Chamber Orchestra concerts.

Everything is TBA, including a surprise soloist. Might we expect some 21st-century music from this indefatigable composer/conductor?

Concerts other than Messiah and the birthday celebration are in Pollack Hall. Call (514) 487-5190 for subscription information.

Wed, April 28, 2004

Finalists chosen for symphony conductor/music director
Sioux City Journal

On Oct. 16, Julian Wachner will take the podium. In addition to serving as co-director of the Young Artist’s Composition Program at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, Wachner is associate professor of music at McGill University, artistic director of the Providence Singers and music director of the Church of St. Andrew/St. Paul, Montreal. He also will conduct a Classical Kids family concert Oct. 17 in Sioux City.

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Finalists chosen for symphony conductor/music director
Staff writer
Sioux City Journal
April 28, 2004

 

The eight finalists for the position of conductor and music director of the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra were annouced Tuesday.

The eight were selected from the more than 115 applications received from conductors from across the country and around the world.

"Having so many talented candidates is truly an exciting and wonderful problem to have," said David Krogh, Symphony Board president. "We know, and people in Siouxland know, what a fantastic orchestra we have here, so it's gratifying to see the number and quality of conductors from all over the world who are eager to come to Sioux City as our next music director."

Each of the finalists will serve as guest conductor of one of the Symphony's eight concerts during the 2004-05 season. Each candidate will spend approximately one week in Sioux City rehearsing with the Symphony in preparation for a concert. During the week, the candidates also will be interviewed by the search committee, meet with board members at large, attend a private reception for community members and meet with Symphony staff and players.

"A music director search is a fascinating time, both for the orchestra and the audience," said Doug Gerhart, the Symphony's executive director. "There is no other time in the life of an orchestra that one can see and hear the immense impact conductors have on the sound of an orchestra."

The first candidate to demonstrate her impact on the orchestra will be Zian Zhang at the season's opening concert Sept. 11. Zhang is a member of the New York Philharmonic conducting staff and a first prize winner of the Maazel/Vilar International Conductor's Competition. A native of Dandon, China, Zhang is the music director of the Concert Orchestra and a faculty member at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.

On Oct. 16, Julian Wachner will take the podium. In addition to serving as co-director of the Young Artist's Composition Program at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, Wachner is associate professor of music at McGill University, artistic director of the Providence Singers and music director of the Church of St. Andrew/St. Paul, Montreal. He also will conduct a Classical Kids family concert Oct. 17 in Sioux City.

Mark Gibson, who heads the conducting program at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati will conduct the Symphony's Nov. 13 concert. Trained in the United States with Gustav Meier, Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein, Gibson maintains a worldwide conducting career. He is in his fourth year as artistic director of the Music Festival of Lucca, Italy.

Conductor David Searle will work with the Symphony and the Siouxland Civic Dance Association for two performances of "The Nutcracker" Dec. 4 and 5. Currently, he is chief conductor of the Helsinki University Symphony Orchestra in Finland. He is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, Northwestern University and the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki where he earned his diploma in conducting with highest honors.

Conductor Lawrence Loh will direct the Symphony's performance of Handel's "Messiah" Dec. 18. He currently serves as associate conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and former was associate conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

In early March, the Symphony will introduce the Inaugural Iowa Piano Competition featuring 12 world-class pianists competing for $14,000 in prize money. The three finalists in the competition will work with candidate Edward Polochick when they perform during the Symphony's March 5 concert. Polochick also will conduct the March 6 Classical Kids family concert.

Polochick, founder and artistic director of Concert Artists of Baltimore, is completing his sixth season as music director of the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. He also is associate conductor of the Peabody Orchestras, director of Choral Ensembles and opera conductor at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

Leslie B. Dunner will direct the Symphony's April 9 concert, a school-day educational concert and the Classical Kids family concert on April 10. Dunner recently was appointed music director and conductor of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. He formerly was the music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, assistant conductor with the New York Philharmonic and an assistant condcutor with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Conductor Timothy Hankewich will close out the 2004-2005 season by bringing his baton to a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Currently, Hankewich is in his fifth year at the Kansas City Symphony and his first as resident conductor. His awards include the prestigious Aspen Conducting Award.

The entire community will be invited to participate in the selection of the next conductor. Evaluation forms will be distributed at each concert to obtain audience feedback, and the public will be invited to cast their vote on the Symphony's Web site throughout the 2004-2005 season.

Tickets for the 2004-2005 season are on sale now through the Symphony box office at (712) 277-2111 or on line at http://www.siouxcitysymphony.org

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Fri, April 23, 2004

Review: Rilke Songs
Choral Journal

Wachner’s settings are text driven and completely immersed in the descriptive color of the native tongue in which the Rilke poems are set. Thick and dense textures give way to unison and simple four-part homophony. Wide tessituri are explored but not exploited. Bi-tonality permeates much of his writing style. Although his writing can seem dissonant, it is imbued with a soft sense of tonal color that embraces Rilke’s fascination with the flow of the movement of animals and more important, the deeper meanings of the text…

...Rilke Songs is a technically and vocally demanding cycle that is appropriate for the advanced collegiate ensemble. Performed in its entirety, or two or three as a set, they are an outstanding contribution to choral literature.

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Review: Rilke Songs
Alan Raines, Georgia State University
Choral Journal Vol. 44 Nr. 9 (April 2004)

Full text follows:
Rilke Songs
Julian Wachner
SATB
ECS Publishing (published separately)

1. Die Gazelle, #5889
2. Der Panther, #5890
3. Die Flamingos, #5891

Rilke said, "Verses are not as people imagine, simply feelings... they are experiences. For the sake of a single verse, one must see many cities, men and things, one must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which little flowers open in the morning." The wealth of visual imagery in Rilke's writing is without question. His poetry serves composers with such textual significance that, when wedded with outstanding music, can transcend the mundane and propel the listener to new realms.

Julian Wachner, (b. 1969) has taken six of Rilke's poems, set them for SATB chorus with divisi and given birth to a musical product that is well worth noting. Die Gazelle, Der Panther, Die Flamingos, Der Schwan, Schwartze Katze and Das Einhorn are set in their native German with English translations available in the forward of the octavo. Although these settings are cyclically composed, two or three can be extracted and performed as a set. This review will be of the first three.

Wachner's settings are text driven and completely immersed in the descriptive color of the native tongue in which the Rilke poems are set. Thick and dense textures give way to unison and simple four-part homophony. Wide tessituri are explored but not exploited. Bi-tonality permeates much of his writing style. Although his writing can seem dissonant, it is imbued with a soft sense of tonal color that embraces Rilke's fascination with the flow of the movement of animals and more important, the deeper meanings of the text.

Die Gazelle [The Gazelle] is a through-composed piece reminiscent in style to the music of Whitacre and Lauridsen with performance indications of "expansive and full." The final section of the piece is an analogy between a gazelle standing in rapt attention and a woman bathing in a forest lake. Julian Wachner does a masterful job of setting the text with the use of strict canon at the unison in three of the voices. The other voice is at the fourth. The result is an amazing picture of peaceful stillness as the tempo indication of quarter note equals forty-four and "quasi misterioso, meno mosso" suggests.

Der Panther [The Panther] is centered in G minor and never ventures far from it. Tessitura and dynamic ranges are very minimal with a tempo indication of a quarter note equals 56 and "triste." It leaves one with the feeling of entrapment as the animal endlessly paces back and forth behind the iron bars of its cage.

Die Flamingos [The Flamingos] is set for double chorus and is in ABA form. Chorus II begins with the sopranos on a rhythmic and melodic pattern of quick sixteenth notes in which the text is repeated over and over. The basses enter with the same text and rhythm but now with an inverted melody. Altos enter as the sopranos did but on a different pitch and the tenors enter as did the basses. The key center stays in F major. All entrances are pianissimo and the resultant cacophony is impressive. Chorus I proclaims the remaining poem in long held notes above the "noise." The B section is mostly homophonic and text driven, which then begs for the A section to return to the shrieks of sound and flashes of pink feathers!

Julian Wachner's Rilke Songs is a technically and vocally demanding cycle that is appropriate for the advanced collegiate ensemble. Performed in its entirety, or two or three as a set, they are an outstanding contribution to choral literature.

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