Enrico Lopez-Yañez, Principal Pops Conductor of the Nashville Symphony, is fourth among six finalist candidates scheduled for an audition with the Lexington Philharmonic. Mr. Lopez-Yañez will spend a week in Lexington, interviewing, meeting and greeting and rehearsing for a Friday, February 21 concert at Singletary Center for the Arts.
Each candidate is being interviewed prior to their arrival by Tom Martin for the weekly WEKU radio magazine, Eastern Standard. You can listen to the conversation here:
In a series for Eastern Standard on WEKU, UnderMain’s Tom Martin is interviewing each of the six finalist candidates for the positions of Music Director and Conductor of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra. Akiko Fujimoto currently serves as Associate Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra and is former Associate Conductor of the San Antonio Symphony. She will be in Lexington next week for a whirlwind of interviews, rehearsals, meet-and-greets and performance. A transcript of the interview appears below.
Tom: Greetings, Akiko.
Tom: Are you ready for this intense week ahead?
Akiko: I am. I am so excited to be on the ground and start rehearsing with the musicians of the Lexington Philharmonic and make great music and share it with the audience.
Tom: Tell us how music came into your life and how it became your life’s work.
Akiko: Well, apparently, my mother was playing a lot of classical music while I was in her womb. I think that counts for something, but it took until about five years after I came out of her womb for me to actually start playing an instrument and that was the piano. She put me in a group piano lesson because we had just moved to a new city and she wanted me to meet other kids. I played the trombone after starting on the trumpet. And I always sang in choirs. And then once I got to college, the trombone sort of took a backseat, but I started to do more singing and actually start conducting.
Tom: If you were pressed to describe your musical personality, what would you say?
Akiko: I think my conducting personality has a lot of intensity, integrity, and passion. I’m a very, very passionate person who feels a lot, but maybe because of my Japanese background, you know, I might not express it when we’re just talking to each other in a way that you would describe as passionate. But once I’m on the podium, conducting is my instrument. It’s my medium of expression. It’s the instrument that I feel most comfortable expressing myself musically and somehow all of the passion inside of me gets unleashed. And it’s the greatest feeling I have when I’m making music and sharing that passion with the musicians on stage and then with the audience.
Tom: When you’re in Lexington, you’re going to be conducting a program entitled Deep Music. What is most exciting to you about the program that you’ll be conducting?
Akiko: Well, it’s the fact that they chose the program for us, but it’s the perfect program for me. That was a great coincidence. The first piece, Deep Summer Music, is by a Minnesotan composer Libby Larsen. And I had already met her when that piece was assigned to me by the Lexington Philharmonic and I had already performed a couple of her pieces. I immediately was like “Wow, how lucky am I that I already met the composer.” I haven’t done this piece in particular, but I feel very, you know, familiar with her and her style. And I had to read her biography in addition to meeting her in person because I was studying other music by her. So, I feel very lucky about that. And then the Ginastera or the harp concerto I feel very lucky about because I have spent five years before coming to Minnesota in San Antonio, Texas where the population is 65 percent Latino. And so, part of my job was to do Latin-influenced or Latin American music — a lot. It was our way of connecting with the community and it was a genre that I had not really explored before because all of us who go to music schools and conservatories, our core repertoire, the meat and potatoes tend to be the Central European and maybe, you know, Russian. You know, those two are sort of the bread and butter of what we do when we’re growing up as musicians. So, I haven’t really done a lot of Latin and then I have to do it and I feel very comfortable even though that harp concerto itself is not overtly folk influenced. I feel a lot of affinity for music of the Americas especially Southern and Central America. And Beethoven, I mean, how much luckier can a girl get? Beethoven #7 is one of the greatest miracles of the western civilization. First of all, Beethoven, his symphonies are a conductor’s Bible. That’s what we start studying and that’s what we die studying. They’re our life’s work. And #7 in particular is a piece that we all love performing. It’s exciting. It’s rhythmic. It gets quite intense and crazy towards the end. But then of course, there’s a slower second movement that is very famous and has been used in movie soundtracks and very iconic music. So popular that, you know, when Beethoven premiered it, he had to encore that movement. So, you know, I just feel very lucky that I was given this wonderful program.
Tom: I mentioned that you’ll be conducting the Lexington Philharmonic on the 25th. But on the evening before that, you will also lead LexPhil’s annual Music Builds Discovery Concert, which is a field trip for Central Kentucky students. Do you enjoy taking the music to young listeners?
Akiko: Yes. Absolutely. I have been doing young people’s concerts for the past ten years of my life with various organizations. And I have a ton of experience with education concerts both programming and presenting.
And every orchestra does it a little bit differently. The one thing that’s new about this Discovery concert is it is meant to target the widest range of age groups that I’ve ever encountered. Apparently, there will be anybody from third graders to high school students. I’m used to breaking things up a little bit more by age group, but this is a new challenge for me and I’m up for it.
Tom: Thinking about the audience in broader terms, what’s your philosophy about community engagement?
Akiko: Well, first of all, the role of the orchestra in any community is extremely important. I think it should be the center of the fine arts community, performing arts community. It tends to be the largest arts organization in any community just because of the sheer force and the resources that it takes to mount a professional orchestra concert, but I think it needs to be the central figure that is a resource for everybody that plays the most important — and I don’t want to put a value on different genres of music and types or formats. Everybody is important, but an orchestra has the ability to be the incubator, you know, at the highest level and also be the connector of all the different arts groups in the community whether it be dance groups, ballet, or opera, or children’s chorus, school music ensembles, youth orchestra, and college ensembles. But an orchestra needs to be the central clearing house for all things artistic and I’m sure many of the musicians in the Philharmonic teach in the area and their presence is enormously important, that these talented folks are actually living in the area. I know many people commute from elsewhere into Lexington for these concerts. But the ones that do live there, you know, they serve the community on a weekly basis by teaching lessons and being part of community and just living and breathing there. So, I think having a professional orchestra like that in the community, it just enriches everything. We should also reach out and go into the community playing different venues and not just play but also talk to the audience, mingle with the audience before and after performances because without the audience and the community’s support and understanding, we don’t exist. So, we need to constantly show our appreciation and most importantly relevance. The Philharmonic needs to be indispensable to people’s lives in a way that they can’t imagine living in Lexington without the orchestra being there.
Tom: You mentioned living here, living in Lexington. And obviously, you are open to the prospect because you’re a finalist conductor. But can you tell me a little bit more about that, about what excites you…
Akiko: Of course.
Tom: …about the possibility of living in Lexington, Kentucky?
Akiko: Well, to be honest with you, I’m not too familiar with that part of the country yet. I’ve lived in California and in Northeast and then the South for the past ten years. And now, I’m in Upper Midwest, but very, very cold. So, I will be looking forward to—
Tom: We get all four seasons to the hilt here. Let me just warn you.
Akiko: Well, that’s exactly what I was going to say, that I’m going to enjoy the four different temperaments. But hopefully, you don’t have the -28 degree weather—
Tom: We don’t have that.
Akiko: …in January or February.
Tom: Okay. Good. I was hoping that was not the case. I’m looking forward to beautiful seasons. I know there’s a lot of great nature. Obviously, you’re the horse capital. And the bourbon capital of the United States. So, these are sort of like the fun things and obvious things about Lexington, but the reason I will be excited to live in Lexington is because I would like to be part of a community, as I mentioned before, you know, the people in the Philharmonic that live there and teach and go grocery shopping there. You know, I actually just started music directorship of an orchestra in Texas that is just five weeks a year, but it’s a non-residential job. It’s called in the Mid-Texas Symphony. And I commute there from wherever I am and they did not require residence. It’s a, you know, smaller scope of an organization. Much smaller than Lexington Philharmonic. And as much as I enjoy that, I really am looking forward to having my first residential music directorship and I’m hoping that’s the Lexington Philharmonic because to be a music director I think really means that you…to have the greatest impact on the organization, you need to be part of the community. And it’s fun to be a fly-by conductor, too, but I think for the scope of the Lexington Philharmonic you do need to keep a residence there and be available for meetings and events and not cram everything into the concert weeks and just let your life there breeze so that the organization and I can do the planning, and brainstorming, and all that, you know, and not to stress about doing everything the week of the visit or something like that.
So, I’m excited about that and I’m excited about making music with this great orchestra. I know your former music director, Scott Terrell, used to be in my position years ago at the Minnesota Orchestra. And some of the musicians and staff are still friends with him. They keep in touch. So, they know about the Lexington Philharmonic and they’re all excited about it for me. And as amazing as the Minnesota Orchestra is, of course, being a staff conductor is a different story than being a music director and that’s something I’m ready, you know, looking forward to developing into, is having kind of a curatorial position, not just being a conductor of a certain specific concert, but being able to curate the overall experience and kind of like a chef, you know, designing a meal. If you could compare an orchestra season to a meal, I would love to design a great season, you know, with everybody in the organization, but be the driver of the process and give everybody a great experience.
Tom: Well, Akiko, you’re going to have a very intense and very busy week here ahead. But of course, it’s also an opportunity to discover those things that you’re looking for and I think you’ll find them.
Akiko: I think I will. I’m supposed to take a tour of the area on my first day. So, I’m excited about that.
Tom: Akiko Fujimoto, associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra and a candidate for music director and conductor of the Lexington Philharmonic. Thanks so much, Akiko.
Akiko: Thank you.
Listen to Tom’s conversations with the first candidate to come to town, Thomas Heuser of Idaho Falls, Idaho, as well as LexPhil Executive Director Allison Kaiser.
There is little in the recent history of the Lexington Philharmonic (LexPhil) to compare with the intensity and variety of the 2019-2020 season. After a ten-year stint on the podium, maestro Scott Terrell departed in June. Now the search begins for a successor.
Six finalist candidates will make weeklong visits to Lexington over the course of a season appropriately entitled RESOUND, their schedules crammed with whirlwinds of meet-and-greet receptions, fundraising dinners, discussions with multiple boards, Q&A with the search committee, meeting the orchestra’s musicians, nightly rehearsals, and, ultimately, conducting the orchestra they hope to lead.
In an interview for this week’s edition of WEKU’s Eastern Standard I spoke with LexPhil Executive Director Allison Kaiser about the audition process and the opportunities presented by transition:
Heuser’s program will include a composition by Lexington-born Julia Perry. Click here to read a column by Tom Eblen about Perry’s Lexington youth. And for a sampling of Perry’s artistry, check out conductor Karina Canellakis leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a performance of Perry’s A Short Piece for Orchestra. It was recorded live at the Hollywood Bowl on September 11, 2018.
I’ll be interviewing all conductor candidates prior to their arrivals in Lexington. Watch this space, and listen for them on UnderMain media partner, 88.9 WEKU.
Thomas Heuser conducts The Lexington Philharmonic on Saturday, September 21, at 7:30pm at the Singletary Center for the Arts. He will conduct works by Perry, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky.
Tom Martin is co-publisher of UnderMain and host/producer of WEKU’s Eastern Standard.
The Lexington Philharmonic gave their second concert of the 2018-2019 season this Friday evening at Singletary Center for the Arts on the Lexington campus of the University of Kentucky. While there was only one piece on the program, the monumental Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi, the concert required a larger-than-usual Philharmonic Orchestra, a full set of four soloists, and over 150 singers drawn from Berea College, Asbury University, Transylvania University, and Eastern Kentucky University.
Conductor Scott Terrell, in his final season at the Philharmonic, led the orchestra and singers for a passionate and fiery (even occasionally apocalyptic) performance. To understand the depth of of the performance required, it might be helpful to discuss the history of the Requiem (Mass for the Dead).
A Catholic graveyard. Photo: William Murphy, under a Creative Commons License.
Verdi wrote the Requiem between 1868 and 1874, and wascomposed to commemorate the death of the Italian poet & author Alessandro Manzoni, who was a friend of Verdi’s. (Verdi had written the final movement, titled Libera Me (Deliver Me), for a concert commemorating the death of fellow composer Gioachino Rossini, but had shelved it for several years). For a time after it was called the Manzoni Requiem, but as the reputation of the piece grew it lost its specific connotations.
The piece today is one of the most widely-performed choral works, despite the fact that it calls for a rather large orchestra & choir, as well as the efforts of four soloists.
On a historical note, the inclusion of the female voices, and particularly the female soloists, was a point of minor controversy at the time of the Requiem’s premiere; women were not allowed to participate in the performance of the funerary rites of the Catholic Church at the time.
But what a loss it would have been on Friday evening had the soprano and mezzo-soprano parts never been written! D’ana Lombard as the soprano and Nancy Maultsby as the mezzo soloists were practical forces of nature, firing their voices across the length of the hall over the roars of an orchestra that included 8 trumpets. Maultsby in particular gave a sublime performance, by turns measured in a mournful lyricism and soaring on the passionate declamatory sections.
Stylistically, the piece is noted for its operatic, theatrical tone—fitting, as Verdi was primarily an opera composer (as he is still known as such today). The height of this style comes early in the piece, with the Dies Irae (usually translated as The Day of Wrath or The Day of Judgment); this movement is most likely the most familiar piece of the Requiem for most listeners—it’s been used in everything fromThe Simpsons to Mad Max: Fury Road and Django Unchained.
The combined collegiate choirs boomed, rang, and descanted their way through the almost-demonic Dies Irae, the full performance of which took about half an hour. While the choir has the showy (and memorable) opening theme, bass soloist Peixin Chen dazzled with the full range of the low voice through the Mors Stupebit (Death is Struck) section. The orchestra also got its share of major moments, from a set of trumpets that traded horn calls across the breadth of the hall like hunters finding each other in the woods, to a set of bass drums that gave reports of thunder like the clouds discharging armies of avenging angels.
At the moments of highest intensity, each part of the vast ensemble seemed to momentarily overtake all the others, until another voice crashed over the hall like a wave, followed by another, and a further peak after that, practically until time seemed suspended—in such a way was eternity composed.
Hieronymous Bosch’s depictions of torments that await sinners. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
After the Dies Irae, the Requiem finds moments of quietude and stillness in the Offeratory movement, although with a boisterous ending for the choir.
The Sanctus movement is structured in one of the most difficult forms in all of music: a double fugue. Now, a fugue is a musical structure where one voice starts a melody, a second voice answers, a third voice replies to the second, a fourth to the third, and so on and so on and so on; now double that and you have a double fugue. Most composers only attempt a fugue at the absolute height of their abilities, and a double fugue is showing off to a degree that’s practically unbearable. Nevertheless, Terrell and choirs were able to keep the structure of the piece clean and clear, even at the points of maximum overlap and possible confusion—this is no modest feat.
Throughout the piece, each component of the ensemble—orchestra, soloists, and choirs—strove to keep the whole effect clear, even while the maximalistic dynamic range ofVerdi’s score made it nigh-on impossible to balance a single solo voice against an entire set of strings. By the end of the evening, the final two movements, Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light) and Libera Me, each gesture, no matter where it was situated in the sections, seemed to melt into the next, as if a great effort had been expended to launch the hall towards the heavens, and the music could now float, weightlessly, in orbit.
The concert proper ended on a quiet sigh, a C major chord, one of the most simple and pure sounds available to a classical composer. But the roaring applause of the hall ended the night on a note that celebrated life after mourning death.
The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra is about halfway through their 2017-2018 season, and the halfway point for the Lexington Philharmonic is unique.
Like any classical orchestra, each concert has an entirely different repertoire, and classical music is notoriously technically difficult to play, even for professionals. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that Maestro Scott Terrell assembled a concert that had the most adventurous and audacious program yet presented this season. It’s a testament to the skill and artistry of the Philharmonic that the concert was a jubilant experience.
LexPhil music director and conductor Scott Terrell
The first piece of the evening at the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts was a standard in the repertoire of any orchestra: Giacomo Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville. As Daniel Chetel notes in his program notes for the Philharmonic, this piece is likely familiar to anyone, classical aficionado or no, as the score to the Looney Tunes’ “Rabbit of Seville” cartoon.
Rossini wrote in the full Italian style, emphasizing easily singable (or hum-able) melodies that work their way into the ear and stay there. The key to a good performance of Rossini, then, is to make the sound as clear and clean as possible. This was no challenge to Terrell and the Philharmonic, who obviously enjoy playing the piece.
It’s still a remarkable sight, no matter how many orchestral performances you see, to watch nearly twenty violinists move their bows in absolute unison. It’s a mix of technical precision and passionate artistry that’s quite peculiar to orchestra concerts.
That doesn’t mean that there’s no cutting loose, though. At one point towards the end of the overture, Terrell turned to the side of the podium facing the violist and—and I really can only use this word—boogied with him, while still marking time for the rest of the orchestra.
The main piece for the first half of the evening was a suite of music drawn from Igor Stravinsky’s 1920 ballet Pulcinella. Stravinsky, unquestionably the foremost composer of the 20th Century and possibly the greatest single composer since Beethoven, wrote this piece in the early part of his neo-classical period. After an early career in the 1910’s redefining the sound of not just ballet but the entirety of classical music with pieces like Le Sacre du Printemps and Petrushka, Stravinsky spent much of the next few decades attempting to turn back the musical clock. His neo-classical style looked back to the Baroque period, with delicate counterpoint and strict dance forms, as a basis for containing the seemingly infinite musical options available to the composer.
Igor Stravinsky | Portrait by Arnold Newman – 1946
Even within the supposedly restrictive forms used in the suite, Stravinsky created a sound world all his own. He spins from one musical idea to the next, never settling on one path for too long, but circling back to explore all the options available. Through just one moment of the suite, the orchestra goes from a delicate but cheery violin solo (performed both passionately and expertly by concertmaster Daniel Mason) to a booming thundering clamor from the bass instruments, and then right into a lush orchestral swell under a resumed violin solo; this all happens within perhaps fifteen or twenty seconds of music.
It takes a titanic effort simply to keep everyone together during those moments, and it’s obvious that not just Terrell but the entire orchestra are listening intently to each other.
Stravinsky’s music is always its own sound world— the melodies always sound half familiar, but still distinctly unlike anything that you would think of humming to yourself as you wash the dishes. Towards the end the trombonist and a bassist juggled a short set of phrases back and forth between them, only fully joining into one voice as the whole beast roared into a fanfare for the finale, creating an effect that is both predictable and surprising all at once.
There are plenty of traps for players in Stravinsky’s music— sudden stops for the stings, an out-of-nowhere flute solo that has to soar above the whole rest of the sound and glide gracefully back down— and lesser orchestras often trip up on these moments. Not the Philharmonic. When the violins drop out, they drop out as one, and when they return, it’s as though each bow is connected to the same hand.
The neoclassical style can sometimes sound simplistic or reductive, but Stravinsky orchestrates in an extravagant manner, and the Philharmonic was able to accentuate each part of the whole in such a way that the listener could observe not only the entire effect but the way that every component contributed to the entire experience.
Vaughn Williams conducts The Eastman School Symphony Orchestra | Photo courtesy of the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester
Williams wrote a whole set of music to play with a production of Aristophanes’ ancient play, but the overture has found a second life among orchestras. It’s obvious why the Philharmonic was attracted to the piece—it has a style that overflows the bounds of the hall, filling the air with thick and overwhelmingly pleasant harmonies.
Williams’ overture runs about nine minutes, and it’s an excellent example of what classical composers can do within that time frame. Whereas pop music tends to be shorter in length and quite focused in terms of form and aesthetic, classical composers often feel free to roam about and wander through their material. Williams offers an example of this—there are no moments of quick change or unexpected leaps to new sections, only a continuous unfolding of transition upon transition. In the capable hands of Terrell, the music flows in an almost out-of-time manner.
The main event of the evening, however, was last.
In his time at the Philharmonic, Terrell has been a champion of new music. In his comments to the audience before the last piece, he said that he believed that orchestras have an obligation to present the “voices of today” to audiences. To accomplish that, the Lexington Philharmonic commissioned a new concerto from renowned composer Chris Brubeck, to be played by the world-famous Canadian Brass.
The concerto, entitled No Borders, was an unequivocal triumph for both composer and orchestra. Brubeck has a style that’s reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein, with lots of irregular meters that shout this is genuine American music, and a relentless and optimistic rhythmic drive that throws the piece constantly forward. The Canadian Brass played not just spectacularly, but in magnificent combination with the orchestra—totally in sync, and the whole feeling was one of camaraderie and unity of purpose.
Brubeck’s jazz-influenced style moves effortlessly between a kind of joyous wailing and winging about and moments of passionate harmony that seem suspended in time. He comes by that influence honestly as the son of the great jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck. As the piece moved from a rollicking opening movement that brought to mind West Side Story and big band standards to a suave slow second movement, Canadian Brass and the orchestra, with seemingly no effort, demonstrated a graceful and subtle exchange between instruments that’s a hallmark of the highest level of playing in both jazz and classical music.
Canadian Brass performing with LexPhil
The final movement was like a tour of the Alps, moving from one glorious peak to another. With a rhythmic swing that bounces the head up and down and rolls the sound of trumpets and trombones (and tubas and horns) out into the seats and steps of the hall, a raucous and ecstatic energy carried the piece to a close and the audience to its feet.
Canadian Brass member and Lexington native Caleb Hudson
After a standing ovation that lasted for three separate bows, the Canadian Brass returned to offer two encores. The first encore featured Canadian Brass member and Lexington native Caleb Hudson showing off the infamously tricky trumpet solos of The Beatles’ Penny Lane. Canadian Brass also demonstrated exactly how fast their fingers could move with a second encore, featuring The Flight of the Bumblebee in an all-brass arrangement.
The final notes shot by at such a rapid clip that the audience had to give another standing ovation just to capture them as they flew by.
Many left the hall that night buzzing with excitement over what they had just experienced.
Live performance in any genre is a daunting challenge; for music, it may be particularly so, given the small idiosyncrasies of a hundred different categories that can produce massive differences in the audio quality of a performance. In their latest concert, titled Simplicity, the Lexington Philharmonic demonstrated their dedication to their craft, a dedication that is substantially devoted to executing each moment of music so precisely that small idiosyncrasies are banished from the concert hall. The result was an enjoyable, if not ecstatic, evening of music.
Maestro Scott Terrell made the somewhat unorthodox decision to start the evening with Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony (Beethoven is usually held in reserve for the final piece of most concerts, the idea being that the audience will be suitably wowed by the greatest of the composers just as they leave). Terrell, in his pre-concert talkback, noted that the Fourth Symphony is often overlooked, sandwiched as it is between the legendary Third and Fifth Symphonies (the Third being the Eroica, and the Fifth–well, the Fifth has that opening theme, “da-da-da-dum”). Terrell notes that it shows off a lighter side of Beethoven the composer.
As the symphony went on, I found myself focusing on individual performers: the violinist with a bright blue chin cloth, contrasting with the black and white uniform of the orchestra. There was the timpanist, highlighted standing against a deep red rear curtain. I noticed a violinist whose feet never touched the ground when she played. I was drawn back to the characteristic touch of the maestro, who likes to accentuate big strings hits with a magisterial point down in his left hand, arm fully extended like a steel beam, tilted forty-five degrees towards the floor from the shoulder.
There were without question some excellent moments throughout the performance. The moody opening, a low and rumbling B flat that left me looking around the stage in some wonder and not a little bit of anxiety. Immediately following was the first violin entrance, where the high strings give a direction and a sense of purpose to the moody ambiance. Towards the middle of the piece, the orchestra dropped away for the entrance of a solo clarinet, presaged by a rolling horn that stops and sustains a note; the clarinet entered on the same note, and the horn faded away, leaving a woody sound, in turn giving way to a clarinet melody floated over pizzicato strings towards the ears of the audience.
My favorite flourish, though, was an exchange between the violins and the timpani. The strings marked out a quick one-two pattern, answered by the timpani, uncharacteristically for the instrument but delightful nonetheless, rattling and rasping a reply.
Though less performed, the Fourth is certainly Beethoven, wide-ranging and expressive, and at times lyrical; Terrell is right that this is a lighter Beethoven than the brooding image conveyed by the Fifth Symphony or Appassionata Piano Sonata. The Philharmonic was finely tuned and gave a demonstration of the craft that’s required to even attempt a major symphony. But for this performance, though professional and enjoyable, the Philharmonic didn’t quite break above the clouds and reach the mountainous peaks of the truly memorable.
Following a brief intermission, the Philharmonic returned with their soloist for the evening. Mezzo-soprano Sofia Selowsky, a young and upcoming talent in the opera world, was to give her premiere performance of a modern American work, Dominick Argento’s song cycle Casa Guidi.
Sofia Selowsky | Photo by Simon Pauly Photography
Argento, who spent a good deal of time in Florence, where Elizabeth Barrett Browning spent most of her married life, wrote this song cycle to express his deep connection to the city, and to the poet.
The composer, now 90, explained this connection to Maestro Terrell in an email, excerpts of which Terrel, in turn, read to the audience before the performance. Argento, whom Terrell calls “extremely sincere in his music-making,” taught Terrell, and the two were later colleagues at the Minnesota Orchestra.
Maestro Terrell chose Ms. Selowsky, a “consummate artist,” in his view, to perform with the Lexington Philharmonic after working with her at the Aspen festival.
Ms. Selowsky is obviously a dedicated professional as well as an empathetic artist. Speaking of Argento’s composing technique, she was quick to note that the music “fits the voice and fits the language in a really beautiful way.” She has an obvious affection for the piece, despite the fact that she had only recently learned it.
Ms. Selowsky, unfortunately, struggled somewhat in working with the orchestra. Throughout the cycle, but in the first two songs especially, the orchestra tended to overwhelm her voice. This made the whole form of the piece somewhat indistinct.
The third movement, however, with a quieter orchestra, permitted Selowsky to shine. She had a clear affinity for the quieter moments in the piece; as she told me in a pre-concert interview, the quality that drew her to this piece is that “the poetry is so intimate, even when you have a whole orchestra behind you.”
That expressive feeling eventually came through, as Ms. Selowsky leaned on some clearly well-developed dramatic chops, as well as an open and clear mezzo voice.
The fourth song was expressive and moving— a high and scratchy scoring in the violins lent a haunting and disquieting air about it, appropriate to a text that dealt with the pain of Barrett Browning’s estrangement from her father.
Sadly, the fifth and final song suffered from the same balance problem as the first two songs— when the orchestra shone, it easily eclipsed the soloist, whose voice couldn’t soar over the instrumentalists.
Sofia Selowsky in rehearsal with the Lexington Philharmonic
After a mixed performance of a modern piece, the concert ended on its strongest note, with a delectable performance of the Prokofiev Classical Symphony. The Philharmonic delivered it like a cupcake: perfectly fun, light and airy, with lots of sugary frosting on the top. Prokofiev has written some challenging and complex music— his Classical Symphony is neither. An example: the end of the third movement includes a cheeky button that elicited a soft chuckle from the audience. Prokofiev wrote a straightforward homage to the by-then bygone era of Haydn and Mozart, and it demands a disciplined touch to create the pleasant effect.
The Philharmonic’s craft and clarity of playing were remarkably well-served by the final piece. The opening movement was a light romp, a perfect palate-cleanser to start off the final piece of the evening. The slow second movement was a chance for the orchestra to display its lyricism and soulful spirit, and an easygoing melodious feeling filled the hall. A gavotte, a kind of moderately quick two-step, gradually turned up the heat in the third movement. With a breakneck dash to the finish line in the fourth movement, resting almost entirely on the nonstop violins, the Philharmonic finished the evening with a lovely send off for the audience.
The evening was not an unequivocal triumph. Throughout the performance, however, the Philharmonic played with a consistently high standard of quality, and there were plenty of moments where every element congealed into a flash of euphoria.
Even with its flaws, the Philharmonic remains an excellent orchestra always worth a listen.
As the audience filed into the concert hall, the orchestra onstage made an unholy din. Tuning their violins, practicing one particular phrase on the trumpet, testing out the reeds on the oboes one last time, the Lexington Philharmonicprepared itself to open their 2017-2018 season. Performing at the Singletary Center for the Arts, Maestro Scott Terrell and the Philharmonic presented a program that lived up to the title of the concert, Bright. With a variety of works in several styles and ‘voices,’ the Philharmonic had a glittering evening at the start of their year.
The concert began with a contemporary piece by the American composer Michael Torke. Torke is known for his synesthesia—he sees colors when he hears music. This particular piece, called Bright Blue Music, is a clear and straightforward exploration of that color. The Philharmonic proved a guide through the work, with a performance clear and straightforward enough to direct the listener’s ears to the development and unfolding of the piece.
Michael Torke | Photo by Brian Hainer
A simple theme developed with a particular rhythmic flair, and the development clear and direct enough that even the most novice listener can follow the progression from one movement to the next. (Whether the listener sees blue a somewhat subjective matter: the whole piece read as rather yellow to me.) The brass would occasionally overwhelm the strings, though whether this was a problem of composer or conductor is unclear. Energetic and simple, but with enough surprises— and banging timpani here, a snap of the snare drums to cut off the winds and emphasize the strings, a screeching wail of the horns and flutes there— Maestro Terrell and the Philharmonic kept the piece from the monotony minimalist and post-minimalist music is often accused of.
The first half of the concert, however, was dominated by the GriegPiano Concerto. Guest soloist Joyce Yang, a young pianist who is part of an emerging generation in the process of shaking up sometimes stuffy concert halls, took to the front and center of the stage and immediately commanded her instrument.
Joyce Yang | Photo by KT Kim
Yang played with her whole body— hunched over the keyboard for staccato descents, practically rising out of her bench for the dramatic flourishes up and down the keyboard that predominate the concerto. She would keep time by flicking her head this way and that, directing visual attention to an emphasis on a certain chord or progression. Said emphasis was pounded in by the relentless thundering of the keyboard; Grieg is not a subtle composer, and both soloist and orchestra went for the full melodrama. The piano roared, howled, clamored, practically leaped out at the audience. Very little of the concept was played at anything less than full volume and intensity.
While I appreciated it from the back of the house, I did worry about the eardrums of those whose tickets placed them closer to the action. And that action was powerful— at the end of a particularly intense cadenza towards the end of the first movement, Yang slammed down the final chord and her entire body rocketed away from the keys, so intense was the emotion. The audience, somewhat caught up in it, spontaneously applauded between the first and second movement (an unusual breach of symphony protocol, it caught Yang and Terrell off guard, which she covered with a quick bow).
The thundering, however, became a tad monochromatic towards the end of the piece. The keys of a piano cannot be pounded indefinitely without at a certain point pulverizing all sensitivity of some listeners’ ears. While a quiet and subtle treatment took over the beginning of the second movement, it was soon back to a total sonic offensive. And in the last few minutes, the never-ending proclamations of melodramatic stampeding up and down the piano and through the orchestra began to run together. There are only so many crescendos a performer can make before they top out at the height of emotion and intensity.
Regardless of any quirks in interpretation, the performance of the concerto was filled with a kind of wild energy— partly from the slightly strange harmonic progressions of Grieg, which foreshadowed Stravinsky and the chord clusters of modern concept music— but mostly from the infectious power bouncing back and forth between Yang, Terrell, and the orchestra. Soloist and conductor were obviously familiar with each other, as Terrell had only to glance at the piano, and Yang had only to give one of her nods, to open up the bellowing sororities of the full orchestra. The performance was an obvious and immediate crowd-pleaser: Yang and Terrell gave some half a dozen bows to a standing ovation.
After the bows and ovations were concluded, the orchestra took an interval in which the technical crew replaced Yang’s piano with two harps and a handful of specialist wind instruments, a rather large choir joined the orchestra, and I furiously scribbled notes onto a writing pad.
Maestro Terrell dashed back onto the stage and immediately threw himself into the downbeat of the first piece of the second half, selections from Ginastera’s ballet Estancia.
This music was simply tremendous. In writing a ballet about Argentine farmers and cowboys, Ginastera hit upon the muscular and vibrantly beating heart of Latin American concert music, which more than any other tradition (at least to my mind) is written for the average listener to immediately grasp on to and not just understand, but deeply enjoy. While the second half of the evening was entirely ballet music— music written to dance to— Ginastera’s selections from Estancia were imbued with the kind of infectious danceability that quite literally gets people moving.
Even Maestro Terrell was affected, jumping up and down on the podium in his excitement for particular slams of the timpani, never more expressive than when Ginastera pins his entire dance rhythm to the drums. The percussion section as a whole did some really tremendous work with Estancia— using everything from a tambourine to a marimba to a bass drum that literally shook the seats, Estancia was not just a musical but a physical experience.
After the Dionysian delights of Ginastera’s dance music, the concert closed with the more Apollonian music of Ravel.
Full of coloristic flourishes and effective at creating an entire atmosphere from only a few rich chords, Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloe is a distinctly French take on a Greek story. The impressionistic and almost totally a-melodic music of Ravel immerses the listener into a world of impressions, of not quite distinct color.
The orchestra carried off this task— not the easiest one— with aplomb. Aided by an extensive choir, the piece moved seamlessly from one overstuffed and pregnant bloom of chromatic color to the next. As a set of selections from a larger ballet, and as a more moment-to-moment composition than a more melodically dominated piece might be, it would have been dangerously easy for the orchestra to present a disconnected and incoherent series of flashes in the musical pan. The deft baton of Terrell, however, maintained a clean and clear pace throughout the piece, and his direction charted a course and current that connected the brightest climaxes and the quietest flutters of the flute into a single whole. The choirs, normally a focal point of attention for the listener, blended seamlessly into the tapestry of the orchestra, becoming simply another color in the palette of composer and conductor. The overall effect, while certainly magical, was artfully restrained and balanced.
With a varied and virtuosic start to the season, the Lexington Philharmonic has proved not just worthy of their hall, but worthy of their audience.
(Photos by Richie Wireman unless otherwise credited)
In the grim and gloom of a particularly rainy September, the Lexington Philharmonic prepares to debut their 2017–2018 season. The first concert is titled, ironically, Bright. The season opening, held this Saturday (September 16th) at the Singletary Center for the Arts, has an energetic and bouncy program. In that sense, Bright’s place in the larger 2017–2018 Philharmonic season is like an opening fanfare to alarger symphony: energetic, full of life, and the right mix of excitement and intrigue to keep listeners interested.
As the orchestra prepares to sound out its audience for the season, I spoke with the lead conductor and Artistic Director of the Lexington Philharmonic, Scott Terrell, about the upcoming concert, and about young people’s place in the concert hall.
The most notable feature of the program for Bright is the age of many of the performers. The featured soloist, pianist Joyce Yang, is a young and rising star in the classical music world, and part of the generation of young soloists who are redefining the concert hall. Maestro Terrell calls her part of “the changing face of music.” Her animated and expressive playing is a far cry from the stentorian proclamations of Gould or the other old masters of the form.
Yang will be playing the Grieg Piano Concerto. Even in a genre that is known for emotive solos, the Grieg is a particularly animated piece. (You can hear a performance of the concerto, in this case performed by Arthur Rubinstein, here to get an idea of the emotional range of the piece.) As Maestro Terrell notes, the Concerto is “a thrilling piece and a challenge for the soloist” to perform.
But Yang will not be the youngest of Saturday evening’s performers.
For the large-scale work Daphnis et Chloe, premiered over a century ago, the Philharmonic has selected the Suite No. 2 to perform. To do so, the orchestra has partnered with several area schools, including Lafayette High School. The collegiate choirs of Asbury University and Eastern Kentucky University are also joining the Philharmonic for the performance of the Daphnis et Chloe Suite. Inviting these choirs to perform with the Philharmonic, Terrell tells me, is “building audiences both on stage and as years progress.”
Terrell thinks of the audience as part of a broader community. While the old-fashioned idea of separation between performers and audience has fallen out of fashion, Terrell wants the Philharmonic to remain “ever-flexible and always relevant” to the wider community. To that end, the soloists for this season collaborate with the orchestra to serve as “ambassadors” to the world for their music, says Terrell. The incorporation of the young choruses for the performance of Daphnis et Chloe is a clear example of this musical diplomacy.
Inevitably, talk of younger performers invites talk of younger audiences. The symphony has an unfortunate reputation as a gathering place exclusive to the elder generation. While the Singletary Center, where the Philharmonic performs, is located on the campus of the University of Kentucky, a symphony is not a social event for the college on the level of a football or basketball game or Greek gathering. Nevertheless, Terrell says that the Philharmonic “is not a museum piece.” He emphasizes that there is an “openness and receptiveness of [the Philharmonic’s] audience” that makes the art of making music exciting. The Philharmonic takes full advantage of that receptiveness, he says, with the goal of creating a “culture of curiosity” among the audience. Toward that end, every concert this season will contain at least one piece by a living composer.
For Bright, that contemporary piece is a (literally) colorful composition. Michael Torke, an American composer, wrote Bright Blue Music in 1985, and the style of the piece—harmonically direct and simple, with a clear single development—reflects the emergence of American minimalism in the late twentieth century. Throughout the program, then, the Philharmonic will undertake a backwards motion, almost like a dive: from the contemporary sounds of Torke, through the early twentieth century impressionism of Ravel, and stop at the unreconstructed romanticism of Grieg along the way. In short, the concert will move quickly through a variety of tastes, and should contain something to satisfy even the most stoic listener.
The high quality of the Lexington Philharmonic continues with the upcoming production of the oft-played Rimsky-Korsakov classic, Scheherazade. Unlike many productions of well-known works, however, Scheherazade is being given the full treatment as a “Beyond the ScoreⓇ” production. The Chicago Symphony gave birth to the “Beyond the Score” idea and it has seen much success with many symphonies across the country. Here to talk with us about Scheherazade, “Beyond the Score,” and the value of the arts community in general is LexPhil’s music director and conductor Scott Terrell.
UM: Scheherazade. Well-known piece. Rimsky-Korsakov. Tell us about the piece and how the performance on February 5th will be different from the usual fare.
ST: It’s a great orchestral piece on a lot of levels. The story, which is from 1001 Arabian Nights, is always interesting. It’s a piece we’ve done before, but we were looking for something different.
UM: How is this different?
ST: It was some time ago when Chicago created “Beyond the Score,” with standard and non-standard pieces. They wanted to bridge the gap between a veteran concert-goer and a novice concert-goer. It’s a combination of music, actors, video, multimedia. There’s imagery that matches the story and the idea of the piece. The images and the context are both elucidated at the beginning. Some of these standard pieces are done many times in the same way which, over time, can be comfortable, habitual, but not really exciting, new or deeply interesting.
UM: What will this do for the audience?
ST: It gives the musical context and illuminates the times that were going on to create such a piece. Many Russian composers were immersed in Arabian or Middle Eastern music at this time. Growing up in Russia at the time of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov meant being exposed to this other music that was coming in from far-away lands.
UM: What happens in the first part of the show?
ST: Two actors are involved. One is speaking the words of Rimsky-Korsakov, giving his influences and involvements, speaking in first person. The second actor has the storyteller role. This is the voice of Scheherazade, giving the four stories that eventually saved her life. These are 4-5 musical excerpts which last around 50 minutes, what I call a “dissection,” a piece of Scheherazade. After the intermission, we just play the piece and everyone has a context, an understanding of what made this piece come to be.
Scheherazade (view video) was the daughter of the Vizier of (second only to) the King of Persia. When the king’s wife was unfaithful to him, he had her killed. He vowed never to be cheated on again and decided to marry a virgin each day and behead her the next, thereby never giving any woman a chance to make a fool of him again. Many women had been killed in this way, and when the king met Scheherazade, she was to be another victim of this madness. Scheherazade began telling the king stories, always stopping at dawn, each of the 1,001 tales buying her another day of life. By the time she had no more stories to tell, the king had fallen in love with her and she became his reigning queen.
UM: Do you find telling these stories in new and exciting ways is inspiring to your regular patrons?
ST: Absolutely. This puts new eyes on a classic work. For some, it’s a re-discovery, for others it may be brand new, but they are getting the context of the piece, which is more than likely much different than what people received and understood the first time. Scheherazade is one of those story pieces which is very special. In terms of how we present, the first half excerpts are not only from Rimsky-Korsakov, but from other Russian composers, peers of the time, and one can hear the sounds that influenced him through their words as well. This gives immense perspective as to how great the score is. It’s a wonderful, conceptual piece, and people forget how programmatic, but colorful, it is.
UM: Is it a much different experience for the Philharmonic in rehearsals, doing a well-known piece in this “Beyond the Score” fashion?
ST: This will be a different concert piece than what we’re used to. For the members of LexPhil, they have had an experience of not finding his words boring as musicians. We’re all reading through it, saying “That makes a lot more sense now.” If you’re an arts or musical nerd, it’s fascinating to think of how someone comes up with this stuff and “Beyond the Score” has helped to shed light on that for the orchestra, as it will for the viewers.
UM: Is it important to stick with classics from an artistic perspective? I know financially it makes sense, but when preparing the season, and piecing things together?
ST: It’s important to combine the known with the unknown. Most people know this work, so it is known. Doing it the way we’re doing it, though, will be an unknown to everyone. To me, this is much more exciting. There’s always a deeper appreciation when a piece is juxtaposed against something else, particularly the history. “Beyond the Score” has allowed us to juxtapose the piece against itself, in a new and different way from the usual. It is also important to juxtapose one piece against another on a given evening. In April, for instance, we have the Dvorák Symphony No. 9, “New World”, which is a very well-known work. It will be contrasted that evening with the world premiere of Avner Dorman’s After Brahms, as well as Dorman’s Frozen in Time percussion concerto. This will make for a very interesting evening. Known and unknown. Part of the fun is the “I don’t know.” Like I said, the audience may love it or they may not. You have to take a calculated risk as an artist. One never grows through staying comfortable, staying status quo.
UM: What we’re talking about with “Beyond the Score,” putting together known works in as-yet-unknown ways: is this trending with other orchestras striving to be new and cutting edge?
ST: Yes. This is one of the things at which modern orchestras have become very adept, with Chicago leading the pack: a way to reach out and engage the audiences. How can we get more people into the hall? I’m very proud we’ve come along this path by responding to the audiences. How can we build and grow and give our audience something meaningful? Rather than orchestras reacting to a bad year or season of low attendance after the fact. It’s much better if we are proactive. Find out what people in 2016 are wanting out of their Philharmonic. This idea is being used all over the country with great success.
UM: Particular to Rimsky-Korsakov’s work in general, do orchestras look forward to doing it? Is it a favorite?
ST: From Rimsky-Korsakov’s perspective, this sound defines him. Most people will tell you he was one of the greatest orchestrators to ever live. He actually wrote books on orchestration. Because he really knew what he was doing, it always makes it a great pleasure and challenge for orchestras to come together on it. It’s good for the orchestra, too. They realize it’s a big chunk of music, not just this piece, but everything in the program. It’s always important that there’s perspective. As a conductor, I try to constantly listen with “new ears” and see the old and new influences and perspectives. What’s tricky about Scheherazade, mainly because it’s such a complex orchestral work, is that the brilliance of the piece begs the questions, “Why did it come about? What was going through the composer’s mind?” This is something the “Beyond the Score” process can answer and that informs the entire experience. We often take it for granted when we just hear the piece performed with nothing else. People will have a much deeper appreciation of the work when they hear it.
“1001 Arabian Nights” has its roots in the folklore of Persia and India, which scholars believe formed the early versions of the work. “Nights” was first published in the early 1700s, and it is believed by this time, having been translated into Arabic, many Arabic stories were added to the original list. These all culminated in the work we know today, which has influenced art, film, and of course, music. The most famous translation of the massive work was completed by Britain’s renowned Renaissance Man of the 19th century, Sir Richard Francis Burton.
UM: It seems LexPhil has really branched out in the last five years or so. I know the question is always there, but more recently it’s really been put to the Lexington community about the value of the arts in our lives. What’s your take on that?
ST: The arts are as important as they ever were. The various arts entities in this area work with each other to bring things to life. What is often the case in the arts is: “what do they bring to the economy of Lexington?”
UM: There’s always the issue of money.
ST: Yes. And it is simply not enough to walk on stage and leave. There has to be advocacy through education, outreach, etc. One sees a lot of fear when the arts are threatened, but also a lot of people have been standing up and saying we must have them. People know inherently that the arts are integral to who we are, what we do, where we come from.
UM: No matter how much one may deny that fact, it will always be there, won’t it?
ST: There has to be a lot work beyond our individual realms. It gets people reinvigorated, reinitiated to life.
The Lexington Philharmonic continues the season November 13 at the Singletary Center for the Arts with Mozart and More. As the title indicates, the centerpiece of the evening is Mozart’s magnificent, mature and oft-performed 40th Symphony. Referred to many times as “the Great G Minor symphony,” this classic piece, composed near the end of Mozart’s 35-year life, stands in contrast to his 25th symphony, “the Little G Minor Symphony,” his only other symphonic work in a minor key. For this performance, Amadeus Mozart is in the company of Felix Mendelssohn, Dmitri Shostakovich andJohn Corigliano.
Joining UnderMain contributor Chip Sebastian for a chat about Mozart and More and the experience patrons can anticipate is LexPhil Conductor, Scott Terrell and musicians Stephen Campbell and Pei-San Chiu.
UM: Mozart and More. Just the title makes me curious. Why “More?”
ST: As ever, we’ve tried this season to offer a wide range of listening, showing many aspects of music and the wide range of the Lexington Philharmonic. In the course of a season, we wanted to establish a balance. We did Mahler, then went American with Time for Three. There are moments when we want to feature our artists, and this upcoming evening is certainly one of those times.
UM: If you needed a word to sum up the entire evening, what would it be?
ST: If I had to sum it up, it would be “Voyage.”
UM: Why “Voyage?”
ST: Well, the Corigliano piece itself is entitled Voyage, for starters. Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture is one of his finest works and it was composed while he was traveling through the Hebrides Islands. The whole evening has the sense of taking a journey.
GERMANY- CIRCA 1997: stamp printed by Germany, shows Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Composer, circa 1997.
Hebrides was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1830. Also known as “Fingal’s Cave,” the work was inspired by Mendelssohn’s trip to Scotland. The ten-minute piece, an overture, was dedicated to Frederick William IV, then Crown Prince of Prussia. The work was revised by Mendelssohn at least once after its premiere in London, and has been featured in many literary works and films.
UM: Hebrides is the first piece on the docket, correct?
ST: Yes. This is one of Mendelssohn’s most beautiful pieces. Dark, rich, and very different from say, Shostakovich, who can be very angular, percussive, dissonant.
UM:Mendelssohn always seems rich and textured.
ST: Yes. Like most composers coming from the Romantic Era, he has a full, rich sound. Emotional.
UM: A contemporary of Beethoven.
UM: It seems the programs are trying to balance the more harmonious with the more dissonant. Would that be fair to say?
ST: It’s more of a thematic thing. What pieces fit together to make a very interesting and dynamic evening. Like a good meal.
ST: Shostakovich will bang you over the head, while the others draw you into their worlds.
USSR- CIRCA 1976: A stamp printed in the USSR shows a portrait of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the score for his 7th Symphony, circa 1976.
UM: This first piano concerto was completed in 1933, not so long after the Russian Revolution.
ST: Yes. Shostakovich had a bit of a slap on the wrist from the Russian aristocracy about an opera he had done not long before. He was trying to stay in good graces with this piece.
UM: He was well-established by then?
ST: Yes, but in the 1930s, he was still uncertain about being a pianist. Perhaps not as settled as later in his career.
UM: The pianist and the trumpet have major roles here. The featured pianist: Fei Fei Dong. Tell me a bit about her.
ST: Fei Fei was one of six finalists in the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She studies at Julliard and she has had nothing but glowing reviews from the many places she’s played. Her pedigree is very good. This is a real tour de force for a pianist. She’s a young and fresh talent and we’re glad to have her.
UM: The other featured performer, trumpeter Stephen Campbell, plays regularly with LexPhil?
ST: Yes, Stephen’s been around for awhile and he’s another wonderful talent.
UM: Do you feel there is a great story between the piano and trumpet?
ST: Absolutely. Certainly the pieces of this season have a protagonist and antagonist. Story is what makes it all interesting.
Stephen Campbell is the Principle Trumpet with LexPhil
UM: Stephen, what is your sense of the structure and power of this Shostakovich piece?
SC: The Concerto is a wonderful composition on so many levels. It’s one of the first major concertos to come from the Soviet era. Shostakovich was constantly falling in and out of favor with the Soviet censors based on their standards of decorum and aesthetics. One moment, he’d be awarded the coveted Stalin Award, the next he’d be publicly criticized. This is one of the compositions which brought him back in favor.
UM: Because of the focus on trumpet, is this a piece that trumpeters look to as a standard for performance? Something every trumpet player wants on their resume?
SC: The concerto is great for trumpeters because of the dramatic range required for performance. We have everything. The character of the second movement is really low. Someone, bourbon in hand staring off into the middle distance, contemplating life. There’s a real folksy section in the fourth movement, as well as a quotation from one of my favorite Haydn sonatas and a very exciting finish.
UM: You seem to be quite at home playing with LexPhil.
SC: Performing with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra is a thrill. I love performing high quality music with friends and colleagues.
UM: Thank you, Stephen.
SC: Thank you.
Resuming with Scott Terrell, we move to John Corigliano
ST: Yes. He’s probably most famous for the score to the film, The Red Violin, which featured Joshua Bell on violin.
UM: Great movie.
ST: Yes. John’s very prolific and Voyage is an early piece that demands a great principle flute and we certainly have one in Pei San.
Pei-San Chiu is the principle flute for LexPhil and is featured on Voyage.
UM: Pei-San, what are your thoughts onVoyage, in terms of the flute and the level of performance required?
PC: Voyage is the instrumental version of Corigliano’s choral work based on Baudelaire’s L’Invitation au Voyage. The timbre of flute and strings is very warm and comforting, which gives a new texture and atmosphere to the piece, just as it’s said in Richard Wilbur’s translation, “There, there is nothing else but grace and measure, richness, quietness and pleasure.”
UM: Wonderful to imagine. You’ve been with LexPhil for some time, haven’t you?
PC: I joined LexPhil in 2013 and this is my third season. It’s been such a pleasure to be in the LexPhil and work with my colleagues.
UM: It seems LexPhil has a wider range of endeavors with each passing season.
PC: Thanks to Scott, we’ve done so many great concerts with superb soloists, including classical, opera, film music, works with choral and Pops. As a flutist, I couldn’t be happier to play good music with my colleagues.
More on Voyage from Scott Terrell
UM: Voyage seems to be quite a contrast to Shostakovich.
ST: Exactly. John has done some of the most beautiful music for strings in the last few decades. This is a very warm piece and will work nicely after the dissonance of the Shostakovich. Compositionally, you hear a lot of Barber, Copland and Bernstein in John’s music.
UM: When you have a piece like this, with the artist still living, do you ever have interactions or brainstorming with the composer about the work or the performance of it?
ST: In this event, no. It’s interesting with composers: you never know if they are watching musical scenes around the country and the world to see if their pieces are being played.
UM: I suppose this would help keep the performance true, not knowing if the person who gave birth to the piece is watching and inevitably critiquing the performance.
ST: There is a sense of being true to the work and its composer.
UM: I know this is true with writers, when films are made of their books. There seems to be an understanding that the messageor theme of the work, the writer’s original intent, is preserved.
ST: Yes. One can’t help but think about that when a performance is developing. I’ve done some of John’s pieces before. Gazebo, and The Red Violin. It’s all very listenable stuff, very pleasant to the ear.
UM:Do you ever wish you had the artist on standby when you perform pieces by living composers?
ST: That’s always nice, if possible. So often it’s not. I did meet John many years ago, when I was in Aspen as a student. Do I know if he knows the music’s being played? No. I had an experience along these lines with Jennifer Higdon, who is a modern composer, won many awards, etc. I was performing a piece of hers titled On a Wire with a group called Eighth Blackbird out of Chicago. I saw Jennifer at an event and introduced myself and she said Eighth Blackbird had been raving about the experience and she knew that we had performed it in Lexington. I was taken aback. You just never know who’s hearing what when.
UM: I know in dance the circles are pretty small. I would imagine the same is true in, especially, classical music.
ST: Yes. Definitely.
CZECHOSLOVAKIA – CIRCA 1981: a stamp printed in the Czechoslovakia shows Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Composer, circa 1981
Mozart finished his 40th Symphonyin 1788, along with the 39th and 41st in that same year. Even though the three final symphonies were written close together, there are marked differences between them. Mozart composed many other works after the 41st Symphony, “The Jupiter,” living another three years before succumbing to an illness at 35. Scholars still cannot agree on what actually killed Mozart, but it is well-documented that he was bedridden in his final days, and composing to the end.
UM: Mozart’s 40th Symphony is one of his best-known, most-beloved symphonic works.
ST: It’s the linchpin of the evening. Mozart in general is very different in terms of scale and performance. The sound is energetic and profound and really will make for a huge ending to the night. It’s important in any evening that we have that old performance idea of tension and resolution. The audience will certainly have enough tension with the Shostakovich piece with a little steam let off from the others. But the Mozart should really open the floodgates at the end.
UM: A lot of different styles in the evening.
ST: Yes, and the other interesting thing besides the difference in styles is that the composers are at different places in their lives.
UM: This was toward the end of Mozart’s life, but his life being so brief, he would have been approaching middle-age when this was composed, right?
ST: Yes. Noting his early death, there’s still a marked maturity in his later work. A lot more color and nuance that isn’t present to the same degree in the earlier, developmental material.
UM: It seems Mozart never stales, even two hundred-plus years later.
ST: It will always be great to hear and perform.
For information about LexPhil and tickets, click here.
Following strong success in September with Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, the Lexington Philharmonic is at it again. The next adventure is slated for 7:30pm, October 23rd at the Singletary Center for the Arts: American Soundscapes, an evening of (you guessed it!) American composers. LexPhil will open with the more familiar: Aaron Copland’s Our Town, taken from Thornton Wilder’s play of the same title, and George Gershwin’s Catfish Row Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess. But then, the program looks to present and future with a performance of Travels in Time for Three, a newer work by American composer and musician Chris Brubeck.
Maestro Scott Terrell spoke to us recently about the upcoming concert, the musicians involved, and his bold vision for our symphony.
ST: Yes. Plus they’ll have a drummer with them that night.
CS: How did this develop?
ST: Four years ago we introduced them here which is a huge undertaking, as they have become their own genre. The audience was blown away by their virtuosity when they were here before.
CS: And this was an opportunity to have them back.
ST: Yes. They are an ensemble that has opened a lot of people’s eyes and brought audiences a different sound. They relax the concert experience as well. When we had them here a few years ago, they did a series of pieces written for them and by them. Since then composers have taken on writing pieces for them, such as Chris Brubeck and Jennifer Higdon.
ST: Right. Chris had a one-of-a-kind musical education growing up and he has come into his own as a composer. Chris is deeply trained in Jazz, but this concerto is so broad in its variety of styles. This is his first big piece on our programming. When we had Time for Three here last time, they said Chris had written this piece for them, it was really dynamic and they would like to present this here.
CS: Tell me more about the piece itself.
ST: At times the piece is very baroque, while at other times you might hear a Jimi Hendrix-style sound. Travels debuted in 2010, and calls for the three guys, plus a drummer.
ST: Gershwin was able to absorb the environment and create an opera that is definitely American, but is distinctly Gershwin in character. The honkytonk piano, the hurricane music with the ship bells, etc. All three composers had to adapt to their environment to create something new and fresh. There is also the sense of pushing boundaries away from the already-established.
CS: So, each of the pieces adapts to its times and perhaps pushes then-established boundaries, is that correct?
ST: Definitely. We forget that Copland was a big part of films and TV. Our Town was nominated for an Academy Award. It’s lesser- known Copland, but definitely his sound and color. It’s a lovely piece that doesn’t get performed very much; he adapted to his environment in the same way Gershwin did with Porgy and Bess. One would think Gershwin would not take on this subject-matter, being a composer from New York with so much ability and the experiences of the North. But, once again, we have that stepping-out-of-the-norm mentality, which is a trait that makes all three great.
CS: The pieces complement thematically as well as being new and older Americana.
ST: In all three of the pieces, you get a real sense of honesty. The intention of all three is very clear. They go together very well.
CS: And strongly American.
ST: American music is still Gershwin and Copland and in a newer, still-forming way, Chris. There’s a definite character in the sound world they create. They’re different, but American in their approach. Of course, Copland’s life and his output were tremendous: ballet, film scores, theatre, the versatility is unbelievable. He was also a product of his environment with his pieces for movies, which is where many composers found work and patronage. All three draw the best out of the orchestra. Genres gradually blur in these pieces. Today, Gershwin and Copland sound usual, because everyone has heard them and they have been labeled “The American Sound,” but they were daring in their day, just as Chris’s music is daring and expanding presently.
Below: Technical Sergeant Matthew C. Erickson performs Brubeck’s Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra with the NEC Symphonic Winds conducted by William Drury. Recorded live in NEC’s Jordan Hall on March 6, 2014.
Brubeck is coming to Lexington later this season on New Year’s Eve to perform with his quartet. He’s written a lot of wonderful pieces, including one composed with his father concerning the photographer Ansel Adams.
CS: Travels in Time for Three. A new and different piece, I trust?
ST: The piece is 35-minutes, so it’s decent-sized. It traverses all of these musical styles that are emblematic of the American musical scene. Time for Three started out as students doing their own thing and have spiraled into composers seeking them out and writing for them..
CS: What is so appealing to you about this group?
ST: They’re a very versatile group that is capable of taking the audience through the many genres and the music Chris has created. It’s extremely virtuosic and interesting. You’d be surprised if you saw the three of them in a nightclub without a drum set. They’re all highly-trained musicians, world-class players in their own right. and they defy expectations and they’re committed to the music they perform. This community heard them a few years ago, but I wanted to bring them back for a more substantial collaboration. I like what they stand for. They can jam with anybody. They are comfortable representations of what’s happening in music now.
Here’s a clip of Time for Three at the Heartland Music Festival:
(Note: After 15 years with the trio, Zach DePue, has decided to depart Time for Three in order to to dedicate 100 percent of himself to his role concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Zach’s successor is acclaimed solo violinist Nikki Chooi. According to the Time for Three website, “Nikki is appearing on selected dates with Time for Three during the 2015-16 season, fulfilling his schedule of international concert dates while starting to play as a full time member of the band. In coordination with his duties at the Indianapolis Symphony, Zach will intersperse appearances with TF3 throughout and until the end of the same season, helping Ranaan and Nick make the seamless transition. Nikki will take over fully beginning with the 2016-2017 season.” LexPhil confirms that Zach will be performing with the group in Lexington.)
CS: Can you tell us about other concerts that Time for Three will be performing while in Lexington?
ST: Right. It’s not just the average “drop-in and do the show” visit. They have the ability to connect with people in a very formal way, but also in a very grass-roots way. They are doing four pop-up concerts. One is the National Anthem at Keeneland on October 22. Another will be in the lobby atrium at UK Healthcare’s Chandler Hospital, and then another at Ethereal Brewing. They’re also performing our educational Discovery concert, currently sold-out with over 1400 students at Singletary. These students will experience how interactive and exciting Time for Three is to watch in action. And on Friday, October 23, the day of our concert, UK School of Music will host a Music Entrepreneurship Assembly with Time for Three. So, the Friday night concert is the culmination of many activities and partnerships that take place throughout the week.
CS: LexPhil partnered with UK HealthCare and the Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation for this concert.
ST: Yes, we’ve combined forces on a number of projects. It is really amazing, the connection between music and healing, and UK Healthcare recognizes the power of music and has worked with us for several years to bring live music into the healthcare environment. One of Time for Three’s appearances will be at Eastern State Hospital. The Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation is a supporter for this partnership as well as our bi-annual Composer-in-Residence program which will take place in April. We’re fortunate to have partners who have a deep appreciation for the arts in this community.
CS: It seems to be growing, getting stronger.
ST: We’re fortunate.
CS: Absolutely. Thanks again for your time and efforts, Scott.
ST: My pleasure.
American Soundscapes is October 23, 2015 at 7:30pm at the Singletary Center for the Arts. For the schedule of events and ticket info, please visit www.lexphil.org, phone (859) 233-4226 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lexington Philharmonic’s New Music Experiment, in partnership with the CKYO Symphony Orchestra, fosters the next generation of talent by offering young composers the opportunity to receive feedback from professional conductors and musicians, and hear their compositions performed. Works by four young composers have been selected to be work-shopped and performed to the public at LexPhil’s New Music Experiment on April 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm at Bryan Station High School.
43 composers from 35 cities, 21 states and 6 countries (USA, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, Germany) submitted works to be considered by LexPhil Music Director and Conductor Scott Terrell and Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Daniel Chetel. From undergraduates to doctoral candidates, diverse backgrounds and levels of education and experience were represented in the applicant pool. The composers selected are Luke Flynn (Butler University) for his work “Quiet Snow”, composer Desmond Ikegwuonu (Forth Worth, TX) for his work “Gaba N’iru”, composer Thomas Schuttenhelm (Hartford, CT) for his work “When the surface should suffice”, and Roydon Tse (University of Toronto) for his work “Jest.”
Under Terrell’s direction, selected composers will hear their works played and receive feedback from participants to further develop their work. The selected compositions will be played by members of the CKYO Symphony Orchestra with LexPhil musicians serving as section leaders. This format is a wonderful opportunity for CKYO students to experience an in-depth intensive experience learning a lot of new music and working with living composers. While rehearsals for the New Music Experiment are private, the final performance of NME selections will be a working recording session which is open to the public on Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm in Bryan Station High School’s auditorium.
As 2014 comes to a close, Lexington bids farewell with a welcoming: a special New Year’s Eve performance of the incomparable chanteuse, Ute Lemper.
Photo by Lucas Allen
The evening pays tribute to the sounds of the Moulin Rouge, including musical selections from Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Roseto Bertolt Brecht’s Surabaya Johnny.
The program begins with an orchestral Tribute Medley to the Moulin Rouge, concluding with Jacques Offenbach’s famous “Can-Can” from his satirical opera, Orpheus in the Underworld.
Ute Lemper takes the stage to perform classic French songs by some of the nation’s most beloved singers, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. After intermission, the show continues with the orchestral and cabaret selections of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.
On the selection of Ute Lemper as the featured soloist of the NYE Celebration, LexPhil Music Director and Conductor, Scott Terrell describes Ute as, “an internationally acclaimed chanteuse that I am honored to bring to the LexPhil stage this season. Her range of cabaret songs from Edith Piaf to Bertolt Brecht will dazzle the audience for a truly memorable New Year’s Eve!”
Ms. Lemper, a native of Münster, Germany, spent her first eighteen years there, before traveling the world, living in Paris, and finally settling in New York City, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
I chatted by phone with Ms. Lemper, concerning her upcoming date in Lexington, her many awards and talents, and what makes her tick.
You lived in Germany until you were 18. What made you leave at that time and pursue the arts?
I was in the original Viennese production of Cats after studying in Vienna in the early 80s. This was after I graduated from the Dance Academy in Cologne and the Max Reinhardt Seminary Drama School in Vienna.
And this led to other opportunities?
Yes. Particularly playing the original European Sally Bowles in Cabaret. This was in Paris. Then Velma Kelley in Chicago. We did that in London and New York, and I won the Olivier Award in London for the performance.
Then voice-overs for films dubbed for German-speaking audiences?
They called me to do the voice of Ariel for Disney’s Little Mermaid and for Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the German-releases, yes.
But, more than anything, you’ve become known for singing Kurt Weill, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, and singers who have seemed absent in the last generation. Is that accurate?
I have quite a bit more in my repertoire, like show tunes and original songs I’ve written. As a matter of fact, I’ve been writing a lot more of my own material in recent years, but I became known for singing the songs of these artists. I put out an album in 1987 called Ute Lemper sings Kurt Weill, and it was a huge success. In the early-90s I followed it with a second album of Weill’s songs and it did well too. I do Weill songs in my performances, among other pieces.
What do you feel is the common thread in your performances? What are you trying to achieve?
One common thread is to make a journey through time, to bring people on an historical journey. Making classical sounds more contemporary. But I have also fallen into this niche of keeping alive many songs that have fallen by the wayside or in some cases were purposely forgotten.
Yes. Like many of the Weill songs, which were abandoned in post-war Germany because they reminded the people who lived through those times of the horrors. It’s only many years later that they can be reflected upon and brought out into the light. The wounds were too deep for decades.
Photo by Lucas Allen
I imagine you feel a strong connection to this, having grown up in post-war Germany?
Yes, it is part of my heritage, but this also happened when I went to live in Paris.
When I lived as a Parisian, I found myself becoming an ardent pupil of the French chanson. As a result, I have incorporated many of Edith Piaf’s songs and Brel’s pieces into my show.
So you’ve become something of a torchbearer for these artists who may very well have been left behind?.
I’m not sure if they would have been left behind, but each of them speaks to a certain time and place and the music is very good. I feel drawn to these more cabaret-style pieces. At one point I was a dancer in Maurice Bejart’s company. I paint. I have many creative and artistic outlets, but the song is what I’m really known for and what I do the most. And with my performances, they are a mish-mash of many songs, with many histories behind them. Many of the songs from one artist can sound and feel different, however. Weill is a good case in point. Like so many of his contemporaries, he had the first half of his career in Europe, then came to the States. The songs from later in his canon have a different feel than those earlier songs. This is what cabaret should be: a blending of many different tones and feelings for variety and appeal.
(Ute was part of the German reunification of artists after the Wall was torn down in 1989. She performed in Roger Waters’ staging of Pink Floyd’s album The Wall,celebrating Germany’s historic move toward peace and solidarity.)
You were part of the German unification after the Wall fell?
Yes. It was and still is a complicated process, unifying the artists from East and West. While it’s had its challenges, there has been no other day like it in history. Unbelievable and overwhelming. Most artists had difficulty even expressing the feelings of it in their work, it was so intense and powerful. I wrote a song, Ghosts of Berlin, concerning it.
Do you feel the unification has been good for Germany, 25 years past the demolition of the Wall?
Absolutely. Today we face other issues, like Solidarity tax.
When the Wall fell, a Solidarity tax was imposed on West Germany to rebuild East Germany. While this was supposed to last only a few years, to get East Germany on their feet, it continues to this day. While West Germans are perhaps bitter about the tax, there is no doubt that the freeing of East Germany, and the money used to rebuild it from the West is nothing but a success story. Sadly, this cannot be said for many similar situations in the European Union.
Do you feel the wounds and ghosts of the past have healed and settled enough to bring out many of these songs in places so affected by wartime?
I did a concert with Zubin Mehta back in 1988. There were at least 50 holocaust survivors, people with numbers on their arms, that attended. One is not sure about the healing and settling, even with sufficient time passing.
What’s the next exciting step for Ute Lemper?
I’ll be doing a 70 years of liberation concert in Rome. I’m showcasing songs that were written in the death camps. Most are in Yiddish and German. I’m finishing up a great project with Paul Coelho called 9 Secrets, from his work, Manuscripts found in Accra. I did the original music for it, so I’m very excited about that.
Ute, thank you so much for your time. Lexington’s lucky to have you for this special night!
Of course. Thank you!
Photo by Lucas Allen
Tickets to the New Year’s Eve Celebration range from $25-$75 with $11 student tickets as available. Special seating is also available for parties of four with bottle service of champagne at prices of $500 for cabaret tables and $600 for box seating. Price of the special seating includes one bottle of champagne. Bottle service is limited to ticket holders over 21-years of age. Valet parking is available for $10 per car at the Short Street Entrance to the Lexington Opera House.
A New Year’s Eve Dinner at Portofino’s will be hosted following the concert by LexPhil for $75 per person. Tickets include a three-course prix fixe menu and Champagne toast, and must be purchased in advance by December 26, 2014. 20 percent of dinner ticket is tax-deductible, as allowed by law, and will benefit LexPhil.
Ute Lemper will perform at the Lexington Opera House on December 31st at 7:30. To purchase tickets, click here, or call (859) 233-4226.
The Lexington Philharmonic recently presented Heroes: Eroica and Icarus in the orchestra’s Lexington Opera House debut. UnderMain music writer Charles Sebastian chatted with renowned physicist Brian Greene who conceived this modern retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus, replacing the sun of the original with a black hole in space.
First, some background: Eroica or Heroic Symphony was composed in 1804 and originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, though Beethoven later changed his mind. Longer and more richly textured than contemporary symphonic works of its day, the Eroica stands as a breakaway from the classical forms that preceded it. LexPhil conductor Scott Terrell contends that it is for this reason the symphony makes good sense adjacent to the Philip Glass score for Icarus on the Edge of Time.
The novella of Icarus was published in 2008 and sets the well-known story in space with images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Philip Glass score was commissioned by the World Science Festival in New York, the brainchild of Greene. It has developed a great deal of momentum since its inaugural year in 2008. The film accompanying Icarus was created by surrealist filmmakers Al and Al, with a narrative by Brian Greene and playwright David Henry Hwang, who is perhaps best known for his award-winning play, M. Butterfly. In the Lexington performance, Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker will provide the narrative.
Here’s Sebastian’s conversation with Dr. Greene, speaking from his office in New York City:
What was the germ of Icarus? The one thing that let you know this was the story?
“The Greek myth had fascinated me since childhood, but the deeper piece is about being willing to go against the norm. Being willing to break out of the box with science or with anything is essential to progress and these are the things that create a whole new world. Science is a great story of adventure.”
Why use the media of film and music for science?
“Melding film and music with these scientific ideas I feel teaches science in a deeper way. The recognition of how science affects our daily lives is essential to the quality of our lives and our knowledge of the world around us and ourselves.”
You’re known mainly for your scientific writings. Are you still teaching?
“Oh yes! I maintain my position at Columbia University as a professor of mathematics and physics and I have my graduate students. Writing was a hobby that took off. It makes for a busy schedule. Then there is the World Science Festival, started by me and my wife.”
What role, if any, does education play in Icarus?
“Icarus fits with the general perspective in all my books, which is that they must make science penetrating. The language of science is math and many people have to have it translated. The ideas of science can be big and hard to fathom, and no one wants to feel stupid. By educating through the arts, these ideas are more accessible to most people.”
Was this your first time working with Philip Glass?
“Yes. I didn’t know what to expect. We met on a panel some time ago, he probably doesn’t remember it, but I do, because it happened to be where I met my wife. I sent him a story after the discussion. That was ten years ago.”
That sounds memorable. What was the collaboration with Glass like?
“Highly collaborative. He really wanted to understand the science behind Icarus. He asked me down to his studio one night around 11 o’clock. He was trying to understand how a black hole functions; he was very thorough with his questions and stayed open to my thoughts. Fortunately, we live in the same city, so it was a quick trip to his place.”
Whose decision was it to bring David Henry Hwang into the project?
“Glass’s. He had used Hwang on many previous projects as a librettist and felt it would add to the overall impact if he had a role in the writing.
How many times has Icarus been performed at this point?
“The Lexington performance is around 25. It’s been around the world in places as exotic as Malta.”
Had you delved into theatre or film prior to this?
“Yes. I developed another show that ran for three performances called Spooky Action, which deals with the concept of quantum entanglement. It premiered at the World Science Festival here in New York.”
What is the main ingredient for Icarus that you feel has made it a popular piece?
“I believe it works on so many different levels. Boys and men like it because it is a hero adventure, but then there is the science that goes along with it, that makes it different than the myth from which it’s borrowed.”
It’s obvious in this case that science is affecting the arts. Do you feel your piece somehow affects science, in reverse order?
“It’s a two-way street. Icarus may open up more avenues in art and it might dovetail back into science and somehow affect processes within it. It’s hard to say, but I would like to think that would be the case.”
How do you find working in collaboration?
“It’s one of the things that most excites me: working in new forms with others. I can spread my own wings in ways that are challenging and new.”
Will we hear more about Icarus?
“A sequel is planned, hopefully to coincide with the 100th anniversary of General Relativity.”