Sunday, January 18, 2015

A great night of Copland, Gershwin and some other guy

Pianist Peter Donohoe, left, and conductor Valentin Radu
after the concert Friday night. 
The Ama Deus Ensemble, with guest soloist Peter Donohoe, served up an exciting concert Friday evening. It was a long program – more than two and a half hours, with intermission – but it sure didn’t feel like it. Donohoe joined the orchestra in performances of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the Concerto in F, as well as the regional premiere of Aaron Copland’s 1926 Piano Concerto. Any one of those would have made the evening feel complete, but as Peter said afterward, he had traveled a long way for this concert. He might as well try to fit everything in.

Gershwin’s third big concert piece, An American in Paris, was also thrown in for good measure at the end of the first half.

The Piano Concerto is not one of Copland’s more famous works, or even, to be honest, one of his best, though it foreshadows the aggressive symphonic jazz Leonard Bernstein would develop in West Side Story. Donohoe and company gave a convincing, confident-sounding reading that betrayed none of the trepidation they must have felt in the face of such complex and unfamiliar music. For me, it was the highlight of the program, even if the Gershwin melodies that followed stick more tenaciously in the mind. Donohoe, reading from a score, was riveting, and the orchestra snapped to attention behind him, which was a relief after the curtain raiser, a somewhat lackluster reading of some lackluster movie music by John Williams. The ensemble stayed at that higher level for the rest of the night, especially in the Rhapsody, when it achieved some moments of genuine grandeur.

I should also mention clarinetist Arne Running and trumpeter Scott McIntosh, who reveled in the solo passages provided by Gershwin. McIntosh, especially, shone in all the blues, the glissandi and the muted wah-wahs. For a few indelible moments, he transformed the Perelman into Preservation Hall.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A lovely way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon

Johannes Brahms,
before his Santa Claus phase
Yesterday, while the rest of America was glued to the NFL playoffs, I and about 500 other people crammed into the Warden Theater at the Academy of Vocal Arts for a free all-Brahms program. (I like Brahms, and I like free, so I figured it was the perfect excuse to leave the apartments.) Students, faculty and guests of the AVA performed nine vocal quartets and the two songs with viola Op. 91. The concert ended with an instrumental work — the F minor Clarinet Sonata Op. 120, performed with modest grace by 22-year-old Robert Kahn.

Not much to say about this event, except that it’s fun to see the stars of tomorrow today, and it’s always a thrill to hear big voices in an intimate setting. There is a physical jolt, a sense of being enveloped in sound, that doesn’t occur in the balcony at the Met, even when the largest of forces are trotted out. One of the reasons I love Brahms because, unlike Wagner, say, he fits into a small room. And his knowledge of Renaissance counterpoint is on full display in his vocal music.

Interesting footnote about the singers in training at the AVA: Reading the bios in the program, I noticed that not a single one was from the Philadelphia area, or even the East Coast. They were all from the Midwest, the Southwest, California, China and Mexico. Maybe the local talent likes to leave home to study. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

They love me in Norway

I'm not good at interpreting  the stats on my blogger dashboard, but apparently, I am very popular in Norway. In the latest round of page views, by country, this little blog got 281 page views in the l;and of the fjords. The next-county country on the list, the US, had 51 -- only 18 percent of the Norwegian contingent. So either someone is trying to mask their country of origin in a foreign server, or the Scandinavians have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Whoever you are over there, I want to move to your country. Would you give me a reference?

United States
United Kingdom

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Donohoe, Ama Deus Ensemble to perform Copland's Piano Concerto

Photo by Sussie Ahlburg
Peter Donohoe

The pianist Peter Donohoe will appear as soloist in Aaron Copland's Piano Concerto January 16 at the Kimmel Center, accompanied by the Ama Deus Ensemble under the direction of Valentin Radu. The piece is almost 90 year old, but as far as anyone can tell, this upcoming performance will be the Philadelphia premiere. I have mixed feelings: I'm excited, but somewhat scandalized. The century-long delay is typical of this city's attitude toward 20th-century American music. (Ives Fourth, anyone?)

In any event, I spoke with Mr. Donohoe about the concerto late last month. You may see the article that came out of the interview by clicking here.