Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta: “The Creation of the World”

In Atlanta this Saturday? Come hear “The Creation of the World”! Music by Haydn, Milhaud and the world premiere of a new Quartet by Paul Salerni. The Vega Quartet, Elena Cholakova, and Stephanie McClure Adrian perform. 8 PM- FREE!

In Atlanta this Saturday? Come hear "The Creation of the World"! Music by Haydn, Milhaud and the world premiere of a new Quartet by Paul Salerni. The Vega Quartet, Elena Cholakova, and Stephanie McClure Adrian perform. 8 PM- FREE!

Review: The Atlanta Opera joyously celebrates 25 years of vocal guidance from Walter Huff

Review: The Atlanta Opera joyously celebrates 25 years of vocal guidance from Walter Huff

September 18, 2014

By Stephanie Adrian

Huff also teaches at Indiana University.

Kennesaw State University hosted the Atlanta Opera’s first-ever Choral Celebration at the Bailey Center on Tuesday evening. It was a concert that honored Walter Huff’s 25-year tenure as chorus master of the Atlanta Opera. While Huff and the Atlanta Opera Chorus, accompanied by pianist Brian Eads, played the starring role this night, there was a cast of characters — both singers and local celebrities — who made appearances too, adding to the evening’s excitement.

Previous to his work with the Atlanta Opera, Huff’s extensive life in music included posts as a vocal coach at the Washington National Opera, Peabody Opera Theatre, and Tanglewood Music Center, as well as a term as chorus master with the San Diego Opera. He served as a faculty member at Georgia State University for several years, and recently accepted a position as associate professor of choral conducting at Indiana University’s prestigious Jacob School of Music. But Huff’s role as chorus master at the Atlanta Opera has been one in which he has both mentored and collaborated with Atlanta singers for over 100 main stage opera productions, impacting the city’s cultural landscape.

After a crisp rendition of “Fuoco di gioia” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, Atlanta Opera general and artistic director Tomer Zvulun kicked off the evening with a recollection of his own 10-year history with the company as a stage director and his interactions with Huff, calling him “one of the most important chorus masters in the country.” It was an endorsement that was reinforced with each operatic selection performed by the stellar chorus and by each ensuing testimonial.

Jay Hunter Morris — the Heldentenor who stepped into the hefty role of Siegfried at the last minute in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent Robert LaPage Ring Cycle (and to great acclaim) — spoke after a lovely rendition of “Placido è il mar” from Mozart’s Idomeneo. Morris revealed that it was Huff who had prepared him for conservatory auditions in the late 1980s and again years later, collaborated with Morris during a pivotal moment within his singing career. 

Lois Reitzes, host of the WABE-FM program Second Cup Concert, and William Fred Scott, former artistic director of the Atlanta Opera, were in attendance, and each stepped forward to sing Huff’s praises. Scott spoke of Huff’s limitless repertoire and their shared vision for an opera chorus that was “precise, yet suave — perfect, but not pedantic.”

The program was somewhat autobiographical, showcasing a bit of the music that Atlanta audiences have heard during Huff’s stint in Atlanta. The brindisi summoned our memory of Mary Dunleavy singing the role of Violetta only a year ago; Huff programmed Psalm 104 from Philip Glass’ minimalistic opera Akhnaten, harking back to the AO’s semistaged production at the Schwartz Center in 2008 (with the composer sitting in the audience); Giacomo Puccini’s Moon Chorus from Turandot brought to mind the 2007–08 season, when Dennis Hanthorn was at the helm and the Atlanta Opera found a permanent home at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

But above all, Huff could not overlook the incredibly ebullient productions of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess that took place in Atlanta in both 2005 and 2011, which led to an invitation by the Opéra-Comique in Paris for an eight-week tour throughout Europe. Accordingly, the Bailey Center audience reveled in “Oh Lord, I’m On My Way” from Act III of Porgy.

Yet Huff’s programming was intended to highlight not his own career but rather the variety of vocal shades that one encounters throughout operatic repertoire and, moreover, to showcase what the Atlanta Opera chorus is capable of achieving. Huff reminded us of the vast range of characters that his working opera chorus has embodied over the last 25 years. 

The Atlanta Opera Chorus accomplished this and was even able to show off a little, aptly boasting two selections from the verismo repertoire: a light and airy “Bell Chorus” from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci early on and finally closing with the “Easter Hymn” from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. The latter selection featured glamorous soprano Indra Thomas as Santuzza.

Huff’s “Silver Celebration” was merely the first offering of the Atlanta Opera’s 2014–15 season. Atlanta audiences will also hear Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre as well as the Atlanta premiere of Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers at the Alliance Theatre this season.

- See more at: http://www.artsatl.com/2014/09/review-atlanta-opera-joyously-celebrates-25-years-vocal-guidance-walter-huff/#sthash.HaGaEXF1.dpuf

Lorin Maazel and Madame Butterfly

MaazelOn July 13 conductor Lorin Maazel passed away.  Maazel , 84, was a child prodigy who began leading orchestras at the age of 9.  His final performance was a production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, which took place at the Castleton Festival in Virginia two days earlier. 

Tomer Zvulun, General and Artistic Director of the Atlanta Opera, collaborated with Maazel as stage director for Butterfly.  The Castleton production, which featured sets designed by Erhard Rom, was a joint venture with Atlanta Opera and New Orleans Opera  and will be featured in Atlanta this November.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/13/331148634/conductor-lorin-maazel-who-brought-america-to-the-podium-dies

Meeting Celeste Headlee

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NPR journalist Celeste Headlee recently moved to Atlanta and will be hosting a 9 a.m. radio show on GPB’s newly acquired signal 88.5 that launches in October 2014.   I had an opportunity to meet Headlee earlier this week and we spoke about her musical legacy as the grand-daughter of esteemed American Composer, William Grant Still (1895-1978).  Still’s opera Troubled Island – with libretto by Langston Hughes and Verna Arvey – premiered at New York City Opera in 1949 and was the first opera by a black composer to be performed in the United States.  Still’s other operas include Blue Steel, A Bayou Legend, Highway NO. 1, U.S.A., Costaso, Mota, The Pillar, and Minette Fontaine.  

In the June 2014 Issue of Opera News: REVIEW of Atlanta Opera’s Faust

Noah Stewart

Atlanta Opera’s spring production of Faust at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre began in a promising way (seen March 11). It is difficult to overstate the remarkable improvement in the opera orchestra’s playing since Maestro Arthur Fagan joined ranks with the Atlanta Opera as music director. Even a season ago, this would have been a difficult opera for this company and this orchestra: the orchestral writing is highly exposed with solo lines throughout. It was apparent from the initial fortissimo note of the prelude that orchestrally things had changed for the better.

Louisa Muller made her Atlanta Opera debut as stage director for this production. She had a gifted cast assembled before her, including Walter Huff’s energetic chorus. It was a traditional but not stodgy staging that employed attractive choreography.

Noah Stewart sang the title role. In a fur-lined robe and surrounded by books, beakers, and other research implements he delivered his initial “Rien!” almost completely doubled over, offering a convincing picture of extreme old age. The opening act was played behind a scrim, providing a sense of intrigue as Faust made his bargain with Méphistophélès, although the darkness of the scene obscured Faust’s transformation after he drank the devil’s frothy potion. Once the scrim was raised and revealed the verdant Act II set — designed by Early Staley and rented from Houston Grand Opera — Stewart was able to convey a stunning contrast between antiquity and youthful impetuousness. His tenor is limpid and warm throughout most of his range. “Salut! Demeure chaste et pure” in Act III provided an especially lovely display of Stewart’s lyric ability and dynamic flexibility, made all the more moving by the exquisite violin solo that followed.

Alexander Vinogradov sang the role of Méphistophélès with grandeur and ease. His solo arias were the high points of the evening, especially the strophic serenade, “Vous qui faites l’endormie” when he flaunted a broad palette of vocal color and resonance. Vinogradov’s only sin was his understatement of the musical guffaws that serve to punctuate each verse. Mary Dunleavy returned to Atlanta to sing the ill-fated heroine Marguerite after a glorious run as Violetta last season. Dunleavy is unarguably radiant. A fluent interpreter of lyric soprano repertoire who admirably maintains a vocal production that is both free and fresh, Dunleavy paces herself and never seems to let herself get caught up in the moment until the finale. That was her way in La Traviata last spring and she followed suit here when she sang with abandon in the prison scene and final trio.

The opposite case was exemplified in mezzo-soprano Emily Fons’s performance. Her interpretation of Marguerite’s lovesick suitor Siébel was anything but reserved — rather raw and exceedingly physical. Fons’ rendition of “Faites-lui mes aveux” revealed a voice that ascended the scale easily, both agile and expressive. Edward Parks gave a confident performance as Valentin, delivering the showpiece aria, “Avant de quitter,” that was added to the score for baritone Charles Santley in 1864. Parks’s upper register was thrilling and especially so when he and the orchestra culminated the piece with an impressive crescendo.

Seamless transitions prevailed overall (with the omission of the Walpurgis Night revels and Faust’s encounter with the courtesans of antiquity), yet the concluding moments of the opera and quick scene changes from church to prison to redemption, seemed disjointed. Resolution was close at hand, though, as Méphistophélès and Faust made a hasty exit after the trio, leaving the stage to Marguerite as she was at last delivered from her earthly suffering.

STEPHANIE ADRIAN

www.artsATL.com Review: Rising star Tara Erraught brings her Irish roots and soaring mezzo to Spivey Hall

March 26, 2014

By Stephanie Adrian

Tara Erraught

The month of March prompts one to think of shamrocks, corned beef and cabbage, and a myriad of other Irish clichés like kissing the Blarney Stone and green beer. In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps, Spivey Hall welcomed Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and her pianist Dearbhla Collins to perform a recital on March 23. Erraught’s offering of Respighi, Brahms, Wolf and several opera arias, however, was anything but a cliché.

The 25-year-old Erraught, a native of Dundalk, Ireland, is a principal singer at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, where she has sung as an ensemble member for the last six years. Her distinction as a leading lady on the operatic stage has become evident this season as she sang the role of Kitty in Iain Bell’s Harlot’s Progress at the Theater an der Wien and the role of Angelina in La Cenerentola at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Erraught is garnering attention on this side of the pond as well, and will debut shortly at both the Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera.

The concert at Spivey Hall opened with Joseph Haydn’s “Scena di Berenice,” a Metastasio text from his libretto L’Antigono. The scena provided us time to admire Erraught’s intense, spinning top notes. A lyric mezzo with a rather sizeable voice, her instrument possesses the earthy timbre of an alto, but the range of a soprano. Her Bartoli-like melismas and long phrases showcased the utmost vocal freedom and an easy, pulsing vibrato that was stunning to hear. As the scena developed, Erraught became exceedingly involved physically and dramatically, piquing our interest.

After a melancholy group of three songs by Ottorino Respighi, Erraught told us that while there was no unifying theme for her repertoire choices, each song was a favorite — songs that she desperately wanted to do. The Respighi set included a gem entitled “Nebbie,” a song that the composer wrote without words even before encountering the poem by Ada Negri, which would eventually be assigned to it. The piece seems simple — a chordal accompaniment with a tonic pedal and predictable ascending and descending vocal lines that culminate with a declamatory statement, “Vieni! Vieni!” Yet the piece was incredibly moving. Erraught aptly conveyed elegance amid a text that is weighted with angst and despair.

Next, the Irish mezzo launched into selections from Johannes Brahm’s Zigeunerlieder. The eight Hungarian Gypsy songs were selected from some 380 songs that Brahms wrote during his lifetime and exhibit dance rhythms and strong accents. The final piece, “Rote Abendwolken ziehn,” is exuberant and gave us a first glimpse of the operatic scope and dynamic capability of Erraught’s voice. The Brahms set was immediately followed by Wolf’s “Mörike-Lieder.” The juxtaposition held a hint of irony as Wolf is reputed to be “anti-Brahms” as he strived for a perfect synthesis of words and music.

It’s always a pleasure to hear a formal song recital conclude with a few choice arias that exhibit a singer’s virtuosic capability; it’s like dessert after an incredibly satisfying meal. On this afternoon, Erraught and Collins gave us three unique arias — “Amour, viens render à mon âme” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, “Voce di donna” from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda and “Non v’è donna sulla terra” from Michael William Balfe’s Falstaff. The latter, composed in 1838, is so rarely heard that it was like the cherry on top of the sundae.

Erraught qualified Balfe as the “Irish Rossini.” This aria for Nanetta is characteristic of the bel canto vocal style of Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti. The double aria consists of both an andante cavatina section and a more energetic and showy ensuing cabaletta. Erraught displayed all of the bel canto characteristics one hopes for — a naturally beautiful voice and effortless delivery of highly florid passages. 

And just as we were wishing that we had been in Munich in early March to hear Tara Erraught’s Angelina in La Cenerentola, she seemed to read our minds and bestowed upon us “Non più mesta” as an encore. 

Preview on www.artsATL.com: Music educators convene for public conference, concerts based on Zoltán Kodály’s “universal musical humanism”

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March 17, 2014

By Stephanie Adrian

Hungarian pianist and composer Zoltán Kodály held that everyone has musical ability that should be cultivated in order to benefit humanity. The Organization of American Kodály Educators (OAKE), a professional organization for music educators, will convene in Atlanta on March 20 to promote his philosophy of “universal musical humanism.”

Propelled by disenchantment with Hungary’s education system, Kodály (1882–1967) dedicated himself to understanding what children were learning and how they were learning it. He found that children possess an innate musical ability and learn best through the songs, games, and dances of their native culture. In an effort to preserve the music of Hungary, Kodály traveled to villages throughout his country and developed several core principles through which music educators could advance universal music literacy.

American teachers will adapt the songs native to regions across the United States — Texas cowboy songs, Appalachian folk tunes or blues songs — for use within the classroom. They may use a high-quality popular song or even a Disney ditty to present a rhythmic or musical concept. Recognizing the voice as a child’s primary instrument, Kodály educators begin with the folk music of the child’s mother tongue. They progress from the known to the unknown, selecting age-appropriate music of the highest quality and eventually bridging to the music of the masters: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms.

The Atlanta conference, which is open to the public, will feature presentations on Lithuanian folk dance, Jewish choral music, Freedom Songs from the Civil War to the civil rights movement, and African American playground songs. This year OAKE will also offer a secondary choral track and classroom demonstrations for newcomers. Information is available on the organization’s website http://www.oake.org.

Two public concerts will bookend the conference. On March 19 at 8 p.m. pianist Gilbert de Greeve, professor emeritus of the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp, will present a benefit recital of Claude Debussy’s “24 Préludes for Piano” at Central Presbyterian Church. Part of the Arts of the Spirit concert series, it will feature a visual presentation and narration by Atlanta soprano Alexis Lundy. Concert proceeds will benefit the National Conference Choir Scholarship Fund.

Some 500 children, selected by audition, participate in these choirs, learning the concert repertoire through the Kodály process. The conference finale is a performance by several of these National Choirs at 7 p.m. On March 22 at the Woodruff Arts Center in Midtown.

ArtsATL Review: Skylark Vocal Ensemble performs impressive array of songs for winter and spring

January 27, 2014

By Stephanie Adrian

Skylark Vocal Ensemble

On Friday night conductor Matthew Guard and his Skylark Vocal Ensemble offered a concert titled From Winter to Spring at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Buckhead.

Equipped with a theme exceedingly apropos for Atlanta’s chilly weather conditions, the Skylark singers entered a darkened sanctuary and opened with Moritz Hauptmann’s “Zigeunerlied.” Miniature reading lamps were attached to their individual scores and were the only source of illumination, causing the singers to look almost ghoulish as they sang of werewolves and witches on a winter’s night in the forest wild.

Overall it was an ambitious program for Skylark, a fledgling ensemble of professional singers that only comes together five weeks a year and has limited rehearsal time prior to each engagement. The group of 16 Boston and Atlanta-based individuals struggled with intonation early in the evening. And regrettably, the dry acoustics at Covenant Presbyterian provided the singers with none of the reverberation or echo effect that would have been thrilling in another space.

Francis Poulenc’s four-movement chamber cantata “Un soir de neige” (an evening of snow) followed “Zigeunerlied.” Poulenc composed it over a span of three days in December 1944 during the Nazi occupation of Paris. (Think The Last Metro for context.) The poetry by Paul Éluard tells of a man’s journey into wintery woods without provisions and of his eventual death. It is a homage to the Jewish poet Max Jacob, who died in the Drancy internment camp while en route to a concentration camp in Germany.

Matthew Guard’s singers did this work justice, particularly in the third song, “Bois meurtri.” The initital descending intervals were striking, and Skylark’s alto section contributed an especially beautiful color to the whole.

Skylark suggested the promise of spring with Benjamin Britten’s delightful “Five Flower Songs.” Each song can be attributed to a different poet. Robert Herrick, a British Renaissance–era poet and clergyman, penned “The Succession Of The Four Sweet Months.” For this song Britten assigns one month to each voice part, beginning with the sopranos who describe April’s mellow showers. The Skylark women tapered phrases elegantly, making way for the altos who sang of smiling May, the tenors who pleasingly crooned about June, and lastly, the baritones who bragged about the wealth of July. Layer upon layer was added as each quartet continued its melody. Skylark offered an impressive mezzo piano finish, finding the perfect balance of timbre and finesse in its final line: “April! May! June! July!”

Skylark also performed John Tavener’s delicate eight-movement work “Butterfly Dreams” this night. Each song is dramatically singular — for instance, the sixth song, “Butterfly,” which consists of a disjunct melodic line and demands an extreme vocal range from its interpreters. Tavener chose many of the texts — drawn from writers of different ethnicities and experiences — for their simplicity and intended that the music be sung as simply and naturally as possible. Even still, “Butterfly Dreams” is a challenging and sophisticated work, not easily mastered.

The evening came to a close with two dissimilar pieces: Britten’s “Hymn to St. Cecelia” and an original arrangement of the famous jazz standard “Skylark.” The latter, a Peter Mansfield arrangement, was commissioned especially for the Skylark Vocal Ensemble and is evidently a sampling of things to come in late March, when the group reunites to perform a selection of love songs with a wide range of choral styles, languages and periods.

This Spring at Spivey

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Just a small portion of the wall backstage at Spivey Hall that displays autographed press photos of the stunning artists who have performed here. In this shot you can see Bryn Terfel, Christine Brewer, Joyce DiDonato, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Murray Perahia.

Tomorrow my 9-year-old daughter will have the privilege of playing a small Schumann song in a recital on the Spivey stage.

Later this spring patrons will be able to hear recitals by Christiane Karg and Tara Erraught.

Tommasini’s Assessment of 2013 in The New York Times

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“Lessons in a Year of Crises” by Anthony Tommasini mourns the loss of New York City Opera and highlights Gotham Chamber Opera, a company with a $1.5 annual budget and no endowment.

http://nyti.ms/19eB7br

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