From the June Issue of Opera News Online: The Pirates of Penzance

Atlanta Opera Review - February Issue

Atlanta Opera
3/5/16

ON MARCH 5, Atlanta Opera offered an exceedingly satisfying production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 operetta The Pirates of Penzance at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. It was the first time that Pirates had been presented by the company, but ticket sales accelerated so rapidly here that the company was compelled to offer a fifth performance this month.

Should a serious opera company produce an operetta by Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert? The answer is yes— if the casting and stage direction are superb. This production by Seán Curran, originally seen at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, was revised scenically as a co-production of Atlanta Opera and Palm Beach Opera. Dancer and director Curran stamped the production with delightful choreography that surpassed the conventional box-step and infused each ensemble number with comedy. Curran’s musical collaborator, conductor David Agler of the Wexford Festival Opera, likewise harnessed the best that the cast and orchestra had to offer.

Kevin Burdette played pirate extraordinaire as the Pirate King. Burdette is an opera singer first and foremost, but is as dynamic moving across a stage as any music theatre pro on Broadway. Matthew Newlin, his young Tamino-esque intern Frederic, is a member of the ensemble at Deutsche Oper Berlin. Tall, blonde and melodramatic to the hilt, Newlin sustained the high B flat in “Oh, is there not one maiden breast” effortlessly. The object of his affection, Maureen McKay, negotiated Mabel’s music with a crystalline soprano, precision and charm; she omitted the E flat at the end of her waltz, “Poor Wandering One,” but we didn’t miss it.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas are ideal for crossover artists. Curt Olds gave his Atlanta Opera debut as a rhyming and rousing Major-General Stanley in this production. Donning smart argyle stockings, he hilariously directed the orchestra with the words, “presto agitato” for his patter encore. And his Act II ballad “Sighing softly to the river,” which is typically a lull in Pirates, was anything but. Olds frolicked his way through the verses with silliness to spare. The Ruth, Victoria Livengood, another versatile singer, took a bit of time to warm up her contralto, but was an apt comedienne, colorful and cartoonish.

Atlanta Opera general and artistic director Tomer Zvulun proved that no role is too small for careful consideration: local singers were not cast in secondary and comprimario roles for this production of Pirates of Penzance. Instead we heard budding singers with voices of great interest, among them Will Liverman as Samuel and Jasmine Habersham as Edith.  —Stephanie Adrian

Memorial Day in the Low Country

George Gershwin

Charleston, SC – land of Pat Conroy, shrimp and grits, and George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess– I paid homage to you this weekend.

I wandered the streets of Folly Beach and found Dubose Heyward’s home on W. Ashley, desolate and faded.  I wanted to see where the insurance salesman who penned Porgy had lived.

I bought two pounds of fresh shrimp at Crosby’s and made frogmore stew with my husband before trudging to the edge of the island with my children to see the Morris Lighthouse.  I sat on the beach and listened to the sound of the Atlantic surging and receding from your shore.

You never disappoint, Charleston.  You offer me a glimpse of the distant past and remind me of America’s patriot founders 300 years ago, Middleton, Lynch, Heyward, and Rutledge.  You dazzle me with $4.2 million antebellum homes – pink and white – that overlook the Cooper River.

My pilgrimage included a search for great food – elegant mussels at S.N.O.B. on Monday and a plate of fish, shrimp, crab cakes and fries at Bowen’s Seafood on Tuesday.  Everything I consumed there was fried except for the beer.

I went to the Charleston Museum which offered little of interest except for the Cunningham upright piano that Gershwin rented during his stay on Folly Beach in July of 1934 while composing Porgy and Bess.  Inspired by Heyward’s novel, he wrote an enduring American opera that captures your essence in the 1930s:  jazz, happy dust, and the Gullah people on Cabbage/Catfish Row.  I saw that opera at the Spoleto Festival on Memorial Day night and like the rest of the audience, was dazzled by Gershwin’s unending portrayal of each character through his musical trinity – melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Review: Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel is unforgettable in epic Spivey Hall recital

 May 3, 2016

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Just a few months after the trustees of Spivey Hall broke ground south of Atlanta, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel made groundbreaking news as the recipient of the Lieder Prize at the BBC Singer of the World competition in Cardiff, Wales. It was a big story back then as Welshman Terfel and Russian Dmitri Hvorostovsky battled for the top prize.

Now, 25 years later, Bryn Terfel has portrayed czars, gods and ghosts in the finest opera houses and Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall is wrapping up its silver anniversary season. Culminating its year-long celebration, Spivey Hall presented an electrifying recital by Bryn Terfel and pianist Natalia Katyukova on April 30.

With hulking stature and booming narration, Terfel laced the recital with tales of his early days at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. There, he apparently studied nothing but art song for three years with his teacher Arthur Reckless (a.k.a. A. Reckless, baritone).

Terfel’s storytelling included an education of the trials and tribulations of other renowned baritones too, such as Feodor Chaliapin, the man who couldn’t master Ravel’s “Don Quichotte Songs” and instead asked Jacques Ibert to compose something a bit more accessible. Terfel sang the Ibert songs displaying a wall of sound, overwhelming at times within such an intimate space.

John Charles Thomas — an American baritone from days of old and a rival of the aforementioned Chaliapin — inspired Terfel’s repertoire choices as well, which included Albert Hay Malotte’s version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” a lovely arrangement of “Home on the Range” and Wolsely Charles’ “The Green Eyed Dragon.” (The latter Thomas sang on the Westinghouse Radio Show in 1943.)

In one of the most eclectic voice recitals ever performed at Spivey Hall, Terfel sang for more than two hours, barely taking a moment off stage between sets. We heard an abundance of Welsh songs, including the tragic “Sul y blodau” by Owen Williams, a strophic song that tells of a mother’s regret at the grave of her son. Within the final stanzas, Terfel sang the last mournful words without accompaniment then launched into Frederick Keel’s “Three Salt-Water Ballads” with unfaltering diction and boisterous energy.

Terfel’s voice has no doubt evolved since his triumph in Cardiff singing Schumann’s “Schöne Fremde.” Despite the mileage of a high-caliber career, he can impressively harness a sizeable voice and employs voce finta at will. He sings a silly song with the same integrity as Schubert lieder.

No doubt the Spivey Hall audience will recall his Atlanta recital for countless reasons, but paramount among them his final encore, Tevye’s great song from Fiddler on the Roof, “If I Were A Rich Man.” After all, one will never hear another Tevye with vocal powers the likes of Bryn Terfel. That is certain.

Review: Christiane Karg takes a magical journey through European songbook at Spivey Hall

April 5, 2016

By STEPHANIE ADRIAN

Christiane Karg kicked off a tour at Spivey Hall that will take her to Carnegie Hall.

Virtuosity is the technical mastery of art, particularly music, and it was on display Saturday evening at Spivey Hall when Bavarian soprano Christiane Karg and Scottish pianist Malcolm Martineau offered a Liederabend entitled “Nostalgia — European Dream.”

It was a program that was infused with careful thought and symmetry, beginning with Hugo Wolf’s strophic rendition of the Goethe text, “Kennst du das Land” and ending with Henri Duparc’s song, “Romance de Mignon,” Victor Wilder’s adaptation of that same wistful poem in which the young Mignon asks, “Do you know the land where citrons bloom and golden oranges glow among the dark leaves?” A tormented and highly critical Duparc composed fewer than 20 songs during his lifetime, and “Romance de Mignon” was one that he unsuccessfully tried to eradicate from existence. Musicologists originally believed this song to be lost forever.

Karg was scheduled to make her North American recital debut here two years ago, but suffered from laryngitis and had to cancel the engagement. Now, just a short time later, she’s exceedingly busy as an ensemble member of the Frankfurt Opera, where she sings Mélisande and Adele this season before taking on the role of Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier at La Scala this summer. She chose Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall to commence her American recital tour that will lead to Carnegie Hall later this month.

Karg and Martineau gave voice to a collection of revered composers this night, but Hugo Wolf figured prominently. These are songs which are highly concentrated as Wolf honed in a complete synthesis of poetry and music as well as interdependence of the voice and piano. The duo offered five songs from his Italienisches Liederbuch and only three from the Spanisches Liederbuch.

They included “Ich ließ mir sagen” (“I inquired”) —  in which Karg confided her knowledge of handsome Toni’s starvation as if it were the most juicy secret and delivered the last line through clenched teeth. Later she sang “In dem Schatten meiner Locken” (“In the shadow of my tresses”), imbuing it with both sweetness and sensuousness amidst a recurring bolero rhythm from Martineau’s piano. Martineau’s collaborative endeavors were paramount; within delicate phrases it was if he was hardly touching the keyboard, and yet the sound was crystal clear.

Karg is diminutive in stature, but possesses striking features and an intensely expressive countenance. She leans into the audience with hunched shoulders, drawing us in. At times one has to choose between being swept away by her visual storytelling or just listening to the elegant beauty of the voice with eyes closed.

Karg’s light-lyric voice is seamless from top to bottom and possesses a smoky, languid character in the middle voice that is ideally suited to French mélodie. Whether Charles Koechlin’s tonally ambiguous Mélodies sur des poèmes de Shéhérazade or Francis Poulenc’s Hôtel, Karg transported us to a self-indulgent, attitude of leisure.

 

ArtsATL Preview: With “Crossing Over,” Skylark a cappella vocal group explores life’s deepest mystery

March 29, 2016

By STEPHANIE ADRIAN

Skylark will make its Spivey Hall debut in May.

Five years ago music lover and businessman Matthew Guard founded the a cappella vocal ensemble Skylark on a wing and a prayer. His intention was to get back to the music that had so inspired him during his college days at Harvard as music director of its oldest a cappella group, the Harvard Krokodiloes.

Dusting off his baton, Guard embarked on an experiment of sorts and invited some of his singer friends for a weekend of rehearsing and performing. The group reassembled six months later for another project and has now evolved from fledgling ensemble to a group of 16 professional singers, based in both Atlanta and Boston.

unspecified-47Skylark recently collaborated with the Grammy-winning record label Sono Luminus (Best Engineered Classical Album for Quincy Porter: The Complete Viola Works) for its second album, Crossing Over. The album features 17 tracks of unaccompanied choral music that ranges from John Tavener’s sophisticated eight-movement work “Butterfly Dreams,” a work that they performed live in 2014 at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, to Jon Leifs’ “Requiem.”

The group now gathers for six projects a year and will make its Spivey Hall debut performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” on May 21.

ArtsATL recently caught up with Matthew Guard to talk about his new album.

ArtsATL: What was your initial inspiration for Crossing Over?

Matthew Guard: It is incredibly important to me that our concerts and recordings communicate something unique. I believe that music has the potential to illuminate and reveal things that are difficult to capture in verbal or written communication. When we started talking about the first collaboration between Skylark and Sono Luminus, we were all drawn by the desire to capture the unique beauty of Skylark’s sound, and to create an album that was truly an artistic concept as opposed to just an assembly of pieces.

We started our list with a few pieces that capture Skylark’s sound, which one might describe as “shimmery beauty, with a direct connection to the heart.” After agreeing on John Tavener’s “Butterfly Dreams,” Nicolai Kedrov’s “Our Father,” and Jon Leifs’ “Requiem,” the album concept essentially emerged naturally. Here were three pieces that all seemed to embody a state that one might call “end of life visions and meditations.”

Matthew Guard (Photo by Molly Dwyer)

ArtsATL: Crossing Over features selections about the end of life and life beyond death. Why that theme? 

Guard: I have always been fascinated to hear that people who have had near-death experiences describe vivid images of what they saw and felt as they approached what could have been the end of mortal life. We may go through a similar experience as we prepare to leave this world for what, if anything, lies beyond. The pieces we have assembled on this album are a musical narrative on what that experience could be for each of us.

ArtsATL: You have programmed the work of two Icelandic composers on this album, Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Jon Leifs. How did you discover this repertoire and what drew you to it?

Guard: I had actually never heard of Jon Leifs until I was talking to Collin Rae, CEO of Sono Luminus, about the album concept. Collin has strong connections to the Icelandic music community, and this piece was one that he had been told about by his friends and and had hoped to find an opportunity to introduce to a broader audience.

I did some research on Leifs and his “Requiem” and found it incredibly moving. To many, Leifs is seen as the father of Icelandic classical music, a discipline that really didn’t exist in wide form until the middle of the 20h century. Most of his orchestral music is quite tempestuous — a musical reflection of the extreme nature of Iceland’s climate and geography (with pieces inspired by volcanoes, for example), His “Requiem” is an anomaly — it is ethereal and beautiful, but with an aching sense of grief brought on by a personal tragedy. Leifs composed the piece after her daughter tragically drowned off the coast of Norway before her 18th birthday.

Once we settled on the Leifs, the Thorvaldsdottir piece emerged as a natural complement. She is a direct musical descendant of Leifs’ tradition, and is incredibly respected for her orchestral compositions (she was recently selected by the New York Philharmonic as their Kravis Emerging Composer). Her piece on the album is also a departure from her dominant compositional idiom — it is a remarkably soothing piece that I imagine as the sound of souls ascending to a place that may lie beyond.

ArtsATL: Could you talk a little bit about the recording process for Crossing Over? Why was it recorded at the Church of the Redeemer in Chestnuthill, Massachusetts?

Guard: It was a magical week. We chose the church because it has absolutely gorgeous acoustics for a group our size. The team at Sono Luminus is committed to making gorgeous recordings that accurately capture the music with an absolute minimum of post-production or artificial tinkering. So it was critical to find a space that would provide the perfect amount of natural reinforcement for the choir without adding any artificial reverberation effects. Then, they were absolutely committed to doing any “mixing” of the recording simply by achieving the perfect standing position around the microphones to allow each voice to be heard. You would be surprised how much difference it can make for one person to step two inches back from the microphones.

It was also really fascinating because we were not making just a typical recording — we recorded the album in 3-D surround sound (for release on Blu-ray audio). The surround recording is profound not only because of the technical engineering that nearly perfectly replicates the acoustic of the church, but also because of the painstaking level of artistic care taken to ensure that each piece was performed in a formation that made artistic sense in the narrative of the album. Some of the simplest and most beautiful pieces are performed with the group standing in a circle around the microphones, essentially embracing the listener from all sides, while some of the more emotionally difficult moments are recorded with a sharper directional perspective, which only heightens the impact of the music.

– See more at: http://www.artsatl.com/2016/03/preview-crossing-over-skylark-matthew-guard/#sthash.6xZP7zR2.dpuf

artsATL Review: Joshua Bell, the shining star of the violin, captivates a capacity Spivey Hall audience

February 3, 2016

By STEPHANIE ADRIAN

Joshua Bell has become the most acclaimed violinist of his generation. (Photo by Chris Lee)

In 2007, The Washington Post arranged an experiment at L’Enfant Plaza, a metro station in Washington D.C. Writer Gene Weingarten persuaded world famous violinist Joshua Bell to play his 1713 Stradivarius during the morning rush hour while Washington Post representatives were scattered about to observe passersby on their morning commutes. (A hidden camera documented those 43 minutes as well.)

Donned in street clothes and a Washington Nationals baseball cap, Bell played “Chaconne” from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor among other things. Curiously, Bell’s playing was rarely acknowledged by those who passed him.

Weingarten was looking to observe context, perception and priorities. He masterfully reported not only the events that morning, but also came to several conclusions within his piece for The Washington Post that explain why so few people who heard Bell’s playing that day seemed to take notice. One such conclusion was that on that January morning, standing next to a trash can and a shoeshine stand, Joshua Bell constituted “art without a frame.” As it turns out, context matters.

Perhaps Emilie Spivey suspected that context is of importance when she envisioned Spivey Hall over 25 years ago. On Sunday afternoon Bell and pianist Sam Haywood gave a recital of Vitali, Beethoven and Fauré on the Spivey Hall stage, a gilded “frame” with superb acoustics that provided just the ideal circumstance for Bell’s artistry and Haywood’s crystalline sound. Spivey Hall only accommodates 400 audience members, but on this day all seats were claimed and everyone was paying close attention.

Bell and Haywood opened with the Chaconne in G minor, a technical tour de force by Tomaso Antonio Vitali that was later arranged by 19th century German violinist Ferdinand David. The song begins simply and plaintively, but quickly gains complexity: spiccato string crossings and double-stops passionately restate the initial melody. Jascha Heifetz made the chaconne famous when he opened his Carnegie Hall debut recital with it in 1917.

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A major; Op. 47 was the centerpiece of the program. Dedicated to Rodolphe Kreutzer, a violinist who never performed it, the work was significant for the violin’s elevated role within the duo sonata at its premiere in 1803. The Spivey Hall audience was able to relish the obvious musical dialogue between Bell and Haywood, particularly within the third movement which boasts brisk tempos and sharp dynamic contrasts.

Before dazzling his audience with three well-chosen encores that included Johannes Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 1” and an adaptation of Frederic Chopin’s “C# Minor Nocturne,” Bell offered Gabriel Fauré’s Sonata No. 1 in A Major. A composer whom Maurice Ravel believed came closest to genius within his mélodie, Fauré excelled at composing intimate musical forms including over 100 songs that exude elegance and economy of means.

Bell garnered musical acclaim from the the music world at the age of 17. He’s credited not only for his skill and interpretive gifts, but for his remarkable ability to remain relevant over the years through his collaborations and repertoire choices. Yet it is the beauty of his sound that keeps audiences listening, a sound that can’t merely be credited to the structure and substance of his incomparable violin.

 

artsATL Preview: Kennesaw’s Robert Henry featured in Spivey Hall concert that celebrates Suzuki

January 14, 2016

By STEPHANIE ADRIAN

Internationally-acclaimed pianist Robert Henry performs with Suzuki students on Sunday.

Is musical talent inherent or can it be developed?

Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) believed the latter. Suzuki’s philosophy was rooted in the principle that the development of any child — Japanese, British or aboriginal — depends upon his cultural environment. Using the example of language acquisition, Suzuki pointed out that a child will learn to speak his mother tongue from an early age through listening, repetition and encouragement.

After World War II, Suzuki opened a small music school in Matsumoto in order to provide the Japanese children with something nurturing amidst a nation decimated by nuclear bombs. His aim was to cultivate a nation of noble human beings with sensibility and sensitivity through music education. Suzuki’s work was first introduced to the United States in 1964 when he brought a group of violin students to perform at a meeting of the American String Teachers Association.

Fifty years later, Suzuki’s method of training young musicians has been adopted by music teachers throughout the United States. On January 17, the Atlanta Area Suzuki Piano Association will feature world-renowned pianist Robert Henry alongside 20 young Suzuki pianists at one of Atlanta’s premier concert venues, Spivey Hall, confirming the fact that Suzuki was on to something. The Suzuki Graduation Concert will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Henry is known locally for his work as artist-in-residence at Kennesaw State University and as assistant director of the Atlanta Boys Choir, but he is recognized internationally as well, having won first prize in several international competitions including the New Orleans International Piano Competition and the Alfredo Barilli International Piano Competition. Henry is an International Steinway Artist, and has performed solo recitals at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and at London’s Wigmore Hall.

When asked about his own cultural environment while growing up, Henry says, “I was extremely fortunate to have parents and family who encouraged my music-making every step of the way. Looking back, it was really concert attendance and a few wonderful recordings that kept me inspired. I loved when great artists would come to play with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and my parents always found a way to get me backstage to speak with them.”

At the concert, Suzuki students aged 7 to 15 will perform repertoire that spans Suzuki’s Allegro to the third movement of Mozart’s Sonata in A Major K. 331 Rondo alla turca. Mozart’s melody may be familiar to popular audiences for its wide use in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show, but to a serious pianist it requires the mastery of refined technical skill. The piece demands that the pianist have the ability to execute octaves and broken octaves, fast scale passages and a variety of ornamental figures such as trills and grace notes.

As the concert evolves, audience members will hear a distinctive progression of technical skill from the students; specific musical and technical goals must be established in order to graduate from each successive level within the Suzuki Piano Basics program.

The concert will culminate with a performance by Henry, who will play Chopin’s Etude, Op. 25, No. 1 and Ballade No. 3i n A-flat major, Op. 47. In addition, Henry will offer Carl Vine’s Sonata No. 1, a two-movement work that was commissioned by the Sydney Dance Company and composed in 1990. “Vine’s rhythmic and improvisatory language never fails to dazzle audiences,” Henry says.

 

In the January Issue of Opera News…

AO Boheme

La Bohème

ATLANTA
Atlanta Opera
10/11/15

LA BOHÈME  is an opera about little things. Neither the subject matter nor the characters have any involvement with kings, queens, or political intrigue. The bohemians—poet, painter, philosopher and musician—are concerned with their artistry and their daily bread.  The leading lady sings about the embroidery of flowers and rose-colored bonnets. Atlanta Opera presented Puccini’s masterpiece at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre with just the little things in mind (seen Oct. 11). The attention to visual, aural and dramatic detail in the stage direction of AO general and artistic director Tomer Zvulun brought vitality to what might have been just another sleepy Bohème.

The production, created for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, boasts sets and projections by Erhard Rom and gorgeous costumes by designer Martin Pakledinaz. The setting was updated from 1830s Paris to that century’s final decade in order to highlight Puccini’s era, a period remarkable for the advent of flash photography. The sets were flanked with panels depicting black and white, turn-of-the-century cityscapes. Zvulun likewise incorporated a photographer within the busy Café Momus scene who photographed the happenings with miniature pyrotechnics.

Conductor Arthur Fagen and the Atlanta Opera Orchestra created a lovely support for the singers. Dynamic contrast and musical gestures went hand-in-hand with Puccini’s verismo soundscapes.

The lovers at the center of the opera, Rodolfo and Mimì, were sung by Gianluca Terranova and Maria Luigia Borsi. From the moment Borsi entered the crumbling garret on Christmas Eve it was clear that the pair was compatible vocally and dramatically. After the racconto di Rodolfo stopped the show and Mimì had sung her first aria, the ensuing duet, “O soave fanciulla,” sealed our suspension of disbelief. We were reminded of what love at first sight is like.

Italian tenor Terranova’s onstage persona was affable; he moved like a dancer and could pull off subtle moments of comedy unexpectedly. Terranova’s highly placed, ringing voice blossomed on the high B flat at the end of his aria and he was able to impressively taper the high C of the duet with Borsi. Maria Luigia Borsi’s performance was most eloquent from start to finish as well, yet her vocal prowess was best displayed in Act III, when Mimì enters into the square from the Rue d’enfer.

Zvulun reimagined The Café Momus scene as a highly choreographed series of events leading up to Musetta’s waltz. Musetta, played by soprano Leah Partridge, is a grisette or working girl who craves the limelight; Partridge’s great showmanship made her Musetta frenetic and exciting. Zvulun cast promising young singers as Rodolfo’s trio of friends, Marcello (Trevor Scheunemann), Colline (Nicholas Brownlee), and Schaunard (Theo Hoffman). Scheunemann seemed the most seasoned of the three, his lovely timbre and dramatic timing creating the glue for each ensemble scene. —Stephanie Adrian

The Sensibility of Children

 

20140111-122703.jpg FOLLY

When my oldest child was born fifteen years ago I was in the middle of a doctoral program in music.  I spent all of my time practicing opera arias and taking music history classes in which we debated whether the Classical Music Period began in 1723 or 1750, as if man’s existence hinged upon this distinction.

Ben was born and his education began – from that mindset.  As soon as he could speak my husband and I began teaching him “facts.”  Who was the first president of the United States?  How many inches are there in a foot?  How does the sun create energy?

We would drill Ben on this essential knowledge in front of our family and friends and he would obediently recite, “George Washington, twelve, fusion.”

I look back on this time and feel a little bit silly.  My error was not in loving my son so much that I wanted to set about teaching him immediately, but it was how I went about it.  I know now that there is an essential difference between children and adults and it is profound.

Children experience the world through their senses.  They are wired for exploration and do this with the help of their five senses:  seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. (Think of a toddler who puts every toy he sees into his mouth!)

We adults experience the world through our intellect, taking in everything and processing it based on the knowledge that we have already acquired.  As we grow older, we can lose the ability to experience the world through our senses and intuition.  Driven by responsibility, our daily to-do lists, work, family, and financial obligations it’s really no wonder.

A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON

After World War II, violinist Shinichi Suzuki opened a small music school in Matsumoto in order to provide the Japanese children with something nurturing amidst a nation decimated by war.  Suzuki once said, “Teaching music is not my main purpose.  I want to make good citizens, and noble human beings.  If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline, and endurance.  He gets a beautiful heart.”

The Suzuki Method of music is rooted in the principle that the development of any child – Japanese, British, or Aboriginal – depends on his cultural environment.  Using the example of language acquisition, Suzuki pointed out that a child will learn to speak his mother tongue from an early age through listening, repetition, and encouragement.  In that way, learning how to play the violin or the piano can be done naturally at first, by hearing good music in a child’s daily environment.

CREATING A BEAUTIFUL ENVIRONMENT

I now have three children and I’m certain that there are countless times when I forget what I’ve learned about the nature of children.  However, when I’m most mindful, I try to give the kids experiences that will delight their senses:  taking walks with our dog Sandy on a beautiful day or having fresh-cut tulips on the kitchen table from time to time.  My husband and I like to cook new foods that the kids have never tasted before.  And we like to attend concerts whenever we can so that they are able to hear beautiful music as an aspect of their lives.

On January 17, 2016 at 3 p.m. the Atlanta Area Suzuki Piano Association will present its 38th Annual Graduation Concert at Spivey Hall.  Twenty kids will be performing in their “Sunday best” on a stage where the finest musicians in the world have stood.  (If you take a stroll backstage you can see their photos, autographed headshots of Itzhak Perlman, Bryn Terfel, Murray Perahia and so many more.)

Our lives are busy.  There’s so much to do and many Suzuki parents like you may have a hard time justifying a trip down Interstate-75 to Spivey Hall on a Sunday afternoon, especially if your own child isn’t performing in this particular concert.  While there are many wonderful reasons to take the time for a family excursion like this, here’s a short list – based on our kids’ five senses – that might put a different spin on AASPA’s upcoming concert.

SEEING

Anyone who has visited Spivey Hall — Clayton State University’s exquisite concert venue — has undoubtedly noticed the 50-foot-high and 37-foot-wide pipe organ, adorned with gold leaf casework that serves as the focal point of the space.   Some refer to Spivey Hall as a jewel of Atlanta, noting the 400-seat hall for its intimacy, elegance, and stellar acoustics.  Seated in those teal, velvet-upholstered seats will be other bright-eyed kids and their parents to meet.

HEARING

This graduation concert features the music of Mozart, Mendelssohn and more.  Your child will hear a collection of pieces within the Suzuki repertoire and be able to envision himself onstage at the Steinway piano.  After intermission world-renowned, professional pianist Robert Henry will play pieces by Chopin and Carl Vine.  Henry has garnered world-wide acclaim, winning several international piano competitions.  He’s performed solo recitals in the most prestigious concert halls including New York’s Carnegie Hall, Washington D.C. Kennedy Center, and London’s Wigmore Hall.

FEELING

Playing the piano is a tactile endeavor and develops fine motor skills.  Your child won’t be seated at the Steinway at Spivey Hall this time, but will feel the excitement and anticipation of each performer as she approaches the piano bench and begins to play.  For just a few hours, you will be able to relax and enjoy the music together with your family.

SMELLING

When you walk into a concert hall, it’s fun to see the rest of the audience all dressed up, the ladies adorned with perfume for a special occasion.  You’ll see families holding bouquets of sweet-smelling flowers, ready to bestow upon their young pianists.

TASTING

Every graduation concert culminates with a lovely reception, prepared by Suzuki mom Layla Vanderslice.  Cookies and punch, fruit and cheese plates will be waiting for you after the last bow is taken.  The reception is a wonderful time to greet others in your piano studio and chat with other families who love music too.

CONCERT DETAILS

Take a moment and consider what a fabulous afternoon you’ll have with your family, listening to piano music at Spivey Hall next weekend.  The concert will be held at 3 p.m. on January 17 at Spivey Hall on the campus at Clayton State University.  Tickets can be purchased online at www.spiveyhall.org or by calling the Spivey Hall box office at 678-466-4200.  (Adults $15/Students $7.50)

 

 

Stephanie Adrian

 

In the December 2015 Issue of Opera News Online

Winterreise

ATLANTA
Atlanta Opera
9/12/15

ON SEPTEMBER 12, Atlanta Opera launched its 2015-16 season with a semi-staged production of Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, featuring baritone David Adam Moore, at Kennesaw State University’s Bailey Performance Center. It’s the first of several offerings within the opera’s new Discoveries Series, in which AO will present smaller-scale musical works at satellite venues around the Atlanta metro area.

Schubert composed Winterreise in 1827, just a year before his death. It’s a monodrama that consists of twenty-four songs portraying the bleakness of a wanderer’s winter journey through despair after his love affair has ended. Wilhelm Müller’s poetry reveals a nineteenth-century wanderer whose emotions and psyche are reflected in nature. And this production, conceived by Moore in collaboration with a New York City-based collective called GLMMR, incorporated images of nature (snow, crows, and ravens), urban scenes (city blocks, snow-covered cars, and strip clubs), and visions of Moore, as projections on a white multi-level backdrop. The monochromatic set initially has the appearance of an iceberg, but upon closer inspection seemed more like fractured ice shapes pieced back together.

Pianist Earl Buys sat at a Steinway grand on stage right as Moore stepped onto the stage, dressed in white street clothes, blending into the winter landscape. Moore has a voice with a warm, even timbre, pleasant to the ear. His ability to sing Schubert’s lieder with the utmost care and to sustain an attitude of extreme melancholy was commendable. He assumed various poses for each song, quieting his body and executing only a few well-chosen gestures. Unfortunately, lighting designer Maxwell Bowman chose to obscure Moore’s face in partial darkness for much of the evening, and his facial expressions were not visible to the audience.

Moore didn’t just sing the song cycle: he also directed and filmed the footage that accompanied his live performance. The film, which was projected onto and behind Moore, was sometimes literal. “Frühlingstraum” and “Der Leiermann” were perhaps the best examples of this. In the latter Moore himself was disguised in a cap and oversized coat as the hurdy-gurdy man (or death), cranking his instrument with frozen fingers. There’s also a stunning rustic image on film of a frozen river as the live singer lied down on top of it for the song “Auf dem Flusse.” At other times the film was abstract and perplexing. Müller’s text for “Die Post” laments the fact that the postman brings no letter from the wanderer’s former sweetheart. Moore’s film portrayed the decimation of an iPhone as it was shot, crushed with a hammer, and at last set on fire. Obviously, this was an attempt to update the connotation of the poem, but the result was intermittent giggles from the audience.

Winterreise conveys a despair and bleakness that can seem oppressive until Schubert gives some reprieve in the antepenultimate song “Mut,” with its livelier tempo and temporary bravado. But it was the ensuing song, “Die Nebensonnen” that provided resolution and much-needed relief from the melancholy of the wanderer’s mind and heart. In the exposed vocal writing Moore gave us lovely, surging sound, preparing us for the hero’s final song and surrender to death. —Stephanie Adrian

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