Wednesday, August 31, 2016
First Graham Parker quit as general manager of New York’s WQXR to head Universal’s classical labels in the US. Now Steve Robinson has quit Chicago’s outstanding WFMT after 16 years. Here’s the official version: photo: Todd Rosenberg, at Andrew Patner’s memorial CHICAGO – August 8, 2016 – WFMT, Chicago’s classical and fine arts radio station, today announced that Executive Vice President and General Manager STEVE ROBINSON will depart from WFMT, effective October 1, 2016. His last day at the station will be Friday, September 30. “It is with great regret that we bid farewell to an indispensable member of our WFMT family,” said President and CEO Dan Schmidt of WFMT and WTTW. “It is difficult to imagine the station without his unflagging energy, endless creativity, and deep knowledge of classical music and radio operations. He will be greatly missed, and I know I speak for all of us when I wish him success in his future endeavors.” “Working at WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network has been the greatest privilege and challenge of my career,” said Robinson. “When people ask, ‘Oh, you run WFMT?’ I always say, ‘No, I run after it.’ And that’s because everyone at WFMT is immensely creative, knowledgeable, and passionate about their work, and all I’ve really done is try to harness this incredible talent to move the station forward. If it has progressed at all in the 16 years I’ve been there, it’s because of them, and I will always be grateful.” Steve has led WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network since 2000. Under his leadership, WFMT diversified its programming and increased its member base, and the Network became a leading producer and syndicator of music and spoken word programs. In 2002, Steve brought to the WFMT Radio Network a live broadcast of Princess Magogo, the first indigenous South African opera and the first with a libretto in the Zulu language. Steve hosted, and the opera was heard by more than four million listeners throughout the U.S. and Europe. Steve created Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin in 2003, a daily series heard by more than 400,000 listeners a week, and he also instituted a comprehensive subscription website. Other popular WFMT series and programs created during Steve’s tenure include include Impromptu, a daytime showcase for local and visiting artists; Introductions, a unique weekly series that features promising young pre-college musician; and the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, which was launched in 2015 in partnership with Chicago History Museum. Last year, at Steve’s direction, the Network began exporting classical music radio concerts by American ensembles for broadcast in China and importing Chinese music performances for broadcast in the West, marking the first time a cultural exchange of this kind had happened between America and China. In 2007, the Chicago Tribune named Steve a “Chicagoan of the Year” in the arts. His many other honors include two Peter Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism; the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award; two Westbury Awards from the Red Cross of Greater Chicago for coordinating fundraising efforts among the city’s television and radio stations in the wake of the 2004 tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake; an Award of Excellence from the Chicago Sinfonietta; a special award from the Illinois Philharmonic; the first Champion Award from the Merit School of Music; and, with Bill McGlaughlin, Dushkin Award from the Music Institute of Chicago– previous winners have included Sir George Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Placido Domingo, Yo Yo Ma, Midori, Leon Fleischer, Sir Andrew Davis, and Mstislav Rostropovich. Steve currently serves on the boards of Cedille Records, the Merit School of Music, the Chicago College of Performing Arts and the Rush Hour Concerts. His past board service includes the Grant Park Orchestra, Chicago Children’s Choir, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and Music in the Loft. Previously, Steve worked at WBUR, WGBH, WCRB, KPFA, WVPR, WBGO, and Nebraska Public Radio.
Zubin Mehta was recently eighty-years-old. His father Mehli Mehta was the founder of the Bombay Symphony and gave Zubin his first training, but he was promptly sent to Vienna to study with the famous Hans Swarowsky. Mehta soon won competitions in Liverpool and Tanglewood, and at the incredible age of 25 he had conducted the Philharmonics of Vienna, Berlin and Israel! Well, just one year after (in 1962) he was in BA conducting the Orchestra of Radio Nacional and that of Amigos de la Música; with the latter he included no less than Schönberg´s First Chamber Symphony. It would be the beginning of the enormous amount of visits we had from him, certainly the most assiduous of the great conductors. He had already been named head of the Montreal Symphony (1961-7) and of the Los Angeles Symphony (1962-78). In quick succession he became musical director of the Israel Philharmonic (1977) and the New York Philharmonic (1978-1990). From then on he came innumerable times with the Israel and several with the New York. From 1985 to next year will have been his tenure at the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which he also brought to BA. One aspect of his intense life didn´t reach us: his strong connexion to opera, both at the MMF and from 1998 to 2006 Musical Director of the Bavarian State Opera (Munich). And of the mediatic connection as conductor of open-air concerts by the Three Tenors (Domingo, Pavarotti, Carreras). A gigantic career with special emphasis on Israel, as he is conductor for life of the Israel Phil. In recent years he has been interested in promoting young talents at the Bombay Mehli Mehta Musical Foundation and at the Tel Aviv Buchmann-Mehta Music School. And now, the other important anniversary, that of the Israel Phil. It was created in 1936 by Bronislaw Huberman and no less than Toscanini conducted the first concert. Surely an act of faith in a then not existing country prior to WW II; after it there were the turbulent times of the creation of the State of Israel and the orchestra stood fast, always accompanying the growth of an identity and building up a reputation as one of the great orchestras of the world. I witnessed in 1972 a splendid concert at the modern Tel Aviv Mann Auditorium (very good acoustics) in a memorable combination of Claudio Abbado and Isaac Stern. The players were admirable then, and generations after, with the influx of Jewish Russians but also of young Israelis, they keep their high standards and show love and discipline to their longtime Principal Conductor, now seconded during the season by the talented Gianandrea Noseda. Mehta has always shown a proclivity for the Late Romantic repertoire and the Impressionists, for in them an orchestra can fully show a variety of colors and textures, and the conductor has a sharp perception of such music. Also, he has a dynamic and strong personality that communicates enthusiasm to the players. But Mehta also adds a sense of form, a clarity of gesture that makes complex pieces transparent. He may not have been as attuned to the early German-Austrian School as to Tchaikovsky or Ravel or Strauss, but he has generally stuck to what he does best. In recent decades he has shown a growing interest in Mahler (I remember a memorable Second). At 80 he looks much younger and the stamina is still there, though with more controlled gestures. And the memory is still perfect. What he did in this concert was magisterial and he chose a programme that fits him ideally. More serene but with no loss of control or intensity, he brought to us the joyful "Carnival" Overture by Dvorák, the Second Suite of Ravel´s "Daphnis and Chloe" and Richard Strauss´ tremendous "A Hero´s Life" ("Ein Heldenleben"). Dvorák´s lust for life and exuberance makes this Overture a favorite, and it has a contrasting nostalgic melody. In fact it is the first of three contrasting overtures that form a beautiful cycle; the others, much less done but quite interesting, are "In the Reign of Nature" and "Othello". The "Daphnis" Suite is the absolute masterpiece of Impressionism, almost a miracle, and has often been done wonderfully in BA during the last half century. We can now add that of Mehta and the Israel players. The marvelous subtlety of dynamics and color, the virtuoso solo playing (Yossi Arnheim), the dionysiac final dance, were memorable. And I recall Mehta conducting the same piece with the Vienna Philharmonic in February 1964 with as great a comprehension and control as now! I know that "Ein Heldenleben" (1898) will always find its detractors for it is an egocentric act: the hero is Strauss... But it is also a 46-minute marvel of six connected fragments of sustained inspiration and orchestral science, fantastically orchestrated and with a command of intricate counterpoint with no paragon. It is a thing of beauty as well as a testimony of enormous intelligence. Mehta´s version was among the best I ever heard live. The long violin solos of Ilya Konovalov were ideal, and so was the last dialogue between him and horn player James Madison Cox. And the cohesion and precision of the whole with no loss of impact deeply moved me. Two encores, Dvorák´s Slavonic Dance Op.46 Nº 8, and Mozart´s Overture for "The Marriage of Figaro", ended an unforgettable evening. For Buenos Aires Herald
This "Tosca" isn´t one more: Marcelo Álvarez was back after 19 years; in his Colón debut he had sung very well the Duke of Mantua in "Rigoletto". He had been flanked by Sumi Jo and Leo Nucci; also there was the revelation of Erwin Schrott as Monterone! And then, no more: our tenor, born in Córdoba, developed a splendid career in Europe and the USA, but no Colón Director either showed interest or managed to come to terms with Álvarez. I won´t speculate about the reasons of this sorry state of affairs; Álvarez is an international star and demands to be treated as one. He says that he called Lopérfido and found him receptive. He is now 54 and feels that he is at the top of his form; he hopes to make the Colón one of his favorite theatres along with the Met and the Covent Garden. There are further reasons to welcome this "Tosca": foremost, that it is the first decent international cast in an Italian repertoire opera in a long time. In other words, one that could be seen in the mentioned houses, where they have that privilege very often. So it is one step (just one!) in the uphill recuperation of the Colón´s prestige. The other main reason is the homage to Roberto Oswald: his longtime collaborators, Aníbal Lápiz and Christian Prego, have presented with great care the production that had been seen in 1992, 1993, 1998 and 2003, with some changes along the way. For in these sad days to see a production that respects the libretto is a rare pleasure after so many disasters. The costumes designed by Lápiz are admirable and fully in accord with the Rome of the early Nineteenth Century. And the Te Deum that closes the First Act is stunning. "Tosca" must happen in the places specified by librettrists Illica and Giacosa; First Act, the Church Sant´Andrea della Valle; Second, the Farnese Palace; Third, Terrace of the Castel Sant´Angelo. Oswald´s conception of the Church is very beautiful and well distributed; the only reservation is that the supposed painting looks like a fresco. The Farnese is impeccable and functional. But the Castel as imagined by Oswald, dominated by a spectacular statue, doesn´t have a nook in the wall that should serve for Tosca´s suicide jump, as has been traditional. The solution he initially found wasn´t liked by the audience: breaking with the realistic style of all the rest, she didn´t jump and a luminous halo surrounded her. On the following season he found an alternative, the one we saw now: she jumps, yes, but into a big hole on the terrace. And a final reason for the interest of this "Tosca" was the debut of an important Dutch soprano: Eva-Maria Westbroek. She sings Wagner, Puccini, Shostakovich, Janácek, Berlioz, Verdi, Strauss, in all the great theatres and with major conductors. How did this "Tosca" come out in its first performance (Gran Abono) on a Saturday? First the singers. Obviously this was a very special day for Marcelo Álvarez. He has measured up to big challenges during all these years and feels quite sure of his means, but there was a surcharge of emotion being in front of the Colón audience after so many years. However, he is a seasoned professional and showed no hesitation. First Act: he took no chances: his singing was extrovert, his gestures were expansive. The voice sounded firm and healthy, the musical phrasing attempted no subtleties. The good applause after his aria was reassuring.. Second Act: his Cavaradossi grew in intensity and there were some interesting details; e.g., after his frank attack on "Vittoria!" he had the stamina for the following denunciation of tyrants. Third Act: a very good "E lucevan le stelle" (great applause) and a duet with Tosca where he knew how to subdue his voice and find the soft shades that enrich an interpretation. He had won the battle. A personal reaction: I don´t find his timbre distinctive in the sense of being easily recognisable, as happens with Domingo or Björling or Pavarotti. Westbroek: I knew her from DVDs in which the big voice and strong presence made an impact. The same factors were there in her live performance of Tosca, but she was more uneven than I remembered: too much vibrato at certain points, and particularly two high notes that went awry (especially in that dangerous attack on "Io quella lama" when she narrates how she killed. It raised eyebrows of preoccupation as to her current vocal condition. But make no mistake, she is an artist of quality. There was another Álvarez, Carlos, the efficient Spanish baritone that had sung Iago with Cura some years ago. His Scarpia was well sung and acted though short on volume and dramatic projection. The seasoned Sacristan of Luis Gaeta was as good as ever; Mario de Salvo was correct as the fugitive Angelotti; Sergio Spina was properly slimy as the bailiff Spoletta; and there were fine voices even for Sciarrone (Fernando Grassi) and the Jailer (Carlos Esquivel). Julieta Unrein sang prettily as the offstage Shepherdess. Carlos Vieu conducted with the firmness and knowledge that make of him a guarantee of style; the Orchestra responded well, and both Choirs (adults and children) sang with ease and character. There will be a promising second cast with Eiko Senda, Enrique Folger and Fabián Veloz. For Buenos Aires Herald
The Bulgarian soprano missed the Munich Festival’s La Traviata last month. Now she has pulled out of Salzburg’s concert performance of Massenet’s Thais next Tuesday, opposite Placido Domingo. She is replaced by Marina Rebeka.
The soprano Angel Blue has a busy international career and a promising future. But she was almost stopped in her tracks by two rejection slips from Juilliard. What kept her going was the support of the music department at UCLA and the chance to sing for Placido Domingo, who chose her for Operalia. ‘I was thankful for the opportunity to sing for (Domingo),’ Blue tells her alumnus magazine . ‘It was a sign from God for me, as ‘This is what you’re supposed to be doing.’’ photo: Sonya Garza Read full interview here.
Sunday 24, 5 pm: the "Barenboim Festival of Music and Reflexion" starts its third edition at the Colón, and again becomes the highest point of the season, for it will also have the presence of Martha Argerich and for the first time, of tenor Jonas Kaufmann. In fact it is essentially music; reflexion will take place when Barenboim will dialogue for the third year with Felipe González, this time about "The Conflict of the Middle East, a global crisis?" (July 31, 8 pm). And of course, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) will be at the center of the activity. The hand programme gives details of the whole programme, biographies and comments by Barenboim and Pablo Gianera. Some of Barenboim´s programming decisions are controversial, as they were in preceding Festivals, but I have no doubt that the final result will leave lasting memories. It´s worth recalling that the WEDO was founded by Barenboim and Edward Said in 1999 as a workshop for youthful musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Arabic countries, first at Weimar, then at Chicago, and finally at Seville (2003) under the sponsorship of the Junta de Andalucía. Then and now the purpose is to further understanding and intercultural dialogue between people that come from countries that are often at war. An orchestra unites them at least for a while. Currently there are also some Spanish musicians, and religions are mixed: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Protestants and orthodox. And the workshop also includes lectures and debates. The denomination of the WEDO is a reference to Goethe´s homonymous poems; they are his own, but he tried in them to develop the concept of global culture. Mind you, this orchestra doesn´t exist year-long: each Summer a new group is formed, although some come from earlier seasons, and under Barenboim they prepare programmes that will be played in different tours, although since 2014 they include Buenos Aires. I admire the project in itself, even if Barenboim knows that politically things haven´t changed. But now I have to mention a touchy issue: the WEDO doesn´t list its personnel, as other orchestras do; I was told last year that this was for security reasons, but the members of the Al-Diwan Ensemble who play Arabic music ARE listed, and other two are identified in the Mozarteum concerts. What, some are protected and others aren´t? There´s another question: the concerts are abysmally expensive here but not in Seville. The stalls at the Colón rows 1 to 14: $ 3.635. At Seville´s Teatro de la Maestranza: 45 E = $ 739. True, now we have streaming and the same programme I´m reviewing can be seen on Tuesday 26, 8 pm, for free; but to hear it live is very different. If you go to any of them, do read the curricula and particularly the detailed one about Barenboim: I believe that no other artist in the world has such a fantastic trajectory except Plácido Domingo. To be brief: main conducting posts in Paris, Chicago, Bayreuth Festival, Milan´s Scala and Berlin, plus a dazzling career as a pianist since he was eight. And at 73 he has lost none of his incredible stamina and quality. Now to the Mozart dream programme. Of course music lovers have those last three symphonies in CDs and probably have heard all three in the same evening (I did so) but to hear them in wonderful acoustics by a great conductor and his orchestra was the sort of deep artistic pleasure that seldom comes around. For although all three are quite different, they are masterpieces and they were created in the same period: Nº 39, in E flat, K.543; Nº 40, in G minor, K.550; and Nº 41, "Jupiter", in C, K.551. They were written in the space of six weeks, from late June to August 10, 1788, at a time of dire pecuniary need, and they were never played during his life! And yet (I know it´s idle speculation), had he lived to be 55, the history of the symphony would have changed profoundly, for these symphonies look forward in harmony, rhythm and dramatic impact. A Mozart writing in 1798 would have left deep marks on Beethoven. Barenboim isn´t a historicist, and the WEDO was bigger than orchestras in Mozart´s time. But all the marks of great interpretation were there: the unerring sense of form, the careful contrast of dynamics, the exact though expressive phrasing. And the WEDO is not only technically very good: the players are intense and unanimous; they vividly enjoy the music. Nº 39 is the least played of the three, perhaps because it innovates less; but it is throughout gorgeous music. Nº 40´s first movement is urgent, dramatic and famous; and the Finale has a sweeping forwardness that was ideally expressed by the artists. As to the "Jupiter", the amazing contrapuntal "tour de force" of the Finale has no paragon in Mozart and reveals that his Bach studies changed his style whilst losing nothing of his vision of the future. If I have to nitpìck, I prefer the Minuets slighly slower: they are marked Allegretto, not Allegro. And just before the coda of the "Jupiter" Finale, for once Barenboim did a big "rallentando"; it isn´t specified and I feel it inhibits the continuity. A small but important detail: the podium lacked a step and Barenboim almost fell at the start of the concert; after the interval it was fixed.For Buenos Aires Herald
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