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Cue Sheet


July 14 is Bastille Day, the big national holiday in France, commemorating the 1789 storming of the Bastille, Paris' fortress-prison (which at the time was holding only a handful of political prisoners), and becoming a seminal event in the French Revolution. (The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was proclaimed just a few weeks later.) At KUAT-FM, we're joining the celebration with a full day of French music. You'll get an idea of the range of possibilities just by looking at the schedule for the 6 a.m. hour, which, among other things, sandwiches the Harp Concertino by 20th-century composer Germaine Tailleferre between pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries. The most substantial works through the day will include the Violin Concerto No. 3 of Saint-Saens, the complete incidental music that Bizet provided for the play L'Arlesienne, the full ballet score Coppelia by Delibes, Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales (and much else by that composer), the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, the rarely heard Symphony No. 2 of Charles Tournemire, Roussel's ballet The Spider's Feast, Poulenc's Aubade, and selections from Rameau's delightful opera-ballet Les Indes galantes. Many Gallic hors-d'oeuvres in between, as well. Bon appetit!

Classical Music,


Composer, biographer and music essayist Jan Swafford, with whom I worked a little on a couple of his past visits to Tucson, has concocted a wonderful little guide to white he identifies as the three most prominent streams in contemporary art music: spectralism (a commonly used term), aesthetic brutalism (which he borrows from an aging architectural movement) and new niceness (which sounds and is rather condescending, but aptly describes the sort of music most people are going to want to hear, and with good reason). Here's the full article.

Classical Music,


This quarter, KUAT-FM is broadcasting concerts from the Spoleto Festival on Thursday nights. If that's not enough first-rate chamber music for you, I suggest you spend a week or two this summer attending the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. It opens Sunday, July 17 and continues with multiple concerts each week through August 21. You can peruse the full schedule here. Fortunately, the organizers have abandoned their ill-considered efforts to present jazz and bluegrass concerts as part of the festival; I have nothing against those music forms, but their inclusion wasn't relevant to the festival's core mission of presenting classical chamber music. It was cheap tokenism that didn't draw any crossover audience, and hardly served the interests of bluegrass and jazz, which can be heard in their own festivals (in fact, there's a short bluegrass festival in Santa Fe every August).

Back in my print journalism days, I'd go to Santa Fe during the first week of August, because that's when I could cover all five works presented by Santa Fe Opera in a concentrated period, and squeeze in two or three chamber concerts, too. If you're interested, here's the August opera calendar, from which you can navigate to other months. And here for your edification is the press release I just received from the chamber festival:

Opening Week of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s 39th Season

Includes Performances by Artist-in-Residence Dawn Upshaw, the Shanghai Quartet and pianists Kuok-Wai Lio and Inon Barnatan

The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival kicks off its 2011 summer season at St. Francis Auditorium in the New Mexico Museum of Art on Sunday, July 17th.

In the opening week’s first two evening concerts (Sunday, July 17th and Monday, July 18th), the world-renowned Shanghai Quartet perform a work written for them in 2008 in honor of the Quartet’s 25th anniversary and the 75th anniversary of its composer, Kryzstof Penderecki. Well-known to film buffs for his mood-setting, hair-raising compositions (Penderecki’s works have been adapted for soundtracks including The Shining, The Exorcist, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, and more), String Quartet No. 3, “Leaves from an Unwritten Diary” begins with what cellist Nicholas Tzavaras described in a program note for the 2009 American premiere as “an almost grave introduction with a dark and screaming melody by the viola.” The Quartet also performs Dvorak’s expressive masterwork Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81 with pianist Kuok-Wai Lio.

Mr. Lio, a popular artist with Festival audiences over the last few years, performs Janacek’s In the Mists, a collection of four works for solo piano with a sensitive, introspective air as part of his noon solo recital on Tuesday, July 19th. Additional early afternoon concerts during the opening week include a Youth Concert featuring the Shanghai Quartet on Sunday, July 17th at 1:30 pm, and a noon concert on Thursday, July 21st that includes Schumann’s moving Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 63 played by violinist Harvey de Souza, cellist Ronald Thomas, and Mr. Lio.

Mid-week, the Festival presents the first of three concerts in its Albuquerque Series at the Albuquerque Academy’s Simms Auditorium (Wednesday, July 20th). The program, which repeats in Santa Fe on Thursday, July 21st, includes Schubert’s Piano Sonata, D. 958 performed by internationally acclaimed pianist Inon Barnatan, Poulenc’s sparkling Trio for Oboe, Bassoon & Piano performed by oboist Allan Vogel, bassoonist Stefanie Przyblska and Mr. Barnatan, and Spohr’s wonderful Double Quartet in D Minor, Op. 65 performed by violinists Jennifer Gilbert and Harvey de Souza, violist CarlaMaria Rodrigues, cellist Ronald Thomas and the Shanghai Quartet.

The week concludes Saturday, July 23rd, with an all-Bach concert featuring the first of five festival performances by World-famous soprano Dawn Upshaw, the Festival’s 2011 Artist-in-Residence. The celebrated soprano will sing Cantata No. 199, “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut” (“My Heart Swims in Blood”), BWV 199, with oboist Allen Vogel, violinists L.P. How and Kathleen Brauer, violist CarlaMaria Rodrigues, cellist Ronald Thomas, bass player Marji Danilow, and harpsichordist Kathleen McIntosh. Also on the concert is British violinist Daniel Hope in Bach’s beautiful Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041.

The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival continues its role as a noteworthy contributor to the contemporary chamber music repertoire with the addition of three new co-commissions this season by internationally acclaimed composers Christopher Rouse (String Quartet No. 3, July 28th & 29th), Marc-Andre Dalbavie (Piano Quartet, August 10th, 11th & 12th) and Sean Shepherd (Quartet for Oboe & Strings, August 11th & 12th; world premiere). In conjunction with the performances, the Festival presents pre-concert talks with all three composers open to the public. Through its American Composer Residency program, this summer the Festival also offers private master classes with Mr. Rouse and Mr. Shepherd to area conservatory/college music students. The American Composer Residency program is made possible with a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Chamber Music initiative.

For more information on the Festival concerts and to purchase tickets, please call 505-982-1890 or visit the website at To purchase tickets in-person, the Festival Ticket Office is located in the lobby of the New Mexico Museum of Art at 107 West Palace Avenue and is open daily from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM.

Classical Music,


Another review I contributed to Fanfare:

TCHAIKOVSKY Nutcracker & • Martin West, cond; Damian Smith (Drosselmeyer); Elizabeth Powell (Clara); Davit Karapetyan (Nutcracker); David Arce (Mouse King); Yuan Yuan Tan (Snow Queen); Pierre-François Vilanoba (Snow King); Vanessa Zahorian (Sugar Plum Fairy); Maria Kochetkova (Grand pas de deux); San Francisco Ballet O • BBC/OPUS ARTE BD7044D (Blu-ray: 132: 00) Live: San Francisco 12/19–20/2007

& Illustrated synopsis, cast gallery, artist interviews, documentary on 1915 World’s Fair

David L. Kirk gave the DVD release of this production a thorough review in Fanfare 32:5, rightly declaring this to be “a first-class production with brilliant dancing, imaginative special effects, colorful costumes, and attractive scenery,” and numbering it among his three preferred video Nutcrackers. I second that notion.

In order for San Francisco Ballet to take possession of this ubiquitous classic, choreographer Helgi Tomasson and his superb design team moved the action to San Francisco in 1915, the year the city hosted the World’s Fair. What this means in practical terms is that the women’s costumes in the first act are much slimmer and more dance-worthy than when the ballet is set in its original, earlier period, and that the action in the second act takes place in what seems to be a fairy-infested World’s Fair exhibition hall. As fine as the dancing is (from soloists and corps alike), it’s really the costumes of Martin Pakledinaz (including a Ballets Russes touch in the act II getups) and the scenic design of Michael Yeargan that make this production so vivid.

Now, it must be said that Tomasson doesn’t bring much deep psychology to his version (aside from establishing some motifs that really pull the developments in act I together). There’s nothing at all sinister about Drosselmeyer, who here is just an odd toymaker who likes to entertain kids with magic tricks (and serves as Clara’s chaperone through act II). There are no psychosexual shenanigans involving Clara and the Nutcracker, and despite the 1915 setting, the battle with the mice follows the conventions of 18th-century warfare, with nary a sniff of the trench or mustard gas.

Conductor Martin West’s work with the company orchestra is good, although the conducting and playing tend to lose focus in low-key numbers like the Arabian Dance. (The best musical contribution to a video Nutcracker I know is Charles Mackerras’s account for the Pacific Northwest Ballet production, with its pointed rhythms and intense yearning.)

The extra features are truly interesting, not just filler. The audio is PCM only (choice of two or five channels), and the 16:9 picture is derived from a film transfer of multicamera video. There are a couple of sloppy little video edits that probably occurred when the show was being rushed onto PBS a couple of years ago, and should have been corrected before the home-video release, but they’ll probably slip by most viewers.

This endearing production deserves to be the basic Nutcracker for every household. James Reel

Classical Music,


The beginning of July brings two North American holidays. July 1 is Canada Day, marking the 1867 act that joined three British colonies into a single country called Canada within the British Empire. (It's more of a union day than an independence day; Canada didn't shake loose from the United Kingdom until 1982.) So on July 1 we're marking the occasion by sprinkling music by Canadian composers through the schedule. The most substantial Canadian content is the 43-minute Second Symphony of Healey Willan (Canadian by adoption rather than birth), which will dominate the 11 a.m. hour. Otherwise, today if the composer's name sounds British or French and is obscure, it's probably Canadian.

July 4, of course, is Independence Day in the United States. (I've always felt we'd be better off celebrating Constitution Day; any surly teenager can declare independence, but creating a lasting union under rule of law is a great achievement.) Our July 4 programming is all-American, ranging from The Star-Spangled Banner (actually an old English drinking song with new text) following the 6 a.m. news through such American standards as Rhapsody in Blue, The Stars and Stripes Forever, the Grand Canyon Suite and Fanfare for the Common Man, and on to less familiar fare by various American composers over the past 200 years. We'll also have a couple of "American" works by such visitors as Wagner and Offenbach.

Classical Music,


A review I wrote for Fanfare:

MENDELSSOHN Symphonies: No. 1; No. 4, “Italian.” Ruy Blas Overture • Andrew Litton, cond; Bergen PO • BIS 1584 (SACD: 67:07)

With so many fine recordings of Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony already in the catalog, there’s little justification for a new one unless it’s part of a Mendelssohn symphony cycle, of which there have been surprisingly few. Here is the middle panel in Andrew Litton’s triptych of Mendelssohn symphony SACDs for BIS, and it’s very fine indeed.

I’ll cover the “Italian” Symphony only briefly, because the main interest of this disc frankly lies in the rarer items. Litton’s performance holds up very well against most of the competition; it’s a lyrical approach, but always up to tempo—about as spirited as George Szell’s classic account, which Sony reissued about a decade ago on an SACD that is not compatible with standard players, but Litton is also a bit less brittle than Szell.

This is a smartly programmed disc. It begins with the overture Mendelssohn provided for Victor Hugo’s play Ruy Blas—a work the composer detested, yet he managed to write a stirring curtain-raiser for it that’s not nearly as popular as it was several decades ago. This leads to the First Symphony, which begins in a manner similar to Ruy Blas, but with even greater urgency. (If you like the early symphonies of Schubert, particularly the “Tragic,” you should enjoy Mendelssohn’s First.) In both the overture and the symphony, the Bergen Philharmonic’s performance under Litton is dynamic but not manic. Litton does not call attentionn to himself (which Mendelssohn would appreciate, since he was notoriously averse to “interpretation”); at the same time, Litton manages to achieve just the right spirit. He can stand back a bit without seeming uninvolved. Now, his tempo in the Scherzo and the final movement may be a little to fast for some listeners, but even so, Litton doesn’t take it to extremes; he knows how to ease off in the contrasting passages. (Besides which, orchestral music and opera were apparently played faster in the 19th century than they have been in our lifetime; just look at the early, fleet timings from Bayreuth for evidence.)

BIS provides typically detailed, natural, beautiful recorded sound in surround format, and very good liner notes by Horst A. Scholz. Whether as a whole Litton’s Mendelssohn cycle will fully measure up to the outstanding Abbado and Dohnanyi versions remains to be seen, but I would not hesitate to recommend this individual disc to anyone, whether they prefer two channels or five. James Reel

Classical Music,

About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.