Album of the Week: Gli Incogniti - Vivaldi, Teatro Alla Moda

My album pick this week is Antonio Vivaldi - Teatro Alla Moda by the ensemble Gli Incogniti (the "unknown ones") led by violinist Amandine Beyer.

The album has Pietro Longhi’s famous Venetian rhino on the cover, and its title derived from the composer Benedetto Marcello's pamphlet in 1720 of the same name, in which he satirized the excesses of Venetian opera. These "excesses" provided the inspiration for this wonderful recording of Vivaldi by Gli Incogniti.

Album of the Week: Enso Quartet - Ginastera String Quartets (Complete)

As those who have been following the blog know, my "album of the week" began with my realization that I was listening to the same albums over and over, and my resolve to listen to at least one new album per week.  Most of my picks have featured artists or recordings with which I am not familiar playing works by composers with whom I am familiar.

This week's pick, a recording by the Enso Quartet of the complete string quartets of Alberto Ginastera, is a bit different in that it features works of a composer with whom I am unfamiliar. 

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) was arguably the most important Argentinian composer of the 20th century.  This recording features all three string quartets that Ginastera composed in his lifetime.  The first was composed in 1948 and attempts to reconcile Argentinian folk music with the modernism of composers such as Stravinsky and Bartók. The Second was composed 10 years later, and the third was composed in 1973.  The third string quartet fuses song cycle and instrumental work and interleaves settings of Spanish-language poets (Jiménez, Lorca and Alberti), which are sung by Soprano Lucy Shelton. 

Album of the Week: Alisa Weilerstein and Inon Barnatan - Rachmaninov and Chopin Cello Sonatas

Works:

1. Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, B 160/Op. 65 by Frédéric Chopin

2. Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 19 by Sergei Rachmaninov

3. Songs (14), Op. 34: no 14, Vocalise by Sergei Rachmaninov

4. Etudes (12) for Piano, Op. 25: no 7 in C sharp minor by Frédéric Chopin

5. Introduction and Polonaise for Cello and Piano in C major, Op. 3 by Frédéric Chopin

Reviews:

Gramophone

The Guardian

Presto Classical

Arkiv Music

Voix des Arts

 Video:

Album of the Week: Sol Gabetta - Vasks - Presence

My pick for album of the week is the Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta's new recording of works by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks, released on Sony Classics.

The primary work on the album is the world premiere recording of Vasks's Concerto No. 2 for Cello and String Orchestra "Klātbūtne / Presence", which was written especially for Gabetta and commissioned by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, which is also featured on the album, led by Candida Thompson.

The album also features Vasks’ “Musique du Soir” for cello and organ, which features Gabetta’s mother Irène Timacheff-Gabetta, a professional organ player, performing the organ part, and "Gramata Cellam”, a 13-minute piece for cello solo that Gabetta has often performed as an encore at her concerts worldwide .

Concert: Montreal Symphony Orchestra with Pianist Danill Trifonov

Last night, I attended a wonderful concert by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra with conductor Kent Naganopresented by the University Musical Society (UMS).  This was my first time seeing this Orchestra.

The concert began with a lovely and well-balanced performance of the short "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" by Debussy.  After a extended break to reconfigure the seating and to "lift" the Steinway piano onto the stage, the Orchestra was joined by pianist Daniil Trifonov for the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major.  Trifonov's performance was intense and generated a standing ovation, with the audience demanding more.  They got what they wanted with an extended encore -- Etudes d'execution transcendants d'apres Paganini by Liszt.

After intermission, the Orchestra treated the crowd to the complete 60 minute ballet music of The Firebird by Stravinsky.  The performance was again well balanced and showcased almost every instrument in the orchestra, including trumpets off stage.  After another standing ovation, the orchestra treated the crowd to two encores -- Ravel's Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte and Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suite No 2. - Farandole.

An enjoyable evening of music by a fantastic orchestra!

Auction Highlights: Jean-Baptise Vuillaume's "Evangelists" String Quartet

The "Evangelists" Quartet by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume recently sold at auction by Ingles & Hayday at Soethby's in London for £960,000 (approximately $1.35m US).  The Quartet consists of two violins, a viola, and a cello constructed together by Vuillaume in Paris in 1863 with matching wood.  The instruments are based on Stradivari models.  The quartet is referred to as the "Evangelists" because each of the instruments has a carved tailpieces depicting one the Evangelists - Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

Between 1863 and 1872, Vuillaume made a number of instruments dedicated to saints, known as the "Apostles." It is believed that he produced around a dozen instruments bearing the names of saints, of which nine survive.  The Evangelists Quartet consists of the first four of the "Apostles," which date from 1863, and is the only one of Vuillaume’s four quartets which is still together as a set today.

The ‘Evangelists’ quartet has been held in private European collections since about 1970, where the instruments have been immaculately preserved, and played only occasionally. According to a quote from Ingles and Hayday director Tim Ingles published by the Strad Magazine, the Quartet was "bought by an Asian collector who, I am delighted to say, understands their historical value as a set, giving the opportunity for future generations to appreciate their beauty and craftsmanship."

Click here to learn more about the Quartet from the Ingles & Hayday website

The following video from Ingles & Hayday contains more information on the Quartet, including a performance on the instruments by the Ruisi Quartet:

Concert Review: Apollo’s Fire & Apollo’s Singers: Bach’s St. John Passion

I was privileged to attend a fantastic performance of Bach's St. John Passion by Apollo's Fire and Apollo's Singers, presented by the University Musical Society (UMS) on March 15. The performance was appropriately presented at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Ann Arbor.  

Apollo's Fire, founded in 1992 by Jeanette Sorrell, is regarded as one of the top period-instrument ensembles.  Their performance of the St. John Passion has received excellent reviews and in fact was outstanding -- the period instrument ensemble was joined by singing actors from the affiliated Apollo's Singers performing the roles of evangelist, Jesus, and others.   As an instrument maker, I especially enjoyed seeing the performances of period instruments that one doesn't often see in concert, such as the Viola da Gamba and Traverso.

Reviews

Apollo's Fire Enhances "St. John Passion," New York Times, March 14, 2016

Apollo's Fire outdoes itself with resplendent fresh account of Bach's 'St. John Passion'Apollo’s Fire with Apollo’s Singers, The Plain Dealer, March 7, 2016

Apollo’s Fire Set To Tour Gripping St. John Passion, Classical Voice America, March 9, 2016

Apollo's Singers

Nicholas Phan (Evangelist)
Jesse Blumberg (Jesus)
Jeffrey Strauss (Pilate)
Amanda Forsythe (soprano)
Kristen Dubenion-Smith (mezzo-soprano)

Album of the Week: Edgar Meyer - Meyer and Bottesini Concertos

am on week seven of my goal of listening to one new classical recording each week.  For the first six weeks, I have primarily focused on new release recordings.  This week's pick was released in 2002 but is new to me.  I make violins, violas, and cellos, but I have never made a double bass.  Similarly, I believe that I am well versed in much of the repertoire for violin, viola, and cello, but not for double bass.

Thus, to better familiarize myself with this repertoire, this week's album pick is the Meyer and Bottesini Concertos performed by double bassist Edgar Meyer, with Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  The album contains the following pieces:

Meyer: Double Concerto for Cello, Double Bass, & Orchestra

Bottesini: Double Bass Concerto No. 2 in B Minor

Meyer: Double Bass Concerto in D Major

Bottesini: Gran Duo Concentrate for Violin, Double Bass and String Orchestra  

Performance Review: Nufonia Must Fall - Kid Koala with Cecilia String Quartet

The fantastic performance of Nufonia Must Fall, presented in Ann Arbor on March 11-12 by UMS, was unlike most concerts and performances that I attend, in that is was centered around the work of Kid Koala, the well known Montreal-based scratch DJ and music producer.  

The performance is a multidisciplinary and theatrical adaptation of Kid Koala's graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall, a charming love story centered around a headphones wearing robot on the verge of obsolescence who falls in love with a lonely office girl. 

The live performance based on the book features real time filming of more than a dozen miniature stages with a cast of puppets directed by K.K. Barrett and accompanied by a soundtrack performed live by Kid Koala and the Cecilia String Quartet, featuring violinists Min-Jeong Koh and Sarah Nematallah, violist Sarah Nematallah, and cellist Rachel Desoer.  

The result is a charming and heart warming story being played out on screen while the underlying production and soundtrack are simultaneously being played out on stage. 

Violas at the Met - Jacob Stainer Viola, ca. 1660

Jacob Stainer is known as der Vater der deutschen Geige (the father of the German violin).  Stainer's violins and violas were the most sought after in the world until the beginning of the 19th century.  Stainer's instruments were the favored instruments of the Bach and mozart families.  Stainer's instruments have very full arching and vertical f-holes.  

The Stainer viola on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was made at the height of Stainer's career and is rare example of a true tenor instrument with a large body and tall ribs -- most such instruments have been cut down in size over time as repertoire became more technically demanding.

Stainer's instruments remained the most sought after in the world until the beginning of the 19th century, when performers striving to be heard over loud orchestras and in large concert halls began to prefer the brighter sound and bigger projection of instruments by Antonio Stradivari.

Click here for more information on and photos of this viola on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website

Here are my photos of this viola:

Album of the Week: Henning Kraggerud - Equinox

This week's album pick is "Equinox" with Norwegian violinist and composer Henning Kraggerud and the Arctic Philharmonic.

This album is inspired by philosophers and composers who have discussed the link between musical keys and time and space.  Equinox consists of four concertos - Afternoon, Evening, Night and Morning.  Each concerto consists of six postludes, making 24 in all.  These 24 postludes are written in 24 keys and depict 24 hours and 24 time zones.  

Auction Highlights: Tarisio New York, February 2016

Tarisio's February 2016 auction of fine instruments and bows ended this week.  

The auction featured several interesting violins:

The auction also featured several interesting violas, including:

 Tarisio's next auction is in London and runs from March 1 - March 14.

Yale Launches Free Online Course - "Music and Social Action"

The Yale School of Music has announced the launch of its first free, open enrollment online course - "Music and Social Action."  

I am excited to be enrolled for this course, and will update this blog with reflections as the course proceeds.  I encourage all blog readers to join me in enrolling by clicking here.  Enrollment ends March 3, 2016.

The seven week course is taught by MacArthur Fellow Sebastian Ruth, and asks vital questions about musicians’ responses to the condition of the world, including:

  • What is a musician’s response to the condition of the world?
  • Do musicians have an obligation and an opportunity to serve the needs of the world with their musicianship?
  • At a time of crisis for the classical music profession, with a changing commercial landscape, a shrinking audience base, and a contraction in the number of professional orchestras, how does a young musician construct a career today?
  • Are we looking at a dying art form or a moment of re-invigoration?
  • How can classical music effect social change?
  • How has music made positive change in communities around the globe?
  • What can the field of classical music learn from other movements for social change?
  • How have educators and philosophers thought about the arts and their connection to daily contemporary life?

Each class session of this course will explore one of these questions through lectures, discussions, interviews, or documentaries and "explore the notion that the classical musician, the artist, is an important public figure with a critical role to play in society. The course will include inquiry into a set of ideas in philosophy of aesthetics; a discussion about freedom, civil society, and ways that art can play a role in readying people for democracy; discussion on philosophy of education as it relates to the question of positive social change; and an exploration of musical and artistic initiatives that have been particularly focused on a positive social impact."

The following is a video overview of the course:

Violins at the Met - Stradivari "Francesca" and "Gould" Violins

Although I have been featuring one instrument per post in my series of posts highlighting stringed instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I have chosen to feature the Stradivari "Francesca" and "Gould" violins together.  

Both violins were made in a two year period -- the "Gould" in 1693 and the "Francesca" in 1694.  Because of this fact, both violins are both so called "long pattern" violins which, as the name suggests, means that they are longer (361mm instead of 355.5mm) and slightly narrower than Stradivari's standard violins.  Stradivari built these "long pattern" violins only in the 1690s, which was believed to have been inspired by the concerti gross of Archangelo Corello, in which two solo violins had to stand out from the string section.  By 1700, Stradivari had stopped making "long pattern" violins.

The "Gould" violin was named for its previous owner, the violinist George Gould.  The name "Francesca" was given by the donor of the violin to the Met in honor of Stradivari's wife Francesca.

The interesting comparison is that The "Gould" and "Francesca" differ in their setups -- the "Gould" is a rare example of a Stradivari violin that has been returned to the "Baroque" setup (it was "re-Baroqued" in 1975) while the "Francesca" has a modern setup, which includes a longer fingerboard and an increased neck angle.  The photos and videos below highlight the difference that these two types of setups make in both appearance and sound.

Photos and Videos - Stradivari "Gould" Violin

Photos and Videos - Stradivari "Francesca" Violin

Album of the Week: Esther Yoo - Sibelius and Glazunov Violin Concertos

This week's pick is violinist Esther Yoo's debut album with the Philarmonia Orchestra and Maestro Vladamir Ashkenazy, featuring the following works:

  • Glazunov, Violin Concerto in A Minor,Op. 82
  • Sibelius, Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
  • Sibelius, Suite for Violin and String Orchestra, Op. 117
  • Glazunov, Grand Adagio from his ballet Raymonda

Here are two video clips regarding the album from Ms. Yoo's great YouTube Channel:

Recital: Sir András Schiff: The Last Sonatas

I was privileged to attend the third or a three concert series by Sir András Schiff presented by the University Musical Society (UMS) in Ann Arbor.

The three concert series featured the last three piano sonatas of Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert, and the concert that I attended featured:

  • Haydn, Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI:52
  • Beethoven, Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
  • Mozart, Sonata in D Major, K. 576
  • Schubert, Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960

It was, as I expected, an amazing recital.  Schiff seemed so relaxed yet focused and technically flawless.  I especially enjoyed the Beethoven Sonata.  Schiff received a well deserved standing ovation for this outstanding performance.   

Cellos at the Met - Stradivari "Batta-Piatigorsky" Violoncello ca. 1714

The "Batta-Piatigorsky" cello at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an example of one of Stradivari's smaller sized cellos, which were made possible due to an advance in string making around 1665, in which gut strings overspun with metal wire were developed.  The smaller cello was easier to play and had better sound quality.  

The "Batta-Piatigorsky" cello is named for its two most famous owners.  First, the Dutch cellist Alexandre Batta, who purchased it around 1836 and used it for most of his career, and later the great Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.  A full provenance is available here.  Mr. Piatigorsky said the following in his biography:

"I played the 'Batta' for a long time before appearing in concert with it. In solitude, as is befitting honeymooners, we avoided interfering company until then. From that day on, when I proudly carried the 'Batta' across the stage for all to greet, a new challenge entered into my life. While all other instruments I had played prior to the 'Batta' differed one from the other in character and range, I knew their qualities, shortcomings, or their capriciousness enough to exploit their good capabilities to full advantage. Not so with the 'Batta,' whose prowess had no limitations. Bottomless in its resources, it spurred me on to try to reach its depths, and I have never worked harder or desired anything more fervently than to draw out of this superior instrument all it has to give."

Here are some photos that I took of the instrument, again somewhat constrained by display and lighting:

Album of the Week: Shostakovich - The Cello Concertos

This week's pick is Shostakovich Cello Concertos 1 & 2 featuring Gautier Capuçon and the Mariinsky Orchestra with Valery Gergiev.  I had the privilege of seeing the Mariinsky Orchestra with Gergiev at a UMS performance last year and attending a gala dinner with Mr. Gergiev after the concert, so I was very interested to hear this recording.  The Strad Magazine also featured a cover article on Gautier Capuçon this month, which further peaked my interest.

I was not disappointed.  The Gramophone review sums it up well: "The catalogue isn’t exactly short of fine recordings of the two Shostakovich cello concertos. But Gautier Capuçon immediately shows that his are interpretations to be reckoned with."

Recital: Igor Levit, Piano

I am privileged to see well over 60 concerts per year, most of which are presented by the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan (UMS), where my lovely fiancé Shannon works.  UMS is one of the oldest presenting arts organizations in the country, now in its 137th season, and recently won the National Medal of the Arts, the nation's highest public artistic honor.

Last night, UMS presented (and Shannon produced) a recital by Igor Levit, the Russian-German pianist who has been called the "future of the piano" and "the player of the century."  The performance was indeed extraordinary and included Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, and Prokifiev.  I had the honor of speaking with him at length after the recital, and I can say that, in addition to being an extraordinary musician, Mr. Levit is a generous and thoughtful person.

Who can resist this photo that I took of Mr. Levit and a young fan (and is posted with her parent's permission) -- according to Mr. Levit, her wonderful comment was :"Prokofiev was so so cool! And Bach! And Schubert! And Beethoven! Music is so so cool!"

Program:

J.S. BachPartita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828

SchubertSix Moments Musicaux, D. 780

BeethovenSonata No. 17 in d minor, Op. 31, No. 2

ProkofievSonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83