Friday, November 19, 2010

A Tribute to Robert Schumann by the BSO - Nov. 18, 2010

Kurt Mazur
                                    Nelson Friere

Paula and I spent a wonderful evening with past and present AstraZeneca colleagues at Symphony Hall engrossed in a wonderful concert commenorating the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann's birth.  This exceeded all expectations as we were taken on a journey by the veteran conductor, Kurt Masur.  Dressed in a European silk shirt with round collar, this vsionary of the central European repetoire opened the concert with the familar Symphony No. 1 in B-Flat, Opus 38 "Spring".  One heard yearnings of new growth and renewal in this vivacious music.  Although we have seen Maestro Masur who celebrated his 80th birthday in 2007 many times throughout the years, it is clear that he still enjoys his interaction with musicians despite some incipient frailty.  He conducted without baton or score and brought subtle dynamics and impeccable musicianship to the audience. 

I must share this small excerpt from the Maestro's website to give you a glimpse into this astonishing conductor who has led many European orchestras.

"As a child I discovered the joy of music making. Whether singing songs, playing tunes on the piano, or singing along with my sisters and friends, music always made me feel at home. I also discovered that music making helped me overcome loneliness and sadness, but also brought me joy and happiness in the special moments of my life. To date I have enjoyed the same kind of happiness building up programs for audiences that are different all over the world but are united in a "love affair" with music".

The is clearly a conductor who is loves his orchestra as well as the audience.  We watched as he took the time to single out solists for their efforts.  He smiled as if to say paternalistic appreciation for a debt of gratitude.  His gestures and nuances are phenomenal for a conductor his age.  There were many in the audience who gave him a standing ovation eraly in the evening.  It is clear that he is adored by his fans.

The highlight of the evening was most definately the Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 54 played by the Brazilain borne pianist, Nelson Friere.  He played with much finess and musicianship that one was taken away on a journey in this piece.  His cadenza was full of counterpoint and intrigue without flagrant movements or embellishments.  Masur looked to him for guidance.  The orchestra was well matched in both its timing to support and not overpower the soloist.  This performance was being recorded and will sit well within the current interpretations.  I reflect on many soloists including Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel, Radu Lupu, Martha Argerich, Gina Bachauer, Christian Zimmerman, Murray Perahia, Maurizzio Pollini and Dubravka Tomsic, Russel Sherman Mitsuko Uchida and countless others that we have seen throughout the years and I marveled at the solid and yet exciting performance of this artist.  He played with confidence and yet without the percussive tactics of Lang Lang, yet rose to the level of expressivity of Brendel or Tomsic, two of my favorites.  According both Friere and Masur received an adulatory standing ovation that continued on for minutes.  Only in this piece did Masur resort to a score and set of half-framed reading glasses.

The evening closed with a rousing Symphony No 4 in D mior, Opus 120.  This was full of contrast and counterpoint.  Masur's gestures served to extract every nuance out of the music and the performers.  Masur knows this music well as witnessed by his ability to bring this music to audience and let them be part of the performance.  Sitting in the 3rd row, we were able to see his articulations guide the quality musicians to vivid performance.  Masur is no stranger to Boston and it is apparent that he has a following.  He appears to be modest man who acknowledges parts of the orchestra for their exceptional talent and efforts.  He again received a standing ovation and took his humble bows from the floor rather than on the podium.  This is a man content with his life who tries to educate through music.

It is not often that I attend concerts with familar music and come home full of joy and fulfillment, but last night exceeded my expectations.  Masur is tribute to all conductors as a model for setting aside his ego to engulf us in a common language that ttranscends all cultures.

As a final treat, Nelson Friere was signing CD's in the lobby.  He is modest, somehat uncomfortable with English, but radiates warmth and humbleness.  His Shumann CD was
Nelson Freire, Martha Argerich - SalzburgNelson Freire - Schumann: Piano Worksa treat for my library.  I also own and adore his duet CD with Martha Agerich recorded live from Salzburg playing the Variations on a theme by Haydn Opus 56b among other pieces. 

It was a joy this morning listening to his Schumann CD and reflecting when my daughter played from Kinderszenen Op.15.  as a student with her teacher Inger Ross.  It is with great joy and pride that she will be married next year.

Music transforms the soul and serves as a common bond uniting both people and generations.  I am very forunate to have Paula and many wonderful friends and colleagues to share and partake in these special and memorable performances.  As I get older, I find that my tastes narrow and I become more knowledgeable and critical, but this was indeed a special evening.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Richard Tucker Gala (James Valenti 2010 winner)

On Sunday evening November 14th, 2010, we were delighted and priviledged to attend the 25th Richard Tucker Gala at Avery Fisher Hall. The foundation offers a $30,000 scholarship each year to an aspiring artist. This was a sold-out performance which was without intermission. Marco Armiliato conducted members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and New York Choral Society. After opening comments by Barry Tucker, Richard's son, the concert began with only 2 disappointments: Mariusz Kwiecen and Zeljko Lucic were both ill and could not attend. There was a suprise replacement by Susan Graham who had met Marco on the street and asked if she could attend. Marco said of course and joked with the audience that he did not need to consult with the Tucker Foundation.

As some of the reviews have indicated, Anna is a tough act to follow. Indeed dressed in a stunning royal blue gown that showed off her curvaceous assets, she again ruled the stage. In her first aria "Heia in den Bergen" from Die Csarasfurstin ( Kalman's "The Gypsy Princess), along with the chorus, she simply seductively danced and swayed her hips to the beat of the music while thrilling the audience with her voice. She was having the time of her life. In her second aria "Toi Vous... N'est-ce plus ma main" from Manon (Saint-Sulpice scene) she was on fire! Singing with Marcello Giordani, they embraced and even kissed passionately at the end of the aria! She simply stole the show.

There was indeed a preview of an up and coming coloratura soprano, Angela Meade who sang "Era desso il figlio mio" from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia complete with florid embellishments. She had been featured in the film, "The Audition" about the MET's 2007 finalists and a previous winner of an Richard Tucker fellowship. We had seen her previously in Norma at Caramoor and indeed she has an incredible voice with a lot of talent. There were other artists who simply could not sing above the orchestra and chorus or who had wandering pitch, but there was no trace of faltering by Netrebko who was out to conquer all with an impressive performance.

Elina Garanca, a wonderful Latvian mezzo, appeared to gain some weight and did not ultimately make the most of her talents even with a duet with Brandon Jovanovich from Carmen, where the tenor could simply not project and did not connect with each other.

Anna simply dominates the stage and has raised the bar for all artists. She easily gets into the role, sings expressively and makes best use of both her physical attributes and artistic talents. After seeing Don Pasquale and now this gala, we can only wonder what is next.

We went to The Green Room, where celebrities usually meet their fans, but alas Anna had snuck out without greeting any admirers. Marco and other celeberities were there, but many fans were disappointed that Anna had departed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Don Pasquale at the MET Nov. 6, 2011

The performance of Donizetti's Don Pasquale at the Metropolitan Opera was truly a tour de force and exceeded all of our expecations. The cast was marvelous and uniform throughout.

John Del Carlo, Don Pasquale (has also played in the Barber of Seville)

Anna Netrebko, Norina (a reprise performance for her at the Met)

Matthew Polenzani, Ernesto (a beautiful lyric tenor)

Mariusz Kwiecien, Dr. Malatesta (a handsome match for Norina)
The opera begins with Dr. Malatesta singing a beautiful lyric melody which sets the stage for a comical farce based on love and playing jokes on an old codger. Both Mariusz Kwiecien and Matthew Polenzani were elegant and supportive, but the afternoon was dominated by Norina's antics. Her second scene putting on a pair of stockings on a the edge of the bed is the highlight of the opera showcased in a clip from the dress rehearsal at the MET. Her impish charm and seductive nature is amply paired with a lustrous voice which fills the opera house which hold nearly 4000 patrons. This scene was well choreographed and was a sheer delight to behold. She literally stopped the show with applause. As the curtain closed on the second scene of the first act, Norina did a small tumble onto the divan. As I recall, the earlier production for her in this role, she scaled back this effort, but took the audience by surprise.

As the opera continues in the 2nd act, Norina is on a roll, kicking Don Pasquale in the rear and smashing vases on the floor, destroying Don Pasquale's bed and simply carrying on with much fun as an overblown practical joke, calling Don Pasquale an old codger. The audience broke out in laughter on more than one occasion as the merriment evolved. Unlike most productions at the MET, there were numerous well behaved young children at this performance.

The third act reveals the nature of the joke and Don Pasquale blesses the love between Ernesto, the nephew, and Norina. There is a touching duet between John Del Carlo, Don Pasquale, and Mariusz Kwiecien, Dr. Malatesta, that was repeated at the end of the third act in front of the curtain.

Anna's voice and stature have grown, but she truly ruled the stage with charm, a great sense of humor and uncanny ability to act as an impish young girl. The role of Norina was certainly well suited for her and I was overjoyed to hear improvements in some of her trills, coloratura embellishments and thrilling high notes exemplified at the end of the 3rd act. Anna was clearly enjoying herself immensely, and sang with much confidence and panache. At one point late in the opera she even walked over to the prompter's box and sang from there. The curtain closed to thunderous applause for Anna and her colleagues. It is clear that James Levine is truly a genius, but he is now quite lame and came to the stage using a cane and holding on to other people to steady his balance. He is truly loved by the New York Audience and one could see "Jimmy" throwing a kiss to Anna as the cast took a collective final bow.

Having seen the earlier performance of Don Pasquale at the MET also, I could easily say that this one was filled wiith more humor and antics. Anna hammed it up to rapturous applause, but her real talents lie in an amalgam of acting, sensational looks and a rapturous voice. We loved it so much even havinf traveled from Boston to see it, that we are attending an encore HD performance. All of the nearby theaters were already sold out for the "Live" HD transmission. We will see Anna again at the Richard Tucker Gala at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center on November 14th.

My only regret was having a dinner appointment in Manhattan with dear friends that precluded us from going to the stage door. I hope all of you will get to see this marvelous performance in the HD transmissions.