April line-up for ‘Fridays at Five’ with SFJAZZ

SFJAZZ continues to provide top-flight online programming in its Fridays at Five sessions – the month of April featuring bass guitarist Marcus Miller, vocalists Claudia Villela and Daymé Arocena and the Sun Ra Arkestra – plenty to enjoy!

Regarded as one of the greatest electric bassists in the history of the instrument, Marcus Miller – star of the Fridays at Five session on April 2nd – is also a keyboardist, saxophonist and a classically trained bass clarinetist, as well as a multiple GRAMMY-winner, producer, arranger, bandleader and composer of film scores. To add to his achievements, he was selected as Miles Davis’ bassist (following Davis’ return to performing in the 1980s), and has collaborated with performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Paul Simon and Frank Sinatra.

This week’s Fridays at Five session was recorded at SFJAZZ in June 2018, when Miller appeared with his young quintet which included saxophonist Alex Han, trumpeter Marquis Hill, keyboardist Brett Williams, and drummer Alex Bailey, performing numbers which appeared on Miller’s GRAMMY-nominated 2018 album Laid Back (Blue Note).

Brazilian artist Claudia Villela stars in the Fridays at Five transmission on April 9th, in a concert recorded at SFJAZZ in June 2019. Villela devotes this performance to the music of Brazilian song supremo Antônio Carlos Jobim, featuring the GRAMMY-nominated guitarist Chico Pinheiro as special guest.

With her “… Remarkable, beautiful, towering voice…” (New York Times), “She is the greatest expression of Brazilian Music in the US today”, says Helcio Milito, legendary Brazilian drummer. Singer, pianist and composer, Claudia Villela – with a five-octave voice range – has worked with jazz artists such as Kenny Werner, Michael Brecker and Toots Thielemans, and has been a regular performer at SFJAZZ.

Daymé Arocena, the featured artist on April 16th, has become one of the dynamic new faces of Cuban music. Specializing in jazz, Cuban neo-soul, and West African traditions, this singer, composer and choir director takes her inspiration from the various musical traditions of her native Cuba. Having performed in cities as diverse as Los Angeles and Tokyo – and plenty of others in-between – she combines her impressive vocal range with an earthy sense of humour.

With a voice described by NPR Music as “the perfect combination of Aretha Franklin and Celia Cruz”, Arocena released her debut album Nueva Era in 2015, which was listed among NPR Music’s Top 50 albums of the year, and during the 2017-2018 season, she appeared in a double bill with Cuban piano genius Roberto Fonseca.

The April 16th Fridays at Five performance was recorded at SFJAZZ in November 2019, and featured music from Daymé Arocena’s latest release Sonocardiogram (Brownswood).

The Fridays at Five session to be streamed on April 23rd was recorded in August 2017, during a special performance at SFJAZZ by the Sun Ra Arkestra. Comprising Arkestra veterans and a younger set of musicians led by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, this concert was a celebration of the legacy of the intriguing keyboardist and composer Sun Ra – who claimed to have come from the planet Saturn to bring peace to Earth.

The musical output of this jazz visionary and renowned eccentric combined big band swing, free jazz, the blues and electronics with traditional African music. His visual style was equally eclectic – reflecting both ancient Egyptian iconography with futuristic concepts.

Fridays at Five is a weekly membership-based online concert series that enables jazz fans to enjoy exclusive hour-long broadcasts of SFJAZZ Center archival performances, while providing support for the artists who would normally be presenting live shows.

Access to Fridays at Five costs just $5 a month ($60 annually) and you can sign up for – or gift – a digital membership and tune in with friends each Friday at 5.00 pm (Pacific). That’s 1.00 am GMT and 2.00 am CET on Saturday morning, for night owls. Proceeds will help the SFJAZZ team prepare to reopen the SFJAZZ Center and bring you the same breadth of live concert and educational programming you’re used to. The music, as they say at SFJAZZ, will outlive the virus.

For more details, visit the SFJAZZ website.

San Francisco Ballet streams Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’

Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets in the finale from Balanchine’s Diamonds // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

George Balanchine’s brilliant creation, Jewels, is the next production in San Francisco Ballet’s 2021 digital season. First staged by the Company in March 2002, Jewels is an abstract work of three one-act ballets, each completely different in style – admirably suited to the versatility of San Francisco Ballet.


Choreographed by Balanchine for New York City Ballet – which premiered the work in 1967 – Jewels is simply yet elegantly titled, calling to mind exactly what Balanchine loved about jewelry – “… the color of gems, the beauty of stones”. He greatly admired the artistry of Claude Arpels – of French luxury jewellers Van Cleef and Arpels fame – and it was this artistry which inspired him to interpret in dance the characteristics of the gems he portrays in these ballets, each representing one of the three cities which most closely defined his style.

Emeralds recalled for Balanchine the elegance of Paris, the city in which he was engaged by Sergei Diaghilev to choreograph works for the impresario’s Ballets Russes. Selecting for this ballet extracts from Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande, and his Shylock Suite, Balanchine evoked in Emeralds memories of the 19th century style of the French Romantics.

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine’s Rubies // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

Rubies represents the city of New York, where Balanchine made his home in the United States, and where he co-founded New York City Ballet. He set this jazzy piece to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra – Stravinsky having been a great favourite of his, and with whom Balanchine shared a deep mutual artistic respect.

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine’s Diamonds. (© Erik Tomasson)

Diamonds represents Balanchine’s home city of St Petersburg, where he grew up surrounded by the grandeur and majesty of Imperial Russia. There could be no more appropriate music for this ballet than that of Tchaikovsky, who studied and taught at the Conservatory in St Petersburg, which the young Balanchine also later attended. For Diamonds, Balanchine selected Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 3, known for its balletic character – a richly melodic finale to a sparkling program.

Costumes for all three of the ballets were designed by New York City Ballet’s Barbara Karinska, one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. Karinska was known for the highly successful creative partnership she formed with George Balanchine, which dated back to their time with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in the early 1930s, and which continued through his years at New York City Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine’s Emeralds // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

This production of Jewels is dedicated to Elyse Borne, a leading Balanchine répétiteur who staged many works for San Francisco Ballet, and who passed away in December 2019, shortly after rehearsing Jewels with SF Ballet in preparation for the Company’s 2020 Season.

San Francisco Ballet presents George Balanchine’s Jewels, with archival recordings of the Rubies and Diamonds ballets, and a newly-captured Emeralds, filmed onstage at the War Memorial Opera House in January of this year. Music Director Martin West leads the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra in this production which is available to view online from April 1st to 21st. Tickets are available from the San Francisco Ballet website, and casting is available on this link.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes
The George Balanchine Trust
Royal Opera House program notes

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Concertbouw Orchestra streams Bach’s ‘St Matthew Passion’

Iván Fischer conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bach’s ‘St Matthew Passion’ – courtesy Het Concertgebouw

Maintaining a tradition dating back to 1898, the Concertgebouw Orchestra presents its annual Holy Week performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Saturday, 27th March.

The scheduled performance under the direction of Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe has had to be cancelled due to the health risks involved, and instead the Concertgebouw will stream a recording of the performance led by Iván Fischer from 1st April, 2012.

The Orchestra was joined by the Netherlands Radio Choir, the National Children’s Choir, and tenors Mark Padmore and Peter Gijsbertsen, basses Peter Harvey and Henk Neven, sopranos María Espada and Renate Arends, and mezzo-sopranos Ingeborg Danz and Barbara Koselj.

In the Netherlands every year during Holy Week – the week prior to Easter – Bach’s magnificent St Matthew Passion is performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the ensemble which was instrumental in the establishment of this tradition. The first performance of this work by the Concertgebouw took place in 1891, the third year after the founding of the Orchestra, and from 1898 until the 1970s, this became an annual event. Since the 1970s, the St Matthew Passion has alternated with Bach’s St John Passion, and in recent years with more contemporary Passions, but this year the St Matthew Passion will be performed, and streamed online for viewers around the world to enjoy.

The first performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion took place on Good Friday, 11th April 1727. In the words of St Matthew the Evangelist, the oratorio tells of the last days of Jesus, his betrayal, trial, crucifixion and burial. The lyrics were compiled by German poet and librettist Christian Friedrich Henrici (known as Picander), and it is thought that this was done in close consultation with Bach himself, with added chorales and arias at key moments in the story.

Intriguingly, Johann Sebastian Bach appears to have become obscure after his death in 1750, but in the early 1820s, Carl Zelter, director of the Berlin Singakademie, laid hands on a copy of the St Matthew Passion and rehearsed some of the choral movements with his singers – two of whom happened to be Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn. In April 1829 – and despite some strong opposition – the 20 year-old Felix Mendelssohn mounted the first modern performance of the work, with the help of Zelter and the actor Eduard Devrient. This abbreviated form of the oratorio was performed in Berlin over Easter that year, resulting in a revival of interest in the music of Bach.

Iván Fischer, founder and Music Director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has been appointed Honorary Guest Conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra as of this current season. He is also Honorary Conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, of which he was previously Music Director, a position he has also held at Kent Opera and Opéra National de Lyon, as well as that of Principal Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington.

Director of his Iván Fischer Opera Company, he is also the founder of several festivals, including the Vicenza Opera Festival. As a composer, Maestro Fischer has had his works performed in the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Germany and Austria.

Iván Fischer leads the Concertgebouw Orchestra in a recorded performance of J S Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Saturday, 27th March. The concert can be viewed on the Concertgebouw Orchestra website, on Facebook and Youtube from 20h00 (CET) and will be available for two weeks after the initial transmission.

Information sourced from:

Concertgebouw Orchestra programme notes

J S Bach

St Matthew Passion

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American Ballet Theatre streams digital program of works by Ratmansky

Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell in the Alexei Ratmansky’s ‘Bernstein in a Bubble’. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

Live from New York City Center, American Ballet Theatre streams a program devoted to works by choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, the Company’s Artist in Residence.

Highlights of the program, filmed onstage at the City Center, include excerpts from Ratmansky’s The Seasons, Seven Sonatas, The Sleeping Beauty and the World Premiere of Bernstein in a Bubble.

During the intermission, there’s a conversation about the four works between Ratmansky and Linda Murray, curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library.

Born in St Petersburg and trained at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow, Alexei Ratmansky has choreographed ballets for the Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, The Australian Ballet, Kiev Ballet and the State Ballet of Georgia. He has also created works for Nina Ananiashvili, Diana Vishneva and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Devon Teuscher in Seven Sonatas. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

Winner of a Golden Mask Award by the Theatre Union of Russia in 1998 for Dreams of Japan, Ratmansky was named Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Ballet in 2004, during which tenure the Bolshoi Ballet was named “Best Foreign Company” in 2005 and 2007 by The Critics’ Circle in London. Ratmansky was awarded a 2005 Benois de la Danse prize for his creation of Anna Karenina for the Royal Danish Ballet, and received a Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for The Bright Stream in 2006. He won a second Benois de la Danse prize in 2014 for his Shostakovich Trilogy – a co-commission with ABT for San Francisco Ballet – for which he also received a Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Best Classical Choreography in 2020.

Ratmansky was made Knight of the Order of Dannebrog by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark in 2001, and was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow for 2013. 

Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside in ‘The Seasons’. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

Alexei Ratmansky’s The Seasons, is set to music by Alexander Glazunov, and received its World Premiere at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House on May 20, 2019. Glazunov composed the music for Marius Petipa’s original 1900 ballet, The Seasons, created whilst he was Premier Maître de Ballet of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg. Whilst Petipa’s abstract ballet featured characters representing Snow, Frost, the Faun and the Rose, Ratmansky’s version revolves around Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. This ABT presentation features the main pas de deux, danced to the Petit Adagio from the Autumn section of Glazunov’s score.

Herman Cornejo in ‘Seven Sonatas’. Photo Christopher Duggan.

Seven Sonatas was written for six dancers, simply but delicately costumed in white, and focuses on the relationships between these six friends – the camaraderie between the men, the spirited rapport between the women, as well as the characteristics that define the relationships of each couple. One pair is going through a time of conflict, another is bound together by fun and playfulness, and the third couple is buoyed up by the sheer joy and humor which they share. This variation is danced to Scarlatti’s Sonata in E Minor K. 198.

Skylar Brandt and Aran Bell in the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

In 2015 Ratmansky created for ABT his reconstruction of Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty, using the notations of Petipa’s original choreography, and setting the work to Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous score. It’s the Rose Adagio from Act I which features in this digital presentation, the variation in which each of four suitors presents Princess Aurora with a rose, hoping that he will be the one she chooses to marry. The costumes for Ratmansky’s interpretation were designed by Richard Hudson, inspired by those created by Léon Bakst for the original production which was premiered by the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on January 15th, 1890.

Tyler Maloney in the Alexei Ratmansky’s Bernstein in a Bubble. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

This program also features the World Premiere of Ratmansky’s Bernstein in a Bubble, a work set to Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento which the legendary composer and conductor wrote in 1980. This set of eight bagatelles was composed on commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of the Orchestra’s centennial. It is the first work which Ratmansky has choreographed since March 2020, and was created in January and February of this year, during a quarantined ‘ballet bubble’ in Silver Bay, New York.

ABT Live from City Center – A Ratmansky Celebration, is hosted by Susan Fales-Hill, author and American Ballet Theatre Co-Chair of the Trustees Emeriti. The stream is available from today, March 23rd, at 7.00 pm ET on the NYCityCenter.org website, and is available on demand until April 18th, at $25 for digital access.

Information sourced from:
American Ballet Theatre program notes
Alexei Ratmansky
Marius Petipa
Bernstein’s Divertimento – San Francisco Symphony program notes

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Monte-Carlo Opera stages ‘I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata’

In a premiere production for Monaco, Monte-Carlo Opera stages Giuseppe Verdi’s opera I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata. This production by Teatro Regio di Parma stars tenor Antonio Corianỏ as Arvino, bass Michele Pertusi as his brother Pagano, soprano Cristina Giannelli as Viclinda, Arvino’s wife, and soprano Nino Machaidze as her daughter Giselda.

Verdi’s four-act dramma lirico – which loosely translates as the Lombardi on the First Crusade – is set to an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera, which was based on an epic poem by Tommaso Grossi. The opera is thought to have been written in the second half of the year 1842, but not much is known about the circumstances in which it was composed. There are no records of negotiations with Teatra alla Scala in Milan – where the opera was premiered on 11th February, 1843 – and no correspondence seems to exist between Verdi and his librettist. The opera was apparently not well received by the religious censors in Milan at the time, but after a few changes were made, the premiere turned out to be a great success.

The setting of the opera moves from Milan to Antioch and the country around Jerusalem in 1099 AD, and tells of the love rivalries of two brothers against the backdrop of the First Crusade. Pagano who is in love with Viclinda – his brother’s wife – mistakenly kills his father, and exiles himself to the Holy Land, vowing never to love again. He disguises himself as a hermit and helps the Crusaders – led by Arvino – to conquer Antioch, a land led by a tyrannical ruler Acciano. Arvino then goes on to lead the Crusaders to set Jerusalem free. With victory assured – thanks to the help of the injured hermit – Pagano reveals his true identity, admits his crime and dies forgiven.

In actuality, the hymns which were sung by the chorus in the opera soon became the symbol of the Risorgimento – the movement which succeeded in bringing about the political unification and independence of Italy, and of which Verdi became a major figure.

The cast also includes bass Daniel Giulianini as Pagano’s henchman Pirro, tenor Rémy Mathieu as the Prior of the city of Milan, bass Eugenio Di Lieto as Acciano, tyrant of Antioch, tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Oronte, Acciano’s son, and soprano Michelle Canniccioni as Sofia, Acciano’s wife.

Conductor Daniele Callegari leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chorus of the Monte-Carlo Opera – director Stefano Visconti. Hailing from Milan, Maestro Callegari is well known for leading both symphonic and operatic performances, having appeared in many of the major concert halls and opera houses across Europe, as well as at Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera and in Tokyo, Toronto and Tel Aviv.

The original staging for I Lombardi was by the late Lamberto Puggelli, executed for this production by Grazia Pulvirenti, with decor by Paolo Bregni, costumes by Santuzza Cali and lighting by Andrea Borelli. Renzo Musumeci Greco is Master-at-Arms.

Monte-Carlo Opera performs Verdi’s I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata on 20th, 23rd, 25th and 28th March at 2.00 pm (CET).

For details on tickets, visit the Monte-Carlo Opera website.

Information sourced from:

Opéra Monte-Carlo programme notes

Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège

Oxford Music Online

All images from the 2003 production of I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata courtesy Teatro Regio di Parma © Roberto Ricci

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SF Symphony & Post:ballet stream ‘Playing Changes’

Post:ballet’s Landes Dixon and SF Symphony violinist Helen Kim

An interesting aspect of online streaming is the creativity which it has inspired, as demonstrated by this partnership between the San Francisco Symphony and local contemporary dance company, Post:ballet.

Last year, SF Symphony violinist Helen Kim and Post:ballet’s Artistic Director Robert Dekkers were “…. both craving a project to sink our artistic teeth into ….” says Dekkers, and in May they came up with the concept of setting dances to seven pieces of music for solo violin – three of which were commissioned for this project.

Dekkers and his dancers rehearsed in the open air at various locations around the Bay Area – such as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and Sutro Heights, and Lake Merritt in Oakland – his inspiration enhanced by these different locations, as well as the different surfaces on which the dancers were working.

He says that he and the dancers found these rehearsals liberating, compared with the studio environment to which they were accustomed. “No mirrors, no expectations, just pure joy and gratitude for the opportunity to connect with one another in a safe, creatively charged, curious space,” he says. The dancers, too, contributed their own experiences of the unusual times in which the world found itself, which also served as a catalyst for creativity.

San Francisco Symphony violinist Helen Kim

The pieces of music featured in this program are Samuel Adams Playing Changes from Violin Diptych, Philip Glass’ Knee Play 2 from his opera Einstein on the Beach, Filter by Daniel Bernard Roumain, and fly into the light … by LJ White, with world premieres of Elizabeth Ogonek’s Cradle Dance, Mary Kouyoumdjian’s Water and Dust, and Ambrose Akinmusire’s kodo. All are performed by Helen Kim.

Another interesting aspect of the project is the location of the filming, by Ben Tarquin – West Oakland’s historic 16th Street station – which, apart from forming a dramatic backdrop to a most unusual program – also has a fascinating history. An abandoned Southern Pacific Railroad station in the Prescott neighborhood of Oakland, the Beaux-Arts building was designed by Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt, and was the last Western stop for the trans-continental railway after its opening in 1921. It ceased operating as a railway station in 1994.

Post:ballet’s Jenna Marie

San Francisco Symphony violinist Helen Kim, and Robert Dekkers, Artistic Director of Post:ballet, present Playing Changes which is available for free streaming on the SFSymphony+ website.

Information sourced from:

SFSymphony+ program notes

and websites of:


16th Street Station

All photographs courtesy of Post:ballet

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Monte-Carlo welcomes back its Festival Printemps des Arts

It’s good news indeed to hear that the Festival Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo is taking place this year. Due to the pandemic, there’s a change to the format, in that it’s being held over five weekends, but, with five different themes – École de Vienne (the Viennese School), Portrait Franz Liszt, Musique Française, Le Clavecin Dans Tous Ses États (The Harpsichord in all its Forms) and Théâtre Musical, the Festival promises to deliver as much variety as ever.

The opening concert, on 14th March, is given by soloists of the Ensemble Intercontemporain and features works by Liszt and the Second Viennese School, of which Austrian-born Arnold Schönberg – considered one of the most influential composers of the 20th century – was leader, and of which Alban Berg and Anton Webern were members.

Ensemble Intercontemporain © EIC

Under the direction of Matthias Pintscher on the same afternoon, the Ensemble Intercontemporain focuses mainly on music by Arnold Schönberg. The two works in the programme are his Five Pieces for Orchestra – first performed by Sir Henry Wood at the Proms Concert on 3rd September 1912 – and his Chamber Symphony No 1 for Fifteen Solo Instruments – which apparently caused a riot at an early performance in Vienna in 1913, the audience having rebelled against his “stark musical expressionism” (BBC), as well as that of Berg and Webern. The programme also includes Roses from the South and the Emperor Waltz by Johann Strauss.

The Théâtre Musical takes place on the following Saturday. A ‘monodrama’ by Franco-Argentinian Sebastian Rivas for one performer, two instrumentalists, electronics and video, it’s entitled Snow on her lips, and was commissioned by the Festival.

Bertrand Chamayou Photo: Marco Borggreve

The focus on the Sunday of this weekend falls on Franz Liszt, as piano virtuoso Bertrand Chamayou plays the three works which make up Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage. Liszt – inspired by the writings of Petrarch, Schiller, Byron and Dante – created something of a musical diary of his travels through Switzerland and Italy in the first two pieces, followed by a third which has a religious theme.

Tedi Papavrami with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra ©picture by fraser band

The third weekend features Albanian-born violinist Tedi Papavrami in concert with with the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Music Director Kazuki Yamada. Papavrami plays Alban Berg’s violin concerto, In Memory of an Angel, dedicated to the daughter of Alma Mahler and the architect Walter Gropius, who died at a young age. Also on the programme is Schönberg’s Symphonic Poem Pelleas and Melisande.

This weekend also features the Tana Quartet with music from the Viennese School, playing Schönberg’s Quartet for Strings – his homage to Mozart – and Anton Webern’s Five Pieces for String Quartet. The performance also features a new work by French composer Frédéric Durieux – his String Quartet No 2 – co-commissioned by the Festival and ProQuartet.

The Zemlinsky Quartet © Ilona Sochorová

The Zemlinsky Quartet – appearing on the same afternoon – plays two works from the Viennese School. The first is Schönberg’s symphonic poem Transfigured Night, followed by his Second Quartet, which, unusually, features the voice of Austrian soprano Anna Maria Pammer in the last two movements, singing the verses of poet Stefan George.

Franois-Xavier Roth with Les Siècles – courtesy Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo

Music from the Viennese School features on Saturday, 3rd April, as French philharmonic orchestra Les Siècles, directed by founder François-Xavier Roth, plays works by Berg and Schönberg. Berg’s 1925 Kammerkonzert was written for piano, violin and 13 wind instruments, drawing on the style of the concerto grosso. The Schönberg work is his transcription of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No 1 for Orchestra.

The concert also features a new work by French composer-in-residence for the Festival, Gérard Pesson, commissioned by the Festival for this occasion. Entitled Chante en morse durable, it was written for orchestra and accordion, and features violinist Renaud Capuçon, pianist Kit Armstrong, and accordionist Vincent Lhermet.

Ivo Kahanek – courtesy Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo

Liszt features in the final concert of the Festival, on Sunday 11th April. In this performance, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra is led by Hungarian conductor Gergely Madaras, Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège, with Czech pianist Ivo Kahánek as soloist in Liszt’s Grande fantasie symphonique on Themes of Lelio de Berlioz for piano and orchestra, and his Totentanz for solo piano and orchestra. Also featured on the programme are Liszt’s symphonic poems Festklänge and Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe.

The Festival Printemps de Monte-Carlo has lectures every Friday – on the Second Viennese School, Franz Liszt, Frédéric Durieux, Gérard Pesson and The Harpsichord and French music. There are recitals by pianists Beatrice Berrut, Aline Piboule and Marie Vermeulin, and harpsichordists Andreas Staier, Olivier Baumont and Pierre Hantaï, and masterclasses by Bertrand Chamayou, Andreas Staier and accordionist Vincent Lhermet.

Full details of the programmes are available on the website of the Festival Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo.

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz.

Information sourced from:

Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo programme notes

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Royal Ballet does ragtime with MacMillan’s ‘Elite Syncopations’

The Royal Ballet’s online stream this Friday is a performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s delightful ballet, Elite Syncopations. Set to music by Scott Joplin, it’s one of the most joyful pieces in the Company’s repertoire.

MacMillan wrote Elite Syncopations in 1974 – a ballet premiered only seven months after Manon – and something he’d planned even before the revival of interest in Joplin’s music which was used as the title track for George Roy Hill’s film, The Entertainer.

There’s no story to the ballet – it’s just a riot of colour, fun, fabulously gaudy costumes, ragtime music and MacMillan’s very distinctive choreography, giving the dancers the perfect excuse to really let their hair down and have some fun. Designs are by Ian Spurling.

The stage is bare of a set, but the twelve musicians, led by a pianist, are seated on a rostrum behind the dancers, and dressed in 1900s-style costumes. The entire cast is onstage as well – watching the proceedings when they’re not dancing themselves. As the programme notes say, “The setting might be a competition in a louche dancehall in the Mississipi Delta at the turn of the last century, where the ballet’s characters flirt, dance and vie with each other for the limelight”.

Elite Syncopations was first performed at Covent Garden on 7th October 1974, with a cast which included some of The Royal Ballets’ finest dancers at that time – Monica Mason, Vergie Derman, Wayne Sleep, Michael Coleman, Merle Park and Donald MacLeary. Noel Goodwin – writing for Dance and Dancers – said: “Much of my enjoyment came from watching some of the Royal Ballet’s best and most distinctive principals displaying new facets of their artistry in the choreography MacMillan devised for them.”

The performance that we see on Friday was recorded in October 2020 during The Royal Ballet: Back on Stage presentation, marking the first time that the Company had performed on stage together in seven months.

The Royal Ballet dancing Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations can be viewed online as of 7.00 pm on Friday, 12th March. For more detail, and to buy tickets, visit The Royal Ballet website.

Information sourced from:
The Royal Ballet programme notes
Kenneth MacMillan

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English National Ballet’s ‘Manon’ now available to rent

Alina Cojocaru & Joseph Caley in ENB’s ‘Manon’ © Laurent Liotardo

English National Ballet’s production of Kenneth MacMillan’s gorgeous interpretation of the story of Manon is now available to rent. The passionate and ultimately tragic account of a young girl who was as much in love with romance as with the trappings of wealth, was described by The Telegraph as “A truly irresistible tragedy… dramatic, thrilling, affecting”, and by The Express as “exquisitely beautiful”.

Starring Alina Cojocaru in the title role, the ballet features Joseph Caley as Des Grieux, and Jeffrey Cirio as Manon’s brother, Lescaut. It was filmed at the Manchester Opera House in October 2018, with Music Director, Gavin Sutherland, leading the English National Ballet Philharmonic.

Scene from ENB’s production of ‘Manon’ © Laurent Liotardo

The story of Manon is based on the 1731 novel L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Benedictine Abbé Prévost. Set in 18th century Paris, it reflects a time when decadence, corruption and depravity were rife in the city. It tells how Manon, a beautiful but desperately poor young girl, is adored by the student Des Grieux, and she loves him in return. Her brother, however, sells her to Monsieur GM, a wealthy older man, and – attracted by the lure of the luxury on offer – Manon deserts Des Grieux, setting in train a chain of events that ultimately lead to tragedy.

Scene from ENB’s production of ‘Manon’ © Laurent Liotardo

MacMillan wrote the ballet in 1974 – an elegant, apposite and highly creative work. The score is an orchestral arrangement of the music which Jules Massenet wrote for his opera, Manon. He was regarded as the leading French operatic composer of his day, and Manon – written in 1884 – was considered by many to be his masterpiece.

Joseph Caley & Alina Cojocaru in Macmillan’s ‘Manon’ – © Laurent Liotardo

English National Ballet’s performance of Manon can be rented via this link for £7.99.

Information sourced from:

English National Ballet programme notes

Kenneth MacMillan

Jules Massenet

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Gilbert leads all-Gershwin programme at Concertgebouw

George Gershwin – courtesy Acorn Media

This week’s online performance from the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam focuses on the music of New York, as Alan Gilbert leads an all-Gershwin programme with pianist Stefano Bollani as soloist in Rhapsody in Blue. Also featured in the programme are Gershwin’s Cuban Overture and Catfish Row – the orchestral suite from Porgy and Bess.

New Yorker Alan Gilbert is perfectly suited to bring the music of his home city to Amsterdam, having recently completed an eight-year tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic – the first native New Yorker to hold the post. Grammy Award-winning conductor Gilbert – described by the New York Times as “The real thing. A deeply musical conductor.” – is also Chief Conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg, Music Director of the Royal Swedish Opera, Conductor Laureate of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.

Conductor Alan Gilbert © Peter Hundert

He is a frequent guest conductor for some of the world’s major orchestras and opera companies, and has led a number of live-streamed performances during the COVID-19 lockdown. Maestro Gilbert was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2014, and has been named an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. He gave the 2015 lecture for London’s Royal Philharmonic Society during the New York Philharmonic’s European tour, and received a 2015 Foreign Policy Association Medal for his commitment to cultural diplomacy.

Cover of the original sheet music of Rhapsody in Blue – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Can one ever think of George Gershwin without his fabulous Rhapsody in Blue coming to mind – the piece which he wrote when bandleader Paul Whiteman gave him just three weeks in which to compose something for a concert he was organising with his Palais Royal Band, in New York?

Originally called American Rhapsody, Gershwin changed the title at the suggestion of his brother, Ira, who had seen Whistler’s painting of the River Thames at Chelsea, entitled Nocturne in Blue and Green. Rhapsody in Blue, Ira felt, would reflect both European and American influences, and he also suggested that George should offset the syncopated character of the main theme with a romantic one which he’d previously improvised at a party. Ferde Grofé, Whiteman’s brilliant arranger, orchestrated the work to match the line-up of the band, and Rhapsody in Blue, with the composer as soloist, premiered at the Aeolian Hall on February 12th, 1924, introducing a new era in American music.

The soloist in this Concertgebouw performance is Italian pianist Stefano Bollani – an artist equally at home performing in a jazz club as he is in a major concert hall. Composer, writer, playwright, TV host, radio personality and recording artist, Stefano Bollani is the recipient of numerous awards and honours, and has appeared in venues as diverse as the Umbria and Montreal International jazz festivals, New York’s Town Hall, La Fenice in Venice, the Barbican in London, Salle Pleyel in Paris and La Scala, Milan.

As a jazz musician he has worked with artists of the calibre of Enrico Rava, Phil Woods, Chick Corea, Bill Frisell, Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. As a classical artist, he has appeared with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre National de Lyon, Filarmonica della Scala of Milan, Santa Cecilia of Rome, as well as the Concertgebouw. He has recently formed a strong bond with the music of South America – and Brazil in particular – recorded with a number of Brazilian artists, and was only the second musician in Brazilian history – after Antonio Carlos Jobim – to play a grand piano in a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

Gershwin’s Cuban Overture was inspired by the music he heard during a holiday in Havana in 1932. Intended as a short, impressionistic piece, to give a flavour of Cuban rhythms to Americans who had not visited the island, he took a set of Cuban musical instruments back home with him, to enhance the experience.

Catfish Row is a suite of music from the only opera which George Gershwin wrote – Porgy and Bess. This opera, composed in 1935, was a work very close to his heart, and he devised the five-movement orchestral suite to ensure the longevity of the music. The suite was performed at a number of concerts conducted by Gershwin, but after his tragic death in 1937, it disappeared from the repertoire of American orchestras, replaced by a work, Symphonic Picture, prepared by his friend, Robert Russell Bennett. It wasn’t until 1958 that the original manuscript was found in Ira Gershwin’s home. He renamed it Catfish Row, and it has once again taken its place in the concert hall, together with the piece by Bennett.

Alan Gilbert leads the Concertgebouw Orchestra in an all-Gershwin programme which will be streamed on Friday, 5th March at 8.00 pm CET on the Concertgebouw website, on Facebook and on YouTube, and will be available for one week after the initial stream.

Information sourced from:
Concertgebouw Orchestra programme notes
George Gershwin
Artists’ websites

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