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Review: A fresh recording of 'Long Christmas Dinner' serves plenty to be thankful for

Los Angeles Times

By Mark Swed

December 22, 2015

Christmas, we like to remind ourselves, is about family. But the season tends to offer surprisingly little familial music of any real significance.

The subject matter of holiday oratorio, cantata, opera or song tends to be either the Christmas story itself or our own surroundings and issues, whether dreaming of a white Christmas or the jingling of bells or cash registers. Even "The Nutcracker" isn't really family ballet but fantasy.

Paul Hindemith's "The Long Christmas Dinner" is exactly what's needed. Completed in 1961, it is the last opera by one of the 20th century's major composers. The English-language libretto, remarkably, is by Thornton Wilder — remarkably because while Wilder may have been a musical connoisseur (he actually directed a Handel opera in 1935), the playwright and novelist was notoriously unaccommodating to composers. He even turned down operatic requests from Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

But Wilder did come around when approached by Hindemith. The result is a wistful, exquisite and profoundly touching tiny masterpiece, which seemed to have no legs whatsoever. The first performance was in Germany, with the libretto translated into serviceable German by the composer. Hindemith conducted the premiere of the original English-language version at the Juilliard School in 1963, a few months before he died, and it was all but forgotten until Leon Botstein revived it last year in New York with his American Symphony Orchestra. Bridge Records has now released a live recording just in time for Christmas dinner.

Short and bittersweet, the opera covers a 90-year parade of a Midwestern family's Christmas dinners through the generations. The overture is based on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and there are hints of hymn music here and there, but otherwise religiosity is avoided in what is essentially a meditation on the passing of time by two great artists at or near the ends of their long careers (Wilder died in 1975).

The entire opera takes place at the dinner table. As the years go by, children take the places of parents, serving white meat or dark. Mindfulness to tradition is attempted as family members record the names of ancestors. But memory fades without anyone quite grasping the process.

What matters most, then, is not the Christmas dinner that came before or the one that will come next but an appreciation of the moment. Love and loss, life and death happen quickly, so pay attention. Surprisingly, "The Long Christmas Dinner" turns out to be an opera about the inevitability of impermanence, possibly making it the first and only covertly Buddhist Christmas opera.

To do this, Hindemith and Wilder made every condensed musical phrase or line of text have essential purpose. Time flows unstoppably in the understated score, with its subtle pastel instrumental colors and graciously unshowy vocal writing attuned to the sound and meaning of the word.

The performance features a young American cast that enunciates clearly if not especially strong on personality. But the orchestra is excellent, and Botstein's account avoids what an older, better-sung German recording doesn't, namely sentimentality. The wisdom of "The Long Christmas Dinner" is that there can be no long Christmas dinners.

All happy families are not, as Tolstoy suggests, alike, because happiness, like all else, is ephemeral, So make this Christmas dinner matter.

Original story here.

'The Long Christmas Dinner': An opera for before, not during, your feast

Off-Ramp | Southern California Public Radio

By Marc Haefele

December 16, 2015

Bridge Records is an independent record label that, along with the usual classical repertoire, focuses on classical music from the 1900s and 2000s. The label has just put out the first recording in English of “The Long Christmas Dinner,” a short opera written in the 1960s. It's a collaboration between two titans. Off-Ramp commentator Marc Haefele says it is the perfect recording to provide some perspective on your holiday gatherings.

It’s the big Bayard family holiday and nine people sit at the long Christmas dinner table. The table is decked with holly. There are doors stage left and right. One door is surrounded by birds and flowers, another by black crepe.

We soon realize that this meal is not a finite event. As matters proceed, we understand that this 49-minute opera contains 90 years of family history — multiple generations who will repeat the same banal phrases about the food, the weather and the holiday church service.

Eventually most of the diners walk through the black door of death. Others emerge from the door of birth. A baby is wheeled right out of the bright door and across the stage to the dark one. The holiday camaraderie gradually gives way to conflict, and estrangement disperses all the Bayards from the old family home.

The story has been told and the music stops. The dinner is over and so are the Bayards. The audience is shaken. Merry Christmas to all.

“The Long Christmas Dinner” is a collaboration between two of the most extraordinary creators of the 20th century: German-born composer Paul Hindemith and Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Thornton Wilder. Wilder wrote “Our Town” and “The Merchant of Yonkers,” which inspired the musical “Hello Dolly!”

It is hard to categorize Hindemith’s overall musical style. "Music, despite its tendency toward abstraction, is basically a means of communication," Hindemith said. "Composers and performers have a social responsibility to be comprehensible."

“The Long Christmas Dinner” is comprehensible in part because Wilder is able to say a great deal in very few words. As in all great Greek drama, Wilder’s big events happen offstage — as in the death of Emily in “Our Town.” The characters’ reaction is the story, which is taut, surprising, scary and deeply affecting. It could almost be an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Hindemith’s music is lyrical and gently foreboding. The optimism of the words of the men’s holiday trio — “Here’s to the Health and Here’s to the Wealth” — is belied by a creepy, minor-key accompaniment from the orchestra. In just a moment, the Bayard family patriarch will exit death’s door — as would Hindemith himself, nine months after the opera’s premiere.

Gradually, the others disperse. “There are no more children,” says one diner. Finally, a distant cousin is left alone by what Wilder called “the great mill-wheel of life and death.” Before she too fades, she is consoled by a letter from Bayard descendants who have moved far, far away.

As much as I like this opera, I’m not suggesting you use the score as dinner music at your holiday table. Instead, pay attention to the family and friends around you — some of them may not be at the table next year.

The opera was first performed in English in 1963. It was revived last December in sold-out, widely-applauded performances at New York’s Alice Tully Hall by Leon Botstein, the polymath Bard University president who also conducts the American Symphony Orchestra. This is the fine performance Bridge Records has released on CD.

I asked CSU Bakersfield music professor and Hindemith enthusiast Joel Haney if "The Long Christmas Dinner" might work well on one of L.A. Opera's short-opera double bills, like in last year’s  program of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas’’ and Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle.” Haney, who wrote the notes for the Bridge Records "Dinner” recording, responded: "An L.A. Opera performance would be great! I don't have any immediate thoughts for what might go on the other half.’’ Neither do I, but I’d prefer that it not be "Cavalleria Rusticana" or "Pagliacci.”

Original story here.

Opera Recording of the Year 2015


By Andrew Aronowicz

December 11, 2015


The passage of time is the subject of this lesser-known work by Paul Hindemith. It was his last opera, a thoughtful setting in English of Thornton Wilder’s play of the same name, which sees the Bayard family enjoying their Christmas feast over 90 years. New life is celebrated, old lives commemorated and mourned and the repercussions of decisions are played out over decades. The cast play characters from old and young generations, entering through one door and exiting through another when their time is up.  Hindemith’s score works with the cyclical nature of the libretto. Familiar melodies and phrases are uttered by younger characters, echoing the words of matriarchs and patriarchs from years past. The chamber orchestration is expressive yet tidy, never overpowering the soloists and providing a constant stream of accompaniment to the evolving feast. The melodies favour lyricism, rather than the angularity of Hindemith’s early neoclassicism. That said, he’s kept the emotional restraint, so the music never becomes sentimental. With crystal clear diction, the performances by the various soloists are excellent. So too is the American Symphony Orchestra, under Leon Botstein’s secure direction. This is its first English recording, and it’s a fascinating find for lovers of 20th-century opera.

Original full story here.

Hindemith: The Long Christmas Dinner

Opera News

By Joshua Rosenblum

December 2015

HERE'S A WELCOME RELEASE—the first English-language recording of The Long Christmas Dinner, Hindemith’s 1960 opera adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s play, with a libretto by Wilder himself. Although Wilder’s original libretto was (unsurprisingly) in English, the only previous recording of the work is of the German translation Hindemith made later. American Symphony music director Leon Botstein resurrected the original version of this one-act opera last year at Alice Tully Hall for a rare performance, paired intriguingly with a presentation of Wilder’s original play. Bridge Records captured the live performance of the opera in this recording.

Like the play, the opera traces the joys and sorrows of the Bayard family over a series of Christmas dinners that span ninety years. Major life events (births, marriages and deaths) are represented symbolically, by the exit of an aging matriarch or the entrance (sometimes immediately following) of a surprisingly ambulatory new mother proclaiming, “Look! Look at my child!” Hindemith and Wilder telescope the fleeting decades with skillful concision, highlighted by the inclusion of several mysterious, shimmering ensemble pieces that specifically reflect on the passage of time (“How long have we been in this house?”). The composer’s cheerfully chugging textures and characteristically pungent, neoclassical musical language are well-suited for capturing the bustle of holiday preparations, yet he manages to tinge even the joyful, upbeat sections with subtly wistful nostalgia. When characters specifically summon events from their pasts, Hindemith provides a distinctive version of Copland-esque Americana that is eloquent but not sentimental. His use of dissonance to signify brooding or impending death is subtle and sure-handed. The high point of the opera is a stunningly beautiful sextet, in which young Sam (the clarion-voiced baritone Jarrett Ott), on leave from military service, tells his family to “Do what you do on Christmas Day.” As the family chats lightly, Sam sings a soaring descant above them (“I shall hold this tight! I shall remember you so!”) to a wondrously vibrant triadic accompaniment. This turns out to have been his requiem; his sister sings a lament for him (“He was only a boy”) before the number has concluded.

Soprano Camille Zamora portrays both Lucia and, later, her own granddaughter (Lucia II); this serves nicely to encapsulate the cyclic nature of time’s generational flow. Zamora sings with an appealing sparkle that she sustains even as she assures her own daughter not to grieve upon her death; this quality also serves her well in Lucia II’s role as peacemaker. In addition to playing Sam, baritone Ott brings a reassuring, enveloping quality to Roderick, the first Lucia’s husband. Bass-baritone Josh Quinn is rugged and self-confident as cousin Brandon. Charles (Glenn Seven Allen) and Leonora (Kathryn Guthrie) bring matching timbres—simultaneously bright and tender—to a lilting, harmonically unusual marriage duet. Later, they are joined by Genevieve (mezzo Catherine Martin), the self-declared spinster, for a sweetly contemplative trio (“Time flies so fast”). Mezzo Sara Murphy plays both Mother Bayard, who has a nostalgic reverie in the first scene, and cousin Ermengarde, who is left alone at the end to sing a final meditation, which Murphy renders with exquisite poignancy. Tenor Scott Murphree brings the requisite charisma and vocal brashness to the role of Roderick II, the errant rogue who renounces his family ties. Martin’s Genevieve generates considerable drama in her own farewell aria. The American Symphony Orchestra plays with great precision and beauty under Botstein, who has guided them intrepidly through adventurous repertoire such as this for a quarter of a century.

Original full story here.

Botstein, ASO open strongly with musical art for art’s sake

New York Classical Review

By George Grella

October 17, 2015

Mimesis—that was the concept around which conductor Leon Botstein organized the season-opening concert for the American Symphony Orchestra Friday night at Carnegie Hall. “Musical Representations” was the subtitle, and the music on the program came out of non-musical experiences. If mimesis is strictly an artistic representation of the real world, then Botstein’s program put that on display, and added a layer of abstraction with music that represented art itself.

The orchestra also presented a necessarily succinct argument about tonal modernism, with music from Gunther Schuller, Henri Dutilleux, and a work from Nico Muhly that was premiered earlier this year. Finishing it all off was the familiar entertainments of Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra, which turned out to be the least mimetic music of the concert.

Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee was the opener, seven representations of images from the painter. Perhaps, though, the music is better understood as seven of Schuller’s reactions to paintings by Klee.

Schuller, who died this past summer solstice, had a substantial career as a composer, musician, conductor, teacher, and writer, and is most immediately known for coining the term “third-stream,” to describe music that combined elements of both jazz and the classical tradition. Schuller himself was a pioneer of the concept, and the third study, “Little Blue Devils,” is a solid jazz composition for a symphony orchestra.

“Little Blue Devils” swings inasmuch as the orchestra and conductor swing, and while it clearly shows Schuller’s values, it seems very far from Klee. The other studies, however, manage the uncanny job of filling the mind’s eye with Klee’s spare, graceful lines, quiet colors, and odd, playful images. The music is pointillist, colorful, quiet, and full of empty space, and the orchestra played it all with precision and sensitivity. One extended study, “Arab Village,” is Schuller’s idea of how that painting sounds, and the Medieval quality of the music is skillful and fascinating, especially when played as beautifully as the orchestra did.

The fine playing continued with Dutilleux’s song cycle Correspondances, a piece based around poetry from Rilke and Prithwindra Mukherjee, and letters written by Solzhenitsyn and Van Gogh. Van Gogh sounds fundamentally integrated into Dutilleux’s overall style. The composer’s music is so vividly colorful, and the way it makes use of blocks of orchestral sound as structural, not just for orchestration, often sounds the way the painter’s The Starry Night looks.

Singing was the impressive young soprano Sophia Burgos. Her sound is light and lyric and her intonation was exact. The songs are all about vivid sensations of the mind and body, an ideal subject for the composer, and Burgos delivered them with expressive phrasing. Botstein controlled the balances, and the orchestra produced a gorgeous sound, especially the aqueous muted brass choirs.

Muhly’s Seeing is Believing was a jaggedly mixed experience. The piece is a violin concerto that conveys the idea of sketching out the constellations through the stars in the sky. The soloist was electric violinist Tracy Silverman, who is a terrific, charismatic musician. He produces a wide range of rich sounds with his six-string instrument and associated effects, and the best part of the piece was hearing him play; setting loops as accompaniment, shimmering through elegant modulations of color and dynamics, chopping out crunchy, rhythmic patterns.

From a compositional standpoint, Muhly relies too much on the soloist, the accompaniment is formless and feels too long. At the coda, though, Silverman and orchestra came together in a more certain structure, and that music produced the muscular beauty that is Muhly at his best.

This was all mimesis as musical impressionism, literally so and also in the historical tradition. While Debussy always hated that term for his own music, his sound and his ideas about form have been essential to the development of the classical tradition over the past 100 years. Schuller, Dutilleux and Muhly all fit comfortably inside his broad and extensive legacy.

Strauss was the outlier in every way. His extravagant late romantic sound made even Dutilleux seem ascetic in comparison, and his subject matter also set him in relief. While the other composers found something outside themselves to represent, Strauss, while ostensibly representing Nietzsche, was fronting himself.

Philosophy is not a fruitful subject for music, but Nietzsche excited Strauss’ intellect and inspired action. The result was the grand, grandiose, and fluid Also sprach Zarathustra, an abstract narrative of one man’s thoughts. As out of place as it felt amidst the other works, the playing was on the same fine level as the rest. This is music that Botstein has obvious feelings for, and he was at his most animated. While the size of the orchestra’s sound never matched what one would expect from the mass of musicians onstage, the playing was full of passion and verve.

 Original story here.

Review: Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) The Long Christmas Dinner - An Opera

MusicWeb International

By Nick Barnard

October, 2015

This is a rather rare and special disc. Rare, because as far as I can tell this is the first recording in the original English language of this late Hindemith opera and special because it is very good.

Hindemith conducted the first English performance of the opera at the Juilliard School in New York just nine months before his death in December 1963. For the libretto he persuaded Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) to collaborate with him in adapting his own one-act play of the same name that he had written thirty years previously. Wilder remains a cornerstone of the American literary and theatrical establishment but was notoriously unwilling to allow his works to be used for alternative theatrical or musical use. Hence although The Matchmaker did make it to the stage as Jerry Herman's Hello Dolly, he refused permission for his most famous works; Our Town and The Skin of our Teeth. The latter was mooted as a musical by Bernstein - which the author accepted - but when that venture collapsed he rejected Bernstein's further approach to make it an opera. According to the liner written by Tappan Wilder - Wilder's nephew and literary executor - he was extremely well versed in music in general and opera in particular as well as many languages. Skills, one imagines, that must help the collaborative process between composer and librettist a lot.

The dramatic conceit behind this highly compressed work is essentially a simple one. The drama is presented in a single fluid sequence of Christmas dinners in one household over a period of ninety years. There is no significance with it being Christmas except that it is a day that brings families together so the audience witnesses the succeeding generations in the same setting. Apparently Orson Welles credited the original play as the inspiration behind the famous 'breakfast-montage' sequence in Citizen Kane where the audience witnesses the changing/decaying relationship between Kane and his first wife. Hindemith writes in a similarly fluid style - there is little division between scenes. He uses recurring motifs to signify the passing years. Wilder's libretto revisits moments of perfunctory conversation that will be familiar to every family; "how many years have we lived here?", "you were missed at church today", "I remember when ..." With such conversational text it comes as no surprise that Hindemith writes in an arioso/recitative style - this reminded me in technique if not style of that used by Vaughan Williams in his equally compact and dramatically potent Riders to the Sea. There are few if any arias or indeed ensembles. That being said a highlight of the score is a dramatically moving and technically brilliant sextet where Sam, one of the central family's sons is on leave from the army. He tells his family to act exactly as normal so he has memories to treasure and over their prattling inconsequential small talk he sings a touching counter-melody chorale-like song; "I will hold this tight! I shall remember you!"

To give some sense of the dramatic compression at work: Sam exits; "and so good-bye", the next line of the text laments his death in the war "He was only a boy, a mere boy ... What can we do ... only time can help " and the line following that has moved the plot forward by some years and introduces another character on another Christmas day. Memory, memorial and how we live through the actions and memories of our relatives past and future lie at the heart of this work. The house is the unchanging focal point - although the closing line of the work is "And they're building a new house" but it is the lives of the inhabitants of the house that count.

Not because the text is convoluted or opaque this is an opera that requires considerable concentration if you are not quite literally to lose the plot. Fortunately the entire libretto - in English and Hindemith's own German translation - is included. Layers of potential confusion are added by the fact that - as with many families - certain names are passed down hence we have two Lucias and two Rodericks. Even more confusion comes from the fact that the same singer sings both Lucias and another sings two different roles. Seen live, this might be clear through transitions of costume or setting - with only the ear to guide — blink (in an auditory sense) and you will have dropped a decade. My sole observation with this as a piece of theatre is, I wonder if the compression prevents the audience becoming engaged with any individual character - they simply do not inhabit the stage long enough. That being said, Wilder's drawing of character is so searching and well-observed that I think most of us would recognise personality types and scenarios from our own experience that give weight and resonance to these precisely-drawn sketches.

Hindemith makes no attempt to place the music in time or place. Just the opposite in fact - his chamber orchestra includes a rather anachronistic harpsichord. This was surely the right decision - with such an express journey over the best part of a century it would end up a patch-work of pastiche. Neither does he make any particular significance of it being Christmas except for the work's brief Prelude//Introduction which is a rather curdled and harmonically dense take on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" - which is about as un-merry as it is possible to imagine. In the essay accompanying the disc by Joel Haney he describes the work as one "which ponders the experience of time as a condition of human possibility and limitation -'the bright and the dark' - through the rise and decline of an American bourgeois family". The brilliance of both authors lies in the way they tie this sense of continuity across time - Hindemith's is a slightly subtler skill because he uses fragments of melody and motif which burrow into the subconscious so by the second or third listen the ear begins to pick up on the connections the music is making with recurring characters situations or text. Hence, this is the work of a master-craftsman. As so often, I find the accusation of Hindemith being a dry or dusty composer wholly without justification. No, he does not write big arching overtly emotional melodies. Rather he points to subtler, more 'real' scenarios which have resonance and truth for the engaged audience member.

So to this performance; Leon Botstein and his American Symphony Orchestra clearly thrive on the discovery and performance of little-known and under-appreciated works. In the past with some of the grander-scale and overtly Romantic works I have found Botstein's approach to be a degree clinical and unwilling to unbutton. Here the precision and measured emotion of Hindemith's score seems to chime perfectly with his aesthetic. This is a recording of a single live performance which given the ensemble complexities and unfamiliarity of the piece is remarkably good. There is no audible audience noise - my only sorrow is that the hall ambience is cut off very quickly at the end of the work - to preclude applause one supposes. The orchestra play very well - the engineering places the instruments quite closely behind the voices which occasionally obscures the text. All of the singers are of a very high standard and fortunately most of the text is sung with commendable clarity. Of particular brilliance is the beautifully light and clear singing of Kathryn Guthrie as Leonora. Indeed the entire cast are excellent both in ensemble and individually. None make any attempt to 'age' their voices with their characters - something perhaps an actor in the original theatrical version might.

Bridge present this single CD in a double CD case - presumably to allow for the thicker than usual liner/libretto. As well as the text the liner includes the usual performer biographies as well as two useful essays about the work. The disc runs for less than fifty minutes but so concentrated and complete in itself is the work that a filler would seem inappropriate and unnecessary. A fascinating and rather moving work. It reveals Hindemith and Wilder as masters of the slow-burn potent theatrical experience which lingers in the memory for the power of its insight into the human condition.

Original story here.

Is the 'Star-Spangled Banner' Out of Place at Orchestra Concerts?


By Naomi Lewin : WQXR Host / Brian Wise

September 25, 2015

The "Star-Spangled Banner" that kicks off opening night concerts across the U.S. is often believed to be a great patriotic tradition. But some people think it's out of place and out of mood. The Fort Worth Symphony recently drew criticism over its practice of playing the anthem before every concert. A Dallas musician sounded off on Facebook that orchestra concerts were not meant to be patriotic events, and that the anthem ruined the mood a conductor was trying to set. Many others agreed.

In this week's podcast, two experts weigh in on the anthem at the orchestra. Marc Ferrisauthor of Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America's National Anthem, says he has no problem with the piece's appearance, which is a holdover from 9/11 in many concert halls.

"Just to shoehorn it in there just for the sake of doing it could take away from the thematic program," Ferris said. "But you don't have to do it at the beginning. You could do it after intermission. You could do it at the end." He notes that the first time it was played at a baseball game was during the seventh-inning stretch at 1918 Brooklyn Dodgers game.

Leon Botstein, the conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and president of Bard College, is more ambivalent. "I don't think it necessarily spoils the mood," he said in the second part of the segment. "But to repeat it at every concert is a kind of cheap patriotism. It has, unfortunately, a negative effect. It's like repeating a prayer every day without understanding its meaning."

However, Botstein believes the "Star-Spangled Banner" can be effective when American orchestras play it on international tours. He also thinks it provides an opportunity for an otherwise passive audience to participate in a concert.

Ferris dismisses the notion that the anthem's octave-and-a-half range and complicated lyrics are overly challenging. "It's a real myth that this is hard to sing," said Ferris. "What, a professional singer can't remember 81 words? We're only singing the first verse."

Botstein disagrees. "The 'Star-Spangled Banner' is not a great national anthem," he said. "It happens to be ours. It's slightly unsingable and the words don't really make a lot of sense. But it is our national anthem. If the audience actually likes it, maybe it doesn't spoil the mood."

Original story here.

Hindemith: The Long Christmas Dinner CD review - preserves the subtlety of his last opera

The Guardian

By Andrew Clements

September 2, 2015

Though, or perhaps because, he was a very fine amateur musician,Thornton Wilder generally discouraged attempts to turn his plays into operas. But he did write the libretto for one opera, Louise Talma’s The Alcestiad, and agreed to adapt his 1931 play The Long Christmas Dinner as a text for Paul Hindemith. First performed in Mannheim in 1961, it was Hindemith’s final opera. The premiere was given in German translation, and subsequent recordings of the work have all used that version; this is the first disc of The Long Christmas Dinner to return to Wilder’s original English text.

Lasting less than 50 minutes, the chamber opera encapsulates the history of a single family, the Bayards, across 90 years, through a succession of Christmas feasts. Characters enter from one side and depart from the other as the decades and the generations roll by. It’s a subtle, wonderfully understated examination of the changing relationships within a family, and of the ways in which society is evolving around them. There are births, marriages and deaths, and finally lonely old age, and Hindemith’s score matches the light touch with which Wilder’s text deals with this complex web of issues.

The almost entirely diatonic score is continuous and interlaced with thematic connections, though embedded in it there are also miniature set pieces – a lazy waltz, a whirling tarantella – and the opening prelude is based on the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. A harpsichord gives a vaguely baroque feel to some of the textures, but the orchestration generally allows the voices to carry the narrative, in which the sextet that sends one of the sons off to the trenches of the first world war is the expressive centre of gravity.

The performance under Leon Botstein preserves that lightness and subtlety very carefully, and while it’s sometimes difficult on disc to make enough distinction between the characters (there are 11 roles, some of which are doubled here), the basic conceit of the narrative works perfectly. All the performances gel, though Camille Zamora as the two Lucias, and Sara Murphy as Ermengarde, who ends the opera imagining the family continuing without her, are a bit special.

Original full story here.

Review: Bard Festival Salutes Carlos Chávez

The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

August 10, 2015

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — In an article in 1940 in The New York Times the Mexican composer Carlos Chávez wrote that “the folk-music of a country influences in one way or another, but always substantially, the individual creations of great ‘learned’ composers.” The degree to which Mr. Chávez (1899-1978) integrated native and local traditions into his own works was a major theme of the Bard Music Festival, which opened last weekend at Bard College here.

It’s the first time the festival is highlighting the accomplishments of a Latin American composer. Mr. Chávez had a vital role in Mexico as educator, composer and conductor. He directed the Conservatorio Nacional de Música and founded the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, which established state support of the arts.

In the introduction to the festival book, the scholar Leonora Saavedra writes that the question of how music could represent Mexico and how modern it should be was an important debate in his lifetime. For Mr. Chávez, there was little question that music should be modern.

In 1928 he founded the Orquesta Sinfónica de México, which gave hundreds of premieres and offered free performances on Sundays for blue-collar workers and students. “There is no Mexican equivalent of Milton Babbitt,” said Leon Botstein, director of the festival, at a panel on Sunday, one of several speakers placing the programs in the political and social context of the time. (Mr. Botstein was referring to an article by Mr. Babbitt, “Who Cares if You Listen?,” in which he argued that contemporary music should be the domain of specialist listeners and not the general public.) For Mr. Chávez, added Mr. Botstein, “Music was a social art and had to be heard.”

But while Mr. Chávez’s outreach was populist, his music wasn’t, and it often elicited mixed reactions. He shunned European romanticism for an astringent, modernist aesthetic, writing colorful, densely scored works with complex rhythms, lyrical interludes, striking dissonances and vivid percussive elements.

Some of those elements are evident in his Piano Concerto (1938), a vast and sometimes unwieldy piece whose slow movement features an unusual duet between harp and piano and whose virtuosic whirlwinds, acerbic chords and gentle pentatonic, folklorish melodies were deftly and energetically rendered by the pianist Jorge Federico Osorio on Saturday evening, with Mr. Botstein conducting the American Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Chávez’s catalog includes six symphonies. The second, the Sinfonía India, uses native Yaqui instruments and North Mexican melodies and is one of Mr. Chávez’s best-known pieces; it led Copland and other prominent American supporters to identify Mr. Chávez as a quintessentially “Mexican composer.”

The opening-night program, on Friday, featured two other pieces by Mr. Chávez that contain direct references to pre-Columbian and indigenous culture. In “Xochipilli: An Imagined Aztec Music,” written to coincide with an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940 called “Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art,” wind and percussion instruments replicate the sound of Aztec instruments like the conch shell. Mr. Chávez’s “H.P. Danse des Hommes et des Machines,” a chaotic reimagining of folk tunes, was later adapted for a ballet featuring sets and costumes by Diego Rivera. But there was nothing particularly “nationalist” about many other of Mr. Chávez’s works featured during the five weekend concerts, including a performance of the String Quartet No. 3, whose driving, acerbic outer movements and mournful slow movement were vividly rendered on Friday by the Daedalus Quartet.

The festival seeks to spotlight a composer in the context of contemporaries and predecessors. On Friday the lineup included pieces by Silvestre Revueltas, Mr. Chávez’s colleague and fellow modernist, as well as a French-influenced work by Ricardo Castro (1864-1907), Manuel Ponce’s Concierto del Sur for guitar, and a one-movement piece by Julián Carrillo (1875-1965), who developed theories about microtonal music. (Mr. Botstein warned the audience about the alternate tunings, to avoid listeners thinking that the musicians simply couldn’t play in tune.) The program on Saturday sandwiched Mr. Chávez’s Piano Concerto between his “Sinfonía de Antígona,” Revueltas’s concert suite of music for the film “Redes” (about repression and injustice in a Mexican village), and Honegger’s Symphony No. 3 “Liturgique.”

There are invariably delightful surprises among the densely packed programs at Bard; I particularly enjoyed some of Mr. Chávez’s short works for solo piano, brilliantly rendered by Orion Weiss. Two excerpts from Mr. Chávez’s Ten Preludes (1937) provided a jolt of color, an enigmatic Andantino espressivo and a virtuosic, harmonically edgy Allegro. There were alluring moments in his Suite for Double Quartet, with the oboe melodies beautifully rendered by Alexandra Knoll.

One program was devoted to the Parisian influence on Mr. Chávez’s music. The French composer Paul Dukas encouraged him to use Manuel de Falla’s “Siete Canciones Populares Españolas” as a model for how to incorporate Mexican traditional and popular music into his works. The program, with works by Ravel, Dukas, Stravinsky, Poulenc, Ponce, Milhaud and a vibrant, harmonically astringent quartet by the little known José Rolón (played with panache by the Amphion String Quartet), also included arrangements Mr. Chávez made of short pieces by de Falla and Debussy.

A program on Sunday, “Mexico and the 10-Year Mexican Revolution,” explored the impact of popular song on art music. According to Ponce, Mexican composers had a duty to “ennoble the music of their own country, clothing it in polyphony while lovingly preserving popular melody, which is the expression of the national soul.”

Mr. Chávez wove the tunes of folk songs like “La Cucaracha” through a modernist idiom in a work for solo piano, and altered a traditional song chromatically in his Sonatina for Violin and Piano. His “Cuatro Melodías Tradicionales Indias del Ecuador” was beautifully sung by the soprano Cecilia Violetta López, whose bright, expressive voice made a strong impression in several works, including de Falla’s “El Retablo de Maese Pedro.” The resetting of part of Don Quixote de la Mancha’s story concluded the final program in a charming production featuring puppets and witty visuals designed by Doug Fitch.


The New Yorker

By Alex Ross

August 10, 2015

The next weekend, Bard College presented something even rarer—Ethel Smyth’s 1906 opera, “The Wreckers.” Here was another renegade, not least in matters of sexual desire; Partch explored the gay-hobo subculture, and Smyth was open about her lesbian affections. There, however, the resemblance ends. Smyth, a Londoner, was a majestic Victorian eccentric who, despite her vehement feminist views, cultivated the highest social classes, including Victoria herself. Smyth’s music is conservative in profile, grounded in Romantic rhetoric. Nonetheless, it has an unsettled potency, and deserves to be heard more often than it is. The Bard production was the American stage première of “The Wreckers”; the only other known staging of any of her operas in this country was in 1903, when the Met performed her one-act “Der Wald.”

To get a picture of Smyth, you need only pick up the later novels and diaries of Virginia Woolf, who befriended her in the nineteen-thirties. Smyth provided inspiration for Rose Pargiter, the militant suffragette in “The Years,” and for Miss La Trobe, the avant-garde spinster in “Between the Acts,” who perplexes her fellow-villagers with a surreal pageant of English history. Woolf found Smyth overbearing, as did many people, but envied the older woman’s political outspokenness. (“Her speech rollicking & direct: mine too compressed & allusive.”) Woolf found “The Wreckers” to be “vigorous & even beautiful; & active & absurd & extreme; & youthful”—a fair summary of the work.

The opera’s story concerns the vicious practice, not unknown on the Cornish coast in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of luring ships onto rocks and plundering their contents. Often, the wreckers found ways to justify this activity on religious grounds; from that twisted logic, Smyth and her librettist, Henry Brewster, spun a tale of criminal fanaticism in which villagers persecute a young fisherman who attempts to warn passing vessels. The fisherman, Mark, is in love with the pastor’s wife, Thirza. In the finale, the two are condemned to death, and drown in a coastal cave as the tide rises.

The score is an uneven creation, at times conventional and at times craggily inspired. It lacks the kind of uninhibited lyricism that makes an aria soar, and the love duet between Mark and Thirza in Act II grinds on. Furthermore, Brewster originally wrote the libretto in French, with an eye toward a Monte Carlo production, which never came about; Smyth later translated it into creaky English. (“Twixt ye and me, o murd’rers, / God be judge!”) But her choral writing packs a mighty punch, as the villagers declaim violent unison lines over propulsive ostinatos that look back to “Boris Godunov” and ahead to “Peter Grimes,” another tale of an outcast fisherman. (“The Wreckers” had a revival at Sadler’s Wells, in London, in 1939, just before Britten left for America.) In the end, the gale force of Smyth’s musical personality banishes doubts.

Leon Botstein, who has long served both as Bard’s president and as its resident conductor, has repeatedly won the gratitude of adventurous New York-area operagoers by reviving such neglected treasures as Blitzstein’s “Regina,” Schreker’s “Der Ferne Klang,” and Meyerbeer’s “Les Huguenots.” Botstein’s account of “The Wreckers,” with the American Symphony in the pit, went over with rough-edged passion. Neal Cooper nearly conquered the taxing tenor role of Mark, and Katharine Goeldner fully mastered the high-lying mezzo role of Thirza, giving heat to that undercooked duet. The production, directed by Thaddeus Strassberger and designed by Erhard Rom, skirted the subversive undertones of the scenario—one senses an allegory of capitalism run amok—but offered thrilling images, including a fire suitable for “Götterdämmerung.” The inventive young Strassberger deserves a shot at the Met, which has all but exhausted its supply of Tony-winning directors who know little about opera.

As for Smyth, perhaps she will one day get another chance on the Met stage. In the 2016-17 season, when the Met presents Kaija Saariaho’s “L’Amour de Loin,” she will at least lose a dubious distinction that would have enraged her—that of being the only female composer ever to be performed by the world’s biggest opera company.

Original full story here.

Revealing A Great Work


By Michael Johnson

August 2015

Leon Botstein’s latest resurrected opera for Bard Summerscape is Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers, first performed in Dresden (in German) in 1906, and then in English in London in 1909. The libretto, written by a cosmopolitan, Europe-based American, Henry Brewster (he died in 1908) had originally been in French. The double translation the work went through might account for some of the weakness in its libretto. Aside from a certain awkwardness in the language, the work is striking for its confident musical and dramatic intensity. Also startling is the libretto’s depiction of religion (Christian in this case) twisted to serve brutal ends.

The story is set in 18th-century Cornwall. The residents of a remote village live as land-based pirates. They extinguish coastal beacons so that ships will be wrecked; they then murder the crews and pillage the cargoes. (This is rather luridly portrayed during the work’s overture.) The local pastor, Pascoe, preaches an aggressive religious sanction for these criminal activities; the result, to say the least, is an extremely solid (if not mafioso) sense of community. A young man named Adam secretly rebels and keeps beacons lit. He finds a soulmate in Pascoe’s young wife, Thirza. But: there is a rejected girlfriend, Avis, who creates much confusion when the community seeks the culprits foiling their criminal actions. An impromptu trial results in the two lovers embracing death together - one almost expects them to burst into “Viva la morte insieme”, the concluding utterance in Andrea Chenier.

It truly is a pity that this opera has been so neglected. It is interesting to compare it to two works of the period with relentlessly tragic libretti that have managed to obtain a place in the repertoire: Giordano’s Andrea Chenier of 1896, and Richard Strauss’ Elektra of 1909. Each of those is part of an established national repertory that serves to support the introduction of new operas and even new directions in the genre. (Maestro Botstein delights in pointing out the imperfections in operas firmly fixed in the canon.) The few British works tended to be orphaned solitaries (like this one, or Sullivan’s Ivanhoe of 1891) until, as we know, Benjamin Britten’s breakthrough, Peter Grimes, in 1945. The fact that aspects of The Wreckers - especially in its treatment of a tight community hostile to non-comformists - seem to have influenced Grimes is far from the only reason Smyth’s work deserves attention.

The fact that the opera was composed by a woman further served to marginalize it.

Right from the start the music packs a visceral punch - in fact the composer might stand accused of going too far to avoid any accusations of effeminacy in her style. The choral parts are very grand - Elgarian, in fact - and the orchestration reveals her German training. The influence of Wagner is evident, but there is nothing pallid or feeble in her attempts to maintain a consistent, highly declamatory style with big effects.

I was rather surprised that director Thaddeus Strassberger came up with an approach that embraces the work just as written - no framing, no updating - with period costumes. The only staging innovations I could spot were two: once when Pascoe forces on kiss on the young Avis, and later, in the argument with his wife, he slashes her hand. These two actions help motivate the hatred each of the women feels toward him.

When the beleaguered lovers meet and the idea is raised that Thirza might have to sacrifice herself (an idea she welcomes), a shaft of golden light descends upon her to the accompaniment of harp music. (When did you last see that? Probably never. Maybe it’s time for old devices to become new again.)

Erhard Rom’s set consists of piles of wooden cargo cases, representing both the villagers’ booty and the craggy locale. Hanna Wasileski’s projections vividly portray flames or flood when appropriate.

This is Leon Botstein’s second go at The Wreckers, having conducted a concert performance in 2007. The hefty orchestra never overwhelmed the singers, and James Bagwell’s chorus was in terrific form.

In many ways the character Pascoe dominates the action, and Louis Otey inhabits the role to a commanding degree. There is a bit of a surprise in the casting in that the idealistic young woman is a mezzo and the more troubled (and troublesome) woman is a soprano - and quite a young one, Sky Ingram (Avis), who handles the role’s demands extremely well. Katherine Goeldener as Thirza displays a warm, attractive tone.

Neal Cooper displays a essential degree of helden in the part of Adam. Some of his music can only be described as arioso narrative with orchestral punctuation and one isn’t sure if he is managing to keep in tune, but his stalwart delivery never flags. Michael Mayes is thunderous as Avis’s father, Lawrence.

In short,this was a revelation.

Next year’s operatic rarity at Bard: Pietro Mascagni’s Iris, dating from 1898.

Original story here.

Ethel Smyth's 'The Wreckers' Thrillingly Staged In New York


By Robert Levine

July 27, 2015

Bard SummerScape made musical history by presenting the first full staging of British composer Ethel Smyth’s opera The Wreckers. Born in 1858 and dying in 1944, Smyth was celebrated in her day (John Singer Sargent painted her portrait in 1901) not only for her compositions, but for being an openly bisexual member of the suffrage movement. After breaking the window of a politician opposed to giving women the vote, she spent two months in prison. She was fiercely independent and headstrong – at 71 she fell in love with Virginia Woolf, who found her somewhat overbearing. Her long life bridged the music and lives of Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, R. Strauss, Berg and Schoenberg, and she met Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Clara Schumann and Brahms when she was studying, against her Major-General father’s wishes, in Leipzig, to which she travelled alone when she was only 19 years old – unheard of at the time.

Her music sounds like Tchaikovsky with hints of a conservative Richard Strauss, but her greatest musical influence seems to have been Wagner, if not in his complex harmonies or long-windedness (The Wreckers comes in at just over two hours), then for her dense, brassy, rich orchestration and use of repeating motifs, not as sophisticated as Wagner's, but much in the vein of his Leitmotifs. Her use of the chorus is masterly in the English tradition, and the overall effect of the work is, simply, lush late Romanticism. With its attempted evocations of the sea and portrayal of narrow-minded villagers, it presages Britten’s Peter Grimes, first performed the year after Smyth’s death, but it is nowhere near as great a work. The Wreckers’ first performance was in German, in Leipzig, and was a success; weirdly, the headstrong Smyth, disapproving of the cuts the conductor had made in the opera, snuck into the opera house and stole the score, so there was only that single performance. Don’t mess with Ethel! In 1903, her one act opera, Der Wald (The Forest), received a single performance at the Met, and she remains the only woman to have had an opera produced there.

The plot, with a stilted and somewhat antiquated libretto by her friend and on-and-off lover, Henry Brewster, is cruel and fascinating: Pascoe, a fanatical preacher in a coastal Cornish village, has the villagers keep the coastline in darkness to lure ships onto the rocks, where they murder the crews and steal supplies. Pascoe’s much younger wife, Thirza, has a lover named Mark; the latter had previously been romantically involved with Avis, the daughter of the lighthouse keeper. Mark and Thirza, horrified by the town’s murderous practice, light fires as beacons to save the ships and are almost caught by Pascoe, who (in the libretto’s instructions) faints before he can identify the pair. The jealous Avis (who, at Strassberger’s direction, hits Pascoe with a two-by-four, knocking him out – an unnecessary alteration, really) tries to trick the people by claiming it is Pascoe who has been setting the warning fires, but Mark confesses and he and Thirza are condemned to die in a cave that becomes submerged at high tide. Yes, it’s all a bit squeaky, but the theme of religious fanaticism and ask-no-questions followers couldn’t be fresher, could it? Not to mention secret love affairs and revenge. There’s more than a bit of bombast, but it is an interesting period piece.

Edward Rom’s sets for Bard’s production, abetted by Hannah Wasileski’s projections and JAX Messenger’s lighting, evoke the coastline well; crates, planks of wood and sheets standing for sails litter the stage, a broken mast is seen in Act I and the projections give us the feel of the dreadful weather and harsh coast. We see the villagers plundering and murdering their latest victims during the overture – a good directorial touch by Thaddeus Strassberger – who also manages to convey the town’s desperation well. With its piles of crates, the set is an obstacle course, but it helps Strassberger keep the choral formations interesting. The acting of the soloists is natural and rarely reverts to “stand and deliver.”

We’ll not hear a finer performance of this work again soon. Major kudos go to Leon Botstein, who has championed the work for years and leads the American Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (under the masterful James Bagwell) in a performance that thrills. Despite the awkwardness of the English-language text (there are surtitles in English as well), there is drama aplenty and the work proves absolutely stageworthy. The brass rings out with abandon, and in the more tender moments – the lovely prelude to the second act, for instance – the interplay between winds and strings is lovely.

The sincere, professional cast is led by British tenor Neal Cooper as Mark and mezzo Katharine Goeldner as Thirza. Almost the entire second act is a love-and-moral-conflict duet for the two which builds to several climaxes, and their voices rang clear and true throughout the 20-minute moody, passionate ordeal. The manipulative Avis is sung by light soprano Sky Ingram with fine arrogance and a glistening tone in the role’s upper reaches. Her father, Lawrence the lighthouse keeper, is played by baritone Michael Mayes, booming out effectively. As Pascoe, baritone Louis Otey creates a truly wild, obsessed, and eventually, broken man. The role is oddly under-written, but Otey takes over the stage whenever he appears. The remainder of the cast is brilliant.

I cannot foresee The Wreckers becoming a repertoire staple, nor is it a masterpiece. But Botstein et al proved it creditable and more. The ovations were long and hearty.

Original story here.

'The Wreckers' a Monumental Revelation

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

By Liane Curtis

July 25, 2015

The US-staged premiere of Ethel Smyth’s 1906 opera The Wreckers at the Fisher Center as part of Bard Summerscape made a strong case that this work deserves to be in the standard repertory. The story comes across with visceral impact when given a staged production. Addressing critical moral issues, the music gives depth and urgency to the grim story: a community steeped in violence and depravity as a way of life, and the courage of the two people who stand up to it. Music Director Leon Botstein is nothing less than a visionary in bringing Smyth’s opera to light.

The staging essential as it makes the plot more credible than it appears on paper—the intertwined blood-lust and piety that supports the community’s beliefs and behaviors become visceral elements. From the vigorous first notes of the overture, we witness the act of wrecking as the villagers work over the crushed hull of a shipwreck, viciously slaughtering survivors and plundering their possessions. This staged overture encapsulates the villagers’ motivation, making what follows more believable.

And the chorus’s opening words explain the rationale behind the practice: the wreckers’ grisly murders become (instead of a crime) biblical sacrifices to a stern and demanding God. The goods they collect from the victims are God’s rewards to a people who do his will. Pascoe, the minister, leads his community in these beliefs and also demands stern propriety—he condemns drinking and working on the Sabbath.

But someone in the community is betraying them by lighting beacons on the cliff to warn ships away. Thus for many weeks there has been no wrecking, leading to hardship and hunger. Who is the betrayer? Thirza, Pascoe’s young wife, is disaffected from the community. She and Mark (a local fisherman) clearly share an attraction. But Avis, with whom Mark was involved with in the past, is determined to try and hold on to him. Also Pascoe has alienated Avis by some salacious groping and with insisting she give up her necklace for the good of the community. She determines to implicate him as the betrayer, both to punish him for his hypocrisy and to bring down Thirza, her rival for Mark’s attentions.

Act II reveals Mark gathering wood to burn as a beacon—he is the betrayer of the community’s values. Thirza joins him as an accomplice, but she warns him that the townspeople know about the beacon and are out to find who is setting it. In an impassioned and hopeful (if overlong) love duet, Mark and Thirza agree to run away together and escape the community. Just as they light the beacon and leave, Pascoe sees them and calls out Thirza’s name in shock. In the libretto, he collapses in distress, but in this staging, Avis clubs him so he falls by the beacon, and is lying there when the villagers arrive to catch him “red-handed.” Thus Avis is given real agency in this production.

In the final Act, Pascoe is tried by the villagers in a great cave. He refuses to answer their questions: “I am not one to whom his fellows give orders.” Avis insists he has acted under the influence of Thirza, and the people condemn him to death. At this point, Mark steps forward to interrupt the trial “Stay! I, Mark, am the betrayer! This man has done no wrong!” Pascoe is visibly shocked at this. At this point, Thirza also joins Mark in admitting guilt. Avis, in desperation, insists Mark did not light beacon, claiming he spent the entire night with her. The townspeople see through Avis’ lie, and her father orders her to leave.

The court is declared closed, and Mark and Thirza are left in the cave as the tide rises. Pascoe pleads for his wife to be spared, and even moves to drag her from the cave, but she insists on her desire to die with Mark. Solemnly, the villagers depart. Mark and Thirza conclude with a rapturous duet, as the great waves, the unsurmountable power of the sea, crash over them.

Botstein views this story as profoundly current and significant: “It is hard to imagine an opera whose argument is more pertinent to our times than Ethel Smyth’s ‘The Wreckers.’” Seeing the drama, with its powerful music, enacted on stage, clearly supports that view. The cost of unexamined tradition and inherited ritual is present in many aspects of today’s society — for instance, the narrowness of religious fanaticism (in a range of faiths) or the belief in American Exceptionalism that fosters brutal treatment of undocumented immigrants.

And the music itself is powerful and varied, revealing Smyth’s command of the orchestra’s full range of emotions and expressions. While occasionally there were passages that seemed overly long, or orchestrated rather heavily (for instance there seemed to be a lot of snare drum), Botstein kept a sense of momentum and drive, and the tempos were frequently energized with a remarkable fluidity (which the ensemble carried out with expert control). The singers were all impressive and poised. As the flirtatious/manipulative Avis, Sky Ingram was remarkable. Her lilting aria in Act I evoked something from Carmen, or perhaps Grieg’s “Anitra’s Dance.” Louis Otey was impressive as the pastor, Pascoe. While vocal fatigue weakened his high notes in Act I, by Act III he was recovered, and was compelling dramatically and musically. Katharine Goeldner (as Thirza) and Neal Cooper (as Mark) were strong, and demonstrated real chemistry towards each other. Goeldner might have employed more vocal nuance, however. The role of the chorus as the twisted community is crucial, so the success of Chorus Master James Bagwell should be noted (despite the limitations of the set).

The use of screens, projections, and evocative lighting were effective in transforming the scene –creating a wrecked ship, for instance, or townspeople climbing over the rugged cliffs. The set itself consists of assorted stacks of wooden crates that suggest (alternately) the rugged cliffs of the coast, or the workplace of the fishermen who fix their nets, clean their catch, or (as wreckers) kill and rob their victims. While striking, the set design was flawed, in that movement around the stage was always impeded and constrained. While the crates are often useful stage items, there is no open stage area; the singers cannot walk across the stage, but must always climb or clamber, taking care where to place their feet. When Mark sings “Thirza! Come to me!” and Thirza replies “Love, I come, my arms open wide,” they cannot rush into each other’s arms, but instead must carefully maneuver to each other. As an onlooker it made me nervous; the precipitous set seemed to make a fall imminent at any moment, even during the final curtain calls!

Smyth employs a range of stylistic approaches in conveying this powerful story through music. Mark’s moving song in the beginning of Act II employs a mournful and evocative folk-inspired melody that builds with an expanding orchestral palette of accompaniments. Some of choral writing, with its lush chordal motion, is distinctly English. While Smyth draws on different styles to illustrate and illuminate the range of moods and emotions, the many returning musical ideas serve to weld the work into an overarching and impelling whole. For instance, the evocative swirl of the ocean conveyed in the Prelude to Act II and recalled again at the conclusion as villagers note the rising tide. Or the “wreckers” motive itself – driving and invigorating as it opens the opera, but then recurring in different moods: playful and light to subdued and hushed. The variety of approaches reflect the range of emotions of the work, but thematic transformation and integration is used to underscore the characters’ emotional development, and to draw connections between events.

About the ending, I am inclined to ask, as Pascoe does, “You, Mark! But why?” When it looks as if the hypocritical Pascoe is to be executed, why does Mark step forward to accept the blame? While we might think that this is the chance for Mark and Thirza to escape and have the happiness they dreamed of at the end of Act II, Mark’s moral fiber will not let himself see Pascoe be the fall guy for Mark’s deeds. Mark and Thirza might have been able to escape from the oppressive village, but the town would have only continued in its hideous path of murder and thievery. With Pascoe reeling from his wife’s execution for the crime of counteracting the town’s immoral practices, we can imagine that Pascoe himself might have a watershed moment and turn to leading the villagers away from their traditional depraved practices. Thus the redemption experienced by Mark and Thirza, just may, in turn, through Pascoe, influence and reform the townspeople. Though the opera ends tragically, the possibility remains of eventual transformation and redemption by the townspeople themselves.

The Wreckers continues with performances July 26, 29, 31 and Aug. 2. For ticketing information click here.

Liane Curtis (Ph.D., Musicology) is President of Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy and The Rebecca Clarke Society, Inc.  Her website is here.

Original story here.

Recording: The Long Christmas Dinner--Available This Summer

The Long Christmas Dinner

Paul Hindemith/Libretto by Thornton Wilder

Recorded live at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center

Marking Time Musically

By Joel Haney

While preparing for an interview in 1948, Paul Hindemith noted, “the opera industry should be made to serve ethical purposes; it should serve the education of the audience—its intellectual and spiritual formation.” This conviction had already shaped Mathis der Maler (1935), whose painter-hero struggles to justify art amid Reformation-era upheavals. It would also motivate Hindemith’s future projects: the second version of Cardillac (1926; rev. 1952), Die Harmonie der Welt (1957), and finally The Long Christmas Dinner, which ponders the experience of time as a condition of human possibility and limitation—“the bright and the dark”—through the rise and decline of an American bourgeois family.

Hindemith wrote the music for The Long Christmas Dinner between May and August 1960 in Blonay, Switzerland, following a triumphant U. S. conducting tour that had included appearances with the New York Philharmonic, renewing his confidence in American opportunities. After finishing scoring the opera in mid-1961 but also losing hope in a companion project with Thornton Wilder, he led the premiere of his own German version in Mannheim on December 17th. Performances in English had to wait until 1963, when Hindemith conducted the opera at the Juilliard School on March 13th and 14th (Jorge Mester led additional performances) and then at the Library of Congress.

The premiere was heavily attended by critics and favorably reviewed. Early commentators identified traits of a distinctive “late style” and spoke of a newfound clarity, lyricism, and rhythmic and harmonic subtlety. They reserved special mention for the delicacy of Hindemith’s scoring, which employs what he called a “Mozartian orchestra” that ingeniously complements the vocal parts without intruding on them.

In its musical dramaturgy, The Long Christmas Dinner recalls the innovations of Cardillac by presenting a sequence of discrete musical sections that broadly analogize the action instead of a seamless flux of emotion and psychology. Baroque anapests, trills, and a jangling harpsichord project the industrious optimism of the new firm; a rollicking jig ushers in the young Charles at the crest of entrepreneurial self-confidence; he and Leonora are symbolically wedded in a subtle waltz; the unruly Roderick II and aging Genevieve finally renounce the family in a reckless, centrifugal tarantella.

Hindemith also infused his score with themes and motifs whose transformed recurrences indicate super-generational continuities: the lilting arioso in which Mother Bayard recounts her childhood also bears along her descendants’ memories; the gasps and joyous outcries of the birthing room hurry the Nurse onstage with each new arrival. More complex associations also accumulate: the churning music with which Roderick II rejects the firm echoes in distorted form the youthful jig of his father (also a tenor); Ermengarde’s elegiac final scene recalls in tone and imagery the memory song of Mother Bayard (likewise an alto) even as it opens toward the future.


Throughout, Hindemith’s music models the flexibility of human temporal experience. We hear this in the orchestral introduction, which elaborates the English carol “God rest you merry, gentlemen” as a chorale prelude sounding in a time warp. Roderick’s premature death triggers a brooding version of the vigorous music that had precipitated it, and this shift recurs when Charles departs decades later. Generally, as characters pause to reflect on time’s passage, musical “business as usual” dissolves into dreamy, suspended moments.

Most arresting is the sextet featuring Sam, the proud soldier, who “looks at the table as though he were taking a photograph” and asks his family to “do what you do on Christmas Day.” They patter through the circular conversation of seventy-odd years while he lovingly pledges to “hold this tight” in a lyrical cantus firmus and then steps into the darkness. Producing “one of the most extraordinary and moving effects in contemporary opera,” (Hugo Weisgall) this simultaneity of perspectives signals a duality that Wilder noted to Hindemith: “From one point of view the great Mill-Wheel of birth and death seems mechanical and frustrating; from another point of view, filled with new promise, and the rewards of human life ‘quand même.’”

The house empties, and yet Ermengarde’s final words, which Hindemith reportedly found “moving and extremely beautiful,” reveal that the family lives on. Interleaved with her short-breathed phrases are those of the opening carol, now spare and melancholy but also tonally elevated, suggesting continuation. Along with the introduction, this musical return evokes the framing chorales of the Lutheran cantata, a genre eminently concerned with its hearers’ “intellectual and spiritual formation.” Hindemith’s penchant, moreover, for wordless instrumental quotation hints eloquently at a balance between human fragility and tidings of comfort and joy.

Joel Haney is Associate Professor of Music at California State University, Bakersfield.



Thornton Wilder and Music—A Note

by Tappan Wilder

Thornton Wilder’s collaboration with Paul Hindemith on the opera The Long Christmas Dinner reveals an intriguing aspect of the author’s creative life: his close, complex relationship with music.

During his lifetime, with some exception, Thornton Wilder rejected requests from composers eager to turn his two majordramas, Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth, into operas or musicals. He did permit Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman to fashion The Matchmaker into Hello, Dolly! and he collaborated as librettist with composer Louise Talma on the full-length opera The Alcestiad. Wilder did grant rights to Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green in 1965 for a musical, stage adaptation of The Skin of Our Teeth. That venture collapsed. When Bernstein returned later, now seeking opera rights for The Skin of Our Teeth, Wilder shut the door with a definitive no! Bernstein was not alone on the outside. Wilder also said “no” to musical and/or opera rights for his two Pulitzer Prize-winning plays to many others over the years, including Aaron Copland, Howard Deitz, Ned Rorem, and Italy’s Luciano Chailly. Television adaptations were a different matter; as a general rule he viewed these rights as one-time, financially favorable opportunities. He thus permitted an NBC Producers Showcase musical of Our Town in 1955 that opened the heavenly door for Frank Sinatra to sing Sammy Cahn’s and Jimmy Van Heusen’s Emmy-award winning song, “Love and Marriage.” Fortunately, he was also open to seeing his shorter plays put to music.

Wilder did not make these decisions based on inexperience or lack of knowledge. On the contrary, from the time he was a boy, music played a vital role in Wilder’s creative life and provided a source of inspiration for his pen. Though very few details of this chapter in Wilder’s life are known, the early building blocks are clear: a supportive mother, violin and piano lessons, participation in an Episcopal boy's choir—that well-known training ground for the life-long love of all things choral—and ready access to major music concerts. On April 29, 1909, twelve-year-old Thornton wrote to his grandmother from his home in Berkeley, California, “We had a Bach Festival Thursday in which the Mass in B miner [sic] was given with great success. The Chicago Symphony orchestra is coming…”

Through his teens and early college years, music and writing represented all but equal passions. As a high school sophomore at Thacher School in California, he wrote, produced, and starred in his own first play. He also played violin in the school orchestra and performed solo concerts on piano and violin. At Oberlin College, where Wilder attended his first two years of university, he published drama, prose, and poetry, sang in choirs, and, as a sophomore, studied organ at the Oberlin Conservatory. When Wilder later transferred to Yale, John Farrar, one of his new undergraduate friends, would recall in 1928 that Wilder was, “from the start, interested in the literary and dramatic undergraduate activities, and perhaps even more in music."

At Yale, Wilder’s interests shifted decisively away from music to literature and drama. Yet, throughout much of his life, Thornton Wilder, celebrated playwright and novelist, remained an excellent sight-reader, devoted four hand pianist, and concertgoer. He had a special interest in attending rehearsals, where he enjoyed watching a work being constructed. He referenced music often in letters, wrote about music in his private journals, and annotated sheet music as a serious hobby, claiming to be able to hear the individual parts of a score in his head. The appraisal of Wilder’s personal library at his death included the category “Music Annotated by T.W.” with this summary of its content: “33 volumes of scores, including works by Palestrina, English madrigal composers, Mozart, and Beethoven.” His taste ran from classical to opera to choral music. He also enjoyed jazz, and near the end of his life developed a passion for twelve-tone music. His many friends included such stars as Otto Klemperer and Robert Shaw, and the musicians he met at The MacDowell Colony, where he first met Louise Talma, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Yale, where he met Paul Hindemith.

In the late 1930s the composer Mabel Dodge (1877–1971) drove Wilder from Walpole, New Hampshire to the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough. She recalled, in a memoir, playing a game in which one of them would hum classical or operatic melodiesand the other identify the exact movement or act from which they derived. While Dodge did well on the orchestral end, she recalled that Wilder, “succeeded in immensely broadening [her] operatic repertoire.” What amazed her most was “Thornton’s ability to sing snatches from an opera in the language in which it was written…it doesn’t make any difference to him in what language an opera is sung, he is at home in all of them.”* For a 1935 University of Chicago production honoring the 250th anniversary of Handel’s birth, Wilder not only rewrote the translation of Handel’s Xerxes, but also served as its stage director, “seeking the authentic baroque method of staging with enough of the modern tendency introduced to interest completely a 1935 audience,” and cast himself as a soldier in the chorus. Newspapers across the country printed a wire story out of Chicago with this lead: “FAMOUS AUTHOR NEAR OPERA BOW.”

All this is to say that Paul Hindemith had in Wilder a collaborator who knew his way around music. Wilder-the-librettist’s knowledge of languages, particularly German, his fascination with music, and his prior successful experience with translations and adaptations predicted a happy outcome for Paul Hindemith and The Long Christmas Dinner.

*Mabel Dodge’s Thornton Wilder—A Musical Memoir, appeared in the Radcliffe Quarterly in May 1964.

Tappan Wilder is Thornton Wilder's nephew and literary executor, and the manager of his literary and dramatic properties.


Lucia/Lucia II…………………….....................................................................................Camille Zamora, soprano

Mother Bayard/Ermengarde…........................................................................Sara Murphy, mezzo-soprano

Roderick/Sam……………………...........................................................................................Jarrett Ott, baritone

Brandon………………………….....................................................................................Josh Quinn, bass-baritone

Charles………………………….........................................................................................Glenn Seven Allen, tenor

Genevieve…………….………….......................................................................Catherine Martin, mezzo-soprano

Leonora………………………….......................................................................................Kathryn Guthrie, soprano

Roderick II………………………..........................................................................................Scott Murphree, tenor

American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein

Bridge Records

Thurmond Smithgall, Executive Producer




Concert Review: Music U.

The New Criterion

Jay Nordlinger / June 2015


In Carnegie Hall, the American Symphony Orchestra presented a program called “Music U.” It offered American composers who held jobs in the Ivy League. (One of them—the only living composer represented—still does.) Critics and administrators love a programmatic theme. Everyone else is indifferent, or should be. The aso served up an interesting and satisfying afternoon of music, theme aside.

What we had was a variety of pieces, written by American composers from 1891 until today. The last piece on the program was a premiere. Yes, the composer teaches at an Ivy League university: Cornell. But so what? What if he taught at Bowdoin or Mills? It was still good to hear the music.

The concert began without the orchestra but with choral forces from Cornell—who sang Randall Thompson’s Alleluia. Composed in 1940, it is one of the most famous choral pieces in the repertoire, or at least the American repertoire. It is sometimes thought of as Christmas music (found on a Robert Shaw Christmas album, for example). I might note that Randall Thompson is not to be confused with Virgil Thomson, a contemporary. Randall may be a one-hit wonder—but, oh, what a hit.

His Alleluia opens every season at Tanglewood, the music camp in Massachusetts. (I use the word “camp” loosely.) Another camp, Interlochen, in Michigan, has its own theme music: an excerpt from Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2, the “Romantic.”

The ASO’s piece from 1891 was written by Horatio Parker, who lived from 1863 to 1919.

This piece is Dream-King and His Love, a cantata. Parker entered it into a competition whose principal judge was Dvořák. It won. The cantata takes its text from a German poem by Emanuel von Geibel, in English translation. The music is “lushly Romantic,” to use the cliché. There is also something otherworldly about it.

I sighed a little as I listened. Choral singing used to be an important part of American life, and it has greatly diminished, or so I gather. Can it be revived?

Completing the first half of the program was a symphony from the middle of the twentieth century: the Symphony No. 2 of George Rochberg (1918–2005). He would go on to write four more of them. No. 2 was premiered by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. In other words, it started at the top. The symphony is written according to the twelve-tone method, but it is not academic. It is loaded with feeling. It is rhythmically arresting and shrewdly orchestrated. It is varied, energetic, and brainy. It is also solidly musical.

Is it enjoyable? It is, yes, but one hearing may not be enough. In any case, this Rochberg symphony is a high example of midcentury American modernism.

The second half of the aso concert began with a work composed in 1992 by Leon Kirchner. He wrote it for Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist, a former student of his at Harvard. It is not called a concerto but “Music for Cello and Orchestra.” Is there a difference? If a composer says so, yes, probably. This work is teeming with anxiety, like any number of modern pieces. Yet this piece is special, inspired, compelling. It is both virtuosic—even showy—and pure. It is also “lushly Romantic,” not so distant from Dvořák, really. (He wrote a cello concerto that has enjoyed success.) The Kirchner work ends unusually, in an almost questioning vein, I would say.

And it was played brilliantly by a young cellist, Nicholas Canellakis. I believe he is American—specifically, Greek American— but his bio doesn’t say. Today’s bios tend not to give nationality, even when they go on at length. Puzzling, and sometimes annoying.

The new work that concluded the program comes from the pen of Roberto Sierra. It is called Cantares, indicating songs and chants— which is what we get. The work is in four parts, three of them choral, and one of them an orchestral interlude. Sierra’s general aim is to put his own spin on things ancient.

Cantares begins with the text of a hymn published in seventeenth-century Peru. The language is Quecha. Sierra’s music is ritualistic and exotic. It is also kaleidoscopic, even cinematic. I thought of Indiana Jones and the type of composing done by John Williams, the leading movie composer. From me, that is no putdown. Sierra arranges for something like hissing. I thought of a radiator. Snakes?

The second part of the work “traces its ancestry to Afro-Cuban ritual music of West African origins,” says Sierra in a program note. The orchestra produces a wash of sound. There is much percussion, and chanting, and some more hissing, too. It is all rather dizzying, a paganistic religious experience. The orchestral interlude that follows is a good idea. The listener could use some relief. But the interlude is not altogether restful. There are spooky jungle noises, as in many modern pieces. There is also something that sounds like scattering—like frightened animals running away. Also, there are those twinkling noises that dot so many modern pieces.

Sierra ends with a bang, a dreadful movement that evokes the conquest of the Aztec Empire, from the perspectives of both conquered and conquering. The music is loud,

cacophonous, pounding. It has something in common with Carmina Burana. It is all-out, unremitting, and tiring. Tiring, yes, but true to its theme or intent.

I don’t know whether Cantares will be heard much in the future—these things are hard to judge—but it is a fine way to spend twenty-five minutes now. Asking more from a composer would be greedy. Asking for twenty-five worthwhile minutes is already fairly greedy.

This concert was conducted by the music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein, who is also the president of Bard College. He might gag to hear the term, but he is perhaps our musical culture’s foremost conservative. He conserves music, retrieving it, tending to it, perpetuating it, honoring it. If we did not hear that Parker cantata, say, from him, from whom would we hear it? No one. And that would be a shame.

I also want to applaud Botstein for a dog not barking: there was no talking from the stage whatsoever. There were excellent notes in our program, and no talking was necessary, or desirable. There were some unwelcome noises in the audience, however.

Just as the second half was beginning, a lady reached into her purse to withdraw some jelly beans. The beans were in a cellophane bag, tied with a ribbon. The ribbon was in a knot. The lady struggled with that knot for several minutes, making a cacophonous noise with that bag. The Sierra work would have competed with her, but the Kirchner work, at this juncture, could not. Intermission had lasted more than half an hour. But the lady waited until the music began to wrestle with her bag. Eventually, she got it open, offered some beans to her husband, took a few for herself, and returned the bag to her purse.

I have heard almost everything in concert halls and opera houses, on stages and in the seats. I was almost impressed by the lady’s sheer obliviousness to the atmosphere. She wanted them beans, and she got ’em.

Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra “declassify” Janáček's Sinfonietta

Bachtrack, April 29. 2015 By Jacob Slattery


Maestro Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra examined Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta as part of their "Classics Declassified" series with a performance that enhanced the concert experience through intellectual guidance. In the first half of the concert, Maestro Botstein analyzed the Sinfonietta through three lenses: a narrative lens for the overarching descriptive program, a musical lens for Janáček’s inventive speech-melody, and a political lens for the peaking Czech nationalist sentiment of the time. The second half then proceeded with a complete performance of remarkable high caliber for a part-time symphony orchestra.

As Janáček wrote the Sinfonietta when he was just over 70 years old, the composition unravels quite well into a thoughtful retrospective, biographically and artistically. It opens with a famous brass fanfare, which has roots in the composer’s own exposure to Moravian brass bands. Maestro Botstein's lecture focused in part on the Sinfonietta's expansive brass orchestration. Janáček called for four horns, nine trumpets in C, three in F, two bass trumpets, four trombones, two tenor tubas, and tuba, which is impressive even for today’s standards. The American Symphony Orchestra's expanded brass section was appropriately bright and stately in its performance of the pugnacious fanfare, standing to great effect in a semicircle along the back of orchestra. Janáček did not attempt to recall the bugle or plainchant, but rather created a theme in his unique style of speech-melody and provided a fitting introduction to the second movement, Brno’s Castle.

Maestro Botstein explained that Janáček's compositional philosophy was to represent realness, which he often demonstrated through the use of repetition: life is repetitious, therefore music should be repetitious. This ideal is immediately evident in the second movement when the clarinet introduces an obligato passage, precisely executed by Laura Flax, that recurs throughout the remainder of the movement. Neoclassicism is often associated with modern Russian composers, but the simplification of rhythm and melody combined with a homophonic texture of this movement bring to mind Mozart and Haydn as well as the forthcoming “pop” genre.

Several individual parts, however, are virtuosic, and the flute writing in the third movement is a prime example. Maestro Botstein isolated the part in his lecture, so the ASO flute section could show off their daring skill. But even these virtuosic passages are integrated effectively into the whole, as Janáček's goal to achieve simplicity never extends out of reach. This third movement represents the Queen's Monastery where Janáček spent his early adult years, and Maestro Botstein noted that the head of Janáček’s monastery was none other than Gregor Mendel, the founder of modern genetics. Moving out of the monastery, the fourth movement roughly depicts life in the streets of Brno. The unmistakable juxtapositions of city life protrude from shifting tempi and conflicting harmonies that slide to dopey resolutions. Janáček shows that, in contrast to repetitive life at the castle, change occurs often in the streets.

Ultimately, Janáček’s finale cultivates in a victory for the Czech people, and it is here that nationalism is most perceivable through his use of structural metamorphosis. During his own lifetime, Janáček saw the German-ruled Moravian landscape changing as Czechoslovakian independence defined its national identity. Janáček paid homage in a grand way to the place where his people could birth a new, free nation. The movement itself, subtitled “The Town Hall, Brno”, begins with a minor folk melody in the winds before evolving into triumphant brassy bits, and the American Symphony Orchestra’s brass players powered with confidence straight to the finish.

Original story here.

Concert Review: Music U.

American Symphony Orchestra's MUSIC U

Oberon's Grove

Sunday April 19th, 2015 - This note from the press release describes the inspiration for today's programme, entitled 'MUSIC U', by the American Symphony Orchestra: "In a country without kings and courts, universities have served as the patrons for many of America’s greatest composers." Leon Botstein and the ASO were joined by the Cornell University Glee Club & Chorus in a celebration of five Ivy League composers.

Performing a cappella under the direction of Robert Isaacs, the young singers from Cornell displayed a lovely vocal blend in the heavenly harmonies of this slow, lilting choral miniature. The gentle pace quickens somewhat near the work's end, but falls back into calm with a very sustained final note that hung on the air.

After a rather long pause, the concert continued with the oldest work (late 19th century) on the programme: the cantata Dream-King and his Love by Horatio Parker (above), one-time Dean of Music at Yale. This cantata won first prize in its category in a competition judged by Dvořák himself. A fanciful romantic text tells the tale of a maiden visited in her dream by a kingly lover.

The work is melody-filled and seems to echo some of the exotic works of Jules Massenet. From the lyrical opening (the harp is prominent) thru passages dance-like, rapturous, and triumphant by turns, the music opens out like a perfumed lotus blossom. The naturally youthful sound of tenor soloist Phillip Fargo fell pleasingly in the ear, and the singers from Cornell again gave of their best.

The Symphony No. 2 by George Rochberg (above), who ran the music department at the University of Pennsylvania, was the longest work on the programme. Composed in 1955-1956, this symphony today sounds like a generic work from an era when classical music was not quite sure what direction it was headed in. It's a big-scale piece, one which seems to take itself very seriously. One can sense such influences as Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Schönberg in the writing, and the composer's fine craftsmanship is never in doubt. Yet despite its rhythmic variety and interesting sonic textures - oboe and horns are well-employed - the piece seemed over-extended. Melody is pretty much banished - a promising duet passage for two violas evaporated after a few seconds - and although melody is not essential, it is inevitably gratifying. Maestro Botstein's commitment to the work and the excellent playing of the ASO - many fleeting bits of solo work are strewn throughout the score - made as strong a case for the symphony as one could hope to hear.

Music for Cello and Orchestra by Harvard’s Leon Kirchner


...with soloist Nicholas Canellakis (above) opened the second half of the concert. The cellist is a frequent participant in Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's superb concerts.

Today, Kirchner's music seemed to me to have found what was missing from the Rochberg: a connection to the heart. Throughout the Kirchner, the solo cello gives his piece a sense of unity and purpose that - to my ears - the Rochberg lacks. Kirchner's orchestration is colorful and dense, with excellent use of percussion, and the music sometimes takes on a cinematic quality. I love hearing a piano mixed into an orchestral ensemble work, and at the reference to TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, my friend Adi and I exchanged smiles.

Mr. Canellakis was simply breathtaking right from the cello's passionate opening statement. He was deeply involved in the music, moving seamlessly from a gleaming upper register to the soulful singing of his middle range. Capable of both redolent lyricism and energetic, jagged flourishes, Nicholas's playing seemed so at home in the venerable Hall. The audience gave him lusty and well-deserved round of applause as he was called back to the stage after his exceptional performance.

The chorus then returned to the stage for the concert's grand finale: the world premiere of Cantares by Roberto Sierra (above), which Cornell University commissioned for this concert in celebration of their 150th anniversary. In this panoramic work, the cultures of the African, Spanish, Native Peruvian, and Aztec peoples are entwined in vivid musical settings of texts dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The composer has re-imagined these invocations and narratives for the contemporary world; for this piece, the Cornell choristers leapt readily from Quechua to Spanish.

A long sustained tone opens Cantares; then, emerging from dark turbulence, the chorus begins to 'speak'. A trumpet call, a wandering xylophone, a celestial harp, an oddly ominous rattle: these are all heard as kozmic sound-clouds drift by. The music is mystical and - with the under-pacing of rhythmic chant - takes on an other-worldly feeling.

The second movement evokes African ritual and that continent's ancient connection to Cuba. The music seems to echo thru time in its heavenly, ecstatic vibrations. Somehow Chausson's Poeme de l'amour et de la Mer came to mind.

An orchestral interlude has the flutter of birdsong and a dense-jungle yet transparent appeal and leads into the final Suerte lamentosa, an epic of dueling cultures told from both the winners' and the losers' points of view.

The work is perhaps a trifle too long, but the composer has been successful in drawing us to contemplate the oft-forgotten (or ignored) events surrounding the injection of Christianity into the Western Hemisphere. And musically it's truly brilliant.


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