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Monday, March 31, 2008

More on Dudamel

Some of you may remember my post about Gustavo Dudamel, the Venezuelan sensation.

Here links to two articles, one about his concert with the San Francisco Symphony, another about his first appearance with the LA Phil after being named Artistic Director.

From the Orange County Register:

The music seems to be explained to the listener in a Dudamel performance, and perhaps digested too. He does the work so you don't have to.

Vulgarity doesn't enter into it. There doesn't seem to be an ounce of cynicism in the dimpled Dudamel. He conducts with a smile on his face, soaking it all in, enjoying it to the maximum. The Berlioz was all there, its breathless expressivity, its graceful lilts, its weird instrumental effects and polyrhythms, its outlandish bombast.

In his signals, he'll do whatever it takes. Friday, one witnessed double-handed ax slams, saber jabs, swaying hips, spread eagles, and, head down, whipping the horse to the Kentucky Derby win by a nose. He was also airborne more than any conductor I have seen. If Pierre Monteux (whose student, Sir Neville Marriner, was in the audience to see the phenom for the first time) once admonished conductors to "never conduct for the audience," Dudamel missed the memo.

His approach may take some time for the Philharmonic to get used to. The orchestra answered his calls with enthusiasm, and played with tremendous rhythmic vitality, but one noticed more than once the strings getting lost in the onslaught of brass and percussion.

And from the San Francisco Classical Voice:

It doesn’t matter how much hype is swirling around conductor Gustavo Dudamel. He is the real deal, a great all-around young talent, who consistently delivers the goods, as his debut concerts with the San Francisco Symphony last week proved.

All of Davies Hall’s 2,750 seats were sold for a 10 a.m. open rehearsal, surely a first, and there was a long line of hoping-against-hope applicants for the nonexistent tickets, all but waving a finger in the air a la Deadheads in quest of admission. The cause of it all was Venezuela’s Dudamel, a 27-year-old superstar who has been conducting for a dozen years. He has made a huge splash around the world, and in neighboring Los Angeles where he will succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen as the Philharmonic’s music director next year. Last November he became an overnight idol locally, after leading his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in a sensational concert (see review).

Inside Davies, in spite of the great expectations, Dudamel was almost unnoticed as he casually walked to the podium, dressed in jeans, T-shirt tail sticking out from under a drab, utilitarian sweater. Without a look at the score (which later served as the resting place for the hastily discarded sweater) he launched into Stravinsky’s 1910 Firebird, and suddenly it became crystal clear what all the hype is about. Two unusual events that took place at the rehearsal illustrate the conductor’s prowess.

First, near the end of The Firebird, as the battle against the evil magician Kashchei is won, heavy, spontaneous applause broke out in the hall even while the music continued, like a deafening “Ole!” rising in a crowded bullring. Then, in an unprecedented scene, there was a standing ovation at the end of the Stravinsky rehearsal.

. . .

The music came from the instrumentalists, but Dudamel was responsible for the gestalt of the sound, by turns hushed, bright, assuasive, charming, glittering, and intense. As usual with him, Dudamel took no solo bows, standing with the musicians and giving them all the credit, which was richly deserved. It was the icing on the cake. Yes, no hype can spoil the Dudamel Experience.

Definitely worth watching for, if you get the opportunity to see him work.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Back in Sweden – 29 March 2008

Well, I’m back!

Wednesday, after several meetings Mireille Rijavec took me to the airport for a 9:20 PM flight to London (Heathrow) and then on to Stockholm. I don’t know that I’d do a flight at that time again, if I can avoid it—I don’t sleep well on planes, so it essentially meant a night with very little sleep. The flight itself was fairly smooth, I didn’t have to change terminals at Heathrow (it’s still an ugly and confusing place, luckily not a long layover), and I got into Stockholm on time Thursday evening. After collecting luggage, it was around 6 PM when I got a taxi into town. The sun was about to set on a gorgeous day, a fair change from when I was in Stockholm last on Feb. 9 and it got dark just a bit earlier!

I got settled and to sleep around 10:30 PM and awoke promptly at 3:30 in the morning. Puttered around, did email and a little score study, then got another hour and a half of sleep before finally getting going. Friday was a day of errands: laundry (pretty much all my clothes were dirty after two weeks in Edmonton), shopping for food and a few other essentials, and walking a bit in the beautiful sunshine (temps around 5 Celsius or 42 Fahrenheit) to get acclimated to the new time zone—still feeling jet-lagged.

Saturday I awoke at 6:30 after getting to bed at 12:30, again puttered around for awhile, but this time went back to bed and crashed, not getting up (other than waking up several times and going right back to sleep) until 1 PM. I hope I’m caught up on sleep now!

Gary Graden had a concert at St. Jacobs at 3, so I made it there to hear part of the Rachmaninov Vigil, along with organ and piano improvisations by Mattias Wager. Gary opened with the first two movements from the side of the church, followed by an organ improvisation, during which the choir moved to the center. Each of the pieces following had either an organ or piano improvisation in between them (Mattias moved to the front of the church in the middle to do piano improvs, then back to the loft for the last two improvisations. Gary’d chosen to do movements 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 14. For both numbers 6 and 7 the choir moved into the aisles, surrounding the audience.

The choir sang very well, as I would have expected. It took me awhile to get into the improvisations—not that they weren’t good and interesting, it’s just that they pulled me away from the world of the Vigil (and of course, just having conducted the entire Vigil, it was very much in my mind). Around mid-way through my brain seemed to “accept” the idea and it was fine. Still, I’d probably rather hear just the Vigil!

I stopped by the reception briefly to greet a few friends in the choir, plus composer Bo Hansson. I didn’t stay long, as I’m still a bit tired and wanted to get a bit of dinner before going home. The day has turned a bit gray and there were even a few drops of rain on the walk home, but a pleasant temperature, even a little warmer.

I have music to prepare for my first rehearsals back with the Radio Choir on Tuesday, but will say more about that in a couple days.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil

We just had our performance last night with Pro Coro Canada of the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil and it went very well, with an audience of just over 1000 enthusiastic people. It’s certainly one of my favorite works—one of those masterpieces one never gets tired of doing.

The choir was expanded from our usual 24 voices to 34, with additions from our pool of extras (including fellow blogger John Brough) and also Len Ratzlaff, Chair of the Music Department at the University of Alberta, a true choral leader in Canada, and excellent baritone (also recent guest conductor of Pro Coro), as well as Paul Grindlay.

Paul has worked with Pro Coro a number of times as a soloist and I knew he’d sung the Vigil before. His participation, which added greatly to the choir’s depth at the low end (important for this work!), came about in part from a programming decision.

The Vigil is a bit short for a concert (around an hour), so I’ve usually felt it needs something else on the program. Also, if one divides the program with an intermission, the Vespers portion of the Vigil (numbers 1-6) make a logical first half, but a bit short, with the Matins and latter portion of the Vigil (numbers 7-15) making the second half.

The question is, what else does one do before the Vigil? I’ve done a lovely piece by Peter Hallock, Phoenix (which one can find on Choral Arts’ CD recording of Hallock’s works, which I highly recommend for some beautiful pieces), but it isn’t a great programmatic pairing. I’ve also done Tavener’s Svyati for choir and solo cello, which works fantastically from a programmatic perspective, but fries the basses’ low notes with an incredibly long pedal low E.

So this time, knowing Paul’s ability as both soloist (for example, he sang the role of Jesus when Pro Coro did Ivan Moody’s Passion and Resurrection several years ago) and chorister, I approached Vladimir Morosan of Musica Russica to suggest Russian liturgical works for bass solo and choir which would be appropriate at this time of the church year, or to do with a performance of the Vigil. Vlad is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful in this repertoire, and sent me about 9 or 10 pieces, I selected 5 or 6 to send to Paul, and we ultimately settled on two by Chesnokov, including a magnificent intercession for bass deacon and choir, "Spasi Bozhe, liudi Tvoya" (O God, Save Thy People). I also chose Chesnokov’s well-known "Spasenie Sodelal" (Salvation is Created) to go in between the two other works (thanks to David Garber for the suggestion). This made a great grouping and gave the first half of the program (we went off stage after the Chesnokov to give a little break before beginning the Vigil) the kind of weight it needed to balance the second half.

As I mentioned, the performance went extremely well, certainly the best of the five or six times I’ve conducted the Vigil, and the choir kept intensity and endurance right through to the end (not easy, as you know if you’ve sung it).

Just a great experience.

After Easter spent in Edmonton, I have auditions on Monday evening for the chorus for Monteverdi’s Orfeo (a production I’ll conduct next fall here in Edmonton), board meeting on Tuesday, then back to Stockholm Wednesday evening. Kathryn (who just got here yesterday in time for the performance) goes home for another week of work, then joins me in Sweden on April 4. More from Sweden soon!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sorry it's been awhile!

My brief two weeks home (between Jan 1 and May 15) turned out busier than expected. I already knew I had to do my taxes (both US and Canadian) during this time, plus catching up on doctors and dentists appointments, but also got a call from long-time friend Nan Beth Walton. Nan Beth sings in the Seattle Bach Choir and their conductor was ill and unable to conduct their concerts this weekend--and could I help? The conductor of the Bach Choir is Greg Vancil--we've been friends for a long time (I've known Greg and his wife Nancy since I began studies at the University of Washington in 1968--an amazing 40 years ago--it can't be that long, can it!?).

Anyway, of course I said yes. So this past week I had rehearsals with the choir on Tuesday and Friday, then concerts Saturday and Sunday. A nice program: Brahms Schaffe in mir, Gott; three Ave Marias (Liszt, Holst & Lauridsen); Hawley's 6 Italian madrigals; a couple of fun pieces for men's chorus by Larry Nickels and Stephen Chatman; and the King's Singers arrangement of Beatles tune, Here, There, and Everywhere.

The choir was delightful to work with (quite a number of old friends in the choir, too, from Seattle Symphony Chorale days and elsewhere). And, of course, it's always nice to make some new friends, too. One of the concerts was at Bethany Lutheran Church in Seattle, where I had my first church job back in 1970-72--probably the first time I'd been back--fun.

It made the home interlude a bit busier, but was certainly worthwhile.

So today it's lots of mundane tasks (another doctor appointment, shopping, more work on Canadian taxes, packing) plus meeting my folks for lunch, before heading up to Edmonton Tuesday.

More about Pro Coro's next concert then.

Monday, March 3, 2008

follow-up on Richard Westenburg

I got a note from a member of the Musica Sacra board of directors--they've set up a web site in memoriam to Dick. Check it out here. They have a link to the Choral Journal interview--which has great insights of value to any conducting student.