Sunday, August 26, 2012

Slowly But Surely...

Sweeney Todd preparations continue apace. Sondheim’s score is a major character in the musical, the style of which calls to mind Britten, Puccini, and Orff at various points. There is very little in the first 15 minutes or so to suggest that this is not an opera. Whereas Mozart’s music in Amadeus was something we all kind of knew already, this score is more closely tied to the action and vamps (indefinitely repeated phrases of music) are abundant, requiring a careful knowledge on Maestro Richman’s part of the tendencies of the actors, and a watchful eye on the stage vis-a-vis things that could go wrong or differently. It is an unenviable task in which he is, fortunately, very well-versed.

Sondheim’s musicals are some of the most widely known, and as regards to living composers, the most respected. His most well-known work, A Little Night Music, with its signature tune Send in the Clowns, was performed in the fall of 1996 at UT’s Carousel Theatre, with Picardy Penguin’s sidekick Katy Wolfe Zahn in the lead. Katy returns in this production as a beggarwoman; a less glamorous role, but when all is said and done, a character that is only slightly more vile than Night Music’s reprobate dragon lady, Desiree. Her costume (and her hair- YIKES!) in Sweeney will render her unrecognizable as anyone you may be used to seeing. Another crowd favorite participating in the show is baritone Perry Ward, appearing as Mr. Fogg. He has been heard previously with the KSO in Amadeus, in our most recent Brahms Requiem, and with the Chamber Orchestra in Mozart’s The Impresario.

Dale Dickey is proving to be a joy to work with, making a point to put faces with the names of everyone in the orchestra. As if she didn’t have enough on her plate already...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ahh, So That's How It Goes...

I have to admit, I’m a relative newcomer to Sweeney Todd, but I’ve heard enough to know what to expect. I’ve had the book for a few weeks now, put bowings in it, played through some of the numbers, but they really didn’t make much sense without the rest of the orchestra and cast. And these song titles... A Little Priest? The Worst Pies in London? At our first rehearsal yesterday it was a relief and a joy to hear all the parts, to discover where on stage we would be situated, and above all, to get a taste of the leads. As in Amadeus, the orchestra is literally on the stage, with action happening behind, above and in front of us. 

I couldn’t help but notice that the distribution center for Music Theater International, source of parts to this and other musicals, is in New Hartford, Conn. It should be known that New Hartford is nowhere near Hartford, nowhere near anything, in fact. It lay between Barkhamsted and Collinsville and is about one-half state forest land. It’s a clean, piney rural town we had to travel through to get to our favorite lake growing up, the romantically named Compensating Reservoir, on weekends and after half-days at school in June. In terms of towns near here, I’d say it’s an Oneida kind of town. Which reminds me very little of a story maestro Kirk Trevor once told some of us over beer, wherein we learned that the distribution center for books for all of the Disney musicals is somewhere between here and Sevierville. I wonder what possesses the publishers to choose such sites for their library? I just don’t get it.

Anyway, enough about me! Do make plans to see Sweeney Todd, running from August 30th to September 16th  at the Clarence Brown Theatre. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Remembering David Wells (1927-2012)

Every classical musician needs someone to take the raw materials and spin them into a finished product, or at least a more-finished product. A teacher who is not necessarily spanning the globe with world premieres and guest appearances, but who takes the bus to your town, week after week, puts in a 14 hour day and some the next day shepherding you and your classmates, then travels to another city to do the same. A mentor who, note by note, étude by étude, concerto by concerto, burns the bourgeois out of you by lighting a fire under your muse and converts you into a “practicer.” Just such a person in my life has recently passed, David Wells; a dedicated educator with many years of tenure at the Hartt and Manhattan Schools of Music, and New England Conservatory

Probably his most notable contribution to the musical world is the Yellow Barn Music Festival, which he founded with his wife Janet in 1969. NEC violin professor Eric Rosenblith soon joined forces with the Wellses, and chamber music training comparable with Meadowmount, Chamber Music West and Kneisel Hall has happened every summer since. Over the years several KSO members, most recently Gordon Tsai, can attest to the high intensity and quality of growth occurring there.

My favorite lessons with him had “yoga cello”as a focal point. Avoiding repetitive motion ailments and the like was a major focus in masterclasses, and yoga was a tool of his trade. On the other hand, his boisterous coaching style was as dynamic a musical experience as you could ever hope to receive. Mr. Wells could call upon such sundry sources of inspiration as Segovia or Shakespeare, Maria Callas or Björn Borg to guide the way to interpretation of a phrase or technical triumph. Through him I learned that there was more to beautiful artistry than just playing in tune.

You won’t likely find a YouTube video nor buy cds of David Wells playing the cello, but you will hear his influence in a great many chamber, orchestral and solo musicians. (Actually, the Yellow Barn Music Festival has released a recording of a Wells Duo recital from 1976, a couple of tracks from which can be heard here). I channel his love of music and his teachings every time I rosin up my bow or greet a student.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Three B's and More

To prove that not all of us have been sitting on our behinds all summer doing nothing, violinist Ilia Steinschneider will be giving a recital with comrades Eunsoon Corliss, Ihsan and Karen Kartal, and members of the Son Trio at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Music of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Telemann will be performed. Westminster Church possesses a grand acoustic which really flatters instruments from the string family. (6500 Northshore Drive, 37917, 7:00 pm). Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B, a Telemann Canonic Sonata, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, and Schubert’s masterful Cello Quintet. Some serious chamber music here

But Ilia will not be done when he returns home from his recital Sunday! No, far from done, as he will be soloing in Bach’s Double Violin Concerto with the Oak Ridge Community Orchestra.
Community Orch. This concert will be at 2:00 next Saturday at 1st Baptist Church of Oak Ridge, at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Lafayette Drive in Oak Ridge. Bree Miller will be his solo counterpart in the Bach, in a concert that will also feature Brahms’ Tragic Overture and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The concert will be under the direction of William Burkhardt.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dog (and Pony) Days of August

The 2012-13 season is practically upon us! The Sweeney Todd run has the rehearsals starting a full two weeks earlier than any KSO season has ever started before, so it is hard to believe that we will be reconvening in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS!! When I moved down here in 1986, I was quite shocked to learn that the schools started in mid-August (as opposed to after Labor Day most years in Connecticut, from whence I hail). That is a mystery I still have not solved; something about late spring being too hot to be productive? Every year it seems like August is hotter than May, so I’m thinking that’s not the reason. Maybe someone out there can supply me with the logic behind that scheduling.

Almost too late to mention are the upcoming auditions for the KSO’s Youth Orchestras, taking place on August 24th-27th. The first rehearsals for all five of these groups take place on Monday, September 10th, and most Monday evenings after that, at West Valley Middle School (9118 George Williams Rd.). Repertoire (excerpts) and other info is available on the KSO website, although I will reveal that the Youth Orchestra proper consists of excerpts from Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger and Smetana’s The Moldau, both of which will be performed this season. It is very encouraging to see that the excerpt pdfs are taken from the actual orchestral parts, and not from the IMC excerpt books, which are hopelessly riddled with misprints.