The Canadian Opera Company has got itself in a tangle over an upcoming show of Puccini’s opera, which a Chinese-Canadian company member says he finds offensive.
The COC tasked Richaed Lee, who is of Chinese heritage and a member of the company’s equity, diversity, and inclusivity committee, with serving as a production consultant advising the creative team.
“I am not there to make changes for the artists. I’m there to go, ‘Hey, this is something that I see that I have an issue with because I think it can potentially be very hurtful for an audience that comes to watch it,'” he said on Thursday, the morning after taking in Turandot’s dress rehearsal.
“I’m interested in trying to start conversations with artists, especially artists that don’t recognize that there needs to be a change,” Lee said.
Here’s the second in our exclusive series of reviews of every concert in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s centennial season. The reviewer is John Gough, a professional music librarian for 40 years, still active as accompanist and conductor with several Midland orchestras.
CBSO at Symphony Hall *****
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
The concert opened with a slightly frustrating arrangement for brass, winds and percussion by Steven Stucky of music written in 1694 for the funeral of Queen Mary II by Henry Purcell. Orchestrating another’s music throws up all sorts of stylistic issues and has resulted in some fascinating and rewarding new compositions, but although the CBSO’s brass section produced a resonant and mellifluous sound punctuated by a forceful funereal tread with timpani and percussion, the brief ten minute work seemed neither one thing nor the other. Not quite Purcell, but also without enough of Stucky’s personality.
The CBSO has had a close association with rising star Sheku Kanneh-Mason for three years now. This sold-out evening was advertised as “Sheku plays Elgar” and his fan club was vociferously in evidence, even before he played a note. He wears the celebrity thrust upon him charmingly, with a comfortable and unselfconscious platform manner.
After the striking opening, the concerto received an intimate performance, full of introspection and sadness, but without indulgence, moving gently, flowing naturally, as Mirga herself gave a virtuoso display of the art of accompaniment, giving the soloist all the time he needed to make his expressive points with never any worries about the balance between soloist and orchestra. The mercurial second movement was a triumph of flickering detail which prompted its own brief flurry of audience applause, but the Adagio third movement was the highlight of this performance, with lyrical playing and the utmost subtlety of phrasing and dynamics. The ovation with which the work was received was calmed only by a beautiful and simply played encore – “Blow the wind southerly” after which nobody dared move for long seconds.
George Benjamin’s “Ringed by the Flat Horizon” was his first major work for orchestra; taking its title from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, it evokes a sense of vast space and immeasurable passage of time (the composer was inspired by a New Mexico thunderstorm). Sonically spectacular, it was full of acute tension; the sound of clouds gathering in the distance yielding to agitated kaleidoscopic bursts of chimes, woodwinds, and violins. A melody for solo cello (played tenderly by Eduardo Vassallo) followed by a series of violent climaxes and an uneasy coda.
With Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, something illuminating and unexpected occurs in every concert. During one of the glowering climaxes of the Benjamin, the doors at the side of the stage were apparently blown open, Peter Grimes like, by the force of the gale. At the conclusion of the piece the strings of the orchestra moved without a break into the final work, Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia, and the opened doors now proved to be a preparation for the antiphonal elements of a gloriously passionate and intense performance which contrasted string solos, string quartet, full string orchestra and a magically invisible, but vibrantly present, off stage string group.
At the end one more surprise remained. The off stage band was brought on stage, individuals and ensemble given repeated plaudits, and as reaction from the audience showed no signs of subsiding, a return to the Royal Court music of the opening, as twenty musicians laid down their instruments and sang us a roistering version of Henry VIII’s “Pastime with good company” with Mirga herself singing a tripping descant over the top. What next in the orchestra’s centenary season?
Are we allowed to say Wow?
Michael Stern, who recently announced his departure from Kansas City in 2023, has taken on an extra job at the Stamford Symphony, in Connecticut. His five-year term will start in 2020.
Stern, 59, said: ‘In the heart of every musician, first and foremost, you want to make good music, express yourself and make the music land. Music is communication and you want to make it land — I felt that here.’
The CEO who signed him is Russell Jones, former head of the British ABO.
Stern will also continue as music director of IRIS orchestra in Tennessee, his third job.
His additional reasons for taking Stamford is that he is raising two daughters in Old Greenwich, the neighbouring town, and that many of the Stamford musicians are professionals from the Met, St. Luke’s, Orpheus and Broadway.
A message from the Dutch tenor Frank Van Aken:
Thank you mister Domingo for being a great sympathetic and warm supportive college to my wife Eva Westbroek when you sang with her and thank you also for being so supportive when my son was in the hospital 12 years ago. Also our new dog Keetje thanks you! (No complains from her) Covent Garden jan 22, 2019 London,
We wish you strength in those hard times for you and your family.
But something happened, and they are not saying what.
Last night, Željko Lučić was replaced by Craig Colclough, who made his Met debut.
The correction slip contained not one word about Craig, except that he’s American and a bass-baritone.
The performance started half an hour late for what were described as ‘technical reasons’. This may have been time needed to introduce the singer to the conductor. The soprano Anna Netrebko was not told of the switch.
Our man on the spot says Colclough had an uncomfortable start but steadily grew into the role.
Colclough has sung recently at Covent Garden, Dallas and at Antwerp, where he had a noted success as Macbeth.
That’s him in a selfie on a Belgian train.
He was Domingo’s original cover for the role at the Met in which case he must have known his way around the set.
At last night’s Cincinnati Symphony concert, a person in the front row was seen making a recording of the performance of Beethoven’s violin concerto.
The distinguished soloist proceeded to call out at the young woman to stop.
That’s all the detail we have at the moment – apart from the soloist’s name, which we’ll withold for the sake of discretion. This is about an attitude more than it’s about an individual.
The question is: should she have shouted?
A whisper in the wings to an usher between movements would have resulted in the quiet confiscation of the recording at the end of the performance with no public embarrassment to anyone.
Shouting from the stage is a no-no. It breaks the essential concert illusion.
I have seen it many times, and each time it has been the only thing I took away from the concert.
I once saw Philharmonia players yelling at a man next to me who snored gently through a Mozart concerto. I saw a famous pianist complain because audience members were more unsettled by building noises on London’s South Bank than by the sounds emerging from his piano. I have seen a conductor bark at an audience to settle down.
This should never happen, right?
But it still does.
UPDATE: A member of the orchestra observed the incident at close hand: ‘This occurred during the second movement of the Beethoven violin concerto. Anne-Sophie Mutter said that she could not perform while watching someone illegally film her entire performance from feet away (not an exaggeration). The individual filming did talk back, though English was not their first language and there was some confusion. They would not put down their phone or leave (even after the audience booed). The president of the Cincinnati Symphony eventually stepped in to escort this person out. After all of this ASM told the audience that they could enjoy the beautiful introduction by the winds a second time.
I don’t think it’s fair to ask this question without any facts!’
You remember the incident in Amsterdam a few years ago when Maria Joao Pires found herself facing a different Mozart concerto at a lunchtime performance from the one she expected. The conductor Riccardo Chailly managed to talk her through the switchover. Here’s how:
The episode came to the attention of our friend Rabbi Johnny Solomon, an educator in Israel, and he made it the basis for his Rosh Hashana meditation on the meaning of self-improvement and our connection with the conductor of all things.
Here’s Johnny’s text, reproduced with his permission, ahead of the Jewish New Year festival:
TESHUVA AS A SPIRITUAL CONCERTO
It was meant to be a routine lunchtime performance.
The Portuguese concert pianist Maria João Pires was set to play Mozart’s Concerto No. 467 alongside the Amsterdam symphony orchestra which was to be conducted by Riccardo Chailly. However, once the Orchestra played its first string of notes Maria realised – to her absolute shock – that the orchestra was playing a different piece – the D minor Concerto – as opposed to the one she had expected to play and had practiced.
Paralysed with fear, Pires’s head was spinning as the orchestra continued to play while the audience had no idea what was taking place. She wasn’t sure what to do, but as the orchestra proceeded, and as the moment when she would need to begin playing drew nearer, Pires needed to come up with a plan. Pires called out to Chailly, who at that point was waving his hands while conducting the orchestra, and she told him that there was a problem – she hadn’t expected or prepared that piece, and she didn’t have the notes of this piece with her.
Perhaps she thought Chailly would slowly wind down the orchestra and apologise to the audience. But this is not what he did because Chailly isn’t just a regular conductor, and he knew that Maria wasn’t just a regular pianist. Chailly knew that Maria was very familiar with the concerto he was playing, and that she’d played it during the previous season. So rather than considering how to end the concert, Chailly encouraged Maria by telling her: ‘I’m sure you’ll do well’. To this she replied, ‘I’m going to try’ – and this is what she did.
Though initially nervous, Pires began to play, and over time she eased into the music that came from a place deep within her consciousness. True, she didn’t have notes in front of her, and true she was unprepared. But because she also knew this piece, she had the notes inside of her.
I love this story and every Ellul I watch the short clip on youtube. And why? It is because each time Ellul comes around, I genuinely feel like Maria João Pires – utterly unprepared for Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur as if I’ve been practicing the notes for a concert I’ve come to realise is playing a different tune. Like her, when I hear the call of the Shofar of Ellul and Rosh Hashana, I feel paralysed and I am in shock, because I suddenly understand that what I’ve been doing isn’t aligned with what I’m expected to have done, and what I’ve achieved isn’t what I’m expected to have achieved.
However, just like Pires, something incredible and majestic occurs in those moments of shock. Rather than giving up, I sense that I am being encouraged by Hashem – the ultimate conductor of the world – and so each Ellul I say to myself ‘I’m going to try’, and, from a place deep within me, I somehow know to find the right notes, and I begin to play my life according to the expectations and in accordance with the notes of the ultimate conductor. It is this process that I would like to explore tonight – the process of hearing our inner music and living our lives in accordance with the song of our soul.
The Gemara (Niddah 30b), quoting Rabbi Simlai, informs us that something quite extraordinary occurs to each of us while in our mother’s womb – namely that we are taught Torah to the extent that we achieve spiritual clarity that penetrates the mysteries of the entire universe. Then, an angel causes us to forget all that we have learnt….