Monday, December 30, 2013

Hilan Warshaw's documentary - Wagner's Jews - Screening at: Museum of Tolerance New York

If you missed the previous screenings of Hilan Warshaw's documentary, 'Wagner's Jews' see my article, you have another chance to catch this screening, at the Museum of Tolerance New York:

please klick on the poster for details

Monday, December 16, 2013

In Perfect Harmony – Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax put four hands together for Stravinsky and Piazzolla

The players execute fast-paced passages across each other’s bodies, seemingly unfazed by close contact and coquettish reaching-over that one would think would interfere with the poise of most pianists’ controlled efforts at the keyboard.  Cued by rhythmic bows of twirling arms and flying hair, the performers carry onward, all with a discreet demeanor that only comes from really knowing the other’s every thought and move.  Such is the essence of their close proximity: every motion counts – and it sounds great.
What could come across as an awkward intermingling of extremities in a less-expertly executed encounter was a joyful and artistically-sound endeavor coming from the loving and experienced hands of Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung at their piano four-hand performance at Lincoln Center. 
The audience that made its way to the Walter Reade Theater on a cold Sunday morning at 10.30 a.m. was in for a real treat.
Their four-handed account of Stravinsky’s own transcription of his ballet Pétroushka exemplifies the kind of intense collaboration in which the musical couple engages constantly. It is a project Bax had been enamored with since childhood. He and Lucille first began to work on it together in 2004 for a Chamber Music Festival performance in Ottawa. It’s not only a very challenging score, but turned out to be a constant source of inspiration, allowing the pair to find new angles of expression in their practice and performance. It also accompanied both pianists on their later tours through Russia and Canada. While both are accomplished pianists in their own right, this Sunday’s recital represented their Lincoln Center debut as a piano duo. The performance accompanies their CD, titled BAX & CHUNG, which was released this November on the Signum Classics label.
“To complete the disc, Lucille and I have chosen repertoire that, like Pétrouchka, has been at the center of our recent recital programs and exemplifies the special intimacy needed when sharing the same instrument,” Bax writes in his self-penned disc notes, “…we have arranged four tangos for our own four hands, using a basic version of the works and improvising on the go.  Every new performance of these tangos is different from the previous one, and to us this is a very unique and exciting experience.” Bax and Chung performed three of the four tangos that appear on their album at Sunday’s concert. 
Alessio Bax’s description captures perfectly the sense of excitement and intimacy that the duo projected throughout their recital. I would like to add that the two of them, who are expecting their first child in the New Year, managed to truly engage the audience through their ability to compliment each other’s pianistic personalities – which is perhaps one of the highlights of four-hand performance in general.
Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax play Astor Piazzolla's Libertango

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Huang Ruo’s Opera ‘Dr.Sun Yat-Sen’ – a contemporary masterpiece re-evaluates Asian Fusion

 photo: Huang Ruo at Asia Society (GetClassical)

As a preview to its upcoming American premiere, composer Huang Ruo and the creative team of the Santa Fe Opera introduced excerpts of the strikingly lyrical, modernist opera sung in Mandarin and Cantonese dialects at the Asia Society on December 2nd.
In a panel discussion moderated by journalist Ken Smith and featured composer Huang Ruo, stage director James Robinson, costume designer James Schuette, choreographer Sean Curran, and conductor Carolyn Kuan discussed the inherent challenges of production; creative solutions to these struggles were touched on from the varying perspectives of all the collaborative artists involved.
“The opera creates a metaphor for the historic figure Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, founding father of modern China…” explains Ken Smith.
Most of the opera’s content is based on actual historical material, such as Yat-sen’s political speeches, letters, and photographs. Yet his politically revolutionary status serves only as the colorful background of an unfolding personal drama, set in three acts each of which depicts differing locations: “It is rather the personal story of his life I wanted to show, which is rather unknown,” says Ruo, “his passionate and revolutionary personality.” And it is the deeply gripping artistic expressiveness of such delicate arias, like Lu Muzhen’s (Yat-Sen’s abandoned first wife) lament, that portray a perception of the human truism, personal faith, sorrow, and fulfillment that characterize Yat-sen’s personal story. “These bound feet cannot keep up with the times,” sings Lu Muzhen, bringing the compelling essence of the impact of historic change within Chinese civilization into direct contact with the story of her own personal transformation, sensitively universalized through the heroes and victims of the saga.
In traditional Chinese opera – and there is a variety of opera styles – characters are symbolized explicitly by their outward appearance; Ruo explains how through this unambiguous illustration, one need not know the story to recognize the personality of the participants on stage. Ruo connects a musical introduction to the appearance of each character, comparable to Wagner’s ‘leitmotifs,’ using these musical phrases to establish an aesthetic association between musical theme and the characters’ dramatic portrayals. “You will hear the character before you see him or her on stage,” he concludes. Photo: Zhou Yi, pipa and gu quin (GetClassical)

The production of the opera has an interesting angle. Commissioned by the Opera Hong Kong in 2011, it was premiered at the Hong Kong Culture Centre Theatre in October of 2011 with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, establishing the first ever Western-style opera accompanied by an entire orchestra of Chinese, traditional instruments. There are two versions of the score in existence, which are wittily distinguished by Ruo: “These are not two entirely different scores, but different instrumental versions of the same. One for exclusively Chinese instrumentation, the other adapted for Western ones, in addition with Chinese traditional instruments. I would describe this as a mirrored transcription: You hold up a mirror and one can recognize its own reflection.” Photo: Huang Ruo (GetClassical)

Additionally the score underwent textual revision, eliminating portions of spoken lines in order to provide a more accomplished display of Ruo’s Dimensionalism, his applied method of composition. Certainly the production also heeded the patience of a Western audience, not fluent in Cantonese dialects. Ruo describes this way of creating and perceiving music as allowing for multiple layers of musical and textual meaning: “I was not intentionally trying to create a stylistic fusion. I just looked at the libretto and considered what it should sound like and how each line should be interpreted. Looking back, I do not see it as presenting neither a strictly Western operatic nor a Chinese folk style. Even though I wrote for Western-style voice types, singing Chinese words makes it a unique combination.”
The opera’s westernized version’s first act received a preview in 2011 at New York City Opera.
In January 2012, Ruo conducted an ensemble he founded called FIRE in a concert version of excerpts at Le Poisson Rouge, followed by a performance at Asia Society in May 2012.
This December’s sneak peek of Santa Fe’s planned full production of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen made clear what an extraordinary undertaking Ruo’s masterpiece represents in both the US and China. The concert in Hong Kong marked the first performance of a contemporary opera by a full orchestra of traditional Chinese instruments. “I was motivated to write this opera, hoping to add to a small body of contemporary opera written in Chinese to date. After all, Chinese is a very rhythmic and musical language. Although China has a long, rich history of traditional operas, this tradition is becoming endangered with diminishing audiences and lack of new repertoire,” says Ruo, expressing a concern that is certainly reflected internationally.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen will be performed in its entirety at the Santa Fe Opera on July 26th, 2014.
Ilona Oltuski

Excerpts from ' Dr. Sun Yat-Sen' 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Joshua Bell rings in the holiday season with a live-streamed concert – from his house to yours

Photo: Joshua Bell and Renée  Fleming - Courtesy of Clint Spaulding/Patrick
To provide a uniquely joyful musical experience and to celebrate the October release of Joshua Bell’s new album, Musical Gifts, WFYI Public Media and Adrienne Arsht sponsored a special event at violinist Bell’s private New York residence. This extraordinary evening took place November 26th, and featured the amazingly gifted violinist performing a diverse assortment of festive Christmas (and Chanukah!) melodies with some of his collaborators on the album. The august presenters included: Renée Fleming, Michael Feinstein and Frankie Moreno, Rob Moose, and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. This was the first ever broadcast of its kind: “Musical Gifts: Joshua Bell and Friends – Live from Joshua’s New York Home.” The webcast of the event will be available for streaming until January 31st, 2014 on
The eminent group of performers casually gathered around an antique Steinway grand piano in the center of Bell’s large, elongated living room, while the children of the Young People’s chorus sat decoratively along a candlelit staircase, leading to the rooftop terrace.
The heartwarming performances included singers, pianists, and even a harpist, who all took turns partnering with Bell, who humorously referred to the slight hint of inherent exhibitionism that accompanies being a lifelong, prodigal performer. “After all,” he remarked on his place as the center of attention and the fact that he was participating in every number, “…this is my house.” 
                                                                                                                                                                  Photo: Courtesy of Clint Spaulding/Patrick
While my coat was being checked at Joshua Bell’s remarkable home in New York’s Flatiron district, I couldn’t help but admire his personal autograph collection that includes iconic figures such as Albert Einstein posing with Bronislaw Huberman, the founder of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, precursor to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Huberman also happens to be the previous owner of the 300 year-old Stradivarius that Bell now plays, and lovingly acknowledges as his most prized and precious possession.
Heidi, Bell’s personal assistant of ten years, gave a grand tour of the two floors and rooftop of Bell’s luxurious penthouse, in which he has lived for the past decade. She explains: “It’s designed by the great architect Charles Rose and it was deliberately laid out for evenings like this in mind. The space can host around 150 people.” As I passed a sparingly decorated media room on the lower level, where the crew had put up their wildly cabled domain, I espied another obsession of Bell’s.  When not involved with performing, travelling or rehearsing for performances, Bell, who is turning 45 on December 9th, “is also a huge football fanatic who records every game so as to not miss a single one. He is an especially hardcore fan of his home team: The Indianapolis Colts,” according to Heidi.
Fundraisers and other musical house soirées, which serve up both great music and culinary treats to a mixed host of guests including celebrities, press, musicians, friends, and colleagues, are not a rarity at Bell’s home.
Evidently, this Grammy award-winning artist, who started to play violin at age 4, doesn’t leave his love for sharing music behind on the world’s stages, but rather feels inclined to transform his private space into his own, personal performance venue, reminiscent of the style of the great salons.
Bell’s enthusiasm for the up-close experience of making and presenting music within the familiar surroundings of smaller-sized spaces to achieve a more direct, intense, and intimate emotional exchange, represents a current trend within the classical music world.
Even the New York Philharmonic has realized the potential of new interest in smaller, eclectic presentations, scheduling concerts at New York’s downtown venue SUBCULTURE, which has joined the onrush of classical music events at downtown music hubs like Le Poisson Rouge and Joe’s Pub.
Classical Salon events like GetClassical are also being featured in aesthetically sophisticated, yet prominently ‘cool’ New York night-life lounges like the Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar. These new venues promote classical music to new audiences and enhance the experience through the element of a relaxed environment; they also add the enticing prospect of enjoying a glass of wine during the performance, not just during intermission.
                                                                                                                                                                                                         photo: Alex Federov,  GetClassical - Salon held at the Rose Bar, guest: pianist Evgeny Kissin
The personal element of these new presentations of classical music is something in the air that was without a doubt picked up on by the charming Frenchman Hervé Boissière, founder of, inspiring him and Joshua to plan this event. This program represented’s first broadcast of Bell in New York, and the channel’s first broadcast directly from a private home: “I had previously broadcasted Joshua’s performances at the Verbier Festival and on several other occasions. The decision to make this happen took place in May, when we last broadcast him while concertizing in Germany,” says Hervé. launched in 2008, but was already renowned in Europe before becoming a household name in the U.S. as well.  The innovative team brought in remote-controlled cameras to enable a direct focus on the performers, and a close-up perspective of instrumental details during the live stream. Bringing together a worldwide community of music lovers via subscription-based, technologically advanced, live concert streaming, and a diverse on-demand video library, now features client universities including Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia, the Juilliard School, and the Manhattan School of Music.

Photo: Hervé's Facebook Page
Hervé works closely with his teammates, the majority of whom, including the production’s director, are part of his French crew; his team usually consists mostly of individuals from’s French staff, even when they are shooting in the US. But things are changing slowly: “In the beginning, we brought the entire crew over from France, but in the meantime, we also worked in collaboration. This time, in partnership with WFYI Public Media, five of the crewmembers and producers are American-based, and we merely brought ten members of our original set along.”
Granting public access to the closeness of a private concert performance such as “Musical Gifts” seems like the ultimate remedy for sleepy crowds, and a magical tonic for energetic concert attendants.