2018

The Power of the Big Guns at Maverick-The Boston Musical Intelligencer

The Power of the Big Guns at Maverick

by Leslie Gerber

alexander-platt-BMI
Alexander Platt

Bernstein’s late, rarely heard Songfest. The work was intended as a celebration of the American bicentennial but Bernstein finished it late and it was first performed in 1977. Platt had scheduled his version for Maverick in 2011 but the concert had to be canceled in the wake of Hurricane Irene. However, he gave it a successful performance at the Ravinia Festival in 2013. The performance was supplemented by excellent readings of each poem by members of the Actors & Writers company. Songfest definitely deserves renewed attention. It’s a fascinating collection of songs, settings of a wide variety of American poetry from colonial to contemporary (as of 1976), each one in its own style. I would probably never have heard this work in live performance if not for this event. Even Bernstein’s own recording of the work is out of print, as is a later recording conducted by Leonard Slatkin.
The work presents challenges. It requires six singers, who perform individually and in all kinds of ensembles including a sextet. In this respect, Platt was fortunate that he has nearby the annual Phoenicia Festival of the Voice. The two organizations do cooperate and PFV supplied most of the singers. Then, there’s the orchestra. Platt’s arrangement calls for 8 winds and brass and 5 strings. Just looking at that lineup, you can guess the result; the strings were often inaudible.

Sometimes even the singers had trouble being heard. I was not entirely sure who was singing what, since the otherwise very detailed program booklet (including all the song texts) didn’t specify which singer was singing which song. I can tell a soprano from a mezzo but not which of two mezzos is singing what unless I know one of them, which I didn’t. However, I can report that soprano Nancy Allen Lundy, who sang the second solo, found herself severely challenged by the brass. In the 200-seat Maverick Hall, the effect of those brass and the enthusiastic percussion players, could be overwhelming at times, especially with all six singers in full voice.

This was a major event in the Maverick season, and a huge gift in enabling us to experience even a sonically reduced version. There were no weak links in the vocal ensemble. Everyone sounded splendid. It was fascinating to hear the way Bernstein adapted his style to the nature of the poems he had chosen, like the jazzy Ferlinghetti, the Spanish-tinged Julia de Burgos, the most harmonically adventurous setting of Walt Whitman (with superb flute playing from Seung Jeon). The instrumentalists, except for the percussionists, belonged to the Caroga Arts Ensemble, from a festival held annually in the Adirondacks. All sounded excellent.

Platt directed with his usual crisp authority, doing his best to produce good balance, and succeeding in achieving spectacularly accurate ensemble. Overall this was an exciting experience. People filled every seat in the hall and in the outdoor seating area, a tribute to our love for Bernstein and our admiration for Alexander Platt’s conducting.

Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

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2017

"Spirit of the Maverick leads to innovations in its second century”, Leslie Gerber, Hudson Valley One, June 16, 2017

Spirit of the Maverick leads to innovations in its second century

After 101 seasons of chamber music in the woods, you might think that Maverick Concerts doesn’t need to make any changes. But Maverick’s spirit remains young and changes are in the works. Those Saturday and Sunday concerts aren’t going away, but there are some new aspects and even some new locales in mind. And wait until you sit on the ergonomically-designed new benches!

Maverick even has a new Executive Director, its first. Kitt Potter comes from a jazz background (Maverick audiences will get to hear her sing at the hall in 2018) but also has serious experience in guiding and managing nonprofit organizations of diverse types. Why did Maverick suddenly need an Executive Director? “I believe the board felt it was time,” Potter says. “It’s been running beautifully with a Music Director, volunteers and independent contractors. But it’s never had a director who focuses on administrative affairs.”
Aside from focusing on the organizational side of things (Music Director Alexander Platt remains in charge of the programming), Potter has helped organize an expansion of Maverick’s activities, which she hopes will grow. For the first time, Maverick will be presenting programs in other locales. The new-music string quartet ETHEL will present a free concert on June 23 at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum in ‘conversation’ with the Kate McGloughlin exhibit — Requiem for Ashokan-The Story Told in Landscape. The same group plays a regular Maverick concert the following day. This concert includes recent string quartets by three prominent composers and arrangements of music from Stevie Nicks, Sonic Youth, and Aretha Franklin. And on August 12, the Harlem Quartet plays a Young People’s Concert (also free) at 11 a.m. at the Kleinert-James Arts Center, in collaboration with the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. Again the same group plays at Maverick the following day.

This could be just the start. Potter is looking forward to engaging Maverick in further collaborations with arts organizations in Woodstock through the Woodstock Cultural Alliance and around Ulster County. She is even considering the possibility of running Maverick-sponsored programs in other locales during the months outside the Maverick season. And she will foster cooperation among the existing local presenters to avoid the conflicts that have sometimes limited concert audiences.

Another new program at Maverick which Potter particularly likes is Maverick Prodigies. “Alexander and I saw kids in the audience enjoying adults on stage. We decided to flip that.” The First Maverick Prodigies event is The Ladles, Friday, July 7, at 8 p.m. The young members of this group are Katie Martucci (a protegé of Woodstock legend Betty MacDonald), Caroline Kuhn, and Lucia Purpura-Pontoniere. Potter and Platt are hoping to continue this series for future seasons and possibly expand it beyond one concert.

Yet another new project, entirely in Platt’s domain, is the New Foundations series, bringing a larger than usual quota of recent music to the regular concert series. One special feature of this project will be three consecutive Sunday concerts, July 9, 16, and 23, which will present the three String Quartets of prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis, in order. Composer Robert Starer, a commanding presence at Maverick during his lifetime, once told me he preferred to have his music on programs with standard repertory rather than having it segregated in “new music” concerts. In this spirit, Kernis will share programs with the three string quartets of Brahms and with Britten (Chiara Quartet, July 9), Stravinsky (Parker Quartet, July 16), and Haydn (Jasper String Quartet, July 23, the ensemble’s Maverick debut).

“New Foundations” permeates the Maverick “classical” programs, all but two of which include at least one 20th or 21st century work. The exceptions are the Miró Quartet’s welcome all-Dvorák concert on June 25, and the Amernet String Quartet’s program of August 20. (After Wolf’s “Italian Serenade,” pianist Ron Dank joins for piano quintets by Dvorák and the 19th century Polish composer Juliusz Zarebski.) July 2, the Escher String Quartet plays “old” 20th century music — Bartók’s Quartet No. 3 and Sibelius’s String Quartet — along with Schubert’s Quartet in E flat. July 8, the Spektral Quartet in its Maverick debut plays Augusta Read Thomas, Gerard McBurney (a world premiere), Philip Glass, and the 20th century Ravel. On July 30, Trio Con Brio Copenhagen returns with Mozart, Smetana, and Shostakovich. August 6, the Dover Quartet plays Schumann, Szymon Lake, and Tchaikovsky.

The program for the percussion ensemble NEXUS on August 12 isn’t announced yet but it will probably be its typical mix of classical percussion works and pop/jazz arrangements. The Harlem Quartet, August 13, plays Turina, Gabriela Lena Frank, Guido López Gavilán, and Borodin. The annual Chamber Orchestra Concert led by Platt, always a highlight, on August 26, includes 20th century works of Dominick Argento and Ned Rorem, along with recent arrangements by Wolfgang Renz of music by Ravel and Mussorgsky. August 27, Trio Solisti plays works of Dvorák (not the familiar “Dumky” Trio), Jennifer Higdon, and Schubert. Even the Friends of Maverick benefit concert on Sept. 3, by the Horszowski Trio, includes Daron Hagen’s 1986 Trio No. 2, along with Schubert and Mendelssohn. For the final concert of the season, pianist Oren Weiss joins the Shanghai Quartet for Dvorák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 and plays 3 solo piano Busoni arrangements of Bach organ Chorale Preludes. The Quartet performs Beethoven’s Op. 95 and Penderecki’s Quartet No. 3, a 2008 Shanghai Quartet commission.

Voluminous as this listing may seem, it doesn’t include everything. On Saturday, June 17, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, June 18, at 4 p.m., Ars Choralis offers its now-traditional pre-season Maverick concert with Haydn’s great “Lord Nelson” Mass and works of Copland. Jazz at Maverick brings back the Arturo O’Farrell Quintet for a Young People’s Concert on July 1 at 11 a.m. and an Older People’s Concert at 8 p.m. Bill Charlap returns with his Trio on July 15. Eldar Djangirov returns with his Trio on July 29. And Karl Berger and the Creative Music Studio play on Sept. 2, all of these at 8 p.m. Bansuri flute player Steve Gorn, a Woodstock legend, plays Indian ragas with singer Sanjoy Banerjee and tabla player Samir Chatterjee on August 5. And in accordance with another recent series, paying tribute to the longtime tradition of theatrical performances at the Maverick, Actors and Writers presents two Saturday programs, on July 22 (a “staged reading” of Paul Osborn’s 1939 play “Morning’s at Seven”) and August 19 (“Brand New Shorts” written by company members). The entire schedule is laid out very clearly at www.maverickconcerts.org.

It seems every summer the Maverick season grows both longer and denser. Imagine what it will be like when there are further collaborations and the possibility of year-round performances at other venues! Coming soon?

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2015

“Lucky 13 at Maverick”, Leslie Gerber, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, August 24, 2015

Lucky 13 at Maverick

by Leslie Gerber

alexander-platt-BMI
Alexander Platt

The Music Director of Maverick Concerts, Alexander Platt, spends most of his year conducting orchestras. A few years ago he decided to try leading a small orchestra once a year at Maverick, reviving a tradition from the early days of the series. This event has now become a fixture in the Maverick schedule, and it always draws a good audience. It’s always an artistic success, too, but I can’t remember an orchestral program at Maverick I enjoyed quite as much as the latest one on Saturday.

Things began with Britten’s Young Apollo, a “fanfare” for piano and orchestra which Britten had suppressed and which was revived only after his death. It’s wildly exuberant and somewhat repetitious and dumb. The performance, with pianist Stephen Gosling, was about as wild as the music. Unfortunately, Gosling was less wild in Henry Cowell’s The Banshee. I have to admire Gosling’s enterprise in learning the technique of playing this piece, directly on the strings, inside the piano. But this music has been in my ears since I bought Cowell’s recording of it when I was in my teens, and Gosling didn’t reproduce Cowell’s wide dynamic range, not merely spooky but sometimes frightening.

Aaron Copland preferred his original version of Appalachian Spring for 13 instruments to the later version for full orchestra. So do I. It’s crisper and tastier, the imaginative scoring more effective. It was a great success.

Robert Starer was buried in Woodstock 2001. Yet during Maverick’s 100th anniversary season, the festival presented but one work to honor him. But Song of Solitude, a substantial 13 minute work for solo cello, full of variety and imagination, was entirely characteristic of the composer’s style. I don’t think this was one of the composer’s works which premiered at Maverick but it certainly belonged there. Cellist Emmanuel Feldman, who learned the music for this occasion, performed it fervently

We go out of our way to hear mezzo-soprano Maria Todaro whenever she sings. Fresh from the success of her Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, Todaro sang the vocal part in the original chamber version of Falla’s El Amor Brujo, music written in 1915, the year the Maverick series began. Strangely, I had a little trouble hearing her in her first solo, but afterwards her throaty gypsy style powered across the hall, down and dirty and just right. Platt’s conducting was vigorous, his little ensemble very well coordinated. This performance was a real blast, and a fitting conclusion to a memorable and generous evening.

Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

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2014

MUCH MUSIC AT MAVERICK AND BARD

MUCH MUSIC AT MAVERICK AND BARD


Leslie Gerber, The Woodstock Times, August 28 2014

“On Saturday, August 23, the annual Maverick Chamber Orchestra Concert was described as an “extravaganza,” and it certainly was…..The concert, “In the House of Don Manuel,” was a tribute to the composer Manuel de Falla and his friendship with the great poet Federico Garcia Lorca. A very large audience, the largest I’ve seen for a regular season concert at the Maverick in a very long time, enjoyed the opening work, Silvestre Revueltas’s Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca,” a wonderful and funny piece of music performed with great precision and panache under Maverick’s Music Director Alexander Platt. The man can really conduct!

The next work, “Canciones,” elaborate settings of three Spanish poems (one by Lorca) composed by Simon Holt, featured guest mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer, brought over from England to demonstrate her mastery of Holt’s fearsome writing. Although the music was dissonant and challengiing, it had real substance and Schaufer won an ovation from the audience…..The remainder of the music was all Falla. Platt cleverly arranged a suite from “The Magistrate and the Miller’s Wife,” the small orchestra original of what became “The Three-Cornered Hat.” He led idiomatic and precise playing from the orchestra, with a brief but spectacular contribution from mezzo-soprano Maria Todaro…..The concert concluded with Falla’s magnificent Harpsichord Concerto in the composer’s approved alternate version for piano. I think the sound o the harpsichord contributes better to the austerity of the music, but the crisp, sharp rhythms of this performance made it effective.”

2013

Review of Trevor Pinnock’s new recording of Alexander’s landmark reconstruction of the lost Chamber Version of Mahler’s 4th Symphony

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 4 (arr. Erwin Stein) [53:43]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (arr. Bruno Sachs) [10:39]
Sónia Grané (soprano)
Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble/Trevor Pinnock
rec. St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 16-18 February 2012

The Society for Private Musical Performances was set up in 1918 in Vienna by Arnold Schoenberg for reasons both idealistic and extremely practical. Its essential aim was to provide the opportunity to hear new music under conditions which would ensure that performances were properly rehearsed and where those who might be hostile in advance to the music - including critics - would be excluded. Given the Society’s small size and budget works for orchestra were presented in keyboard arrangements or re-scored for a smaller ensemble. This disc presents two works in the latter form.

The Mahler Symphony was scored by the composer for an orchestra which excludes trombones but includes triple woodwind (but four flutes). Although it had been performed in Vienna soon after its composition in 1900 by 1921 difficult economic circumstances meant that opportunities to hear live performances were likely to be rare. Erwin Stein, one of Schoenberg’s composition pupils, produced an arrangement for fourteen instruments. This has been lost but a copy of the original score annotated by Stein to make the reduction has been used by Alexander Platt to produce a reconstruction. The result is necessarily much leaner than Mahler’s original, but this has the advantage of clearer textures and subsidiary lines that are much easier to follow. At times it sounds reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 and even more of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Elsewhere there is a distinct echo of salon orchestras - Marek Weber comes often to mind. Overall, hearing it is a fascinating experience which adds much to one’s understanding of the original work.

There is nothing new in conductors best known in classical and pre-classical music moving on to later works. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Sir Roger Norrington have all shown how their knowledge of earlier music together with imagination and musicianship can produce stunning and original results. Trevor Pinnock now joins that group with performances which make the most of the additional space around the notes which Stein’s arrangement provides. He follows Mahler’s very detailed directions in respect of phrasing and changes of speed with great care. Possibly too much, indeed. At times in the first movement some of those changes of speed seemed imposed rather than arising directly from the music itself as can be the case with good performances of the original version. Overall however this is a performance to treasure, crowned by a delightfully natural account of the soprano solo in the last movement by Sónia Grané.

The Debussy arrangement is here attributed to Bruno Sachs rather than Schoenberg, although the booklet remarks that the latter would have given careful advice to whoever was working on the score. Similar comments about its merits apply here as to the Mahler but with greater surprise. I had thought that the singular character of this work was to a large extent a result of the scoring, but its original character survives here even with the orchestra greatly reduced. As with the Mahler much of the success is due to the committed and characterful playing of the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble and to Trevor Pinnock’s care over balance and phrasing.

The clarity of the recording is remarkable, and Linn have provided admirable notes whilst regrettably omitting the text and a translation of the verses from Des Knaben Wunderhorn that form the last movement of the symphony. This is one of the most enlightening and enjoyable Mahler discs I have heard for a long time. The booklet hints at further discs exploring chamber arrangements of the symphonic repertoire. On the basis of this very successful disc that is a very exciting prospect.

John Sheppard

Alexander scores a major success at his debut at the Ravinia Festival, leading the world premiere of his new version of Leonard Bernstein’s SONGFEST:

Review: Ravinia premiere underscores poignancy of Bernstein's 'Songfest'
John von Rhein

The world premiere of a new chamber version of Leonard Bernstein's "Songfest" Thursday afternoon in Ravinia's Martin Theatre brought memories flooding back of the muggy Ravinia night in July, 28 years ago, when the composer led the local premiere of his score in its original orchestral guise.

I'll never forget the sight of Bernstein on the podium, mopping his brow with a red silk hanky, dancing and swaying as if he were making the music up on the spot. In front of him were vocal soloists and the National Symphony Orchestra, performing what he called "my special patriotic piece," four days after the Fourth of July. The audience of some 8,000 cheered Lenny and company into the night.

On that warm summer evening at Ravinia, the music took on irresistible charm and energy, not least because of the unabashed theatricality with which Bernstein infused it. We had no way of knowing it then, of course, but five years later, in October 1990, this icon of American music would be dead.

Were Bernstein still alive, I can imagine the kisses and bear hugs he would have bestowed on Thursday's performers – six singers from Lyric Opera's Ryan Opera Center along with Chicago's Ensemble Dal Niente, all making their Ravinia debuts under the direction of Alexander Platt, who had prepared the chamber scoring with singer Robert Osborne.

Their version was to have been premiered in 2011 at the Maverick Concerts, a summer festival Platt directs in the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York State, but Hurricane Irene scotched the plan. So this Ravinia concert marked its delayed first performance.

Bernstein's orchestral song cycle, which was commissioned for the American bicentennial celebration of 1976, impressed then, as it does now, as being as wildly eclectic as the nation's artistic past it celebrates through the words of 13 poets spanning 300 years of U.S. history.

Critics (myself included) treated "Songfest" rather condescendingly when it was new, perhaps because much of the music treads ground Bernstein had traveled earlier in his career, perhaps because the defiantly tonal score appeared out of place at a time (1977) when atonal modernism ruled.

That view seems all too narrow today. The matching of text to musical style is unerring, and if not all of Bernstein's music is top-drawer, there is much that is. It is a touching valedictory. The disparate texts reflect his belief that America's history is a history of the struggles of its minorities – women, African Americans, gays, expatriates. Composed at a time when his longtime marriage to Felicia Montealegre had fallen apart because of his affair with another man, "Songfest" is, as Platt observed Thursday, "as huge and imperfect as America itself."

It is the co-arrangers' achievement to bring that hugeness down to proper size, to balance voices and instruments more justly and, most important, to make "Songfest" the poignant, personal statement Bernstein meant it to be. Its impact on Thursday was considerable, albeit in a different way than when I heard the work here back in 1985.

Thursday's concert was anchored by seven Ryan Center members, four of them first-year apprentices blessed with attractive, well-schooled voices and exceptional professional promise: mezzo-soprano Julie Anne Miller, tenor Adam Bonanni, baritone Anthony Clark Evans and bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba. They appeared alongside center "veterans" Emily Birsan and Tracy Cantin, sopranos; and J'nai Bridges, alto.

How beautifully these singers, Platt and the Dal Niente musicians used the Martin Theatre space to convey the musical and expressive essence of each song. Joining them were actors Nathan Hosner, LaShawn Banks and Christina Nieves from Writers' Theatre, who read each poem before it was sung, not only for the Bernstein work but also for Elliott Carter's song cycle, "A Mirror on Which to Dwell," which began the program.

Ollarsaba was fully inside the aching tenderness of Walt Whitman's homosexual confession, "To What You Said," a poem unpublished during the poet's lifetime. Cantin thrilled as the proud Latino woman of "A Julia Burgos," which she sang in the original Spanish. Two different sides of the black American experience came together vividly in the duet sung by Miller and Evans. Bridges wrapped her voluptuous voice splendidly around the bitter regret of an Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnet. Bonanni was just as adroit in his handling of the tricky rhythmic declamation of the similarly rueful "Zizi's Lament."

Platt's deep musical involvement and the tight, precisely coordinated playing of the 17 Dal Niente members, here and in the Carter cycle, reminded one of his exemplary, and greatly missed, work with Chicago Opera Theater during the Brian Dickie era. Everything he conducted exuded command and conviction.

So, too, did Birsan trace the jagged intervals of Carter's six settings of Elizabeth Bishop poems with amazing clarity of diction, accuracy of intonation and fineness of expression, this despite the welter of splintery, mandarin instrumental detail that surrounded her. "A Mirror on Which to Dwell" also was a U.S. bicentennial commission; more dissimilar pieces than the Carter and Bernstein would be hard to imagine. But Thursday's performers made the rough places wondrously plain, and this music also galvanized one's attention. It proved a fitting homage to Carter, one of America's most distinguished composers, who died in November, at 103. Too bad Ravinia isn't doing much more Carter this summer.

jvonrhein@tribune.com

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2012

SEPTEMBER 2, 2012, Attractive, Rare French Songs at Maverick, —Leslie Gerber, Boston Musical-Intelligencer

SEPTEMBER 2, 2012

Attractive, Rare French Songs at Maverick

…the concluding item,…brought the members of Sequitur back for Ravel’s Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé. These poems are attractively mysterious, and Ravel’s settings of them are masterful, musically adventurous, brilliantly scored, consistently fascinating. Given a chance to sing longer, more lyrical phrases, Nessinger [Mary], shone, and the ensemble’s playing under Platt also sparkled. Platt had given this music a big buildup in his introduction but it justified all his enthusiasm.

—Leslie Gerber, Boston Musical-Intelligencer

“‘This,’ announced COT’s director of artistic operations, Jerry Tietz, ‘is live theatre at its livest!’ —Mark Thomas Ketterson, OPERA NEWS, July 2012
Alexander Platt spirited his players through the score with rollicking grace, with the musicians now placed upstage of Anya Klepikov’s unit setting….This was a fun night and, as the obvious merriment of the capacity audience verified, a delicious opportunity to hear Shostakovich as one has rarely heard him before.”

—Mark Thomas Ketterson, OPERA NEWS, July 2012

French Masters in a Sylvan Setting, written by Phillip Lutz for the June 29th edition of the The New York Times Metro

French Masters in a Sylvan Setting by PHILLIP LUTZJUNE 29, 2012

AS its name suggests, Maverick Concerts does not offer a conventionally grand stage. Set in a romantic, barnlike theater amid 100 acres of tall trees and farmland in Woodstock, its charm is largely rustic, and the theater, while lovingly restored, is lacking in some state-of-the-art technology and space — it seats just 230 people indoors and, weather permitting, another 150 on benches outside. In fact, to hear Alexander Platt, the concerts’ music director, tell it, the summer festival is a modest affair. As he prepared recently for Maverick’s 97th season, on the theme of a “Tour de France,” Mr. Platt sought to play down any suggestion that he would offer an extensive survey of the French musical literature.

“Our aim,” he said, “is to have a more intensive summer festival in which a handful of great masters exist in conversation.”

The July 14 presentation will feature members of the Four Nations Ensemble and others. Credit David Rodgers
Modesty aside, however, that conversation could yield its share of insights into the Gallic musical psyche. The festival, which runs from July 1 to Sept. 16, promises an array of top-flight classical and jazz musicians, among them a few with bona fides in both camps. It also offers a range of rich material, from the Baroque to the contemporary, and plenty of social context in notes and verbal commentary.

The festival will take on a political cast when, on July 14, it stages a Bastille Day concert dubbed “From the Salon to the Scaffold.” The concert, featuring members of the Four Nations Ensemble — Charles Brink on flute, Loretta O’Sullivan on cello, and Andrew Appel on harpsichord — with the violinist June Huang and the soprano Dominique Labelle as guests, will explore how French chamber music developed hand in hand with the democratization of the music’s market, said Mr. Appel, who is also the ensemble’s artistic director.

AP-Maverick Concert
IN REHEARSAL The pianist Frederic Chiu, left, with the series’s music director, Alexander Platt. Credit Renee Samuels

The program, he said, will make its point through sharp contrasts, juxtaposing compositions tailored, on the one hand, to a nobility that “loves poetic stasis” and, on the other, to a middle class that “loves the sense of dynamic change.” Thus, a sedate Couperin suite, composed in the early 18th century for the court of Louis XIV, will run up against two relatively boisterous songs published in mass-market magazines as revolution was brewing in the late 18th century, drawing parallels between the music and the society at large.

A parallel of another sort — between spoken and musical languages — will inform the presentation of the pianist Frederic Chiu, who will appear in a two-piano recital with Andrew Russo on Aug. 26. After spending 12 years in Paris, Mr. Chiu said, he internalized “the flowing, unaccented ways the French have of spinning their sentences.” That experience reshaped his approach to melodic phrasing on pieces like those he will perform at Maverick, which will include two nocturnes and a prelude by Debussy, Ravel’s showstopping “La Valse” and works by two onetime Americans in Paris, George Gershwin and Philip Glass.

The Imani Winds will kick off the series on July 1 with a tribute to Josephine Baker. Credit Chris Carroll
Throughout the festival, the works of Debussy and Ravel will be played in their original form. But they will also become springboards for improvisation in a solo turn by the jazz pianist Fred Hersch on Sept. 8. Mr. Hersch, widely celebrated for the way he organically incorporates improvisations into the frameworks of classical compositions, said he will likely rework Debussy’s “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” and Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” — pieces he recorded with a trio in 1989.

Like Mr. Hersch, the Ebène Quartet, a French string ensemble, has earned wide praise for its expansive approach to repertory. Unlike Mr. Hersch, however, the quartet erects a firewall between the classical, which it plays straight, and the popular, for which it saves its improvisatory efforts. At Maverick, said Raphaël Merlin, the group’s cellist, that wall will separate two concerts: one on Aug. 18, devoted to arrangements of works by artists like Miles Davis, the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen; the other on Aug. 19, dedicated to unadorned readings of Mozart, Fauré and Tchaikovsky.

The quartet — Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure on violins, Mathieu Herzog on viola and Mr. Merlin — continues a tradition dating back at least to the 1940s, when French musicians moved readily from the practice rooms at the Paris Conservatory to the stages of left-bank clubs. There, they and expatriate Americans like Sidney Bechet and Josephine Baker cooked up a cross-cultural synthesis of art and entertainment that the flutist and composer Valerie Coleman said she and her quintet, the Imani Winds, will tap on Maverick’s opening night.

At that performance, she said, the quintet — Mariam Adam on clarinet, Toyin Spellman-Diaz on oboe, Monica Ellis on bassoon, Jeff Scott on French horn and Ms. Coleman — will transform itself into a wailing street band on Ms. Coleman’s tribute to Baker, “Portraits of Josephine.” With its classical virtuosity and unbridled swing, the piece promises to capture the sensibility that engaged Paris — and to set the stage at Maverick for the conversation to come.

“Tour de France,” July 1 to Sept. 16 at Maverick Concerts, 120 Maverick Road, Woodstock. Tickets: $25 for general admission seating, first come first served; $40 for reserved seats; $5 for students; children under 12, free when accompanied by an adult. “Pay what you can” tickets available; bring your own lawn chair or blanket. Information: (845) 679-8217 or maverickconcerts.org.

COT’s Shostakovich a tangy blend of song and dance—John von Rhein Classical music critic, CDT, April 15, 2012

Shostakovich with a Sense of Froth

CHICAGO—What are the Russian words for “zany,” “light-hearted romp” “that old razzle-dazzle”?

Whatever they are, they’re not usually associated with Dmitri Shostakovich, he of the darkly jagged string quartets and turbulent symphonies. But Chicago Opera Theater’s effervescent new production of his long-forgotten operetta Moscow, Cheryomushki requires such evocations of onstage froth and more. Unveiled April 14 at the Harris Theater in downtown Chicago, the production opens Brian Dickie’s final season as COT’s general director. It offers the combination of superb onstage talent, inventive production ideas, and colorful orchestration that has made COT such a valuable player on Chicago’s musical scene during Dickie’s 13-year tenure.

A comic tale of young lovers looking for rooms of their own amid the frustrating maze of the Soviet housing system, Cheryomushki, written in 1958, has had a checkered history. In the post-war era, Soviet audiences adored operettas and Broadway-style musicals, whether live or on film. There were operetta theaters all over the country. Shostakovich was also a fan, and as a student he earned money as a movie-house pianist and composer of pieces for jazz band in the 1930s.

But his love for that particular style of song and dance seems to have been a guilty pleasure. He disparaged Moscow, Cheryomushki in a note to a friend just before its premiere, though the show’s immediate success may have soothed his embarrassment. Three years later the operetta, named for an actual Moscow housing development called Cherry-Town, moved to the big screen, transformed into a splashy movie musical. A cross between the Technicolor ebullience of Singin’ in the Rain and the sentimental magic of It’s a Wonderful Life, Moscow, Cheryomushki became an icon, the go-to film for Soviet families during the New Year holidays.

As the Soviet fad for operetta waned in the 1960s, however, the stage version of Moscow, Cheryomushkivirtually disappeared. It wouldn’t resurface until the mid-1990s when a Russian recording and a production by England’s feisty Opera Pimlico brought its snappy patter and catchy tunes back to life.

COT’s crack musical and production teams have refurbished Moscow, Cheryomushki from top to bottom without damaging its underlying charm. Gerard McBurney’s brilliantly colored musical arrangement— created for Opera Pimlico and expertly led in Chicago by Resident Conductor Alexander Platt—reduces Shostakovich’s large orchestra to a 15-member dance band. (As McBurney points out in a program note, Shostakovich used the same forces of tootling flute, smoky sax, and impudent brass in his Jazz Suite No. 1.) Librettist Meg Miroshnik has retained the rhyme schemes of the original songs and spoken dialogue. There are occasional clunky spots, but in general her blend of straightforward conversation and poetic flights speeds the show along while honoring its sweetly youthful optimism.

Visually, the world of COT’s Moscow, Cheryomushki—created by stage director Mike Donahue, set and costume designer Anya Klepikov, and lighting designer Julian Pike—is as brightly colored as a child’s playroom. The setting is a construction site, and the chorus bustles about in neon yellow hard hats, orange safety vests, and work boots. Twin scaffolding towers resemble an Erector Set glazed in primary colors. A ridiculously perky pink-and-yellow Porta Potty gets wheeled in and out.

Sporting bold stripes, tight Capri pants, demure shirtwaist dresses and crinoline skirts, the ladies of the show look like models from an issue of Seventeen magazine circa 1958. Boris (Paul LaRosa), an explosives expert, was a handsome hunk in madras shirt and corduroys, a confident ladies man compared with Sergei (Dominic Armstrong), a sweetly bumbling teddy bear in a chauffeur’s leather jacket and cap. Slinking about in skinny suit, skinny tie, and shades, Fedya Drebednyov (the long, tall Matt Boehler) was the very image of an oily Soviet bureaucrat.

Running approximately three hours including intermission, the show was briskly paced, its dance numbers, songs, and dialogue unfolding in a generally seamless stream. All the more remarkable since a last-minute glitch in the Harris Theater’s pit equipment forced the orchestra to move onstage. Arranged behind the singers, the musicians sat with their backs to the audience while Platt faced out.

One of Dickie’s great gifts as an opera company general director is his talent for spotting rising talent, and Moscow, Cheryomushki is packed with it. COT borrows liberally from Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center apprentice program, and several singers in the cast are Ryan Center members or alumni. Among them is mezzo-soprano Emily Fons who brought a rich voice and comically frenetic personality to Masha, the recent bride pining for a night at home alone in her own apartment with her beloved hubby, Sasha. Baritone Adrian Kramer, an endearingly nerdy Sasha, plied her with equally overwrought ardor.

As Lusya the crane operator, an unrepentant optimist, Sophie Gordeladze made us believe every one of her naïve dreams and schemes. A native of Tbilisi, Georgia, she unleashed a radiantly expressive, bright soprano. Sara Heaton’s Lidochka, a serious-minded museum guide hoping to find an equally serious-minded man, offered a neat balance between brutal practicality and youthful hope. Soprano Ashleigh Semkiw was delightfully arch as Vava, Drebednyov’s blonde bombshell of a trophy wife. Bass-baritone Paul Corona brought just enough sputtering outrage to Barabashkin, the beleaguered but corrupt apartment manager. Paul Scholten was touching as Baburov, Lidochka’s aged father clinging to memories of his old Moscow neighborhood.

Chicago opera audiences have seen some fabulously inventive dancing this year in Lyric’s new productions of Showboat and Rinaldo. That winning streak continues with Moscow, Cheryomushki,choreographed by Eric Sean Fogel, associate choreographer forShowboat. Dancers from both Lyric shows are among COT’s cast, and everything from the show’s magic ballet to its hilarious 1950s style jitterbug number is done with sophisticated flair and impeccable technique.

This is one of COT’s not-to-be-missed shows, a perfectly crafted confection of wacky satire and gentle hope. What’s Russian for “Be there or be square”?

— Wynne Delacoma, Musical America

Chicago Opera Theater opens 2012 season with . . . a musical! By Shostakovich! —Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com, “Sunday Show” cover, April 8, 2012

Chicago Opera Theater conjures up Shostakovich’s ‘Cherry Trees’ in Millennium Park, Resident conductor Platt returns to lead rare musical ‘MOSCOW, CHERYOMUSHKI’

Little in either the biography or most photographs of Soviet-era composer Dmitri Shostakovich shouts out, “Let’s put on a show!”

However, like many Russians, the often dour artist, who died in 1975 at 68 after years of broken health, was a man of many parts. Among his prolific output of more than 200 works, a number of them powerful and tragic symphonies, string quartets, concertos, and song settings, there were also lighter pieces, some of them inspired by or written for film and theatre. Weekly visits to local music halls and musical theatre houses helped keep his nervousness and well-earned fear of political and personal persecution somewhat at bay.

In 1958, with two prominent satirists, he wrote his own musical comedy about workers hoping for flats in a new, cheap public housing development: Moscow, Cheryomushki. It’s Good Times meets Avenue Q meets Rodgers and Hammerstein and The Communist Manifesto, “We’re Living It” edition.

“This is an exuberant example of a serious composer at the top of his game making a wholly enticing diversion out of his artistic vice of musical comedy,” said Chicago Opera Theater resident conductor Alexander Platt, who will be conducting the new production for COT in its Chicago première. Starting in 2001, Platt, who now heads four orchestras in Wisconsin, Indiana, and North Dakota while remaining based in Chicago, led some of COT’s greatest achievements, including Kurka’s The Good Soldier Schweik, Britten’s Death in Venice, and John Adams’s Nixon in China. The four performances at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park run from Saturday through April 25.

“It’s a dense and complicated score—this is Shostakovich. But even if you did not have the hilarious goings-on on stage, the incredible design—a sort of Khrushchev-era Mad Men—and these wholly appealing young singing actors, the humor and sheer wackiness of the music comes out through the score itself,” Platt said. “It just jumps out of the jazz band/chamber orchestra of 14 we’ll have in the pit.”

This reduced scoring, presented here in two acts totaling about 2 hours and 45 minutes (including an intermission), is the work of Shostakovich expert Gerard McBurney who doubles as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artistic programming advisor and “Beyond the Score” creator.

“Gerard gets every reference—whether it’s Borodin or Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich’s own hugely popular Fifth Symphony or the soundtrack and style of Jolly Fellows, a smash 1934 Soviet musical comedy film, if you can imagine,” Platt said. “And his arrangement not only allows this piece to be presented in theatres— it also takes it closer to much of the source material and the hapless-seeming characters on stage.”

This musical version was created in the 1990s for the small and unusual British Pimlico Opera. For this staging, COT general director Brian Dickie, launching his last season with the company with his 23rd (!) Chicago première, commissioned a young team of director, translator/adaptor, designers, and choreographer to give the work a fresh feel and also to get away from some of the weightier ways it has been produced.

“This is not Brecht,” said Platt. “And it’s not dark like The Threepenny Opera. Of course there are darker aspects— people struggling to make ends meet and find a place to live in a hopeless, tottering system. But everyone in the initial audiences in Moscow already knew all of that. Shostakovich was giving them a way to laugh at their situation.”

The ensemble cast is studded with top young members and alumni of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Center. Mezzo Emily Fons plays museum guide Sasha, whose husband, Masha, is sung by baritone Adrian Kramer, from the Canadian Opera Company’s training program. Their two characters dream of actually being able to live together in their own room. Tenor Paul LaRosa and baritone Paul Scholten, who play more sinister figures, are joined by bass Paul Corona as the payoff-expecting building super, Barabashkin.

Returning rising performers include bass Matt Boehler (a chilling and hilarious Leporello in COT’s 2008 Don Giovanni) and soprano Sarah Heaton from last year’s Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera. Three other singers bow, the whole cast selected by talent-spotter Dickie.

COT and Lyric stalwarts chorus master Errol Girdlestone, choreographer Eric Sean Fogel, and lighting designer Julian Pike round out the team of emerging director Mike Donahue, librettist Meg Miroshnik, and set and costume designer Anya Klepikov.

Immediately after stepping outside of himself with Cheryomushki, the then-53-year-old Shostakovich orchestrated/completed Mussorgsky’s great, dark opera Khovanshchina and wrote his central Seventh and Eighth Quartets, and, a year or so later, his Thirteenth Symphony, Babi Yar, his most stinging criticism of the Soviet Union and of anti-Semitism. Those are different worlds from this work, which is more akin perhaps to the composer’s 1927 “Tahiti Trot,” his own version of “Tea for Two” from that gravely political and oh-so-socially-conscious American musical, No, No, Nannette.

Now, thanks to COT, Shostakovich’s “Bird Cherry Tree Town” will at last bloom in Chicago.

—Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun-Times

2011

SYMPHONY SIZZLES, FINISHES WITH BEST PERFORMANCE…Terry Rindfleisch, 6|12|11 La Crosse Tribune

SYMPHONY SIZZLES, FINISHES WITH BEST PERFORMANCE

More than 1,000 people in Viterbo University’s Fine Arts Center knew they saw and heard something special Saturday night. They erupted with applause and one of the longest standing ovations I ever witnessed for the Symphony.

It wasn’t because of some phenomenal performance by a great pianist or violinist as a guest artist. It was simply a sensational and stunning performance by the La Crosse Symphony and its season-ending concert: no doubt, one of the best performances and concerts by the orchestra in the last three decades. (I’d say THE BEST performance by this symphony in 30 years and, who knows, maybe in its 113-year history.)

Alexander Platt, the orchestra’s first-year conductor and Music Director, pulled out all the stops and brilliantly led and conducted this orchestra to a new level—somewhere between here and the next galaxy.

This concert had the potential from the start with Schubert’s Fifth Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony— two perfectly written masterworks. All the movements of both symphonies were a joy with marvelous melodies and orchestration. But the orchestra performed both symphonies so well that most people looked at each other with that kind of “wow” gleam in their eyes, and smiled. It wasn’t that this orchestra suddenly got so much better, because it has been quite good for some time; but it gave an extraordinary performance clearly and concisely led under the careful control of Alexander Platt.

The orchestra is at the top of its game. The violin section played cleanly, fully with passion and sensitivity. The violins have never sounded better. The rest of the strings performed wonderfully in beautiful balance and dynamics among the different sections. The woodwinds, which usually are superb, played better than ever. This woodwind section easily could be part of most major orchestras. The brass section was brash and bold. All sections clicked in an aerobic orchestral workout.

The orchestra opened with Schubert’s Fifth, a gorgeous symphony with all those gorgeous melodies; it was perfectly suited for a spring concert. The orchestra played the piece with a lightness, sweetness and elegance from a bouncy first movement to the hilarious romp in the fourth movement.

Platt said that he wanted his orchestra to knock themselves out in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth; they did. This concert performance will go down in LSO history as one of the great ones. But I think this foreshadows what is to come if people strongly support this orchestra.

—Terry Rindfleisch, Music Critic La Crosse Tribune, June 12, 2011

2010

Sunday afternoon brought Alexander Platt’s…—Alan Becker, February 15, 2010, South Florida Classical ReviewSunday afternoon brought Alexander Platt’s…—Alan Becker, February 15, 2010, South Florida Classical Review

Sunday afternoon brought Alexander Platt’s final appearance as the Boca Raton Symphonia’s principal conductor. Next year Phillipe Entremont takes the helm of what has become one of South Florida’s premier orchestral ensembles. Platt can take great pride in his accomplishments with the orchestra since his appointment in 2007, and the good news is he will return to join the Boca Symphonia in the newly created post of principal guest gonductor.

Sunday’s well-attended concert at the Saint Andrews School introduced the audience to Samuel Barber’s ebullient Capricorn Concerto for flute, oboe, trumpet and strings. Capricorn, was the name of Barber’s home in Mt. Kisco, New York where he lived with his partner and fellow composer Gian Carlo Menotti for many years.

Written in 1944 when the composer was serving in the army, it’s a neo-Classical piece in three pithy movements, and presents a golden opportunity for the three soloists to strut their stuff. This they did, in glorious spirit and sound, with Jeffrey Kaye’s deft trumpet playing, the sprightly flute of Jeanne Tarrant, and the supple oboe tones of Erica Yamada. Barber’s Adagio for Strings was added to the program in memory of the recent tragic events in Haiti

Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor is actually the composer’s first in order of composition but the second to be published. It’s a gem of sustained lyricism and delicate filigree passagework; the orchestra, however is given little to do of interest beyond accompaniment.

Italian pianist Alessio Bax, who took first prize at the Leeds Competition and the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in Japan gave a refined, gentle performance, carefully caressing the keyboard. His tonal spectrum was of enchanting beauty, especially in the Larghetto where time seemed to be suspended on soft string chords and shifting harmonies. The final Allegro vivace began almost imperceptibly, with its subsequent permutations unfolding with great charm, including the rhythm of the Polish mazurka. With the orchestra’s smaller string section, woodwind solos stood out with greater clarity than usual.

Platt concluded his program much as he had begun three years before, with the 22-year-old Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 in D major. Called the “Paris” Symphony, because of the composer’s six-month stay in 1778, it reveals none of the tragedy that befell the composer when his mother took ill and died during his stay. The music, as if divorced from the personal happenings in his life at the time, is full of the joy of creativity, and his discovery of the colors available to him in expanding his orchestral palette. Unlike in Salzburg, clarinets were now available to him here, and this is his first symphony to make use of them.

The strings sounded transparent and crystal clear in Platt’s well-shaped performance. If an occasional lapse in unanimity of attack did show up, it was of minor import in view of an overall interpretation that served Mozart very well. Even the original extended Andante did not seem a note too long this day.

—by Alan Becker, 2/15/10, South Florida Classical Review

2009

2009 Reviews

“Platt led his orchestra with enthusiasm and great care so as to meld perfectly in interpretive unity. This will be the music director’s final season and he will be greatly missed.”

—Alan Becker, South Florida Classical Review; Boca Raton Symphonia, November 9, 2009

“Conductor Alexander Platt demonstrated why his soon-to-end tenure at the helm of the orchestra has been such a good one: Fresh, even risky programming, and committed performances….What Platt has created is another decent Mendelssohn symphony, more on the order of the Reformation rather than the Scottish or Italian Symphonies, yet clearly well worth doing, and he deserves great credit for thinking of it and for having the courage to try it. It adds a good early Romantic score to the repertoire of smaller orchestras, and allows some worthy music that would otherwise be overlooked to have new life.”

—Gregory Stepanich, PalmBeachArtsPaper.com, Boca Raton Symphonia, November 9, 2009

“Most of the excitement of “La Tragedie de Carmen”, was generated in the pit, where Alexander Platt made his small band cook, trading the lushness of a big string section for spare effects….”

—Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2009

PLATT, WAUKESHA SYMPHONY END SEASON WELL —“A low groaning of cellos and basses opens Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.2, which ended the Waukesha Symphony’s season Tuesday evening….Alexander Platt conducted with a great appreciation of the melodic ravishment of this music, and it was ravishing. But he heard more than that, so his players could deliver more and we could hear more. I started to say that he made us hear its architecture, but this epic work compares more properly to planetary forces. I heard in this very committed reading the slow, inevitable and logical movement of tectonic plates.”

—Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, May 20, 2009

“Peter Brook’s “La Tragedie de Carmen” is not your grandfather’s “Carmen”, nor, at several points, Bizet’s, for that matter. For the central production of its spring festival, Chicago Opera Theater is presenting Brook’s 1981 chamber re-casting of Bizet’s celebrated opera, which received a vivid, vocally impressive performance Sunday afternoon at the Harris Theater….Alexander Platt conducted the chamber ensemble with incisiveness and flexibility, bringing out the clever felicities of Constant’s re-scoring, and providing firm dramatic momentum, the opera unfolding in a seamless arc.”

—Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review, May 11, 2009

“Most of Bizet’s best-loved musical numbers are still there, tended to with verve and style by a crisp ensemble under resident conductor Alexander Platt….”

—John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2009

CHICAGO OPERA THEATER’S “CARMEN” MAKES BIZET LESS BUSY —“Those with a passion for the minimalist aesthetic will be enthralled by “La Tragedie de Carmen” — the cut-to-the-chase version of the Bizet classic now in a Chicago Opera Theater production at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance….As reworked by the 20th century Romanian composer Marius Constant, and adapted by the French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and British director Peter Brook, this experiment in condensation and modernization, first produced in 1981, has a running time of just 80 minutes, a cast of seven characters, no chorus, no dancing, and a chamber orchestra under the fleet direction of Alexander Platt…”

—Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times, May 3, 2009


Artymiw, Shostakovich shine at Boca Symphonia—Area concertgoers haven’t had enough opportunities in the past 10 years or so to hear live performances hereabouts of the symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich, an important group of works whose best examples are likely to swell in stature as the years go by.

Now they can add another one to that small list, as Alexander Platt and the Boca Raton Symphonia gave a vivid, vigorous reading Sunday afternoon of the Russian composer’s Ninth Symphony (in E-flat, Op. 70), a short, chamber-style work exactly suited to the size and heft of the Symphonia. It could be argued that Platt’s programming of the piece, and his group’s fine execution of it, made a good case for smaller orchestras everywhere to add it to their usual stock of Mendelssohns, early Beethovens and Borodins.

Though the Ninth, written in 1945, doesn’t compare in size and force to works such as the Fifth or even the Tenth (which got a credible performance a couple years back from the Lynn University Philharmonia), the Ninth is still quite difficult, with virtuoso-style chops needed for the violins and woodwinds in particular. That they were up to the challenge was apparent from the beginning, with the flutes throwing out all the sparkle and wit of this side of Shostakovich, and with a remarkably good high-stepping moment from a solo horn.

Platt’s tempo was swift and strong in the first movement, and nicely paced in the slower second movement, which despite an unfortunate cracked high clarinet note in the first pages had the right kind of moodiness and tension that this music demands, with the strings especially poignant as they took up the melodic burden. The woodwinds and trumpeter Jeffrey Kaye stood out in the impish third movement, as did the rest of the brass in the short fanfares of the fourth.

Some fine solo bassoon work led evocatively into the fifth-movement finale, which Platt began at quite a slow tempo, giving him and the orchestra plenty of room to wind up to the dash and exhilaration of the symphony’s closing pages. This was a sharp, smart, muscular interpretation of this terrific piece, and putting it on the program as the closing work made an even better argument for it.

The first half of the concert, held at the Roberts Theater on the campus of St. Andrew’s School, featured the American pianist Lydia Artymiw in the Piano Concerto No. 21 (in C, K. 467) of Mozart. Nearly five minutes were spent on stage in seriocomic fashion before the work began as Kaye, a technician and finally Artymiw herself labored to fix a recalcitrant music stand on the piano. Fortunately, this glitch didn’t spoil the listening mood for the audience, which is good because a subtle, elegant performance of the concerto soon unfolded.

Artymiw has a large, pretty sound and the technique to go with it, and she also showed she has good taste. One of the special beauties of the opening movement is its frequent mixing of major and minor keys, and in the first such such solo example, Artymiw made the most of it, lingering just enough on it to give it a good measure of Mozartean poetry. That provided excellent contrast with the even strings of sixteenth notes had to spin out for the rest of the movement, and it also hinted where the famous Andante would go.

That movement was notable for the deeply sensitive accompaniment of the orchestra; on the second go-round of the main theme, the pulsing strings were almost inaudible, which made for a lovely effect and also allowed Artymiw full rein to stress the embellishments. In the finale, Artymiw played with a gentle sparkle, and the Symphonia was appropriately restrained until the final measures. It was an admirable partnership of a fine soloist and a sensitive orchestra, and both served Mozart well.

The program opened with another work in C major, the First Symphony of Beethoven (Op. 21). Despite the last-minute loss of one of the first violins, the string sound here was full and confident, and the Symphonia gave the Beethoven a rendition that was sinewy in the first and third movements and sweetly charming in the second, without being too precious.

The finale was businesslike and less pointedly jokey than some performances I’ve heard, and it worked successfully. This reading was a perfect example of how exactly suited orchestras of the Symphonia’s size are for Beethoven’s first symphonic essays, and what it cannot match in a full-size group in sheer power it redeems in the inner strength and clarity with which it presents the music.

The most important aspect of this group’s work is its fresh programming, and the fifth-season brochure that was available Sunday promised more of the same next season, including a performance of the Capricorn Concerto of Samuel Barber and the Violin Concerto of Ned Rorem. Concertgoers by now should confidently expect that these works will be presented with respect and thorough preparation, and a larger eye toward expanding the repertory in general. www.bocasymphonia.org.

—By Greg Stepanich


Rousing Performance—Mendelssohn, Ravel, Larsen and Tchaikovsky in South Florida—The Boca Raton Symphonia is doing some of the most arresting programming in South Florida. Principal conductor and artistic advisor Alexander Platt imaginatively combines rarely heard scores with emotionally compelling contemporary pieces and a smattering of more familiar repertoire. Platt, a discerning interpreter of wide ranging musical vistas, was in great form on 8 February 2009 as he led the ensemble (now in its fourth season) in a typically eclectic program in the Roberts Theater at Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Florida, USA .

Platt’s clearly delineated, precise baton technique drew strongly accented, adept performances from his highly polished chamber orchestra. Opening with a vigorous, tautly gauged performance of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Platt was equally at home in the lyrical impressionism of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte (‘Pavane for a Dead Princess’)—a gossamer performance that cast its hypnotic spell.

Minnesota-based composer Libby Larsen conceived her setting of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese in 1993 for the illustrious American soprano Arlene Auger. Like Peter Lieberson’s recent Neruda Songs, Larsen’s six song cycle revels in sensuous orchestral colors, strings and harp painting evocative backdrops to the often high lying vocal arioso. The score begins with the ringing of chimes as prelude to I thought once how Theocritus had sung, as the writer anticipates death. At the conclusion of the final setting How do I love thee? chimes again ring out as the singer intones the final line ‘I shall but love thee better after death’. Larsen effectively mirrors Browning’s volatile moods (and sense of doubt) with jittery orchestral figurations and wild leaps in the vocal line.

Soprano Nancy Allen Lundy successfully met the composer’s formidable vocal demands. Her beautiful, luminous timbre and fearless high register were matched by a pure, firmly focused core of tone and exquisite word painting and textual clarity. A veteran opera conductor (and currently resident conductor of the enterprising Chicago Opera Theater), Platt led a soaring accompaniment, bridging ethereal orchestral tone portraits with the mercurial vocal writing.

Platt concluded the matinée performance with Tchaikovsky’s rarely played Orchestral Suite No 1 in D minor, Op 43. (This was probably the work’s first performance in Florida.) Composed after the composer’s Fourth Symphony, brass fanfares of a similar nature appear early in the piece. The specter of Swan Lake seems to haunt this balletic music. Indeed the Divertimento movement (a sentimental waltz) and concluding Gavotte could well have appeared in one of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores. Although the charming Marche miniature, a favorite encore piece of conductor Arthur Fiedler, is fairly well known, the remainder of the work remains a rarity. This is all the more surprising since the six movement suite is replete with typically Tchaikovskian melodic beauty and opulent orchestration. The Intermezzo recalls the sentimentality and melancholia of the slow movements in the Serenade for Strings and Souvenir de Florence while the Scherzo is an invigorating miniature in the manner of similar movements from the composer’s early symphonies.

Platt changed the order of the movements, resulting in greater contrasts of mood, character and instrumentation. The Boca Raton Symphonia responded to his superbly coordinated leadership with a colorful, rhythmically crisp, vivacious and rousing performance. Led by concertmaster Misha Vitenson (first violin of the Amernet String Quartet), the orchestra’s silken strings had a field day with Tchaikovsky’s lush textures and beguiling melodies.

—Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA

Alexander Platt conducts the Boca Raton Symphonia in Beethoven’s Symphony No 1, Shostakovich’s Symphony No 9 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21 (with soloist Lydia Artymiw) on 22 March 2009. For information, see www.bocasymphonia.org


BOCA RATON—Fresh programming enlivens Boca Symphonia concert —At a time when the sound of belts tightening across the land would seem to invite cultural groups to play it safe, you have to hand it to the Boca Raton Symphonia for putting art first.

On Sunday afternoon at St. Andrew’s School, the chamber orchestra that’s now in its fourth season of concerts offered a fine work by a contemporary American composer as well as a rarely heard piece by Tchaikovsky on a program that also featured two briefer favorites. It was an impressive afternoon of music, intelligently conceived and expertly played, and while the level of orchestral finish was not consistently high, the freshness of the programming more than compensated for it.

Soprano Nancy Allen Lundy was the soloist with the orchestra and conductor Alexander Platt in a setting by American composer Libby Larsen of six poems from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets From the Portuguese. Larsen is currently in the middle of a two-year residency at Florida Atlantic University, and is composing several new works for the college’s ensembles that will premiere in April.

Platt called the sonnet settings—written 20 years ago for the late Arleen Auger—Larsen’s “masterpiece,” and the work has all the more distinctive features of Larsen’s aesthetic: a sharp ear for good orchestral color, respect for English prosody in setting words to music, and a mild harmonic framework that gives her music a sense of geniality. Larsen knows how to frame a poem and make it come alive as a song, and that might be the most attractive thing about these pieces. Here, the singer’s voice isn’t simply one among many other instruments, as it often is contemporary classical music, but a graceful being apart.

Lundy’s voice is creamy, pleasant and rather intimate, and well-suited for these pieces, which are not vocally extravagant. On a line such as The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years (from the first song, I Once Thought How Theocritus Had Sung), which Larsen sets to a bluesy melodic line, Lundy conveyed a sense of matter-of-fact confession quite well, an effect aided by her good diction.

There’s something of the flavor of Debussy in this score (particularly the second song, My Letters) and even more of Samuel Barber (especially the sixth song, How Do I Love Thee?). The orchestra was sensitive to Lundy throughout, but not averse to exploring the more richly orchestrated pages, giving the cycle flashes of instrumental vividness as the poems explored Barrett Browning’s growing confidence in her love.

This season’s Boca Symphonia concerts have as their theme the work and influence of Tchaikovsky, and for the second half of Sunday’s program, Platt led the group in the First Orchestral Suite (in D minor, Op. 43), which as he rightly said is the most obscure of that composer’s four suites. Platt switched the order of movements three and five, placing the Scherzo before the Miniature March instead of after it.

There is some very fine music in this suite, written in 1878, and its neglect is hard to fathom. The large audience at the Roberts Theater loudly acclaimed it, and a repeat of the fourth-movement march served as the afternoon’s encore.

There were some rough spots here and there, such as the intonation of the brasses with the bassoon in the A major chord just before the violins offer the main theme of the introduction, but overall there was a good deal to admire, including the lovely lightness of the march, the exciting texture of the strings in the busy first-movement fugue (Tchaikovsky was a theory teacher early on), and the intensity with which the orchestra played the long lines of the Intermezzo.

The concert opened with the Hebrides Overture (or Fingal’s Cave, Op. 26) of Mendelssohn, an orchestral perennial that got a very swift, almost too-pushed performance as Platt sought to stress the firepower rather than the Victorian probity of the composer. And this was a reading with an abundance of energy.

Next came Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess, which had some horn slippage at the higher end of the melody, but in general came across as luminous and deeply felt. The piece, and the concert, were dedicated to the memory of the bassoonist Arthur Weisberg, a veteran educator, performer and composer who died last month of pancreatic cancer at 77.

A mention should also be made about Platt’s approach when he talks to the audience. He is a fascinating speaker whose monologues on the music to be made have a kind of dinner-party stream of consciousness that give good insight not just into what the music will be all about, but about how Platt approaches it.

On Sunday, he discussed his listening habits (all 11 discs of the complete Mendelssohn choral music, beautiful stuff that is never played) and displayed his grasp of musical and intellectual history (Wagner’s anti-Semitic writings, Tchaikovsky’s post-marriage emotional crisis), but mostly gave the impression of a man deeply committed to his orchestra and his art.

For its next concert Sunday, March 22, the Boca Symphonia and Platt will be joined by American pianist Lydia Artymiw for the Piano Concerto No. 21 (in C, K. 467), of Mozart. Also on the program are two symphonies: Beethoven’s First (in C, Op. 21) and Shostakovich’s Ninth (in E-flat, Op. 70). 2:30 pm, Roberts Theater, St. Andrew’s School, Boca Raton.

Call 376-3848, 888-426-5577, or visit the orchestra’s Website.

—Greg Stepanich

Waukesha Symphony evokes glamour of movies— Imagine sitting in a trendy Hollywood cafe in the 1940s or ‘50s and watching the stars go by. Hearing the front end of Sunday’s Waukesha Symphony was a little like that.

Korngold’s “Captain Blood” overture? There goes Errol Flynn, with all his dash and swagger. David Raksin’s theme for “Laura”? Lush and gorgeous as Gene Tierney. Max Steiner’s “Tara’s Theme” from “Gone with the Wind”? That would be someone grand and dignified—Gregory Peck, maybe.

None of it meant a darned thing, but it was all entertaining and even a little thrilling. Korngold’s 1945 Violin Concerto, which draws heavily from his movie music from the 1930s, aspired to more and entertained less.

Alexander Platt presided lovingly over all of this music and over his very well prepared Waukesha Symphony. All the glitzy Hollywood music set the stage for the centerpiece of the program, Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3(1936). This symphony is in the same idiom, but its sentiments are not whipped up to order, and its forms were made for attentive ears gathered in concert halls. This is not background music.

A simple Russian Orthodox chant heard at the outset underpins the whole symphony. In the first movement, a blazing fanfare of a first theme seems worlds apart from the dreamily lyrical second. But when Rachmaninoff knots them up in the development, you can no longer tell them apart. He untangles them miraculously in the recapitulation, and then lets us hear the chant one more time. In a pleasing flash of retrospective understanding, you can hear how closely related they are and how the other themes derive from the chant.

The orchestra, at the top of its game, responded instantly and whole-heartedly to Platt’s expressive flex and dynamic nuance. Nothing about this music is obvious, and everything within it is subtle and complex, but Platt and the WSO got to its brooding, secret heart.

This concert took place in Shattuck Auditorium at Carroll University.

—Tom Strini of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Posted: Jan. 25, 2009

Radiant Rachmaninoff— Though the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra’s January 25th concert had the apt title “Rachmaninoff & Hollywood,” Maestro Alexander Platt also dubbed it the “diaspora concert” —all the works spanned the war-torn ‘30s and ‘40s and most of the composers had escaped totalitarianism’s tight grip on Europe. The concert opened with a spirited performance of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Overture to Captain Blood (1935), one of several Erroll Flynn swashbucklers Korngold scored for Hollywood. The WSO’s brass was especially effective in this rousing piece of classic film music. This was followed by music from 1944’s Laura (David Raskin), wherein the WSO’s strings dominated in sumptuous sonority. Then came music from 1939’s Gone With the Wind, featuring the famous “Tara Theme,” by Max Steiner, another fine example of mood-setting. Violinist Lara St. John was the soloist for Korngold’s Violin Concerto (1945), a lush and challenging work given a bravura performance and superb reading.

The second half of the concert consisted of a work Platt admitted has been a favorite his whole life—Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44 (1936). Apart from a brilliant use of the orchestra that is quite striking in its own right, perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the Symphony is the music’s radiance—lyrical, dramatic, extremely colorful. The first movement requires expansive warmth, the second enchantment and fantasy, and the third an outpouring of exultation and jubilation; and the whole work tinged with nostalgia. The performance made Platt’s acknowledgement of affection for the Rachmaninoff Third superfluous, for the WSO has seldom been as tight, as harmonious, as precise, or indeed, as radiant. —John Jahn – Shepherd Express

2008

2008 SAW MANY HIGH POINTS

2008 SAW MANY HIGH POINTS— “It’s midseason in music and dance, but year-end on the calendar…..The WAUKESHA SYMPHONY does not so much compete with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra as live in a parallel musical universe. Music Director ALEXANDER PLATT has a knack for odd, intruiging programs, and his pickup orchestra plays with uncommon zeal. The WSO’s chamber-sized concerts in the chapel of St.John’s Northwestern Military Academy are particular pleasures.”

—Tom Strini, Music and Dance Critic, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 20, 2008

GRANDLY ROMANTIC: Vadim Gluzman onstage with the Boca Symphonia— The great Russian school of violin playing has produced many distinguished artists…….Vadim Gluzman is truly phenomenal…..On 7 December 2008 Gluzman turned Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto into freshly minted gold at the opening concert of the Boca Raton Symphonia….Gluzman boldly reinvented this thrice familiar opus, realizing Tchaikovsky’s sweeping originality and melodic glories. The Boca Raton Symphonia’s new principal conductor Alexander Platt offered keenly projected, supple support…..the thirty-two member Palm Beach County-based chamber orchestra made a strong showing under Platt’s invigorating direction. The conductor captured the intricate contrasts and interplay of instrumental choirs in Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto in E-flat major, the 20th-century master’s modernist concerto grosso. Drawing transparent textures from a reduced ensemble, Platt gave equal weight to the score’s bracing neo-classical astringencies and primitive folkloric elements (in the mode of Petrouchka, Le Sacre du Printemps and Les Noces). The light and shadow, wit and pathos of Stravinsky’s inedible work were vividly revealed.

In Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K.504 (“Prague”), Platt emblazoned the Beethovenesque drama beneath the music’s genial high spirits. The strings wove the bewitching melody of the Andante with silky filigree. Platt’s taut, no-nonsense pacing of the Presto finale brought the symphony to an effervescent conclusion.”

—Lawrence Budmen, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/17/08

GLUZMAN’S TCHAIKOVSKY IGNITES BOCA SYMPHONIA OPENER— “The Ukranian-born Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman gave a blazing performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto Sunday afternoon in Boca Raton, using the very violin once owned by the man to whom the work was dedicated in 1878. Gluzman’s performance at the season’s first concert by the Boca Raton Symphonia on the 1690 Stradavarius that belonged to Leopold Auer…..had it all: beautiful tone, flawless technique, a hell-for-leather approach to its virtuosic demands, and a heartfelt identification with its most soulful moments.

Conductor Alexander Platt and his orchestra got a serious workout with Gluzman, finding themselves constantly on their toes as the soloist played with tempi and dynamics. But they did an admirable job of doing so…..Platt in general is an involved conductor whose immersion in the music is plain to see, ad that enthusiasm gives his podium work a freshness and liveliness that brings the audience along with him on a journey of discovery. This is a good trait for a music director to have, and it augurs hopeful things for the Boca Symphonia.”

—Greg Stepanich, Music Ciritic, The Palm Beach Post, December 8, 2008


Waukesha Symphony Orchestra: New work for bassoon is intriguing— “Russell Platt’s new Concerto for Bassoon and Strings is a lock to becoming a standard work for bassoonists aspiring to more than sideman status in classical music……Alexander Platt, Russell’s twin brother and music director of the WSO, conducted with great zeal and understanding…..throughout the Concerto, Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” (transcribed for bassoon and strings), Mozart’s Divertimento in D and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Platt knew where to put the stress to bring out the ache in the harmony, how to express the arc of the phrase and where to spring off the beat to make the music dance.”

—Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel November 17, 2008

WSO excels in tough program— The electric charge that soloist Andrew Armstrong put into nearly every note of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 on Tuesday was a function of technical skill and interpretive decision. He put a little accent and a little staccato on nearly every note. He favored fast tempos, and he tilted toward louder dynamics. The result was an energetic and exciting Third, with thousands of notes flying into the hall like so many vigorously thrown darts.

And I wish he’d listened more deeply to the Waukesha Symphony and how conductor Alexander Platt built Rachmaninoff’s climactic surges and how Platt and his orchestra made them break at the crest of the wave. I’m thinking especially of the falling theme at the start of the second movement, which builds from a lyrical oboe solo to a great orchestral outburst. The effect was not only passionate, but also elegant. I think such elegance is essential to Rachmaninoff. Armstrong’s treatment of similar material was powerful, but crude by comparison. He sometimes banged on the piano, and that misses the point of Rachmaninoff.

The Waukesha Symphony, which has a number of new faces in its ranks, has never sounded better, at least since I’ve been listening. The WSO aced a difficult program, which in addition to the concerto, comprised Dvorak’s “Carnival” Overture, Tchaikovsky’s “Hamlet” (for string orchestra) and R. Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.”

In every case, the WSO went beyond accuracy and deep into the spirit of the piece: the riotous color and tumult of “Carnival,” the speech-rhythms and lyrical rhetoric of the gorgeous but rarely played “Hamlet,” and the antic, gestural extravagance of “Till Eulenspiegel.” Bold, justified confidence bolstered the many exposed solos in this repertoire, with especially notable contributions by horn principal Wes Hatch, concertmaster Robin Petzold and clarinetist Dan Roberdeau. But the first bow must go to Platt, for demanding so much from his part-time suburban orchestra and for getting what he demanded.

This program took place at Carroll University’s Shattuck Music Center.

—TOM STRINI Journal Sentinel music critic Posted: Oct. 14, 2008


Reduced Waukesha Symphony gets Haydn’s humor—The Waukesha Symphony, miniaturized and in top form, played Sunday afternoon at the beautiful chapel of St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield.

Twenty-four players sounded just right for Haydn’s Symphonies Nos. 80 and 81, composed for Prince Esterhazy’s Hungarian estate. Music was in flux in Haydn’s earlier years, with certain aspects of Baroque music holding on, and the gracious, decorative galant contrasting with the more melodramatic sturm und drang.

Music director Alexander Platt seems to hear Haydn mixing and matching styles in mischievous ways in these symphonies. Blunt, village-band orchestration puts a comic, lowbrow tilt on the usually stately minuet in No. 80.

In the 81st, the onrushing, proto-Romantic D-minor opening theme hits the immovable object of the dopiest imaginable ländler folk dance tune. It’s supposed to be the second theme, but it’s truncated to a single phrase. It was like Laurence Olivier bumping into Adam Sandler on the set of “Macbeth.” Platt and his players sold that joke, and the one about everything being on the wrong beat in the last movement, and the one about the heavy, determined tread of the minuet theme going on tiptoe after the double bar.

Sometimes, the WSO string sections have trouble staying together in fast passages. Sunday, Platt had whittled the orchestra down to its best, and they were accurate and sensitive without fail. The first violins—all four of them—especially impressed with their singing tone in the operatic adagio of No. 81. It’s not enough to be funny; with Haydn, one must be funny and beautiful.

Mathieu Dufour, the principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony and a frequent guest in Waukesha, was the soloist in John Corigliano’s “Voyage” and Mozart’s Flute Quartet No. 1.

The quartet, originally for flute, violin, viola and cello, sounded completely convincing as a little concerto for flute and string orchestra. The flute part comprises virtuoso flights, which show off the player’s agility and speed, and long cantabile lines that show off breath control and sensitivity of phrasing. Dufour brought impeccable elegance to both.

Dufour’s Mozart sound was clear and pure. He applied a very different sound and sensibility to Corigliano’s one-movement work. “Voyage” is an idyll, a reverie of shifting, overlapping sonorities. In “Voyage” and, as an encore, in Debussy’s “Syrinx,” the flute was dreamy, sensual, seductive and mysterious.

—By TOM STRINI Journal Sentinel music critic Posted: April 6, 2008

Boca Raton Symphonia puts on vivid, crisp performance. A glimpse into the future of the Boca Raton Symphonia was on display Sunday at the Roberts Theater when recently appointed Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Alexander Platt led the ensemble in a program that traversed the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Platt is a strong orchestral technician and lively musical presence. His performance of Haydn’s Symphony No.97 was especially buoyant and invigorating. Platt’s approach was an appealing combination of lithe, transparent contemporary performance practice and an older school of Haydn interpretation that emphasized greater musical weight and spaciousness.

In the second movement Adagio, the conductor enchantingly projected the embroidered filigree of the theme and variations without exaggeration. In a grandly aristocratic Menuetto that was definitely not for dancing, Platt delightfully illuminated the humor of the unexpected drum rolls.

Vivacious, incisive string articulation in the final Presto brought the symphony to a sparkling conclusion. The orchestra’s precise ensemble and superb playing recalled the best years of the Florida Philharmonic.

—Lawrence Budmen, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 2/11/08

2007

2007 Reviews

Boca Symphonia. Under a new name, and with its new permanent director, Alexander Platt, at the helm, Boca’s large chamber orchestra demonstrated great subtlety and finesse in an ambitious program in November that included beautiful readings of Bach’s O Mensch, bewein dein Sonde gruss in an arrangement by Max Reger, Mahler’s Bach suite, and the first persuasive rendition I’ve heard in years of the Reformation Symphony of Mendelssohn. Roberta Rust was a fine soloist in the Schumann Concerto, and overall, this concert showed that this group has made real progress since its founding.

—Greg Stepanich, Palm Beach Post, 12/30/07

Platt makes charming debut with Bach.

The Boca Raton Symphonia entered its third season with another important step in its development, the ascendance of Alexander Platt.

For his debut as the Boca Raton Symphonia’s principal conductor and artistic adviser, Platt charmingly connected the dots in a themed tribute to J.S. Bach—without actually playing Bach.

So to speak. Though two short Bach compositions were on Sunday’s menu at the Roberts Theatre, both were later arrangements by admirers of the 18th century composer’s work. Meanwhile, Platt noted, the ghost of Bach hovers over the program’s main items by personal friends Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn.

Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor featured a generally sparkling guest performance by Lynn University’s Roberta Rust, though the impressive clarity of her passagework grew mushy at times during the opening movement’s cadenza.

Platt led the chamber orchestra through Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 in D, the Reformation, that found both quiet reflectiveness and Pentecostal exuberance, moving easily from the early movements’ interpolations of the Lutheran Dresden Amen toward the large-scale choral fervor of the closing theme, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

The opening Suite for Small Orchestra, arranged by Mahler from Bach’s 1067 and 1068 orchestral overtures, was a clever shakedown for the Symphonia’s season debut. Trills fluttered lightly through the strings at the outset, giving way to a scampering flute both in the overture and through the Badinerie of the second section.

Platt carefully sculpted the soft elegance of the famous Air, but cohesion suffered at times in the lively closing Gavottes.

Following intermission, Platt served up what he called a “uniquely obscure” century-old arrangement, by German composer Max Reger, of Bach’s setting of the Lutheran hymn O Mankind, Bewail Your Great Sins. The Symphonia’s violas rose to shine in this short, reverent piece, hovering expressively over the deeper tones of cello and bass.

As for the important steps, the Symphonia is moving forward in a deliberate, careful manner. Taking up residence in the modestly sized Roberts Theatre a year ago was a smart move that matched good acoustics with the ensemble’s audience base.

Platt’s appointment brings focus and continuity to the artistic endeavor without—as the conductor put it—bringing in a dictator to superimpose a vision.

Platt is conducting two Symphonia programs this season; the next is Feb. 10.

Company president Harry Shuford announced Sunday that intentions are for Platt to conduct all five of the Connoisseur Series programs at the Roberts.

—Jack Zink |Theater/Music Writer | South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com | 11/13/07


Ensemble matures at impressive pace

It’s the best thing I’ve heard the Boca Raton Symphonia play.

Max Reger’s arrangement of the Bach chorale, O Mensch bewein dein Sünde gross (O man, bewail thy grievous sin), is a mere seven minutes long, written for strings alone. Yet for its season opener Sunday afternoon, the Symphonia lavished on it not only soulful grief but also quiet elegance and unusually warm sound.

Responding remarkably to new Principal Conductor Alexander Platt, players shaped the little-known piece into their most expressive and smoothly polished playing, the sum of many excellent points in a thoughtful, inventive program that included the national anthem and Bach, Schumann and Mendelssohn.

Platt conducted the Reger without a baton, shaping every measure with his hands. It came right after new board chairman Harry Shuford announced that Platt, who will lead only one other concert this season, would conduct all five concerts in 2008-09, far more than expected.

Guest pianist Roberta Rust gave another of the performances that stood out as remarkable. Making her Symphonia debut, the Lynn University Conservatory of Music professor lent a lyrical grace and velvety warmth to Schumann’s beloved Piano Concerto in A Minor.

There were a few keyboard splotches and orchestra uncertainties, tempo shimmies and breath-holding spots. But Rust lived and breathed the Schumann. Her powerful connection to the work was clear in her fluent singing and beautifully weighted tone. She draws you into the work’s strength of character as well as its distinctively solemn joy. Even after the music ends, she makes you want to hear more.

In a lovely, romanticized Bach Suite for Small Orchestra arranged by Mahler, and the triumphant concluding Mendelssohn Symphony No. 5 (Reformation), it was clear: The Symphonia has grown. A 3-year-old, but not a toddler, it is maturing at a surprising, but gratifying pace.

—Sharon McDaniel | Palm Beach Post Music Writer | Tuesday, November 13, 2007


“Platt themed [the Waukesha Symphony concert] around British music composed during World War II. He opened with the four stormy Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes”, an opera about social breakdown in a fishing village. He ended it with the Vaughan Williams Symphony No.5, a hymn to transcendent reality……..The Vaughan Williams was pure bliss, played with enormous confidence and unimpeachable understanding of the aesthetic.”

—Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, October 3, 2007

“Mr Platt’s arrangement (of David Del Tredici’s FINAL ALICE) retained the work’s epic sweep and buoyant fantasy. If his ardent direction made one wish to hear him conduct the original version, it was no insult to the ingenuity of his orchestrations…Mr Platt deserves praise for providing a workable alternative.”

—Steve Smith, The New York Times, 9/3/2007


Opera Canada/Banff Centre for the Arts; Frobisher

After the impressive success of Filumena, expectations for John Murrell and John Estacio’s second opera were extremely high, making Frobisher an even bigger challenge. As with Filumena, Frobisher was a joint venture between Calgary Opera and the Banff Centre for the Arts. When it opened in Calgary in January, it played to full houses but mixed reviews, including the review in Opera Canada. Whereas Filumena is a straightforward story opera, Frobisher is an ideas opera in which the narrative element takes second place to a complex web of suggestive dramatic juxtapositions that serve the function of plot. The result is a storyline that in its initial run tended to come across as sometimes obscure or morally preachy, depending on one’s point of view.

While the opera’s title suggests it is about the historical charactor of John Frobisher and his search for the Northwest Passage, the opera is really about the nature of human striving—its heroic element, how the pursuit of a goal can be all-consuming and, finally, whether the pursuit, however noble it may be, is ultimately wise or the best focus for a life.

These fundamental human questions are given dramatic voice across time through people living now, living in the past and, in a sense, living in the future. For most of the opera, the heroism in striving for a goal—the central dramatic leitmotif—is embodied in two main characters, Michael and Anna, who are trying to make a film about Frobisher. But the opera also includes appearances by the dead Frobisher as a spirit, his engagement with Queen Elizabeth I, and also the spirit of Michael, who dies early in the opera. All these are mediated through Anna’s consciousness.

For those who saw the initial run, the central question in the Banff production [seen Aug. 8] was: would the creative team make any changes in light of the Calgary experience? The answer seems to have been: yes, a few. The first act played almost exactly as it did in January, finishing with an impressive finale that, in the Banff production, was even more thrilling and humorous than in the initial performance.

The principle reason for this extra zip was conductor Alexander Platt’s very different conception of the scene. In Banff, the tempi were notably quicker, the rhythms perkier and the sentimental aspect [while still present] much more muted. The sense in Banff was of a considerably more modern opera in its musical sensibility; with this came a more dramatic unfolding of the story. Platt has a very good way with the pastiche elements in the score, and the quasi-Gershwin sections came across as musically much more effective than in Calgary. There were other measurable gains, notably at the end, where the important psychological time shift to the present was more successfully realized. The critically important duet between Michael and Anna shortly before the end also had more force and provided the needed emotional climax.

A slight tweaking of the narrative line in the second act clarified aspects of the story that were unclear in the first run. For me, at least, this revised version, both as opera and in performance, was considerably more compelling than the January premiere.

The singers, while not generally as experienced as those in Calgary, were nevertheless impressive, particularly the three male leads—Thomas Macleay vocally and dramatically a first class Michael, Benjamin Covey a full-voiced Frobisher and Andrew Love an effective Wagman, the Hollywood producer. Christina Tannous was an appealing Anna and fully conveyed the complexities of the character, although her voice tended to excessive vibrato when the dynamic level rose. In all, however, hers was a very commendable account of a very difficult role. Both Heather Jewson as Anna’s mother, Jessica, and Leslie Davis as Queen Elizabeth I projected their roles with firm vocal tone and clearly conceived dramatic interpretations.

Kelly Robinson’s stage action was similar in general outline to the Calgary presentation, but small touches here and there made the action more believable and better paced. The humorous element was notably more pointed and clever. The orchestra was fully prepared and delivered Estacio’s complex and richly melodic score with understanding and high technical polish. The sense of “Opera As Theatre,” the mantra of Banff’s summer program, could be felt everywhere. While the opera is fundamentally very different from Filumena, Frobisher in its Banff incarnation proved no weak sister to its elder sibling and constitutes an impressive accomplishment for both the opera’s creators and performers.

—Kenneth DeLong August, 2007


“As the second presentation of its 2007 season, Chicago Opera Theater presented BLUEBEARD and ERWARTUNG in an often revelatory pairing…Conductor Alexander Platt drew a thrilling orchestral performance from his players, meticulous in observing the myriad detail in this difficult music; those oscillating flutes in BLUEBEARD have rarely sounded so eerie. An extended ovation required that the company’s final bow be taken after the house lights had been turned on—an enthusiastic endorsement of these two pivotal musical creations.”

—Mark Thomas Ketterson, Opera News, July 2007

“The double bill (ERWARTUNG, BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE) was a triumph for conductor Alexander Platt and soprano Nancy Gustafson as the lone character in the Schoenberg. More than 60 musicians constituted over twice the largest orchestra COT had used in the past. Platt handled them with superb control and their sounds were gorgeous.”

—Richard Covello, Opera Canada magazine | June 2007

“American conductor Alexander Platt led a double bill of two early modernist masterworks, Bartok’s 1911 hourlong “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle“ and Arnold Schoenberg’s 1909 30-minute monodrama “Erwartung” (“Expectation”). Platt already had proven himself with assured performances of contemporary works by John Adams, Benjamin Britten and Robert Kurka…The reunion of Platt with director Ken Cazan(which previously resulted in a revelatory “Death in Venice”) assured both riveting theater and ravishing orchestral playing. Each work in the just-concluded run prompted such an ovation at the Harris Theater that you would have thought that the audience had just heard Callas in “La Traviata.”

—Andrew Patner, Bloomberg.com | 5/30/2007


“Alexander Platt conducts with great authority in both works. Bluebeard includes some of the loudest chorales ever to peal forth from an opera orchestra, and Platt lets them ring, but he also has a grasp on the quieter passages. Schoenberg’s bag of Expressionistic tricks is also easily handled.”

—Marc Geelhoed, TimeOut Chicago, 5/17/2007

“Fortunately COT’s superior orchestra under Alexander Platt supplied the missing illumination (in Schoenberg’s “Erwartung”) with a sensitive regard for subtleties of texture and color at Wednesday’s opening. The resident conductor’s grasp of the Bartok idiom proved firm yet flexible.”

—John von Rhein, The Chicago Tribune | 5/11/07

“As led by COT resident conductor Alexander Platt…the musical interpretations of these difficult scores (BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE, ERWARTUNG) would hold their own against those of major international ensembles.”

—Andrew Patner, The Chicago Sun-Times | 5/11/07

WAUKESHA ORCHESTRA’S MOZART A THRILL

Composer’s Palm Sunday work is given a fine reading in a grand setting

“The Waukesha Symphony staged an apt revival of Mozart’s rare Litaniae de venerabilli altaris sacramento, from 1776. Mozart wrote it for Palm Sunday, and it was Palm Sunday; he wrote it for Salzburg Cathedral, and the WSO played it in the splendid chapel of St John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield.

Conductor Alexander Platt drew fiery playing and singing from his orchestra, from Mark Aamot’s Jubilate Chorale, and soloists……..Their sound, in the live acoustics of the old, stone church, rose to hair-raising at the peaks. The quiet valleys were just as compelling……..these were thrilling readings of an extraordinarily imaginative program. Platt’s musical curiosity seems inexhaustible, and he never fails to convey his enthusiasm to his players.”

—Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/2/07

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