Chamber music has always been my favorite genre to perform. It’s a thrill, but one that is often underestimated. Performers like Lars Vogt and Christian Tetzlaff show how deep the art form can go. Read my preview of their Da Camera Houston debut together at Houstonia Magazine.
I have a lot of memories of this work, and with an opera company at the helm, it was a refined performance. But the thing I’ll remember probably won’t be the music (Sasha Cooke, resilient hero, my hat is off to you). Read my review at Houstonia.
I really can’t express what an inspiration it was to hear Yo-Yo Ma perform. You read about these prodigies, but seeing is believing. Read my review at Bachtrack.
PS: For all those curious audience members, his serene encore was the “Appalachia Waltz” by Mark O’Connor. If you have chance, check out their collaborative album of the same name.
I’m proposing a session about my favorite things at the 2018 Modern Language Society Convention in NYC and I would love to get your proposals! See the call below. (And wide range really means wide range, but if you have questions you can email me too.)
Special Session: Opera and Literature
Throughout the history of opera and literature, the two have overlapped and informed each other. This session welcomes a wide range of papers on the topic. 300-word abstracts by 15 March 2017; Sydney Boyd (email@example.com).
And pianist Denis Kozhukhin returns to play the Rach 3. Read my review at Bachtrack.
On Inauguration Day, this opera hit close to home. Read my review at Houstonia Magazine.
If I had to choose just one piece of music to listen to for the rest of my life, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto might be it. It’s the human experience, majestic and honest. At the Houston Symphony on Thursday, it was less than perfect, but pianist Behzod Aduraimov wasn’t to blame. Read my review at Bachtrack.
In 1978 at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, György Ligeti premiered his opera Le Grand Macabre. It’s sort of the opera that has everything, running the gamut from tragedy to comedy. Wild, dramatic, absurd, but still philosophical, the opera offers two perspectives that feel incredibly relevant to our present times: to live in fear of tyrants and monsters, always anticipating the worst, or to embrace what joys are within immediate reach.
I’ve long admired it, but never had the pleasure of seeing it in person. Instead, I’ve scoured many recordings and youtube videos. Recently, a friend shared a video that is unlike anything I’ve seen: Barbara Hannigan sings an arrangement of three arias for soprano, “Mysteries of the Macabre,” with conductor Sir Simon Rattle (recorded in January, 2015). I don’t want to give anything away, but—wow. Incredible stuff.
But wait! There’s more: Your conception of what opera is can be radically redefined too. Watch it here.
The word “try” implies a lot of different ideas from earnest ventures and brave experiments to risky attempts. It means taking a stab at something when you don’t know how it will turn out. In its debut concert last night at Midtown and Arts Theatre Center Houston, Loop38 humbly emphasized the idea of trying, but there’s no ambiguity about where it will land. With the creation of Loop38, something electrifying has arrived in Houston.
Loop38 is a 17-person collective of musicians co-founded by pianist Yvonne Chen and conductor Jerry Hou. It focuses on performing “new music,” stuff that’s being composed right now and in the near past, which means the collective will constantly be taking risks, shifting the foundations of what we know and challenging us to consider new musical realities.
The five works on the program, all written in the last 24 years, showed five facets of what these new realities could be. With Andrew Norman’s 2011 work “Try,” a sensational amount of different musical ideas intersected, from dynamics fading radically in and out to sliding tones and groaning foundations above which a frenzy of notes flew around. The eight minutes comprising Christopher Cerrone’s “Recovering” were sacred moments of evolving breath (musicians stood spaced out around the room breathing into their instruments) with percussionist Craig Hauschildt unassumingly in the fore striking serene resonances.
With a paradox for a title, Mizzy Mazzoli’s 2008 “The Sound of Light” toyed with open fifths, quick scales, and duple and triple meter. Christina Hughes, pristinely performing on the flute, aptly held one heel of her leopard print pumps suspended in the air for most of the piece. Likewise, in Hans Abrahamsen’s moving quintet “Herbstlied,” Katie Hart took the English horn into uncharted pastoral territory. The English horn denotes mellow peacefulness naturally in its timbre, but this was something beyond.
The concert culminated with “Living Toys,” a 1993 composition by Thomas Adès. Of all the composers on the program, Adès was the only one I felt skeptical about. His empty and vain 2003 opera The Tempest perpetuates the stereotype that new work is difficult to listen to. And so I was surprised to feel pulled into the work, following the coordinated uncoordination of so many sounds, lines, and melodies.
Jerry Hou, who conducted with understated finesse, joked beforehand about how hard “Living Toys” was to perform. And this is the other thing that makes Loop38 such a success as a group—no one there made it look difficult. The fervor and skill each one of these performers has is not something you’re going to see in Houston very often.
With Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s disaster world premiere of It’s a Wonderful Life at Houston Grand Opera this weekend lodged in my recent memory, I can tell you first-hand that new music doesn’t automatically translate as something worth trying, and I can tell you why so many organizations veer toward work that is already known and beloved. But this is also why we should all be clamoring for tickets to Loop38’s next concert. It’s cliché, but I’m going to say it anyway: this concert was a breath of fresh air. More than that, Loop38 is breaking unorthodox ground with intentional pluck in an era when we need that more than ever.