Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Franchise Player Knocks It Out of the Park

This is what puts people in seats for a classical music concert. This is what keeps them coming back. This is what builds the organization artistically, structurally, spiritually, and as a consequence, financially. It starts with this – with the art and the artist.
The interpretation doesn’t necessarily have to be revelatory, it’s communication that matters. That ability to communicate is a very special gift: a disciplined harnessing of technique in service to the music while retaining spontaneity of expression and generating an emotional involvement that expands out into the audience, drawing them in and making them active participants in the performance.
ASO concertmaster David Coucheron was soloist tonight in the Mendelssohn Concerto, with guest conductor Roberto Abbado. David is a performer, and if you have only heard him from the bleacher seats in his normal role, you owe it to yourself to go hear him in this other capacity. It’s a conservative performance, without a lot of overly-romanticized gestures. But more importantly than that, it’s a performance that communicates. The obligatory standing ovation that greets the end of every concerto played in Symphony Hall these days was in this case spontaneous and heartfelt. He’s an engaging personality and he gets the audience on the side of the home team. And that is what it’s all about.
At the third curtain call, following some sincere and well-chosen words, he played the Paganini Caprice No. 7 for an encore. I think the audience would have been content to stay for the twenty-three others, but the soloist still had two Mendelssohn concerts ahead (see below). However, I certainly hope the objective of putting those few critical minutes on the clock was achieved…
There was some other music on the program – but this was the main event, and it should have been a highly instructive event for anyone charged with the administrative future of the organization. I can guarantee nearly everyone who came tonight will make it a point to come the next time David plays a concerto. And they will get the word out to others.
So then why were there so many empty seats tonight? It’s not like he just appeared on the scene, and if there was any doubt about the draw he has quickly become, all you had to do was observe how many people left at intermission. Hard even for the “Lone Ranger” to complete with David and Mendelssohn. So it seems there’s a disconnect somewhere. Unfortunately, I also had to leave due to work schedule, but I suspect the house, which appeared to be about 75% sold to start, was probably down to about 50% after intermission – not very encouraging for those remaining on stage.
But it doesn’t have to be that way for the next two concerts. David’s still growing as an artist and interpreter and we may not be able to keep him forever, so enjoy now while you can. And go as well for the Berio and Rossini pieces. Please get to Symphony Hall and support our ASO: Saturday, March 9 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 10, 3:00 p.m.
After all, how many times will you get to see a grand slam?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Riverside Chamber Players - March 3 at 3:00 PM

The Riverside Chamber Players will present the final concert of their 2012-2013 season this Sunday, March 3, at 3:00 PM in the sanctuary of Bridge to Grace Church, 2385 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell, 30076. The program will include a variety of works for strings, guitar, piano, and percussion, by old and new composers, including Bach, Handel, and Golijov.

The highlight will be a new piano trio by Mark Gresham. You may know Mark as the artsATL music critic, but his compositions have been performed internationally. RCP commissions at least two chamber works every season, with a focus on Atlanta-based composers. This is Mark's first commission for RCP and we're all looking forward to it. Come join us and be part of a very special premiere!

Since Mark can't review his own piece, and I can't review because I'm on the RCP board, if you want to find out what happened at the concert you will just have to attend! As an incentive, a fantastic wine, cheese, and dessert reception catered by ASOC alto Linda Morgan follows the program. Meet the musicians and enjoy some excellent food and drink in an informal setting.

Tickets are $15/Adult, $10 Seniors (55+), and FREE for Children/Students/Music Educators. Tickets are available at the door or online at

Friday, February 22, 2013

Verdi, Respighi, and Brahms with the ASO

A few notes from Thursday night’s ASO opener of a 3-concert series at Symphony Hall, provided as encouragement to attend one of the remaining performances, Friday or Saturday at 8 p.m. Based on Thursday’s attendance, you may be able to get rush tickets, so this is one program where you can probably safely attend on impulse without breaking the bank.
Two guest artists are featured on a varied program. Young Brazilian conductor Alexandra Arrieche led the ever-popular overture to Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. She presented an assured and attractive demeanor, and although some of her choices, such as distinct pauses between the various sections of the overture (rather than maintaining the “inexorable forward motion”, as Ken Meltzer aptly describes it in his program notes), may reflect her current level of experience, they were conscious decisions, and not driven by any lack of technique. There is room to grow, as there should be, and it will be interesting to see how she develops over the next several years. Plus, it’s always encouraging to have the distaff side of the conductorial house represented on the podium. If memory serves, Ms. Arrieche is only the 4th female conductor in the twelve years I have regularly attended ASO concerts (Marin Alsop – Ms. Arrieche’s mentor; Laura Jackson; and Mei-Ann Chen have been the others).
Pianist, conductor, and composer Olli Mustonen played the seldom-heard Concerto in modo misolidio of Ottorino Respighi. Mr. Mustonen has appeared previously with the ASO, and when I heard him before I found his mannerisms distracting – there is much extraneous movement and enormous expenditure of energy relative to the result produced. But at least the mannerisms are not affectation, as with some “superstar” pianists on the circuit – they are ingrained from his earliest years at a piano. Mr. Mustonen is unquestionably earnest and absolutely committed in his approach to music-making; but his is a highly idiosyncratic style. Without access to the score, I don’t know if the predominance of percussive, staccato playing is the composer’s instruction or the soloist’s prerogative; it certainly seemed there were sections that could have benefitted from the same sfumato technique associated with Italian painting – a little more smoke and fewer sharp edges.
A possibly unintentional lesson in physics was also provided, illustrating that the relationship between applied force and dynamic level is only linear up to a point. Past that point, in the key-hammer-string system, no matter how hard you hit the keys, you only get so much sound. Even a sledgehammer won’t help. I don’t recall ever seeing the lid wobble so much and the ½” steel crossbars of the piano dolly actually flexing due to the force transmitted through the keyboard (the dolly is designed to provide similar rigidity to what the piano would have if it were set directly on the stage).
My initial impression is this concerto is a “connoisseur’s” work – there is a lot here to examine from a theoretical and musicological standpoint; however, for an audience that may come expecting a piano version of Pines of Rome, it presents a challenge. There are some measures near the end of the first movement that call to mind Pines, but it is a fleeting impression. While I empathize with the intellectual curiosity that drives one to excavate and explore non-standard repertoire, it can be difficult for an audience hearing the work on a one-time basis. Considerable effort is required from both the soloist and orchestra to bring out the strong points of the piece. Most concert pianists opt to invest that effort in the big guns – Beethoven, Brahms, Prokofiev, etc. – so Mr. Mustonen and the ASO merit thanks for giving us the opportunity to hear and judge this work for ourselves.
An absence of ensemble in such matters as matching articulation and style – for instance where the program notes indicate “playful dialogue” between soloist and orchestra is supposed to occur – would point to a slightly immature product if Mr. Mustonen hadn’t already recorded this work with a Finnish orchestra. Instead, it pointed for better or worse to the soloist’s individual choices, and was in distinct contrast to the musical collaboration enjoyed by the audience of approximately 150 who attended the free chamber music concert prior to the main event. Here Respighi's rarely performed Il Tramonto for mezzo-soprano and string quartet was given an accomplished reading by ASOCC alto Kate Murray and a quartet of ASO players, with great sensitivity to text as well as to blending  the textures of voice and strings. With the audience seated for the most part in the orchestra’s chairs on-stage, the balance between singer and strings could easily be maintained, and an intimate environment was created within the yellow cavern of Symphony Hall. A second set of string players took the stage for the first movement of one of Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Quartets (Op. 59/No. 3), providing in total nearly 45 minutes of excellently-performed, accessible music.  The ASO intends to continue this series, and it’s a great idea for taking down the “wall” between the players on-stage and the audience who usually sits anonymously in the dark. The chamber performances are open to anyone having a ticket to the concert; however, they are typically done only on the first evening of the concert series. 
Under the constraint of having a long work day Friday, I left at half-time, missing the “tried and true” part of the program, which would be Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. This is familiar and comfortable territory for both orchestra and conductor: it is a safe bet that you will very much enjoy the ASO’s performance if you attend Friday or Saturday evening. The orchestra will be warmed up; the piano, beaten into submission, will be no threat over at stage left; and you can simply sit back and luxuriate in this magnificent work.
For ASOC and CC members, there is an added surprise for you within the February Encore concert program, and to find out what it is, you need to go obtain one either by attending this week’s concert, or by coming to the Bach B Minor Mass next week. So, GO! To the ASO.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

“This Trifling Proof” – Bach’s Mass in B minor is Headed Your Way

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and ASO Chamber Chorus will join forces under Maestro Robert Spano later this month for a complete performance of Bach’s masterwork, the Mass in B minor (BWV 232). The soloists will include some faces familiar to Atlanta – wonderful artists that have sung with us in a range of repertoire, such as Celena Shafer, Thomas Cooley, and Stephen Powell. Full details on the performances, as well as links to the artists’ websites, are at:
Performances are 8:00 p.m. Thursday, 28 February and Friday, 1 March in Symphony Hall. There will also be a free pre-concert talk in Symphony Hall at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday. Check your e-mail – you may find there a discount that applies to you! At the time of this post, the main orchestra appears well sold for both nights, but there are plenty of cheap seats left in the balconies – and I might suggest that the top balcony is not a bad place for this work in this hall. I was pleased to see in Ken Meltzer’s program notes (posted at the ASO site), that the Mass will be performed without intermission. At nearly two hours, some advance planning may be needed (it certainly will be for those of us on stage!), but the full realization of this work as both a religious and musical experience begs for a continuous performance unbroken by the noise and distractions of an intermission.
This gargantuan composition, assembled from components perfected over the last half of his life, contains some of Bach’s most sublime vocal writing. As with many complex works, it is helpful to have some background going in to the concert. Drawing on extensive personal and professional experience with Bach’s works, ASO Choral Administrator Jeffrey Baxter has written several intriguing essays on the Mass which are publicly accessible at:
Many fine recordings of the Mass in B minor have been made, beginning in the 1950’s and spanning the range of Bach performance styles. The ASO recorded the Mass under Robert Shaw in 1990 and this recording is still available on CD; an MP3 does not seem to be currently available. However, Mr. Shaw’s 1960 RCA Victor recording (with Florence Kopleff among others) is remastered and available as an MP3 download. If you enjoy the full-blooded Bach style of the 1960’s, the reigning Bach maestro of those times, Karl Richter, is well represented with an epochal 1961 recording (including Fischer-Dieskau in his prime) as well as a live performance captured on video and now available on DVD. Other recordings you may wish to consider if you prefer a more “historically-informed" approach are Peter Schreier with the Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum Leipzig, Philippe Herreweghe with Collegium Vocale Ghent or John Eliot Gardiner with his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. All three of these performances provide more recent interpretations using period instruments, and all are available in MP3 format.
Ken Meltzer’s notes quote a letter also cited by composer Hubert Parry in his early 20th century study of J.S. Bach, although the translation is slightly different. Bach wrote this letter when he submitted the Kyrie and Gloria (the first half of the Mass as we know it today) to the Elector of Saxony in a quest for improved circumstances (i.e. a new job with a raise). Although not bashful about stating his financial reasons for looking for new employment, Bach opens by saying “I lay before your kingly Majesty this trifling proof of the science which I have been able to acquire in music…”.
Parry goes on to call the Mass “the mightiest choral work ever written.” Although that assessment is now a century old, most musicians still not only concur with Parry, they would go further to agree that the Mass in B minor is one of the mightiest works ever created in any art form.
Come hear for yourself – see you in Symphony Hall!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Peachtree String Quartet at Eddie's Attic!

ASOC Singers and Friends!  Ever wonder how the ASO musicians feel about you?  You are invited to find out!

The Peachtree String Quartet is performing at Eddie's Attic -- This Tuesday -- on Feb 12 ... featuring music from all the 'Killer Bees' (see flyer below).  Of particular interest to the singer-persuasion is a sing-along medley of Beatle songs, dedicated to the group who has always stood -- literally and figuratively -- behind the orchestra:  the mighty ASO Chorus.

So brush up on your Rubber Soul and come out for a great night of music.

ASOC Singers and Friends!
Your 'Music is Ongoing' t-shirt counts as a student ID.  
Wear it to get the $10 student ticket!


Georgian Chamber Players in Concert

"Austro-Hungarian Flavor"

Sunday, April 14, 2013, 3:00 p.m.
Trinity Presbyterian Church

I really like the 'immersion' aspect of this ensemble's programming and the wonderful surprises it inspires.  For this concert the group has chosen to perform the works of two Early Romantics:   Schubert Impromtu, D.935 No.3 and Rondeau Brilliant, D. 895 ...and Beethoven “Ghost” Piano Trio, Op. 70, No. 1. The program will also include the distinctly Romantic flavor of Hungarian composer Erno Doynanyi Serenade, Op. 10.  Doynanyi flourished in the early 20th c (along with Bartok, his classmate at the Budapest Academy of Music) but his music -- unlike Bartok's -- is more influenced by European classical tradition. Interestingly, Doynanyi taught in the US for ten years and died in 1960, an American citizen.  

I found Doynanyi's Piano Quintet No.1 on YouTube  for you to listen to while you are marking your calendar for the Georgian Chamber Players concert:  April 14, Trinity Presbyterian Church, 3:00 p.m.. 

Read more about the Georgian Chamber Players on their website:

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Happy New Year! Come Join the Discussion!

Welcome to the ASOC Singers and Friends Site -- created by ASOC members -- in response to the events surrounding the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra players' lock-out and contract dispute

Anyone with a question, insight, an article to share, an idea to float, or a need for more information before forming an opinion on these and other relevant issues, is enthusiastically welcomed here.  The ASOC Singers and Friends Site is where you will find the latest information; more importantly, it's the place where you have the opportunity to engage in frank discussion of these issues with members of the ASOC and with ASO musicians.  It's also where to find links to the history of the ASO Chorus, founded over forty years ago by Robert Shaw.

We extend warm greetings to interested readers from all parts of the globe ... each month, thousands of people from every continent find the ASOC Singers and Friends Blog, and continue to add to our readership ... they order t-shirts, too (we are grateful for the world-wide support of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association ... and ship internationally!)

Our mission is to keep the discussion going, exchange information and formulate ideas with the goal of addressing the serious problems facing the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.  Ours is not just a regional crisis.  The same problems are playing out in orchestras around the world:  lack of solid financial footing and internal controls, shrinking audiences, shortsighted donor and patronage development, poor management, communication breakdown between management and musicians, missing 'feeder' institutions, limited local government subsidies, outdated venues, unproductive marketing programs... and the latest groan-inducing topic explored in a recent letter to the NY Times, the 'relevance' of classical music today.  Every person committed to the symphonic art form -- no matter where you live on the planet -- has a vested interest in learning more about each of these issues, and helping work to become part of the solution.   

The ASOC Singers and Friends Blog isn't a message board or a 'preach to the choir' community.  It is hoped that you, as an interested reader, will take time to respond to what your music colleagues are posting here.  Please feel free to comment, to ask challenging questions and express your own thoughts -- anonymously, if you wish.  If you would like to contribute an essay or article, please see the Housekeeping! section for how to obtain authoring privileges.  

The 2012 lock-out was a polarizing event, an often contentious subject, but the majority of people who visit this site are friends, colleagues, and supporters of the ASO musicians ... and lovers of classical music concerts. In order to fully communicate the issues which face our respective organizations -- the ASO and ASOC -- and to promote free access to relevant information, we have made this site generally available to anyone who finds us on Facebook, other sites, or Googles us up.         

To find out more detail on how everything works here, please visit the Housekeeping! page.

Should you have a general comment regarding what you would like to see on the blog, or if you have a concern you would like to share, please add it to the Feedback page ... or email Sally Kann at

Welcome!   Come join the discussion!