Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bach next Tuesday at UH

On Tuesday, Aug 26 at the University of Houston my colleague Robert Bates will play Bach's Clavier-Übung Pt. III. Yours truly gets things started at 7:30 pm in Dudley Hall with a lecture on same; the concert follows directly in the Organ Hall next door. For those who've never been: both halls are located in the Fine Arts Building, which is directly across the wooded grove (to the east) from the Moores School of Music, campus entrance no. 16 off Cullen Blvd.

The pic is the newly reconstructed organ at the Frauenkirche in Dresden, where Bach may well have played these pieces for the first time in 1736. The church, though destroyed in WWII, has recently been restored to its original Baroque splendor.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vibrato strikes again!

Those of us who study and teach historical performance practice are forever confronting the vibrato bugaboo. Getting beyond the fear is usually the first (and often the only) order of business: yes, you too can sing or play with less (or more!) vibrato, and it sounds just fine when you do it -- that is, as long as you're doing everything else correctly. It's the "everything else" that's usually the problem: intonation, breath support, a flexible bow arm, etc.

Over the last decade or so, the leading lights of period-instrument performance have been working to expand the reach of this kind of musical practice, both for themselves and the ensembles they conduct. Period-instrument Mozart or Beethoven is now far less controversial than it was in 1990. But vibrato-less Elgar? That's what the London Proms promises this year, as reported in yesterday's NYTimes

I'm particularly struck with Norrington's comment about his love of the pure, vibrato-less string sound, despite his admission that Elgar probably put up with "a fair bit" of it. Once again, taste trumps history. A chacun son goût!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Opera in Santa Fe

Just back from Santa Fe, where opera is the main attraction in the summertime. Here's what the stage of this magical indoor/outdoor theater looked like this past Saturday night, just before the curtain of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro." Anyone who saw Rameau's "Les Boreades" a few years back at BAM will remember the sea of flowers stuck into the stage, which were maniacally pulled out during the prologue. Similar plastic posies were put to great use in the Santa Fe Figaro, especially during the final "garden" scene, and during the overture the stage was plucked in a very genteel manner. Luxurious casting, including Mariusz Kwiecien and Luca Pisaroni as the Count and Figaro, respectively.

In addition to the Mozart, some Houston friends and I saw Handel's "Radamisto" and Kaija Saariaho's latest, "Adriana Mater," in its American première. I went expecting to like the Handel, and who can resist David Daniels, Laura Claycomb, and Heidi Stober, who all sang up a storm. The real surprise for me was the Saariaho work, which was riveting. The libretto (by Amin Maalouf) is both timely and poignant, and the music sensational. Highly recommended!

And it's a good thing the weather and hiking are so good in Santa Fe this time of year, because we did more than our fair share of eating! Are there any bad restaurants there?