Tuesday, April 29, 2008

May 1 & 4, 2008

On this week's broadcast, principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in music of Adams, Ravel and Berlioz.

John Adams' father did not know composer Charles Ives. However, Adams says they would have gotten along if they had met, being rural New Englanders of similar generation and disposition. My Father Knew Charles Ives is a sort of musical autobiography, with snippets of Adams' musical memories (clarinet lessons, summer marching bands, dance bands heard across the lake) and places (Concord, New Hampshire, and not only the lake but the mountains).

Adam Golka was 20 at the time of this concert. His parents left Poland in the 1980s. Adam is Texan born and bred. At age 16 he won a major Chinese piano competition. Though both his hands are in excellent order, he let the right hand take the night off as he played Ravel's Concerto for Piano Left Hand.

There's nothing else quite like the Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. Maybe that's because it was fueled by opium. At least, the story it tells is about an opium trip that goes from infatuated bucolic love to nightmarish funeral, all with unbelievably original, colorful, rich music. Berlioz wrote his masterpiece in 1830, and it still (ahem) rocks. Runnicles and the ASO give it their all.

This concert took place in January 2008 before enthusiastic audiences in Atlanta's Symphony Hall. GPB's production airs Thursday, May 1 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 4 at 10 p.m. with host Sarah Zaslaw.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

April 24 & 27, 2008

Teenagers mob the stage of Symphony Hall! This week the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra makes way for the ensemble under its wing, the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra.

We hear selections from the ASYO's November 2007 and March 2008 concerts, including Barber's Adagio for Strings and Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. They also give the world premiere performance of Towers of Light by Robert Wendel, which describes in music the memorial columns of light that shine each September 11 at the World Trade Center site in New York.

Conductor Jere Flint's day job is as a cellist in the parent ASO. During the broadcast, he tells us that ages 13 to 18 are accepted into the youth orchestra. From some 400 young musicians who try out each year, only 120 make the cut. All have to reaudition each year. They rehearse four hours each Saturday, working all together, getting section-by-section coaching from members of the Atlanta Symphony and sharing lunch.

The Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra was featured on a recent edition of public radio show From the Top with Christopher O'Riley (heard Sundays at 1:00 on GPB). Its next concert is May 11, 2008 in Symphony Hall at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, but you can hear them on GPB stations and gpb.org April 24 at 8 p.m., repeating April 27 at 10 p.m.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

April 17 & 20, 2008

Roberto Minczuk started out as a French horn prodigy. (Now there's a phrase you don't hear much: French horn prodigy.)

He has since become a conductor with a successful career both internationally and in his native Brazil.

In 2007–2008 Minczuk ("Min-chook") led the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra not once but twice, in November and March. This week GPB presents the November concert.
  • Wagner was inspired by medieval tales of religiously inspired derring do when he wrote his opera about the "pure fool" who retrieve the Holy Grail from an evil magician. We hear the Prelude to Act I of Parsifal.
  • Ligeti survived Nazi persecution and Communist restrictions in Hungary, then created his own modern sound. You might've heard some of his music in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We hear Lontano ("remote"), used in The Shining.
  • Rachmaninoff 's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini features with Croatian-born, Austrian-trained pianist Dejan Lazic (left) as soloist.
  • Highlights from Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet conclude the concert.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April 10 & 13, 2008

This week on GPB Radio, meet conductor Kwame Ryan. He was born while his Trinidadian parents were visiting Toronto. They moved to Africa when he was an infant and eventually fled Idi Amin's Uganda. Kwame grew up back in Trinidad. He knew from age 6 that he wanted to be a conductor, however, and since Trinidad didn't offer enough opportunities, he left at 14 for boarding school in England.

Now Kwame Ryan has built a conducting career in Europe - he's in his first season leading orchestra in Bordeaux, France - and he's starting to guest conduct in America too. In November he led the Atlanta Symphony for the first time, and that's the concert we hear.

As Ryan explains, Robert Schumann was recovering from a mental breakdown when he wrote his Symphony No. 2, and the piece itself reflects struggle back to health and hope. That's the first half of the program.

In the second half, violinist Leila Josefowicz joins the Atlanta Symphony for Beethoven's Violin Concerto. Josefowicz is a gutsy player, and a down-to-earth person. She explains what makes the piece so challenging, why she wrote timpani accents into her new cadenzas, and how thrilled her son was to learn that Mozartwas a potty-mouth.

Join Sarah Zaslaw for The ASO on GPB, Thursday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 10 p.m.

April 3 & 6, 2008

In week 5 of our 24-week Atlanta Symphony broadcast series, ASO principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles talks about being the podium's most notorious southpaw. He also reveals his pet peeve - background music in elevators and at the mall. Donald Runnicles' star, which was already plenty high, continues to rise with appointments to soon head both the BBC Scottish Symphony and the German Opera Berlin.

Taiwanese-American violinist Cho-Liang Lin says it's especially important that a soloist and an orchestra have the same style in mind when they're playing Mozart. And then he and the Atlanta Symphony set out to do just that.

Join us to hear Runnicles, Lin and the ASO in Mozart's Third Violin Concerto. Also on the program, Beethoven's Fourth Symphony. And the concert concludes with Donald Runnicles conducting music by Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks. The piece depicts the satirical misdeeds (and eventual hanging!) of irreverent folk hero Till Eulenspiegel. There's an old German saying, "One sees one’s own faults as little as an owl recognizes his ugliness by looking into a mirror." Till's last name, "Eulenspiegel," means "Owl-Mirror."

The ASO is on GPB Thursday at 8, repeating Sunday night at 10. Sarah Zaslaw hosts.

March 27 & 30, 2008

This week on GPB, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, with music director Robert Spano conducting.

The traditional Requiem is part of the old Catholic liturgy. But Johannes Brahms ditched both the old texts and the old language in his German Requiem. He picked out new excerpts from Hebrew and Lutheran scripture to set, deliberately keeping the focus on the comforting and the universal (he said he could've just as well titled his work "A Human Requiem").  Instead of Latin he used the vernacular, German.

This concert from last November features the Grammy-winning team of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and conductor Robert Spano, plus soprano Twyla Robinson and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien. (They all recorded Brahms' requiem for disc that weekend as well, forthcoming on Telarc.) We'll meet the two soloists before they perform.

The program opens with two shorter works that Robert Spano felt fit an evening honoring the dead: Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music and Jennifer Higdon's "river sings song to trees," the calmer middle section of CityScape, her piece about Atlanta.

Please join us, Thursday, March 27 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 30 at 10 p.m. on GPB.

March 20 & 23, 2008

Thursday, March 20 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 23 at 10 p.m. on GPB, please join us for an Atlanta Symphony concert recorded in late October 2007.

Music director Robert Spano conducts a program that weaves together themes of France and dance and jazz. Spano also chats with us about the art of picking music for the orchestra (the important part is choosing what to whittle away - just like Michelangelo, he says) and the thrilling risk of making an in-concert recording of La Boheme for CD release.

We also meet ASO prinicpal harpist Elisabeth Remy Johnson, who explains what everyone wants to know about harps, and solos in music of Debussy. (More on her below.)

Here's what's on the program:
  • A Frenchman in New York beats Gershwin to the punch when it comes to injecting classical music with jazz. We hear The Creation of the World, by Darius Milhaud.
  • The harp's not just for angels. Debussy gives it both Sacred AND Profane Dances to play.
  • Ravel looks back to the nineteenth century with two waltzy works, La Valse and Noble and Sentimental Waltzes.
  • And to close the ASO's month-long French festival, the fruits of Gershwin's 1928 trip to Europe: An American in Paris, complete with the homesick blues in the middle.
The broadcast concludes with rhythmic selections from the Atlanta Symphony's new CD The Garden of Cosmic Speculation - music by Michael Gandolfi, in a world premiere recording - and Jean-Michel Damase's Sicilienne Variee, from Elisabeth Remy Johnson's CD Whirlwind.

By the way, Elisabeth Remy Johnson's harp activities extend well beyond Symphony Hall. She has also been making a mark in the community as co-founder and artistic director of the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble (urbanharp.org), which serves harp students from the Atlanta public school system. That work has won her Atlanta's Channel 11 Community Service Award and the TBS Pathfinder's Award. She explains what inspired her to launch the group:

After I moved to Atlanta to be the principal harpist with the ASO, I went to a national harp convention and saw a performance given by the Richmond Public School Harp Ensemble, and thought it would be great if we started something similar in Atlanta. Another really strong motivating factor was acknowledging the fact that I kind of "fell across" the harp. My mom just happened to take me to a harp concert when I was 6, and it was literally a life-changing experience. I wanted students to have access to harps and to instruction, so they could have the exposure to the instrument that might be life-changing for them, too. . . . One of our first students kept with his harp studies throughout high school, and was offered a full scholarship to the University of Michigan to continue his harp studies! Through music, the students can develop skills and achievements throughout high school that will open the door to many post-secondary experiences.

March 13 & 16, 2008

The French festival continues this week on GPB's Atlanta Symphony broadcasts, with a concert recorded in October 2007 at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta.

The orchestra performs a symphony Haydn wrote for Paris (No. 83, "The Hen), Chausson's Poem for violin and orchestra, Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and Saint-Saens' "Organ" Symphony. Pinchas Zukerman guest conducts, and the soloist is his former student - 30-year-old German violinist Viviane Hagner.

We'll also hear an excerpt from the eerie story by Ivan Turgenyev, "The Song of Triumphant Love," that inspired Chausson's musical poem. We'll meet ASO principal keyboard player Peter Marshall, who gets to pull out all the stops in the "Organ" Symphony. And we'll hear how Saint-Saens' great finale tune sounds as it shows up in the 1995 farmyard flick Babe - as the song "If I had words" - with a beat, and sung by mice.

(Note: Those crazy mice didn't get there first. For even more of a trip, check out the 1977 version of "If I had words" with British one-hit wonders Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley. And, oh yeah, the song was also covered by Hawaiian singer Keali'i Reichel.)

The ASO is on GPB Thursday at 8 p.m. with a rebroadcast Sunday night at 10. Join us!

March 6 & 9, 2008

Hear ye, hear ye! GPB launches its fourth season of Atlanta Symphony broadcasts, now produced and hosted by Sarah Zaslaw. (GPB's former Atlanta Symphony host, Terrance McKnight, is now ensconced as evening music host at WNYC New York.)

Join us for the first of 24 weekly concerts this Thursday evening at 8 (ET). Conductor Robert Spano, pianist Garrick Ohlsson and the Atlanta Symphony perform music by Cesar Franck (The Accursed Huntsman), Frederic Chopin (Second Piano Concerto) and Hector Berlioz (from Romeo and Juliet).

Garrick Ohlsson talks about Chopin's lovability, and I'll also speak with ASO president Allison Vulgamore about what goes into planning a concert season of the Atlanta Symphony.

Please tune in Thursday at 8 (with a rebroadcast Sunday night at 10) over GPB Radio or via gpb.org.