Fancy a Keyboard Duo?

Doing my research for my next Concert Preview for the La Jolla Music Society, (billed as “Two Pianos, Three Composers, and Four Hands“) I happened across what could possibly be the first piece written for “keyboard four hands” – a century before Wolfy and Nannerl were barnstorming their way around Europe. It’s by English composer Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656), and it’s called “A Fancy For Two To Play.” Fancy that! I’m trying to imagine two Proper English Ladies in hoop skirts sitting side-by- side at a tiny virginal keyboard trying to play it. No wonder it took another century for the four-hand idea to catch on!

As for the good composer from Worcester, England, the Thomas Tomkins Forum labels him as

arguably, the culminating musical genius of the English Renaissance. Like Bach, he was primarily a great consolidator, who perpetuated – often in perfect form – the styles of an earlier generation. But that is not all. He is often called a conservative composer, and so he was: the times in which he lived must have made him highly sceptical of change. Yet he was by no means lacking in individuality and – again like Bach – was not incapable of employing some aspects of contemporary style.”


He may have written A Fancy, but Tomkins certainly knew misfortune.    At the age of 77 we wrote his most famous piece, the profoundly moving “A Sad Paven For These distracted Tymes.”  “Distracted” is an understatement….it came right after the execution of Charles The First in 1649 and the abolishment of the British monarchy.  Check out this wonderful performance by the Badke Quartet

A Rain of Tears – Anderson & Roe

As January snows give way to February rain, and as I start to think about an upcoming Concert Preview I’m doing at the La Jolla Music Society before a two-piano extravaganza with members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, time to feature my favorite piano duo: Greg Anderson and my “distant Korean cousin” Elizabeth Joy Roe.   Three stars in this video…you can also check out the stunning backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean that is part and parcel of every performance of the Shalin Liu Performance Center at Rockport Music. Enjoy!


PS – there’s also a great Fraser Performance Studio session with Anderson & Roe hosted by WCRB’s Cathy Fuller.   Check it out here.


“Kiki” at the Ken Cen

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa backstage at the Kennedy Center with Yr Hmble Srvnt and WDAV supporter Catherine Connor. Next day I had an hour on stage with KTK hosting her “exit interview” at the New Zealand Embassy, courtesy of the Washington Performing Arts Society. (For all of her trips to DC this was the first time the native Kiwi had ever been there, and the Embassy folks were suitably thrilled!). A fascinating discussion that sadly was not taped (I know, I know, but those were the ground rules…). More later on our discussion.

J.S. & The Oscars: That Old Bach Magic

Jian WangUnlike last year, I won’t be in front of the boobtube tonight for Oscar night; instead I’ll be doing one of my Concert Previews at a Washington Performing Arts Society – sponsored “house concert” featuring a terrific young Chinese cellist named Jian Wang, who’s in town to play various of the six solo cello suites by J.S. Bach. The Bach suites are both one of the absolute monuments for anybody who’s ever tried to pull a bow across a cello (or doublebass, or viola, or trombone, or, or, or…) but for my money they’re one of the Great. Alltime Works. By Anybody. Ever.
Howcum? Well, here I’m going to tip my hat to the shade of the late, great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who in his own words decided to “pluck up the courage” to record the six solo suites rather [shockingly] late in his career:

“Bach has no shallow or transitory emotions, no momentary anger, no bad words or fleeting embraces – his emotions are as vast a scale as Shakespeare’s, yet common to all people on earth, from the most northerly to the most southerly races. We all weep when we suffer, we all know tears of joy. It is these fundamental emotions that Bach transmits in his suites.”

In fact, I think there is something kind of miraculous about this music — music written almost 300 years ago that at times is the essence of simplicity, particularly the broken-chord arpeggios that lead off the First Suite – as simple, Rostropovich said, as breathing: “The phrase generates energy (inhales) untill it reaches a certain point when it is released (exhales).” If that sounds too technical, it doesn’t when you hear it.

And out of this solo music Bach spins music more compelling than a symphony of a thousand, or a full-blown band with the volume turned up to 11.So all that got me to thinking about the juxtaposition of Bach and the movies, which after all are all about playing with our transitory emotions, fleeting embraces, and so on to create some usually mawkish, but very occasionally something profound and deeply moving.

Which then got me to thinking about one of my all-time favorite movies, Truly Madly Deeply, made in 1990, and starring a very un-Severus Snapeish Alan Rickman and the terrific English actress Juliet Stevenson, and directed by Anthony (”English Patient”) Minghella. The Ghost-like plot (also from the same year!) revolved around the relationship among dead-cellist Rickman, his wife-in-another-life Stevenson, and her new beau….and the music of Bach is so powerful it’s almost another character in the film.Bach’s soundtrack abilities have not been lost on other directors, it seems.

Turns that T,M,D is but one of 207 feature films that have been documented to use Bach’s music, with a surprisingly large percentage of them devoted to none other than the solo cello suites. And it seems that if you put a Bach solo-cello piece into your film, your chances of being nominated – or winning! some Oscar hardware go up exponentially. For certain film directors (hello Ingmar Bergman!), you might even call it “that old Bach magic.” On the other hand, a few directors have some explaining to do….Here’s

The Official List of Bach Cello Suites Used in Movie Soundtracks:

Another Woman – Gena Rowlands, Mia Farrow, Dir. Woody Allen, 1988

Cello Suite No. 6

Antonia’s Line (movie)Antonia’s Line – Dir. Marleen Gorris (Netherlands) – 1996 1 Oscar: (Best Foreign Film)

Cello Suite No. 1

autumn sonataAutumn Sonata – Dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1978. 2 Oscar nominations (Best Actress – Ingrid Bergman; Original Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman)

Cello Suite No. 4 [Sarabande]

The CompanyNeve Campbell, dir. Robert Altman, 2003

Cello Suite No.1 [Minuet]

Cries and Whispers movieCries and Whispers –Dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1972. 5 Oscar nominations, (Best Picture, Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design), 1 win (Best Cinematography – Sven Nykivst)

Cello Suite No. 5

Hilary & JackieHilary & JackieEmily Watson, Rachel Griffiths, 1998. 2 Oscar nominations (Best Actress – Emily Watson; Supporting Actress – Rachel Griffiths)

Cello Suite No. 1 [Prélude & Gigue]

Cello Suite No. 3 [Prélude]

Cello Suite No. 6 [Gavotte]

The Hunger Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon 1983

Cello Suite No.1 [Prélude]

J´Embrasse Pas – Emmanuelle Béart, 1991 (France)

Cello Suite No.1 [Prélude]

Grey Knight, a/k/a The Killing Box Corbin Bernsen, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen (1993)

Cello Suite No.1

Lost and Found – David Spade, 1999

Cello Suite No.1 [Prélude]

Master and CommanderMaster and Commander: The Far Side of the WorldRussell Crowe, dir. Peter Weir, 2003. 10 Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Director, Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Makeup); 2 wins (Cinematography & Sound Editing)

Cello Suite No.1 [Prélude]

Music of the HeartMusic of the HeartMeryl Streep, West Craven (!), dir. 1999. 2 Oscar nominations: Best Actress (Streep); Original Song

Cello Suite No.1

The Pianist (movie)The PianistAdrian Brody, dir. Roman Polanski, 2002. 7 Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design); 3 wins (Best Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay)

Cello Suite No. 1

The Prince and Me – Julia Stiles, dir. Martha Coolidge, 2004.

Cello Suite No.1 [Prélude]

A Simple Twist of Fate – Steve Martin, Gabriel Byrne, 1999.

Cello Suite No.1 [Prélude]

The Sleepy Time GalJacqueline Bisset, 2001

Cello Suite No. 5

Small Time Crooks – Woody Allen, actor/dir, 2000

Cello Suite No. 2 [Sarabande]

Through A Glass Darkly (movie)Through a Glass Darkly – Ingmar Bergman, 1961. 2 Oscar Nominations (Original Screenplay); 1 win (Best Foreign Film)

Cello Suite No. 2 [Sarabande]

You Can Count On MeYou Can Count on Me – Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Kenneth Lonergran, writer/director, 2000. 2 Oscar nominations (Best Actress-Laura Linney; Best Writer – Kenneth Lonergan)

Cello Suite No. 1

Honorable Mention:

Yo-Yo Ma: Inspired by BachAtom Egoyan, five others (1997) – 2 Emmy AwardsNot a movie per se (although it was screened in other countries and at film festivals) about a decade ago Yo-Yo Ma made a series of six short films devoted to exploring the Bach solo cello suites from a different artist perspective, including, film, dance, and architecture. The best known (and probably most successful) of the six is Suite No. 4, Sarabande, directed by Atom Egoyan, which “tells the story of a failed relationship that culminates in the couple attending a Yo-Yo Ma performance of the piece at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.”

Fanny & AlexanderFanny and Alexander – Ingmar Bergman, 1982. 6 Oscar nominations, including Best Director & Screenplay; 4 wins (Foreign Film, Cinematogrpahy, Art Direction, Costume Design)

Vast amounts of ink have been spilled about Bergman’s masterful use of music in the movies, particularly of Bach and Mozart. But in this film you won’t hear any of Bach cello suites; instead, Bergman makes the unorthodox choice of using the three solo cello suites written by English composer Benjamin Britten! (In fact, that’s Britten’s music you hear at the very opening of the film.)

Which brings us back to the beginning of this post, for Britten was also “inspired by Bach,” as it were….he wrote and dedicated the pieces to his close friend Mstislav Rostropovich after hearing the cellist play…… guessed it, one of Bach’s solo suites.

By the way, a tip o’ the hat to Naxos, both for their work in promoting and recording soundtracks by dedicated film composers, as well as for putting together a nice new database of classical music at the movies.

There’s also a nice site called Classics of the Silver Screen.

Finally, if I ever get asked to choose a piece of Bach’s cello music for the silver screen, I think I’d pick this.

Concert Previews for Winter/Spring 2008

kencen.jpegSome of the most fun I have is doing a number of Concert Preview conversations for the subscribers to the Washington Performing Arts Society and other performing-arts organizations in the D.C. area. Here’s what I’ve got on tap so far for the Winter/Spring of 2008:

Sunday, February 3, 3:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam

Mariss Jansons, chief conductor

Truly one of the world’s great orchestras, with a powerhouse program to boot: Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

R. Strauss: Don Juan

Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Friday, February 8, 8:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore

Orli Shaham, piano & Gil Shaham, violin

A concert I’m especially looking forward to…the siblings Shaham are engaging, energetic, and deeply musical. Two of the finest folks in classical music, IMHO.

Mozart: Sonata in D Major, K. 306

Fauré: Two Movements from Pelléas et Melisande

Szymanoski: Mythes, Op. 30

Bartók: Rhapsody No. 2

Prokofiev: Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94a

Monday, February 25, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Sir James Galway, flute

Lady Jeanne Galway, flute

Pianist & Program to be announced

Sir James Galway is certifiably in the Living Legend category…

Monday, March 3, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Joshua Bell, violin

Jeremy Denk, piano

Program TBA. Bell, like Galway, doesn’t need much introduction at this point. Jeremy Denk was one of our former Young Artists in Residence at NPR and his Think Denk blog is one of the most entertaining (and downright fascinating!) blogs in the business…

Tuesday, March 11, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Lang Lang, piano

The global phenomenon known as Lang Lang hits the KC stage….

Tuesday, April 1, 8:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore

Swedish Chamber Orchestra

Piotr Anderszewski, piano

Another concert date that’s circled on the RoeDeo household calendar. Terrific 38-member ensemble with a “Gilmore Artist” – the equivalent of a “genius grant” for extraordinary pianists courtesy of the Irving S. Gilmore Festival & Foundation in Kalamazoo, MI.

Beethoven: Coriolan Overture,

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1

Schumann: Symphony No. 2

Sunday, April 6, 7:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson is a “scintillating and superb technician who possesses arm-blurring speed and power” (The New York Times).

Prokofiev : Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op.14

Chopin: Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58

Rachmaninoff: Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42

Scriabin: Etude in F-sharp minor, Op. 8 No. 2

Etude in B minor, Op. 8 No. 3

Poeme in F-sharp Major, Op. 32 No. 1

Sonata No. 5, Op. 53

Wednesday, April 16, 8:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore

Emerson String Quartet

Wu Han, piano

D.C. favorites for three decades now, the Emerson String Quartet has won eight Grammy Awards including two for Best Classical Album, a rare feat for a chamber music group. Wu Han (wife of cellist David Finckel) joins the quartet to play the Schumann Piano Quintet.

Schubert: String Quartet in A minor, D. 804 “Rosamunde”

Janacek: String Quartet No. 2 “Intimate Letters”

Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44

Monday, April 28, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Orchestre National de France

Kurt Masur, music director

David Fray, piano

After a 17-year hiatus, the Orchestre National de France returns to D.C. under the leadership of Maestro Kurt Masur, former Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. Pianist David Fray joins the orchestra as soloist in Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto.

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7

Sunday, May 4, 4:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore

Itzhak Perlman, violin

Rohan DeSilva, piano

Perlman and DeSilva are back to play at the concert hall they helped to inaugurate.

Fall 2007 concert previews are listed here.

Concert Previews: Fall 2007

Here’s a look at some of the Concert Previews (e.g., pre-concert lectures) I’ll be giving for subscribers to the concert season of the Washington Performing Arts Society:
Wednesday, October 10, 8:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore
La Scala PhilharmonicRiccardo Chailly, conductorThe long-awaited D.C.-area debut of the La Scala Philharmonic, led by the charismatic Riccardo Chailly, the ensemble plays beloved works and classic Italian repertoire. Founded in 1982 by conductor Claudio Abbado, the orchestra has since been led by such renowned directors as Lorin Maazel and Wolfgang Sawallisch. “Chailly is a first-class interpreter of Italian repertoire.” (The Irish Times)

ROSSINI Overture to William Tell

ROTA La Strada Ballet Suite

RESPIGHI The Fountains of Rome

RESPIGHI The Pines of Rome

Monday, October 15, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

The Cleveland Orchestra

Franz Welser-Most, conductor

Music director Franz Welser-Möst led this venerable orchestra in a journey throughout centuries of musical composition, from Mozart’s delicate Symphony No. 28 to Adams’ contemporary composition.

Mozart: Symphony No. 28 in C Major

John Adams: Guide to Strange Places

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique”

Thursday, October 18, 8:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Yefim Bronfman, piano

This celebrated conductor-less ensemble continues tackles Brahms’ mighty Piano Concerto with Yefim Bronfman….

Brahms: Hungarian Dances Nos. 1, 3, and 10

Schoenberg: Kammersymphonie No. 1, Op. 9

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15R

Tuesday, October 23, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

St. Petersburg Philharmonic

Yuri Temirkanov, conductor

Julia Fischer, violin

Young violinist and WPAS Kreeger Series alumna Julia Fischer joins the former Baltimore SO conductor and one of the most storied orchestras in the world…

Mozart: Marriage of Figaro Overture

Beethoven: Concerto for Violin in D Major, Op. 61

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5, Op. 100

Monday, November 12, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Yo-Yo Ma, cello

Kathryn Stott, piano

Yo-Yo Ma and one of his favorite collaborators in the world, English Kathryn Stott, in a breathtaking program of music from France from the southern hemisphere…

Tuesday, November 20, 8:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone

Academy of Choral Art

Moscow Chamber Orchestra

Constantin Orbelian, conductor

“From Russia with Love:” A range of songs and opera from Russia old and new from Opera star Dmitri Hvorostovsky and a hand-picked choir.P

Thursday, December 6, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hal

lThe Philadelphia Orchestra

James Conlon, conductorHélène Grimaud, piano

The Fabulous Philadelphians return for their annual concert under the leadership of guest conductor James Conlon. Fresh off the release of her new recording of the Emperor Concerto, Hélène Grimaud performs the Beethoven concerto live with the Philadelphians. The orchestra also plays for just the second time a work by Edgard Varese they commissioned in 1924…

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor”

Varèse: Amériques

Ravel: La Valse

A Tale of Two Orchestras: the “other” NPR

Terrific review (more of a commentary, actually) by Bernard Holland in the New York Times the other day about the duelling Russian Orchestras currently touring the US – the Russian National Orchestra, (sometimes called the RNO), and the recently-constituted National Philharmonic of Russia, a/k/a the NPR. Common to both of them is violinist and conductor
Vladimir Spivakov. He used to lead the Russian National Orchestra until he had some sort of falling out with the management, so he persuaded the Russian government to start the “NPR” – although they originally called themselves the “Russian National Philharmonic” (RNP?) until the RNO objected. With me so far? (Sorta reminds me of the old Monty Python skit of the in the Life of Brian. Just to make things more confusing, Spivakov also heads the Moscow Virtuosi, a chamber-orchestra that features members from both groups, as well as other Russian ensembles.

Anyway, these days you’re as likely to see the RNO and the NPR outside of Moscow as you are in it; and both groups are spending days – weeks – on end chasing the American entertainment dollar. With – you guessed it – a mighty handful of Russian works with high-powered soloists. And their paths happened to overlap in New York earlier this week, prompting Holland’s commentareview: Tasting menu:

Every time you look up there is another Russian orchestra onstage. Russia’s newfound free-market economy and the resulting scramble for financial survival must be a shock to a lot of them. Evidently the National Philharmonic is in a cozier spot, having President

Vladimir V. Putin as its personal godfather. Still, export or die seems the motto for this parade of visitors, whose rivals seem not to be other international orchestras but one another. Getting together and comparing travel schedules might be helpful.When they come, we know what we are going to get: big Russian music conveyed by big Russian sound reinforced by oversized string sections. (Monday’s program listed 32 violins, but I thought I counted more.) Often attached to these events are Russian pianists or violinists of howitzerlike virtuosity. Tender foreign sensibilities are not used to such firepower.

Roedeo, inc. is a not-disinterested observer to all of this: I do a lot of the “concert previews” for the Washington Performing Arts Society‘s terrific subscription season. So I’m doing a lot of thinking about the “other” NPR’s concert at the Kennedy Center on Saturday. Despite the fact that the orchestra’s is designed to signal “the rebirth of the Russian post-reconstruction State,” the repertory for their US tour is almost exclusively limited to works that are at least half-a-century old: Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Shostakovich. The DC performance will also feature Van Cliburn Competition winner Olga Kern (pictured above) playing the same “Rocky 2” she’s been playing everywhere on this tour – and the Shostakovich 5th Symphony. I’m especially interested in hearing how the NPR plays the Shostakovich Symphony…the one the composer, in one of the most difficult years of his life, subtitled A Soviet Artist’s Practical Creative Reply to Just Criticism.’ Last time I heard this symphony was in Moscow, at one of the most emotionally-draining concerts I have ever witnessed: a Winter of 1990 appearance by Mstislav Rostropovich, conducting Washington’s own National Symphony Orchestra in a program that also included the Barber “Adagio for Strings,” the Death of Tybalt from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, “Aase’s Death” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, and the Tchaikovsky “Pathetique” Symphony. As my Russian friends said, the entire concert had a “Tyema Smyert,” – theme of Death. But the playing – and atmosphere in the “Bolshoi Zahl” of the Moscow Conservatory was absolutely electric. Sony made a outstanding documentary (directed by new MET Opera chief Peter Gelb, among others) called Soldiers of Music about Rostropovich and the NSO’s Russian experience, and likewise released a now-out-of-print CD called “Rostropovich: Return to Russia.” Some of the best playing the Rostropovich-era NSO ever did on record, IMHO; but unfortunately the Shostakovich 5th was left off of the disc. If you’re a fan at all of Russian music – and of Cold War history, for that matter – both the DVD and CD are worth your attention. And Rostropovich turns 80 next week! Check back in and I’ll tell you how the concert turned out…