Weekly Magazine

THIS COMING WEEK

SWEAT by Lynn Nottage, 2017 Pulitzer-winner, from Cabrillo College Black Box Theater via Zoom, December 4 through 6. BEETHOVEN FESTIVAL from Distinguished Artists of Santa Cruz offers four evenings of sonatas by Beethoven online, December 6 through 9, 7pm. Artists include pianist Alon Goldstein (three piano sonatas), cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Audrey Vardanega (two cello sonatas performed on gut strings and ‘Poletti’ and ‘Rausch’ fortepianos), pianist Jonathan Biss (three piano sonatas) and pianist Garrick Ohlsson (two piano sonatas including the “Hammerklavier”). FOR DETAILS AND LINKS, CLICK HERE

COVID TAKES EL TEATRO’S NOÉ MONTOYA

ACTOR, MUSICIAN, ARTIST, SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE died suddenly on Thanksgiving. Click HERE  Be sure to turn on the sound.

BEETHOVEN@250

THE ECONOMIST weighs in on the composer’s tormented life, other annoyances, with some fresh insights. Click HERE

CHICK COREA CREATING

‘IN THE STUDIO’ audio podcast from BBC World Service. To listen, click HERE

VIOLINIST CAMILLA WICKS DIES AT 92

By Norman Lebrecht

THE VIOLIN WORLD is mourning the death on Wednesday of Camilla Wicks, a violin prodigy who made her debut with the New York Philharmonic at just 13 and became Sibelius’s favorite performer of his violin concerto. She recorded the Beethoven concerto with Bruno Walter and the Walton, gloriously, with Yuri Simonov. She took a break to raise a family in the 1950s and went on to teach at mostly small US colleges, eventually accepting the Isaac Stern Chair at the San Francisco Conservatory, her final position before retirement. Stern called her simply “the greatest violinist.” “The greatest female violinist?” he was asked. “No. The greatest.” “There was discrimination then,” Wicks said, “and I encountered skepticism towards ‘this pretty young blonde’.” Wicks, who had a Norwegian father, settled in Oslo for a couple of years and ran the strings department there at the Royal Academy, for which she was awarded a knighthood. Her influence can still be heard across Nordic orchestras.

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

BEETHOVEN@250

BEETHOVEN had no substantive experience writing choral music when in 1803 he took lodging at Vienna’s large Theater an der Wien at the invitation of management in the hope that an opera would be forthcoming. On April 5 that year, he produced a concert of his own music: the Second Symphony, the Third Piano Concerto—both great works—and Christ on the Mount of Olives. Even though he completed the oratorio in a matter of weeks, he must have felt the weight of the form since Haydn’s The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801), both monumental in scope and ambition, were still the talk of the town. Indeed, Haydn’s years in London inspired him upon hearing the great oratorios by George Frideric Handel. Yet Beethoven’s new piece seems to lean more heavily toward opera; its six sections fall into what, in opera, would be called scena consisting of recitatives, arias and choruses, much like Baroque oratorios and operas. The composer used a libretto by Franz Xaver Huber, here in a new translation but with text edits removed, shortening the whole to 45 minutes. The subject matter deals with Jesus’ self-searching anxiety in the Gethsemane garden as he contemplates the rapid acceleration of events leading to crucifixion. Comparable to Bach’s passion setting, the chorus is divided into disciples, soldiers and angels. Of the excellent solo voices, Christ is sung by tenor Pavol Breslik, Peter by bass David Soar and the seraph by soprano Elsa Dreisig (who delivers brilliant Handelian coloratura in her aria “Preist des Erlösers Güte”)—all three in a splendid trio in the final section just before the three chorus groups bring the work to its close. The composer’s instincts for drama and intensity drive the piece forward as recorded during two live performances at the Barbican Centre in January and February this year vividly conducted by Simon Rattle. For Beethoven the exercise paid off handsomely; Theater an der Wien premiered his great opera Fidelio in 1805. SM

THE NEWEST release by pianist Victor Rosenbaum gets our highest recommendation. The Opp 117, 118 and 119 constitute the composer’s ‘autumnal’ period—along with a few others, like the Four Serious Songs and the chamber music for clarinet. The pieces on this new Bridge CD therefore invite circumspect interpretations. Among my own favorite recordings are those by Dubravka Tomšič, who last performed with the Monterey Symphony in May, 2013, and Radu Lupu, who just turned 75. Rosenbaum deserves to take pride in such company and they in him. If anything, he favors even deeper circumspection than they in some of these timeless jewels, timeless being the operative word; they evoke the essential romanticism of Robert Schumann, Brahms’ mentor, while providing a template for any composer of the 20th and 21st centuries in need of a contemplative reprieve from a mad and maddening world into harmonic repose. SM

JOSHUA KOSMAN’S PERSONAL SCRAPBOOK

SF CHRONICLE music critic on encountering great works that altered his life. Click HERE

SINCE YOU’VE ASKED

JUDY COLLINS’ first original song, with Shawn Colvin, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012

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Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor