Weekly Update, Oct 15, 2013

We deserve better

Ten days ago I cancelled my subscription to the Monterey Herald, not for its erratic delivery service but for its combination of stale news and decreasing local coverage. Now I discover that not one single print medium in Santa Cruz County gave attention to the debut of the Santa Cruz Symphony’s new music director, Daniel Stewart. Not the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Good Times, Santa Cruz Weekly nor the Register Pajaronian. Not even the Aptos Times whose music reviewer did cover the event for the online Peninsula Reviews in Monterey County. Our own critique of that auspicious beginning—Music Reviews page—found plenty of excitement in Stewart’s debut and, by implication, much to look forward to from this visionary new eager-beaver on the Symphony podium.

The Monterey Opera program, Arias in Autumn, sold out the Golden State Theater in Monterey on Saturday, treating everyone in attendance to a goodly program of familiar opera arias and ensembles by Verdi, Mozart, Rossini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Puccini, plus bits of Gounod, Bizet and Delibes, accompanied by a small orchestra. The event didn’t warrant a professional critique because of the disparity of skills among the talent on stage. The quartet of soloists were Susan Gundunas, Malin Fritz, Christopher Bengochea and Peter Tuff. For his stage dignity, integrity of character and vocal consistency Tuff outshone the others. Vocal technique troubled some; Bengochea, who scored several big successes with Opera San Jose, was vocally out of shape but got cheers for his La donna è mobile and Vesti la giubba. Tuff was best of show in Ford’s aria from Falstaff. Carl Christensen was the conductor/narrator. No one asked for a refund; admission was free.

Our Music Reviews page does, however, include coverage of the Santa Cruz Chamber Players’ season opener, heard Sunday in Aptos.

Those who heard Van Cliburn gold-medalist Vadym Kholodenko’s recital in Carmel and snapped up one of his new Harmonia Mundi CDs on the spot can be smug for a few more weeks, for two reasons. Firstly, the CD, including HMU907605movements from Stravinsky’s Petrushka and the complete Transcendental Etudes of Liszt won’t be officially released until November 12. And second, it’s a revelation! Recorded in concert during the Cliburn, in late May and early June, Kholodenko shows what great keyboard technique is supposed to serve: vision, imagination and bravura execution–but mostly personality. You can hear dozens of excellent piano performances and still come away thinking, ‘sounds like the last great pianist I heard.’ Not this time. Not this guy. The CD documents plenty of fireworks, but it’s the impetuous and unpredictable turns of phrase, the unexpected pensive asides, the virtuosity and tone colors that jump out. He reminds me a little of another great Ukrainian, Sviatoslav Richter. If you’re not familiar with the Liszt etudes, you can easily imagine the difficulties they throw at those players bold enough to take them on. Yet there is great variety among them, including some deeply thoughtful moments that ask for poetry. Still in his mid-twenties, Kholodenko has things to learn and depths to discover. But the foundation is already rock solid. I can’t wait to hear him ‘drop the other shoe’ when he tackles Debussy. For this moment, the Stravinsky/Liszt CD is highly recommended.

Since Mark Burger and I launched Performing Arts Monterey Bay, more than five months ago, I have found myself among the most surprised at how much quantity and quality are being offered, week in and week out, on the theater stages and in concert halls and other music venues. Our Calendar page this week shows a one-night Hamlet at Sunset Center in Carmel, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat from the students at Monterey’s Santa Catalina School, and MPC’s new You Can’t Take it With You. 

Our Links of Interest page has just added a link to an Economist review of conductor John Eliot Gardener’s new book, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven. You can link to it here as well. And Joanne Lipman, in The New York Times, seeks answers to her question, Is Music the Key to Success?. Find out what she learns on our Links page or by clicking here.

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Scott MacClelland, editor