Busking for opera

Alice Barbe and Jonathan Rickert love opera, and they want other people to have the chance to also.

They love it so much that they decided to donate their proceeds from busking at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market to Reimagining Opera for Kids (ROK), a non-profit Bloomington arts and education organization dedicated to introducing children to opera and to giving developing professional musicians the opportunity to hone their performance skills.

The organization was founded 10 years ago by director Kim Carballo, academic specialist at the Jacobs School of Music and coordinating opera coach with IU Opera Theater. ROK is a community partner for a class she instructs, Community Engagement in Performing Arts.

After the $200 donation, Carballo partnered with IU Opera Theater, who offered 40 tickets to seating anywhere in the Musical Arts Center for its current production of It’s a Wonderful Life. They were distributed to elementary school students and their families, who may not otherwise have a chance to see a live theater production, by Jacobs alumna Maggie Olivo, a teacher at Bloomington’s Fairview Elementary School, another community partner for Carballo’s course.

Barbe, an eleventh-grade homeschooled student and accomplished cellist, pianist, and chamber musician, played cello at the summer busking gigs while Rickert, a junior at Bloomington High School North and accomplished violinist, violist, and trumpeter, played violin.

ROK performance

“Jonathan and I really enjoy playing music with each other, and we thought it would be fun to go busking together at the farmers’ market,” said Barbe, now living in Atlanta. “We wanted our busking proceeds to go to a worthy music-related cause, so we gave most of our earnings to exposing children to live opera, especially those who might otherwise not be able to experience it.

“I was a cellist and narrator for ROK in 2013-14, so I got to see firsthand the impact that live opera can have on kids. That experience ended up extremely formative and inspiring to me, actually. Jonathan and I felt that ROK does amazing work and is a very worthwhile cause. We are very grateful to Kim Carballo for her support and her incredible drive and passion to get things done.”

“I have played violin a few times with ROK this semester, and I hope to be more involved in the future,” said Rickert. “Both Alice and I have known Kim for a long time and are aware of the great work she and her organization do, bringing live opera to kids and reducing the financial barrier to an experience that has proven formative for both of us and many others.”

Barbe has studied piano for 13 years, most recently with William Ransom of Emory University, Daniel Inamorato and Kati Gleiser in Bloomington, and Nicolas Marzinotto of the Luxembourg Conservatory. She has also been studying cello, for 11 years, most recently with Martha Gerschefski in Atlanta, Jean Adolphe of the Metz Conservatory in France, and Janusz Kubiak of Indiana University. A passionate advocate of music technology as a way to educate people about both music and science, Barbe leads a team of 12 Georgia Tech students to create new digital musical instruments in an ongoing effort called Project Music Connector.

Rickert has studied violin for 10 years, five of them with the IU String Academy under teachers including Emily Nehus, Christina Hightower, Brenda Brenner, and Mimi Zweig. On violin, viola, and mandolin, he has participated in the pit orchestras of Cardinal Stage Company’s productions of Oliver! and West Side Story, and will be heard in its upcoming Peter Pan. He has worked for seven years as a player and teacher in the Strings Program at the Project School under the direction of Emily Nehus. Rickert also studies trumpet with Will Koehler and plays in the jazz and marching bands at Bloomington High School North.

IU Opera Theater to present collegiate premiere of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

WHAT: “It’s a Wonderful Life” by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer
WHEN: Nov. 10, 11, 16, and 17 at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., IU Bloomington campus
TICKETS: Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office Monday-Friday 11:30a.m.-5:30 p.m. (812-855-7433) or online. A discounted price is available for all students through the box office.
VIDEO-STREAMING: Nov. 10 and 11 only, at IUMusicLive!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nov. 2, 2017

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana University Opera Theater, at the IU Jacobs School of Music, is pleased to present the collegiate premiere of Jake Heggie’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with a libretto by Gene Scheer, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10, 11, 16 and 17 at the Musical Arts Center in Bloomington. The Nov. 10 and 11 performances will be video-streamed live via IUMusicLive!

The Jacobs School of Music joined Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera as a co-commissioner and co-producer of this work based on Frank Capra’s iconic 1946 film of the same name. The opera received its world premiere at Houston Grand Opera in December.

The IU Opera Theater production will feature several of the same artistic team members from Houston: director Leonard Foglia, set designer Robert Brill and costume designer David Woolard. New Jacobs faculty member David Neely will conduct.

Jacobs alumnus Patrick Summers, artistic and music director of Houston Grand Opera, conducted the December production and was the first to approach Jacobs dean Gwyn Richards about a possible partnership after speaking with Heggie in 2010.

“My great friend and collaborator Patrick Summers invited me to participate in a project at Houston Grand Opera to create a family-friendly holiday piece,” said Heggie. “We considered beloved stories that return every Christmas. I knew ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was exactly the story I wanted to pursue—it is emotionally big enough to fill an opera house, and to me it makes sense for these characters to sing, not just speak.”

Driving the plot in Heggie’s version is upwardly mobile angel Clara, intent on earning her wings. She is given the chance to do so if she can help George Bailey as he stands on a bridge on Christmas Eve and contemplates jumping into the river below to end his life.

“The big challenge was to find a way to reconceive the story as an opera,” said Heggie. “That meant lots of changes, cuts and tough choices. One of the most obvious is that Clarence, the angel in the movie, has become Clara, the angel in the opera. Vocal casting is everything in opera, and this allows us to have a soprano voice, Clara, and a tenor voice, George Bailey, as our two leads instead of two male voices.”

Heggie and Scheer have been rehearsing with the IU Opera Theater cast as well as interacting with other Jacobs students in various events, including a voice master class, a composition forum and an entrepreneurial panel discussion and luncheon.

Heggie said that after the premiere, he and Scheer knew they had some work to do to make the opera stronger. They cut about 10 percent of the original and then expanded act two for character and story development.

“The IU rehearsals have been extremely helpful, and the singers incredibly game to try additional cuts and changes,” Heggie said. “I think we rewrote two key lines plus cut another 30 to 40 measures of music. All of it to help streamline the piece and move the story along. You can only learn these things when hearing the piece done, so this has been an incredible opportunity for us creatively. I think we are just about set with it—we’ll know for sure when we see it performed on the stage in front of the audience here. In any case, the piece is quite different from the premiere last year.”

“What an unforgettable experience it has been for our students to work directly with the creators of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer,” said Richards, David Henry Jacobs Bicentennial Dean. “Rarely does an artist, this early in their career, have a firsthand view of the creative process, as our students have had with this production. And to have this opportunity with such fine people, in such an engaging musical and dramatic creation, is the experience of a lifetime!”

“I’m completely in love with our cast, chorus and team here,” said Heggie. “Their energy and enthusiasm is palpable. I love college productions because students are always ‘all in.’ It’s a great energy to put on a show and get it to the stage.”

Tickets for “It’s a Wonderful Life” may be purchased at the Musical Arts Center box office Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (812-855-7433) or online.

MEDIA CONTACT
Linda Cajigas
Assistant Director of Communications
IU Jacobs School of Music
812-856-3882 | lcajigas@indiana.edu

Pictured: Cadie Jordan (Clara) in a technical rehearsal as other students singing in the “Angel Chorus” look on.

REVIEW: Baroque Orchestra – A magical performance

Bloomington Herald Times | By Peter Jacobi H-T reviewer | 

It was one of those unexpected moments.

It came in the middle of Wednesday evening’s performance by the Indiana University Baroque Orchestra of 17th century music. As the players switched positions to perform selections from 17th century Italian composer Luigi Rossi’s opera “L’Orfeo,” a diminutive figure diffidently entered the stage, as if seeking to avoid being noticed. He took a seat, folded his hands on lap, and waited.

Through two selections, a Passacaille and a Corrente, he waited, motionlessly. And then he stood, Elijah McCormack stood, and plaintively raised his voice: countertenor you might call it, soprano he prefers to call it. “Lasciate Averno, o pene, e me, e me seguite,” McCormack sang. “Leave Hell, O pains, and follow me!”

Orfeo has lost his beloved Euridice and laments. Young Elijah McCormack sang in Italian that rolled off his tongue, in language that bled from the heart. His voice, his manner, his being turned into the disconsolate youth weeping for the return of his beloved.

The performance proved magical, one of those rare times when a musical experience takes breath and all externals away. “But why delay dying,” came the message, “if death, by happy chance, can bring me back to the lovely cause of my suffering? To die! To die!”

In a hush, the music ended. McCormack stood motionless, his face almost expressionless, but somehow grieving, too.

Then, the silence was broken by a hesitant smattering of applause. The applause grew. And grew. Cheers punctured the applause. In tandem, applause and cheers continued. Finally, timidly, the soloist bowed as his face broke slowly into a smile.

Just that one aria would have made the evening. However, the Baroque Orchestra provided a full hour of period goodies under the label, “A Program of Seventeenth Century Song and Dance.” One heard fine readings of four other works of the period.

With glowing trumpets, orchestra members Jens Jacobsen and Julia Bell added bright and brilliant sounds to the Serenada in C for Trumpets, Strings and Continuo by the Moravian composer and trumpeter Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky. The German composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s “Mensa Sonora, Pars III,” proved to be a series of lovely and lively dances, well played, as was the French-born/German Georg Muffat’s Concerto Number 4, “Dulce somnium,” enriched by solo violinists Sarah Cranor and Micah Fleming, along with cellist Kevin Flynn.

Wednesday’s program ended on an Italian note: Arcangelo Corelli’s joyful Concerto grosso in F Major, Opus 6, Number 6, thrillingly enlivened by another pair of violinists from the ensemble, Clara Scholtes and Emily Leung.

One wondered throughout the concert: Where was Stanley Ritchie, listed as the program’s director? The orchestra had been led by members from within its ranks, most prominently violinist Sarah Cranor. And all had gone swimmingly. Yet, was the eminent Professor Ritchie missing?

He wasn’t. When, during the final round of applause for the night’s program, violinist Scholtes pointed toward the balcony at Auer Hall’s rear, a figure appeared. It was director Ritchie. He had been there all along and, at that moment, stood up to accept deserved praise for his preparation of this excellent Baroque Orchestra program.

IU Opera brings a steampunk aesthetic to ‘L’Etoile’ production

By 

Linda Pisano, professor of costume design, points out some of the details in the costumes that make them steam punk during preparation for next week's steam punk style L'Étoile, at the Musical Arts Center.

Linda Pisano, professor of costume design, points out some of the details in the costumes that make them steam punk during preparation for next week’s steam punk style L’Etoile, at the Musical Arts Center.  (Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

If illogical world leaders wore their true colors on the outside, they might be dressed like the comic villain in Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theater’s next production.

Alexis Emmanuel Chabrier’s “L’Etoile” (French for “The Star”) opens Friday at the Musical Arts Center in Bloomington. Written in 19th century France, it stars King Ouf, who celebrates his birthday by looking for someone to execute. When he meets a traveling salesman who he hopes to use to fulfill his birthday wish, he’s warned by his astrologer that Lazuli’s death will result in his own.

Director Alain Gauthier brought his vision of the surreal opera to Bloomington. The Montreal-based director, who has worked on productions of “L’Etoile” for professional opera companies, felt it called for a less traditional look and feel that echoed the time and place of its creation. He chose steampunk, a style known for incorporating metallics, steam-powered machinery and the technology of the 19th century.

Sometimes, Gauthier said, a steampunk-inspired aesthetic can appear dark and gloomy, integrating dark, metallic colors. However, “L’Etoile” has traditionally been produced with vibrant colors to capture the farcical qualities of the writing.

“If you Google ‘L’Etoile,’ you’ll see plenty of different, very colorful photos of productions,” he said. “It’s what it calls for … the possibilities are infinite.” The goal, he said, was to make the visual language match the story and music.

When brainstorming began for the show’s set, Gauthier’s inspiration played off of the science, technology and metal of 19th-century Paris. Set designer Tim McMath started by incorporating a metallic look with a greenish tint that captured the industrial feel of the era, and the color scheme evolved from there.

Gauthier wanted to integrate aspects of fantasy and fairy tale into the look of the production by introducing vibrant colors and shiny fabrics. “The piece calls for it, because it’s very silly,” he said. “There’s no boundaries when you have such a farce.”

As the color palette expanded to encompass that silly nature, new shades of pink and purple made their way into the design, along with brighter, shinier metallics. The colors and styles extend to the costumes, which represent different types of people in the story.

Costume designer Linda Pisano described the three classes of characters that appear on stage as oppressed, working class citizens; the court inside the palace; and visitors from elsewhere who disguise themselves as tailors. Each style takes steampunk aesthetics into a new direction with its own colors.

Costume designer Linda Pisano's renderings for L'Étoile show her vision for its characters.

Costume designer Linda Pisano’s renderings for “L’Etoile” show her vision for its characters.

Bright colors and steampunk styles blend with the clothing of the era in Pisano’s designs. She combined a Victorian gothic style with punk and glam rock elements — “sort of David Bowie, but with a more 18th-century effect,” she said — to give an air of pretension to the courtiers’ overall look.

“It will be very obvious on the set who belongs to the working class (autumnal colors), the outsider/visitors (black and gray) and the courtiers (fuchsia, lime, pastels, yellow),” Pisano wrote in an email. “It will be clear that the king controls this world. The root of the working class steampunk and the visiting gothic punk has firmly landed in the late 19th century. The courtiers have their root in 16th-18th century (which is a very broad range of three centuries) coupled with very modern elements (i.e. leopard skin leggings and leather) for not only fun visual candy to bring out the silliness of this court, but in some ways demonstrate the decadence and ostentatious world of an opulent yet oppressive monarchy.”

To make the visitors look more like outsiders when dropped into the bright pink and gold of the sets, they’re in darker, more classic steampunk attire. And because they’re in disguise, their look is more subtle. Defining the social classes is part of what makes the show more accessible, Pisano said. “This is a farce, and bringing a non-conventional silhouette provides a fun, if not quirky, sensibility for the audience.”

Audiences will be able to see King Ouf’s madness on the outside for the next two weekends as he takes the stage in his attire of opulent pink, gold and blinding rhinestones.

Props to be used in next week’s steam punk style L’Etoile, at the Musical Arts Center.
(Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

 

Linda Pisano, center, professor of costume design, and Sarah Akemon, left, wardrobe supervisor, help fit performer Patrick Conklin, a first year master’s student, during preparation for L’Etoile at the Musical Arts Center. (Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

Props to be used in next week’s steam punk style L’Etoile, at the Musical Arts Center.
(Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

 

Gwen Law, props master at Indiana University, right, and her assistant, Olivia Dagley, work on a chair that transforms into a replica of the Eiffel Tower. To be used in next week’s steam punk style L’Étoile, at the Musical Arts Center.
(Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Opera & Ballet Theater

WHAT: “L’Etoile” by Alexis Emmanuel Chamber.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21

WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $16-$43; $10-28 for students. Reserved seating. Available at the MAC box office; 812-855-7433, music.indiana.edu/opera

© Herald-Times 2017

Review: IU opera delivers top-notch rendition of ‘Don Giovanni’

An imposing new set, strong singing, first-rate musical production and stage direction that bring a sense of order and grandeur are positive aspects of the Indiana University Opera Theater’s current staging of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

Generous applause following the opera’s numerous arias and at opera’s end, along with comments overheard and comments directly addressed to me, would suggest that, by general agreement, this newly introduced staging has merit.

My plan in reviewing had been to sit through the first weekend’s performances, evaluate what I had heard and seen from both casts and report on my reaction. That has been the usual approach at The Herald-Times for a long while. As the week passed, however, a trip to the hospital that lasted one day longer than I thought it would made attendance on opening night not possible. So, this review offers my response to Saturday’s performance only. My new game plan is to see the cast I missed next weekend and then report once more to you.

Actually, I did witness one portrayal that all viewers of this production did or will see. It is that of the Commendatore, he who is murdered in the opening scene and then, at the end, returns in retribution to have Don Giovanni meet his Maker. The newly hired associate professor of voice in the IU Jacobs School of Music’s voice department, Peter Volpe, took on all four performances of that role, thereby returning to a casting policy of the school’s past: to mix student and faculty voices in the company’s productions. Volpe is a natural for the part, not only for the robust nature of his bass voice but for his physical stature. Volpe’s was a most successful debut as performing teacher; he has plenty of his vocal powers still to draw upon.

But before we continue along the praiseworthy musical path, let’s comment further on the environment in which this production unfolds, in that it will be around for a while. It is the work of Bloomington-based set designer Mark Frederic Smith, who studied at the Jacobs School under C. David Higgins and Robert O. Hearn and created set designs locally for IU Opera Theater, IU Theater and Cardinal Stage. He has a keen sense for beauty and appropriateness.

For this “Giovanni,” he has constructed a basic set that evokes the past but is also timeless. It is a single unit but, through the addition of slide-on panels and drop-down backdrops, makes scene changes easily and quickly possible, a plus for any performance of “Don Giovanni.” In a comfortable instant, the stage picture shifts and the action flows on, a neat trick comfortably delivered. Dana Tzvetkov’s costumes are handsome and very much in concert with the physical aspects of the production. So is the lighting of the always-dependable Patrick Mero.

In the use of that stage, visiting stage director David Lefkowich showed the way for Saturday’s cast to fill it. Every suitable movement has been called upon to prevent a stand-there-and-just-sing situation; movement contributed a sense of theater to the unfolding drama, all to the good when not overdone, which it wasn’t.

Arthur Fagen, veteran IU faculty conductor who also serves as music director of the Atlanta Opera, was very much the man in-charge on the podium, doing his critical job of paying homage to Mozart’s brilliant score. The IU Concert Orchestra played beautifully for him. A small chorus served well, and during the performance, had the benefit of Maestro Fagen’s baton.

Vocally, in addition to the Commendatore, the opera calls for seven top-notch singers. Casting deserves praise.

Bruno Sandes, a second-year master student with considerable professional experience, gave his portrayal of Giovanni the needed libido-driven, self-centered and malevolent personality that make a viewer shudder. His voice, a lyric and flexible baritone, did justice to Mozart’s score as an instrument easy to listen to while conveying the devil-may-care character of Giovanni.

Soprano Kaitlyn Johnson, a doctoral student also with a list of accomplishments, brought a powerful and dramatic soprano to the role of Donna Anna, the woman first debased in the course of the opera’s story. She produced sorrow and anger with her voice, just right for a woman avenging her father’s murder.

Donna Elvira, another woman who Giovanni draws into his scheming, was in the capable presence and voice of soprano Shayna Jones. Her servant Zerlina’s character benefited from its portrayal by Alissa Dessoye, she of a sweet lyric/coloratura vocal instrument.

Giovanni’s servant Leporello, as played by bass-baritone Glen Hall, had the needed bounce, anger and comic thrust.

Completing Saturday’s cast were two undergraduates who held their own: As Donna Anna’s beau Don Ottavio, tenor Leo Williams displayed a beautifully trained and controlled voice that more than hints at a promising future. And as Masetto, Zerlina’s husband-to-be, baritone Joey LaPlant revealed an affinity for delving into his role.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2017

HT Review: Sunday concerts feature Bach, Schubert, splendidly

Sunday afternoon was graced with splendid music, splendidly performed. At St. Thomas Lutheran Church, the eighth season of the Bloomington Bach Cantata Project got underway. Within the hour after its conclusion, a chamber music series titled “Mostly Schubert” got underway due west on Third Street in Indiana University’s Auer Hall.

Bach in profusion:

The Bach series resumed with installment No. 43, leading one to ask how long these events will last, what with about six or seven programs per year. I was told to never fear, because the productive Johann Sebastian composed about 190 cantatas, and each concert focuses on just one, meaning we have about 150 yet to go.

For those unfamiliar, project performances are compact packages offering that single chosen cantata, on this occasion “Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden” (“Behold, I will send forth many fishermen”). It is prepared and given through a partnership involving the Bach Cantata Project, directed by Wendy Gillespie; Early Music Associates, producers of the Bloomington Early Music Festival; and the IU Jacobs School of Music’s musicology department and Historical Performance Institute. The cantata is performed with historical accuracy. Musicology professor and Bach scholar Daniel Melamed follows with a brief and engaging lecture, and then the cantata is performed again.

The whole package lasts an hour, and it means an hour spent in an intimate church listening to and learning about a piece of great music.

So it was on Sunday when this cantata about a gracious God was musically led by Stanley Ritchie, one of the town’s, and one might say the world’s, most eminent early music specialists. The music fell beautifully and spiritedly on one’s ears, as performed with authenticity and assurance by an instrumental ensemble of 13 and four excellent vocalists: soprano Elijah McCormack, alto Stephanie Reyes, tenor Joseph Ittoop, and bass David Rugger. The message expressed was always present and faithful. So was a strict obedience to style.

For any devotee of Bach and early music, these concerts are not to be missed. The next one comes along Sunday, Oct. 8.

Then, Schubert:

Last season, the Jacobs School faculty shared a series of six programs devoted to the chamber works of Johannes Brahms. This season, we are promised a four-program chamber music series given to “Mostly Schubert.”

The first, on Sunday, featured three works of Franz Schubert, along with an aria by Mozart, “L’amero saro costante” (“I shall love her; I shall be constant”) taken from the opera “Il Re Pastore” (“The Sheperd King”), written when the composer was 19. Why this particular item was chosen for the program, I do not know, except it helped introduce a new faculty member in the voice department, soprano Katherine Jolly, and that alone proved sufficient for the aria’s inclusion.

Jolly’s stage presence is inviting. Her soprano is light and bright, flexible and caressing, very much still in tip-top career shape. Her way with the Mozart aria was lovely, and nicely supported by violinist Grigory Kalinovsky and pianist Jean-Louis Haguenauer.

The Mozart was followed by one of Schubert’s last compositions, a concert aria for soprano, clarinet, and piano, “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (“The Shepherd on the Rock”), music about nature and love broken and joy in wandering about as springtime arrives. The music is stunningly beautiful, with a couple of melodies that will simply sweep you away. As offered by Jolly, clarinetist Howard Klug and Haguenauer, it definitely swept this listener away; the performance was ravishing and, for introducing Katherine Jolly, revelatory. She’s a catch.

Heard earlier on the program were Schubert’s youthful and lyrical Sonatina in D Major, D.384, handled with aplomb by Kalinovsky and pianist Futaba Niekawa, and the Fantasy in F Minor, D.940, for Piano Four Hands, attacked with gusto galore, feverishly, by Arnaldo Cohen and Emile Naoumoff.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2017

HT Review: Philharmonic, guest conductor deliver splendid opening with Mahler’s Sixth

A performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A Minor (“Tragic”) clocks in at just under an hour and a half. It takes an army of musicians to play it. The printed program for Wednesday evening’s season-opening concert of the Indiana University Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring that gigantic work, lists 112 as sitting on stage in the Musical Arts Center, prepared to tackle the task.

Tackled it was. Handled it was. Played with remarkable power and flavor it was. Read with what seemed unified purpose it was. Native talents exhibited by the student musicians were a major factor, of course. As the most proficient of the Jacobs School’s full-sized symphony orchestras, the Phil is expected to do well and rarely fails to meet expectations.

But it also takes a conductor to piece great and greatly difficult music together, a highest-quality sort of conductor. And that Wednesday’s reading of Mahler’s Sixth had in Giancarlo Guerrero, music director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, who scored superior marks on past visits while leading the summer version of the Philharmonic, the Festival Orchestra.

He surely scored on this visit, having chosen a whale of an assignment and, within an all-too-short period of rehearsals, achieving a triumph that left the audience breathlessly quiet during the performance and fortissimo loud right after, with a cheers-filled standing ovation, an extended one.

The mystery was: How could such a performance have been forged in a matter of about two weeks, if that? The school year has just begun, and the Philharmonic has also just been reconstituted, what with a crop of graduates having dropped out of the ranks, leaving a mix of holdovers from last year and newly selected musicians — in other words, a different orchestra. What’s more, additional players had to be found to satisfy the demands called for in Mahler’s score.

Maestro Guerrero revealed nothing but confidence in his leadership and, most obviously, had passed along that confidence to his troops. The orchestra played with amazing assurance and with a shared wisdom about what Mahler’s music seems to be about. In the Sixth, we have what is widely regarded as the composer’s gloomiest symphony, though written at a time in his life when all was glowing at home and in his profession of conducting and writing music, making for a contradiction between life and art.

So, why is this Sixth Symphony labeled “Tragic?” Well, Mahler supplied the label but also dropped it. In history, it stuck. Mahler reportedly considered himself an artist able to foretell the future; perhaps with the Sixth, he did. Just a few years after its premiere in 1905, with him conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, his family life met with tragedy, his health began to fail and his conducting career took blows.

The Sixth has about it a brooding nature leading, in the final movement, to what Mahler referred to as “three hammer-blows of fate.” And what a gigantic hammer one saw and heard at Wednesday’s performance, one larger than those used to drive the weighted ball toward the bell at carnivals. The score sprawls and is undoubtedly cut-able, but emits a drama and mystery that, for a listener, is hard to escape. There is tension from the start, maintained through expositions and developments that fill the ears with lyricisms, with bombardments of anxiety, with complex blends of dissonant tones and jarring rhythms, with moments of tempestuous anger and of hurt and contrasting periods of quiet reflections, with music sounding as if in disarray but also, then, of regimented order: in sum, a vast artistic expression of a mind in turmoil.

Maestro Guerrero took a mammoth score of puzzles and bits. He made of it a whole, a musical tapestry impressively realized by his multitude of players who, along with him, deserved the plaudits rewarded by an audience that came near to filling the Musical Arts Center. Unless a Mahler hater — and the likes of him or her probably stayed clear of Wednesday’s program anyway — one would have been hard-pressed not to appreciate what was accomplished on this occasion.

Come again, Maestro Guerrero. And continue to have a successful season, IU Philharmonic.

You provided a splendid opening.

by Peter Jacobi, The Herald-Times | © Herald-Times Online 2017

A “Wild Emotional Ride” this Wednesday!

Giancarlo Guerrero

Giancarlo Guerrero

Go on a “wild emotional ride” this Wednesday, September 6, at 8 p.m. as the IU Philharmonic Orchestra, led by dynamic guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, takes over the Musical Arts Center for a free, season-opening performance of one of the most epic pieces in the repertoire—Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A Minor (“Tragic”).

Requiring more than 100 skilled musicians, coming in at just under an hour and a half, and widely considered one of the most virtuosic of all orchestral works, Mahler’s Sixth is a piece that even many professional orchestras do not undertake.

“It is also a work that takes the performer and the audience on a wild emotional ride,” said Guerrero, beloved conductor of the Nashville Symphony. “Mahler was a master at pushing everything to the extremes!”

Returning to Jacobs after 2009 and 2010 appearances, Guerrero said, “I find it immensely rewarding to collaborate with the future generations of our art form, and I know the IU Philharmonic is up to this challenge. Unlike professional orchestras, this will be the first time these players will be tackling the Mahler 6, so they won’t have any previous baggage that might influence the rehearsals and performance. We will be able to create new traditions and even make new discoveries about Mahler’s psyche. It is a clear presentation of his complicated personality.

“The Mahler 6 is always an event; it’s a piece that pushes the limits in every direction.”

Fasten your seatbelts.

Learn more here.

Jacobs School alum named interim director of orchestra and opera at Northern Illinois University

Alumnus Danko Drusko has been appointed interim director of orchestra and opera at Northern Illinois University (NIU).

This fall, Drusko joined the faculty at NIU to direct the Philharmonic and Opera Theatre as well as teach conducting. In this capacity, he will lead five concerts and Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio. Drusko will work closely with NIU’s faculty and students for a number of professional and community collaborations. The Philharmonic kicks off its semester with two concerts in the fall featuring works by Beethoven, Sibelius, Dvorak, Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms, all of which will be live-streamed.

Born to Croatian parents in Germany, Drusko came to the U.S. as a recipient of the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and won the first and only prize in conducting by the Culture Foundation of Lake Constance in Germany. He was also awarded the prestigious Friedrichshafen City Art Award (Kulturförderpreis). Drusko has conducted orchestras such as Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Frankfurt Opera, Royal Opera Belgium, Budapest Operetta, Metropolitan Orchestra Lisbon, Rochester Philharmonic and YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, LA Phil).

He is founder and music director of Hoosier Philharmonic in Bloomington and led the orchestra and choir of 250 musicians in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 for its inaugural concert. While at IU, he was associate instructor of the Opera and Ballet Theater and studied conducting under Arthur Fagen and David Effron.

Review: Piano concertos end special series featuring Beethoven’s work

The Summer Music 2017 weeks continued to reach toward a close with part two, the windup, of that significant cycle of programs containing all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos, presented courtesy of the Edward Auer Summer Piano Workshop.

Sunday afternoon brought a most enthusiastic audience to Auer Hall to hear the remarkable mid-octogenarian Jerome Lowenthal perform the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major and the distinguished Indiana University Jacobs School of Music piano faculty member Edward Auer, the workshop’s founder and director, finish the cycle with the Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, usually referred to as the “Emperor.” The set made for a terrific Sunday afternoon.

I first came across Lowenthal way back in the LP era at a record shop in Chicago where one could sit for hours in a booth to listen to what was on the laden shelves. It was a recording of piano transcriptions by Franz Liszt of music from various operas. Prominent was “Reminiscences de Norma, transcription for piano (after Bellini),” performed by one Jerome Lowenthal. It was a delight. I purchased it and then continued to purchase his recordings. He’s never disappointed me.

And he’s not done so when visiting here.

This time he happens to have performed my favorite of the Beethoven five, No. 4, which, according to the program notes, he’s just recently recorded with cadenzas by 11 other composers, something I look forward to hearing. The first three concertos, which we heard on the previous program, show the influence of Beethoven’s teacher Haydn. The fourth throbs with expressiveness and fully favors the artistic conscience of Beethoven himself. Its technical requirements are treacherous, not because of any bombast or flamboyance. Quite the opposite. This music is emotionally quiet, radiant, poetic, glowing. And a must for those who play it is absolute finger and pedal control to build an aural dreamscape. That’s what Lowenthal does about as well as anyone around. He’s a master at the dreamy. One word best describes his Sunday performance: exquisite.

The most popular of the concertos is the “Emperor,” a work that draws unto itself every pianist who yearns to exhibit his or her technique. So it tends to become quite noisy in performance, majestically orchestrated as it was for its time and more often than not performed today. However, there can be little doubt that Beethoven didn’t think about chamber-sized performances, pairing the keyboard instruments of his day with an orchestral ensemble in balance with the soloist’s piano of pre-Steinway times.

Well, Edward Auer decided, for his workshop, to use a smaller-sized orchestra, a very good chamber ensemble, one that guest conductor Eugene Albulescu had trained extremely well. As for soloist Auer, we know him as one of our local keyboard heroes, as an important professor in the Jacobs School’s piano department and as a musician of international stature with special affinity for the music of Chopin. But his repertoire is wider and very strong in music of the entire Romantic Age, from Beethoven forward.

The “Emperor,” at its center, features a radiant Adagio of great and quiet beauty, which he played gorgeously, but surrounding that movement is music of greater abandon and excitement and pomp, less like the music Beethoven placed into the other concertos. One can understand its popularity among both performers and listeners. The masterful Auer handled all of the score with nobility and eloquence and befitting force, when called for. The high quality of his playing was what one expects from virtuoso Auer and made for a lovely way to end the cycle series.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2017 | pjacobi@heraldt.com