2013 changes not always best for classical music (HT: Peter Jacobi)

By Peter Jacobi H-T Columnist

Menahem Pressler

Distinguished Professor Menahem Pressler in rehearsal at the Musical Arts Center

There’s nothing like a bad year for classical music in Bloomington, what with all the choices we have to hear. But 2013 brought changes that do not bode well.

Just this week, word became official that the Bloomington Pops will be no more. The orchestra has been around since the early 1990s but, in recent years, on a concert diet. Once, it featured a subscription series plus Picnic with the Pops and Christmas with the Pops. Then, the series disappeared and, then, the rest.

Those closest to the scene, like its founding conductor Robert Stoll, express hope that someone somewhere in Bloomington-land might pick up the pieces and restore the tradition.

But similar hopes were expressed earlier in the year for two other important music institutions: the Camerata Orchestra and the Bloomington Early Music Festival; for them, hope has not resulted in revival.

Camerata founder and nurturer Lenore Hatfield decided after a run of 23 years that she could no longer sustain that concert series and, sadly, called a halt to its operation.

BLEMF faded away after 18 seasons, enriching the musical landscape in 2013 with but a single concert. Its founder, Stanley Ritchie, and longtime executive director, Alain Barker, said they would continue to seek financial and managerial solutions.

So far, however, there’s been no further news, and one fears the urge to surge back into festival mode is gone; the old momentum seems to have disappeared.

We still enjoyed the contributions of other producers and presenters: the Bloomington Chamber Singers, Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, Southern Indiana Wind Ensemble, Voces Novae, Quarryland Men’s Chorus, Bloomington Peace Choir, and others, a major “other” being the university, its Auditorium, and, more than any other source, its Jacobs School of Music.

The Bloomington Bach Cantata Project continued to yield pleasures. And more Bach, Janette Fishell’s “Seasons of Sebastian” series, wound its way to a December conclusion, meaning the undaunted organist completed her daunting mission to play all of Bach’s music for organ; that took 21 concerts, the final one, of close to two-hour duration, performed on the newly installed and beautiful organ in Alumni Hall.

Two major orchestras came to visit: the Cleveland Orchestra for a January residency, its highlight a concert in the Auditorium featuring Bloomington’s own, violinist Joshua Bell, as soloist. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra came for an afternoon concert in April.

A third orchestral visitor, the Nashville Symphony, never arrived; budget issues forced a cancellation that severely altered the originally planned “Nashville Symphony with Bela Fleck” concert. At the end, banjoist Fleck came with friends to prevent cancellation of the event.

Also at the Auditorium, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble added luster to the venue’s array of programs.

This was a USA International Harp Competition year, the ninth such; Remy van Kesterin of The Netherlands took the Gold. At the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, an outfit called New Voices Opera — established by Chappell Kingsland, an IU doctoral candidate in music, and colleagues from the Jacobs School — performed the world premiere of Kingsland’s “Intoxication: America’s Love Affair with Oil.”

My reaction, following the April presentation: “Most everything about this project merits praise and opportunity. … A surprisingly good show. May it prosper.”

The program dustup at WFIU warranted attention and received it. New management, in summer, suddenly made dramatic program changes, including removal from the schedule of the Metropolitan Opera, Pipedreams, BBC News, and more.

The moves were made without consulting the station’s Community Advisory Board, which exists to advise on such matters. Reaction was strong and mostly negative, so much so that management reversed itself and, by October, restored all but some of the “more” of what had been removed.

A year-ending 90th birthday salute in mid-December for the remarkable pianist Menahem Pressler brought him joy, a University Medal, friends to play a concert with, and a cheering audience gathered in the Musical Arts Center.

Several months earlier, in September, another giant of music, cellist Janos Starker, was celebrated in the MAC, he in memory, following his death at 88 in April.

Both Menahem Pressler and Janos Starker, in addition to their worldwide stardom as performers, devoted more than half a century to their students in the School of Music.

Other local notables of music passed away this year: William Adam, for 42 years a trumpet pedagogue in IU’s School of Music; Eleanor Rae Fell, the world-renowned harpist, arranger, and co-founder/artistic director of the Vanderbilt Music Company; Ron Osborne, who for a number of years managed the box office at the Musical Arts Center; Helen Mae (Kraut) Pellerite, who interrupted her operatic career for marriage to flutist James Pellerite and mothering their children, and Robert Williams (we all knew him as Bob), a longtime high school teacher of English and drama who built a later-in-life career as pianist and created a popular show based on Hoagy Carmichael’s music.

Among honors bestowed this year on former and current residents: the Kennedy Honors to renowned operatic soprano Martina Arroyo, former Jacobs School voice faculty member; mezzo Jamie Barton, Jacobs School alum and prior winner of the Met National Auditions, named BBC Cardiff Singer of the World; tenor Michael Brandenburg, winner of this year’s Met Auditions; IU alum and former faculty member, pianist Jeremy Denk, the newly designated “Musical America” Instrumentalist of the Year, and Professor of Violin Alexander Kerr, bestowed a Distinguished Hoosier Award.

Contact Peter Jacobi at pjacobi@heraldt.com.

Show Stoppers

From the more than 140 events I covered this year, here are a dozen standouts, listed chronologically:

January: Joshua Bell and the Cleveland Orchestra, led by Franz Welser-Most, paired for the Beethoven Violin Concerto; the orchestra followed up with Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. The concert, I wrote, earned “two extended, cheers-seasoned standing ovations.”

April: It was a month of outstanding concerts, one being the performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass by the Bloomington Chamber Singers, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, and soloists; conductor Gerald Sousa’s decision to do the B Minor was “an act of courage” that became “a stirring event.”

April again: The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, led by music director Krzysztof Urbanski, played Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” Its reading was “thrilling, not only for the noise generously and appropriately generated, but for cohesion and tension, for breadth of expressiveness, and the nuances folded in.”

April once again: As devotee of the Verdi Requiem, “I was stunned by the power of a performance guided by another Verdi devotee, conductor David Effron.” He led the Concert Orchestra, IU Oratorio Chorus, and soloists. “The audience roared.”

April, would you believe still one more time: The 15 “Mystery Sonatas” of Heinrich Bieber were exquisitely played by ten women violinists, including program instigator Janelle Davis, some fine IU alums like Ingrid Matthews and Gesa Kordes, and the increasingly renowned Rachel Barton Pines.

June: A splendid Festival Orchestra concert, conducted by Arthur Fagen and with Menahem Pressler as soloist for the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17, also held the “Freischutz” Overture, the Brahms Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” and — from Pressler — an encore, “a sublime performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor” that “emerged from the keys as if from a haunting but peaceful dream, stunningly beautiful.”

September: The Starker Tribute “was noble, congenial, and appropriate for someone who lived life to the hilt, loved his family and students, gloried in music as teacher and cellist, and seemed to take the numerous honors that came his way in stride, without pomp and circumstance.” A video featuring the cellist playing a movement of the Kodaly Sonata proved “an amazing exhibition.”

September again: A program of Nicolai (Overture to “The Merry Wives of Windsor”), Brahms (Second Symphony), and Grieg (Piano Concerto) united the Philharmonic with conductor David Effron and the eminent faculty pianist Andre Watts. What we heard “resulted in extended volleys of applause, including two vociferous standing ovations.”

October: The resident Pacifica Quartet featured Benjamin Britten’s Quartet No. 2 in an interpretation that “matched substance in boldness; it was gripping and, as calculated, acutely balanced.” The Beethoven Opus 130 with the “Grosse Fuge,” Opus 133, attached, made me feel the musicians were “communing across time, space, and the life/death divide with an impassioned Beethoven, attempting to match his every desire for calm or raging fortissimo and, more than likely, doing so.”

October again: The IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, renamed NOTUS and reduced in size from 30 to 24 by its director, Dominick DiOrio, gave an ambitious “Timescapes, Ancient Reflections in Modern Music” concert, during which the singers and their leader proved the changes all were “to the good.”

November: The visiting duo from Japan, Wings, consisting of marimba virtuosi Takayoshi Yoshioka and Reiko Shiohama, played a remarkable concert, one of the highlights being a transcription of “The Beautiful Blue Danube” that “seemed as if all the instruments of the Philharmonic had been compressed into one marimba, every theme, every lilt, and every supporting subtlety.”

December: The Pressler 90th Birthday Celebration contained works of Schubert and Dvorak. For a finale, pianist Pressler and the Emerson Quartet united for an “intensely beautiful” reading of the Dvorak A Major Piano Quintet. I noted that “the absolute silence maintained by the audience during the performance presaged an eruption at its conclusion. Erupt the audience did.”

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