Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Riverside Chamber Players shine in performing music of Dallow and Smetana

by Mark Gresham | 21 Nov 2011, ArtsCriticATL

Riverside Chamber Players performed a matinee concert on Sunday featuring two highly programmatic works: Bedřich Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1 (subtitled “From My Life”) and the world premiere of “I’ve Been to the Ocean” by Brian Dallow. The program took place at the Bridge to Grace Church in Roswell. Violinists Kenn Wagner and David Dillard, [...] • READ MORE on

Photo credit: Rena Fruchter

Memorial Drive: Atlanta’s forgotten classical music history

by Mark Gresham | 21 Nov 2011, ArtsCriticATL

“Atlanta has no collective memory” is a common refrain among local artists and musicians. It’s a sentiment recently expressed by Atlanta-born composer Nikitas Demos, one of the most active members of the local classical scene. When he joined the Georgia State University faculty in the early 1990s, Demos recently told me, “There was no memory of [...] • READ MORE on

Photo credit: courtesy of Charles Knox

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: Mozart glistens, Sibelius warms

Mickelthwate steps in to lead, Smith performs an indispensable classic

by Mark Gresham

Thursday's Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert at Symphony Hall was the second in as many weeks featuring an ASO principal musician as soloist. Principal flute Christina Smith performed Mozart's “Flute Concerto No. 1,” flanked on either side by Beethoven's “Leonore Overture No. 2” and the “Symphony No. 2” of Jean Sibelius. The entire was led by guest conductor Alexander Mickelthwate, a former ASO assistant conductor who is now music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Mickelthwate was a late replacement for an ailing Ilan Volkov, thus the Beethoven overture a replacement for a planned pair of works by American composers Carl Ruggles and Ruth Crawford Seeger. (It is worth noting that although his full-time post while in Atlanta was with the ASO, Mickelthwate is possibly best remembered for leading an electrifying performance of John Zorn's "Cobra" with Bent Frequency, a local new music ensemble he co-founded, at the alternative arts venue Eyedrum.)

The Beethoven opened the program. Of the four overtures to Beethoven's sole opera Fidelio, what we know as the Leonore No. 2 was actually the first, written for premiere of the original 1805 version of the opera. The piece started off as a good but somewhat mainstream performance, but about halfway through the Allegro the work became fully engaged and exciting, then caught fire by the time it reached the two auf der Bühne trumpet flourishes played from off stage right by principal Thomas Hooten. From that point, the work was home free, down to the final repeated C major chords.

Mozart's “Flute Concerto No. 1” was the next piece on the docket. The previous evening, I had talked with flutist Christina Smith by phone about performing it.

“I have done much more contemporary works the last several times I've been soloist,” said Smith. “Going back to Mozart is like and ice skater going back to their figure eights. It's that basic core of beauty in our repertoire.” Such a basic part of repertoire it is, she indicates, that almost universally it is the first piece a performer is required to play for a serious audition, and indeed she teaches it to a lot of flute students for that purpose. So for Smith, going back and playing it in concert instead is a particular joy. The last time she performed it with the ASO was in 1998, with Carl Saint Claire conducting.

“[It] is very elegant, very poised, very idiomatic for the flute,” says Smith of Mozart's writing. So she takes a relatively straightforward, simple approach to interpretation. “I think the music absolutely speaks for itself, and you don't have to do anything innovative with interpreting it. It's all about the things about the instrument that are beautiful: the lyricism of the flute, the tone quality, the light, beautiful articulation that the flute can do. Mozart absolutely captures that and that's what I'm really going for when I perform it.”

And indeed, that is the epitome of the “classical mind” of Mozart's day: beauty is something revealed by an artist, rather than forced into bloom by the artist's will. Even if Mickelthwate was not fully in sync with Smith at a few points in the first movement, Smith's performance was blithesome, with a natural virtuosic ease of expression; the second possessed lucid lyricism; and the concluding rondo a cheerful, sprightly tempo di minuetto.

The last time the ASO had performed Sibleius' “Symphony No. 2” was in 2002, with Robert Spano conducting. It happens that this was during the time when Mickelthwate was an assistant conductor with the orchestra, which would have obliged him to be prepared to step in and conduct it if necessary. Sibelius is one of Spano's strong suits, so the understudy work as an assistant surely would have had impact. Nine years later, Mickelthwate has made this Sibelius his own, and he brought to the symphony a warmly confident, sweeping interpretation. He will soon conduct it again back home with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, December 2nd and 3rd. □

Photo credits: Jeff Roffman

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: Bailey Center hosts ebullient Ying Quartet in music by Moravec and more

by Mark Gresham | 13 Nov 2011, ArtsCriticATL

The Ying String Quartet played an engaging program of music by Arensky, Moravec and Beethoven last night at Kennesaw State University’s Bailey Performance Center. [...] • READ MORE on

Photo credit: Kate L Photography

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mickelthwate replaces indisposed Volkov in Nov. 17/19 Atlanta Symphony concerts

Program adds Beethoven, drops Ruggles and Seeger

by Mark Gresham

Alexander Mickelthwate, music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra will replace an indisposed Ilan Volkov as guest conductor for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's upcoming concerts on November 17 and 19. Word is that illness prevents Volkov from traveling.

Mickelthwate is a former assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, having made his ASO debut in 2001. His most recent appearance with the orchestra was in 2005. While in Atlanta, Mickelthwate was also one of the co-founders of new music group Bent Frequency. The 2011-'12 season is Mickelthwate's fifth with Winnipeg Symphony.

With the change of conductor comes a programming change: Beethoven’s "Leonore Overture No. 2" replaces two previously planned, rarely-heard American works: Carl Ruggles’s "Angels" and Ruth Crawford Seeger’s "Andante For Strings," adapted from one of the movements of her sole String Quartet.

The rest of the program remains as planned. ASO principal flute Christina Smith performs Mozart’s "Flute Concerto No. 1," and the concert concludes with the "Symphony No. 2" of Jean Sibelius. Conveniently, Mickelthwate was already scheduled to lead the Winnipeg Symphony in a performance of the Sibelius on December 2 & 3.

More information about concert details and tickets may be found here. □

Photo of Alexander Mickelthwate courtesy of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Monday, November 7, 2011

Conducting “Lucia di Lammermoor,” Arthur Fagen takes key role as Atlanta Opera music director

by Mark Gresham | 7 Nov 2011, ArtsCriticATL

“I discovered opera very early,” says Arthur Fagen, music director of the Atlanta Opera. “My grandfather used to take me to weekend matinee performances at both the Met and City Opera.” [...] • READ MORE on

Photo courtesy of Arthur Fagen and Chronos Artists

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Atlanta Symphony soloists come from within for concertos by Brahms and Mozart

by Mark Gresham | 6 Nov 2011, ArtsCriticATL

There’s a paradox to an orchestral musician’s career, and mind-set. Music thrives on individuality, demanding that musicians express something unique to their inner expressive voice. Yet, in an orchestra, individuals must take a largely anonymous role [...]

Photo credit: Jeff Roffman