34th Season Archive, 2009-2010
Concert Review: Composition contest winner
BY PIERRE RUHE | Thursday, April 29, 2010 | www.artscriticatl.com
An innovative, or maybe crazy, project launched a year ago has come to fruition -- and there's news of a much bigger version in the works.
At the Shakespeare Tavern in Midtown on Wednesday, the Atlanta Chamber Players gave the world premiere of Jon Jeffrey Grier's "Diverse Variations on A-C-P," 13 minutes of marvelous, quirky, touching, moody and thoroughly engrossing music. It was an unexpectedly satisfying end to "Rapido: a 14 Day Composition Contest."
A little background. Last year, pianist Paula Peace and local arts benefactor Ron Antinori hatched the novel (and frankly improbable) "Rapido." In brief: composers from across the South were given two weeks to write an original, five-minute piece of music. It's a composers' version of the trendy 48-hour film-making contests. After several rounds of judging -- culminating in the four finalists in a concert in October 2009 -- the winning work was by Grier, a jazz musician and high school music teacher in South Carolina, who beat several more prominent composers for the prize.
By competition rules, Grier was awarded $5,000 to beef up his short entry into a finished piece. That work -- in three movements, scored for oboe, violin, viola, cello and piano -- premiered Wednesday.
On paper, it's composed a bit like a puzzle; to the ear it's loaded with personality and originality. The notes A, C and B form the music's DNA code, repeated, flipped and transformed endlessly. There are echoes of formal patterns, like canon and theme-and-variations. The harmonies are unexpectedly piquant without sounding bitter -- perhaps citrusy, like the enjoyable tartness of a ripe lemon.
It's very busy music -- scurrying, lurching, jittery -- and finds repose only briefly. It all sounded very difficult to put together. The busyness makes the music inscrutable, yet suggests a strong emotional and psychological profile. Who knows? Grier's voice is fundamentally dark without brooding, and he's got the ear and the sincerity to craft some really lovely moments -- not glib pretty tunes, but melodies that are hard-earned and thus all the more rewarding.
The second movement was his original "Rapido" entry, and it's a little more spontaneous than the others, with a blazing energy that takes bigger risks and yields bigger payoffs. I hope Peace and her chamber players don't keep "Diverse Variations" on the shelf too long.
And the latest news? "Rapido" has gone national. For next season, the Atlanta Chamber Players will again determine a Southern winner, while Boston Musica Viva simultaneously trolls New England and Chicago's Fifth House Ensemble seeks out Midwestern composers. There will be regional contests and a national finals. Each ensemble will then pass around the winning work, extending its reach.
Promise in Partnership of Chamber Players, Shakespeare Troupe
BY PIERRE RUHE |
Friday, January 1, 2010 | www.artscriticatl.com
Atlanta Chamber Players and Atlanta Shakespeare Company
Atlanta's arts community has a rich and self-congratulatory history of talking about collaboration between disciplines. They are unequivocally good things, the more the better. Yet for reasons of funding or logistics or institutional turf wars, actual fusions of the arts have been relatively rare.
When it has happened -- such as when dancers from gloATL performed with musicians from Sonic Generator in the High Museum's atrium in December -- the result is electrifying.
Suddenly, it's starting to look like a trend. Across its 34-year history, the Atlanta Chamber Players has often performed in nontraditional venues, from art galleries to sacred spaces around town, but Thursday evening, the group took it to a whole new level.
The chamber players hooked up with actors from the Atlanta Shakespeare Company in its Elizabethan-style theater, the Shakespeare Tavern in Midtown. The show was sold out for Igor Stravinsky's "A Soldier's Tale," based on Russian folklore and borrowing from the Faust and Orpheus legends. Stravinsky and Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, who wrote the text, crafted the extraordinary little entertainment to be portable: seven musicians, three actors and a dancer. Brilliant idea: It fit perfectly for the Tavern's stage and ambiance.
The story resonates across cultures: selling your violin (or your soul) to the Devil yields short-term pleasures but long-term misery. A naive young Soldier (the wonderfully earnest Matt Nitchie) trades his fiddle for a book filled with future stock tables; he gets very rich but realizes he has nothing of value -- a typical yuppie midlife crisis.
The Devil, played by Drew Reeves as a cross between Richard III and Ebenezer Scrooge, doles out satisfaction but, inevitably, brings home his prize. As the meddlesome Narrator -- who can't help but advise the hapless Soldier -- Clarke Weigle spoke as both an authority figure and a confidant. Becky Cormier Finch offered a modest, girl-next-door dance as the Princess. It wasn't an ideally realized collaboration -- the actors hadn't memorized their lines and mostly read from scripts -- but the work's potential was devastatingly apparent.
And the chamber players were brilliant. The group is drawn mostly from Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians of high virtuosity and dramatic intensity. Justin Bruns set the standard with gritty and soulful (or comically squeaky) violin playing. Bassoonist Carl Nitchie (father of Soldier Matt) delivered sweet, plummy lines.
Technically, the show was an Atlanta Chamber Players' concert. The evening opened with a Flute Sonata in C Major of uncertain authorship. It's sometimes attributed to J.S. Bach or one of his sons. Eschewing any of the now-fashionable "historically informed" trends for performing baroque music, ASO principal flutist Christina Smith rounded all edges and offered a stream of warm, purring tone. Her backup continuo was cellist Brad Ritchie and the chamber players' founder Paula Peace, playing a plug-in digital "harpsichord," which made reasonably lifelike sounds.
Their playing lacked bite but was in all a darling performance, rhythmically alive and contrapuntally witty and balanced.
Smith and Ritchie returned for Elliott Carter's seven-minute "Enchanted Preludes," a knotty, charming work from 1988 that explores the limits of each instrument and pushed the musical partnership far outside its comfort zone. It took a while for the duo to seem relaxed and to thus let the music speak on its own terms. But by the end their playing was confident, maybe even spunky, and won over a crowd that had come to experience something new.
Atlanta Chamber Players 'Rapido!' contest a high note of a season opener
BY PIERRE RUHE | Monday, October 5, 2009 | www.artscriticatl.com
“And the winner is...”
Classical music isn’t associated with the formulaic suspense-and-instant-gratification energies that make game shows and reality television so popular. The art form’s substantial pleasures usually lie elsewhere.
But as the Atlanta Chamber Players proved Sunday afternoon, there are many paths to good music. The 34-year-old ensemble opened its new season in the High Museum’s Hill Auditorium with an event so innovative for classical music (and so successful in discovering talent) that the group and its benefactor are hoping to patent it.
“Rapido! A 14-day Composition Contest” was launched in April and open to anyone in 11 Southern states. Composers had to pre-register, and on June 8 they were given an uncommon instrumentation (oboe, violin, cello and piano), a form (theme and variations) and the clock started ticking. Composers had two weeks to submit about five minutes of original music.
Preliminary screening whittled the 38 entries down to seven semi-finalists and then four finalists, each of which was given its world premieres Sunday. Three judges — Boston composer Michael Gandolfi, Atlanta Opera general director Dennis Hanthorn and Dutch record producer Jared Sacks — decided the winner on the spot. There was also an audience prize.
The winner, an easy decision, was Jon Grier’s quirky and original “Rapid Variations on A-C-P.” A high school music teacher from South Carolina with no reputation beyond Greenville, Grier built his piece on a three-note theme (A, C and B) that scurried anxiously and flashed sorrow or anger and offered touching lyricism — in effect, putting personality and psychology into music. It was reasonably well crafted, too, and loaded with fresh sounds, as when oboist Elizabeth Koch sang out a plaintive cry over jittery pizzicatos from the strings.
Grier’s prize, worth $4,000, is a commission to elaborate his “Rapid Variations” into a 15-minute work, which will be premiered by the Atlanta Chamber Players on April 28.
Second prize: Seyed Safavynia’s “Spin Glass,” a whirlwind piece that’s sometimes awkwardly written and disjointed but always colorful, busy and eager to please. Safavynia, who is a medical student at Emory University and a part-time composer, the hometown favorite, also won the audience prize.
Alan Elkins’ “Variations on an Original Theme” came in third. At 23, Elkins is still finding his voice. His entry was assured in technique, with sonic echoes from music history — Richard Strauss and Paul Hindemith — but came off as the work of a very talented student.
Paul Richards, the most known composer of the finalists, didn’t win anything. His “Quicksilver” was lovely at turns, tonal, dense and virtuosic but academically conventional.
In all, the “Rapido” process worked brilliantly — discovering new voices while energizing patrons, musicians and audiences alike. Given the crowd’s reaction to the entire event, one suspects everyone will be very eager to hear Grier’s final version of his “Rapid Variations.”
Pierre Ruhe blogs about classical music at ArtsCriticATL.com
Top 10 Classical Music Performances in 2009
BY PIERRE RUHE | www.artscriticatl.com
Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, Donald Runnicles conducting the Atlanta Symphony. The orchestra’s principal guest conductor, always interesting, has deepened into a profound interpreter, and the orchestra played for him with super-charged emotion. April.
Osvaldo Golijov’s “Azul,” a spectacularly cosmic and serene cello concerto performed by Yo-Yo Ma and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. A new masterpiece. May.
From Bach to Haydn, music that spanned the 18th century performed by New Trinity Baroque, Atlanta’s risk-taking early-music troupe. September.
Hindustani classical music performed by sitar player Kakali Bandyopadhyay, an associate artist at Emory University, and table player Anjaneya Sastry. Charismatic performers restoring ancient sounds from India. Bliss. September.
“Rapido! A 14-day Composition Contest,” was a nifty idea from the Atlanta Chamber Players: a contest to write music on deadline for a cash award and a future commission. And the best work won: Jon Grier’s “Rapid Variations on A-C-P.” October.
Soprano Christine Brewer and pianist Craig Rutenberg opened Spivey Hall’s 19th season. Gargantuan yet subtle, Brewer’s sound is rich and silken in tone. She’s an ASO regular, but here in recital she was in the best voice I’ve ever heard her. October.
Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” starred the celebrated countertenor David Daniels, now an Atlanta resident, making his Atlanta Opera debut. Thanks to a strong cast — with Katherine Whyte as Euridice and Deanne Meek as Amore — it was the most satisfying effort in the Atlanta Opera’s 30-year history. November.
Brahms’ “A German Requiem” is music central to the ASO and Chorus. Under conductor Runnicles they performed it in three full spiritual dimensions. (And for the chorus and conductor, the show was a warm-up for concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic in Germany.) November.
Sonic Generator’s “French-American Connection” offered wild, imaginative and unexpectedly stirring contemporary music, all with a technology component. November.
“Dual Synthesis” is New York composer Tristan Perich’s quirky, original work for harpsichord and primitive, 1-bit electronics. Performed at Eyedrum, it induced euphoria in the listener.
Atlanta Chamber Players perform “Spotlight on Winds”
The Atlanta Chamber Players return to the Ahavath Achim Synagogue this season for the "Chamber Music in Sacred Spaces: Spotlight on Winds" concert, on Sunday, November 15th, 2009 at 3:00 p.m.
The program leads off with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's graceful C Major Quartet for Flute & Strings and will spotlight ASO principal flutist Christina Smith. This attractive and appealing work was composed in 1778 for a wealthy Dutch amateur flutist. Charles Martin Loeffler's gorgeous, Impressionistic "The Bagpipe" with oboe, viola and piano, will spotlight ASO principal oboist Elizabeth Koch. German composer Loeffler immigrated to America in 1881, joining the newly formed Boston Symphony Orchestra as a violist. The Bagpipe (from Deux Rhapsodies) was finished in 1905 and dedicated to the memory of the BSO's clarinetist, Leon Porteau, with whom Loeffler had originally intended to perform them. Baroque master Georg Philipp Telemann's Quartet Sonata in G Major from Tafelmusik (flute, oboe, violin, continuo) is a lyrical and lively showpiece for the winds and violin. Telemann was one of the most prominent and prolific musicians of his time. The Tafelmusik or Musique de Table was so called because the music was to be performed while the household was at table, dining or feasting. The program concludes with Dmitri Shostakovich's 1944 Piano Trio in E Minor, considered one of the greatest musical works from the World War II era. This profoundly moving work combines mystery and pathos with war machine rhythms and Jewish melodies--at the time when news of the Holocaust was just beginning to surface. This piece was a lamentation both for Shostakovish's close friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, and the victims of the Holocaust.
Musicians performing will include Paula Peace, piano and Artistic Director; Christina Smith, flute; Elizabeth Koch, oboe; Justin Bruns, violin; Catherine Lynn, viola; and Brad Ritchie, cello. The Atlanta Chamber Players, a mixed ensemble including top Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians, offer an innovative season of artistically excellent chamber music including beloved classics, exciting contemporary works, and commissioned pieces.
Adult $20, Student with ID $10. Discounted subscription packages and single tickets
Free parking is available at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue:600 Peachtree Battle Road, NW Atlanta (at Northside Parkway).
Atlanta Chamber Players Open 2009-2010 Season with Rapido!
The Atlanta Chamber Players are proud to open our 34th season on Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 3:00 pm at the High Museum’s Walter Hill Auditorium, 1280 Peachtree Street NE in Atlanta, with the Finals Round of Rapido! a 14-Day Composition Contest, co-sponsored by the Antinori Foundation. This past summer composers of all ages and experience from 11 southern states submitted short entries – composed rapidly in 14 days! The four finalist works – by composers Alan Elkins, Jon Jeffrey Grier, Paul Richards, and Seyed Safavynia – will be performed for judging live at the October 4th concert. Judges include the distinguished American composer Michael Gandolfi, Atlanta Opera General Director Dennis Hanthorn, and Director of Channel Classics Records Jared Sacks. The audience will vote and award the Audience Prize, as well! The first-prize winning composer will be awarded a commission to expand and "finish" the work for premiere performance at the final concert of the ACP season, on April 28, 2010.
We will open this "Rapido!" program with Beethoven's masterful 14 Variations for piano trio, followed by works from Atlanta School of Composers Michael Gandolfi and Jennifer Higdon, familiar to Atlanta audiences through recent ASO performances. Our audience will also be treated to the Southeastern premiere of Gandolfi's 2009 “History of the World in Seven Acts,” a sextet for winds, strings, piano and percussion, which combines chamber music with a fascinating 14 minute computer animation. Higdon's “Southern Harmony” for string quartet features Southern flavors – from pensive, longing intensity to fiddling and toe tapping rhythms.
Musicians performing include Paula Peace, piano and Artistic Director; Christina Smith, flute; Alcides Rodriguez, bass clarinet; Elizabeth Koch, oboe; Justin Bruns, violin; John Meisner, violin; Catherine Lynn, viola; Brad Ritchie, cello; and Tom Sherwood, percussion. The Atlanta Chamber Players, a mixed ensemble including top Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians, offer an innovative season of artistically excellent chamber music including beloved classics, exciting contemporary works, and commissioned pieces.
Adult $20, Student with ID $10. Discounted subscription packages and single tickets available.
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The Atlanta Chamber Players present
“Chamber Music at the Tavern: The Soldier's Tale”
The Atlanta Chamber Players are thrilled to return to the New American Shakespeare Tavern, 499 Peachtree Street, Atlanta on the evening of Tuesday, January 26, 2010 for the first of two performances there this season. The concert begins at 7:30 pm, but the audience is invited to enjoy – beginning at 6:15 pm - the British pub menu and libation at the Shakespeare Tavern. This winter concert features an exciting, staged performance of Igor Stravinsky's 1918 theatrical masterpiece – L'Histoire du Soldat (A Soldier's Tale), complete with seven ACP musicians, plus narrator, actors and dancers from the Atlanta Shakespeare Company roster. Stravinsky's virtuosic music is set to a Russian folk tale about a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil for a book with great powers. Joining ACP regulars Justin Bruns (violin), Laura Ardan (clarinet), Carl Nitchie (bassoon) and Douglas Sommer (bass) will be ASO Principals Thomas Hooten (trumpet), Colin Williams (trombone), Tom Sherwood (percussion), and Michael Moore (conductor.) A short first half features the Baroque soul and bravura of Johann Sebastian Bach, followed by American Elliott Carter's brilliant 1988 duo for flute and cello, Enchanted Preludes, inspired by poetry of Wallace Stevens.
(Dinner and drinks are not included in the concert ticket price.)
Adult $20, Student with ID $10.
Box Office: www.shakespearetavern.com and 404-874-5299 for single tickets.
Discounted subscription packages available at www.atlantachamberplayers.com.
Convenient parking located across the street at Crawford Long Hospital.
Bring your parking ticket to theatre for discount coupon.