James M. Keller gives an overview of the coming concert season
The 2018-19 concert season should be good for the piano-tuning business in Santa Fe, where keyboard music looms large among the year’s most prominent offerings. The piano is a marvelous invention, allowing total responsibility for an interpretation to be concentrated into a single performer. “Respect the pianoforte!” wrote the pianist and arranger Ferruccio Busoni. “It gives a single man command over something complete: in its ability to go from very soft to very loud in one and the same register it excels all the instruments. The trumpet can blare, but not sigh; the flute is contrary; the pianoforte can do both. Its range embraces the highest and the lowest practicable notes. Respect the pianoforte!” On the other hand, overfamiliarity has given rise to occasional jibes, one of the most memorable being its definition in Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary: “Piano, n. A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.”
Anumber of familiar pianists will pay repeat visits to our region this year. Anne-Marie McDermott has become a go-to soloist for Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra, with whom she played all five Beethoven piano concertos over the past two seasons. On Sept. 22-23, she will join the group again, this time in Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor (K. 466), a brooding work that in some respects sounds like proto-Beethoven; in fact, Beethoven mastered the piece and kept in his performing repertoire for some years. Santa Fe Pro Musica’s longtime music director, Thomas O’Connor, will conduct (Haydn’s
Oxford Symphony and a piece by contemporary composer Chris Cerrone are also on the program), but for the rest of the season the orchestra will usually be led by guest conductors who are auditioning to succeed him.
Another very familiar face is Conrad Tao, who has performed here almost annually since he was a fourteen-year-old prodigy, usually under Pro Musica’s auspices. This year, however, he will be presented by St. John’s College, where he is slated for a recital on Nov. 9. This twenty-four-year-old artist has not yet announced his program, but he often puts together genuinely interesting recitals. We will watch eagerly for details to emerge.
Emanuel Ax has been a more occasional visitor here, but his concerts are always welcome. He belongs to the elite A-list of international piano soloists, and serious music-lovers should mark his March 31 recital at the Lensic in their calendars before anything else gets in the way. I have repeatedly criticized Performance Santa Fe for the casualness with which it has announced (or, better put, not announced) repertoire in the past. I am overjoyed to commend them this time around. This year, the organization’s website includes repertoire for all the classical concerts they are presenting except the last one, and it may be that the ensemble featured in that one has not yet committed to its playlist eight months in the future. Ax, however, has everything in place, and it should be an invigorating concert: a thoughtfully plotted mixture of famous and not-so-famous pieces by Brahms, Schumann, Ravel, Chopin, and George Benjamin.
Los Alamos Concert Association had a rough time last year, decamping to an alternative space while its usual home (the Duane Smith Auditorium of Los Alamos High School) was undergoing renovation, but this year its audiences will be able to appreciate the improved creature comforts. On May 3, they can do so while taking in a recital by Gabriela Montero ,a fascinating musician who is notable as one of the few international-grade classical pianists who loves to improvise for her audiences. She has also emerged as a potent voice in international affairs of state, speaking out against the political and economic devastation of her native Venezuela. Again, the specific program has yet to be announced.
The piano team of Anderson & Roe have been here often enough that concertgoers will have a sense of their capacity to veer into over-ardent glitziness. Nonetheless, this is a highly accomplished ensemble, and one looks forward to hearing them when they join the Santa Fe Symphony and conductor Guillermo Figueroa for a Christmas Eve concert at the Lensic. Their “let me entertain you” side will doubtless come to the fore when they play their Carmen Fantasy, which they arranged out of themes by Bizet. But the reason this item should go into your datebook is that they will also be featured in Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, one of the most stellar pieces in the duo-piano repertoire.
Donna Coleman, an American pianist who has developed much of her career in Australia, may not
boast a very famous name, but her recordings are impressive and her musical imagination is compelling. This fall, she will be at the center of the “OutBach Festival of (Mostly) American Music” at the intimate San Miguel Chapel, a series of three concerts that focus on Charles Ives (her specialty) and other American composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Her CD of Ives’ Concord Sonata is routinely cited as a notable reading. On Nov. 27, she performs what she calls her “scripted version” of that piece — which we guess means with readings from the authors who inspired its four movements. The festivities continue with concerts, on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1, in which she is joined by her colleagues in the Concord Trio, performing American pieces (including Ives’ Piano Trio) and also coeval chamber works by Kodály and Ravel.
Elsewhere in the keyboard world, Santa Feans will have many opportunities this season to appreciate the C.B. Fisk tracker-action organ at First Presbyterian Church. It is without a doubt the finest organ in New Mexico based on historical organ-building principles that would have been familiar to Bach, Couperin, Mozart, and all other composers of pre-Romantic times. To mark the 10th anniversary of its installation, the church has put together a year-long celebration that spotlights a succession of redoubtable organists, rising to a peak in October and November. The recitals include names greatly respected in the somewhat cloistered realm of organ aficionados. Three that particularly snagged our attention are Janette Fishell, chair of the organ department of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, on Oct. 19; Kimberly Marshall, formerly university organist at Stanford University and a specialist in organs and repertoire of the late medieval and Renaissance periods, on Nov. 2; and Nathan J. Laube, from the faculties of the Eastman School of Music and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in the United Kingdom, one of the fastest-rising stars of the organ world, on Nov. 9. You don’t do organ recitals? This might be the year to rethink that.
Listeners whose tastes run to string-playing should take note of a recital by the Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti. Performance Santa Fe presents her, assisted by pianist Alexei Grynyuk, at St. Francis Auditorium on Jan. 23. The first half of the program looks alluring: the much-traversed Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 for Unaccompanied Violin, and then Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 2, which should be well calibrated to Benedetti’s musical extroversion. After intermission comes a new, as-yet-unnamed piece by Wynton Marsalis (is it derived from the Violin Concerto he wrote for her a couple of years ago?) and the Richard Strauss Violin Sonata, a penance we last bore when Vadim Gluzman trudged through it (also for Performance Santa Fe) this past February.
The eminent Emerson String Quartet, presented by Performance Santa Fe comes, in on May 10, but other quartets of grand standing will also pass through, courtesy of Santa Fe Pro Musica. Connoisseurs of chamber music will probably already admire the Barcelona-based Cuarteto Casals, the leading string quartet of Spain (well, its violist is American). Founded in 1997, the group gained early attention by winning several high-profile international competitions and disseminated its work through numerous CDs on the Harmonia Mundi label. Their program on Feb. 24 will focus on classics: Haydn’s Bird Quartet, Bartók’s Quartet No. 3, a set of Purcell fantasias, and Debussy’s Quartet. Also on Santa Fe Pro Musica’s schedule is the Elias String Quartet, which on the afternoon of March 31 will offer quartets by Mozart, Schumann, and the contemporary British composer Sally Beamish. Based in London, the Elias was formed just a few years after the Casals, and they have a still more international makeup — as they describe themselves, “two French-Catalan sisters, a Swedish viola player and a Scot.” This will be doubleheader day for music-lovers, with the Elias foursome playing at 3 p.m. and Emanuel Ax performing at 7:30 that evening.
Lovers of early music were disappointed last March when storms on the East Coast prevented the Venice Baroque Orchestra from arriving for its planned performance in Los Alamos. We get another chance, since Performance Santa Fe will host the period-instrument group on Oct. 30. The ensemble is a serious player in the international historical-performance scene, having released many lauded recordings on the Naïve, Sony, and Deutsche Grammophon labels. Except for one work by Francesco Geminiani (his recasting of Corelli’s Variations on La folia), everything on the program is by Vivaldi, the superstar of late-Baroque music in Venice — so a hometown compatriot for these musicians. In other hands, a mostly Vivaldi concert could be somnolent, but this ensemble brings dependable exuberance to its performances. Among the musicians featured in this concert is recorder virtuoso Anna Fusek, who is also known to appear as a highly accomplished soloist on piano and on violin — so surprises may be in store here.
Appreciators of early music may also want to carve out some hours at the end of May and beginning of June. On May 31, Performance Santa Fe presents the Los Angeles Master Chorale (conducted by Grant Gershon) in a staged rendition of the Lagrime di San
Pietro, a cycle of sacred madrigals by 16th-century composer Orlande de Lassus (a.k.a. Orlando di Lasso). This will be performed as a staged event directed by Peter Sellars. You may recall that the combination of director Sellars and conductor Gershon gave rise to that production of Vivaldi’s Griselda at Santa Fe Opera back in 2011, a memory that would be a justifiable reason to book passage to anywhere but Santa Fe on that date. On the other hand, many people have been moved by Sellars’ action-packed versions of such concert works as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, so maybe this will be revelatory. In any case, it is an excellent choir, and the music (composed in 1594, the last year of Lassus’ life) is restrained and mystical. Since Sellars is involved, the chorus members will probably spend a portion of the evening lying on the stage floor.
Turning to a still earlier era, the Santa Fe-based group Severall Friends will offer a rare performance of the Roman de Fauvel, a 14th-century French romance-in-verse. The most remarkable surviving copy of the piece has music interspersed, some of it by the noted medieval composer Philippe de Vitry. The work is an allegory about reprehensible human traits. The central character is Fauvel, a horse (or ass), whose name is an anagram for Flaterie, Avarice,
Vilanie, Varieté, Envie, Lascheté — which is to say, Flattery, Avarice, Vileness, Fickleness, Envy, and Cowardice. The singers and instrumentalists will be joined by projected illuminations custom-made for this production. Performances are slated for San Miguel Chapel on June 1 (the venue may possibly change), and at Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos on June 2. This is the sort of ironic spoof our medieval ancestors could bring off with rollicking cynicism, and one expects that its outlook will prove every bit as relevant to our own time.