Musical America names William Ransom one of 30 Innovators for 2016

by Mark Gresham | 6 DEC 2016

Will Ransom

Will Ransom

Congratulations to William Ransom, pianist and artistic director of the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta, who has been named by Musical America as one of its “30 Professionals of the Year: The Innovators ” for 2016.

Musical America published profiles of each of its 30 Innovators in its December Special Reports section. The article about Ransom, by John Fleming, was published online this morning (December 6). The entire Special Report is also downloadable in PDF form.

Last year, Musical America’s 30 Professionals recognized “The Influencers” (PDF) which included WABE-FM programming director and radio personality Lois Reitzes, and the 2014 list, “Profiles in Courage” (PDF) included Atlanta Symphony Orchestra music director Robert Spano. The inclusion of Ransom in this year’s MA 30 list results in Atlanta’s classical music scene being represented three years in a row. •

Emory Gamelan offers up a musical bouquet for winter

by Mark Gresham | 4 DEC 2016

Emory Gamelan Ensemble (credit Mark Gresham)

Emory Gamelan Ensemble (credit: Mark Gresham)

On Sunday evening the Emory Gamelan Ensemble presented a one-hour concert of Javanese classical music entitled “Winter Flowers” at Emory University’s Performing Arts Studio on Burlington Road

The program featured Javanese gamelan music meant to be heard on its own, rather than as accompaniment for other performing arts. The ensemble performed a total of eight pieces, the first five in the slendro tuning system and the final two in the contrasting pélog system. In between was a unique, pivotal piece, Bima Kroda (“Bima is Angry”), which began in slendro but shifted midway to pélog.

Because Emory owns sets of instruments in both Javanese tuning systems, the ensemble is able to set up the slendro instruments so the musicians face the audience, with the pélog instruments positioned so the they need only turn to one side to play them. The final two compositions in pélog, Pangkur (“Pickaxe”) and Udan Mas (“Golden Rain”), had also been played in the slendro scale early in the concert. That they were repeated in a different tuning system lent each a different character in its second presentation.

These three compositions were among a handful that were also heard in a similar performance by Emory Gamelan Ensemble last April, which seems to imply that the group is trying to establish for itself a more secure body of regular repertoire, rather than than rushing between projects where entirely new music has to be learned afresh with each project. This would be a healthy thing for the musical confidence of the ensemble, which typically draws a sizable crowd to the 260-seat PAS. Sunday’s audience was a bit smaller than usual, with attendance most likely dampened due to the chilly, rainy weather. The performance was nonetheless a delightfully exotic and meditative experience with which to conclude the weekend. •

Fractured Atlas LogoThis post was made possible in part by funds from Fractured Atlas. Donations supporting the Fractured Atlas “Mark Gresham” project may be made online by clicking the linked logo on the right. Fractured Atlas is a 501(c)(3) public charity; all donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Mark Gresham on ArtsATL: November 2016

Collected links of reviews and articles of the month on ArtsATL.com:

WWI soldiers take a break from fighting to celebrate Christmas in Silent Night.

WWI soldiers take a break from fighting to celebrate Christmas in Silent Night.

8 NOV 2016 • Review: The Atlanta Opera brings grit and realism to its ambitious WWI drama “Silent Night” [ArtsATL]

Stephen Mulligan tapped as new assistant conductor of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

NEWS | 30 NOV 2016

Stephen Mulligan (photo: Melody Evans, 2015)

Stephen Mulligan will join the ASO as its new assistant conductor in the fall of 2017.  (photo: Melody Evans, 2015)

ATLANTA, Georgia — On Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 29, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra announced that it has named Stephen Mulligan as its new assistant conductor. The two-year contract begins with the 2017-’18 season, and includes an option for a third year. As part of his new position with the ASO, Mulligan will also serve as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Mulligan replaces Joseph Young, who in 2014 became the first African-American to hold the post with the ASO, as well as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. •

Note to Readers: A longer, more detailed news article by Scott Freeman can be found on ArtsATL.

Pieces of Eight: Georgian Chamber Players perform eight-handed piano music, Mendelssohn’s Octet

by Mark Gresham | 21 NOV 2016

Julie Coucheron, William Ransom, Elana Cholakova and Elizabeth Pridgen perform Mozart's Overture to Don Giovanni, transcribed for two pianos, eight hands. (all photos: Mark Gresham)

Julie Coucheron, William Ransom, Elana Cholakova and Elizabeth Pridgen perform Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni, transcribed for two pianos, eight hands. (all photos: Mark Gresham)

On Sunday afternoon, November 20, the Georgian Chamber Players performed a concert of music by Mozart, Saint-Saëns, Ernst Bach, Sousa and Mendelssohn at Peachtree Presbyterian Church’s Kellett Chapel, located in Atlanta’s uptown Buckhead neighborhood.

The first half of the program was mostly comprised of transcriptions for two pianos, eight hands performed by pianists Julie Coucheron, Elizabeth Pridgen, Elena Cholakova and William Ransom. The original order of the first two were swapped from that in the printed program, with W.A. Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni taking the opening slot, followed by the devilish Danss macabre, Op. 40, by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Ransom, Coucheron and Pridgen get cozy in Ernst Bach's "Das Dreyblatt."

Ransom, Coucheron and Pridgen get cozy in Ernst Bach’s “Das Dreyblatt.”

The exception was a curiosity, Der Drayblatt (“The Threesome”) by W.F. Ernst Bach, a grandson of J.S. Bach, for one piano, six hands – performed by Pridgen, Couchette and Ransom. It’s a clever work, if perhaps scandalous for its day, as the composer called for it to be performed with one male pianist in the middle and two petite females on either side of him, with the gentleman stretching his arms around the ladies’ waists to play the outside-most parts. Whether or not Bach’s suggested genders are heeded in our day, the player seated in the middle would preferably have long arms.

Cholakova returned to join the other three pianists for Mack Wilberg’s transcription of John Philip Sousa’s march, The Stars and Stripes Forever. It’s a genuine transcription, in that among other flourishes, Wilberg takes the final statement of the trio, the grandioso, up a half step. The march wrapped the first half of the concert on an upbeat, cheerful note.

Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat major concluded the concert.

Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major concluded the concert.

The concert concluded with a vibrant, engaging performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20, written when the composer was 16 years old — a musically mature composition for someone that age. The performers were violinists David Coucheron, Justin Bruns, Jun-Ching Lin and Mark Huggins; violists Reid Harris and Paul Murphy; and cellists Christopher Rex and Daniel Laufer. All are prominent members of the Atlanta Symphpny Orchestra with the exception of visiting guest violinist Huggins, who is associate concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

All in all, it was an interesting, consistently delightful concert for a late Sunday afternoon.

Fractured Atlas LogoThis post was made possible in part by funds from Fractured Atlas. Donations supporting the Fractured Atlas “Mark Gresham” project may be made online by clicking the linked logo on the right. Fractured Atlas is a 501(c)(3) public charity; all donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and St. Philip’s Schola celebrate St. Cecila with works by Purcell and Handel

by Mark Gresham | 20 NOV 2016

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, St. Philip's Cathedral Schola perform Purcell's "Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day."

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, St. Philip’s Cathedral Schola perform Purcell’s “Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day.” (photo: Mark Gresham)

On Saturday evening, November 19, at The Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, led by artistic director Julie Andrijeski, in collaboration with the Schola of the Cathedral of St. Philip, directed by Dale Adelmann, and the Friends of Cathedral Music, presented a concert of music for St. Cecilia’s Day by Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. Featured vocal soloists were soprano Teresa Wakim, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Mischa Bouvier. The program is scheduled to be repeated on Sunday, November 20 at 4:00 pm at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roswell, Georgia.

In Anglican, Catholic and eastern Orthodox churchs the feast day of St. Cecilia is observed on November 22 each year. Public concerts of music in her honor, scheduled around that date, have been common in London since the 1683, when the first was organized by the Musical Society of London.

Saturday’s program consisted of what are perhaps the two best known examples of Baroque music which celebrate St. Cecilia, the patroness saint of music and musicians: Henry Purcell’s Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day (1692) and G.F. Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (1739).

Both works began with orchestral introductions. In the “Symphony” which began Purcell’s work, the orchestra seemed to have difficulty finding a consensus with regard to the music’s pulse. One wondered whether there might have been difficulty hearing left to right across the space between the cathedral’s transepts. By contrast, after intermission, the “Overture” to Handel’s ode was was secure, the ensemble much tighter and more sharply defined. That held true for the rest of the work.

Henry Purcell (engraving by R. White)

Henry Purcell (engraving by R. White)

The ringing sound of the Cathedral Schola, with a roster of 34 singers, filled the space easily in the louder homophonic passages without overextending. Like the instrumental intros of the orchestra, the contrapuntal singing was more clearly defined in the Handel, with the Schola’s polyphonic choral skills most exuberantly displayed in its busy, energetic finale.

Of the guest vocal soloists, only Wakim and Cooley sang in both works. Wakim did better and sang more extensively in the Handel, where she demonstrated an amiably clear and liquid soprano tone. Cooley’s appealingly lyrical tenor was also more prominently displayed in the Handel, although there were fine moments in the Purcell as well.

George Frideric Handel in 1733, by Balthasar Denner

George Frideric Handel (portrait by Balthasar Denner. 1733)

The others sang in the Purcell ode. Bouvier, with his deep-toned baritone voice, was the most prominent among them in that work, consistently heard well against the orchestra. Mosley’s flute-like countertenor was suited to style but translucent enough to nearly disappear in the texture at times in context of the Cathdral’s resonant acoustics — a notable exception being in a trio (“With that sublime Celestial Lay”) between himself, Cooley and Bouvier, who lightened up a little to better balance with his higher-voiced colleagues. Although uncredited in the program, bass Timothy Gunter stepped out of the ranks of the chorus for a credible duo with Bouvier near the work’s end (“Let these among themselves contest”).

The goal of “period” groups like Atlanta Baroque Orchestra is to present such music, through “historical performance practice,” in a way that Handel and Purcell might have heard it performed in their own day, on original or replicated instruments of the era. It was good to have an opportunity to hear and compare these St. Cecilia odes performed from that perspective by the ABO, the Cathedral Schola and their guest soloists. •

Fractured Atlas LogoThis post was made possible in part by funds from Fractured Atlas. Donations supporting the Fractured Atlas “Mark Gresham” project may be made online by clicking the linked logo on the right. Fractured Atlas is a 501(c)(3) public charity; all donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra releases Leshnoff CD

NEWS | 19 NOV 2016

ATLANTA, Georgia — On Friday, Nov. 18, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra released its latest recording, entitled Jonathan Leshnoff: Zohar & Symphony No. 2 “Inner Space” — the orchestra’s eighth release on its in-house record label, ASO Media, distributed by Naxos of America.

The recording features the orchestra, chorus, music director Robert Spano, director of choruses Norman Mackenzie, soprano Jessica Rivera and baritone Nmon Ford.

In a press release from the ASO, Leshnoff’s music is described as drawing upon the composer’s “religious faith and belief about music’s unique ability to transport us to places that would otherwise be impossible to go. The authentic Jewish mystical schools outline in great length the spiritual architecture of the universe and its interaction with G-d and mankind. It is within those systems that Leshnoff draws his inspiration. These works are part of Leshnoff’s 10-piece multi-year meta-project which parallels the fundamental building blocks of Jewish spiritual thought.”

The digital release is now available for download on iTunes and the physical release may be ordered online via www.aso.org/asomedia or Amazon.

The ASO Media label is one of the many hallmarks of Robert Spano’s 16-year tenure with the Orchestra, and the production team includes longtime Atlanta Symphony Orchestra collaborators Elaine Martone and Michael Bishop.

To date, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its recordings have won 27 GRAMMY Awards. •

Julie Coucheron brings a natural insight to Grieg’s Piano Concerto

by Mark Gresham | 16 NOV 2016

Julie Coucheron

Julie Coucheron

On Tuesday, November 15, the DeKalb Symphony Orchestra performed a concert of music by Wagner, Brahms and Grieg, led by DSO music director Fyodor Cherniavsky, with pianist Julie Coucheron as featured solo artist. The concert took place at the Marvin Cole Auditorium on Georgia State University’s Perimeter College Clarkston Campus.

The featured work, and final, of the evening was Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. It is that work which is the object of this brief review. Currently on the faculty of Kennesaw State University, northwest of Atlanta, pianist Julie Coucheron is well known by area audiences for her exquisite solo, duo and chamber music performances. She has performed in concert to audiences world-wide. Nevertheless, this was the first time Ms Couchron has performed a piano concerto with an Atlanta area orchestra.

When the overly-famous opening of Grieg’s concerto is performed with genuine character, as it was Tuesday night, you know it bodes extremely well for the rest of the concerto Coucheron did not disappoint with her well-stenciled, bold, yet often singingly lyrical performance. It was especially good to hear a native Norwegian pianist offer intuitive insight into the style of the rural halling folk-dance which inspired the concerto’s final movement. Too often it gets played with a kind of Hungarian gypsy flavor as if conjured by Brahms. Hearing the difference under Coucheron’s hands was a delight.

It was also the finest playing of the evening by Cherniavsky and the DeKalb Symphony Orchestra, which had offered up Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin and the Symphony No. 2 of Johannes Brahms in the first half of the program Cherniavsky proved an able accompanist in the Grieg, drawing the best from his orchestra in the collaboration with Coucheron. •

The DeKalb Symphony Orchestra

The DeKalb Symphony Orchestra

Fractured Atlas LogoThis post was made possible in part by funds from Fractured Atlas. Donations supporting the Fractured Atlas “Mark Gresham” project may be made online by clicking the linked logo on the right. Fractured Atlas is a 501(c)(3) public charity; all donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.