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South Carolina’s Rock Hill Symphony, broadening city’s cultural scene

“In 2017, a collection of residents, musicians, and at least one globetrotting conductor realized that Rock Hill was the largest city in the Carolinas that did not have its own symphony orchestra,” writes Scott Morgan on Thursday (12/5) at radio station WFAE (Charlotte, N.C.). “Rob Thompson, the development associate for the Rock Hill Symphony Orchestra, says that as the city carves a more distinct identity—i.e., as something other than a suburb of Charlotte—the push to expand Rock Hill’s musical culture scene is a major component. Now in its second season, the RHSO has already outgrown its original digs at the Rawlins Road Middle School auditorium [and now performs in] the larger, more acoustically attuned auditorium at South Pointe High School…. Plans are in the works for a concert hall…. The RHSO’s conductor and music director, David Rudge, … is a former assistant conductor for the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra … and the South Carolina Philharmonic. [The RHSO] operates a program called ‘Symphony in Schools.’ … There are 10 elementary schools getting the chance to have RHSO musicians come to them with workshops and programs to help music teachers reach a broader, wider, and deeper place in students.”

Posted December 9, 2019

New interim leadership at Minnesota’s Mankato Symphony

“The Mankato Symphony Orchestra has announced its executive director, Hannah Bretz, is stepping down and will be replaced on an interim basis by musician and educator Bethel Balge,” writes Robb Murray in Thursday’s (12/5) Mankato Free Press (Mankato, MN). “Bretz will leave the organization later this month…. Bethel Balge joins the Mankato Symphony Orchestra with breadth of experience as an arts administrator and educator, as well as professional classical musician. In addition to teaching at Bethany Lutheran College and Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Balge is the founding artistic director of the Summit Avenue Music Series and co-artistic director of the ProMusica Minnesota Chamber Music Festival.… As a professional pianist Bethel has performed in Germany, Russia and throughout the United States. ‘As a proud resident of south-central Minnesota, I am excited to work with the exceptional musicians and staff of the Mankato Symphony,’ Balge said.”

Posted December 9, 2019

Review: New York Philharmonic premiere of Steve Reich’s first score for orchestra in decades

“Steve Reich, one of the avatars of musical Minimalism, has written barely at all for the traditional symphony,” writes Seth Colter Walls in Friday’s (12/6) New York Times. “Before ‘Music for Ensemble and Orchestra,’ which had its New York premiere with the New York Philharmonic on Thursday … his last piece for orchestra had come more than 30 years ago…. By restricting the most virtuosic material in the 20-minute ‘Music for Ensemble and Orchestra’ to a select group of strings, woodwinds, pianos and vibraphones, he [hewed] closely to the intimate forces employed by his usual groups…. He still displays his old talent for blitzing, interlocking, mutating melodies, as well as for dramatic shifts in harmony. But his use of the orchestra reveals a composer confident in his idiom, reaching out for new effects…. Some scintillating passages for trumpets and vibraphones were brimming with a metallic resonance that the orchestra and its music director, Jaap van Zweden, balanced beautifully with the strings and winds…. This program of classics [Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 4 with Yefim Bronfman] plus an exciting contemporary work is exactly the kind of eclectic, highly enjoyable evening that an elite orchestra can and should pull off regularly.” The score was co-commissioned with several other orchestras.

Posted December 9, 2019

Photo of Steve Reich by Jay Blakesberg

Kennedy Center honoree Michael Tilson Thomas: career perspective

Michael Tilson Thomas “wears his elder-statesman mantle lightly, even with a kind of incredulity,” writes Anne Midgette in Sunday’s (12/8) Washington Post. “He’s ‘MTT,’ music director of the San Francisco Symphony, co-founder of the New World Symphony in Florida…. MTT [is] this year one of the artists receiving Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement…. In 1987, Thomas co-founded the New World Symphony, a unique training orchestra for young professional musicians…. Among the highlights of his tenure [at the San Francisco Symphony] have been a well-received cycle of Mahler symphonies; a wildly ambitious video, audio and Internet project called Keeping Score … and programs including an American Mavericks series …. The New World Symphony is one of the orchestra world’s success stories [and] has also become a showpiece of Miami’s cultural scene…. ‘When he gives a soloist a cue,’ [San Francisco Symphony piccolo player Catherine Payne] says, … ‘He looks at you like, “This is going to be the most beautiful thing ever. Show me what you can do.” ’ ” The Kennedy Center Honors were presented on December 8 in Washington, D.C. Other 2019 honorees were Linda Ronstadt, Earth Wind & Fire, Sesame Street, and Sally Field.

Posted December 9, 2019

In photo: Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony. Photo by Kristen Loken

Detroit Symphony tech upgrades to “Live from Orchestra Hall” webcasts

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has announced several technology upgrades to its free “Live from Orchestra Hall” webcasts of DSO Classical Series concerts, including a new 4K ultra-high-definition video system that offers clearer images and performs better in low light. Eight Panasonic AW-UE150 4K robotic cameras replace six older Sony models in use for several years. The DSO created nine new camera positions in Orchestra Hall so that camera angles can be reconfigured for each webcast. The upgrade also includes new broadcast equipment and new wiring that will allow the DSO to film and stream events in The Peter D. and Julie F. Cummings Cube and Robert A. and Maggie Allesee Rehearsal Hall, two additional, smaller venues located within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. The DSO will begin taking full advantage of the new system and offer 4K webcasts later this winter. The upgrades also include the relaunch of the DSO’s website as a mobile-first site, with user enhancements and greater capacity for multimedia content.

Posted December 6, 2019

Johanna Keller, arts journalism program founder, to retire from teaching

“Johanna Keller is retiring after 16 years of teaching at Syracuse University,” where she founded the Goldring Arts Journalism program for master’s students in 2003, writes Diana Riojas in Tuesday’s (12/3) Daily Orange, the Syracuse University student newspaper. “As an associate professor in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Keller has taught writing, criticism and arts journalism, among other courses. ‘Watching [students] learn something, watching them expand, watching them grow is very exciting for me and very fulfilling,’ Keller said. Keller founded the Goldring Arts Journalism program at SU in 2003…. Over 200 students have completed the program and now work at places such as Google, National Geographic and The New York Times.… Keller stepped down as the director of the Goldring program in 2015…. She opened a public relations company in 1981 for musicians like John Lewis, Ravi Shankar and the Emerson String Quartet. Closing the business in 1989, she was then hired by the Lincoln Center for the Mozart Bicentennial Project [and became] editor for Chamber Music magazine in 1997…. Keller said she plans to garden and travel while continuing to work as a music critic for The Hopkins Review … and write for publications like Opera Magazine.”

Posted December 6, 2019

National Symphony to perform second annual “ugly sweater” holiday program

“It could be argued that ugly sweaters are one of the best traditions of the holiday season,” writes Natalia Kolenko in Monday’s (12/2) On Tap Magazine (Washington, D.C.). “Looking to bring some of that fun to the classical music world, the National Symphony Orchestra will showcase its Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert on December 11. Hosted at The Anthem once again, the second-ever themed concert will see the NSO dressed in their best unsightly sweaters…. Audience members are also encouraged to don their favorite ugly holiday pullovers…. The audience can also expect a wide variety of music…. Nick Hersh, the NSO’s conductor for the Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert … says, ‘You’ll hear familiar carols but beautifully orchestrated, and we’ll also play some classical standards that have come to be associated with Christmas.’ … This year’s show will [feature] several pieces from Duke Ellington’s … Nutcracker Suite [based] on the classic score from Tchaikovsky. Hersh says this is one of his favorite arrangements from the show as it takes the beauty and familiarity of the original pieces and spikes them with high-energy jazz. There will also be a choral component … featuring DC a cappella group The Capital Hearings.”

Posted December 6, 2019

Regular chamber-music series is back at Houston Symphony

“Putting it in movie-business terms, if a symphonic performance is a summer blockbuster, chamber music represents its art-house cousin,” writes Chris Gray in Tuesday’s (12/3) Houston Chronicle. “ ‘A chamber-music performance truly is a snapshot in time—even the same players performing the same piece could never recreate the exact experience from night to night,’ … says Robin Kesselman, the Houston Symphony’s principal double bassist…. From 1988 to 1999, the Houston Symphony Chamber Players once filled that niche…. Now it’s back. After offering chamber-music performances before select concerts in recent seasons, last month the symphony announced a new chamber series that begins Friday … World-renowned violinist Gil Shaham, in town to perform Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major with the orchestra this weekend, will sit in on the same composer’s Clarinet Quintet in B minor…. According to Rebecca Zabinski, the symphony’s director of artistic planning, almost 50 percent of the orchestra’s personnel will participate in the new series, [with] programming … entirely suggested by the musicians…. The players performing Richard Strauss’s ‘Metamorphosen’ septet, another selection on Friday’s concert, began rehearsing before the series was officially announced—‘just because they really wanted to play it together,’ says Zabinski.”
To read Symphony magazine’s article about orchestral musicians and chamber music, visit Symphony’s website.

Posted December 6, 2019

Nadège Foofat to conduct Savannah Philharmonic’s holiday concerts

“Not much else seems as connected to Christmas as storytelling and the magic of music, and with this year’s Holiday Spectacular, the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus promises to provide both,” writes Zach Dennis in Wednesday’s (12/4) Do Savannah (Savannah, GA). “The annual celebration of everything festive kicks off with two days of celebration on Friday, Dec. 6 and Saturday, Dec. 7 at the Johnny Mercer Theater…. The program will be split into two parts with Roger Moss, co-founder of the Savannah Children’s Choir, narrating ‘The Gift of the Magi’ with the help of the Philharmonic and the Savannah Children’s Choir. In the second part, the Savannah Philharmonic’s chorus will join the Orchestra with a Motown Holiday Tribute [with vocalist] Mykal Kilgore…. Joining the Philharmonic for this year’s edition will be guest conductor Nadège Foofat. Foofat is a conductor, violinist, violist, and advocate for innovation…. In April 2018, Footfat made her conducting debut with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in the League of American Orchestras’ 2018 Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview … Savannah Philharmonic executive director Terri O’Neill said Foofat is a welcome addition to this season’s crowd of guest conductors for the Philharmonic.”

Posted December 6, 2019

In photo: Nadège Foofat, guest conductor for the Savannah Philharmonic’s December 6 and 7 concerts at the Johnny Mercer Theater


San Francisco Opera names Eun Sun Kim as next music director, first woman to hold position

“Eun Sun Kim, the South Korean conductor who made a powerful San Francisco Opera debut in June leading Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka,’ has been named the company’s next music director,” writes Joshua Kosman in Thursday’s (12/5) San Francisco Chronicle. “She will be … the only Asian woman to hold an artistic leadership role with a major North American opera company.” The 39-year-old conductor succeeds Nicola Luisotti, who stepped down in 2018. Kim’s five-year appointment takes effect August 2021. Her current season includes concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the symphony orchestras of San Diego, Cincinnati, Oregon, and Seattle. She is principal guest conductor of the Houston Grand Opera. Upcoming debuts include appearances with the New York Philharmonic and productions with the Wiener Staatsoper, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Metropolitan Opera. “Born in Seoul, she began her musical life as a pianist but switched to composing…. She originally took up conducting as a way to prepare for the possibility of having to conduct her own works … At 24, Kim moved to Germany for more study [and] spent an influential two years as an apprentice at the Teatro Real in Madrid and in the past 15 years has conducted widely throughout Europe.”

Posted December 6, 2019

Photo of Eun Sun Kim by Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle