As WQXR previews the fall season, our hosts-about-town reveal some of what they're looking forward to.
Carnegie Hall's Baroque Unlimited series brings several great early music ensembles to New York, including L'Arpeggiata on October 29. L'Arpeggiata, directed by Christina Pluhar, is a European ensemble that seems committed not only to historically accurate performances of composers such as Italian master of the early baroque Claudio Monteverdi, but also to allowing in modern influences. For example, they've recorded with a jazz clarinetist. Their concert at Carnegie's Zankel Hall will include some improvisations along with pieces by Monteverdi and others. Their performance is on a Friday night, so I'll be on the air on WQXR instead of at the concert, but I hope to hear Il Giardino Armonico performing in the same series on on Feb. 24.
Confessions of a Ring "Virgin"
There. I said it. I’ve never yet seen Der Ring des Nibelungen – Richard Wagner’s four-opera extravaganza. O.K., I’m not a total Ring virgin. I’ve spent a lot of time with it – two seasons ago, when the Met did its old Otto Schenk production for the last time, I produced a lot of “Met Cameo” intermission features on the Ring for the Saturday afternoon broadcasts. And when the Met Ring was broadcast on Channel 13 in 1990, I did watch Das Rheingold, the first opera of the cycle. But then, I had to head out of town to interview for my first radio job, and missed the rest.
So this will be my first time seeing the Ring live, in the house, in the flesh. And I’m excited that that experience will be with Robert Lepage. Many people know Lepage from Kà, the show he directed for Cirque du Soleil. But I know him from The Andersen Project – a one-man play about Hans Christian Andersen that he wrote, directed and starred in – and from his Met production of Hector Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust. Both were supremely theatrical, in surprising, innovative ways. And from everything I’ve heard and read, his Ring will be, too.
My father, the composer Frank Lewin, thought that as far as opera went, Wagner hung the stars, moon, and every other celestial body. Dad wrote a whole essay on the subject, and I’m sure he – and Wagner – would have been delighted with the combination of modern technology and old-fashioned story-telling that Lepage will no doubt bring to this production. Unfortunately, my father didn’t live to experience it. This Ring’s for you, Dad.
The magical thing about classical music in New York is that the entire world lies at our feet here in the Big Apple. What I mean by that is that we have incredible, best-in-the-whole-big-wide-world talent living in our very own zip codes while, at the same time, much of the best-in-the-whole-big-wide-world talent that lives around the globe comes to New York just about every year to make music for us. There are only a few other places in the world that can claim as many great performers who are literally “artists in residence” and as many great visiting virtuosi. The hard part is choosing whom and what to see. Here are two of my top choices for the fall season – one an import, the other a hometown favorite:
On October 29, as part of Carnegie Hall’s Baroque Unlimited series, Austrian theorbo player Christina Pluhar brings her group L’Arpeggiata to Zankel Hall. L’Arpeggiata’s performances have been described as a “baroque jam session.” Their concert will feature countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and a program of works by Monteverdi and lesser-known Baroque composers. Then, on November 16, as part of Lincoln Center’s new White Light Festival, Juilliard organ department chairman Paul Jacobs will play some lesser-known Bach on the restored and newly-installed Kuhn organ in Alice Tully Hall. The concert will also include Bach chorales sung a cappella by the Clarion Choir.
Anyone with a background in musical theater and opera performance is sure to join me in being fascinated with the idea of seeing Bryn Terfel in his first Wotan at the Met. When I started with WQXR in 1993 Bryn’s name was completely new to me. I remember a desperate moment in the late evening hours here at the station when I called my friend Steven Bryant who was doing wigs and makeup at Santa Fe Opera (Bryn made his U.S. debut at Santa Fe) to ask about the proper pronunciation of Bryn’s name. Steven just laughed and said, 'Oh, that’s a hard one! He's a nice guy, though...and really talented!' Not too long after that, I had the opportunity to meet Bryn. He had just finished recording his Rodgers and Hammerstein album which is still a favorite here at WQXR.
I was extraordinarily impressed with Bryn Terfel’s singing when I first heard him and my unfailing admiration for his talent continues today. And, yes, he is a nice guy... one of the nicest I’ve met in the classical music world. What a career he’s had so far! Surely the stars are perfectly aligned for a triumph as Bryn rules over Valhalla as Wotan in the first two installments -- Das Rheingold and Die Walkure -- of Robert Lepage’s new production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.