Music Review Print



Getting Younger All the Time

July 6, 2003 - Various:


In the past month or so, CVNCers have been departing from the beaten path to take in more programs than usual involving young people. When we launched this enterprise - two years ago on Independence Day! - we decided, as a matter of policy, to avoid student recitals - not to list them or review them. Our reasons were founded in logic forged by long experience: many student recitals fail to rise above the family-&-friends level (heck, I'll admit it: I was in a few of them myself, and I grew up to be - a critic!), there are lots of them, and we figured that if we ever started doing them, there'd be no end to it. Still, we remembered a little kid named Kitchen, whose feet didn't touch the floor outside Giorgio Ciompi's office, way back when. And then folks like the Komirenkos and Gal Nyska came along - and many, many more. Sometimes the talent just shines forth. And the gifted ones seem to be getting younger and younger all the time. So why not?

At a June 13 Bible Church recital by students of Chapel Hillian Victor Recondo, students at various levels of accomplishment strutted their stuff. The program was rewarding because it was richly varied and because there was some pretty remarkable playing. Among the many students were several clear standouts, including Nancy Wang, Arnav Tripathy, Aileen Liu, Mary Liu, Nathan Heath, Abigail Lin, and Jane Williams. The playing of these young people was mature beyond their years - and technically assured, too - so it should come as no surprise that several of them are recent competition prize-winners. We look forward to future programs by products of Recondo's studio - and by students of some of our other fine teachers, too.

That said, however, solo recitals or those involving just a few artists - as opposed to year-end programs involving many players - tend to be more appealing to classical music fans, and our colleagues Marvin J. Ward and Mary Nordstrom clearly think so, too. We've read with interest in these pages recent reviews of concerts involving pianist Vivian Cheng, who is 13, and cellist Alan Toda-Ambaras, who is 12 (and who played all the Bach cello suites in fell swoop).

On the afternoon of July 6, we heard a still younger young artist, for the second time. The first time we encountered violinist Maia Cabeza, she was the featured soloist with the Chapel Hill Philharmonia (reviewed in these pages). For her solo recital, presented at the Chapel Hill Kehillah (the old Bible Church), on Mason Farm Road, in Chapel Hill, the program included Mozart's Rondo in C (given with the orchestra too), Bach's Partita No. 3, Rachmaninov's Vocalise, and the brilliant C Major Concerto of Kabalevsky, a sparkling product of the Soviet era that often suggests Prokofiev at his most brilliant and witty. Cabeza dazzled with technical proficiency and musical understanding that led to repeated outbursts of applause from the 60 or so people who attended her recital. She received outstanding support from pianist Sung-ah Kim, who never once swamped her much younger colleague. For some reason, the Mozart seemed a bit less secure than on May 1, with the CH Phil., but in every other work, Cabeza's playing gave evidence of great mastery - indeed, the rarely-heard Kabalevsky Concerto (1948) reminded this listener of none other than David Oistrakh, whose recording (with the composer conducting) remains the commercial version of choice. Cabeza played through her phrases with consummate skill, and at no point was there even the slightest bit of unsteadiness in terms of intonation. The tone was rich and full and the results were often quite overwhelming, even to seasoned classical music geezers like yours truly. The fact that Cabeza is just 10 years old - and that she plays a 1/2-size violin - means that there is much more to come from her. We wish her and her present teacher, UNC's Richard Luby, all the best as together they continue their important work.

We took a little trip at the end of June, primarily for non-musical reasons, but on the way we stopped over in Washington for two nights, and there was, as usual, lots of music and dance at our nation's great Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. On June 21, the last event of the fourth edition of the National Conducting Institute, headed by Leonard Slatkin, took place in the Concert Hall. The program teaches young (and some not-so-young) stickwavers things about orchestral leadership that they probably didn't learn in music school. This is indirectly - perhaps very indirectly - related to NC, because our own Harry Davidson, Music Director of the Duke Symphony Orchestra, was a member of the very first class. Anyway, this year there were four guys - there were all guys this time (this seems to be a prob in the profession) - Stephen Czarkowski, of NJ, and in the Professional Intern Program at Juilliard; Shenyeh, trained in Shanghai and at the Peabody Conservatory and recently appointed conductor of the Santa Rosa Youth Orchestra; David In-Jae Cho, from Korea, formerly at Oberlin and Peabody and currently at Rice; and Jonathan Schiffman, a recent Juilliard grad who is heading to France this fall on a Fulbright (and whose current affiliations are with orchestras in Connecticut). These young people made their "major orchestra" debuts in turn, leading the National Symphony Orchestra in music by Brahms, Strauss, Fauré, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Two of them - Shenyeh and Cho - seemed particularly promising. If the program does the trick for even one or two of these folks, it will have been worth its weight in gold, if not platinum. (Incidentally, the concert was part of the Kennedy Center's admirable Millennium Stage series, which presents free concerts every day. Most of these are webcast live and then archived online (at http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium/ [inactive 12/03]), but this particular event, alas, was not.

The next night, also in the JFK Center's Concert Hall, there was an invitation-only evening with the 2003 Presidential Scholars. As readers of our news columns know, one of the sixteen (that's all!) Presidential Scholars in the performing arts this year is Durham resident Uma Tadepalli, whose work was first noted in our pages after her memorable performance with the Mallarmé Chamber Players two days before 9/11/01.... For the record, she was also a finalist in dance and received a merit award as a semi-finalist in music (flute) at the National Arts Competition, held in November 2003 by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (NFAA). (Details of these awards are in our news archives.) On the JKF Concert Hall's commodious stage, the young artist looked even more petite - and thus more charming - than she does here at home. She danced "Sivashtakam," composed by Adi Sankara and choreographed by Vempati Chinna Satyam (of Madras, India), whom Tadepalli credits as having had significant influence on her work. For the record, Tadepalli follows in distinguished footsteps; a previous NC winner of both awards (the NFAA and the Presidential Scholar's medal) - Nicholas Kitchen - also hails from Durham.

Tadepalli was not alone in the hall, however. The other dancer who performed, Roderick Roylon George, is from Houston; there were musicians from Bridgewater, NJ, Malverne and Cornwall, NY, Washington, CT, Owensboro, KY, and Murfreesboro, TN; and there were actors from Santa Ana, CA, and San Antonio, TX. These folks performed in a gem of a venue before an enthusiastic audience that included 130 or so other Presidential Scholars, from all over the country and the territories - all of whom were featured the next day in a full-page ad on page 5D of USA Today !

From Washington we headed north to Tanglewood, where traffic for Tarheel native James Taylor's sold-out concert succeeded in blocking many of the main roads. Truth to tell, however, it was another event, put on by the Berkshire Opera Company, that commanded our attention there; it involved a person whom some might not call "young," per se, but whose singing seems more and more youthful every time we hear him. He is none other than Triangle resident William Stone, one of America's great baritones, who sang Giorgio Germont in amazing company at a technical rehearsal of Verdi's La Traviata in Great Barrington on June 24 - the last rehearsal, we gather, before the show opened on June 26. His colleagues in the complete, semi-staged run-though - which was sung by all participants at full voice - were the literally dazzling soprano Maureen O'Flynn (as Violetta) and veteran bass-baritone John Cheek (Dr. Grenvil), both also of the Met, along with the brilliant up-and-coming tenor John Bellemer (who really is young), Jane Dutton (Flora), and other fine singers with somewhat less name recognition. Even the founder of Berkshire Opera, Rex Hearn, got into the act, taking a walk-on role as a waiter! Joel Revzen conducted a remarkably fine orchestra, positioned behind the singers on the stage of the enchanting Mahaiwe Theatre, which will be a real gem when it is restored as the Berkshire Opera Company's permanent home. In all honesty, this was the most immediate and direct performance of this standard repertory piece - and the most moving - I have ever seen or heard. Tarheel travelers heading to New England may wish to make note of the company's final offering this summer, Cimarosa's The Secret Marriage , which will be given eight times in Lee, MA, starting July 22. For details, visit http://www.berkshireopera.org/ [inactive 3/05].

Last but hardly least, our jaunt to "cooler" climes (it was actually hotter in Massachusetts than it was here) ended in Bedford, MA, near Boston, where on the evening of June 25 we were privileged to attend a stirring performance of an outstanding Transylvania-based vocal ensemble, the Kolozsvár (or, to use its Romanian name, Cluj-Napoca) Unitarian Kollégium Choir, whose 30 or so members were in town to open the General Assembly of the Unitarian Church in Boston the next day. The music ranged from traditional folksongs to works composed or arranged by Goudimel, Kodály, Árpád Balázs, and others - including spirituals! The choir's tone is typical of that heard from Eastern European groups, which is to say that the women's (girls') voices are somewhat strident and more pushed than many domestic choirs and the men (boys) are unusually hefty. This worked particularly well in the folksongs but proved less successful in some of the other selections.