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March 2, 2014
Perhaps part of the charm of Artur Rubinstein's long career was that it straddled two centuries, a time of social collapse and transformation. Born in 1887, he was ten years old when one of his early idols died: Johannes Brahms. His early career flourished in the age of Downton Abbey -- he was a darling of all the courts of Europe and personally witnessed the fall of the aristocracy. Yet throughout his 9+ decades, he radiated optimism: "I have found that if you love life, life will love you back..."
His early travels brought him into contact with scores of prominent artists in the early decades of the 20th century, from Stravinsky and Villa-Lobos, who both dedicated works to him, to Ravel, Scriabin and Saint-Saens. But if any of this is of any interest, it's because of how he played. He had so many specialties that choosing a program that might capture the essence of his creative output was very challenging.
Next Sunday opens with two Preludes of a compatriot with whom he's now most closely associated, Chopin. A study in contrasts, Chopin's very first Prelude, blithe, brisk and brief, is followed by his last, a dreamy perusal of heaven, published posthumously. Rubinstein championed many "modern" composers, including Prokofiev. Russian-born and raised, Prokoviev found early success in Paris working with choreographer Diaghilev, and later worldwide, but made the mistake of returning to Russia, where we was alternately celebrated and denounced as a "formalist" composer not interested in the will of the Soviet people. (Ironically, he produced one of his most popular works trying to prove his user-friendliness: Peter and the Wolf.) During WWII, he chronicled the times with his Sonata #6, a work in four contrasting movements, which follows the Preludes. This has become perhaps the single most popular twentieth century work for piano.
After intermission, I'll present one of my favorite works of all Impressionism, Debussy's Estampes (literally prints or engravings), consisting of three short works that paint incredibly vivid yet veiled images: Pagodas, The Evening in Granada, and Gardens in the Rain. A short work by Rubinstein's favorite composer, Brahms, follows, a late Intermezzo. Next we jump into Spanish repertoire - and a whole recital could be devoted to Rubinstein's influence on the popularization of Spanish, Latin American and Brazilian composers - with De Falla's Ritual Fire Dance. The program concludes with a return to Chopin - the fateful, lyrical Ballade in G minor.
Join me this coming Sunday for an afternoon in celebration of Artur.
David Michael Wolff
February 25, 2014
Over the summer and into autumn I was consumed with the legacy of Horowitz, and now I've returned to the biggest influence of my youngest years - Artur Rubinstein. Horowitz was Rubinstein's nemesis; two artists could hardly be so different, yet so alike. Reminds me of a story -- Copland, asked about his relationship to Gershwin while both were residing in Hollywood, replied, “Well, you know, we simply had nothing in common.”
There’s such a full-bodied lilt to Rubinstein’s playing, an inner joie-de-vivre and constant risk-taking. Yet he wasn’t extravagant – he played in the simplest, most natural way, like a man who strides, arms swinging, taking in the scenery and never looking at the ground at his feet. There’s an unlikely resemblance to Toscanini's conducting – both possess swing and lilt and naturalness and rightness and simplicity and absolute beauty of form, born of constant contact with nature. They both harness the natural weight and movement of gravity, the innate life of the human spirit.
Reading Rubinstein's colorful memoirs as a teenager affected me greatly in other ways as well. Whether as Artur, Arturo, or Arthur, Rubinstein was perfectly fluent in a dozen languages and equally at home in whatever country he happened upon. I began tackling one language after another with the same stubborn passion I applied to piano, longing to enter his turn-of-the century reality and possess a musical language that might both transcend and embrace borders.
It's with great excitement that I'm preparing a concert dedicated to Rubinstein, with music dear to his heart, from Chopin and Brahms to De Falla, Villa-Lobos, Debussy and Prokofiev.
More on the program in next blog entry in a few days...
David Michael Wolff
January 24, 2014
A Night on Broadway
Never have I packed such a spectacularly diverse collection of Broadway highlights into one night. You’ll hear tidbits from Follies, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, The King and I, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Oklahoma, Carousel, Candide, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Baker’s Wife, Kismet, Merrily We Roll Along, and Jekyll & Hyde. For someone trained on Bach and Beethoven, it’s an intoxicating and rather dizzying mix.
And as many of you experienced at Pops on the Green last summer, Tony Award-nominated Janine LaManna is the real article -- a Broadway star who’s been featured as guest soloist with the New York Philharmonic on PBS Great Performances and who’s garnered Broadway and television credits and critical praise too long to list here. The two of us have been planning this event for much of the last year, and hope it will be an evening to remember. We’ve got a handful of Broadway classics in store, like Buenos Aires (Evita), Memory (Cats) and Broadway Baby (Follies).
There’s also though quite a number of incredible songs on the menu that are a little less known, like the mesmerizing Meadowlark (The Baker’s Wife) and the inspirational A New Life (Jekyll & Hyde). Soprano Young Mee Jun will also grace the stage with Think of Me (Phantom of the Opera), and the two vocalists will join forces in a duet: And This Is My Beloved (Kismet), which I’ve rearranged from the original vocal quartet setting, with its old-school, swooning score.
Broadway shows, because of economic restraints, usually have an instrumental ensemble of only 12-20 musicians in the pit; with the full Philharmonic, the orchestrations come alive with a lushness that will thrill your ears.
For the first time at Robert E. Lee Auditorium, there will be video projections during much of the concert to bring the songs to life more vividly. I’m ecstatic to be bringing a small corner of Time Square to town, if only for a single night.
Join us for what promises to be an adventure.
David Michael Wolff
I look forward to experiencing together what the Viennese Professor imagined while away on holiday.
David Michael Wolff
The Moonlight Sonata – Beethoven’s Immortal Juliet?
Layers of mystery and controversy continue to surround Beethoven’s 14th Sonata – SONATA quasi una FANTASIA. We would likely call it the Fantasy-Sonata if it weren’t for a German music critic and poet named Rellstab, who five years after Beethoven’s death wrote that it conjured up images of the “moon’s reflection on Lake Lucerne,” dramatically surrounded by Swiss mountains and forests. Within a few years, the Sonata was universally known as “The Moonlight” and continues to inspire nocturnal visions and conjectures.
Composed in 1802, when ever-bachelor Ludwig would have been 32 years old, the Sonata expands on Mozart’s smaller-scale efforts to blend the free-form fantasy with the more rigorous classical sonata form. The Sonata essentially has all of its key elements divulged in the first couple minutes of “exposition”, then develops and recaps these themes throughout the first movement. Subsequent movements develop and contrast the first movement, but tend to be less weighty, and certainly less primary, like satellite moons rotating around the 1st movement’s axis. One of the motifs of Beethoven’s creative output was taking this classical ideal of the Sonata, rooted in dance forms and symmetry as well as first-movement primacy, and turning it on its head, thereby transforming it into a dramatic story. Stories and novels of course tend to begin with an introduction, followed by a long period of development and strife, a culmination, and then a very brief coda. This is exactly what we find in the Moonlight Sonata and in many of his later works. But what’s the story behind Beethoven’s Fantasy-Sonata?
Curiously, the title page of the original edition focuses all of its attention not on the title of the piece or on the name of the composer, but on the name of the dedicatee, Juliet, in big bold letters right in the center of the page. Giulietta Guicciardi came to Vienna at the age of 18 and immediately attracted attention for her striking beauty. She soon became a pupil of Beethoven, whom he referred to as an “enchanting girl” and later wrote to his friend, "My life is once more a little more pleasant, I'm out and about again, among people – you can hardly believe how desolate, how sad my life has been since these last two years; this change was caused by a sweet, enchanting girl, who loves me and whom I love. After two years, I am again enjoying some moments of bliss, and it is the first time that – I feel that marriage could make me happy, but unfortunately she is not of my station – and now – I certainly could not marry now.”
She shortly married a much lesser-known composer and moved to Naples. Was Juliet Beethoven’s “immortal beloved? According to Beethoven’s Secretary and biographer, Schindler, she was indeed. I’m more curious though to know whether Beethoven’s romance was somehow painted through the notes of his Fantasy-Sonata. Is it a letter to his beloved? More on that next week…
David Michael Wolff
The Story behind Beethoven’s immortal “Moonlight”
Whether there’s moonlight in Beethoven’s Moonlight, or of its reflection on water, is debatable. But there’s certainly water, there’s certainly darkness, and there’s certainly a very dramatic tale being told. And Beethoven likely had a very specific tale in mind that we’ll never know.
It’s difficult for me to hear the first movement as anything other than some sort of funeral procession. There’s a repeating military funeral motif that permeates the movement with stoic resolve. Yet what follows in the 2nd mvt. is a frolicking scene from childhood, toddlers cheerfully engaged in a game of leapfrog or a baby taking its first steps. It’s one of the most jolting contrasts in all music. Franz Liszt called this second movement a “flower between two chasms.” The last movement is a chase through the woods, perhaps by horseback, attempting to escape an inevitable fate. There are moments of heroism, but the fear never abates and the heartbeat steadily quickens. At the concert, I’ll show you in sound why I believe the moonlight sonata actually represents the plight of a parent attempting to rescue a lost child from the underworld. In legend, a river separates the realm of the living from that of the dead (perhaps with the murky reflection of the moon on it?). Many authors, poets, artists and composers, particularly in the 19th century, depicted attempts to cross that river to rescue the dead.
For me, the first movement is a funeral at the edge of this river. The second is the vivid memory of the lost child, blissfully at play. At moments it seems to teeter between memory and reality. The third mvt. is an attempted rescue from Hades of the child and the pursuit of Death through a shadowy forest. I’ll show you how several times we can hear the knock-of-fate motive from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and the “Appassionata” in this last movement. That knock never seems to end well... I welcome and even urge you to disagree with my interpretation, but once you hear the music in this context, I think you’ll agree that it’s plausible, and perhaps even persuasive.
Yet if I’m right, what of Beethoven’s immortal Giulietta? Perhaps it’s really about her, about them? Remember Beethoven’s letter – you can hardly believe how desolate, how sad my life has been since these last two years – is this the first movement? From the same letter – My life is once more a little more pleasant, I'm out and about again, among people… After two years, I am again enjoying some moments of bliss – is this the playful, idyllic bliss of the 2nd movement? Then there’s the flight and the knock of fate – it is the first time that – I feel that marriage could make me happy, but unfortunately she is not of my station – and now – I certainly could not marry now. Did fate chase them apart? Is Ludwig’s dramatic dedication of the work to her in bold print an apology to her for not being able to marry her, a letter begging for forgiveness, or an appeal, despite his “station”, to try again?
Bring your interpretation to the concert, and please share it with me afterwards!
In the next blog I’ll discuss how the first movement of the “Moonlight” foreshadows Impressionism.
David Michael Wolff
Oct. 16, 2012
Ravel, Beethoven and Debussy on Ghosts, Goblins, Water Sprites and the Moon
In the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, he writes in Italian that the dampers must be raised for the entirety of the movement. This is a shocking, nonsensical indication at first glance – he means that the damper pedal should be depressed from start to finish, creating a waterlike wash of colors and harmonies. He also instructs the performer to use absolute delicacy – everything is to be played soft and softer, and even softer, a world closer to silence than sound. The mood is nocturnal, ominous, with the distant, ever-present rhythms and mood of a funeral procession. Rellstab’s description of the moon reflecting in Lake Lucerne is perhaps too placid a vision, but certainly captures the tremulous darkness of a murky yet translucent reflection. It’s not difficult to imagine how Monet or Renoir might have translated this first movement into a painting.
Contrast this to Debussy’s most beloved depiction of moonlight, Claire de lune, full of enchantment, fluttering moths and fireflies, and weightless delight, as if gravity were no more. The element of water and blurred realities, achieved largely through the use of the pedal, binds them into the same fantastical impressionistic realm.
On my upcoming recital on Oct. 23 (SCC) and Oct. 28 (Fayetteville), I juxtapose Beethoven’s precursor of Impressionism with three prominent works by Ravel and Debussy. In La Cathedrale engloutie, Debussy depicts the legend of a sunken cathedral that once a year rises up and becomes visible in all its majesty for a few moments before sinking down again below the sea. Both Debussy and Ravel then depict the legend of Ondine, a water sprite that falls in love with a human. In the last movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, (of which Ondine is the first), the composer-pianist set out to write the most technically and musically difficult work for the piano ever composed, and succeeded. More on why I first learned this remarkable work, how I met Mikhail Baryshnikov at one of my first performances of it, and just what makes it so merciless and marvelous to play, in my next blog.
David Michael Wolff
Oct. 22, 2012
Scarbo – Ravel defines fantastical pianism – Concert tomorrow night, 7pm - SCC
I first learned Ravel’s treacherous Gaspard de la nuit as a teenager but I didn’t perform it then. I wanted to put all of the most impossible-to-play repertoire under my fingers and that tops or is very close to the top of every pianist’s list. Close to it are Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto (some pianists call it Rocky 3…), Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto, and Bartok’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Among other solo repertoire, you’ve got Leopold Godowsky’s Etudes on the Etudes of Chopin, doubling or tripling their difficulty and a few other oddities, but Ravel’s Gaspard is the only ultra-virtuoso, finger-bending work among them in the standard solo repertoire.
And it’s not hard by chance. Ravel, a pianist himself, knew how to push the limits of human fingers. He took Liszt’s Twelve Transcendental Etudes as a point of departure and set out with Scarbo to compose the hardest piece ever conceived for the piano – he was maddeningly successful. It’s hard to describe to a non-pianist just what makes it so hard beyond the tremendous speed, constant hand crossings and violent dynamic contrasts in tremendously short periods of time. It’s all that, plus virtually everything in it feels anti-intuitive. There’s a famous passage in double-notes, but not 3rd‘s or 6th’s or octaves – all part of the pianist’s training – but in dissonant 2nd‘s! There are constant crescendos and diminuendos, but in the opposite direction as just about any other composer would demand, giving the performer the sensation of playing backwards. The lack of pause and the sharp sudden changes are what make it emotionally and mentally so challenging though. You’re thrown through jolting mood shifts with no time to adjust, all the time moving 150 miles per hour down a windy road. It’s thrilling, as long as you don’t crash!
The first time I performed it was in preparation to do it with Mikhail Baryshnikov in NYC. It turned out that the grant for that collaboration was re-allocated to another project, but he came to the NYC preview of the performance with a Modern Dance company. Afterwards we chatted at length and he asked if he and I might find something else to collaborate on – later we settled on Schumann’s Fantasiestucke, which he asked Ruth Davidson Hahn to choreograph as a solo piece with solo piano. I’ve written previously about my experiences working with Misha, which was tremendous in every respect. What a force of nature! Although he’s a bit on the short side, he seems like a giant onstage, and even when relaxing off-stage, he moves with the grace of a god. If I have any regrets, it’s that I never had the chance to perform Gaspard de la nuit with him.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s concert at SCC as well as next week’s in Fayetteville. Beethoven mingles with the Impressionists, as well as with Chopin (a Nocturne), and a dry, witty, funny, light-hearted Sonata by Haydn. I hope you’ll join us for Moonlight.
David Michael Wolff
If you missed that last three blogs on this concert’s program, scroll down. But first, enjoy Frank Giordano’s preview for The Pilot:
Carolina Philharmonic Announces Ethereal Season Opening Concert
This blessed village of ours is about to take on a celestial glow, again.
A favorite haunt of sporting immortals from various earthly realms, Pinehurst is regularly a host to living legends who come here to compete for millions or merely to play for nothing but joy along our heavenly golf courses. But on October 23, at 7 p.m. in the Owens Auditorium on the campus of Sandhills Community College, when David Michael Wolff tees it up in a solo recital, he will perform imperishable masterpieces guaranteed to change forever your experience of "Moonlight."
For the 2012-2013 season's premiere of the Carolina Philharmonic's Pinehurst Chamber Music Series, "Behind the Music," Maestro Wolff begins his program with Frédéric Chopin's "Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48 #1." One of the great masters of Romantic music, Chopin composed chiefly for solo piano, with works that are often technically demanding and emphasizing nuance and expressive depth. Like many of the greatest Romantic artists, Chopin lived an intensely passionate but short life, suffering for many years from poor health before passing at age 39. The "Nocturne in C minor," one of Chopin's greatest emotional achievements, is a masterly expression of what one critic describes as "a great powerful grief."
A lifelong resident of Austria, for most of his career a court musician for the wealthy Esterhazy family on their remote estate, Joseph Haydn was "forced to become original" because of his isolation from other composers and trends in music until the later part of his long life. That originality is acknowledged in the testimony of music critics who have proclaimed him the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these forms. Haydn was also instrumental in the evolution of sonata form, which seems a surprising departure for one of the greatest Classical composers.
Characterized by drama, dynamism, and a "psychological" approach to theme and expression, the sonata reflected the anti-rational reactions, in the arts and philosophy in Europe, to the sterile excesses of Classicism. Haydn's "Sonata in F major, Hoboken XVI/23," composed in 1773, prefigures some of the most important musical structures of Romanticism in the following century. Like many of Haydn's works in the late 1760s and early 1770s, the "Sonata in F major" was deeply influenced by the German cultural movement Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress”). Works during this period often feature a newly impassioned element, which expresses difficult emotions and celebrates individuality and subjectivity over the prevailing orders of formalism and rationalism.
Maestro Wolff concludes the first half of the recital performing "Sonata No 14 in C-sharp minor, quasi una fantasia, Op. 27 #2," composed by Haydn's most famous student, Ludwig van Beethoven. Popularly known as the "Moonlight Sonata," the work was completed in 1801 and dedicated in 1802 to his pupil, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, one of the sisters thought to be the composer's "Immortal Beloved." Among Beethoven's most popular compositions for the piano, the "Moonlight Sonata" has inspired composers and critics to flights of poetry in describing its three movements. The first movement, which Hector Berlioz described as a lamentation, "is one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify." Beethoven's student Carl Czerny called it "a nocturnal scene, in which a mournful ghostly voice sounds from the distance." Franz Liszt described the second movement as "a flower between two chasms." Of the final movement, Charles Rosen has written "it is the most unbridled in its representation of emotion. Even today, two hundred years later, its ferocity is astonishing."
Pulses will be racing and pacemakers will be overheating after the stormy finale, so the Intermission will be an opportunity to walk quietly outside the music hall, take several deep breaths, and enjoy a cool, meditative look up at the harvest moon. A familiar symbol since time immemorial, the moonlight is likely to appear to many in a completely new way after Beethoven's sonata.
On returning to the auditorium, guests will hear the enchanting "La Cathédrale engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral)" by Claude Debussy, a work of musical impressionism that attempts to evoke the image of a mythical cathedral arising from and returning deep into the sea. The program concludes with Maurice Ravel's "Gaspard de la nuit," a work in three movements based on poems by Aloysius Bertrand. The name "Gaspard" is derived from the Persian, denoting "the man in charge of the royal treasures." Thus the treasurer of the night alludes to someone in charge of all that is jewel-like, dark, mysterious, perhaps even morose. In addition, "Gaspard de la nuit" is an old French expression for the Devil. After hearing the nightmarish third movement, "Scarbo," if you're not wondering how the devil one man and merely ten fingers were able to create such a mischievous concatenation of sounds, you've probably achieved the improbable state of sleep through it all.
Because of its technical challenges and profound musical structure, "Scarbo" is considered one of the most difficult solo piano pieces ever written, which is precisely what Ravel intended. "I wanted to make a caricature of romanticism. Perhaps it got the better of me."
Perhaps. But listening to this movement and the finale of the "Moonlight Sonata," some will find one of the central ideas of Romanticism absolutely affirmed: the concept William Blake called the Human Form Divine. The British and American Romantics, who decried the effects of rationalism gone mad and scientific materialism's onslaught against religion, attempted to relocate the divine in mankind itself. The greatest artistic symbol of God's creation of man exists in the Sistine Chapel in St. Peter's. In the moment before creating Adam, God extends his finger to touch Adam's, and to launch humankind into action. What musicians have created from that moment forward, with their fingers -- the God-like power of creativity, in composers and performer -- will surely be on display this coming October 23. Nowhere else in Pinehurst on that night will we be able to encounter so fully the divine.
Tickets are: $25/general; $40/reserved; $10/student. (20% Active Military discount) available at the Box Office, 5 Market Sq, Pinehurst; shop.carolinaphil.org; Givens Book Store at Olmsted Village, Heavenly Pines Fine Jewelry; Artists League of the Sandhills, Aberdeen; Arts Council of Moore Co, Campbell House; Nature’s Own; (910) 687 4746 or (910) 687 0287.
May 22, 2012
Tonight's concert at Robert E. Lee Auditorium, 7pm, may be our best to date and we're expecting a large crowd, but there should still be tickets available at the door. Thank you for supporting the Carolina Philharmonic through another wonderful season!Up next is our Wine Gala at The Fresh Market on June 7. 100% of the $25 ticket price goes toward our educational programming as we continue to reach out to the young people of the Sandhills region through music. David Michael Wolff
And there's so much more great music on the program - Evita, Chicago, West Side Story, and Les Mis, with some Gilbert & Sullivan, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven thrown in for good measure. More on that next time...
David Michael Wolff
ps Feeling pretty? Relive the scene from West Side Story on youtube.
May 9, 2012
Our Pinehurst Pops season finale is just two weeks away: Tues May 22, 7pm at Robert E. Lee Auditorium at Pinecrest High School. Selections from Evita, Chicago, The Sound of Music, West Side Story and more! See Frank Giordano's preview below.
And please mark your calendar for our Wine Gala at The Fresh Market, Thursday June 7, 7:30-9:30pm. 100% of ticket price ($25) will go toward Music Education in the Sandhills. An exceptional event for an exceptional cause. Hope to see you there!
David Michael Wolff
Frank Giordano's preview of Salute to Broadway:
The concert hall is where many of us have experienced some of "the most beautiful sounds [we've] ever heard." It's where the experiences of the regal, the majestic were realized in the flesh and in the music. It's where we first met our personal Kings of classical music -- for me, Ludwig van Beethoven -- and Queens of Broadway -- for me, Maria, from West Side Story, the sound of whose name is the most beautiful ever. On Tuesday, May 22, at 7 p.m. in the Robert E. Lee Auditorium, Maestro David Michael Wolff, his Carolina Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra, and soloists Don Milholin and Young Mee Jun will bring back the majesty of Broadway tunes and classical music as they conclude the current Pinehurst Pops Series with a "Salute to Broadway." A special highlight will be the appearance of talented members of the Children’s Choir from West Pine Elementary School and the Carolina Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Come share -- and bring your kids and grandkids -- that enchanted evening as our local youth join the full orchestra and chorus in performing some of our "favorite things" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. Tickets are $25/general admission, $50/priority reserved seating, and $10/students.
As usual in a Carolina Philharmonic program, Wolff offers a wide range of musical selections. The main tributes to Broadway are interspersed among classical offerings and Arthur Sullivan songs. The program begins with the third (Adagio) movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphony # 2 in E minor. The triumphant Symphony #2 has become one of the most popular and frequently played works in the repertoire.
Those of us hungering for more Beethoven from the Carolina Philharmonic will rejoice to his Symphony No. 5 in C minor, one of the most popular and best-known compositions in all of classical music, as well as one of the most important works of all time. Its distinctive four-note "short-short-short-long" beginning never fails to bring chills; its triumphant and exhilarating finale is quintessentially Beethovenian, with the "stormy, heroic tonality" that has come to symbolize his artistic character.
The first half of the program will conclude with the Rodgers and Hammerstein "Suite" from The Sound of Music . Familiar to all of us are the medley's songs that originated in the Alps but emigrated to join our melting pot of popular Americana: "The Sound of Music," "My Favorite Things," "So Long, Farewell," and "Maria." The youthful performers will carry us to intermission with their rendition of "Climb Ev’ry Mountain," in which they'll be joined by the Carolina Philharmonic soloists and a young, local soprano, Kamaira Philips, making her debut with "Sixteen going on Seventeen."
The second half of the program brings forward another of the recent Queens of Broadway, the stately Senora Peron in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Suite" from Evita. Then Wolff and company dedicate two songs to the fallen soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Claude-Michele Schönberg's "Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables, Jean Valjean’s gentle and emotive solo, is guaranteed to touch the hearts, especially of our local military retirees. Arthur Sullivan's "The Lost Chord" engages baritone Don Milholin, the Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in a plaintive song about "our discordant life" and how it can overwhelm music's healing power.
Soloists Milholin and Jun perform "There Was A Time," a sublimely beautiful duet from The Gondoliers, the last great success from the British comic operatic team of Gilbert and Sullivan. A pair of star-crossed lovers, Casilda and Luiz resign themselves to a life forever apart, with only their happy memories to comfort them. The song makes an excellent segue to the evening's concluding selection, the "Suite" from West Side Story. Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Julieu, West Side Story features music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. One of the most popular and influential of all Broadway plays, with its fated lovers embodying some central social issues emerging in post World War II America, West Side Story's "Suite" sends us home with those most beautiful sounds -- "Maria, Maria, Maria" -- filling our heads and hearts.
April 15, 2012
This has been a rewarding time for me preparing today's exploration of Bohemian masterworks. The Dvorak E-flat Piano Quartet is one of the glories of the Chamber Music repertoire. The lesser-known Josef Suk's Piano Quartet is a work of super-charged romanticism with occasional hints of impressionism. To open the concert, I'll offer a survey of solo piano works by three composers from late Baroque and early Classical periods of Bohemian music, including one of the most treasured melodies of all time, Gluck's Mélodie from his opera, Orfeo and Euridice.
I look forward to seeing you this afternoon at Owens Auditorium.
David Michael Wolff
April 10, 2012
I've always felt that the term "Chamber Music" doesn't quite capture the essence of the art form. Many are uncertain what it actually means. Although now chamber music finds its home more on the stages of the world, originally it simply implied music to be performed in a chamber, that is, privately, for the pleasure of its active participants and possible listeners. This comes from a time when so-called classical music was more than just a past-time. It was for a great many a way of experiencing life; it was an essential part of the fabric of life. Subtract everything we know of modern life - back before internet or tv or radio, or even electricity - and you'll find the piano sitting in the parlor of middle and upper class abodes, perhaps next to a large collection of books, beckoning to be played. It was then that it was said, "The piano makes the home." Now I suppose our big flat-screen TV's serve that purpose...
In the 19th century, even before symphony orchestras came to be prominent fixtures in society, chamber music was in high demand. All of the great composers, and most lesser ones as well, produced some of their greatest output for the genre, whether duos, trios, quartets, quintets, etc.
On a personal note, solo music, for the performing artist, is relatively predictable. Of course, there are any number of variables from concert to concert out of the soloist's control, but essentially, it's a direct (albeit somewhat one-sided) conversation with the audience; the soloist controls the pace and defines the expression. Chamber music is much more akin to jazz. Take a quartet (we're performing two great ones this Sunday): four unique artists respond to their part of the music, and to the music as a whole, individually, translating that response through his or her own temperament and instrument into sound. At the same time, though, she must experience the emotional counterpoint of three other artists expressing themselves in counterpoint, and at every moment react and complement those voices sonically, emotionally, linguistically, and architecturally, just to name a few factors at play. This is what makes the art-form so rich for both the performers and the audience. It's a living conversation in three or four or five parts, constantly shifting emphasis, and constantly accumulating depth and meaning. Curiously, the live conversation between the musicians becomes a key part of the music itself.
Join us on Sunday at SCC for a wonderful late afternoon of Bohemian treasures! For those of you who enjoyed the video projections of the keyboards onto large screens at the Brothers concert, I believe we're expecting more of the same this Sunday.
David Michael Wolff
Ps Enjoy Frank Giordano's preview of this concert for The Pilot:
Maestro David Michael Wolff is preparing an unusual treat for music enthusiasts on Sunday afternoon, April 15, 4pm, at Owens Auditorium, SCC. Wolff's program of chamber music, "Bohemian Rhapsody," presents selections from three centuries of Bohemian masterworks. As often, Wolff will be joined by some friends from the Carolina Philharmonic: Nate Leyland on cello, Izabela Spiewak on violin, and Yang Xi, on viola and violin.
Among the conductor's noblest gifts to his audiences is the preservation of masterly, but little known or recognized works. The concert hall should function as a museum, and for his Bohemian evening, Wolff presents pieces by central European artists Josef Suk, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and Jan Ladislav Dussek. The latter two are transitional figures of the late 18th and early 19th Century, during the period of Revolutionary politics and art when Romanticism was replacing Classicism in western Europe. The Austrian Hummel was such an extraordinary talent that another child prodigy, Mozart, gave the boy music lessons at the age of eight; at nine, Hummel made his first concert appearance, at one of Mozart's concerts. Dussek, a Czech, was another piano virtuoso and composer, among the first to travel widely throughout Europe and Russia, attracting patronesses such as Catherine the Great and Marie Antoinette. Both still deserve to be heard and enjoyed, despite their anonymity among most American concertgoers.
Better known, though hardly household names, are the leading Bohemian composers of the past three centuries. Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck was an opera composer of the early Classical period (18th Century), in whose fusions of Italian and French opera mythological subjects are interpreted with choruses and dancing. Orfeo ed Euridice, in which the Greek god of music ventures into the underworld to retrieve his wife, is the most popular of Gluck's works, and one of the most influential on subsequent German opera. Wolff's selection -- "Melodie: Dance of the Blessed Spirits" -- has been called "one of the most gorgeous melodies in all of opera."
Antonin Dvorak, a generation younger than Smetana, remains the great 19th century Czech composer, a truly international figure outstanding in symphony, concerto, symphonic overture, and chamber music. Ironically, he is best known to American audiences for his celebration of music From the New World, the title of his most popular symphony, which he wrote while visiting America near the end of the 19th Century. Nevertheless, Dvorak was passionate about his homeland, and many of his compositions were directly inspired by Czech traditions. Wolff and colleagues will close the program with his Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, considered one of his greatest masterworks.
March 23, 2012
Just a few hours and counting... we're expecting a large crowd at Owens Auditorium but there should still be tickets left at the door. House opens at 6pm for the 7pm show.
Joshua and I have been rehearsing at all hours the last couple days, but preparation's really been a few dozen years for tonight's debut as a duo. We used to trade off hours practicing on our grand at home as kids. He'll take the Steinway tonight...
See you there!
David Michael Wolff note: encore presentation in Fayetteville on Sunday at 4pm
Mar. 20, 2012
I just got home from Owens Auditorium, where my concert grand was moved in backstage this afternoon next to their beautiful Steinway. Today I practiced alone, but my brother Joshua arrives from Manhattan tomorrow. Virtually non-stop rehearsing will ensue until Friday night, when we make our debut as a 2-piano duo.
You might think that having grown up together, shared an apartment at University in Seattle and then another in NYC that we would have often performed together. We've shared several pianos, performed on many of the same stages, but never together. Anything could happen... I'm looking forward to making music together.
At Owens Auditorium, it should also be visually striking, as two cameras will follow each of our hands and project them onto two large screens on the sides of the stage.
See you this Friday at 7pm at Owens or, for our Fayetteville patrons and anyone who might be inclined to take in this concert in the afternoon, join us on Sunday, 4pm, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
I'm most looking forward to a 2-piano Suite of all my favorite tunes from Porgy and Bess. Click here to take a listen to a stylish performance of it on youtube.
David Michael Wolff
Mar. 14, 2012
I think we're both nervous... after all, this will be the first time we've ever set foot onstage together to perform.
We both started out studying classical piano with the same marvelous teacher. After several years, Joshua veered off into Jazz, I stayed on with Mozart, and our paths grew more distant with each passing season. No one would have suspected we were brothers. Ironically, after twenty years or so, we discovered that our approach to music-making was more similar than ever.
We've crafted a program that explores jazz, classical, cross-over and even pop (Barbra Streisand...). And yes, a duel, on a theme of Paganini. Billy Bag-O-Donuts of 550 AM will be there onstage to referee.
Paganini was the great virtuoso violinist of the 19th century, perhaps of all time, and in fact he was so good that legend has it he was possessed by the devil. He wrote a theme and variations that wowed audiences to the extent that there were countless reports all across Europe of women (and men) fainting upon hearing them. Franz Liszt, Paginini's rival in the piano world at the time, was apparently jealous enough to take the same theme and compose an even more complex and driven set of variations for solo piano. Brahms followed suit, and then Rachmaninoff and many others. So I thought, what better theme than this to duel on! Joshua accepted. There's a concern it may get bloody though, so that's why the management decided to call in Billy.
More later. I'm off to practice - 9 days and counting.
David Michael Wolff
ps must-see video on youtube - blew me away. Click here to remember why you love music.
Mar. 4, 2012I'm excited to be able to send out two works on tomorrow's Pops program in dedication to those who serve our country in the military - past and present. The first is the theme song fromVictory at Sea, a documentary series which cronicled WWII, with a stunning score by Richard Rodgers. Although the show was before my time (my grandfather fought in WWII), I became a fan of it preparing this Rodgers and Hammerstein concert. Click here to hear the theme song and watch the beginning of the first episode on youtube.
It's been 200 years since Russia's Battle of 1812 - the Battle of Borodino - where the Russians managed to fend of the enormous attacking army of Napoleon. On that day, more than 250,000 troops were involved, with more than 70,000 casualties. Tchaikovsky chronicled the struggle, from the prayers beforehand, fear of defeat, boastful statements of la Marseillaise, cannon fire, the French retreat, and finally victory and the celebration throughout Moscow with all of the city's Church bells ringing. The 1812 Overture has become Tchaikovsky's most widely acclaimed work, and is often heard on 4th of July celebrations. The Philharmonic and I are looking forward to performing it this Sunday afternoon.
See you there!
David Michael Wolff
Mar. 9, 2012
I've been accused of sneaking classical music into Pops Concerts and vice versa... and honestly, I used to distinguish between the two vigorously, but now I enjoy blurring the lines and erasing borders. Why shouldn't Vaughan Williams and John Williams be able to delightfully co-exist? This Sunday's Orchestra Pops Concert will offer more variety than new-comers may likely have ever experienced in an orchestral concert. Rossini next to Miss Saigon; tunes from Carousel, South Pacific, Sound of Music and many more Rodgers and Hammerstein masterworks preluding Tchaikovsky's most popular and explosive masterwork, the 1812 Overture; Josh Groban's blockbuster hit, Mi Mancherai, paired with themes from 007... and Borodin's sweeping, exotically romantic Polovetsian Dances, which if you're unfamiliar with, may become your new favorite piece.
Many of our patrons had asked if we might consider a Pops in the Afternoon concert this season, and this Sunday at 4pm, we deliver!
Up next, just around the corner, is my duo piano concert with my brother Joshua, on Fri March 23, 7pm, Owens Auditorium, SCC. Classical and Jazz mingle as we duel it out. Click here for more info and tickets.
David Michael Wolff
PS For more on this weekend's Pops concert, enjoy Frank Giordano's concert preview in The Pilot.
Feb 29, 2012
When we launched the Pinehurst Pops Orchestra Series last summer, we didn't realize it would immediately become our most popular offering. Our upcoming Pops concert on Sunday March 11, 4pm, Rodgers and Hammerstein Extravaganza, features the music of the beloved duo - South Pacific, Carousel, The King and I, The Sound of Music and more - while also meandering into other film music (007) and some lush and exciting classical fare like Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Rossini's Overture to The Barber of Seville, as well as a medley of themes from 007 and a suite from Miss Saigon.
If you enjoy Josh Groban, look forward to Mi Mancherai, one of his biggest hits -- click here to see him sing it live on Youtube in the same version we'll be performing. Tickets online as well as through our box office and local distributors. Join us for an enchanted evening, or late afternoon rather...
Also in March, on Friday the 23rd at 7pm, I look forward to dueling my brother Joshua on two grands at Owens Auditorium - our first concert together ever! Billy Bag-O-Donuts of 550am has offered to referee... more on that later!
David Michael WolffNov. 24, 2011