A month of music in Cincinnati

This is always a busy time of year for Cincinnati’s classical music organizations. I’ve heard some extraordinary concerts between covering the concerts of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (you can find CSO, May Festival, Cincinnati Opera and other reviews here).

Here are a few of my impressions of some other shows, including the debut of a new piano quartet, a stunning piano duo recital and a world premiere at concert:nova:

Linton Chamber Music series, April 24: Besides the piano trio literature, piano quartets are among my favorite genres. So I couldn’t wait to hear the debut of a new ensemble at the Linton Music Series, the Espressivo! Piano Quartet.

Its anchors are the indefatigable Jaime Laredo (violin) and Sharon Robinson (cello), who also serve as co-artistic directors. Rounding out the quartet are pianist Anna Polonsky and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, both superb artists.

In the wake the death of the esteemed pianist Joseph Kalichstein, who died in March 2022 at age 76, Laredo and Robinson did not want to revisit the piano trio literature that they shared for decades with their extraordinary pianist, “Yossi.” I’m so glad that they have decided to explore the quartets. The “Encore” concert I heard at Congregation Beth Adam was deeply rewarding.Read More »

Piano legend Menahem Pressler dies at 99

Menahem Pressler: “Many people would now would take it easy, have a home in Florida – I don’t need any of those things. I need my Schubert, I need my Beethoven, I need my Brahms, I need my Bach. I need those to be sustained.” Photo provided by Indiana University

Menahem Pressler, the distinguished pianist and founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio, died today, May 6, in London. He was 99.

The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music announced the death of the distinguished professor of music in piano and Dean Charles H. Webb Chair in Music.  He joined the Jacobs School of Music faculty in 1955 and received the Indiana University Medal in 2013.

“Mr. Pressler was a brilliant pianist, an extraordinary teacher, and gentle soul who has left an indelible mark on generations of pianists around the globe,” IU Jacobs School of Music dean Abra Bush said in a statement. “He believed that his ‘performance informed his practice, and his practice informed his performance,’ and he loved nothing more than practicing! His loss is an enormous loss for us all, but his presence will continue to be felt through his students, past and present, for decades to come.”

Since the trio’s debut at the Berkshire Music Festival in 1955, there were multiple constellations of players over nearly 55 years. But Mr. Pressler remained the anchor, and its heart and soul. After the Beaux Arts Trio’s final, emotional performance in 2008 (with violinist Daniel Hope, cellist Antonio Meneses), Mr. Pressler continued to captivate audiences throughout the world, performing solo and chamber music recitals to great critical acclaim while maintaining a dedicated teaching career.

Mr. Pressler performed many times in Cincinnati over his remarkable 70-plus-year career. In 1962, the original Beaux Arts Trio with violinist Daniel Guilet and cellist Bernard Greenhouse, performed for Matinee Musicale, the first of five performances for that organization alone.Read More »

CCM professor makes unexpected Cincinnati recital debut

Baritone Elliot Madore performing at Memorial Hall on Sunday/ Photos provided by Gayna Bassin

When soprano Valerie Eickhoff canceled her debut with Matinée Musicale on about three days notice last week due to illness, it was sheer luck that another singer was available to step in. And conveniently, he lives in Cincinnati. Baritone Elliot Madore wowed the audience on Sunday evening in Memorial Hall with a wide-ranging program that opened with the Liederkreis Op. 39 by Schumann and ended with Rogers and Hammerstein’s “My Boy Bill.”

Madore is a star who is busy singing in opera houses around the world while he is also teaching the stars of the future at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. His collaborative pianist was CCM professor Donna Loewy, who had never played with him before. Madore joined the faculty in August of 2021, and we learned later that this was his Cincinnati recital debut.Read More »

Emanuel Ax to perform benefit concert at SCPA

Emanuel Ax
Photo: Lisa Marie Mazzucco

I hope you have been able to attend some of the great concerts, plays, dance and musicals in our city this month. Coming up on Friday, pianist Emanuel “Manny” Ax is donating his time and talent to perform a benefit piano concert for the Ben Carlson-Berne Scholarship, 7:30 p.m. Friday March 24 in Corbett Theater at the School for Creative and Performing Arts.

Here’s an interesting phone interview that WGUC’s Elaine Diehl had with Ax about the concert. He has been performing in Cincinnati since 1976 or ’77, he says. He speaks about the support that he received as a young musician, and life on the road, post-Covid.

He’s also continuing his “Beethoven for Three” recordings with Yo-Yo Ma and Leonidas Kavakos, he tells Elaine. I’m enjoying the second in their series, which has Beethoven’s ‘Pastorale” Symphony No. 6 — arranged for piano trio by Shai Wosner. It’s a wonderful discovery. Take a listen here.

His program on Friday will be piano music by Schubert and Liszt.

You can learn more about the Ben Carleson-Berne Scholarship in my column for the Business Courier.

Tickets are available at bcbscholarship.org.


Recommended: Tchaikovsky winner to play for Matinée Musicale

Alexandre Kantorow; photo by Sasha Gusov

He’s being called “Liszt reincarnated.” In 2019, pianist Alexandre Kantorow became the first French pianist to win the gold medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition, where he also won the Grand Prix, which has only been awarded three times before in the competition’s history. He was 22.

This month, Kantorow will make his Cincinnati debut in recital for Matinée Musicale, 3 p.m. Sunday Feb. 19 in Memorial Hall.

Kantorow made his debut at age 16, and since then has performed with many of the world’s major orchestras and festivals.

His program includes Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major; several Schubert lieder arranged by Liszt; and Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy.”

He recently told BBC Music magazine that Brahms was the first composer he connected to. Brahms, he said, “has a lot of dignity in how he shows his emotions, but there are moments where he lets go.”

And speaking of Brahms, here’s his performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, which won the Grand Prix of the Tchaikovsky Competition:

Kantorow records on the BIS label. His most recent recording of solo works by Brahms received the 2022 Diapason d’Or. His two previous recordings (Saint-Saëns concerti 3-5 and solo works by Brahms, Bartok and Liszt) each received both the Diapason d’Or and Choc Classica of the Year (for Classica magazine) in 2019 and 2020 respectively. The solo disc was Gramophone magazine’s Editor’s Choice, his performance described as “a further remarkable example of his virtuosity and artistry, showing both skill and sensitivity throughout.”

Purchase tickets online on the Memorial Hall website or call the Box Office at 513-977-8838.
The Memorial Hall Box Office is open Tuesday – Friday 1 PM – 6 PM.

Artist change at the CSO this week

George Li/photo by Paul Marc Mitchell

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced today that the French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet has withdrawn from this weekend’s performances due to illness. Pianist George Li has agreed to step in on short notice, and in his CSO debut, Li will perform Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, in place of the previously announced Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2. The rest of the program will remain intact. Louis Langrée is conducting.

Li began piano lessons at age 4; at 11 he made his debut at Carnegie Hall. He is currently earning an artist diploma at the New England Conservatory. If you check his page, he has a vast repertory… Learn more about George Li here.

This weekend will mark the CSO’s first-ever Lunar New Year celebration, in partnership with the Alliance of Chinese Culture and Arts. Ticket holders are encouraged to arrive early for performances in the Music Hall foyer by local musicians and dancers representing the vibrant Asian cultures from around the world.

The program will be:

CHEN QIGANG: The Five Elements

SAINT-SAËNS: Piano Concerto No. 2

ZHOU TIAN: The Palace of Nine Perfections

MAURICE RAVEL: Rapsodie espagnole

Information: cincinnatisymphony.org.

Memorable afternoons at the Linton Music Series

Anthony McGill performing “Principal Brothers” No. 3 by James Lee III

The Linton Music Series presented two inspiring concerts this month in memory of founding artistic director Dick Waller. I want to share some terrific photos taken by Tina Gutierrez for Linton, along with a few thoughts about the programs.

Yesterday, Linton welcomed back an old friend, clarinetist Anthony McGill. The principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic started his career as a 21-year-old associate clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. McGill spoke a bit about Dick Waller, former CSO principal clarinetist, who “showed him the ropes” and shared many dinners with him.

McGill opened the program with a wonderful work by his friend, James Lee III, “Principal Brothers” No. 3. Each of Lee’s “Principal Brothers” series is dedicated to a symphony music who is Black and a principal player. No. 1 is a flute solo for Anthony’s brother, Demarre McGill, principal flute of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra; No. 2 is for Titus Underwood, principal oboe of the Nashville Symphony; and No. 4 is for Bryan Young, principal bassoon of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. Lee’s three-movement piece for Anthony McGill was a ideal vehicle for the clarinetist’s beauty of line and expressive phrasing.

The remainder of the program consisted of two of the great clarinet quintets in music: Mozart’s Quintet in A Major, K. 581, and Brahms Quintet in B Minor. McGill was joined by Linton co-artistic directors Jaime Laredo, violinist, and Sharon Robinson, cellist, as well as violinist James Thompson and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt.

Read More »

Jim de Blasis was Cincinnati Opera artistic director

I recently received the news that former Cincinnati Opera general director and artistic director James “Jim” de Blasis has passed away at the age of 91. His daughter writes:

“During his career, which spanned nearly 50 years, Jim worked with and gave opportunities to many young opera singers, who went on to become famous in their field. He was ahead of his time in staging productions of rare operas and set the level of expectation of his casts very high. The result was always thrilling!”

De Blasis with Patty Beggs and James Morris
Photos provided

Some of those “young rising stars” included James Morris, Tom Fox and Barbara Daniels. During his tenure, a “Who’s Who” of the opera world crossed Cincinnati’s stage — Beverly Sills, John Alexander, Kathleen Battle, Sherrill Milnes, Renata Scotto, Richard Leech and many more.

Mr. de Blasis worked with Cincinnati Opera for about 28 years. He was named Cincinnati Opera’s Resident Stage Director in 1968. He served as its General Director from 1973 to 1987. In 1988 he became its Artistic Director, a post he held until 1996.

In his 25th anniversary in 1993, it was reported that his record was only surpassed by Fausto Cleva. He’d  directed 93 productions, including 15 company premieres. He oversaw the move of the Summer Festival from its longtime home outdoors at Cincinnati Zoo to Music Hall in 1972.

His innovations included the Cincinnati Opera Ensemble, which toured area schools, and the Young American Artists Program.

During his tenure, Cincinnati Opera programmed rare operas such as Maxwell Davies’ Resurrection and Weinberger’s Schwanda the Bagpiper. It also added musicals to its repertory — H.M.S. Pinafore, South Pacific and The Music Man — in an effort to broaden the audience base.

One of early highlights of the de Blasis era was a new interpretation of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, which changed the setting from Spain in the 1820s to the “Wild West” of 19th-century Texas. The production was later filmed by WCET and nationally televised on PBS in 1980.

Mr. de Blasis was preceded in death by his wife Ruth — who often delivered pre-performance lectures and provided narrations — and leaves his daughter Blythe de Blasis Watkins, son-in-law Brad Watkins, and grandchild Brenna Watkins.

The family wishes memorial contributions be made to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach, NY 11978.

With thanks to Eldred Theirstein’s Cincinnati Opera: From the Zoo to Music Hall.

Holocaust museum offers free admission in wake of recent antisemitism

Citing the recent surge in antisemitism across the country, Cincinnati’s Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center will waive museum ticket costs for the remainder of the year.  The award-winning museum is open at historic Union Terminal from December 8 through January 2, 2023.

David Wise, interim CEO of the Holocaust & Humanity Center, said there is a need to educate the public about Judaism and the Holocaust at a critical time.

“As the only Holocaust museum in Ohio, our organization is in a unique position to bring the lessons of the Holocaust into the civic conversation. It is our responsibility to ensure the public can learn from the lessons of history, and this is a clear and immediate way for us to make an impact in this critical moment,” Wise said in a statement.

“We all must choose to stand up against antisemitism, and that starts with educating ourselves.”

There are daily antisemitic incidents around the country. Locally on Dec. 4, two men vandalized the Hillel House at the University of Cincinnati.

The Fox19 story reports that last year, the Anti-Defamation League reported that Ohio saw a 92% increase in antisemitic incidents, making 2021 the highest year on record.

Recent antisemitic rhetoric incidents coming from all sides of the political spectrum and ideological diverse actors highlight the problematic increase in Jew hatred. Read More »

In memoriam: Dick Waller

Dick Waller with Peter Wiley at a 40th anniversary concert of the Linton Music Series

Cincinnati has lost a musician who contributed much to the cultural life of our city. Richard “Dick” Waller passed away yesterday. His daughter, Margy Waller, said that he died while listening to a recording of Dvorak’s “Romance” in F Minor. It was days after celebrating his 93rd birthday with cake and Graeter’s Ice Cream.

“I’m grateful. And told him many times over the past few days that he has an incredible legacy of music, art, and community, and a beautiful family,” she said. “He showed us how to see the miracles, to be thankful and optimistic, and always to see the best in everything and everyone. That’s a high bar—and he inspires us to aim for it.”

Waller, former principal clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was the founder of the Linton Music Series. From its start in 1978, his mantra was “music making among friends.” It began with a small chamber music concert of “friends” in the historic church, First Unitarian Church on Linton Street in Avondale, and continued to grow. The gem of a sanctuary, with stained glass windows, turned out to have wonderful acoustics.

That first concert evolved into a second. Then Mr. Waller had an epiphany. World-renowned soloists appeared each week with the Cincinnati Symphony, where he worked. Why not ask the orchestra’s then-general manager, Judith Arron, whether the artists could stay in town for an extra day to play chamber music? Arron agreed.

His first artists in the new arrangement were concert pianist Andre-Michel Schub and Peter Wiley, then principal cellist of the CSO.

“In the old days, there was a pay phone at Music Hall and during intermission, I’d run to the pay phone to make calls about Linton,” he told me a few years ago.

It was a formula that continues with the CSO to this day. Mr. Waller paid his soloists little — but was a wonderful host and they loved coming to Cincinnati. There are legendary stories of dinners at the Maisonette, followed by poker games.

Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Mr. Waller grew up in Long Beach, CA, and attended the Marlboro Music Festival and the Juilliard School. However, his Juilliard education was cut short when his brother joined the armed forces and Mr. Waller had to return home to California to run his brother’s business. In the 1950s, the clarinetist became concertmaster of the United States Navy Band, a stint he said he undertook in order to avoid the draft.

During that time, a job opening was posted for the clarinet section of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and he decided to apply. Then-music director Max Rudolf  hired him on the spot. He served as co-principal clarinet starting in 1960. From 1961 until his retirement in 1994, he was the orchestra’s principal clarinetist.

During his later years, Mr. Waller took up painting, and had a gallery downtown.

Many of you will have stories to tell. Here’s mine:  When I was classical music critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Mr. Waller would do anything to get an article in the newspaper about his beloved Linton Series. He called me frequently. I told him that I needed to discuss it with my editor. But he beat me to it. He called my editor and serenaded her on his clarinet over the phone. I believe he got that story…

Mr. Waller’s family and Linton Music Series leaders are planning a celebration of his contributions and community to take place next year.