What a year! Looking back and ahead in the arts

View of the CSO performing a livestreamed concert in Nov. 2020

I’ll never forget the fear in the eyes of both performers and audience members in the first few live, indoor performances I saw in the early months of the pandemic in 2020. We were masked, spaced vastly apart and there was no intermission to avoid viral spread. Otherwise, many performances were livestreamed online, with musicians masked and separated by space and screens.

Then in 2021, as vaccines became available and theaters began to reopen to full audiences, there was elation and relief by many who were able to finally attend a show in person.

Every concert, play, ballet or art exhibition I attended in 2021 was deeply moving because it showed the perseverance of artists — indeed of all humanity — during this unprecedented time. I feel that we’ve come a long way.

Now, we are buffeted again by the Omicron variant. Just announced, there are at least two museum “pauses” (Cincinnati Art Museum is closed Jan. 3-12 and the Taft Museum of Art is closed Jan. 3-13).

“Hairspray” is postponed to a later date due to Covid in the cast.

There are also a few postponed performances. At the Aronoff Center, “Hairspray” scheduled to play January 4 – 9, 2022 is being rescheduled due to breakthrough positive Covid cases within the company of “Hairspray.” Ticket holders are encouraged to hold onto their tickets while the engagement is being rescheduled.

At Music Hall, the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati is postponing its January 8 and 9 performances of “The Song Among Us” to a later date, to be announced. The release states that the postponement “is prompted by production challenges exacerbated by the recent rise in positive Covid cases across the nation.” Ticket holders may complete this form or call the box office at 513-381-3300 for ticket options, including donations, exchanges, and refunds.

I prefer to see the glass half full.  I believe we will get through this, and the arts will persevere.

Singers Michelle DeYoung and Sean Panikkar share bows in Mahler’s “The Song of the Earth” with the CSO. (Photo by Lee Snow)

I wrote a list of some of my favorite performances in 2021 in a column for the Business Courier. My list begins with Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Music Hall last March, and ends with “The Marriage of Figaro” at CCM in November. I’d like to know some of yours, too. (Let me know here, or on Facebook.)

And looking ahead, here is my list of “best bets” in 2022. It’s really just a broad sweep — because there are so many chamber music, vocal concerts, art exhibitions and dance performances that have yet to be announced. I think we have a lot to anticipate.

Verdi’s opulent “Aida” will be presented at Cincinnati Opera in summer 2022. Photo courtesy of Opéra de Montréal, Yves Renaud

WGUC to play tribute to Marco Panuccio, ‘the people’s tenor’

Marco Panuccio in Donizetti’s “Lucie de Lammermoor”/photo by Philip Groshong

I always looked forward to hearing the latest program that tenor Marco Panuccio was planning for his popular “O Holy Night” concert for the holiday season. This year, as I compiled my list of holiday shows, I didn’t hear from Marco, and I missed him. I didn’t know, like many of you, that he was battling a terrible virus named Covid-19. He died last weekend.

This Friday, Cincinnati Opera artistic director Evans Mirageas will devote his weekly segment at around 6:30 p.m. (right after the 6 O’Clock Symphony) to Marco’s memory. He’ll play excerpts from Marco’s performance as Edgard in Cincinnati Opera’s “Lucie de Lammermoor” (in French) in 2008.

Here is my tribute for the Business Courier.

You’ll find WGUC at 90.9 FM or listen online at WGUC.org or in the app.

Daniil Trifonov recital postponed

Daniil Trifonov

The CSO sent out this message today to ticket holders regarding Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov’s recital scheduled for Nov. 10:

Daniil is recovering from a recent elbow injury that will prevent him from performing this Wednesday. The recital has been rescheduled to MAR 1, 2022 at 7:30 pm.

Daniil expressed his regret, stating: “I have been advised to postpone the performance to avoid exacerbating the problem, and have with great disappointment agreed to focus on my health and recovery over the coming weeks. However, I look forward to rescheduling my recital presented by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for March 1, 2022.”

Let’s hope he heals quickly! Trifonov’s Carnegie Hall recital on Nov. 17 of the same program he would have played in Cincinnati is still on tap. Information: carnegiehall.org.

The CSO will automatically honor all previously purchased tickets on the new recital date of MAR 1, 2022. If you are unable to attend the rescheduled date, please contact the Box Office at 513-381-3300 (M-F 10-5; SAT 10-2) for a flexible exchange or refund.

My November picks in classical music

CSO on opening night/photo provided by Hannah Kenney

Since the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra officially opened its subscription season this weekend (here’s the review), I decided to look at the arts calendar to see what musical performances I want to get on my November calendar.

Wow! I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of our performing arts are ramping up. My November calendar looks almost normal, which in Cincinnati means that you can be out every night of the week. So here are some of my picks.

Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m. – At CCM, renowned Russian pianist and pedagogue Boris Berman performs a guest recital performance in Robert J. Werner Recital Hall. Admission: FREE.

Note: Find all CCM events and the calendar here.

Nov. 7, 4 p.m. — Linton Music Series “Pure Bach,” featuring violinist Jennifer Koh performing the solo violin works of Bach. First Unitarian Church. For tickets and program, click here.

Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m. – Ariel Quartet, CCM String-Quartet-in-Residence, continues its concert series with Lera Auerbach’s “Frozen Dreams,” which premiered in 2020, and Béla Bartók’s penultimate quartet, String Quartet No. 5.  Robert J. Werner Recital Hall
Tickets: Prices start at $29.50.

Daniil Trifonov in recital

Nov. 10, 7:30 p.m., Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov performs a recital at Music Hall, presented by the CSO. His program includes music by Karol Szymanowski, Debussy, Prokofiev and Brahms.

Note: For all CSO events and concerts, click here.

Nov. 11, 8 p.m. —Stephen Hough recital at Xavier. Hough is a longtime visitor to the Xavier Piano Series, and is something of a Renaissance man. This month, he graces the cover of BBC Music magazine. His program includes Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Chopin’s Ballade No. 3 and Hough’s own “Partitia.” It’s in Xavier’s Gallagher Center Theater on the XU campus. For tickets and info about the entire Xavier Music Series, click here.Read More »

Atlanta Symphony selects a music director: Nathalie Stutzmann is second woman to lead a major orchestra

Nathalie Stutzmann

This week, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra announced it has chosen Nathalie Stutzmann as its fifth music director. She succeeds Robert Spano.

Stutzmann will be the first woman to serve as the ASO’s music director and only the second woman to lead a major American orchestra. Marin Alsop recently stepped down as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In Atlanta, Stutzmann follows past ASO music directors Henry Sopkin, Robert Shaw, Yoel Levi and Robert Spano.

Stutzmann is an operatic contralto with more than 80 recordings and a contract with Warner Bros/Erato records. Currently, she is  Principal Guest Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Chief Conductor of Norway’s Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra. She is also a noted conductor of opera, and was to have made her Metropolitan Opera debut this fall, postponed due to the pandemic.

She studied conducting with the legendary Finnish teacher Jorma Panula and was mentored by Seiji Ozawa and Sir Simon Rattle.

Her recent and future U.S. engagements include orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony, with many other engagements in Europe.

Even a few years ago, choosing a woman as music director was considered to be a bold move. Years ago, my very first feature article in the Enquirer was entitled “The Maestro is a Ms” — because at the time, a woman on the podium was so rare. Over the decades, not much changed.

I would suggest that now times have indeed changed — there are vastly talented musicians of every gender and race, and orchestras and boards of directors are taking note.


New work honoring late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to premiere in Dallas

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich/photo by Bill Keefrey

About two decades ago, I remember the world premiere of “Millennium Fantasy” for piano and orchestra by American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in music. The soloist was pianist Jeffrey Biegel, who performed with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Jesús López-Cobos. It was commissioned by a consortium of 27 orchestras — still a novel idea at the time. Zwilich became one of my favorite composers.

Now the talents of Jeffrey Biegel and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich have come together in the creation of “Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” honoring the late Supreme Court Justice. It will be premiered tonight by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya in Meyerson Symphony Center.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, photo provided

Zwilich’s new composition pays homage to and remembers Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the first anniversary of her death in September 2020. The new work will feature texts by poet/librettist Lauren K. Watel and will be performed by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves – one of Justice Ginsburg’s favorite opera singers, who sang at her memorial – and pianist Jeffrey Biegel.Read More »

Post-Covid Fall season in full swing

Pianist Daniil Trifonov takes bows at last weekend’s MusicNOW Festival at the CSO

After 18 months of virtual and a few outdoor performances, Cincinnati is back to live, in-person performances. Most arts organizations are requiring masking and proof of vaccine or testing to enter theaters. (Here are the rules.) So far, people are flocking back, and the ones I’ve met are happy to be back.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has been performing mini-festivals of new music over the last two weekends.

Here are links to my impressions of the CSO/MusicNOW Festival, founded by Bryce Dessner (who unfortunately was not in town), and an avant-garde program led by creative director Matthias Pintscher.

MusicNOW with Bonny Light Horseman and Daniil Trifonov

Trifonov and Louis Langree/Mark Lyons photo

MusicNOW with So percussion and Daniil Trifonov

Contemporary Colors, hailing the Jewish Cincinnati Bicentennial.

All were late additions to the calendar, as the CSO won’t launch its subscription season until Oct. 29-30. Watch for a preview about their season later this month in the Business Courier.

The Cincinnati Pops has some “extras,” this fall, as well. John Morris Russell will lead an American program commemorating voting rights for women with singer/songwriter Aoife O’Donovan, Oct. 19 in Music Hall. Info here: cincinnatisymphony.org/pops.

Yesterday, the Cincinnati Jazz Hall of Fame presented an induction ceremony for its sixth class of inductees, at Mount St. Joseph University. Read more here about that organization and how V. Kay Casey came to found it.

Cincinnati Jazz Hall of Fame sponsors a program for young jazz musicians, who play “Jazz at Dusk” around town — seen here at Caffe Vivace in Walnut HIlls

Also this weekend, the 108th season of Matinee Musicale opened in Memorial Hall. I’ll be writing more about that soon… as well as some of my thoughts about the innovative programs of Chamber Music Cincinnati coming up soon.


Queen City Opera: Tchaikovky’s little known “Life” Symphony impresses

Isaac Selya led the Queen City Opera Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s rarely-heard Symphony No. 7

Isaac Selya, artistic director and conductor of Queen City Opera, is known for inventive productions, usually of lesser-known operatic repertoire. He often pairs operas with social issues. Even Act I from Wagner’s Walkure featured a partnership with Women Helping Women and a discussion about domestic abuse.

As the arts begin to emerge from Covid-19, it was a good time for Selya to present a non-operatic project. On Sept. 5 in Finneytown Performing Arts Center, he led a rare performance (and possibly the Midwest premiere) of Tchaikovsky’s unfinished Symphony No. 7 in E-flat Major, “Life.” Two excellent young opera singers, tenor M. Andrew Jones and soprano Raquel González, performed arias and scenes from Tchaikovsky’s operas “Eugene Onegin” and “Iolanta.”

Selya dedicated this program to all those who have died of Covid-19.Read More »

Q&A with Sujari Britt

Sujari Britt performs the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations 8 p.m. August 6 at Seasongood Pavilion, Eden Park. She returns at 4 p.m. Aug. 8, Moonlite Pavilion, Coney Island for “Restorative Strings”

I caught up with rising star cellist Sujari Britt, who has been studying in Finland, via email in time to ask a few questions before she makes her Cincinnati debut with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra next weekend, Aug. 6 and 8.

Question: Please tell us a little bit about your musical journey. Why did you decide to study cello in Finland at the Sibelius Academy?

Answer: I began my cello travels at the age 4 after studying for a bit on piano and violin. At age 20, it is humbling to reflect that for the past decade-and-a-half I have devoted my time to exploring classical cello literature, techniques and approaches.

I believe it is time well-spent! I remain grateful for the incredible support and guidance of my early studies with Professor Marion Feldman (Manhattan School of Music, NYC). I met my current instructor, Professor Martti Rousi  (Sibelius Academy, Helsinki, Finland) when he visited MSM for a master class. We were mutually enthralled, and I am thoroughly enjoying my tenure at Sibelius.

Q: How have you gotten through the pandemic, with your studies and performances? 

A: COVID-19 has rocked our planet. The health crisis has been far-reaching in distance, and its impact likely will reverberate for time to come. Our world has shifted due to this illness. Across the globe we have suffered from loss, grief, fear, change. On one hand, COVID-19 surfaced the swirling of not knowing; distrusting, and feeling unsafe, uncertain, alone. For many, solitude, loneliness, and panic became our sole companions.

On another hand, the health crisis seemed to pummel us with warning of our need for each other; for kindness, truth, and humanity. I am fortunate to have toughed-out this pandemic in the company of friends, and in the presence of strangers who paused to notice our shared want.

When the pandemic began in earnest, I was on tour in the states. Having completed a few community events, a decision was made to postpone the main concert and remaining events to protect the audience and musicians. That was March 2020. I am thrilled for the upcoming concert with Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra to once again see eyes and know the ears, hearts, and minds that share the space of sound with me.  I look forward with hope.

Q: The CCO season shines a light on musicians and composers of color, as well as on women. How do you think concert programs and even classical music institutions are changing, or will change in the future?

A: I genuinely appreciate CCO’s focus on emerging representatives of our shared joy for the classics. To my mind, the wider we open the door, the braver will be the talent, and the deeper the joy at the shattering of glass ceilings.Read More »

Cincinnati Opera knocks it out of the park for its 101st season

The “buck” moon rose after “Tosca” in Summit Park

Although the Cincinnati Opera 2021 Summer Festival isn’t over yet, I was lucky enough to attend all three opera productions, as well as the concert, “Opera in the Park.” As you know, the company mounted its 101st season outdoors at Summit Park, Blue Ash.

It was a complex operation. Here’s a story about what it took to set up the stage.

Midway through, I enjoyed catching up with star conductor Xian Zhang, who earned her doctorate at CCM.

Catching up with Xian Zhang between rehearsals for “Tosca” at Music Hall


Concert in the Park
One of the lighting towers for the outdoor stage

And here are links to my reviews of each production. Cincinnati Opera season concludes July 31.

There may be a few tickets left to sit on the lawn. 513-241-2742, cincinnatiopera.org.



The Barber of Seville