How pianist Frederic Chiu — at Xavier this week — fell in love with Prokofiev

Pianist Frederic Chiu/photo by Chris Craymer

I’m always inspired when I hear a recital by a remarkable pianist. Frederic Chiu returns to Cincinnati this Sunday, 2:30 p.m. April 28, in Xavier University’s Gallagher Center Theater for an all-Prokofiev program for the Xavier Piano Series.

Chiu’s early career followed a traditional path — such as winning an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and becoming perhaps more famous as a “non-winner” of the 1993 Van Cliburn Competition than the actual winner because of the uproar caused by his elimination.

Since then, his career has been anything but traditional. For starters, he’s a savvy marketer on the Internet. His Chopin Etudes have gone viral on YouTube, with more than 200,000 views.

Then, there’s Prokofiev’s music, to which he’s devoted a lifetime to performing and recording.  Here is his Q&A with me, where he explains how he developed his affinity for the Russian composer — and much more.

Q: When it comes to Prokofiev, have you made more recordings than anyone of his complete piano literature?

When you say complete piano recordings, it can be many different things. I think my complete Prokofiev is perhaps the most extensive collection, because I’ve included a number of transcriptions and added my own, so I feel like I’ve covered a lot more ground that most.Read More »

CSO announces soloist for season finale

Stefani Matsuo
Photo by Jake Anderson

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has announced that Stefani Matsuo, its new associate concertmaster, will perform as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in the season finale concerts, May 10 and 11 in Music Hall.

She replaces the originally announced concertmaster emeritus Timothy Lees, who recently retired from the orchestra due to an ongoing nerve injury affecting his left hand. 

The second half of the program led by Music Director Louis Langrée remains unchanged with Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

Matsuo joined the CSO in 2015 and was appointed associate concertmaster in 2018. With the orchestra undergoing a search for a concertmaster, she has performed a number of solos this season, including a sold-out Baroque program with Richard Egarr in January. (Here’s the review.)



Ed Stern, former Playhouse producing artistic director, has died at 72


Ed Stern / Photo by Keith Jochim

By now you have heard that Ed Stern, former producing artistic director of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, has died. The Playhouse posted this statement:

It is with profound sadness that we share the passing of Ed Stern (1946-2019).

Ed served as the Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director for 20 years from 1992 – 2012, fully one-third of the Playhouse’s history. During his tenure, the Playhouse won two Tony Awards, had three shows on Broadway and one off-Broadway, had productions on four continents, established a new play commissioning program, greatly expanded our education and outreach programs and completed a major renovation of the Playhouse’s public and production support spaces in 1997. Ed set the bar for theatrical artistic excellence within our community. Beyond that, he helped foster the growth of the other professional theatres in town and championed all of the arts. He will long be remembered as one of the Playhouse’s key leaders.

Ed will be deeply missed.

Here is my tribute, for the Cincinnati Business Courier. (The Arts Front may be read for free.)

Donations in his memory may be made to the Edward J. Stern Endowment for Artistic Excellence at Playhouse in the Park or to the University of Virginia Theatre Department.

CCM Student Elena Villalón Named Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019 National Council Auditions — THE VILLAGE NEWS BLOG

Sharing this great news from CCM: We are thrilled to report that current CCM student Elena Villalón has been named a Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019 National Council Auditions! After a months-long series of auditions involving more than 1,000 singers at the district, regional and national levels, a panel of expert judges […]

Neil Armstrong’s son to perform with Harry James Orchestra

Mark Armstrong/Photo provided

“Fly Me to the Moon” is one of the songs Mark Armstrong, the youngest son of Janet and the late Neil Armstrong, will perform with the Harry James Orchestra on April 2 at the Music Hall Ballroom.

The moon-themed songs in Mark’s repertoire honor his father, who made history in 1969 as the first man to walk on the moon.

The Harry James Orchestra is led by Fred Radke, who played trumpet for James and has been the current orchestra’s director since James’ death in 1983.  Radke and Mark Armstrong struck up a friendship over their shared interest in the music and aerospace.

Armstrong, who lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children, has had a 30-year career as a software engineer and was instrumental in the development of several successful startup companies, such as WebTV Networks.  In addition, Mark was a senior engineering leader for both Symantec and Microsoft and also wrote system software for Apple Computer.

He’s also a singer/songwriter as well as an actor, and serves on the board of trustees to several non-profit organizations.

The Harry James Orchestra plays original charts of such hits asI’ve Heard That Song Before,” “I Had the Craziest Dream”, “Sleepy Lagoon”, “I Don’t Want to Walk without You”, and “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” 

The concert and dance is Tuesday, April 2, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Music Hall Ballroom.  Tickets are $30 ($20 for students with ID) and $35 on the day of the concert.

Tickets can be purchased at the Aronoff Center and Music Hall Ticket Offices, by calling (513)621-2787, or online  The three-hour concert and dance will benefit public radio WMKV 89.3FM and WLHS 89.9FM.


Harry James Orchestra

At the CSO: Young composers’ works to be heard, and $15 ticket deal this weekend

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is teaming up with the League of American Orchestras to support “Orchestras Feeding America” this weekend. Bring a nonperishable food item to benefit Cincinnati’s Freestore Foodbank in bins at the Music Hall Box Office. Donations will be collected at the CSO’s Young Composers Concert on March 29, or the CSO on Saturday March 30 or Sunday March 31 in Music Hall.

Stop by the box office between now and Sunday to receive a $15 ticket to Sunday afternoon’s Beethoven concert.

About the Young Composers Concert: The CSO has held a Young Composers Workshop led by composer-in-residence Jonathan Bailey Holland. Five young composers will have their works performed by the CSO during a FREE concert, 8 p.m. Friday March 29 in Music Hall.

The composers, ages 17 through 22, are: Joshua Baerwald; Pierce Baruk, Mabie Lecrone, Walker Smith and Chanceloor Waye.

Get your complimentary ticket on the CSO website.

The CSO program for this weekend’s concerts, conducted by Louis Langrée: Jonathan Bailey Holland’s Halcyon Sun; Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2.  The soloist in the Prokofiev is Violinist Esther Yoo.

Information:; 513-381-3300

Michael Gielen championed modern music, led CSO through the ’80s

Michael Gielen was the CSO’s 10th music director. Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

The distinguished German-born conductor Michael Gielen, who led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s, died of pneumonia on March 8 at his home in Mondsee, Austria. He was 91.

Gielen was appointed the 10th music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, serving from 1980 to 1986. He succeeded music adviser Walter Susskind, who stepped in for two seasons following the untimely death of Thomas Schippers in 1977.

An ardent champion of contemporary music, Gielen was one of the most important conductors of his generation.

As a music director, Gielen’s preference for programming the music of the Second Viennese School didn’t always endear him to Cincinnati audiences. But during his tenure, his discipline and exceptional ear became legendary, and the orchestra achieved new heights as a polished performing ensemble.

“Many felt that, through no fault of its own, the orchestra had lost some of its technical edge. Though his tenure was a brief six years, Michael’s strong, consistent artistic leadership restored the CSO’s luster and musical discipline,” said David Loebel, associate conductor of orchestras at the New England Conservatory, who was Gielen’s assistant conductor during his tenure.

“Many bristled at his demanding programs, which were meant to challenge and enlighten rather than merely entertain,” Loebel said. “Those who attended one of his CSO concerts expecting to relax and have pretty sounds wash over them were bound to be disappointed. Those willing to be exposed to worthwhile music they had never heard and to discover new things about the music they already knew, usually left exhilarated.”Read More »