Sphinx Virtuosi’s nine-city tour gets underway

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The Sphinx Virtuosi perform at Carnegie Hall in 2017.

“Even if the Sphinx Virtuosi weren’t a group of gifted artists, bassist Benjamin Harris and violinist Ruben Rengel would still be traveling with them,” writes Zachary Lewis in Monday’s (10/10) Plain Dealer (Cleveland). “That’s because both feel a debt of gratitude to the Sphinx Organization … the renowned Detroit-based advocate for diversity in classical music. Sphinx’s … nine-city tour … includes Cleveland on Oct. 12…. Neither Harris nor Rengel would be a Virtuosi at all if they hadn’t earned prizes at the Sphinx Competition, the prestigious national contest for young Black and Latinx musicians, from whose ranks the elite, 18-member chamber orchestra primarily draws. Harris won in 2009; Rengel in 2018…. For Rengel, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, it boosted him onto the world stage as a soloist. Last week he was with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra…. In their opinion, the Sphinx players are some of the best and most interesting programmers…. They’re touring with … a truly eclectic program drawing attention to such older trailblazers as Alberto Ginastera, Florence Price, and Samuel Coleridge Taylor and introducing newer names with ‘Ev’ry Voice’ by Xavier Foley and Jessie Montgomery’s ‘Banner,’ a rhapsody on the theme of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ ”

October 12, 2021

Billings Symphony, travel restrictions, and the long road to obtaining a U.S. visa for guitarist Rafael Aguirre

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“Bringing [Spanish guitarist] Rafael Aguirre to the United States to perform with the Billings Symphony hasn’t been easy,” writes Anna Paige in Friday’s (10/8) Billings Gazette (MT). “It’s been a logistical nightmare to travel internationally since the onset of COVID-19…. Originally scheduled for February, the [Billings Symphony] concert was pushed to October…. As the pandemic continued, the U.S. added layers of complications for guests entering the country, including a ‘National Interest Exception’ requirement to all U.S. visas … to curb the amount of global travel to the country due to the pandemic. Ignacio Barrón Viela, executive director of the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, enlisted the support of both Montana senators, an advocacy team from the League of American Orchestras, an immigration specialist … and the Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C., to lobby for the artist…. As travel restrictions lighten up, there is expected to be … more international activity, which also means a higher volume of visa petitions could flood the U.S. Immigration Services. Heather Noonan, vice president for advocacy for League of American Orchestras, said such challenges are longstanding, and arts organizations collectively have been pressing the U.S. government to adjust the visa process to become more reliable, affordable, and streamlined.”

October 12, 2021

Symphony Silicon Valley’s new name: Symphony San José

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“Symphony Silicon Valley—which is changing its name to Symphony San José, to honor the city where it actually performs—began its 2021–2022 season on Saturday, Oct. 2, with a full blast of charging ahead,” writes David Bratman in last Monday’s (10/4) San Francisco Classical Voice. “President Andrew Bales explained from the stage of the California Theatre before the concert that management wants a local orchestra for a local audience, and declared that it was time to resume that live relationship. Accordingly, vaccinations were required and … everyone … wore masks…. This was a full two-hour concert with intermission…. Audience seating was not spaced out but packed as usual…. The one other change was the installation of video screens by the side of the stage…. The concert’s centerpiece was the world premiere of a flute concerto by the noted Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz,” featuring Los Angeles Philharmonic Principal Flute Denis Bouriakov. “Guest conductor JoAnn Falletta surrounded this premiere with some of the best-known music from the 19th-century repertory: Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture and Scherzo, and Dvořák’s Symphony ‘From the New World.’ … The orchestra’s skill is worthy of any name that management wants to give it.”

October 12, 2021

First hearing: Adelaide Symphony’s collaborative “Floods of Fire,” addressing impact of climate change

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“The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra has revealed Floods of Fire, a series of collaborative compositions that tell the stories of numerous South Australian communities, their environment and the impacts of climate change,” writes Hugh Robertson in Monday’s (10/11) Limelight Magazine (Australia). “The actual performance outcomes are arguably less important than the devising process. The orchestra’s Managing Director, Vincent Ciccarello, said that the process was important to allow South Australians to come to terms with the devastating fires and then floods of 2019/2020 … through a process of storytelling and cultural exchange…. Floods of Fire was developed over the course of 12 months with [multiple] South Australian organizations … and musicians from a vast spectrum of cultural backgrounds and artforms … joined by [multiple] composers…. Audiences will get their first taste of the project at the ASO’s Festival of Orchestra (FOFO) in November.… 2022 is being targeted for a performance of the complete work/s…. ‘Music is a great art form for telling stories,’ says ASO Associate Principal Trumpet Martin Phillipson … one of the thousands that fled Mallacoota as ravaging bushfires hit Gippsland in January 2020…. Phillipson described the Floods of Fire community workshops as ‘a humbling experience.’ ”

October 12, 2021

Rediscovering Louise Farrenc, 19th-century French composer

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“As the classical music world belatedly tries to put behind it the myriad prejudices it has inherited and perpetuated, [composer Louise] Farrenc’s music is returning to a prominence that her newfound proponents argue she has always deserved,” writes David Allen in Friday’s (10/8) New York Times. “ ‘The symphonies and the overtures should hold a similar place as Schumann and Mendelssohn,’ said Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who conducted Farrenc’s Second Symphony this summer with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and leads her Third with the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal on Oct. 29…. Scholarly attention to Farrenc remains meager in English, with no full biography appearing since Bea Friedland’s in 1980…. She has enjoyed little in the way of persistent academic advocacy. But much of the chamber music in which Farrenc excelled has been recorded, including her sonatas, piano trios and famous Nonet, the success of which in 1850 led her to demand, and receive, equal pay on the faculty of the Paris Conservatory, where she had become the first female professor in 1842…. Orchestras are turning to the three turbulent symphonies Farrenc wrote in the 1840s, which achieved significant success [at the time]…. Farrenc is an absence no more.”

October 12, 2021

Review: Chicago’s two-week Ear Taxi Festival, with world premieres, 100+ performances

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“Maybe the truest measure of a festival’s greatness isn’t its music but the uncomfortable things that music compels us to do,” writes Hannah Edgar in Sunday’s (10/11) Chicago Tribune. “Sprint from venue to venue. Scarf down snacks in precious free moments…. Rinse, repeat…. From mid-September through Oct. 4, Chicago musicians floating variously in the Venn diagram of contemporary classical, jazz, and experimental traditions performed under the banner of this sprawling [Ear Taxi Festival], which last skidded across the city in 2016.… Ear Taxi’s sophomore edition comprised dozens of world premieres, some 600 artists, and more than a hundred performances—much of which was streamed for live and post-concert viewing…. Beyond This Point percussion’s performance of Michael Gordon’s ‘Timber’ on reclaimed wood … transformed the Rebuilding Exchange warehouse on Webster Avenue into a luminescent womb. Through panels and a jovially incisive keynote by composer George Lewis, this Ear Taxi also probingly interrogated the meaning of ‘new music.’ … D-Composed String Quartet wrapped their performance … with a smoldering arrangement of Noname’s ‘Montego Bae’ [and gave a] glossy performance of ‘Break Away’ (2013) by Jessie Montgomery, whose tenure as Chicago Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence begins in earnest this fall.”

October 12, 2021

NJ’s Wharton Institute launches lifelong-learning division

Industry Buzz

New Jersey’s Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts—the umbrella organization that includes the New Jersey Youth Orchestra and the El Sistema-inspired Paterson Music Project—has launched a lifelong-learning program this season. The program includes in-person and online group classes as well as private and semi-private music lessons in all instruments and voice, for adults of all ability levels. Said Artistic Director Helen H. Cha-Pyo, “Playing an instrument is not only good for your mind but also good for your emotional well-being, and it’s never too late to start.” Peter H. Gistelinck, executive director at the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts, said, “It is well known and acknowledged that the ability to continue learning at any age is extremely important for one’s overall mental health. And as it relates to Wharton’s new five-year strategic plan, we are extremely excited to offer this new learning opportunity that will continue to grow and expand over the years to come.” Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts is located in Berkeley Heights, New Providence, and Paterson, New Jersey, and reaches students from 10 of the state’s 21 counties.

October 12, 2021