Latest Posts From Joseph Dalton

avatar Joseph Dalton is the founder of Hudson Sounds and the author of "Artists & Activists: Making Culture in New York's Capital Region." He has been a freelance classical music critic and general arts reports for the Times Union since 2002. A veteran of the recording industry, he was director of Composers Recordings, Inc. (CRI) from 1990 to 2000 and began his career at Sony Classical. He writes about the GLTB community in in classical music at www.MyBigGayEars.com. www.JosephDalton.net

February 26, 2013 - 1 Comment

Review: Return to the Los Angeles Philharmonic – by Joseph Dalton

News flash:  Where you hear music affects how you hear music.

On the website NewMusicBox, editor Frank J. Oteri recently posted about his experience trekking from NYC all the way to Albany (well, Rensselaer actually since he was on Amtrak) to hear the Albany Symphony Orchestra in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.  The splendor of the building and the renowned acoustics impressed him, while the names on the ceiling and on the ticket stubs concerned him.  Worth a read: The Names on the Ceiling.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the sparkly, Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.  It was my third time there, but still a thrill.  And despite my jet lag and general travel fatigue, the very notion of hearing a major orchestra in big city on another coast pricked up my ears.

Gustavo Dudamel was on the podium but he wasn’t as showy as the last time I heard him, when he conducted music of Adams, Bernstein and Beethoven.  His more subdued manner was probably a nature result of a more traditional program – Wagner, Brahms and Schumann.  Also, it was a Thursday night (February 21), the first performance of the three-concert run in the middle of his fourth season as music director.  So in a sense, conductor and orchestra were simply doing business, if still at a plenty high level.

When I heard Dudamel two years ago, the whole program was about rhythm.  The John Adams overture (does it matter which one?), Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” Symphony and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony all charge forward like trains on a track.  In contrast, this concert was more sea faring.  The opener was the Death and Funeral Music from “Gotterdammerung” and after intermission came Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 97 “Rhenish.”  Together, they made for a nice book-ending of Teutonic aquatic works.  Somewhere during the Schumann, I thought about the waves and spikes on the outside of the famous building.

In between came the Brahms Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard the familiar concerto in quiet the same way.  The interpretation was straight forward enough, but the acoustics of the hall gave a rare sense of depth and three-dimensionality to the piece.  I mostly think of hearing the piece at SPAC, where it arrives like everything else in a frontal assault.  At Disney Hall, I was seated in a side gallery close enough to almost be above the stage.  Maybe this explains the new perspective I had on the piece and my greater awareness of the interplay within the orchestra.  Yet I think the space itself gives a rare physicality to the orchestra’s sound.  Let’s also give due credit to Dudamel and Shaham, though.  They showed a fine chemistry and practically bowed and scraped to each other during the many curtain calls.

One thing about Shaham though is that he sure does move around a lot onstage.  That’s something I’ve observed from him at SPAC as well.  Sometimes he seems close enough to the podium to smell the conductor’s breath while a moment or two later, he’s almost joining the first violin section.  This can be impish and engaging. But at this concert and in this hall, he turned his body this way and that so often that it affected the sound, sometimes from one phrase to the next.  But I’ll take liveliness over dutifulness any day.  And I’ll jump at another opportunity to take in Dudamel and the L.A. Phil any day.

 

February 1, 2013 - 0 Comments

New Leadership at HudsonSounds

Dear friends, colleagues and readers,

After three years of supervising and editing HudsonSounds I’ve turned over the reigns to Liz Friedman, a management consultant to composers and performers who has been a contributor to the site since June of last year.

I’m immensely proud that HudsonSounds quickly found an audience and has become the go-to destination for information and insight on the local classical music scene, and I’m confident that the recently launched HudsonDance will have similar success.  It’s been great interacting in new ways with local musicians, producers and administrators and a pleasure to watch our bloggers blossom as writers and commentators!  I’m also especially grateful for the support of the advertisers.  But after much consideration, I decided it was time for me to turn my efforts to other pursuits.  I continue to write for the Times Union, of course, and will stay an active contributor to HudsonSounds with the title of Founding Editor.

I have great confidence that Liz will continue and advance the good work of HudsonSounds.  She’s extremely knowledgeable about the local and national music scene and is also up to date on the role of information technology in the arts.

See you on line and at the concerts!

jody

January 21, 2013 - 0 Comments

Local opera talents on the national stage – by Joseph Dalton

Soprano Emalie Savoy, a native of Schenectady, has made a important fan in Anthony Tommasini, the influential chief critic of the New York Times.  Last week he wrote a review of Savoy’s recent performance at the Morgan Library, calling her “gifted, fast-rising” and “remarkable.”  Savoy was appearing in a duo recital with tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, sponsored by the George London Foundation.  Tommasini referenced Savoy’s two stage roles of last season, as Fiordiligi in Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” and as the lead in Gluck’s “Armide.”  Savoy offered an excerpt of the latter opera in her recital and here’s how Tomassini responded: “That Ms. Savoy has the right combination of vocal allure, majesty and passion for this role she showed again on Sunday in her account of Armide’s intense final scene.”  Read the whole review at: “Youth and Experience in Harmony.”   (Below is my 2010 profile of Savoy, who was then fresh off her successful auditions for the Met’s apprentice program and Tanglewood.)

Meanwhile, this coming weekend local composer Evan Mack is going to be competing in “The 24-Hour Opera Project,” a kind of “Project Runway” for the opera world, sponsored by the Atlanta Opera.  There will be five teams, each consisting of a composer, librettist, stage director, four singers and an accompanist who are randomly assigned to each other.  They’re only given on day – starting at 6 p.m. Friday – to create and stage an original opera of 7 to 10 minutes in duration.  Evan and his librettist will have 14 hours before they have to completely turn over their work to the performing side of the team.  The public can view the results and vote online.  Tune in at 7 p.m. Saturday January 26 at http://new.livestream.com/accounts/1022514/events/1602627 and cast your vote!

 

VOCAL RANGE

Emalie Savoy a young soprano on the cusp of a brilliant career

By Joseph Dalton,

Times Union, Sunday, March 7, 2010

Because Emalie Savoy remains a graduate student at Juilliard through the spring, it’s fair to say her professional career has yet to begin. But during a three-day span in December, the 24-year-old Schenectady native had two auditions that are about as high-pressure as any singer — young or old — could imagine. Both sessions were for James Levine, the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony Orchestra.

First, Savoy tried for a coveted spot in the Met’s young-artists development program. From the edge of the company’s vast stage, she sang arias with piano accompaniment into the 3,800-seat house, which was empty except for Levine and a few colleagues seated somewhere in the darkness. Two days later, she was in a small space inside Carnegie Hall, singing again for the maestro, who was choosing singers for this summer’s program at Tanglewood.

On both occasions, Savoy nailed it.

Come August at Tanglewood, she performs the lead role in a fully staged production of Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos.” Then it’s back to Manhattan in the fall, where she’ll begin a three-year residency at the Met.

Before those prestigious bookings, Savoy has plenty of other performances on her calendar, including two appearances this week at the University at Albany. On Thursday evening in a free public forum, she’ll be interviewed about her budding career in the manner of the TV show “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” The following night she’ll perform a song recital.

During a recent conversation, the quest of an Olympic athlete quickly came up as an apt comparison for the trials and endurance of being an opera singer.

“Training the classical voice is really an athletic feat,” says Savoy. “It includes trying to sing over orchestras in a healthy way, singing for three hours at a time, taking care of your mind, body and soul. And there’s plenty of sacrifices in your personal life.

“Like horseback riding or running and so many other things, talent only gets you so far. It also takes application and dedication,” continues Savoy. “I really found that out when I came to New York. It was run with the big dogs or stay on the porch.”

Savoy has been ensconced at The Juilliard School since early in her undergraduate days, after having spent one year enrolled in Schenectady County Community College. She says she’s never experienced the kind of pressure-cooker atmosphere the conservatory is known for.

“Being together 14 hours a day in classes and rehearsal, you become close,” she says, regarding her peers. “I’ve not had any catty experiences. I’m sure people are jealous of my accomplishments, but they’ve never let that get in the way of our friendship.”

According to Savoy’s parents, who are both professional musicians, Emalie showed a good-natured personality as well as extraordinary musical gifts from a young age.

“All parents brag about their kids, but we knew she was special from very early on,” says Deborah Savoy, a soprano and private voice instructor. She recalls that when Emalie was still in elementary school, she’d pick up the fundamentals of the singing lessons overheard in the family home.

“She had a knack for hearing what was going on and absorbing it,” says Deborah Savoy. “She developed a proper vocal technique at a young enough age that it was just a matter of directing and nurturing.”

Attending Emalie’s performances at Juilliard has kept her folks (who live in Duanesburg) on the road to New York City regularly, but Thomas Savoy still finds a bit of wonder in it all. Most recently, he heard her sing with a chamber orchestra Samuel Barber’s lush and romantic “Knoxville, Summer 1915.”

“There was such tonal command in the piece that you detach yourself from this being your daughter and instead see a real professional in the making,” says Thomas Savoy, who’s a composer. “We know the musical world and the vagaries of it. It’s one thing to have talent and something else to be around the right people and get the opportunities.”

Speaking of opportunities, Emalie has reached a point where she can give some to her dad by performing his music. Perhaps it’s just keeping things in the family, but maybe it’s also proper payback, since most of Emalie’s first public performances as a soloist were in the Capital Region with the New York Catholic Chorale, which her father founded and directed for 10 years.

She’ll include his three recent song settings of Shakespeare in a program on March 18 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, as part of a Juilliard honors presentation. The occasion will be Emalie’s New York City recital debut, as well as the first time one of Thomas Savoy’s works has been performed in concert in Manhattan. (“I have some other things that I’m going to send her way,” adds the hopeful composer/dad.)

Typical of her generation and recent trends at Juilliard, Emalie Savoy has been getting plenty of other experience with modern and contemporary works. Lately that’s also meant portraying figures of recent history. Last season she sang the lead role of Susan B. Anthony in “The Mother of Us All,” the 1947 opera by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein. And in February, she played the American poet Anne Sexton in “Transformations,” an experimental 1973 opera by Conrad Susa.

“Singing all these different roles and knowing enough of yourself to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a psychological process I’m learning every day,” she says. “But playing a real person ups the ante. Anne Sexton was such a troubled woman. Her life was dark, she was abused and committed suicide. And with Susan B. Anthony, I had to be everything that she fought for and believed and dedicated her life to.”

It’s almost enough to give the impression that singing is the easy part. But apart from studying history, literature and a host of languages, vocal technique still has to come first, especially as the prominence of Emalie Savoy continues to grow.

Yet another high-pressure moment came in October when she was included in a master class by the superstar soprano Renee Fleming. A master class, by the way, is essentially a lesson conducted in front of an audience, which on this occasion numbered about 1,000 people.

“I’ve never had trouble with stage fright before, but everything from my waist down felt like it was glued to the floor. Than I heard her call my name and it was time to go on,” recalls Savoy.

Just to add to the tension, Savoy sang one of Fleming’s signature arias, “Il est doux, il est bon” from Massenet’s “Herodiade.”

“We have similar voices. She has a large voice and I have a large voice and after listening to me she knew my technical hang-ups,” recalls Savoy. “She was so wonderful. Some give master classes and mostly talk about their experiences as a star. But hers was about the craft of singing, which is the most important thing. It’s all about how we prepare works, we breathe and make sound and then be an artist.”

 

 

December 27, 2012 - 0 Comments

Top 5 Musical Moments in 2012 – by Joseph Dalton

1. Yannick Nezet-Seguin with the Philadelphia Orchestra at SPAC, Aug. 8-10. Over three consecutive nights the 37-year old music director-designate of the Philadelphia Orchestra showed what genuine inspiration looks and sounds like. Gone were the off-the-shelf readings of warhorses more typical of an evening at SPAC. There were still plenty of masterpieces, as well as opera excerpts and even new music, and all of it was engaging and lively.

2. Lully’s “Armide” at the Glimmerglass Festival, July 27 (opening night). Dancing and singing were almost equally present in this opulent staging. All of it was resplendent and framed in a set that resembled an illuminated Persian manuscript. It was part of Glimmerglass’ best season in memory, which also included an intimate “Aida,” a fun “The Music Man,” and the wrenching “Lost in the Stars.”

3. John Zorn at EMPAC, April 3. In just one hour onstage Zorn generated enough energy to power all of upstate New York –

or to at least liven up EMPAC. The master of avant garde jazz made his saxophone wail, squeak, buzz, rattle and sometimes even sing. It wasn’t always pretty, sometimes deliberately in your face, but it was a compelling journey to the cutting edge of music.

4. Mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink at the Union College Concert Series, Nov. 12. “Perfection” is a word critics should only be able to use once a year at most. The accolade was well deserved for this song recital. Accompanied by pianist Anthony Spiri, Fink gave a loving embrace to lieder of Mahler, Schumann and Dvorak.

5. Alan Cumming at Club Helsinki, Dec. 2. Talented, flamboyant and shameless, the star of Broadway, television and film proved why he’s got such a devoted fan base. He knows how to entertain and befriend a crowd. There were no retreads of standards. Instead, the songs and banter were timely and fresh and hilarious. A terrific start for the series Helsinki on Broadway.

October 9, 2012 - 2 Comments

From the TU’s Op-Ed pages: Classical programming at SPAC

A summer evening at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center may be a respite and idyll for many. But for those of us concerned about the arts in our region, it also can be a troubling experience as the venue wrestles with rising budgets and shrinking audiences.

Any conversation at the end of the night almost invariably includes remarks not just about the quality of what was presented onstage, but also the size of the crowd.

SPAC’s recent release of attendance figures for its classical events — audience levels were basically stable for the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra — sparks some observations and suggestions, mostly focusing on programming and priorities.

With the New York City Ballet’s residency next year being reduced from two weeks to one (it was once four weeks), let’s hope that every performance features different ballets. I attended twice this past summer and might have been there more, but I didn’t want to sit through repeats of things I’d already seen just one or two nights prior.

For example, the program on opening night, Tuesday, July 10, ended with Balanchine’s “Symphony in C.” The new costumes with Swarovski crystals looked great, by the way.

I wanted to go two days later to catch the revival of “The Waltz Project” by Peter Martins, but among the three works on that program was, again, “Symphony in C.” Precious few summer evenings and expensive gasoline contributed to my decision to stay home.

Martins and Marcia White need to remember that some ballet fans may relish comparing different ballerinas in repeated works. But most of us cherry-pick what to see. So keep the repertoire fresh, please.

It’s hard to argue with the ever-rising cost of presenting the ballet, which is the reason for the ever-reduced seasons. And it’s admirable that next year two other companies, National Ballet of Canada and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, will be brought in for seven performances.

Yet one still has to wonder about setting priorities and allocating resources among the existing components of the classical season. There’s an increasing and obvious imbalance between the orchestra, whose residency remains three weeks in duration, and the continued cutbacks for the New York City Ballet, SPAC’s whipping boy.

SPAC should make a priority of what it has that’s unique. That is only the New York City Ballet, the largest and most important dance company in the nation. It’s great to have so many opportunities to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra, and my fingers are crossed that its dynamic new music director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, returns every summer. But there are lots of summer orchestra festivals, including Tanglewood, just 70 miles away in the Berkshires.

Another part of the SPAC classical season is the Chamber Music Festival, which is often overlooked. It wasn’t even mentioned in the year-end news release. Frankly, I don’t see why it should be continued.

That’s quiet a statement coming from a music critic. I consider part of my duties to be an advocate for the field, not just a reporter and critical observer.

This summer I only made it to one of the chamber music concerts, when the Spa Little Theater was maybe half full. Similar, and even smaller, audiences were reported by friends at the other five concerts. But poor attendance isn’t my biggest reason to question the festival’s viability.

There are tons of chamber music throughout our region all year long, especially at the Union College Concert Series, which runs October through April.

As for chamber music in the summer, on the weekend of Aug. 3 to 5, when I heard cellist Johannes Moser in Saratoga Springs, there were 10 other chamber music concerts spread across our region, from Woodstock to Hudson, Cooperstown to Cambridge.

The audience for chamber music is probably even more rarefied than that for the ballet. Yet unlike ballet fans, music lovers have plenty of options to choose from — too many, in my opinion. SPAC must stop wasting resources on programs that are redundant and instead focus on what can’t be found anywhere else — and that is the New York City Ballet.

Joseph Dalton is a Troy writer. His email address is Dalton@HudsonSounds.org.