Interview: Conductor Anu Tali

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Anu Tali is on the line from her home in Sarasota, FL, where she is music director of the orchestra (though not for much longer), and we ask her about being named recently as one of the world’s top “Female Conductors to Watch” by The Washington Post.

“There are two ways of answering your question — if female conductors should be named separately, or if I’m happy to be nominated,” the Estonian conductor, 45, says in elegant accent. “An answer: I’m happy to be nominated. Because I’m just grateful when people notice my work. And I think I am done and over with complaining every time your name comes in one or the other row,” i.e. male or female.

There’s no use fighting it, anyway, with women conductors on the rise internationally, and therefore much in the news. It’s just that Tali, who makes her debut conducting the Pacific Symphony next week, doesn’t see the world in terms of gender, she explains.

“For me, there are interesting male and female artists and people, if you please. For me it is one big stock of artists, not separated.”

The conductor recently announced her departure at the end of next season from the Sarasota Orchestra, where she has served as music director since 2013, saying she wanted to focus on her international career and guest conducting. She’s open to another music directorship, too, but isn’t in a hurry.

“I don’t like planning my life ahead so that I can’t breathe anymore. For me, it’s very important to keep options open because I still have two years here. So it’s quite a long time to do your job properly and I’m not going to go al niente diminuendo (diminish to nothing) you know. We want to gradually grow and It’s very important for me to leave Sarasota Orchestra to the next hands in a very good position to raise from there.”

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The making of a Bruckner 8

Coming up Nov. 9-11, Carl St.Clair will lead Pacific Symphony in its first ever performances of Anton Bruckner’s colossal Symphony No. 8. The performances will include a design element, which Carl talks about above, on a recent visit to the creators’ studio in Dusseldorf. I’ll sit down for an interview on all things Bruckner with Carl next week, and share it in this space.

Audio: Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 7

I won’t categorize this as a “neglected symphony,” but it doesn’t turn up on concert programs that often, especially when you consider how good it is. The piece is in a single movement; it’s the last symphony Sibelius wrote (in 1924), though he lived until 1957. Colin Davis conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in this live recording.

Review: Louisville Orchestra, Teddy Abrams: ‘All In’

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Teddy Abrams is the 30-year-old music director of the venerable Louisville Orchestra and he’s at least a quadruple threat: Conductor, composer, clarinetist and pianist. The young man, a protege of Michael Tilson Thomas, is stirring things up with the orchestra and their first album together, dubbed “All In” and released on Decca Gold on Sept. 22, reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart in its first week. (Obiter dictum: These days, that doesn’t necessarily mean huge sales.) “All In” is the orchestra’s first album in nearly 30 years. Abrams appears as conductor, composer and clarinetist on it.

At one time, some will remember, the Louisville Orchestra was one of the most recorded in the world. In the late 1940s the ensemble launched the Louisville Orchestra Commissioning Project, funded by both local arts money and Rockefeller Foundation grants. The Project eventually yielded hundreds of new works for orchestra as well some 150 recordings of them (on the orchestra’s own label, First Edition Records). Abrams and the orchestra hope “to pick up and expand this legacy,” the liner notes say. Good luck to them.

The disc opens with Abrams’ own “Unified Field,” a shortish four movement work in an accessible, popular and diverse style. In the liner notes, Abrams offers this: “My own music reflects my favorite musical experiences and memories, ranging from an obsession with ‘classical’ contrapuntal technique to the unmatched energy of playing a rock show and the joy of jamming with great Bluegrass artists. Usually these worlds do not find much common ground, but ‘Unified Field’ is an attempt to join everything I love into a single expression across multiple genres.”

The result is pleasant enough, light, too, but bordering on hackneyed. The first movement is pretty, oceanic movie music; its main theme returns in the other movements. The second movement romps in a percussive groove, complete with electric bass and electric guitar. A drum set and Hammond-style organ are added to the processional third movement (a kissing cousin to the “Pilgrims’ March” in Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy”), and the finale is a comedic jamboree on a country fiddling tune.

Surprisingly perhaps, the piece is played none too well here, rather sloppily most of the way, the strings sounding overtaxed and the musicians just not moving as one.

Perhaps it won’t matter to many listeners that the next three numbers aren’t remotely classical, but they do seem out of place here. The vocalist Storm Large, of Pink Martini fame, joins the orchestra for three songs in jazzy style, a pair of ballads, “A Woman’s Heart” by Large and “The Long Goodbye” by Abrams, and an uptempo “It’s Alright with Me” by Cole Porter. A gifted stylist, Large rather overdoes it in this case, pressing and preening. The arrangement of the Porter tune, credited partly to Large, is poor — it never quite gels. (Compare Ella Fitzgerald’s version.)

Which leaves the finale, Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, with Abrams as soloist. (Someone named Jason Seber conducts it, but we are never told who he is.) Written in 1948 for Benny Goodman, the concerto mixes the composer’s familiar American style with Stravinskian neoclassicism and jazz. Abrams negotiates the high-flying solo part sensitively and athletically but the intonation is not always perfectly centered. Seber and the orchestra give him nimble enough support. But it’s too little, too late.

Great moments in film music: ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (The Duel)

Music by Ennio Morricone. Notice the play of major and minor harmonies, worthy of Schubert. Also notice that Morricone knows when to be silent. The harmonica music is a leitmotif, brimming with meaning, as the sequence makes clear. The clip ends, appropriately, in pure dissonance.

Audio: Prokofiev ‘Scythian Suite’

Video

When I was in college, a brass player majoring in music, the Chicago Symphony set the gold standard for brass playing, and my fellow music students and I always listened to their records with mouths agape. I was reminded of this again the other day, when I slapped this recording (yes, vinyl) on my record player at home and turned up the volume. It’s the second movement, “The Enemy God and the Dance of the Spirits of Darkness,”  from Prokofiev’s “Scythian Suite.” The brass playing is superb and, what’s more, exciting. The percussion section keeps pace, the timpani getting the whole thing off to a nice rumbling start.