Spotlight: Ren_e Fleming, Author; Sharon Isbin, Actress; Lorin Maazel, Composer

Classic Arts News   Spotlight: Ren_e Fleming, Author; Sharon Isbin, Actress; Lorin Maazel, Composer
 
What the stars are up to, onstage and off.

Superstar soprano Ren_e Fleming is used to rave reviews for her singing. Lately, she's also been winning praise for her writing. Favorable notices continue to trickle in for Fleming's book, The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer, which was released in the fall. Fleming wrote the book herself. In it, she offers glimpses at her personal life, including her failed marriage, but her main focus is the years of study and work—and setbacks—that she endured en route to divadom. Publishers Weekly said the volume is "intriguing for its advice and honesty" while the Seattle Times recently described it as "not only an indispensable asset to those who want to know her better, it's also a huge asset to aspiring young singers." In recent weeks, the singer has added promotional appearances for the book to an already-jammed schedule. She currently is in the middle of an extended North American recital tour that will bring her to New York's Zankel Hall on May 15, where she will perform a new song cycle by jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, commissioned by Carnegie Hall. Fleming will also headline at the April 30 gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Houston Grand Opera. And her first jazz album is due out later this year.

Behzad Ranjbaran first heard Joshua Bell play when Ranjbaran was a composition student at Indiana University and Bell was a 12-year-old violin wunderkind. "I was astonished," Ranjbaran says in an interview in the latest edition of Bell's fan newsletter. For years, the composer avidly followed the prodigy's budding career, and as Bell matured into an international star, Ranjbaran vowed that someday he would write a concerto for him. Ranjbaran got his opportunity in the 1990s. And in 2003, Bell premiered Ranjbaran's concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Gerard Schwarz. Now, Bell is set to introduce the work to North America. He will perform it with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra March 31 to April 2 and with the Toronto Symphony on April 6 and 7. Ranjbaran says he wrote the piece with the sound of Bell's violin in mind and he is thrilled that the violinist continues to perform the piece, which evokes music of the composer's native Iran. "He was able to capture the essence of the piece even better than I thought would be possible," Ranjbaran says. Bell's Indianapolis concerts follow a March tour of the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Germany with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Grammy-winning classical guitarist Sharon Isbin will guest-star on one of TV's hottest programs, Showtime's The L-Word. Isbin appears in an episode scheduled to air on April 3. The prime-time soap, which follows the lives and loves of a group of affluent California lesbians, drew enormous buzz in its first season and become a magnet for guest actresses and pop musicians. "I play myself," Isbin, who is openly gay, told the Boston Globe. "I play the guitar in a scene in the nightclub on the show called The Planet, but I also have some lines. There are only four of them—but they are good ones." Isbin, considered one of today's top guitarists, generated some good buzz for herself recently with a new CD featuring Rodrigo's evergreen Concierto de Aranjuez. On the album, she is accompanied by the New York Philharmonic; in fact, it is the first-ever recording with guitar in the orchestra's long history. While Isbin's image appears on TV in the U.S., the glamorous guitarist will be getting set to visit Austria, where she will appear in a series of April concerts with Vienna's Tonk‹nstler Orchestra.

Lorin Maazel, a composer as well as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, didn't program any of his own works during his first two years at the Philharmonic's helm. When he finally did showcase his creations, at a March 1 concert marking his 75th birthday, critics did not rave. The New York Times commended him for "put[ting] himself on the line," but called his music "slight." London's Financial Times described some of Maazel's work as "eine kleine Kitschmusik." It will be interesting to see how he fares in May when his opera 1984 bows at Covent Garden.

Giants such as Lutoslawski, Penderecki, and Dutilleux have written music for Anne-Sophie Mutter, but it's a safe bet that no work is closer to the violinist's heart than the concerto composed for her by Andr_ Previn, who married her shortly after its completion. It must be especially gratifying to both of them, therefore, that the first recording of the work won a Grammy recently in the category Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra. The recording, featuring Previn conducting Mutter and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was taped a few months after the work's 2002 premiere in Boston (and a few months after Previn and Mutter's wedding). The concerto is deeply personal for Previn as well. In addition to displaying Mutter's sterling technique and soaring violin tone, the work includes a set of variations on a German folk tune that was dear to the composer as a child. Previn, who recently announced that he would step down as music director of the Oslo Philharmonic next year, is showing off both his concerto and his orchestra in the U.S. in early March. The tour stops at Chicago on the 6th, Carnegie Hall on the 9th, Philadelphia on the 11th, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the 12th.

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