Milwaukee audiences were the first to hear violinist Nikolaj Znaider perform on his new instrument. The young Danish-born virtuoso joined the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in early May to perform the Mendelssohn Concerto on his recently acquired Guarneri del Ges‹, a centuries-old violin once owned by the great Fritz Kreisler. The Guarneri was purchased from an American collector by three Danish funds for Copenhagen's Royal Theater, which then lent it to Znaider. The instrument replaces the Stradivarius the violinist had been using; Znaider reportedly consulted with Daniel Barenboim and Valery Gergiev, among others, before deciding to make the switch.
Judging by the reviews in Milwaukee, it was a good move. "Technique and notes were non-issues," the Journal Sentinel said. "Znaider is so good that you ignore his virtuosity and listen straight to the heart of the music."
Detroit music lovers will be the next to hear Znaider and his new fiddle. He plays the Brahms Concerto with Edo de Waart and the Detroit Symphony in mid-May, then heads up to Ottawa at the end of the month for concerts with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under Pinchas Zukerman.
Znaider also has summer festival appearances lined up in Daytona, Florida and Napa, California (at the Festival de Sole). This fall, RCA plans to release his recording of the Brahms and Korngold violin concertos, which were taped last year with Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic. The disc comes on the heels of a recently released CD featuring all three Brahms Violin Sonatas, with Yefim Bronfman at the piano.
Opera superstar Angelika Kirchschlager almost didn't become a singer. When she was younger, the mezzo-soprano actually studied to be a percussionist — one good enough to get a chance to play percussion in a performance of Stravinsky's Firebird under Claudio Abbado in Vienna. But she ultimately decided that she would feel more at home on the opera stage. "I was the only female student, and the other percussionists didn't take me seriously," she told Bloomberg News. "They called me their little mascot."
The erstwhile drummer girl described her instrumental misadventure as she was getting ready to sing M_lisande in Debussy's Pell_as et M_lisande at the Royal Opera House in London. The run of performances this month, working with a pair of Simons (Keenlyside and Rattle), marks Kirchschlager's return to a house where she won international acclaim five years ago for her portrayal of the title role in Nicholas Maw's Sophie's Choice.
Kirchschlager's M_lisande is a decidedly non-traditional one. Rather than dress her as a delicate naÇf, costume designer Raoul Fernandez has placed her in a bold, 1930s-style floor-length red gown. (See some photos here.) She says that the dress was not meant to be sexy, but it certainly fits her svelte frame nicely. (What is it with Covent Garden and little dresses, anyway?)
Thomas Hampson gets the honor of performing the first song recital in the Mariinsky Theater's new concert hall in St. Petersburg. The American baritone, accompanied by pianist Wolfram Rieger, will sing a program of German lieder and American songs at the end of this month as part of the upcoming White Nights Festival. The performance, Hampson's Russian debut, is part of a tour that also takes him to Vienna and Prague.
In addition to singing, Hampson is something of a scholar; among his projects is a critical edition of Mahler songs. So it was fitting that he was picked for a vocal disc that will become part of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra's ongoing Mahler cycle. Hampson recently sang Des Knaben Wunderhorn with the orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas in performances that were recorded for future release. The cycle will be coupled with Das Lied von der Erde, which Hampson will perform and record in September.
Although Hampson lives in Vienna, his interests extend well beyond the heavyweight European classics. The Spokane native tells the San Jose Mercury News that he also admires Emmylou Harris and Randy Travis — and that Sheryl Crow "is to die for."
The brilliant Canadian violinist James Ehnes first appeared at the Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival in 1995 as a 19-year-old. Since then, he's made it his summer home, appearing 12 consecutive times in all at the festival, which takes place at the Lakeside School in northern Seattle; appearance no. 13 is scheduled for this year. Now Ehnes is taking an even more active part in the festival by joining the Chamber Music Society in the newly created position of associate artistic director. In his new role, Ehnes will help founder and artistic director Toby Saks choose musicians and repertoire.
Ehnes's involvement in the festival comes on top of a busy recording and tour schedule. The young musician has already recorded 20 CDs. (The last, an all-Mozart disc, was released on January 27, 2006 — Mozart's 250th birthday and Ehnes's 30th). This month, after brief stops in St. Louis and Finland, Ehnes visits England and Wales for a seven-concert tour. He returns to the U.K. in July for the BBC Proms, where he will perform the world premiere of a work by American composer Aaron Jay Kernis.
Metropolitan Opera favorite Hei-Kyung Hong celebrates the 20th anniversary of her first Met in the Parks concerts this season by singing MimÐ in Puccini's La Bohme. The performances mark the 40th anniversary of the Met's summer outdoor concerts ... The young English trumpet player Alison Balsom, named one of "tomorrow's classical superstars" by Gramophone magazine, brought her music-making friends, playing under the name the Balsom Ensemble, to join her in her New York debut at Town Hall on Mother's Day ... Jessye Norman makes a rare recital appearance in October in Detroit. The performance is a benefit for the city's Ecumenical Theological Seminary.