Spotlight: Conlon Revives History, Blythe Explores History, Dudamel Makes History

Classic Arts News   Spotlight: Conlon Revives History, Blythe Explores History, Dudamel Makes History
What the stars are up to, on stage and off.

American conductor James Conlon has been a tireless champion of composers who were silenced by the Nazis. One of his initiatives is "Breaking the Silence," a series he launched at Ravinia in 2005, his inaugural season as music director of the Chicago Symphony's summer festival. Each season, "Breaking the Silence" focuses on a different composer who was suppressed by Hitler.

So it was fitting that Conlon was honored at Ravinia this month for his years of work on behalf of these composers. The Anti-Defamation League presented him with its Crystal Globe, an award given to people in the arts who "illuminate aspects of the human condition and teach us that history must neither be forgotten nor revised." The State of Illinois also issued a proclamation in Conlon's honor.

Conlon received the award at a dinner that followed his performance with the Chicago Symphony of Zemlinsky's opera The Mermaid, one of many works banned by the Third Reich because its composer was Jewish. Conlon — who also leads the Los Angeles Opera and the Cincinnati May Festival — has been an exponent of Zemlinsky's music in particular, but he has also revived music by many other composers who were either murdered during the Holocaust or neglected after they fled the Nazi regime because of their religious or political beliefs. In Europe and North America, he has performed works by Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Kurt Weill, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Karl-Amadeus Hartmann, Erwin Schulhoff, Ernst Krenek and others, often to great acclaim.

In the wake of Conlon's groundbreaking work, other major artists are taking up the mantle of these composers. For her new album Theresienstadt, due out this month, mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter sings songs by Ullmann, Hans Krasa, and Haas, all of whom were inmates at the Nazi concentration camp of the disc's title. She is joined by baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianists Bengt Forsberg and Gerold Huber. Violinist Daniel Hope also appears on the disc, playing Schulhoff's Sonata for Solo Violin. Hope will again play music banned by the Nazis in September, when he performs at Berlin's 21st annual Jewish Cultural Festival, which includes ceremonies marking the reopening of the German capital's largest synagogue.

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Call her the History Girl. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe teams up twice with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in the coming season for contemporary song cycles that explore episodes from America's past. In September, Blythe and pianist Warren Jones perform Alan Louis Smith's Vignettes: Ellis Island as part of the Chamber Music Society's opening night concert. They return in February for the world premiere of the same composer's Vignettes: Covered Wagon Woman.

Blythe recently sang in a performance of Mahler's Third Symphony under James Levine at Tanglewood. It was just announced that she will again be part of the Seattle Opera's Ring cycle, singing the roles of Fricka, the First Norn and Waltraute in the 2009 revival of Stephen Wadsworth's production.

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The Los Angeles Philharmonic stunned the music world this spring when it named 26-year-old conducting Wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel as its next music director. The LA Philharmonic's current conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, says he knew that Dudamel was the one when he heard the young Venezuelan conduct the orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl in 2005. If you want to see for yourself what all the fuss is about, selections from that concert were released in July on iTunes. In addition, Deutsche Grammphon has issued a downloadable recording of Dudamel and the LA Phil playing Bart‹k's Concerto for Orchestra.

How did the orchestra manage to the hottest young conductor without word leaking to the press and the public? The Los Angeles Downtown News reports that, once Salonen and other Philharmonic officials decided to pursue Dudamel, orchestra president Deborah Borda began attending his concerts around the world, observing him in action and painstakingly working out what would become a five-year contract that starts with the 2009-10 season. The blockbuster deal was signed at 2 a.m. in Lucerne, Switzerland. "She was able to seamlessly work it out behind the scenes," Adam Crane, the orchestra's spokesman, told the newspaper. "It was like the perfect storm, everything just seemed to work."

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Alan Gilbert, the newly appointed music director designate of the New York Philharmonic, makes his Vienna State Opera debut with performances of Bizet's Carmen in September. Also next month, Gilbert kicks off his final season as chief conductor and artistic advisor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra with a gala concert to be attended by Sweden's royal family ... Two major artists present new discs of Beethoven favorites this fall. H_lne Grimaud plays the "Emperor" Concerto and the Op. 101 Piano Sonata; on another CD, Vadim Repin performs the Violin Concerto and, with Martha Argerich, the "Kreutzer" Sonata. Both albums will be issued by Deutsche Grammophon ... Plšcido Domingo's next recording, due out in mid-September, will be an album of arias by Leoncavallo ... Soprano Deborah Voigt returns to the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona this fall for her debut in a major Italian role: Maddalena in Giordano's Andrea Chenier. The theater was the site of her triumphant first performances as La Giaconda two years ago.

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