Over the course of nearly 50 years of high-level music-making, Israeli-American violinist Pinchas Zukerman has diversified to an astonishing degree. He is also a violist, and a conductor, and a teacher, and a chamber musician. But Zukerman, who turns 67 this year, has always returned to his roots as a concert violinist, and here is the good news: he's still one of the greats.
The Seattle Symphony presented Zukerman with the Canadian pianist Angela Cheng in a May 26 recital that nearly filled Benaroya Hall with attentive, involved listeners. Zukerman has always been adept at choosing his musical partners; last year's programming included duo programs with the wonderful Yefim Bronfman. Cheng, a past gold medalist at the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Masters Competition, proved an adept and graceful partner in the Benaroya Hall recital.
What distinguishes Zukerman's playing is the combination of technical finesse and tonal beauty in everything he does. Off-center notes and near-misses in pitch are almost totally absent; it's rare that Zukerman does not hit the note dead center. The tone, round and full of rich warmth, is unfailingly lovely.
With the exception of one work (Beethoven's D Major Sonata No. 1, Op. 12, No. 1), the program was devoted to music from a fairly narrow time span: mid- and late-19th century works. The earliest of these was Schumann's "Drei Romanzen" (Op. 94) of 1849; the latest was Elgar's "Six Pieces" (Op. 22, 1892), and in between were Dvorak's "Four Romantic Pieces" (Op. 75, of 1887) the Franck Sonata of 1886. All these Romantic-era works were played with an opulently pliant, lovely tone and plenty of violin vibrato, with Cheng providing expertly smooth and slightly deferential partnership at the piano. Inevitably the program began to sound a bit monochromatic; it would have been great to get a bit more feistiness from the keyboard, and some repertoire that veered off the topic of arch-Romantic lyricism.
The Beethoven, composed in 1797-98, provided a much-needed contrast, and was given a more muscular performance with a more assertive piano line.
Curiously, the Franck Sonata – one of the great and beloved works for violin and piano – fell slightly apart late in the fourth and final movement, with a couple of surprising technical gaffes from both players. This came at the very end of the program, but didn't sound like the result of exhaustion (the recital was slightly shorter than usual).
A very warm audience reception brought a single, familiar encore: Kreisler's "Liebesleid" ("Love's Sorrow"), with a final lovely throwaway note from Zukerman that had the audience exclaiming in appreciation.
Tomorrow, the Seattle International Film Festival is back for its 41st season. The country's most well-attended film festival features more than 450 movies, from documentaries to just-released features to vintage classics, over the span of three and a half weeks. While we couldn't possibly summarize the entire festival --for that, you can visit SIFF's own website--we wanted to share a few films that captured our attention for their focus on music, whether it be classical, popular or traditional. Read on for seven movies we're most looking forward to seeing this summer.
May 30 | 7pm | Harvard Exit
May 31 | 3pm | SIFF Cinema Uptown
Tower Records started in a Sacramento, Calif. drugstore, and decades later, it was a worldwide music chain whose name everyone knew. But this story doesn't have a happy ending: in the span of five years, Tower Records went from making $1 billion in annual profits to filing for bankruptcy. A Sacramento native went back to his birthplace to trace the history of Tower and investigate how one of the greatest entertainment stores of all time spiraled out of control in the mid-2000s. There's nothing particularly classical about this movie, but for anyone involved in music, the story of the changing record industry in our digital age is both fascinating and highly relevant.
May 31 | 6pm | SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 1 | 4:30pm | Harvard Exit
In the center of Verona, Italy, sits a 2,000-year-old Roman arena in remarkably good shape. In fact, it's in such pristine condition that the City of Verona organizes spectacular summertime opera productions to take place there. But the dazzling setting is only part of what makes this opera-centric documentary great. For many months in 2013, filmmakers followed auditionees, casts and crews through the process of creating the sounds, sets, props and logistics for a truly elaborate production of Aida, from the first auditions (featuring a few tantrums) to the opening night (same).
May 21 | 6:30pm | SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 22 | 4pm | AMC Pacific Place
If there's anything we've learned from human history, it's that horrifying tragedy often serves to bring communities even closer together. In North Sudan's war against Southern ethnic groups, millions of South Sudanese have fled from the bombs that rain down on their native land from Ukrainian-made Antonov planes. Remarkably, in the midst of fear and loss, the refugee camps are filled with happiness and vitality. The community comes together over homemade instruments, using musical performance not just as a diversion but also as a means of strengthening their cultural identity.
May 20 | 6:30pm | SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 21 | 4:30pm | Harvard Exit
May 24 | 3:30pm | Lincoln Square Cinemas
Few of us can imagine the pressure finalists face at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, held every four years in Fort Worth, Texas. Running 17 days, with three grueling rounds, The Cliburn invites 30 of the world's finest pianists to battle it out for top honors. At stake are prizes worth millions, but more than money, the winner is practically guaranteed a performing career. For this nail-biting, delightful documentary, filmmaker Christopher Wilkinson was granted full access to the 2013 Cliburn participants and their dazzling performances. The result is a thoroughly engrossing, well-rounded portrait of some of the world's most talented (and nervous) musicians.
May 16 | 5:30pm | SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 18 | 4:30pm | SIFF Cinema Egyptian
May 19 | 6pm | Lincoln Square Cinemas
This film uses music from Puccini's "La Bohème" to shed light on its tuberculosis epidemic. Instead of 19th-century Paris, we're taken to a contemporary South African township in summertime, where a group of young people falls in love and dreams big about the future despite poverty, regular power outages, and life-threatening cases of tuberculosis. The classic Italian opera has African flair this time, translated into the South African language of Xhosa and uses a unique instrumentation of steel drums, voiced percussion, and vocal harmonies. Critics say one of the movie's not-to-be-missed scenes is Musetta's Waltz, performed this time as a jazz trio.
May 25 | 5pm | SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 26 | 5:30pm | SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 27 | 6pm | Lincoln Square Cinemas
Paco de Lucía was a legendary flamenco musician, but his fame came at a cost. De Lucía first picked up a guitar at age 7 while he grew up poor in Andalucia, and shortly thereafter, he made his debut on the Ed Sullivan Show and launched to worldwide fame. Through it all he remained humble and down to earth, but throughout his life, he resented the perfectionism with which his father burdened him, the tacky publicity campaign that tried to make him into a pop star, and the resulting dismissal of his from the flamenco community. Archival footage and present-day interviews are lovingly woven together by de Lucía's son, Curro Sanchez Varela, in this documentary.
This 1948 classic, part of the Criterion Collection, is still visually stunning today. Vicky Page is a young, unknown dancer who becomes a student of an enigmatic dance company owner and is slowly groomed to become the company's prima ballerina. Her stern mentor commissions a new ballet from a brilliant young composer, and soon, a love triangle emerges between dancer, impresario and composer. The film's brilliance, from costume to design to drama to music, demands a big-screen viewing.
Nobody who was in McCaw Hall for the 2004 Ariadne auf Naxos will ever forget Seattle Opera’s hilarious production, updated to contemporary Seattle by directorial wizard Chris Alexander.
Can it really be 10 years since mega-soprano Jane Eaglen flounced her way onto the stage as the royally ticked-off diva who is trying to present a serious role amidst the cavortings of a comedy troupe? The Ariadne production, designed by Robert Dahlstrom and staged by Chris Alexander, proved one of the surprise hits of the season, and opera lovers can only rejoice to see it return to the stage.
This time the star soprano will be Christiane Libor, whose Seattle debut as Leonora (in Fidelio) won widespread praise. She will sing the title role opposite the Bacchus of Issachah (pronounced “Issa-KYE-ah”) Savage, the gifted young winner of last summer’s International Wagner Competition. Appearing as the Composer, who is trying to present a serious dramatic work when a commedia della’arte troupe intrudes, is the dazzling Kate Lindsey, two-time winner of Seattle Opera’s “Artist of the Year” Award. The Zerbinetta, star of the commedia troupe, is Sarah Coburn, last heard here as the glittering coloratura star of The Daughter of the Regiment.
That’s a remarkable lineup, and with seasoned maestro Lawrence Renes overseeing Richard Strauss’ opulent late-romantic score, the auspices are highly promising for this run (May 2-16). The alternate cast, which sings on May 3 and 15, presents Marcy Stonikas as Ariadne, Sarah Larsen as the Composer, Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta, and Jeffrey Hartman as Bacchus. (Stonikas and Larsen are familiar to Seattle operagoers; Gilmore and Hartman are newcomers to the company.)
Mezzo soprano Kate Lindsey plays the high-strung young Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos. Last season, she won Seattle Opera’s Artist of the Year Award for her performance as the Muse & Nicklausse in The Tales of Hoffmann. Photo: John Vicory for Seattle Opera
The opera itself, described as “a mashup of comedy and tragedy and a show-within-a-show,” has a plot that makes you glad the translated captions/titles let operagoers know exactly what’s going on. We’re in upper-crust Seattle, where a fabulously wealthy patron has commissioned the Composer to write a work set on a famous mythological story about the goddess Ariadne. But the patron wants to have a humorous entertainment as well, with a lowbrow comedy troupe presenting a story about “Fickle Zerbinetta and her Four Lovers.” And, because the patron also wants a fireworks display at the evening’s end, he wants both the Ariadne story and the Zerbinetta one presented more or less simultaneously.
The result is chaotic but illuminating, as the characters interact (and so do their egos!). Some of Strauss’ most sensational arias are the linchpins of the production, including a great one for the Composer, and one full of stratospheric coloratura lines for the Zerbinetta. The company’s job is to make order out of chaos, and beautiful art out of the score and the libretto. If they succeed anywhere near as well as they did in the 2004 version of “Ariadne,” here’s betting it will be a terrific show.
And don’t forget: your favorite classical station, Classical KING 98.1 FM, will broadcast this Ariadne auf Naxos production on May 9thlive from McCaw Hall, with Seattle Opera general director Aidan Lang as the host. He’ll discuss the plot, the music, and the characters – while you sit back and listen. Possibly with a glass of champagne or sparkling cider, the perfect accompaniment to this effervescent score.