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Weekend roundup

In today's Washington Post:

Jeremy Denk's two Ives, by Anne Midgette.

Fairfax Symphony is fair to good with Hadelich in Barber, Sibelius, by Anne Midgette.

Web-only review:

Pacifica leads off Candelight Beethoven cycle
by Charles T. Downey

On Saturday night the Candlelight Concert Society began a complete cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets at Howard Community College’s Smith Theater in Columbia, Maryland. In this series each concert will feature a different ensemble, and the talented Pacifica Quartet, which has already presented a complete Beethoven cycle by itself elsewhere, set a high standard for the foursomes that follow.
(read more after the jump)

With playing that favored subtlety over raw power, the Pacifica’s sound rarely felt forced in, for instance, the playful handling of op. 18, no. 6, from Beethoven’s early period. The air of restraint, especially the narrow, elegant ribbon of first violinist Simin Ganatra’s tone, was broken only in the gutsy off-beat accents of the scherzo and the emotional polarities of the alternately gloomy and restless last movement, “La Malinconia.” Some tempo choices seemed over-ambitious, like the fast movements of op. 74, from the composer’s middle period, in which short notes in running passages were occasionally blurred or dropped.

Programming Beethoven’s last quartet on the first concert of the cycle seemed odd, akin to reading the end of a book first. After the length and contrapuntal severity of the other late quartets, however, Beethoven’s op. 135 balances a wistful slow movement, played here with a sense of yearning heartache, with some light-hearted motifs in the first and last movements. Ganatra’s tone high on the E string became shrill and off-pitch at times, but all in all this was an impressively controlled performance that bodes well for the Pacifica Quartet’s plans to perform the complete cycle next season in London and New York. A single encore stayed with Beethoven, a lyrical performance of the fifth movement (“Cavatina”) of the op. 130 string quartet.

The Candlelight Concert Society’s Beethoven quartet cycle continues next month with concerts by the Quatuor Ébène (February 6) and the Artemis Quartet (February 27).

By Anne Midgette  |  January 25, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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Next: Form and content


New Western Opera From China With Love and Pride:

The beautiful new Chinese National Center for the Performing Arts, in Beijing, China, to stage world premiere of its first new Western opera in April 2010:

Lei Lei’s “Xi Shi”

‘It is the first original opera produced by National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), which adopts Western opera to interpret the ancient legends about beauty Xi Shi in a brand new way, recreating a grand view of the war between the Kingdom of Wu and the Kingdom of Yue [494 BCE], as well as the legendary story of a beauty.

Opera Xi Shi gathers the first-grade domestic creation crew, with famous director Cao Qijing as director and well-known playwright Zou Jingzhi as playwright; meanwhile, Xi Shi is also the first opera work of famous composer, Lei Lei. The classical songs created by Lei Lei for many Chinese TV dramas such as Plainclothes Policeman, Aspiration, The Yellow Storm and etc., have been frequently heard by the Chinese people; stage designer Huang Kaifu, whose representative work is the highly praised Kunqu Opera The Peony Pavilion, is also a first-grade artist in China; as well as a series of magnificent dancing plots for pretty Xi Shi...all of these are going to be the highlights of the opera.’

Opera synopsis available in English at:

Posted by: snaketime1 | January 25, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

"The beautiful new Chinese National Center for the Performing Arts, in Beijing, China, to stage world premiere of its first new Western opera in April 2010"

I'm pretty sure that is a second run date. I'm curious where you got this info, because the "world premiere" statement is just wrong. A google search helps. Here is an earlier announcement:

You can read some reviews here:

I've tried searching for some video, but the only thing I found that might have been it would not play (possibly a work thing).

Posted by: prokaryote | January 25, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the swift correction, prokaryote

I got my information directly from the Chinese National Center for the Performing Arts, at the link I provided above (and not from the site or directly from Google). The site mentions “original” production (two times), and not “reprise” or “revival.”

From your added information, apparently the new opera had eight performances last October/November in Beijing; and will have another five performances this coming April, at the same new national opera house in Beijing. (If I have counted correctly, the thirteen world premiere performances of the new work fall exactly in-between the 12 performances of Madama Butterfly that the San Francisco Opera will do next season; and the 14 performances of Madama Butterfly that the Washington National Opera will do next season.)

As for Ken Smith’s review last November, in the Financial Times, I think many world premieres of European, British, North and South American, and Australian Western operas also only garner “three stars out of five.” In my mind’s ear (and having attended the world premiere of a Chinese “musical” in Hong Kong a few years back), I imagined more “an eclectic mix of influences rooted in Puccini’s Turandot and streaming through Chinese film scores and classic Broadway – including a wooden-shoe dance, suggesting ancient Chinese culture as filtered through Riverdance” than a more musically unified adopted Western opera such as Saegusa Shigeaki’s musically conservative CHUSHINGURA from 1997, which you have probably seen on video or DVD, if not live.

Also fascinating is that your preview from last fall gives more information than on the current National Center for the Performing Arts website. This important paragraph is missing from the current site:

“The opera is co-produced by the NCPA and Shanghai Opera House, interpreted by famous conductors Chen Zuohuang and Zhang Guoyong, famous vocalists Zhang Liping, Xu Xiaoying, Dai Yuqiang, Wei Song, Sun Li, Yang Xiaoyong, Wu Bixia, Zhu Qiuling, Xiong Yufei and more together. Zhang Liping, the first Chinese vocalist in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, will play the leading lady——Xi Shi.”

I had been wondering who the lead singer was, thinking that many Western opera fans attend performances based upon the “stars,” rather than upon the opera itself. I found no mention of the singer(s) quite odd, given that I assumed that Chinese music fans would know and follow certain stars.

Would it not have been possible to list or promote only the single female lead singer-(dancer)?

(I also wonder whether the new opera will have more runs in Shanghai this year or next – that is, OPERA America’s and the NEA’s supposedly all-important second runs for new works?)

Posted by: snaketime1 | January 25, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

So Chinese bureaurocracy is like any other bureaurocracy... typical.

"“an eclectic mix of influences rooted in Puccini’s Turandot and streaming through Chinese film scores and classic Broadway – including a wooden-shoe dance, suggesting ancient Chinese culture as filtered through Riverdance”"

Yes, this was a particularly odd comment you quoted in that review. You'd expect a reviewer might try to learn something about Xi Shi beforehand. Besides being one of the Beauties, she is said to have invented a type of ballet-like tap dancing. Hardly something "filtered through Riverdance".

I'm not sure I would compare Chinese second runs with American second runs, especially at the Egg. The government is basically losing a $150 million per year on that building and that doesn't include programing costs. As a comparison, our government has spent about $200 million on the Kennedy Center over the last decade plus. The NCPA paid for an opera, so they will play it to death until they buy a new one is my guess. The SFO ($63 million budget?) and WNO ($35 million budget) cannot afford such a luxury.

Posted by: prokaryote | January 26, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

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