Brass and Britten

For its next program on December 7 and 8, 2013, at National City Christian Church, Amadeus Concerts will present brass quintets for the season performed by members of the Amadeus Orchestra brass section and the Children’s Chorus of Washington, Joan Gregoryk, Artistic Director and Conductor, paying tribute to the holidays and the composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) with “A Ceremony of Carols.” Susan Robinson, principal harpist of the Washington National Opera, will be harp soloist in the Britten.

As background for our audience members, we asked Maestro Scott Wood of Amadeus Concerts & Orchestra why brass ensembles and brass music seem secondary to string quartets and quintets. Turning to the vocal part of the program, we asked Children’s Chorus of Washington Artistic Director, Conductor and Founder Joan Gregoryk to discuss how she prepared the Chorus to sing Britten’s Carols.   
Question: We see string quartets and quintets performing frequently on concert stages but it’s rare to find a brass quartet or quintet. In addition, the standard repertoire is full of music for strings by the major composers but brass ensembles seem to lack the same volume of works from well-known composers. Is this a function of the limitations that brass instruments had until keys, pistons and later valves were added to them in the 1800s?
Maestro Scott Wood: Yes. During the Baroque period [roughly the time of J.S. Bach, 1685-1750], only the highest trumpet parts [and most skilled players] were capable of anything except outlining the chords. Even that specialized skill [of high-note trumpet playing] was basically a lost art through the Classical period [1750-1820, the era of late Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven]. It isn’t until the Romantic era [think Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Brahms and others] that brass instruments got valves and became fully-functioning instruments, capable of all the chromatic notes.
Question: And what about brass ensembles? Are there other reasons that they seem to lag behind the string quartet and quintet in terms of musical output and popularity?
Wood: During the Civil War, brass ensembles were used for military purposes. The instruments were well suited for the outdoors because they were sturdy and capable of being heard far away. But the brass quintet only emerged as the standard “chamber music group” in the last half-century or so as brass instrument manufacturing and playing standards both rose dramatically. And though there’s been a lot of great music written for brass, it will take many more years before the brass ensemble repertoire can catch up to the great music written for strings.
Question: Now let’s talk with Ms. Gregoryk. It is a joy to be able to hear Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” this weekend. How did you choose this piece?
Artistic Director and Conductor Joan Gregoryk: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to join Amadeus Concerts. Since this is the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, I was eager to have the choristers learn one of the most famous works for children’s chorus.
Question: How did you prepare the children to sing this piece? Did they study the text extensively?
Gregoryk: Yes, we needed to study the text of the carols because many of the words are in old English, such as “wight” for “white.”
Question: Take us behind the scenes with the Chorus. How long did it take the children to learn this piece? What was the most difficult part of the piece for the chorus to learn? Had any of the children sung Ceremony of Carols previously?
Gregoryk: We were working on Britten’s “War Requiem” at the same time as we were learning the “Ceremony of Carols,” so it was necessary to learn the Carols with very few rehearsals. The most difficult piece to learn was “As Dew in Aprille,” because the entrances all begin on a very high pitch, so the singers needed to be prepared with their inhalation to sing those pitches with an open and un-pinched sound. None of the students in this group had previously sung Ceremony of Carols.

A Look Inside: An Interview with Maestro Wood

 A Look Inside: Amadeus Orchestra Opens with Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Schubert

Conductor Discusses September 29th Program

With fall upon us and winter soon to follow, the Amadeus Orchestra will inject youth and vitality into the less-vibrant seasons of the year with the opening program of its 2013-14 season.

The Orchestra, under Artistic Director and Conductor A. Scott Wood, will move the calendar a few weeks back by starting the concert with Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That will be followed by Tchaikovsky’s only concerto-like piece for cello and orchestra, Variations on a Rococo Theme, with National Symphony Orchestra cellist Steven Honigberg as soloist. The program concludes with Schubert’s energetic Symphony No. 2. Both the Mendelssohn Overture and the Schubert symphony were written when the composers were in their teens. The Tchaikovsky composition is known as one of the more strenuous pieces for cello, allowing the soloist almost no rest during its performance. For those hoping to slide easily into fall, the Amadeus Orchestra will have something to say about it.

To get our patrons ready for the concert, Amadeus Orchestra will be doing two new activities this season. At 3:15pm before each 4pm concert, Maestro Wood will discuss the day’s program with audience members. The session is free to those holding concert tickets. In addition, before each concert this Web site will feature a discussion with the Maestro, soloists and members of the orchestra about the upcoming program.

To begin this series, we spoke with Maestro Wood about several topics, including how he chooses programs and prepares himself and the orchestra. An edited transcript appears below.

Seth Arenstein: Scott, how do you decide your programs for the season? Do you like to stay in the same era or is there something else at work? Were you interested in a youthful program? For example, the Mendelssohn is thought to be the composer’s first piece, premiered when he was 17. The Schubert symphony also is a teenage piece.  

A. Scott Wood: It’s a bit of a mystery how programs come together. Sometimes it’s just an idea that suggests one piece, and that piece suggests the next. And often you end up a long way from where you started. Here there is definitely that youthful connection, and the Rococo Variations is one of my all-time favorites. Luckily a soloist like Steven Honigberg has a large repertoire, and he was happy to play the Tchaikovsky.

SA: Let’s talk about preparing and rehearsing the orchestra. Typically, how many rehearsals does the Amadeus Orchestra do before a performance?

Wood: There are seldom more than a few rehearsals, and every moment is precious. Professionals of the caliber of the Amadeus Orchestra come to the first rehearsal with all the technique in place; we focus on creating a unified realization of the score. Pacing and balancing are also critical; the musicians are adjusting to what they hear from each other.

SA: Do you and the soloist, Steven in this case, meet before rehearsing with the orchestra and discuss the piece and your interpretations of it?

Wood: Yes, we have a play-through with just the two of us before working with the orchestra. Sometimes we talk about technical issues; for example, what tempos will we take. We clarify who takes the lead at different places in the music. One of the things I value most in a soloist is a sympathetic relationship in which we both feel we are working well together. When you focus on the composer’s vision, you can often avoid what might become a tendency to fight for control.

SA: How do you prepare to conduct a concert? How long does it take to learn a piece you’ve never played before? How long does it take to re-learn a piece you’ve done before?

Wood: In a sense, you’re never ready to conduct a piece; there is always more to learn—and that’s what keeps the music new. It’s not hard to take an orchestra through something successfully, but when I’ve really studied a piece well I perceive that most of the riddles in the music solve themselves. Paradoxically, the more I have internalized the piece, the more likely I am to hear something new in it. To get to this point, though, the piece must become part of your DNA.

SA: Let’s talk about the Mendelssohn Overture. Presumably you’ve conducted it, played it as a trumpeter and/or heard it many time. It’s been done so often it’s often labeled a warhorse. That said, it’s a marvelous stallion.

Wood: True.

SA: OK, so to keep the music fresh do you try doing something with it that others haven’t?

Wood: I never try to do anything new for novelty’s sake. I also don’t often listen to recordings; that’s not because I won’t like someone else’s ideas or am afraid of being influenced. It’s just that doing that always feels one step removed from the composer. I try to let the score guide me. That tends to keep me honest, but also unlocks my creativity. And I keep my ears open to learn things from the orchestra.

SA: Thank you, Maestro.

[Note: The first pre-concert discussion will be held at 3pm, at Saint Luke Church, McLean, VA, on September 29.]



A feast of visual arts at post-concert reception

Those attending the season-opening orchestral concert of Amadeus Concerts on Sunday, September 29th at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in McLean are in for a special treat.  In addition to an afternoon of spectacular music, and in honor of Great Falls Studio’s 10th anniversary, Amadeus Concerts has invited a number of GFS artists to exhibit their works at the wine and hors d’oeuvres reception immediately following the concert.

Among those showing their works will be:

Great Falls Studios will be having a 10th Anniversary all-day celebration and exhibit on Saturday, October 5th, at the Great Falls Library, including a free reception with refreshments from 2pm – 4pm.

Two weeks later, on October 19th & 20th, 2013, will be the Great Falls 10th Annual Studio Tour (also free) featuring the works of fifty participating artists at over 30 locations in Great Falls. Further information about this tour will be available at the Amadeus orchestra concert on September 29th.

Come on the 29th, enjoy the music, have a glass of wine, and see a sample of the works by local artists which you will see on the Studio Tour.

2013-14 Season Opener: AO with Steven Honigberg, cello

Season Opener Concert

September 29, 2013, 4pm at St. Luke Catholic Church

The Amadeus Orchestra
A. Scott Wood, conductor

Steven Honigberg, cello

  • Mendelssohn: Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme
  • Schubert: Symphony No. 2

Domingo-Cafritz Artists Program

Our concert on April 7 will feature the Domingo-Cafritz Artists in a recital. The music includes opera, broadway and more!

Shantelle Przybylo, soprano
Julia Mintzer, mezzo-soprano
Mauricio Miranda, tenor
Norman Garrett, baritone
Soloman Howard, bass
Kevin Miller and Artem Grishaev, piano

  • Caro Elisir…Esulti pur la barbara (The Elixir of Love, Donizetti) Przybylo/Miranda
  • Una voce poco fa (Il barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini) Mintzer
  • Avant de quitter ces lieux (Faust, Gounod) Garrett
  • Vainement, ma bien-aimée (Le Roi d’Ys, Lalo) Miranda
  • Sous le dome épais (Lakmé, Delibes) Przybylo/Mintzer
  • E’ sogno…o realtà? (Falstaff, Verdi) Garrett
  • Caro nome (Rigoletto, Verdi) Przybylo
  • La calunnia (Il barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini) Howard
  • Suoni la tromba (I puritani, Bellini) Garrett/Howard
  • Rhymes have I (Kismet, Borodin/Forrest and Wright) Garrett/Przybylo
  • Mein Herr Marquis (Die Fledermaus, Johann Strauss II) Przybylo
  • Make believe (Kern, Showboat) Przybylo/Garrett
  • So in love (Kiss me, Kate. Porter) Mintzer
  • Granada (Augustin Lara) Miranda
  • One more kiss (Follies, Sondheim) Przybylo
  • I wish I were in love again (Babes in Arms, Rodgers and Hart)Mintzer/Garrett
  • Make our Garden Grow (Candide, Bernstein)
  • Encore: Non ti scordar di me


Silver-Garburg Piano Duo

UPDATE: The trip to the US by the Silver-Garburg was cancelled when Gil Garburg fell on ice and broke his elbow. We expect to welcome them in our 2013-14 series!

We welcome the return of the internationally-acclaimed Silver Garburg Piano Duo, praised for their “lyrical sensitivity, extraordinary inner perception and overwhelming technical mastery” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung).

Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg, the married couple and pianists who make up this magnificent duo, return to perform as our guest artists in Mendelssohn’s rarely heard Concerto in E Major for two pianos.

This season is the PIano Duo’s third performance in our concert series, and their first performance with the full Amadeus Orchestra.

The Silver-Garburg Piano Duo enjoys a flourishing international career, with performances in more than fifty countries on five continents. Their many concerts have taken them to prestigious venues, including the Vienna Musikverein, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Berlin’s Philharmonie and Konzerthaus, and the Sydney Opera House.

We thank long-time Amadeus supporters Jack and Mildred Hardman of Great Falls, Virginia who introduced this wonderful pair to music lovers in Northern Virginia and to Amadeus Concerts.

Read more about the Silver-Garburg Piano Duo.

Calidore String Quartet

Less than two years ago, four young musicians from across the nation came together in California and adopted their name in tribute to The Golden State. Since winning the 2011 Fischoff and 2012 Chesapeake chamber music competitions, the quartet has gone on to the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado and the Emilia-Romagna Festival in Italy.
Read the full biography of the Calidore String Quartet.
Amadeus Concerts is proud to present the Calidore String Quartet the Timothy Rowe Emerging Artist Award for 2012-13.


Elisabeth Adkins, Violin

Elisabeth Adkins, Violin

Elisabeth Adkins performed The Lark Ascending with the Amadeus Orchestra on Sunday, September 16, 2012.

Elisabeth Adkins, Associate Concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra, played Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending with the Amadeus Orchestra on Sunday, September 16, 2012.

After graduating from the University of North Texas, Elisabeth Adkins completed both a master’s degree and a doctorate at Yale, where she studied with Oscar Shumsky. In 1983 she was named associate concertmaster of the National Symphony in Washington, where she has established a solid reputation as a concerto performer and recitalist.

As solo violinist of the 20th-Century Consort, Elisabeth is a noted interpreter of contemporary repertoire. Reviewers across the country have praised her playing in phrases such as “a spectacular performance,” “a world-class violinist,” “an impeccable technique and a tone that melted the heart and charmed the soul.” Joseph McLellan, reviewing one of her recitals for the Washington Post, remarked: “As I listened to Adkins, I realized that there is no violinist (including Perlman, Menuhin—anyone) whose playing I prefer.”

Domingo-Cafritz Artists

The Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists program is unique in guiding singers on the verge of international careers. In addition to performances at the Kennedy Center, the White House and other Washington institutions, they have traveled to Opera de Monte-Carlo and La Scala and have sung in concert with Placido Domingo in Beijing.

The partnership between Amadeus Concerts and the Domingo-Cafritz Program Artists goes back many years. Amadeus Concerts has showcased these talented artists in solo, duet and small ensemble performances both in recital and with the Amadeus Orchestra.

Previous performers on our series include Emily Albrink and Jessica Stecklein, formerly Swink, one of our emerging artist grant recipients.

Washington Symphonic Brass

Washington Symphonic Brass

Experience the full range of Latin American music and its Spanish roots with the Washington Symphonic Brass on Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 4 pm.

The Washington Symphonic Brass is comprised of some of the finest professional musicians in the Washington/Baltimore area. Their members are in constant demand for orchestral, solo, and chamber music performances.Conductor Milt Stevens and Trumpeter Phil Snedecor formed the group of players out of their love of and excitement about this fine literature. Individually, the members of the WSB have performed with many of the nation’s best orchestras, such as the National Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, among other illustrious institutions. The WSB performs throughout the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan area, appearing at some of the great performance spaces on the east coast. Specializing in compositions written for large brass ensemble and percussion (four trumpets, four horns, four trombones, euphonium, tuba, timpani, and percussion instruments) with organs, choruses, and other instruments optional, the varied repertoire of the Washington Symphonic Brass covers five centuries.

Read more about the Washington Symphonic Brass.