by Michael Caruso
Matthew Glandorf will conduct Choral Arts Philadelphia and the Bach Festival Collegium in “A Tribute to Michael Korn” Friday, March 23, 7 p.m. in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill. The performance will honor Korn’s legacy as a choral conductor and his unique contribution to great music making in Greater Philadelphia.
Korn, who lived from 1947 until 1991, founded the Philadelphia Singers, America’s first all-professional chorus, in 1971. He founded and directed the Philadelphia Bach Festival from 1976 until 1988. The Festival is now a part of Choral Arts Philadelphia. Korn was also instrumental in founding Chorus America.
Speaking about the concert, Glandorf said, “I often try to be mindful of anniversaries of various composers and works. This concert season, Michael Korn would have turned 70. As he was the founder of the Bach Festival of Philadelphia, there are many who speak of Michael’s unique contribution to the Philadelphia choral landscape, so it seemed to me that performing a concert in his memory and celebrating his musical legacy was only natural.
“I would also note here that Michael died before the explosion of the Internet, so there is not a lot of information to be found about him. I have seen that a few of his performances with the Philadelphia Singers have popped up on YouTube, though, including a performance on the organ of a Bach fugue with Leonard Bernstein on his legendary children’s concerts. It is our hope to remind people of his legacy and to introduce him to a generation that may not know who he was.
“As founder of the Philadelphia Singers and then Chorus America, Michael’s work was seminal in advancing the cause for professional singers and choruses. He was the first to get grants for professional choruses from the National Endowment for the Arts. I believe it was his vision and dedication to excellence in choral singing that has led directly to the flourishing of professional choirs such as The Crossing here in Philadelphia.”
One of the singers involved with Michael Korn and the Philadelphia Singers from the very start is baritone Gregory Cantwell. Originally from Lansdowne, Cantwell met Korn when he was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music from 1970 until 1975. At the time, Korn was the music director at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown.
“I was still a student at Curtis in 1971 when I auditioned for Michael and the Singers,” Cantwell recalled. “He knew all of us who were students at Curtis, and I think he knew whom he planned to accept in the Singers, and I was one of the lucky ones.
“From the start, Michael was a larger-than-life figure, and he maintained nothing but the highest standards. I sang many performances of Bach’s ‘Mass in B minor’ and, of course, all those performances of ‘Messiah’ we sang at the Academy of Music, always rotating one edition after the next from one season to the next.
“It was the energy Michael brought to every performance that set him apart. Of course, there was his knowledge of the baroque style and the history of the music, but it was his energy that inspired you to give him and the music and the audience your very best.”
Glandorf explained that there are now many organizations dedicated to the music of J.S. Bach, who is universally considered the greatest of all classical composers in the Western canon.
“To have an organization dedicated to and that specializes in the performance of Bach’s music is of great importance,” he stated. “When I became the artistic director of the Bach Festival, I wanted to return to Michael’s original vision as a performance organization that engaged the best musicians from our region. Back then, it was his Philadelphia Singers and Marc Mostovoy’s Concerto Soloists.”
Korn was a part of an earlier generation of conductors who promoted the music of Bach and interpreted it in what would be considered in today’s climate of “authenticity” to be an overly romantic approach. Since taking the reins at the Bach Festival and Choral Arts, Glandorf has focused on historically informed performance practices. The Bach Festival Collegium’s musicians perform on period instruments, and the singers at Choral Arts sing with the straight tones of the baroque and classical periods.
Glandorf said, “When doing research for this concert, I wanted to feature a work that was close to Michael’s heart. I was told that Bach’s motet, ‘Jesu, meine Freude,’ was one he performed frequently, and it occupied a special place in his heart.
“The Cantata #93, based on the Chorale ‘Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten,’ is about trust in God and was intended as comfort in a time of bereavement. I felt it important to recognize that Michael’s life was cut short at the prime of his creativity. I paired the two Bach works with another favorite composer, Felix Mendelssohn. In these sadly unknown scores, Mendelssohn clearly emulates and pays tribute to Bach.
“In a way that is what this concert is intended to do: pay tribute to Michael Korn and his great legacy.” For more information, visit www.ChoralArts.com.
The Pennsylvania Ballet opened its production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” Thursday, March 8, in the glorious Academy of Music. The mounting, newly choreographed by artistic director Angel Corella, runs through March 18.
Corella based his setting of what many consider to be Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece on the turn of the 20th century Petipa/Ivanov revival for the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. It’s a cleaner, less fussy presentation of the convoluted tale of a prince smitten by a white swan turned into a woman who is then bedazzled by her black swan counterpart to the point of betraying his first and true love. Needless to say, a happy ending is virtually impossible from the very start of all this nonsense, especially as much of it is presided over by the evil Von Rothbart.
Fortunately, Tchaikovsky’s music saves the day if not the lives of the prince and the white swan. The music is sumptuously romantic and thrillingly dramatic. It carries the listener/viewer through the tangled narrative to a surprisingly satisfying finale.
I caught the second performance of the run Friday, March 9, and was mightily impressed by the dancing of the leads. Lillian DiPiazza was a gravity-defying Odette/Odile. Her dancing on point was both technically secure and stylistically elegant. She caught the innocent purity of the white swan, Odette, as well as the beguiling seductiveness of the black swan, Odile. As the former, she longed to be free of Von Rothbart’s wicked domination; as the latter, she reveled in his satanic intentions.
Friday evening’s Prince Siegfried was Sterling Baca. In my previous encounters with his dancing, I always came away impressed by his supremely secure technique – dervish-like turns, silently padded landings and catapulted leaps – and charismatic onstage presence. This time around I was completely convinced by his interpretation of a young prince overwhelmed by his emotions to the point of personal catastrophe.
Ian Hussey was a threatening Von Rothbart, the demonic sorcerer, Peter Weil was a playful Benno, the Prince’s friend, the corps de ballet danced beautifully, and Beatrice Jona Affron conducted the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra effectively.
Next on the Ballet’s roster is “Grace & Grandeur” April 5-8 in the Merriam Theater. For ticket information visit www.paballet.org.
Philadelphia’s classical music community gathered Sunday, March 4, in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater to celebrate the life and legacy of Robert Capanna. The former longtime executive director of Settlement Music School and a noted local composer died Jan. 26 at the age of 65.
The event was presented under the auspices of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, an organization that had highlighted some of Capanna’s works in its recitals. Among the speakers were PCMS’s executive director, Philip Maneval; Jeffrey Cornelius, president of the Presser Foundation, where he succeed Capanna; and Katharine Sokoloff, former head of development at Settlement when Capanna was its executive director and the daughter of legendary piano pedagogue, Eleanor Sokoloff, who still teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music. Sokoloff described Capanna as “the best boss ever.”
Germantown resident Matthew Levy also spoke glowingly of Capanna’s unique contribution to music education in Greater Philadelphia. Levy, a former faculty member at Settlement and a founder/director of the Prism Saxophone Quartet, described Capanna as “a visionary leader in music” who combined power with kindness and sensitivity with respect. “He made us better versions of ourselves,” Levy said, recalling Capanna’s unswerving commitment to the power of music through education, most notably at Settlement Music School.
Perhaps the most personal reminder of Capanna’s legacy was a performance of “Too light, too light, like a sudden wakening…” for string trio composed in 2016. Members of the Network for New Music Ensemble – violinist Hirono, violist Burchard Tang & cellist John Koen, all members of the Philadelphia Orchestra – gave the lovely score an equally lovely rendition.
Its dense harmonies, expressed through surprisingly lyrical lines in all three instruments, sang with a delicate clarity that indeed recalled the early morning light of autumn. Capanna’s ability to hold a score together even if its harmonic language was new to the listener was sensitively yet persuasively delineated through playing of heightened emotional expressivity.
But for those of us whom Bob hired and who worked with him at Settlement, the school itself is his greatest legacy. Settlement is the largest community music school in the nation due to his tireless commitment and boundless imagination.
You can contact NOTEWORTHY at Michaelfirstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of NOTEWORTHY, visit www.chestnuthilllocal.com/Arts/Noteworthy.