Liner Notes Vol. XV

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Be sure to check out the long read at the bottom, from the New Republic, about the strange story of Mamoru Samuragochi.

From the L.A. Times, a profile of the president and CEO of the L.A. Philharmonic, Deborah Borda 

From the Cincinnati Enquirer, the recent financial success of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 

From the Washington Post, the departure of Christoph Eschenbach at the NSO 

And from the Journal Sentinel, another MD departure, this time in Milwaukee 

From the Washington Post, the return, in 2017, of a reimagined Spring for Music festival (yay!) 

From the Wall Street Journal, the closure of New York's last classical sheet-music store 

From the New York Times, the impact of Thomas Adès on young American composers 

From the New Republic, an in-depth story of Japan's composer-conman 


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Summer's getting closer...

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Summer's getting closer – can you feel it? With weather like this, maybe not, but local music organizations have started announcing their summer offerings, and there's plenty to look forward to besides warmer temperatures.

Last night, at a terrific concert by the Jerusalem Quartet (more on that later), the folks at Chamber Music Pittsburgh announced the lineup for the third Just Summer series, which pairs food and drink with multi-genre music at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty. The Sean Jones Quartet, featuring the locally-beloved trumpeter Sean Jones, will make a stop here on June 18. That's followed on June 29 by the excellent string trio Time for Three, whose music veers into bluegrass and folk. The series ends with a recital on July 9 by Spanish guitarist Pablo Villegas, who made an excellent debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony this fall (and will return again to play with the PSO next season). Tickets will come on sale soon; more at

Opera Theater of Pittsburgh also recently announced its summer lineup, featuring Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," Strauss' "Capriccio," Adler and Ross' "Damn Yankees" and the world premiere of Gilda Lyons' "A New Kind of Fallout." As always, there are plenty of other events, from a children's opera to vocal recitals, to keep concertgoers entertained throughout the summer. More at

The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble has posted some hints of its upcoming season on its website, including a recital by PNME cellist Norbert Lewandowski, a performance of slam poetry by William Langford, music by Ligeti, Roger Zahab and Kevin Puts, and more. Check out some goodies here: 


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William Thomas McKinley, 1938-2015

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

The composer and New Kensington native William Thomas ("Tom") McKinley died on Feb. 3 at the age of 76. Born on Dec. 9, 1938, Mr. McKinley is best known for concert music composed in the jazz idiom but had forays into neo-classicism, atonality and electronic music. He attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1956, where he met his longtime friend and colleague David Stock, a local composer and the founder of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, who describes him as "one of our most important Pittsburgh artists of any kind."

His other collaborators included clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, conductor Gerard Schwartz, composer Gunther Schuller, vibraphonist Gary Burton, drummer Roy Haynes and many others. Check out this YouTube playlist of just a handful of his hundreds of works.

Mr. McKinley started to play piano in local clubs when he was 11, said his son, Elliott Miles McKinley. "During his audition [for Carnegie Tech, he] wowed the faculty with his ability to improvise in about any style and was then pulled into composition by then-faculty member, composer Nikolai Lopatnikoff," he said.

"Tom had been a jazz piano prodigy, the youngest member of our musicians union," Mr. Stock wrote.

"Very few composers have been so completely versed in jazz and concert music, completely bi-cultural."

Mr. McKinley's works were commissioned locally by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and PNME, with which Mr. Stock conducted several McKinley premieres. In one biography, he was quoted as saying that he composed from about 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. "Holidays? My life is a holiday! Composing is being alive," he said. 

"He will be sorely missed by all of us who knew him, but his enormous catalogue of music will be part of his legacy," Mr. Stock said.

He was living in Reading, Mass., at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife, Marlene Marie McKinley, five sons (Joseph Thomas McKinley, Derrick Scott McKinley, Jory Damon McKinley, Gregory Sean McKinley and Elliott), his sister Karen Lee Ranson of New Kensington and 12 grandchildren. 


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Could the NY Phil tap Manfred Honeck as music director?

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

In case you missed it, Alan Gilbert last week said that he would leave his post as music director of the New York Philharmonic. Before the ink had dried on the announcement, social media was all, well, a-twitter with speculation as to who would replace Mr. Gilbert in arguably the most visible platform in the American orchestra scene. 

Some folks, including Anne Midgette of the Washington Post and Will Robin, who pens articles for publications such as the New York Times, brought up the possibility that Pittsburgh Symphony music director Manfred Honeck would be considered. Ms. Midgette wrote: "Manfred Honeck and Jaap van Zweden, who both came to Pittsburgh and Dallas as relative unknowns and have both done some wonderful things in their respective cities, have been mentioned as intriguing possibilities." Mr. Robin mentioned Mr. Honeck in the course of several tweets about the announcement.

During a recent interview with Mr. Honeck (who has guest-conducted the NY Phil on a few occasions), I asked him about whether he'd be interested in the gig.

"Nobody has contacted me, and I'm not yet ready for any change. I love Pittsburgh very much," he said.

"There is not any connection with Alan Gilbert's leaving the New York Philharmonic and my presence with Pittsburgh," he said. While he said he likes the NY Phil, he firmly stated, "I am the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra."

From a practical standpoint, Mr. Honeck has a contract with the PSO through 2020 and would likely have to be bought out of it. I don't know details of his contract or what that would require.

It seems like the NY Phil will try to get a new MD as close to 2017 as possible. Mr. Gilbert said he was leaving to let the new conductor guide the orchestra before and through the renovation of Avery Fisher Hall (set to open in 2021 or thereabouts). You don't want to have the appearance of unstable leadership during a period in which the orchestra will already be anxious about keeping ticket-holders around. 

In addition, there are all sorts of symbolic reasons that conductors are selected. In the New York Times, Michael Cooper's article discussing possible replacements for Mr. Gilbert broke down conductors into various categories – the wunderkinds Nelsons and Dudamel, the Americans Robertson and Alsop, and so on. Mr. Honeck doesn't quite fit into any of those groups. And, of course, there's that little detail about the artistic direction of the NY Phil and the chemistry between a conductor and the orchestra, which much of this early early speculation doesn't even get into. So stay tuned.


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Pittsburgh Opera and PSO announce 2015-16 seasons

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

In case you missed it: Both Pittsburgh Opera and the Pittsburgh Symphony announced their 2015-16 seasons this week. There's a lot to whet the musical appetite. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing Ricky Ian Gordon's "27" and the David Hockney production of "The Rake's Progress" at Pittsburgh Opera and the performers-slash-composers-of-the-year at Heinz Hall. 

For those of you who are print readers, you might not have noticed the full PSO schedule, which was too long to publish. But it's in the online version, and I'll post it here for your perusal.

Sept. 12: "Cinema Serenade" gala, Manfred Honeck, conductor; Izthak Perlman, violin. Music from the golden age of film.

Sept. 18 and 20: Mr. Honeck; Daniil Trifonov, piano. Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 ("Italian"), Trifonov's Piano Concerto in E-flat minor, Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien."

Sept. 25-27: Mr. Honeck; Augustin Hadelich, violin. Bach's "Chaconne," BWV 1004; Beethoven's Symphony No. 8; Brahms' Violin Concerto.

Oct. 9 and 11: Gustavo Gimeno, conductor; Pablo Villegas, guitar. Jonny Greenwood's "There Will Be Blood"; Rodrigo's "Fantasia para un gentilhombre"; Stravinsky's "Jeu de cartes"; Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe" Suite No. 2.

Oct. 16-18: Yan Pascal Tortelier, conductor; Gretchen Van Hoesen, harp. Edu Lobo's "Suite Popular Brasileira," Ginastera's Harp Concerto, Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring."

Oct. 30 and Nov. 1: Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Conrad Tao, piano. Tao's "Pangu"; Gershwin's Piano Concerto; Strauss' "Symphonia Domestica."

Nov. 13 and 15: Jiri Belohlavek, conductor. Smetana's "Ma Vlast."

Nov. 27 and 29: Mr. Honeck; Michael Rusinek, clarinet. Rossini's Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra; Weber's Clarinet Concerto No. 1; Strauss family waltzes and polkas.

Dec. 4 and 6: Mr. Honeck; Yulianna Avdeeva, piano; Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh; soloists TBD. Mozart's Mass in C major ("Coronation); Schubert's Symphony No. 7 ("Unfinished"); Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor").

Dec. 5: Mr. Honeck; Mendelssohn Choir; guest soloists TBD. Handel's "Messiah."

Jan. 15-17, 2016: Christoph Konig, conductor; Tim Fain, violin. Respighi's Overture to "Belfagor," Glass' Violin Concerto No. 2 ("The American Four Seasons"), Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral").

Jan. 29 and 31, 2016: Gianandrea Noseda, conductor; Denis Kozhukhin, piano. Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3, Rossini's "William Tell" Overture, Beethoven's Symphony No. 2.

Feb. 12 and 14, 2016: Juraj Valcuha, conductor; Joshua Roman, cello. Wagner's "Prelude und Liebestod" from "Tristan und Isolde"; Dvorak's Cello Concerto; Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" Overture-Fantasy; Bizet: Excerpts from "Carmen" Suites No. 1 and 2.

Feb. 19 and 21, 2016: Marcelo Lehninger, conductor; Stewart Copeland, percussion. Copeland's Trapset and Percussion Concerto No. 1 ("The Tyrant's Crush"), Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1.

March 4 and 6, 2016: Mr. Honeck, Sunhae Im, soprano, other vocalists TBD, Sam Helfrich, stage director, Mendelssohn Choir. Bach's "St. John Passion."

March 11 and 13, 2016: Osmo Vanska, conductor, James Ehnes, violin. Sibelius' "Finlandia," Sibelius' Violin Concerto, Sibelius' Symphony No. 2.

April 1-3, 2016: Mr. Honeck, Emanuel Ax, piano, the All University Choir. Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2, choral works TBA.

April 15 and 17, 2016: Mr. Honeck, Cameron Carpenter. Carpenter's Organ Concerto, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.

May 6-8: Mr. Honeck, Mr. Trifonov. Haydn's Symphony No. 93 (Friday and Sunday only), Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1, Tchaikovsky's Symphonies Nos. 6 ("Pathetique," Saturday only) and 4.

May 13-15: Mr. Honeck, Martin Grubinger, percussion. Strauss' "Elektra" Symphonic Rhapsody (Mr. Honeck and Tomas Ille, arr.), Hartl's Percussion Concerto, Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" Suite.

June 10 and 12: Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor. Prokofiev's Suite from "Lieutenant Kije," Copland's "El Salon Mexico," "The Earth — An HD Odyssey," Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra," Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine."

June 17-19: Mr. Honeck, Noah Bendix-Balgley, violin. Mozart's Rondo in C Major for Violin and Orchestra, Klezmer Violin Concerto (conceived by Mr. Bendix-Balgley), Mahler's Symphony No. 5.


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