by Jarrett Hoffman
Someone wrote on social media about being surprised to realize how many counties in the state of Georgia they’re now familiar with. The backdrop, of course, was the pair of January 5 runoff elections that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. One race remains too close to call this afternoon.
With that in mind, we’re featuring a few classical musicians and groups from Georgia today. There are many worthy options, and for variety’s sake, we’ve chosen a vocalist, a composer, and a contemporary ensemble, beginning with Augusta native Jessye Norman, the internationally beloved soprano who passed away in September 2020. It’s difficult to describe the beauty of her voice — one description that came close is from the pen of critic Edward Rothstein, who compared it to a “grand mansion of sound” in a 1992 review in The New York Times.
It defines an extraordinary space. It has enormous dimensions, reaching backward and upward. It opens onto unexpected vistas. It contains sunlit rooms, narrow passageways, cavernous halls. Ms. Norman is the regal mistress of this domain…
One of Norman’s most celebrated recordings is Strauss’s Four Last Songs with conductor Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Listen to the fourth movement here on YouTube (Norman enters at the two-minute mark).
Next we move southwest to Albany, the birthplace of Wallingford Riegger, known as one of the first American composers to adopt a form of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique — most famously in his Symphony No. 3, a hybrid of that style and conventional writing. Another important piece, Dance Rhythms, bears no trace of twelve-tone. Listen to that charming work here in a recording by the Cleveland Pops Orchestra in 1961, the year of Riegger’s passing.
And finally north to Atlanta, the home base of Faun And A Pan Flute, which visited Cleveland in 2018 in a presentation by the Syndicate for the New Arts. The ensemble, which ranged in size over the years from four to twelve members, has since closed up shop, but their music is still very much worth a listen — a delightful and offbeat blend of styles right at home in the absorbing world of contemporary classical-jazz-pop.
It’s also fun to go back and read the words of John Gregg, their former percussionist, who’s actually a native of Shaker Heights. In an interview before that 2018 concert, he offered a glimpse into the group’s collective process of composition, always a fascinating topic. “There’s a lot of talking, a lot of back and forth, and cutting and pasting to put things together and try it out — and if it doesn’t work, we try something else,” he said. More on the miscellaneous side, he conjured up one image that has stuck with me ever since: going out on tour in an old Frito-Lay truck.
Now — back to refreshing those vote tallies over and over in a way that can only be described as healthy and productive.
ONE FEATURE ON THE WEB:
Tonight at 7:30 pm, Jazz at Lincoln Center presents “Clifford Brown at 90: Brownie Speaks,” featuring trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, pianists Aaron Diehl and Dan Tepfer, and the Spirit of the Groove student ensemble from the Tri-C JazzFest Academy. The one-hour concert, which includes new music inspired by Brown’s solos, is part of a festival celebrating the rising star trumpet player who died at 25 in an auto accident in 1956. Click here at start time.