The Loretto Chapel is especially lovely at Christmastime, when its white, neo-Gothic interior is lightly bedecked with seasonal greenery. The holiday concerts given there annually by Santa Fe Pro Musica Baroque Ensemble generally make it sound as good as it looks. 

James M. Keller reviews three recent recitals: Kimberly Marshall, Nathan Laube, and Conrad Tao.

The final week of this summer’s Santa FeChamber Music Festival included a resplendent and thrilling performance of Beethoven’s Ghost Trio (Op. 70, No. 1), played by violinist Martin Beaver, cellist Eric Kim, and pianist Shai Wosner on Aug. 19.

The Santa Fe Opera orchestra’s membership, which enjoys considerable continuity through the years, is populated by highly experienced instrumentalists, many of whom hold prominent positions in leading American orchestras whose seasons are on hiatus during the summer. One of those musicians is principal harpist Grace Browning, who until earlier this year was the harpist of the Dallas Opera and in the fall begins as principal harpist of the Rochester Philharmonic. 

A letter to the editor that appeared in The New Mexican on Aug. 2 inspires me to offer amplification on … amplification. Our correspondent voiced disappointment on rea…

Santa Fe Pro Musica reaches the end of its season this weekend with two performances of an orchestral program conducted not by its longtime music director, Thomas O’Connor, but rather by David Felberg, a member of the group’s violin section who has been spreading his wings as a conductor in recent years. 

Coincidence conspired to make the first two weeks of February dense with classical concerts, and particularly with performances that spotlighted string players. This week we play catch-up, beginning with a pair of concerts that took place on Feb. 11: the Danish String Quartet, and the Santa Fe Symphony with cellist Joshua Roman. 

Two kinds of concerts fill the calendar each December. The majority are styled as Christmas events, purveying good cheer by way of familiar seasonal standards, maybe with some newfangled festal fare mixed in. But “concert life as usual” also pursues its reliable course through the month, serving a solid diet of classical music with no overlay of jingle bells, unless Mahler’s Fourth should happen to be on the program. 

We now take our first steps into the classical-music season of 2017-2018, which looks more promising than last year’s and downright remarkable in at least one respect. The biggest winners this season will be aficionados of chamber music, and particularly those who are drawn to the central ensemble of that domain, the string quartet.

On the afternoon of Aug. 25, Santa Fe Opera teamed up with the Lensic Performing Arts Center to present “Justice at the Opera” at the latter’s digs, where the unquestioned star was Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court, an activist opera lover and longtime enthusiast of our local company.

On Aug. 16 William Bolcom’s Sextet moved through the first four of its six movements and embarked on its fifth — a segment based on the melody “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” A cherished song of the civil rights movement, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by two remarkable brothers, the poet James Weldon Johnson and the composer John Rosamond Johnson, and in 1919 was adopted by the NAACP as what was widely called “The Negro National Anthem.”

Jonathan Biss played an all-Beethoven recital at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (in St. Francis Auditorium) on Aug. 10 at noon, and I’d bet that when it was finished he wished he could play it over again. 

Brett Dean's Rooms of Elsinore premiered this past April at the Library of Congress. Directly inspired by a visit to Elsinore Castle in Denmark, where Shakespeare situated Hamlet, the work’s seven movements are basically a tour of the castle, their music suggesting what might have gone on in the various rooms.

Little of Mason Bates’ music had been performed in Santa Fe prior to this summer’s premiere of his first opera, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. A week before the first performance, listeners had an opportunity to hear some of Bates’ chamber music that covered a decade of his development. 

The noon recitals of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival have proved popular with audiences, and for good reason. It can be very pleasant to pop inside to listen to music for an hour or so while the sun reigns on high and then get on with your day. On July 20, the noontime concert at St. Francis Auditorium was packed to the gills.

The summer simulcast season gets into swing with back-to-back evenings devoted to Tony Kushner’s Angels in America from the Lyttleton Theatre in London, produced by National Theatre Live in HD and screened at the Lensic. 

Recordings arrived on the American scene with the turn of the 20th century. At first, the sound emanating from the records or cylinders was woefully indistinct, but technology moved ahead quickly. By the mid-1910s, gramophones were an essential fixture of many well-appointed homes, occupying a place of honor next to the parlor piano, conveying performances with some degree of subtlety. 

Listen Up

Being there

    We view landscape painting as a common activity among artists, but the analogous enterprise in the world of music — we might call it “landscape composition” — seems unusual in comparison. Chaco Canyon has inspired a handful of composers to process its intriguing landscape and structures into sounds. We assembled a selection of currently available CDs that, while not representing the repertoire exhaustively, suggest its breadth across compositional styles.

    Murakami's devotion to classical music inhabits every page of his volume Absolutely on Music: Conversations With Seiji Ozawa, in which he transcribes a series of six extended private conversations he had with the noted conductor, spread periodically through the years 2010 and 2011.

    In the past week-plus, the Lensic Performing Arts Center hosted two evenings that might conveniently fall under the rubric of world music. They were wonderful, soul-filling evenings. In both cases, the performers hewed closely to “pure” traditions. As a result, both had a flavor of transporting listeners to a distant place rather than of super-imposing a foreign culture onto what would have been here already.

    At the piano recital Stephen Hough gave at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in late November, there was a respectable turnout of 462 souls, and they qualified as the concert audience of the year. They were full participants in the recital, offering attention, interest, appreciation, and silence. Nobody’s cell phone rang. Nobody rummaged in a purse. Nobody carried on a conversation. They just sat quietly and listened.

    About a fifth of the players overlap between the two groups, which in part reflects the available talent pool. The shared personnel are most prominent in the strings, and within that family, especially in the violins. In fact, the biggest challenge for orchestral programming hereabouts must be to select repertoire that is within reasonably firm grasp of the violins — not just the chairs toward the front but throughout the depth of the sections.

    By picking and choosing selectively among the offerings of various concert organizations, I have devised a promising listening plan for Santa Fe’s classical music lovers in the 2016-17 season. I have chosen these based on the concerts themselves, not by trying to be even-handed about including one organization or another, although they do end up offering a considerable variety of performing forces and repertoire.

    Of the five works in Santa Fe Opera’s repertoire this summer, Samuel Barber’s Vanessa seems to have inspired the most conversation in its aftermath. Now that the company’s season has ended, I want to share a final thought about it. This hunch has been on my mind for some while, but it seemed best to tuck it away until the run ended.

    Pianist Shai Wosner came up with a clever idea for his Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival noontime recital on Aug. 2 at St. Francis Auditorium: an entire concert of impromptus. In the performance of such a program, one might hope for a feeling of evanescence, a sense of the fleeting. Wosner did capture that in Gershwin’s whispering, well-bred, and wryly syncopated Impromptu in Two Keys, which slips harmlessly between C major and D-flat major like a Pekingese traversing an ice patch.

    The Santa Fe Desert Chorale added its voice to the city’s Shakespeare saturation during this quadri-centennial of the author’s death by presenting a program called Sounds and Sweet Airs. The title, of course, is drawn from The Tempest, the words being adapted from Caliban’s description of the magical island he and all the other characters inhabit.

    The Pacifica Quartet gained particular notice for undertaking complete cycles of quartets by major composers, in performance as well as on recordings. Their CDs of Mendelssohn’s six quartets and Carter’s five are vibrant and arresting, and their readings of Shostakovich’s 15 can be filed in the top drawer, the more so since each installment provides context by including an accompanying quartet by such of the composer’s Soviet contemporaries as Myaskovsky, Weinberg, Prokofiev, and Schnittke.

    Although it has its ups and downs, like any festival does, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a dependable source of fulfillment for theatergoers of many stripes — not just Shakespeareans — and of the 104,000 people who purchased tickets during the 2015 season, 85 percent made the effort to get there from considerable distance.

    On April 30 at Popejoy Hall, in between New Mexico Philharmonic's two symphonic works came Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with soloist Rachel Barton Pine, who offered an admirable performance — pure, precise, and robust in tone, secure in technical details. It was also a reading with a distinctive point of view, which Pine made clear at her entrance.

    We all have our blind spots. Or our deaf spots, which would be the case with the singer Marguerite Dumont, around whom swirls the new French film, which tells the tale of a French baroness “of a certain age” who, in the 1920s, dedicates herself to becoming a concert singer, a woman whose monetary resources are incalculable and whose vocal ability is nil.

    Circle Mirror Transformation earned plaudits when it ran Off-Broadway in 2009, and playwright Annie Baker went on to win the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for an ensuing play. And yet, one worried that a theater piece about an acting class might get caught up in navel-gazing.

    The Dover Quartet returns for a third visit to the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival this coming August. Music lovers should leap at the opportunity to hear these players in whatever configuration, but what sets them most apart in the chamber music world is perhaps best appreciated when they appear as a quartet with no add-ons.

    Shakespeare's First Folio was on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art from Feb. 5 through Feb. 28 before moving on to its next stop. Things worked out pretty well on the whole, although it was hard not to overlook bits and pieces that fell short of ideal.

    Santa Fe Pro Musica Baroque Ensemble’s annual pre-Christmas concert, which the industrious musicians performed 12 times in six days, opened with a spirited account of Handel’s D-major Concerto Grosso (Op. 6, No. 5).

    Neither the society matron nor the desperate street dweller is likely to get through this or any other Christmas season without repeated exposure to “Silent Night,” “We Three Kings,” or “Jingle Bells.” Just what are these pieces that so define the aural landscape of the season? Where did they come from and how did they travel from their hazy origins to reach the broadcast speakers in Walgreens at the Corner of Happy & Healthy®?

     One early critic got it about right when he complained, “In The Nutcracker there is no subject whatever.” It has accordingly become a Rorschach test among ballets, with choreographers imposing an astonishing variety of interpretations and adaptations on its skeleton scenario.

    It was strings to the fore when Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra presented a satisfying concert of music for string orchestra last weekend at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. The 26 players — eight first violins, seven seconds, five violas, four cellos, two double basses — evinced great pleasure in their work.

    Pianist Sean Chen exudes charisma from the stage. He is granted considerable footage in the recently released film Virtuosity, which chronicles the hurdles jumped by competitors at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where he won third prize, becoming the first American to proceed to that competition’s finals since 1997.

    At this time of year, Santa Feans train their eyes on the hillsides of the Sangre de Cristo range to spy the golden tones that mark the finale of the aspens’ annual cycle. At the same time, ears are tuned to the sounds of rebirth, as ensembles and presenters launch the fall-to-spring concert season aimed at local listeners rather than the migrating masses of summer.

    The work that graced the second half of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival Concert on Aug. 16 was such a curiosity that nobody in the Lensic would likely have imagined who had composed it if they had not known in advance. At least the answer wouldn’t have dawned on them through the first two of its four sprawling movements.

    Three cheers for the Scottish Rite Center. Following a yearlong scramble of displacement, music lovers are again congregating in the building’s auditorium to enjoy performances against the historic, hand-painted backdrops of medieval castles or forested glades. Performance Santa Fe took up residence there during the opening stretch of August for its “Festival of Song” series. I caught the first and last of the three offerings.

    It is not common for musicians to reinvent themselves while their careers are in full swing, but on the occasions when that does occur, the results can be fascinating. The thought crossed my mind in late July when Todd Levy and the Miró Quartet performed Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet at a concert of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

    The final two subscription concerts of Performance Santa Fe’s season offered a study in contrasts. On May 8, at St. Francis Auditorium, violinist Christian Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt performed a fascinating recital that comprised all three of the violin sonatas of Johannes Brahms.