May gets underway in a busy fashion

Arts / Article

The Miami Symphony Orchestra, as painted by Erik Speyer.

Here it is May, and that means we’re getting closer to the really hot months here in South Florida, and that usually also has meant that the musical season evaporates like the puddles after a June rain hereabouts, i.e., quickly.

But over the past few years, things have gotten busier. This month holds several significant events, including the big Mainly Mozart Festival that starts May 12 and lasts into June. This weekend, there’s plenty of classical music activity to keep the artistic conversation lively:

Chameleon String Trio: On Friday, violinist Misha Vitenson, violist Michael Klotz and cellist Iris van Eck close out the Miami Bach Society’s season with a performance of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a classic of the keyboard arranged for string trio by the great Russian violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky. This is a most unusual setting of this work, and a rarity in local performance. The three players are excellent, veteran area musicians ― Vitenson and Klotz make up half the Amernet String Quartet, and van Eck’s Chameleon chamber music series in Fort Lauderdale has been running for a decade ― and it should be a good experience for Bach aficionados. The concert is set for 8 p.m. Friday at the Danielson Gallery in Coral Gables’ beautiful Biltmore Hotel. Tickets are $30; call 305-669-1376.

Miami Symphony Orchestra: For its concert this Friday, MISO tries something really unusual in its all-Brahms season closer. The eminent French pianist and conductor Philippe Entremont is the soloist in the First Piano Concerto (in D minor, Op. 15) and Eduardo Marturet will lead his orchestra in the Fourth Symphony (in E minor, Op. 98). As the concert goes on in the Knight Concert Hall, artist Erik Speyer will be in the balcony, painting a watercolor of the event. He’s already done a series of watercolors of the MISO that will be available in silent auction at the concert, as will be the painting he executes that evening. Proceeds go to the orchestra; the music begins at 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets start at $34; call 305-275-5666 or visit

 The Cypress String Quartet. (Photo by Gregory Goode)

The Cypress String Quartet. Photo by Gregory Goode

Cypress String Quartet: The Sunday Afternoons of Music ends its season at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall with this first-rate foursome from San Francisco. Violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel will perform some of the Cypresses of Antonin Dvorak (the cycle that gives the quartet its name), Mozart’s marvelous Dissonance Quartet (No. 19 in C, K. 465), and the first of Beethoven’s three Rasumovsky Quartets (No. 7 in F, Op. 59, No. 1). The concert begins at 4 p.m. Sunday; tickets are $35. Call 305-271-7150 for more information.

 Rafal Blechacz. (Photo by Felix Broede)

Rafal Blechacz. Photo by Felix Broede

Rafal Blechacz: This very fine Polish pianist won every award at the international Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2005, and since then has launched a major pianistic career that includes a contract with Deutsche Grammophon, for whom he recorded a disc of music by Debussy and Karol Szymanowski. For his Friends of Chamber Music of Miami concert Tuesday night at Florida International University’s Wertheim Auditorium, Blechacz will perform the Partita No. 3 (in A minor, BWV 827) of J.S. Bach, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 7 (in D, Op. 10, No. 3), the Op. 63 mazurkas and the Scherzo No. 3 (in C-sharp minor, Op. 39) of Chopin, and the Sonata No. 1 (in C minor, Op. 8) of Szymanowski. You can hear Blechacz play part of the sonata on his website, and it demonstrates that Blechacz is able to beautifully get across this hugely difficult and physically challenging music with style and grace. Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert are $35. Call 305-372-2975.

Brittany Anne Renee Robinson and Steven LaBrie. (Photo by Alejandra Serna)

Brittany Anne Renee Robinson and Steven LaBrie. Photo by Alejandra Serna

I should also mention Florida Grand Opera’s Young Patronesses of the Opera Voice Competition, which held its finals concert at the Arsht Center last weekend. The big winner of the contest, which doled out $46,000 in total to all the prize recipients, was the soprano Brittany Anne Renee Robinson.

Robinson, a Burnsville, Minn., native, took the $8,000 grand prize in the Senior Young Artist Division with her reading of Elle a fui, la tourterelle, from Act II of Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. In the aria, the ailing soprano Antonia sings of the turtledove that has fled, meaning her lover Hoffmann, whom she hopes will return. But her father wants her to stop singing because she has the same weak heart that killed her mother.

I’ve seen Robinson several times now in FGO productions, and she has a pretty, distinctive voice that should win her steady roles as she makes her career. I couldn’t make the contest, but this video of her performance made me think that it is also a voice that is well-suited for art song recital; I’d like to hear what she would program.

The grand prize winner in the Junior Division was baritone Steven LaBrie, a Dallas resident who sang Rossini’s indestructible Largo al factotum from Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The prize comes with $7,500 in award money.

Other winners included bass Adam Lau of San Francisco, who took first prize in the senior division, and whose work this season I have admired: he has a sonorous instrument of real quality. Other winners in the division were soprano Kathryn Leemhuis of New York, tenor Matthew Newlin of Georgetown, Ill., and baritone Ryan Milstead of Okolona, Miss.

Junior Division winners were soprano Alyssa Martin of Greensboro, N.C., and tenor Sergio Cepeda. Russian tenor Viktor Antipenko won the Thomas Swartz Memorial Honorable Mention Award, and South Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee picked up no fewer than three other awards: the Charlotte Seidel Honorable Mention, the Irene Patti Memorial Award, and the coveted Audience Favorite Award. Lee was a charming Papagena in FGO’s production this year of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.