Classical Notes

Chamber operas look death in the eye at OperaHub

Rebekah Alexander (left) and Erin Anderson are among the cast for OperaHub’s “Facing Down Death,” the pairing of the chamber operas “The Ten-Block Walk’’ and “Socrate.”
Rebekah Alexander (left) and Erin Anderson are among the cast for OperaHub’s “Facing Down Death,” the pairing of the chamber operas “The Ten-Block Walk’’ and “Socrate.”

Those with even a cursory knowledge of operas know that death looms large in many of them. Yet an upcoming program by the innovative company OperaHub called “Facing Down Death” offers a pairing of works that tackle the subject in unusual ways.

First up are excerpts from “The Ten-Block Walk,” a work in progress by local composer Erin Huelskamp and librettist Christie Lee Gibson, OperaHub’s current director. The opera follows an elderly woman, Mrs. Otis, on a walk from her home to a local senior center. Her encounters along the way — with panhandlers, students, a Dunkin’ Donuts worker — bring out her anxieties, about other people, about aging, about death. The second half of the bill is Erik Satie’s “Socrate,” which tells the story of the death of Socrates with music of astonishing placidity. Both works will be done with piano accompaniment.

Gibson, in an e-mail, said that the pieces are linked by being what she called “un-opera operas.” “Socrate” has little conventional plot — Satie labeled it “a symphonic drama in three parts” — and Gibson and Huelskamp sometimes refer to “The Ten-Block Walk” as a “movement-based theater piece for classical singers.” They’re also connected musically, by Huelskamp’s references to some of Satie’s “Gymnopédies” in her score.


But, Gibson pointed out, the pieces also make good foils for each other. “ ‘Socrate’ is centered around a famous, influential old man who was placid in the face of death, who was ready to lay down his political sword at the end of a long life for the good of the State,” she wrote. “ ‘The Ten-Block Walk,’ on the other hand, is about an ordinary, frail old woman who is not done living, whose feelings are strong and passionate, and who is determined to continue the struggle of everyday life.”

ASCAP awards

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The Lexington Symphony has won an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming from the League of American Orchestras. The awards are presented each year to orchestras whose programs “challenge the audience, build the repertoire, and increase interest in music of our time.”

For the ASCAP awards, orchestras are grouped by budget size, and there are first, second, and third prizes in each group. The Lexington won first prize in its category for a project called “Three for the 300th,” for which it commissioned three new works to commemorate the Town of Lexington’s 300th anniversary. The three pieces — “Dissolving Bands” by Sky Macklay, “Fortune, Fate, and the Fool” by Michael Gandolfi, and Symphony No. 2, “Freedom,” by Lexingtonian John Tarrh — were premiered during the 2012-13 season. Earlier this year, Macklay was awarded a Morton Gould Young Composers Award for “Dissolving Bands.” According to the orchestra, programs from each of the premiere concerts were included in a time capsule that has been buried in Lexington “for future generations to discover anew.”

Two other Boston-area orchestras won ASCAP awards: the Boston Modern Orchestra won second prize and the New England Philharmonic third prize in their respective groups. The awards were presented earlier this week in St. Louis, at the League’s annual meeting.

Lexington symphony/FILE 2010
Composer Sky Macklay (left, with music director Jonathan McPhee) and the Lexington Symphony, won an ASCAP award.

Tomsic cancels

Dubravka Tomsic, the esteemed Slovenian pianist, has withdrawn from her June 30 recital at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival due to inflammation in her right hand. Joyce Yang, who recently performed at Rockport with the Jupiter String Quartet, will replace Tomsic. Yang’s program includes two sonatas by Scarlatti, two works by American composer Sebastian Currier, Schumann’s “Fantasiestücke,” three arrangements of Rachmaninoff works by pianist Earl Wild, and Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Sonata.


New leadership for YPO


New England Conservatory has announced new leadership for its Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. David Loebel, NEC’s associate director of orchestras, will be the music director of the YPO, the most advanced orchestra in the conservatory’s preparatory school.

Hugh Wolff, director of orchestras at NEC, will be its resident conductor. The two will divide the orchestra’s three Jordan Hall concerts in the upcoming season between them. The appointments take effect in September.

The YPO was led by Benjamin Zander until January 2012.

David Weininger can be reached at