Extremely excited about performances of two concerti for the 2014-15 season. Can't share details yet, but I will soon... stay tuned!
Just finished recording session for my second solo CD. The CD is a collection of PRELUDES ... filled with new and old personal favorites. I hope you will check it out on iTunes when it is released this summer!
Thanks to my dear friend and colleague Robert Aldridge for allowing me to premiere his three piano Waltzes to an enthusiastic crowd at Steinway Hall in London!
The solo CD has been released! It is a diverse collection of Claude Debussy piano pieces which are some of my personal favorites-- available on iTunes now! Please check it out, and I hope you enjoy~
A great start to the New Year ... I've just heard from Hamburg that I've been added to the Steinway Artists Roster. My Debussy recording is 'in the can' ... and I look forward to its release in March. I hope you will all enjoy it.
Happy New Year!!
Melissa has recently been added to the Steinway Artists Roster. As a soloist, she has played under the baton of conductors including James Conlon, John Debney, James DePriest, Lawrence Loh, Timothy Muffit, the late Lawrence Leighton Smith, Yuri Temirkanov, Craig Hella Johnson, and Michael Tilson Thomas. Other musicians with whom she has worked include Vladimir Feltsman, Peter Frankl, Rosanne Cash, Irma Vallecillo, Aldo Parisot, and the Tokyo String Quartet. Radio appearances include NPR’s Performance Today, WNYC, WKBH, Texas public radio, and public radio in Japan and the Slovak republic. Festival appearances include the Pacific Music Festival, Breckenridge Music Festival, Juilliard Focus Festival, Aspen Music Festival, Victoria Bach Festival, ProMusicis Foundation Concerts, and the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Workshop. Orchestra appearances include symphonies in Austin, Victoria, Fort Worth, Vancouver, Baton Rouge, and Breckenridge in addition to various film music studio orchestras in Los Angeles.
Ms. Marse was a vocal soloist for New Music New Haven, and she sings professionally with the Grammy nominated ensemble Conspirare. Additionally, she is a founding artist member of America’s Dream Chamber Artists and founding Artistic director of the Houston Chamber Music Society.
Melissa was the recipient of the Certificate of Distinction for her teaching at Harvard University. In addition to adjudicating competitions and presenting master classes, past academic appointments include Texas State University, Mannes Art Song Institute, and a teaching fellowship at Yale. Most recently, she served as the head of the keyboard department at Houston Baptist University from 2006-2011.
After studying with her mother since age 2 1/2, formal musical training began at age 8 with Betty Mallard at The University of Texas at Austin, where she later obtained an undergraduate degree. Subsequently, she obtained the Master of Music in Piano from Yale University, where her teachers were Claude Frank and Boris Berman. She then pursued Professional Studies at The Juilliard School with Brian Zeger and the late Samuel Sanders before obtaining the Doctorate of Music in Collaborative Arts from New England Conservatory.
The Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic’s second Master-works program of the current season may have set the bar to a heightened standard that may be difficult for even this fine orchestra to reach again.
Before an audience of 1,250 on Friday evening at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, the orchestra combined talents with pianist Melissa Marse to present an impressive program of two of history’s best-known composers, and one that seems destined for her own fame.
The Philharmonic opened with an amazing work entitled “Peachtree Street,” from composer Jennifer Higdon. “Peachtree Street” is a magnificent work from Ms. Higdon’s acclaimed suite, “City Scape.” Maestro Lawrence Loh and the Philharmonic players gave the piece artistic justice with a sparkling rendition of the work.
The orchestra painted a beautiful musical portrait, both of the bustling yet quietly serene avenue that traverses through downtown Atlanta.
Ms. Marse was positively superb during Edward Grieg’s “Concerto in A Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 16.” She played with a maturity in both technical presentation and artistic rendition.
She is among a handful of artists who are able to transform impressive academic credentials (Juilliard and New England Conservatory), into critical accolades.
Ms. Marse was eloquently majestic in her floor-length, shimmering red satin gown. Her playing yields a rare combination of clarity, warmth and technical mastery seldom seen. Her breathtaking technique during the final movement was a beauty to behold.
She has a delicate, luminous approach that showed through brightly during Greig’s composition.
She is an extraordinary pianist who has the talent to become one of this art form’s finest contributors. This was a superb addition to the season’s program by Mr. Loh.
Following intermission, the orchestra completed Master-works II with a stirring rendition of Johannes Brahms “Symphony No. 4 in E Minor Op. 98.”
Friday evening’s concert was one of yet another impressive program in an already stellar season.
The concert will be repeated tonight at 8 at the Scranton Cultural Center.
It wasn’t exactly a gooey, layered Blizzard Cake from Dairy Queen, but the debut concert of the Houston Chamber Music Society had many levels of musical treats, not the least of which was the visit of American fiddler/violinist/composer Mark O’Connor.
Melissa Marse, the pianist in his trio, is now a faculty member at Houston Baptist University. With HBU composer Ann Gebuhr, she has founded the latest of the growing number of small and medium-sized musical organizations here.
Certainly, one concert is not enough to define the character of a group but if future events near the relaxed but committed mood of Tuesday’s, the society can offer a distinct slant on chamber music.
The acoustics drew listeners to the precise spots where the musicians were playing – without sacrificing one iota of clarity and richness in the sound. Other excellent halls here offer a more general sense of well-blended sound; HBU’s focused and channeled attention. I liked that very much. (The effect reminded me of Galveston’s Grand 1894 Opera House, which has unusually specific but much dryer clarity.)
That environment made the interaction of the musicians all the more delightful. As duos, then a trio, they were able to share with the audience their enjoyment of making music on a more intimate level (including the now mandatory introductory remarks about pieces). They conveyed no sense of pretense. They sat, or stood, and played. Hopefully, the audience enjoyed every note.
Then the repertoire offered three slants on American classical music. Aaron Copland’s Duo for flute and piano, with flutist Eveline Kuhn sounded a bit like a recycling of his famous ballet Appalachian Spring. Samuel Barber’s Cello Sonata, performed with elegant passion by cellist Arash Amini, was a sometimes voluptuous, sometimes astringent reworking of Romanticism. In both pieces Marse accompanied with forceful but unobtrusive authority.
O’Connor’s pieces were, well, pure hybrid Americana.
He opened the second half with two of his caprices for unaccompanied violin. The basic idea was a fast figuration hinting at a combination of Phillip Glass’ early repetitive music and bluegrass improvisation (O’Connor’s first fame came as a fiddler and jazz musician). O’Connor added slower, contrasting secondary thoughts for variety but the essence was a test of virtuosity, which he passed, but not quite with the unrelenting reliability of a crackerjack whiz from a conservatory.
O’Connor wrote his trio Poets and Prophets for the Eroica Tria and based the music on the life of Johnny Cash, a friend and colleague from Nashville days.
O’Connor did not study classical composition so the trio for piano, violin and cello lacked the formal rigor and clarity many similar works have. Instead, he relied on instinct to shape variety and re-use of basic themes. Some music worked better.
The slow third movement, a tribute to the love of Cash and his wife, June, was a lovely lyrical flowering that would fit right in as music for a period film about Appalachia. The last movement, which O’Connor described as a “gospel hoedown,” was an outburst of the fervor and frenzy of southern, rural white gospel music.
O’Connor, Amini and Marse closed the announced program with his Appalachian Waltz, which first attracted cellist Yo-Yo Ma to O’Connor’s music. The slow, touching tune and chord progressions repeated over and over with the same magnetic quality many listeners know from Pachelbel’s Canon.
It worked. I can still hear the eerie plaintiveness of O’Connor’s violin even with inconsequential music in the background.
Tenor Robert White has spent his whole life singing sons. He started at the age of 9, on the old Fred Allen radio show. He has sung contemporary music, early music (with Noah Greenberg’s New York Pro Musica), opera, popular ballads, and everything in between. He has sung before the crowned heads of Europe and a handful of American presidents besides. He knows what he’s doing.
How on the voice faculty at Juilliard, and having attained an age where most troubadours contemplate a gracious retirement, White continued to concertize. Why not? He has fun, we have fun. The man is irrepressible, irresistible, and – need we say more? – he’s Irish.
In any song you can name, from Schubert to “I’ll take you home again, Kathleen,” when that sweet, clear voice wraps itself around a melody and that rosy Hibernian countenance lights up with an expression of conspiratorial delight, resistance is futile.
White was assisted at the piano by Melissa Marse, a rising chamber player and singer in her own right. Supple of rhythm and suave of attack, Marse knows both how to assert herself with big tone and grand gesture and how to defer to the light-voiced White.
White carried, and occasionally referred to, the lieder singer’s Little Black Book; his delivery was of the old-fashioned hand-on-heart variety. He has a ready arsenal of vocal color, perfect diction with juicy consonants, and an easy mobility of face and body that lets you know he loves being up there telling you just how he feels.
He didn’t feel entirely healthy, actually. He admitted (at the end, not the beginning, of the concert) that he was “fighting something off.” In his first sustained sons, Schubert’s “Lied eines Schiffers an die dioskuren,” we could detect cold symptoms. White cleared his vocal decks inconspicuously between two German words, produced a heavenly mixed voice and kept going.
In Schumann’s demanding “Der Hidalgo,” White and Marse swaggered around, strumming guitars (she) and looking for a fight or a fling (he). In a group of turn-of-the-century songs by Bostonians Beach, Chanier, Parker, he matched their post-post romantic excesses with some of his own. The dedicatee of John Corigliano’s poignant “Song to the Witch of the Cloisters,” White used moaning melismas and blanched mixed voice to find effect.
Five sophisticated Poulenc sons, then some Broadway favorites elegantly shaped, preceded three Irish songs: the terminally charming “Star of County Down,” “The Old House” (complete with lingering final falsetto high note), the aforementioned “Kathleen” (written by an American named Westendorf), and the encore. “I only have one song left in me, how about ‘Danny Boy’?” All eyes, Irish or not, brimmed over as he sang the world’s most beautiful tune.
Thursday night at the River Center Theatre for the Performing Arts, music by a pair of Russions and a Hungarian made up the Baton Rouge Symphony’s particularly satisfying first concert of 2008.
Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic poem, “Scheherazade,” offered its colorful interpretation of “The Arabian Knights.” Dmitry Shostakovich’s brief “Festive Overture” opened the evening on a high-spirited note, and Bela Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, featuring soloist Melissa Marse, cast a spell of its own.
Guest artist Marse played the tricky Bartok concerto with commendable technique and musicality. A slight young woman Marse demonstrated a sure technique capable of exploiting the piano’s subtlety as well as its dynamic capability.
The Bartok concerto begins with barely audible strings accompanying soft melody in the piano, but quickly grows active and loud. The composer’s piano score fully exercises the instrument, including playful, syncopated melodies and percussion chord passages. All the while, Marse’s keyboard touch and tone and finely executed dynamics were a pleasure.
Compared to its lively opening movement, the Bartok concerto’s hymnlike middle section moved with elegant grace. Piano, strings and woodwinds shared the music’s simple, beautiful chorale style.
The concerto’s final movement begins with a flourish and continues with scurrying melody in the piano. In this dramatic but undeniably joyful movement, Marse further demonstrated her strong grasp of the piece.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” filled the concert’s second half with some of the orchestra’s richest ensemble work of the season. Throughout Thursday’s concern, musicians and conductor Timothy Muffitt were especially in sync. It was as if everyone on stage had congealed into a single instrument capable of the grandest display of power and color.
Violinist and concertmaster Borislava Iltcheva literally played “Scheherazade’s” title character, the wife of Khalif, a man who habitually kills his wives. Iltcheva’s expressive playing, heard throughout the piece, made the threatened but clever Scheherazade tangibly present.
Naturally, Khalif was represented by a fearsome theme of his own.
Besides giving the orchestra’s first violinist a starring role, “Scheherazade’s” luxuriantly Romantic first movement, “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” lavished parts upon other instruments, including oboe, horn and flute. In another example of Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful orchestration, celestial harp was a frequent supporting player for the first violin.
Muffitt and the orchestra gave “Scheherazade’s” second movement, “The Tale of the Kalendar Prince,” all the action and urgency it needed, including a dramatic concluding crescendo. James West’s trumpet, especially sounded the car to battle.
The musicians filled “Scheherazade’s” third movement, “The Young Prince and the Young Princess,” with apropos affection and Iltcheva returned another round of lovely violin playing.
“Scheherazade’s” multisectioned finale moved seamlessly from the spectacular to the tender.
And while the piece in its entirely can be a great and often hazardous journey, Thursday’s performance unfolded smoothly, well told from start to finish.
Aldridge European Premiere
Footage and commentary from 2009 and 2010 festivals in Victoria, Texas. Features Craig Hella Johnson, Victoria Bach Festival Orchestra, Conspirare, Michelle Schumann, Melissa Marse, Stephen Redfield, Thomas Burritt, Gerre and Judith Hancock, Erin English, Thales Smith, Catherine Clarke, and Seth Lafler.
Houston Baptist University in partnership with The Houston Chamber Music Society Presents Masterworks Series Concert.
Melissa Marse, piano/ Tim Fain, violin/ Jeremy Turner, cello