Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Soprano Andrea Lauren Brown

Purposefully Peripatetic

VoxAmaDeus’ Prima Donna

Andrea Lauren Brown

In Conversation with Richard A. Shapp

A native of Wilmington, Delaware, and a great favorite with the audiences of VoxAmaDeus, coloratura soprano Andrea Lauren Brown paid a visit to Philadelphia last mid-October.  Once again she captivated her loyal fans during a thrilling performance of Mozart’s Grand Mass in c minor in the Kimmel Center with the Ama Deus Ensemble conducted by Valentin Radu. Then it was back to Europe for a whirlwind of performances. And now she returns home for what will surely prove to be her signature interpretation of Handel’s Messiah with the Ama Deus Ensemble. Then Andrea will fly off again to perform concert after concert in Europe. Such is the busy life of this renowned vocal artist.

Andrea and I caught up with each other before the Mozart Mass in c minor last October. With time being limited I asked Andrea to capsulize what she had performed since her last visit home, and what lies ahead in her busy artistic schedule.

Friday, November 1, 2013

November E-Newsletter

Valentin Radu
Speaks Candidly About VoxAmaDeus
Past … Present … Future …

 Dear Friends of VoxAmaDeus …

Please consider this to be like a partial "shareholders' report" for a musical organization that I founded 27 years ago and that I love and which you support through your concert attendance, ticket purchases and/or financial donations. I'll break this report down into four major areas:

1) My satisfaction with the tremendous growth of the Camerata Ama Deus chamber orchestra from a dream of mine to a full-fledged ensemble which, at its last performance, played to a standing-room-only, capacity audience in Daylesford Abbey on September 15;

2) My artistic vision in programming combinations of (pardon the expression) old warhorses like the Messiah or the Mozart Requiem with lesser-known works - musical gems that are "new" to the audience, even though they are centuries old;

3) Developing and continuing the concept of conducting from the keyboard; and

4) Performing "outside-the-box" repertoire, as we began to do with our Gershwin and More concerts starring the fabulous British virtuoso Peter Donohoe on the piano.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October E-Newsletter

VoxAmaDeus Welcomes the Return of 

Soprano Sarah Davis

VoxAmaDeus is happy to announce that Sarah Davis will return to its concert stage on Friday, October 11, as a soprano soloist in Mozart’s Grand Mass in c minor at the Kimmel Center, conducted by Valentin Radu. Sarah is more active than ever and has spent, and will spend, plenty of quality music-making time in the Philadelphia area. Here is Sarah in conversation with Richard A. Shapp.

 RAS: Sarah Davis, welcome back to the electronic pages of the VoxAmaDeus E-Newsletter. It’s been a while; what have you been doing?

SD: The last concert I sang with VoxAmaDeus was the Vivaldi Gloria in December 2011 at the Kimmel Center. It’s been a whirlwind since then! I am thrilled to be back singing with Valentin and my friends in VoxAmaDeus on October 11. It is an honor to have been invited to sing with such esteemed colleagues and to get the chance to perform this glorious music—the Mozart Grand Mass in c minor.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

September Newsletter

flute soloist in the season-opener concert on
September 15 at Daylesford Abbey conversation with Richard Shapp

Valentin Radu has programmed an exciting all-Bach concert to open the 2013-14 VoxAmaDeus concert season. Johann Sebastian Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos are among the most popular musical creations of all times. On Sunday, September 15, in the acoustically glorious and architecturally beautiful Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, Maestro Radu will lead exciting performances of Concertos Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Baroque Spring ~ Final concerts of the season

With spring fully established, what better music to capture the season’s happy mood than the energetic and enchanting music of the late Baroque period (about 1700 to 1750). Under the vibrant direction of Artistic Director & Conductor Valentin Radu, the Camerata Ama Deus Baroque period-instrument chamber orchestra will offer two performances of effervescent works by three masterful Baroque composers—Johann Sebastian Bach, Benedetto Marcello and Georg Philipp Telemann.

From the musical genius of Bach, Maestro Radu and the Camerata Ama Deus will perform the Concerto for Two Violins in d minor, a triple Concerto for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord in a minor and the famed Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. From Italy comes the well-known Oboe Concerto in d minor by Marcello. And returning to Germany, the artists of the Camerata Ama Deus will perform two stunning works by Telemann—his Concerto for Recorder in g minor and the virtuosic Suite for Trumpet in D. This program will be offered twice in different neighborhoods of the Delaware Valley. 


On Friday, May 31 at 8:00 PM, the concert will be presented at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin’s Lane (at Willow Grove Avenue) in Chestnut Hill. Then on Sunday, June 2 at 6:00 PM, the concert will be repeated in Daylesford Abbey, 220 South Valley Road in Paoli. Tickets for both concerts are priced at $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors and $10 for students & children. Doors open 45 minutes before the concert. 

Our CDs will be available at the concert, including our latest release: Gershwin & Ellington (see details below). 

Season 27 Announced! Click on the picture to enlarge.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gershwin & Ellington CD released!

Satin Doll - “Duke” Ellington
“I Got Rhythm” Variations - George Gershwin
Concerto in F - Gershwin
Second Rhapsody for Orchestra with Piano - Gershwin
New World A-Comin’ - Ellington
Rhapsody in Blue - Gershwin
Recorded live, Friday, January 4, 2013, in the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Phila. PA.

Click to purchase your copy today!

We are thrilled to announce the release of the recording of our January concert, "Gershwin & Ellington," featuring Peter Donohoe with the Ama Deus Ensemble, conducted by Music Director, Valentin Radu. For those who attended this exhilarating concert, the memory of an exciting evening of music is fresh in their memories. Buying one of these CD sets, you can feel as if you are there in the Perelman Theater. The electricity is evident from the first note!

May 2013 Newsletter: Beethoven & Paganini at the Kimmel Center

Niccolò Paganini

Violin Concerto No. 1
The Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 6, was composed by Paganini in Italy, probably between 1817 and 1818. The concerto reveals that Paganini’s technical wizardry was fully developed. Contemporary audiences gasped at the extended passages of double-stop thirds, both chromatic and in harmonics.
Paganini intended the Concerto to be heard in E-flat major: the orchestral parts were written in E-flat, and the solo part was written in D major with instructions for the violin to be tuned a semitone high (a technique known as scordatura), so that it would therefore sound in E-flat. This enables the soloist to achieve effects in E-flat which would not be possible with a normal D tuning (for example, the opening of the third movement, where the violin plays a rapid downward scale A-G-F-E-D, both bowed and pizzicato. This is possible on an open D-string, but is not possible in the key of E-flat), because two strings would be required. The key of E flat would mute the sound of the orchestra, whose strings would play fewer tones on open strings, and this would make the solo part emerge more clearly from the orchestral accompaniment.

Friday, April 5, 2013

In Conversation with John Ostendorf, Recording Producer

Meet the Man Behind the Earphones

John Ostendorf

VoxAmaDeus’ master recording producer, in conversation with Richard A. Shapp

Vox recording session
At every VoxAmaDeus concert our audience is offered the opportunity to purchase a wide array of compact disc recordings from Vox’s extensive concert repertoire. In this interview we invite you to meet the man you never see, but whose golden ears are essential to the success of every recording you can purchase to take home and enjoy at your leisure. Meet John Ostendorf!

RAS: John, how and when did you begin your association with Valentin Radu and VoxAmaDeus?

JO: My nearly 20-year association with Valentin Radu and VoxAmaDeus coincided with the winding-up of my active singing career and my move to a full-time concentration on record producing. The two endeavors had overlapped for some time—more on that later. I'd just produced a Bach solo album for soprano Julianne Baird, a longtime vocal colleague and friend in Philadelphia. She introduced me to Valentin Radu; we hit it off instantly and planned a period-instrument Messiah recording for the VOX label—a happy coincidence. That went really well, and two decades and about thirty recordings (maybe more?) later, we're still at it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Philadelphia Boys Choir joins the Ama Deus Ensemble

Valentin Radu
Welcomes the
Philadelphia Boys Choir
performing with the
Ama Deus Ensemble

J.S. Bach’s Saint John Passion
at the Kimmel Center on March 29 at 8:00 PM

Adding to the beauty of Bach’s music—enjoy the exquisite, angelic voices of the Philadelphia Boys Choir when it joins musical forces with the Ama Deus Ensemble in the Perelman Theater of the Kimmel Center on Friday, March 29 performing the Saint John Passion in English.

Since 1968, the Philadelphia Boys Choir has provided the finest musical education and performing experience for ensembles of its genre in the Greater Philadelphia area. Though our style has been emulated by many, none can top the beautiful and unique sound our boys create. Every week in rehearsal, boys interact and connect with other boys from all over the Tri-State region, allowing them to learn from one another through friendships they might not otherwise find. The opportunities for travel and concerts around the world help our Choir members build character in a safe and constructive environment, while carrying out the esteemed tradition of being part of America’s Ambassadors of Song.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

March 2013 - J.S. Bach's St. John Passion


The St. John Passion is a dramatic representation of the Passion story with extravagance and an expressive immediacy. It is the oldest of Bach's settings of the Passion. Written in 1724, it is fast-paced and emotionally moving. Bach innovatively and freely explores harmony and word-painting in this work, and delivers a exuberance not found in many other Baroque works.

VoxAmaDeus welcomes the Philadelphia Boys Choir (Jeffrey Smith, Director) to this performance featuring an all-Baroque instrument orchestra.

 A Conversation with Tenor Dana Wilson
 ...In conversation with Richard A. Shapp...

Tenor Dana Wilson prepares To sing the Evangelist’s Role in Bach’s monumental Saint John Passion on Good Friday, March 29th at 8 PM

As you will discover, Dana Wilson has been a member of the VoxAmaDeus vocal ensemble for nearly ten years. And although he has had his share of solo parts, this March 29 he will take on an extremely challenging leading role in the Perelman Theater of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. Dana will be featured as the Evangelist (in other words, the Narrator) in J.S. Bach’s monumental Saint John Passion. This is one of the most demanding tenor parts in the concert repertoire and Dana’s musical journey to Baroque music expert began in an unexpected place!

RAS: So Dana, let’s begin at the beginning. How and when did you begin your association with Valentin Radu and VoxAmaDeus?

DW: It's amazing to think that it's closing in on a decade since I began my association with Valentin Radu and VoxAmaDeus!


Friday, February 1, 2013

Renaissance Candlemas

Valentin Radu conducts the Vox Renaissance Consort
Click here for tickets.

Under the musical direction of Valentin Radu, the lushly costumed professional vocalists and period-instrument troubadours of the Vox Renaissance Consort will perform Renaissance Candlemas, glorious music from the Renaissance and early Baroque periods celebrating this time of year when the harshness of winter slowly begins to give way to the glories of spring.

Maestro Radu explains: “Candlemas is one of the most ancient festivals of the Church. It is celebrated forty days after Christmas, generally on February 2. It is also called The Feast of the Presentation, since it commemorates the Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple in Jerusalem as well as the Ritual Purification of Mary as was prescribed by Mosaic Law. Of this Presentation, the Gospel of Luke relates that Simeon the Righteous blessed the Babe and then uttered the famous words of the Nunc dimittis (“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word”). A popular feature of the Candlemas religious service was the blessing of beeswax candles and their procession through the church. I also find it interesting to note that many scholars believe that Candlemas had its roots in pre-Christian European winter celebrations observed in early February, and that from among these sprang a famous Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that is still observed every February 2!

“The music of the Renaissance and early Baroque periods that embodies the themes of Candlemas is gloriously beautiful and often serene. The Vox Renaissance Consort Candlemas programs will feature, among others, two Franco-Flemish works, Hodie Beata Virgo Maria by Jacob Arcadelt and Ave maris stella by Guillaume Dufay, as well as the well-known eight-voice Jubilate Deo by the Venetian Giovanni Gabrieli and a setting of Psalm 121 by the German Heinrich Schütz.”

Renaissance Candlemas will be presented twice, in two locations: first, on Friday, February 8, at 8:00 PM at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin’s Lane and Willow Grove Avenue; and again on Sunday, February 10, at 6:00 PM at Daylesford Abbey, 220 South Valley Road in Paoli.

General Admission tickets are $10 for students, $20 for seniors, $25 for all others and go on sale at the door approximately 45 minutes prior to concert time.

For tickets call VoxAmaDeus at 610-688-2800 or click here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The winning "Messiah": Vox Ama Deus

Radu's 'Hallelujah' was fast without seeming rushed.
    BY: Steve Cohen (Broad Street Review)
- 01.04.2013

Who’s the fairest Messiah of them all?

Some singers and listeners prefer a weepy approach to the Messiah story— which, of course, includes a section about Jesus’s crucifixion. Yet if you believe in a proactive God who chose to have his son executed, for a purpose, then why feel sad? God’s will was done, and his act should be praised. 

I heard four Messiahs this holiday season. Three were respectably devout; only one was exciting. 

The Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Pittsburgh Symphony performances were conventionally reverent, with sizeable orchestras and choruses. The differences among these three were mainly a matter of which solo vocalists you preferred.
Vox Ama Deus, on the other hand, gave a distinctive performance that used smaller forces, early instruments and 18th-Century performing practices. This approach produced more effervescence and joy. 

Under its musical director, Valentin Radu, Vox Ama Deus seeks to recreate music in the style of its time, using performance practices that the composer intended. Consequently, the Vox Ama Deus version differed from its conve

Lower key

1. The orchestra numbered 30 musicians and the chorus contained 45 singers. In the Romantic era, those numbers were commonly doubled or tripled to achieve grandeur. (Actually, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s group is much reduced now from a few years ago.)
2. Vox Ama Deus played and sang in a lower key— the pitch that was used in Handel’s time: half-a-tone below what’s common now.
3. Tempi were faster and brisker. Later, when Messiah was performed in cavernous halls and in cathedrals, with reverberation, conductors slowed the tempi to enhance the clarity for the listeners.
Big trumpet, little trumpet trumpets
4. Vox Ama Deus used Baroque instruments. Its strings were gut, not steel, and its oboes lacked keys. Their sound was sweeter and mellower. The ensemble included a theorbo—a long-necked, lute-like instrument— and two trumpets, one of them longer than today’s, the other a short Bach-style trumpet, less than half the normal size and producing a brilliant high tone.
5. Vox Ama Deus used period vocal style, with ornamentation added by Radu and the singers. In Handel’s day vocalists were expected to embellish vocal works by improvising cadenzas near the end of each song.
6. Ama Deus performed a longer version of Messiah. Handel wrote three sections: The birth of Jesus, his death, then his Resurrection. (Messiah actually was premiered on Good Friday of 1742; only later did it become associated with Christmas.)
Missing sections 

The Philadelphia Orchestra and the other big orchestras omitted three sections in Part Two and four in Part Three. I especially missed the soprano aria, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” that should be heard just before the final chorus. 

We can forgive these large orchestras for their deviations from Messiah; after all, Handel often made revisions himself in order to accommodate different singers at various performances. But I can’t help wondering: Do the large organizations choose shorter versions for artistic reasons, or to reduce their overtime pay? 

Radu— drawing on his studies with Nicholas Harnoncourt, a pioneer conductor of period-style performances— took the “Hallelujah” chorus rapidly, even more so than Helmuth Rilling, who led the New York Philharmonic’s performance (and who owns good credentials in early music). Rilling’s “Hallelujah” took three minutes, 42 seconds, and Sir Neville Marriner took 3:47 with the Pittsburgh Symphony. (I wasn’t able to time the Philadelphia Orchestra.) 

By contrast, Radu’s “Hallelujah” lasted 3:16 without sounding rushed. Rather, it was sprightly— a joyful holler rather than a hymn. 

Lost in Verizon

With Goodwin conducting a reduced Philadelphia Orchestra, we heard leaner instrumental textures than in decades past. Karina Gauvin, soprano, and Diana Moore, mezzo, were excellent soloists. Tenor John Tessier was more problematic. His light lyric voice didn’t carry well in the large Verizon Hall, and he used old-fashioned formal English enunciations. A more conversational approach would make the drama more relevant. 

The Ama Deus soloists comprised a well-matched quartet, including Andrea Lauren Brown, soprano; Jody Kidwell, alto; Timothy Bentch, tenor; and Ed Bara, bass. All of them handled the trills and other technical tricks while communicating the text commendably.
Vox Ama Deus has issued a recording of Messiah that includes the world-famous Julianne Baird as soprano soloist. I recommend it highly.

Gershwin and Ellington Through the Eyes of the Maestro

A Candid Talk with Valentin Radu

Maestro Radu was born and raised under the communist dictatorship of Roma­nia. When it came to decadent art, this seemingly more liberal of the Eastern Bloc states held the same position as its Iron Curtain cousins: that American Jazz was to be officially proscribed and suppressed. Of course, as history tells us, this alone would have been enough to make a substantial number of educated Romanian teens and young adults say, "Hell no!" But when you think about how great this music is--how it speaks to the hearts and souls of untold millions worldwide--it is no surprise that a very large number of Romanians of all ages were sub-rosa ardent devotees of this forbidden, degenerate art form!

Since the "fall of the Wall," Valentin Radu has regularly presented jazz programs in Europe and in newly democratic Romania. In fact, he has long been a proponent, in Eastern Europe and particularly in his native Romania, of George Gershwin's music, starting in 1998 to celebrate the Gershwin centennial. This was a strong motivating factor for Maestro Radu to lead VoxAmaDeus into the inaugural PIFA Festival during April 2010 with a concert he entitled Rebels in Paris: Fauré, Stravinsky and Gershwin. This in turn led Maestro Radu last January to program an all-Gershwin gala concert with famed British piano virtuoso Peter Donohoe, which concert they reprised in Bucharest in June 2012. These composers (Gershwin, Fauré, Stravinsky, and this January adding Duke Ellington to the mix) and their music are intertwined, and speak to both his "classical" and "free-spirited" musical sides. Nor should we overlook the direct connection between the importance of improvisation in the performance of Baroque- and Classical-era compositions and its importance as the key element at the core of jazz music and its performance. In Valentin Radu, one artistic style's improvisatory fundamentals inform the free-flowing and natural performance of the other style: Jazz to Classical or Classical to Jazz.

Stories from His Past and Present...

I was a fan of Duke Ellington before I encountered George Gershwin. One of my "stealth" mentors of jazz was a great fan of the Duke. And so my love affair with jazz began with Ellington.

This mentor was a very interesting character. His name was Johnny Raducanu, known to us in Romania as "Mr. Jazz." (Sadly he passed away last year after a long illness. He will be very missed by the jazz world in Romania and elsewhere in Europe.) He was a truly legendary gypsy performer. While most gypsies are fiddle or clarinet players, Johnny was for many years the principal double bass player for the Romanian National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bucharest. He was so short he had to stand on a special stool to play his instrument. He was also a phenomenal pianist and singer. And like other great gypsy musicians, he was a master of improvisation.

One day I remember a brand-new concert-grand Petroff piano being delivered to the Orchestra. Johnny decided to try it out, and he played a piece by Ellington. The music stopped me in my tracks, because I had never heard anything like it. This was the first live jazz I had ever heard!

At the National Radio Orchestra I was very, very well known as a wunderkind pianist. So when I expressed interest in jazz, Johnny knew I was for real. He was honored to teach me the secrets of jazz and I was thrilled. He was an excellent mentor through his unconditional love of jazz.

But all of his jazz music was underground. Jazz was truly a sub-culture, done behind closed doors and in private homes. Another way we got to hear jazz was over Radio Free Europe. RFE would rebroadcast jazz programs from the BBC World Service or the Voice of America. And at home I would sometimes get bootlegged reel-to-reel tapes. In this way I taught myself to play jazz.

At Devon Preparatory School, where I taught music for eighteen years, I dedicated a quarter of the year's music curriculum to teaching the boys about jazz. They learned that the word "jazz" originated in the cotton fields and was a code word for "freedom!" We would then look at the amalgamation of different styles, their origins, the combination of instruments used, and the eleven regional styles that constitute jazz: New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Bebop, West Coast, Southwestern, etc.

I met George Gershwin's music much later because so much of it is orchestral, i.e., "symphonic" jazz, of which he is the father. Gershwin added jazz instruments and compositional styles to the orchestra, stretched its rhythmic possibilities, and added syncopated blues rhythms from the jazz world. Printed scores of such decadent music were not to be had in Romania.
But once I came to America I got the scores and fell in love with Gershwin. I really mesh with him. Our personalities are in tune--his wild imagination, his daring modulations. All of those gorgeous melodies, many of them based on African-American culture, or his own Russian and Jewish heritages, and jazzed up with style and impeccable taste. 

I see Gershwin as a suave and elegant gentleman among a sea of jazz maniacs! But after all, he was classically trained, and he masterfully melded these seemingly disparate styles. This is why I readily joined the PIFA Festival with a concert that demonstrated how Gershwin, Stravinsky and Fauré all interweave.

Duke Ellington is an interesting phenomenon. He was the first jazz master to write out the solo riffs for his Big Band pieces. He was king of the Cotton Club in New York City. Here the world came to him, and I see the Duke as being the emcee to that music world. His music had great range, from the two-minute "Koko" to the 60-minute "Brown, Beige, and Black," which he performed at Carnegie Hall to great triumph and controversy.

So, performing this Gershwin-Ellington concert is an artistic dream fulfilled. And pivotal to the success of this venture is the phenomenal British pianist, Peter Donohoe.

Peter is truly a Renaissance man: timpanist, violinist, pianist, and a master of more than one style of music. I feel that we are "musical brothers" in that we both are classically trained, and both adore jazz. To be on stage at the Kimmel Center--a Romanian and a Brit-performing Gershwin and Ellington on their home turf: this proves the old adage that music has no borders and can bring people together. Last January we performed a Gershwin Gala that we then took to Bucharest last June for two performances in the Bucharest Philharmonic Hall in the company of the famous George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra. The building is also called the Romanian Athenaeum--a temple of "classicism"--and yet it rocked to funky rhythms, delivering happiness and excitement to standing-room-only audiences.

Peter Donohoe, in addition to being one of the world's foremost pianists, is a true gentleman and a scholar. He is very modest and has a humanitarian nature. He is witty, easy-going, funny, and full of amazing stories of the cognac-and-cigar variety. But Peter is never pompous or "diva-esque" like some pianists with a fraction of his talent. He is deeply committed to his own excellence, but never at the expense of the ensemble. He is so happy making music. And so am I!

Together with my Ama Deus Ensemble, padded for this occasion with world-class jazz orchestra players, we will deliver a high-energy, stylistically accurate, top-level performance! Join us on Friday, January 4, at 8 p.m. at the Kimmel Center. 

And a Happy New Year 2013 to all our friends, fans, and supporters of VoxAmaDeus.