VAF Announces World Premier of Walton: The Complete Facades
Words and Images Courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival
Featuring the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players with Reciters Hila Plitmann, soprano; Fred Child, Host of “Performance Today” and Kevin Deas, bass-baritone; JoAnn Falletta, conductor
A performance recorded during the 2021 Virginia Arts Festival will be released in a world premiere recording by Naxos Records. This marks the first-ever recording of the complete collection of the eminent 20-century composer William Walton’s complete Façades – his unique and groundbreaking musical settings of British poet Edith Sitwell’s verse. The performance was conducted by JoAnn Falletta, then Music Director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and performed by the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players with Reciters Hila Plitmann, soprano; Fred Child, Host of “Performance Today” and Kevin Deas, bass-baritone. The Naxos release celebrates the 100th anniversary of the creation of Façades.
CDs are available for purchase at vafest.org, by phone at 757-282-2822, or at the Virginia Arts Festival Box Office (440 Bank Street, Norfolk).
Walton created the first set of Façades in 1922, and performed them with Edith Sitwell speaking her verse, in the Sitwell London home where Walton lived during his early years as a composer. Walton, Edith Sitwell, and her brothers Osbert and Sacheveral were immersed in the heady avant-garde arts world of post-World War I London; the Sitwells would become lifelong friends and artistic collaborators with Walton. The first public performance of Façades drew a mixed critical response: The Manchester Guardian protested what it called the work’s “relentless cacophony.” Other critics saw the spark of inspiration: The Illustrated London News said, “Miss Sitwell's poetry and Mr. Walton's music ... soon induced the audience to listen with breathless attention.” Decades later in 1979, when Walton was a recognized as one of the great composers of the century, he was invited to create a new work for the famed classical music festival the BBC Proms; he responded by adding four new works to his famed Façades collection. For the Virginia Arts Festival performance and this recording, both the 1922 and 1979 sets are included as well as four never-before recorded pieces: the first recording of Small Talk (1922), and three numbers, Daphne, The White Owl and The Last Galop, that were composed in 1977 but never previously performed.
Unique collaborations between the Virginia Arts Festival and JoAnn Falletta have marked the history of the Festival, from such grand, rarely staged spectacles as Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, the “Symphony of a 1000,” the Berlioz Requiem, and Bernstein’s Mass, to seldom-heard chamber works including Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale and Mahler Songs arranged by Arnold Schoenberg. (Festival performances of Mahler 8, Stravinsky Soldier’s Tale and Mahler Songs were also recorded and released by Naxos.) “JoAnn has been an inspired and inspiring partner,” said Virginia Arts Festival Perry Artistic Director Robert W. Cross. “She brings a scholar’s research and an artist’s passion to her work, and it has been a joy working with her to share great music with our Festival audiences – and now with a worldwide audience thanks to this recording.” Falletta echoes the sentiment: “Working together with the Virginia Arts Festival has made so many great projects possible. Rob Cross dreams big, and his own expansive musicality and sense of adventure opens doors for artists and audiences.”
Although recordings of some of the Façades have been made in the past, the Naxos release marks the first time that all of Walton’s Façades pieces have been performed and recorded together. Falletta and Cross hand-picked the ensemble for performance, which included acclaimed musicians, among them a number of Grammy Award winners and nominees: Flutist Debra Wendells Cross, piccoloist Rachel Ordaz, clarinetists Todd Levy and Robert Alemany, saxophonist Timothy McAllister, trumpeter David Vonderheide, cellist Julian Schwartz, and percussionist Robert W. Cross. For the “reciters” of Edith Sitwell’s poetry, Falletta cast three performers to bring richness and character to the varied moods of the verses: Grammy Award-winning soprano, songwriter and actress Hilda Plitmann; host of American Public Media’s Performance Today and host and commentator/announcer for Live From Lincoln Center, Fred Childs; and acclaimed bass-baritone Kevin Deas, known throughout the classical music world for his performances of “chilling fervor and palpable joy” (The New York Times).
About Virginia Arts Festival Since 1997, under the direction of Perry Artistic Director Robert W. Cross, the Virginia Arts Festival has presented great performers from across the globe. Renowned artists who have performed at the festival include Itzhak Perlman, Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Olga Kern, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Miami String Quartet, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Stewart Copeland, Audra McDonald, Kelli O’Hara, Patti LuPone, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre and Mark Morris Dance Group. The festival has presented numerous world premieres and new productions of classical music, dance, and theatre from some of today’s most influential composers, choreographers and playwrights. Van Cilburn gold medalist Olga Kern serves as the Festival’s Connie and Marc Jacobson Director of Chamber Music and award-winning Broadway music director Rob Fisher serves as the Festival’s Goode Family Artistic Advisor for Musical Theater and American Songbook. Each season, performances from the Virginia Arts Festival are broadcast nationwide on American Public Radio’s Performance Today. The festival’s arts education programs reach tens of thousands of schoolchildren each year through student matinees, in-school performances, artist residencies, master classes and demonstrations.
About JoAnn Falletta Multiple Grammy-winning conductor JoAnn Falletta serves as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, and Music Director Laureate of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Brevard Music Center and Artistic Adviser to the Hawaii Symphony. As Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta became the first woman to lead a major American ensemble. With a discography of over 120 titles, Falletta is a leading recording artist for Naxos. She has won two individual Grammy Awards, including the 2021 GRAMMY® Award for Best Choral Performance as conductor of the world premiere Naxos recording, Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua. In 2019, she won a Grammy Award as conductor of the London Symphony in the Best Classical Compendium category for Spiritualist by Kenneth Fuchs. Her Naxos recording of John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan received two Grammys in 2008. Her 2020 Naxos recording of orchestral music of Florent Schmitt with the Buffalo Philharmonic received the Diapason d’Or Award.