Commentary and Reviews


Indiana University's Music School at Bloomington passes with high marks on the strength of the two concerts that its New Music Ensemble brought to Symphony Space last month. The ensemble's director is Harvey Sollberger, well-known in New York as a conductor, flutist and composer . . . . The Fox, Eaton, Wuorinen and Copland works were conducted in masterly fashion by Mr. Sollberger.
- Andrew Porter, The New Yorker.

Under Sollberger's exacting guidance, the ferocious and harrowing performance by a CCP sextet was spellbinding.
- Ted Shen, Chicago Tribune.

The Group for Contemporary Music performed Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms No. 5, superbly conducted by Harvey Sollberger.
- Donal Henahan, The New York Times.

The Webern Konzert, Op. 24, received a marvelous ensemble reading under Harvey Sollberger, and served to give both target and perspective to all who toil in these strange new fields.
- Carman Moore, The Village Voice.

A lot of credit must go to the way the piece was put together . . . to the excellent ensemble under Harvey Sollberger.
- Eric Salzman, New York Herald Tribune.

Conductor Harvey Sollberger read well and knew his score well enough to employ a tasteful rubato here and there . . . in this fine performance [Schoenberg Suite].
- Carman Moore, Village Voice.

The numerous performers included Messrs. Wuorinen and Sollberger, who conducted what seemed to be carefully prepared performances with authority and spirit.
- Howard Klein, The New York Times.

Webern's Sechs Gesange, Op. 14, strongly guided by Harvey Sollberger and well-sung by Valarie Lamoree were refreshingly full of cool air and balanced motion.
- Carman Moore, Village Voice.

. . . especially a revelatory reading of the Ode to Napoleon by the Group for Contemporary Music at Columbia University (conducted by Harvey Sollberger).
- David Hamilton, The Nation.

The Wolpe, a setting of texts by Holderlin, Herodotus and Robert Creeley, succeeds admirably in suggesting both seriousness and puckishness in the context of a determinedly abstract idiom – and again this performance, this time under Mr. Sollberger, seemed to serve the music well.
- John Rockwell, The New York Times.

The other sizable work on the program was Donald Martino's Notturno (1973). . . It is beautifully-tailored and made good listening in the performance led by Harvey Sollberger.
- Allen Hughes, The New York Times.

The performance, characteristic of the Group's care for such matters, was excellent. Fred Sherry, cellist; Donald Palma, contrabassist; Howard Crook, tenor, and Philip Larson, bass, were positively virtuosic in their roles under the direction of Harvey Sollberger. . . . played by a skilled septet of instrumentalists under Mr. Sollberger's direction the music (Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat) made its inevitable brilliant effect.
- Raymond Ericson, The New York Times.

Overall, though, Reynolds' work is serious and original. Skillfully conducted by Harvey Sollberger and performed with conviction by the Group for Contemporary Music, it stood respectably next to a fine performance – also conducted by Sollberger – of an unquestioned multi-media masterpiece, Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat.
- M.B., High Fidelity and Musical America.

The performance was an astonishingly finished one, considering that Syringa was completed barely a month ago. Jan DeGaetsani and Thomas Paul were the assured soloists, while the musicians under Harvey Sollberger's direction seemed to catch the diaphonously ethereal quality of the piece to perfection.
- Peter G. Davis, The New York Times.

Conductor Harvey Sollberger began the evening with a searing performance of Edgard Varese's landmark work, Integrales, composed in 1926. . . . The second half began with the first New York performance of George Perle's Concertino for piano, winds and percussion. Pianist Robert Miller played with great rhythmic drive and the excellent ensemble under Sollberger met him at every turn.
- John Peter Holly, The Music Journal.

Harvey Sollberger led an account of Sessions' Concertino so crowded with thrilling moments that the 92nd Street Y audience clamored for more and was rewarded with an encore of the piece's finale.
- Robert Kimball, The New York Post.

The performance (of Carter's Syringa) by Jan DeGaetani, Thomas Paul, Speculum Musicae and the Group for Contemporary Music, conducted by Harvey Sollberger, is accurate, effective and lyrical.
- Jeffrey Miller, I.S.A.M. Newsletter.

This is the premiere recording of Syringa. All forces are very effective here. Sollberger has an understanding of the work that should in every way please the composer.
- King Durkee, Copley News Service.

And Elliott Carter's Elizabeth Bishop cycle, A Mirror on Which to Dwell, for soprano and nine instruments, was given a bewitching performance. A critic sometimes approaches with apprehension a work that at its premiere he made much of, as I did of A Mirror six years ago. But after this performance – conducted by Harvey Sollberger, with Lucy Shelton a precise and sensitive soloist – I thought I'd made too little of it then.
- Andrew Porter, The New Yorker.

The most successfully handled piece of the evening may have been Elliott Carter's A Mirror on Which to Dwell. . . . Lucy Shelton negotiated its vocal difficulties impressively, and Harvey Sollberger, the conductor, kept Mr. Carter's rich inner textures all of a piece.
- Bernard Holland, The New York Times.

And Edgard Varese's Ionisation, with 13 percussionists playing 35 instruments, was a five-minute tour de force. It was led so skillfully by Harvey Sollberger, and played with such joyful energy, that the entire piece was encored.
- Peter Goodman, Newsday.

Music of surpassing delicacy and unsparing toughness, it (Seymour Shifrin's In Eius Memoriam) has not been better played than it was under Sollberger's direction.
- Richard Dyer. The Boston Globe.

A quarter century ago, the work (Berg's Kammerkonzert) seemed problematical, difficult to balance, even graceless. (More so, no doubt in 1927, when it had its first performance.) The epithets will surprise young people who learn it in performances as confident, as graceful, as romantic as Speculum's – or the Group for Contemporary Music's in 1981, with Benjamin Hudson the violinist, Robert Black the pianist and Mr. Sollberger the conductor.
- Andrew Porter, The New Yorker.

The surprises (in Roger Reynolds's Mistral) were abetted, if not quite guaranteed, by the way conductor Harvey Sollberger scaled down his cues for violence below conductorial norms. In other words, he didn't give away very much of the game. . . . Their performance was not only muscular and powerful when the wind blew its damnedest but also luminously lyrical when calm reigned.
- Leighton Kerner, The Village Voice.

Sollberger and company embraced, then conquered, then merged with the complicated music. The result (in Berg's Chamber Concerto) was no less than stunning. For this one Sollberger required his entire ensemble, and he was very much in command. His players charged into that music and raised it to a glow. Quite remarkable. Worthy of Alice Tully Hall. Worthy of Indiana University's School of Music. Worthy of Alban Berg.
- Peter Jacobi, The Bloomington Sunday Herald-Times.

This performance (of Jay Alan Yim's Moments of Rising Mist) was conducted by Harvey Sollberger with what appeared to be scrupulous care, so that small ensemble coordinations made impact.
- Thomas Putnam, The Buffalo News.

Thursday evening revealed, too, the inherent splendors of the Indiana University New Music Ensemble, 27 members of which made their local debut Thursday. Their playing represents a miraculous combination of commitment and clarity. Composer-flutist Sollberger may have adopted a somewhat avian approach to conducting, all flapping arms, but his leadership was alert and responsive.
- Allan Ulrich, The San Francisco Examiner.

COMPUTER FEST MIXES GOOD AND BAD. The best of the Festival (sponsored by the San Francisco Symphony) was its live performances. Thursday, Harvey Sollberger led the crack New Music Ensemble from Indiana University in a varied program with some truly distinguished scores, especially Yannis Xenakis's masterly Palimpsest.
- Charles Shere, The Oakland Tribune.

Thursday night's New Music Ensemble concert showed both the virtuosity and subtlety of that excellent ensemble. Harvey Sollberger fashioned a wonderfully colorful and exciting evening of newness, and the Musical Arts Center heard sounds, sadly enough, it usually lacks. . . . Sollberger conducted the work (Carter's A Mirror on Which to Dwell) with an enthusiasm and sense of detail that was concise and energetic, and he helped produce a memorable performance. . . . The NME is consistently the best performing ensemble at Indiana University, and the one with the best repertoire. This was a first-rate musical event that, had it occurred in New York or San Francisco, would have drawn large crowds and commanded high ticket prices.
- James Underwood, The Bloomington Herald-Times.

Here was Harvey Sollberger not leading the Indiana University New Music Ensemble as he so often has in recent years, but a full-sized symphony orchestra, not concentrating on the more avant-garde music of our time but material of the 19th century. And musician that he is, he was doing a darn good job of it, not seeming at all a fish out of water. . . . The playing was not immaculate, but it was athletic. Sollberger has a clear sense of line and balance, something he brings from his handling of contemporary material. The interpretation (of Schumann's Symphony No. 3) did not lack dynamism..
- Peter Jacobi, The Bloomington Herald-Times.

And we owe a sizable debt to flutist-composer-teacher-conductor Harvey Sollberger, now finishing his term as Valentine Visiting Professor at Amherst College. He organized the recital and played in his own Elegy for Igor Stravinsky, Elaine Barkin's improvisational (continuous), and Michael Theodore's Tendrilled Breath for solo flute. Sollberger's conducting was extraordinary; he handled Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms No. 2 for instruments and electronic sounds – a classic and challenging work from the early days of electronic music – with consumate skill.
- Everett Hafner, The Valley Advocate.

Harvey Sollberger is one of the finest new music conductors in America, and he brings a good deal more guts and warmth to his interpretations than Boulez does. Sollberger's recent association with SONOR bodes well for this ensemble's future, as does his willingness to program musical upstarts like John Adams.
- Christian Hertzog, The La Jolla Light.

Igor Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements completed the program. Its often explosive nature is the sort of music Sollberger always did so well when he was at IU and headed the New Music Ensemble. It was done well Wednesday.
- Peter Jacobi, The Bloomington Herald-Times.

Under Sollberger's exacting guidance, the ferocious and harrowing performance by a CCP sextet was spellbinding enough to compensate for the piece's rather cliche-ridden first half.
- Ted Shen, The Chicago Tribune.

It is difficult to seamlessly dovetail such an angular melody from one instrument to the next, requiring precise intonation and dynamic control of the highest order. Under the direction of conductor Harvey Sollberger, the ensembles admirably pulled off this tour de force. SONOR's rendition of Penthode was the first performance this writer has encountered, both live and on CD, that has accurately translated Carter's intentions.
- Christian Hertzog, The San Diego Union-Tribune.

As John Fonville expertly alternated on piccolo, alto and bass flute, and Harvey Sollberger led the eleven musicians with energetic determination, the performance (of David Felder's Inner Sky) employed computer-processed flute sounds.
- Valerie Scher, The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The SIRIUS concert, conducted by Harvey Sollberger, was not a dog, instead a bright star, in an engaging series of performances fired by a dynamic reading of Schoenberg's great Pierrot Lunaire on February 21, at Hertz Hall on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley.
- Mark Alburger, 20th Century Music.

HUMAN TOUCH WARMS MECHANIZED MUSIC. That these pieces (transcriptions of Conlon Nancarrow's Studies for Player Piano numbers 5, 6, 12, 16 and 18) can be played by living musicians is a revelation, prompting a John Henry-like exultation over human capabilities. Sollberger conducted tautly but with feeling, and the 19 members of the ensemble, joining in various combinations, acquitted themselves splendidly. . . . It's been awhile since a new music program offered such thorough rewards.
- Joshua Kosman, The San Francisco Chronicle.

The orchestra (the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus) has a new music director this year, Harvey Sollberger, who is best known as a flutist with sensational technique, but who is also a sure conductor. It fills an important need in the community, willing to undertake interesting challenges, unlike the newly-reconstituted, mainstream-bound San Diego Symphony.
- Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times (reviewing a concert which included Ravi Shankar's First Sitar Concerto and Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps).

A 2003 San Diego Reader article by Jonathan Saville on
Harvey Sollberger's work with the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus.

        A HISTORY OF THE MODERN WORLD. I was not wrong in my review of the La Jolla Symphony a couple of months ago. Much to my surprise, this amateur orchestra turned out to be as close to professional as one could want, and offered music-making of unexceptionable quality. Going to the next concert in their season (just to make sure, and because the program intrigued me), I was not disappointed. They are really very good. Only once or twice, in unison passages by the violins or cellos, did I hear anything that disturbed my comfort with the performance, so that for an instant I registered that all was not quite right, instead of focusing – as I could do almost all the time – on the music itself.
         Focusing on the music was a pleasure, because throughout the concert this was no routine run-through but a series of illuminating readings, with a distinctive approach and interpretation. Much of the credit must go to music director Harvey Sollberger, who is a conductor of real authority.
         Sollberger's career has been chiefly devoted to new American music. A virtuoso avant-garde flutist, he has performed works by composers such as Elliott Carter, Nicolas Roussakis, Francis Thorne and Charles Wuorinen. He is himself a composer of thorny, abstract music, often involving the flute in various contexts. As conductor, he has had long-time associations with some of the foremost ensembles for contemporary music (at Columbia University, Indiana University and UCSD), where his repertoire has focused on composers such as Donald Martino, Roger Reynolds, Peter Westergaard, Robert Morris, Milton Babbitt, Stefan Wolpe and Joji Yuasa.
         The aesthetics of virtually all this music (including his own) are so alien to those of the standard repertoire that you would scarcely expect Sollberger to have any particular commitment to composers like Beethoven and Ravel, whose works occupied two-thirds of the La Jolla Symphony program at Mandeville Auditorium. But like composer-conductor Pierre Boulez, whose compositional style rejects every principle of Western music from Haydn to Stravinsky, Sollberger seems to be quite at home with the kind of works that are played on conventional orchestral programs, those with traditional attitudes toward form, tonality, instrumental techniques, accessibility, and meaning. Indeed (again like Boulez), he has very interesting and effective ideas about how these works should be played – not through any imposition of late 20th-century avant-garde attitudes, but by an appropriate rethinking of the scores on their own terms.
         Sollberger's Eroica (to start with the Beethoven symphony that concluded the program) had much in common with the performances of Arturo Toscanini and George Szell. It was direct and powerful; it maintained in each movement a steady but never mechanical pulse; and it adhered closely to the score. Unlike such conductors as Wilhelm Furtwangler or Leonard Bernstein, Sollberger evidently saw no need for frequent changes of gear and magnifications of contrast in order to underline the composer's intentions or theatricalize his effects. One sensed that the conductor was allowing Beethoven to speak in his own forceful and expressive voice, without overt tinkering. Momentum built steadily, and when the climaxes came, they seemed to erupt naturally from the inner energies of the music. The result was a performance of immense strength and vigor, which was at the same time well-balanced and of sharp lucidity.
         The same conducting style applied to La Valse might have seemed more problematic. Isn't Ravel's deconstruction of the Viennese waltz supposed to be an atmospheric tone poem, filled with dramatic clashes that demand to be emphasized? Yes, indeed – but Sollberger's insistence, here too, on steady pacing with a minimum of rhythmic stretching, and on allowing the music's structure and content to make their points free of interpretive mannerisms, surprisingly enhanced the score's impact rather than diminishing it. What the conductor sought – and received from his skillful and compliant orchestra – was transparency, an insight into the complex poetry of Ravel's orchestral writing and of the composer's impassioned imagination. I have never before had a good word to say about Mandeville Auditorium, but I must admit that the dryness (deadness) of the acoustics there allowed the listener to hear all the delicate details of this magnificent score, details that more atmospheric halls (and performances) tend to blur with a Romantic sheen.
         Between the Ravel and Beethoven came Morton Feldman's Cello and Orchestra – an important event, for this great work by a great American composer had never before been performed in San Diego, or on the whole West Coast, and performances of it (or of any of Feldman's music) remain rare everywhere. . . . .
         Even without explicit connections, there is a great deal of late Rothko and of Beckett in Cello and Orchestra. There have never been dissonant chords as bleak and despairing as those that the La Jolla Symphony played with such fine precision. There has never been a piece for cello so expressive of endless anguish and hopeless lamentation, and cellist Curtis, a remarkable artist, brought out these feelings with irresistible force, all the more so because of music's (and the musician's) restraint.
         Sollberger's cannily constructed program thus illustrated the history of the human spirit over the past two centuries. Beethoven confronts death and affirms the forces of life, heroism, and joy, Ravel depicts the dissolution of a society devoted to sensual pleasure in a world where civilized values have been ripped apart. Feldman shows us a universe empty of meaning, in which the suffering human voice cries vainly into nothingness. So we move, in the course of a single, profound concert, from 1804 to 1919 to 1973. Not bad for an “amateur” orchestra.
- Jonathan Saville, The San Diego Reader.