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Debussy: Wind and Water

Pianist Susan Yondt visits the Friends of Vienna this Sunday. (photo by Juliana Yondt)

Pianist Susan Yondt celebrates the music of Claude Debussy

This year marks the sesquicentennial of the1862 birth of French composer Claude Debussy, and in celebration of this event the Friends of Vienna are presenting a recital of the piano music of Debussy on Sunday, November 18 at 3:30pm, by the Swedish-based pianist Susan Yondt, professor of piano at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.

“Of all the musicians who ever lived, Claude Debussy was one of the most original and most adventurous; at the same time, unlike many original adventurers, he was a consummate master within the limits of his exquisite style,” notes the eminent musicologist William Austin, explaining in part the continuing appeal of the composer’s works. While the mention of Debussy’s name immediately brings to mind for many classical music lovers his large orchestral works such as Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune or La Mer, the course of his musical growth can be traced in the development of the works that he composed for piano, an instrument whose potential he understood completely and which he had mastered to the extent that he could have enjoyed a career as a touring soloist, if he had so wished, even if he is said to have once described the piano as “a box of hammers and strings.”

Susan Yondt says that she was inspired to create her program by Debussy’s observation that “Music is an expression for the movement of the water and the play of the wind.”

“It’s been an interesting project to play through Debussy’s works as I toured Sweden this past summer,” Yondt says, “and literally ‘drown’ in waves of water and gusts of wind. I love playing the watery Reflets dans l’eau [Reflections in the Water] from Images Book 1, which has been part of my repertoire for years as well as Jardins sous la pluie [Gardens in the Rain] from Estampes.”

Yondt’s program will range from the first period of Debussy’s writing for piano, including both of the popular Deux arabesques and also En bateau, from the Petite Suite, as well as the transcendent Clair de lune from the Suite bergamasque, through several selections from the highly original Préludes, Book I, including the atmospherically evocative La cathédral engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral).“It’s lovely, delicious music and playing the works of Debussy is a little like drinking a cold cocktail on a warm day, with all those cool whole-tone scales. I’ll end my program with Debussy in one of his most extroverted pieces, L’isle joyeuse (The Happy Island).”

Tickets are $10, $6 for students. For more information, visit

Maria Stuarda at Opera Sacra

Founded by Reverend Jacob Ledwon in 1975, Opera Sacra is the longest continually producing opera company in Western New York, Choosing works that center on religious themes, it has been presenting major productions for 36 seasons.

On Friday, November 17 and Saturday November 18 at 8pm, Opera Sacra will undertake one of its most ambitious productions ever, when it offers the Western New York premiere of Gaetano Donizetti’s 1835 bel canto opera Maria Stuarda, at St. Joseph’s University Church (3269 Main Street) in Buffalo. In an interesting coincidence, Opera Sacra will be presenting Maria Stuarda for the first time, ahead of the work’s New Year’s Eve premiere by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Maria Stuarda has been on Opera Sacra’s wish-list for years, says Father Ledwon. “But we had to wait until we had the right singers who could execute the difficult and florid musical style of early nineteenth century bel canto. It’s the ‘perfect storm’ in that all the people needed to present this unique repertoire are in place at this time, for what should be a thrilling performance.”

Coloratura soprano Amy Grable sings the title role of the doomed Mary, Queen of Scots, while another coloratura soprano, Colleen Marcello, who made a strong impression in the title role of Suor Angelica in this series, will sing the role of her cousin and rival, Queen Elizabeth of England. While the execution of Mary Stuart was politically motivated, the libretto bases it on Elizabeth’s jealousy and at the end of the first act creates a fiery confrontation that never occurred, where Elizabeth taunts Mary until she snaps back and calls her “the bastard daughter of Ann Boleyn,” thus sealing her fate; poor history, but great theater.

Tenor Robert Zimmerman is Leicester and Metropolitan Opera bass Valerian Ruminski is Talbot, with Berlin-based Canadian baritone Benoit Pitre, who studied at UB, singing the role of the villain Cecil. Laurie Tramuta, a member of the voice faculty at Fredonia State, will sing the role of the lady-in-waiting, Anne, with Roland Martin conducting an orchestra of more than 35 instrumentalists.

Suggested donation is $20, $15 for seniors. Patron tickets are $50; benefactor tickets are $100, which includes preferred seating and an artist reception. For more information, call 833-0298.

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