Saturday, April 25, 2015

BSO — 2015/04/23-28

This week Guest Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink leads the BSO in a music of Ravel, Adès, and Mozart, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist in Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. If you go to the BSO's performance detail page, you can find links to program notes and audio previews of the concert, as well as performer bios available by clicking on the thumbnail photos. There, we find this description of the program:
BSO Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink ends the BSO's 2014-15 season with two weeks of concerts. First, he and the orchestra are joined by dazzling French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet for Ravel's 1931 Piano Concerto in G, featuring thrilling outer movements and one of the most meltingly beautiful slow movements in the repertoire. Mother Goose, an earlier Ravel score illustrating the stories of Tom Thumb, Beauty and the Beast, and others, began life as a four-hand piano suite written for children, was orchestrated in 1911, and expanded into the complete ballet score the following year with added interludes. Mozart wrote his Linz Symphony in emergency conditions: arriving in the Austrian city on October 30, 1783, without a symphony in hand, he had the four-movement work ready for performance four days later with nary a seam showing. In keeping with the French/Classical theme that underscores this program, Three Studies from Couperin (2006) by the brilliant English composer Thomas Adès offers his modern orchestral take on harpsichord music by the great French master.
(Some emphasis added.)

I enjoyed the concert, although Ravel is not my favorite composer: in general, I don't really care for the music of the impressionists. The "Mother Goose" music is innocuous fluff, in my opinion. The piano concerto which followed is more lively, and, as the program note points out, shows some familiarity with Gershwin. The second movement is lyrical for the most part, but it also gets loud at one point. Thomas Adès's orchestration of harpsichord music of Couperin was very successful, in my opinion. One interesting feature was the use of alto and bass flutes. Both are longer than regular flutes, so much so that the tubes are bent back on themselves; and they have a greater diameter than ordinary flutes. They are held like regular flutes, with the player blowing over the mouthpiece on the top section, and the keys on the lower section. The Linz Symphony, which finished the evening is delightful Mozart. I'm not able to say whether this performance was extraordinary or merely competent. I enjoyed the music, but didn't notice anything remarkable about the performance in either a good or a bad way. The orchestra liked Maestro Haitink's work, remaining seated briefly after he motioned them to rise in response to the audience's applause during his curtain calls — thus focusing the applause on the maestro.

The Globe gave a favorable review — as usual without very much detail about the playing and conducting. By contrast — both with the Globe and, even more, with me — the Boston Musical Intelligencer's reviewer raved about the piano concerto, found the Mother Goose good in some respects, and was unimpressed with  the Adès as composed and the Mozart as performed.

So you can decide for yourself by listening to WCRB at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time on April 25 and/or May 4. Their BSO page offers, among other things, an extensive preview including interviews of conductor and soloist. I think it's worth listening to, if you can.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

BSO — On Tour — 2015/04/18

While the orchestra is wowing them (I hope) in Carnegie Hall, WCRB will reprise the August 10 all-Tchaikovsky concert from last summer's Tanglewood season with David Zinman conducting and Yo-Yo Ma  soloing on the cello. They fill out the time slot with a piece from the July 19 concert under the baton of Andris Nelsons. The station's BSO page lists the works:
In an encore broadcast from the 2014 Tanglewood season, David Zinman leads the BSO in an All-Tchaikovsky program, including the Andante cantabile for cello and strings and Rococo Variations, both with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, and the Symphony No. 6, the "Pathétique." Also, BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons conducts Tchaikovsky's Capriccio italien at Tanglewood.
Go there also for information about upcoming broadcasts/webstreams and an overview of the 2015-2016 season in Symphony Hall.

I posted about the performances here and here. Since the Tanglewood concerts are not repeated several times the way the Symphony Hall ones are, there are no reviews available when I preview them. If you really want reviews, you can always delve into the Globe and the Intelligencer's websites.

The broadcast/webstream will be in the usual time slot; and Monday will bring the usual rerun of last week's concert — Schuller (premiere), Mozart, and Strauss.

Friday, April 10, 2015

BSO — 2015/04/09-14

This week the BSO give us three very different works: a contemporary and sometimes slightly jazzy piece by Gunther Schuller which serves as a curtain-raiser for an elegant piano concerto by Mozart, and after the intermission one of Strauss's massive tone poems. The orchestra's performance detail page — with its usual links to program notes, performer bios, and audio previews — says the following about the program:
The legendary, Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Gunther Schuller's recent orchestral work Dreamscapebegins this program. According to Schuller, this sparkling, witty, symphony-like work, commissioned by the BSO for Tanglewood's 75th anniversary and premiered by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in 2012, came to him wholly in a dream-hence its title. Its personal aspects and use of quotation make it a neat companion for Richard Strauss's novelistic tone poem Ein Heldenleben ("A Heroic Life"), which references several of the composer's earlier pieces in an amazingly virtuosic orchestral display. In between, the acclaimed Mozartian Richard Goode joins Maestro Nelsons and the orchestra for Mozart's elegantly soft-spoken final piano concerto [No. 27, in B-flat].
(Some emphasis supplied.)

The review in the Globe found no fault with anything but was not especially enthusiastic. The Boston Musical Intelligencer finds things to praise in each piece.

My initial impression of Dreamscape was unfavorable. It seemed percussive and disjointed in the early going. Some of the jokes had me chuckling, though, and I was a bit mollified. The calm second movement (I didn't see it as dark) was easier to take. During the third part, my attention wandered a bit, but at least I found nothing objectionable. I'm looking forward to giving it a second chance during the broadcast on Saturday. Maybe it will seem better on rehearing.

Strauss's Heldenleben is, like a lot of Strauss, too long in my opinion. But it's not really unpleasant, and it seemed to be well played, as far as I could tell.

In the 1950's my father's aunt gave us a record player with an automatic changer. You could stack records on the spindle, and when one was finished it would drop the next one onto the turntable. The first thing I did was to play a set from the 1930's with Robert Casadesus and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra performing the Mozart 27th. I loved it at once. So this concerto is special to me. I really liked Richard Goode and the BSO's performance. Sometimes some of the themes in the first and third movements sound "cutesy" or "precious;" but in Goode's hands they were pleasant without seeming childish. I think the BMInt reviewer picked up on it. So I found it a very satisfying performance.

Of course you can listen for yourself over WCRB at 8:00 on Saturday, with a repeat on April 20. Their BSO page, as usual, has a link to a lengthy preview interview.

My recommendation: give the Schuller piece a listen. It only lasts about 11 minutes. You'll probably want to read Schuller's description of the piece in the program notes before you listen. By all means, enjoy the Mozart. If you like Strauss, you'll want to stick around after intermission for his massive tribute to himself.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

BSO — 2015/04/02-04

This week the BSO is giving us a very mixed bag: Shostakovich and Beethoven. Their performance detail page gives this description:
The marvelous German violinist Christian Tetzlaff joins Andris Nelsons and the BSO for Beethoven's peerless Violin Concerto, which, through its lyricism, intensely musical virtuosity, and expansive scope elevated the genre of the violin concerto to ambitious new heights. Shostakovich-a Beethoven devotee-purportedly wrote his Symphony No. 10 as a response to Joseph Stalin's death in 1953. Considered one of his finest, most characteristic orchestral works, the musically and emotionally rich Tenth seems partly to have been an exorcism of his conflicted personal feelings toward the Soviet dictator.
(Some emphasis added.)

I'm not sure why they don't tell us of the excerpt from Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the work which so shocked Stalin that the composer was in constant danger from then until Stalin died. But you can read all about it in the program notes which, along with audio previews and performer bios, are linked on the detail page.

Of course, the Beethoven Violin Concerto is a beautiful piece, well worth listening to. As for the Shostakovich works, I don't think I've ever heard the Passacaglia, and if I've heard the Symphony, I'm not familiar with it. But I've heard a fair amount of Shostakovich, and I've begun to find his stuff tolerable, but in general it strikes me as percussive and dissonant. He's clearly doing a composer's job of taking themes and developing them, so there's a certain level of interest, but it's certainly not the most pleasant music around.

The concert is not in my subscription. Since it's on Holy Thursday, I wouldn't have gone anyway. I'll also miss the live broadcast on Saturday. Both nights are nights of Holy Week services at church. But I'm not really sorry to miss it. I'll probably listen to the rebroadcast.

The Globe review is favorable, if not quite glowing. The reviewer finds no fault. The Boston Musical Intelligencer provides a very detailed review, telling us both about the music and about specific aspects of the performance. The BMInt reviewer was also quite pleased with what he heard.

WCRB will broadcast and stream the concert at 8:00 p.m. this evening and rebroadcast it at 8:00 p.m. on April 13. Their BSO page, as usual, has a link to a lengthy audio preview with conductor and violin soloist.

If you like Shostakovich, you won't want to miss this one. If you don't know Shostakovich, maybe this is a good chance to get an idea of what he's like. If most 20th Century orchestral music is not to your taste, this could be a low priority.

Happy Easter!

P.S. Don't forget to listen on Monday the 6th at 8:00 for the retransmission of the Gandolfi premiere.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Additional Concerts over WCRB on March 29, 2015

In addition to the Boston Symphony concert broadcast/webstream of March 28, which I strongly recommend, WCRB is giving us a chance to hear two other masterpieces in performance this weekend. On Sunday they're giving us the two surviving Passions by J. S. Bach. First, at 3:00 p.m., we get a live broadcast of a performance of the St. Matthew Passion by the Handel and Haydn Society. I have a ticket, so I expect to be hearing it in the hall while you can listen on radio or the web. Here's how WCRB describes it:
WCRB takes you live to Symphony Hall for one of the signature events of the bicentennial season of the Handel and Haydn Society. Artistic Director Harry Christophers leads this pinnacle of Bach's musical achievement, a piece performed for the first time in the U.S. by the Handel and Haydn Society in 1879. Tenor Joshua Ellicott sings the role of the Evangelist, with baritone Roderick Williams in the role of Jesus. Additional soloists include
  • soprano Joélle Harvey,
  • mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany,
  • tenor Matthew Long, and
  • baritone Sumner Thompson, with
  • the VAP Young Women's and Young Men's Choruses.

Then at 7:00 p. m. they broadcast and stream the recording they made of a recent performance of the St. John Passion by Emmanuel Music, reviewed here in the Boston Musical Intelligencer. Here's WCRB's description:
Ryan Turner leads the chorus and orchestra of Emmanuel Music in Bach's St. John Passion, with tenor Matthew Anderson in the role of the Evangelist and baritone Dana Whiteside in the role of Jesus. Additional soloists include
  • sopranos Roberta Anderson and Brenna Wells,
  • altos Deborah Rentz-Moore and Krista River,
  • tenors Jonas Budris and Frank Kelley, and
  • bass soloists Bradford Gleim, Mark McSweeney, and Paul Max Tipton.

If you're familiar with both, you know how you'd prioritize. If not, there are a couple of perspectives I'd offer. The St. Matthew is generally regarded as one of the summits of Western music. It is monumental and profound. In my personal opinion, it can also be overwhelming and seem ponderous. The St. John is maybe not quite so highly esteemed by the professionals, but I find it livelier and a bit more accessible.

To help you decide if you'd like to listen to either or both of these pieces which are so appropriate for Holy Week, there are links to interviews with the directors of each performance on the page WCRB dedicates to them.

If you plan to listen to either, I strongly recommend having a copy of the text in German and English so you can follow along. I'm sure you can readily find both online.

BSO — 2015/03/26-31

This week the Boston Symphony is giving another world premiere. It's a wonderful work for organ and orchestra titled Ascending Light, by Michael Gandolfi. The BSO commissioned it to honor their long-time organist Berj Zamkochian and to commemorate the Armenian Genocide, which began in 1915. Music Director Andris Nelsons will conduct and Olivier Latry will be the organ soloist. After intermission, we'll hear Mahler's Symphony No. 6. In addition to the usual links to program notes, audio previews, and performer bios, the orchestra's performance detail page gives the following background information on the concert:
Andris Nelsons returns for the final three of his ten enormously wide-ranging 2014-15 programs. Here he conducts the BSO's second world premiere of the season, a concerto written by Boston-based composer Michael Gandolfi for Symphony Hall's remarkable, recently restored Aeolian-Skinner organ. Gandolfi's dynamic, pattern-infused, colorful works include the earlier BSO commissions The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (premiered by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra) and Night Train to Perugia (premiered by the BSO in 2012). Gandolfi's new work shares a program with Gustav Mahler's powerful Symphony No. 6, arguably Mahler's most heartfelt symphonic statement-his wife Alma called it "the most completely personal of his works."

The Boston Musical Intelligencer published an interview with the composer which is a good preview, like the official program notes. As for the reviews, the Globe was unimpressed, while the Boston Musical Intelligencer finds it "a distinguished addition to that rara avis, the organ concerto." As for the Mahler, BMInt noted many details of the performance and had no complaints, while the Globe gave a mixed review.

My own feeling is that the new piece by Gandolfi is a masterpiece, almost overwhelming. It is true music throughout (not like way too much recent "music" which lacks coherence, recognizable melody, or harmony — this has all three in abundance), with plenty of the life force which gives the first movement its title, and lyricism when it comes to the ascending light section. The audience gave a prolonged standing ovation for conductor, organist, and composer, and I think it was fully deserved. I'm far from alone in my opinion: there are favorable comments on the BMInt's interview with Michael Gandolfi, and the following comment on their review:
Great review. Thursday evening’s concert was superb. The Gandolfi work was powerful, expressive, and moving. I’ve never seen a BSO audience roar with such a sustained standing ovation to any new work being performed. Yes, it was tonal and accessible, but more than that, it was *really good.* It’s a work I want to hear again. When was the last time any of us said that at the premiere of any new work here in Boston? 
BSO management, please take note. I think if there is a distaste for new music in Boston, it’s more a distaste for atonal, inaccessible music that virtually no one except for 3-4 academicians can remotely enjoy or take any pleasure in. Thankfully we are done hearing the Elliott Carters and Milton Babbitts of the world here in Boston now that what’s-his-name is gone. There have to be other compositional voices out there besides Michael Gandolfi who write new music that is meaningful, expressive, and engaging. 
Kudos to Michael Gandolfi for writing a tremendous, powerful, and deeply affecting new piece of music. I have to believe this is a work that will be played for many years to come.

So I'm urging you to listen to the broadcast/webstream over WCRB on Saturday evening and again on Monday, April 6, both at 8:00 Boston (Daylight Saving/Summer) Time. If you don't like Mahler, you can "leave" at intermission.  The station's BSO page also offers a link to an interview with the composer and the organist. It's not about the music itself so much as about how it got composed and about organs and organ playing in general.

Edited to add: Here's a link to a video of brief excerpts from the BSO. It gives some idea, but of course it can't match the impact of hearing the whole thing.

Friday, March 20, 2015

BSO — 2015/03/19-21

An all-Mozart concert is in store this week. Christoph von Dohnányi, who led last week's Mozart and Strauss program, returns to conduct the Boston Symphony in Mozart's last three symphonies, Nos. 39, 40, and 40, the last of which has acquired the nickname "Jupiter." The orchestra's performance detail page has links to program notes and an extensive set of audio previews, including a chat with Maestro von Dohnányi, as well as a bio of the maestro available by clicking on the thumbnail picture. The description there is a bit more extensive and informative than usual:
Any opportunity to hear the final three symphonies of Mozart played by the BSO in a single program-in this instance under the distinguished baton of Christoph von Dohnányi-is a special event. Virtually defining their genre at the peak of the Classical era, the composer's last three symphonies were written within the span of a few weeks in the summer of 1787. Scholars have never pinpointed what may have triggered their composition-perhaps a projected concert series that never took place-but Mozart covered an enormous amount of expressive and technical ground, elevating the symphony (along with Haydn) far beyond the glorified, serenade-like status it had previously held. For Viennese audiences who came of age immediately after Mozart's early death in 1791-i.e., Beethoven's generation-these three works and just a handful of others kept Mozart's name and spirit alive, inspiring composers like Beethoven and Schubert to greater heights. They remain Mozart's most frequently performed symphonies, by far.

I exchanged my ticket for this concert for the "King Roger" a couple of weeks ago, so I can't tell you anything specific, but of course the symphonies are great pieces, and so it should be a very fine concert. Jeremy Eichler, reviewing for the Globe, was very pleased with what he heard. The Boston Musical Intelligencer gives an essay on Mozart and the symphonies, concluding with strong praise for the performance. So I think this is a concert not to be missed. As always, it can be heard live at 8:00 Boston (Daylight Saving) Time on March 21, and repeated on March 30, over radio and internet from WCRB. There is an extensive interview with Maestro von Dohnányi on the station's BSO page, where you can also see the remaining broadcast/webstream schedule for this season and other links.

Don't miss it.