Saturday, October 22, 2016

BSO — 2016/10/22

It's British composers week at symphony this week. We start with an unfamiliar work (at least I can't recall ever hearing of it, much less actually hearing it, until now) and move on to a couple of better known pieces. Here's the scoop from the orchestra's own performance detail page, which also carries links to performer bios, program notes, audio previews, and podcasts about the program:
For this first of two weeks celebrating Charles Dutoit's 80th birthday, the eminent Swiss conductor-who is also continuing a close, multi-season collaboration with the BSO-is joined by Yo-Yo Ma for Edward Elgar's substantial and popular Cello Concerto. The program of works by three 20th-century English composers opens with William Walton's Portsmouth Point Overture, a vibrant and jazzy early work inspired by a print of colorful activity at a seaport. Written between 1914 and 1916, Gustav Holst's astrologically inspired The Planets is by far his most enduringly popular work, a series of orchestrally rich character pieces, from fleet Mercury to mysterious Neptune.
(Some emphasis added.)

I was there on Thursday, and I think it's worth hearing, which you can do this evening (Saturday) over the facilities of WCRB — radio or webstream — at 8:00 Boston Time. They also provide a page with the schedule of broadcasts and rebroadcasts for the remainder of the BSO season.

The curtain raiser by Walton was new to me, and the BSO hadn't played it since 1941. Based on a painting from the late 18th century of the English seaport, it's lively and engaging. The Elgar cello concerto I found dull and plodding. Maybe it was from having expectations that were too high, maybe the music just isn't that good, or maybe it was the way Ma and Dutoit chose to perform it, but it didn't hold my interest. Of course most people think the concerto is good, Dutoit is excellent, and Ma is the greatest cellist of his generation, so my opinion is probably that of a very small minority. Interestingly, there was no encore, despite the prolonged standing ovation. Mr. Ma left his cello backstage each time he returned (once alone and twice with Maestro Dutoit) to acknowledge the applause. Was he dissatisfied with his work? "The Planets" is good stuff, and I liked the performance. The female chorus faded out so well at the end that people didn't start applauding until Maestro Dutoit gave a gesture of ending at least five seconds after the chorus had stopped.

Published reviews are more favorable than mine. The Globe's found everything highly satisfactory. The reviewer was very pleased with Yo-Yo Ma's playing, noting some elements of his performance which I noticed, and dome which were beyond my grasp. The review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer was equally favorable, noting some of the same things about aspects of Yo-Yo Ma's playing as the Globe review said in other words. There was also some good detail about "The Planets," and the references to individual musicians in the orchestra give us something to listen for.

So I'll be listening afresh this evening to give Ma and Dutoit a second chance with the Elgar. Maybe it'll seem better this time.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

BSO — 2016/10/15

This week the Boston Symphony concert which WCRB will broadcast and stream at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 15, and replay on Monday, October 24, consists of four works by eastern European composers. The orchestra's performance detail page provides some specifics, along woth the usual links to background information.
The Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, making his BSO debut, is joined by acclaimed German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann for Béla Bartók's scintillating Violin Concerto No. 2, a 1938 work strongly influenced by Central European folk music. The other three works on the program are based on Slavic myth and legend. Smetana's Šárka, a tone poem from his large cycle Má Vlast ("My Country"), is named for a legendary Czech maiden warrior and illustrates an episode from her life. Mussorgsky's famously scary Night on Bald Mountain (depicted in Disney's Fantasia) seems to have originated in plans for an unrealized opera on the subject of a witches' sabbath, in part inspired by the great Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Based on a Gogol novella, Janáček's 1918 orchestral rhapsody Taras Bulba is one of his most familiar works-but has never been performed by the BSO.
(Some emphasis added. As is often the case, this note mixes up the order of the pieces. Šarka is first, followed by the concerto. After intermission, it's Mussorgsky and Janáček, as stated.)

This concert wasn't part of my subscription, so I can't give you my impressions, but the reviews were favorable. The Globe's reviewer was very happy with how Maestro Hrůša conducted the pieces but not entirely satisfied with Mr. Zimermann's playing in the outer movements of the Bartók. The Boston Musical Intelligencer thought Mr. Zimmermann was fine (but found minor fault with the woodwinds in the concerto). The reviewer was also pleased with the playing and the conducting in the remaining pieces. He did, however, wish that the conductor had chosen Mussorgsky's own, "raw" version of his piece over Rimsky-Korsakov's tamer orchestration. He was also displeased with the nationalism of the Janáček — not a musical complaint, but still one which a listener to a narrative piece of music is entitled to have.

I'm looking forward to hearing this concert this evening, and catching up on what I miss during my brother's phone call when it's rebroadcast and streamed on the 24th. It should make for an exciting evening of music. Listen over WCRB, and consult their specialized pages for the remaining broadcast/webstream schedule as well as links to other background material, such as their own weekly podcast.

Friday, October 7, 2016

BSO — 2016/10/08

Something old following something new: responses to death make up the program from the BSO on Saturday evening. Jörg Widmann had planned to write a four movement piano concerto for Yefim Bronfman and the Berlin Philharmonic, but the slow introduction to the first movement took over. He set aside any thought of the remainder and developed that intended intro into "Trauermarsch" — Funeral March. After intermission, we get the "German Requiem" of Brahms. Here's what the orchestra's performance detail page (which also has links to performer bios, program notes, audio previews, and podcasts) gives as a summary:
Eminent Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman joins Andris Nelsons and the BSO in Trauermarsch ("Funeral March") by the German Jörg Widmann, a composer new to the BSO. Writing this concerto-like piece for Bronfman and the Berlin Philharmonic, who premiered it in 2014, Widmann set out deliberately to evoke and engage with music of the Romantic era. A German Requiem, Brahms's largest work, originated with music he wrote following Robert Schumann's attempted suicide in 1854 and seems also to have been connected to the death of the composer's own mother. The result is an utterly personal, scarcely ceremonial Requiem for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra, episodically setting texts chosen by Brahms from the Bible. Its "German"-ness derives partly from the fact that, unlike the traditional Latin Requiem text, Brahms used Martin Luther's German translations of scripture. A German Requiem was the composer's first nearly universal success among his large-scale works, unequivocally fulfilling Schumann's early predictions of Brahms's greatness.
(Some emphasis added.)

I was at Symphony Hall for the Widmann on Thursday, but I didn't stay for the Brahms, partly as a protest against too frequent performances and partly because I had had a procedure performed on my eye just before I left for Boston, and discomfort was growing as the novocaine wore off. I didn't especially enjoy the Widmann piece. Much of it was noisy and without apparent rhyme or reason. Perhaps it will sound better over the radio. Perhaps listening to it a second time will disclose value not apparent at the first hearing. But at this point I don't want to hear it again after this concert. It's good to have a chance to hear new compositions, and I try to attend all world, American, or BSO premieres given by the orchestra, but there are some I hope they'll play again and some I don't.

On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with the Brahms German Requiem. Complaining about it's being performed too often is just my personal quirk. I'm sure almost everybody will be pleased to hear it.

Reviews of the concert were noncommittal about the Widmann. The Boston Musical Intelligencer was very pleased with the Brahms, while the Globe found fault here and there.

Listen at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, on October 8, over WCRB. If you'd rather skip the Widmann, be listening by 8:50 to make sure you catch all the Brahms. Check out their BSO page for the schedule of future broadcasts, and note that most concerts, including this one, are repeated nine days later and become available for on demand listening for a year. There's also a podcast about the concert linked on this page.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

BSO — 2016/10/01

N.B.: This week's Saturday Concert begins an hour earlier than usual, at 7:00, Boston Time (and ends an hour later than usual, at 11:15 or so).

This week the BSO gives us a single work, but what a work! It's the opera "Der Rosenkavalier," by Richard Strauss. Music Director Andris Nelsons will be on the podium, and Assistant Conductor Ken-David Masur will conduct the off stage band in the third act. Here's the synopsis from the BSO's performance detail page:
Continuing their series of Richard Strauss operas in concert, which has so far brought star-studded performances of Salome in March 2014 and Elektra in October 2015, Andris Nelsons and the BSO open their 2016-17 subscription season with the composer's far more genteel, elegant, and touching Der Rosenkavalier, the second (following Elektra) in Strauss's own series of remarkable collaborations with playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal. A dream cast headlined by Renée Fleming's Marschallin, Susan Graham's Octavian, Erin Morley's Sophie, and Franz Hawlata's Baron Ochs anchors the BSO's performances of this subtle, often funny, and beautiful opera, one of the composer's finest.
Complete concert version with two intermissions, sung in German with English supertitles 
(Some emphasis added.)

See the performance detail page for links to a podcast, program notes, audio preview, and performer bios.

I was there on Thursday, and was very pleased with the semi-staged performance. Strauss is far from my favorite composer, but this is one of his good compositions, IMO. The interactions of the singers, the changes of clothing for Octavian/Mariandel, the few chairs and props, and the surtitles made for a clear understanding of what was going on, in both the comic and the poignant moments. I found it both entertaining and thought provoking — the latter having to do with the contrast between the affair of the Marschallin and her religiosity and sense of honor.

I'm not sure how well it will work without all the visual items I mentioned as part of the performance. The music was fine, not only the lead singers, but several in minor roles; but I don't think the full experience can be there for someone who isn't already very familiar with the libretto and the action, perhaps having seen a staged performance. But certainly the music is worth listening to in its own right. The review in the Globe was very favorable. The one in the Boston Musical Intelligencer qualifies as a rave. I'm having trouble getting the favorable one in the Boston Globe to link. If I can get it later, I'll link it here.

As always, WCRB will make it available via radio and internet (click on "Listen Live" near the top of the homepage for the webstream). There is a page about the performance with some detail and a link to a podcast. the Upcoming BSO Broadcasts page lists future broadcasts/webstreams, but doe not include the usual Monday repeat of this show, so apparently this evening is the only chance to hear it.

Don't forget, the show starts at 7:00 — an hour earlier than usual. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Opera and Chamber Music Concerts

Regular readers of my other blog know that my year can be roughly divided into two parts: 1.) running sailboat races, June-September; and 2: going to concerts, October-May. Of course that's not all I do, but those are activities which I don't engage in all year. The separation isn't absolute, especially in September. This year, for example, my last scheduled race committee duty* is Saturday, October 1, and as of this writing, I have already attended four concerts. Here I'll t6ell of the first three, and I'll blog about the BSO subscription opener in my preview of the Saturday broadcast.

Dimitrij.  On Friday, September 16, I went to Boston for Odyssey Opera's concert performance of "Dimitrij," by Antonin Dvořák It's about a man who claims to be the lost son of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. He has a polish fiancée, Marina, and Polish forces are supporting him in an attempt to gain control of Russia. The Russian people accept him, but once he is crowned as tsar, things unravel. The Russians resent the Poles. Dimitrij resists his (now) wife's plans to catholicize Russia and falls in love with Xenie, the daughter of  Boris Godunov, his predecessor as tsar. His wife, Marina, has Xenie killed and reveals that he isn't really Dimitrij. Dimitrij was murdered as a child, and the new tsar is actually Grigoriy Otrepyev. He is killed and so is she.

The opera is in Czech, and Czech opera stars were brought in to sing the leading roles. They were excellent. I found the opera very good, both musically and as a drama. The Boston Musical Intelligencer gave an extensive, and very favorable review. They had previously published a very informative preview. The Boston Globe also gave an informative and favorable review.

Boston Artists Ensemble.  The following Friday, September 23, I attended the season opener of the BAE, in Hamilton Hall, Salem. The program was a couple of trios for piano, violin, and cello, with the world premiere of a work for cello and piano between the two. The Beethoven, which began the program, and the Schumann, which followed intermission, are more to my musical taste than the Weir piece. Still, the Weir was unmemorable, rather than really unpleasant. After the concert, I asked the composer if she had specifically decided to ignore the traditional tunes for the words of the first two "chorales." She had done that, so as not simply to give variations on those tunes. I think it was a good decision. With her own music, she was able to evoke the mood she wanted form the text. In the third chorale, since Hildegard's tune is not familiar to us, she could use it for her evocation of the text.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer gave a review of the Sunday performance in Brookline. (There is a minor error. The reviewer says, "The second" when she refers to the third movement, the one based on music of Hildegard von Bingen.)

Handel and Haydn. Less than 48 hours later,o n Sunday afternoon I traipsed into Boston for a concert of music by Bach, with one item by Schütz thrown in. The full program was

  • Komm, Jesu, komm BWV 229
  • Concerto for Three Violins in D (reconstructed) BWV 1064
  • Cantata 149, Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg
  • Intermission
  • Cantata 50, Nun is das Heil und die Kraft
  • Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener SWV 432 (Schütz)
  • Magnificai in D BWV 243

It was all good, with the Cantata 50 and Magnificat being especially stirring. I like Schütz's music, but I was hoping for something a bit livelier to represent his oeuvre. The piece is calmer, to fit the mood of the text, and may have been chosen to contrast with the vigorous pieces on either side. It also had the effect of giving us two of the three canticles from the Gospel of St. Luke to end the program.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer provides an entertaining but critical review. The Boston Globe also provides a very favorable review, but I haven't been able to link the page.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

BSO — 2016/09/24

It's opening night at Symphony, and they are giving an all-Russian program — a fairly short one, maybe because there are post-concert celebrations for the musicians and audience to get to (just my guess). The orchestra's program detail page furnishes this description:
For this all-Russian program, superstar Chinese pianist Lang Lang joins Andris Nelsons and the BSO as soloist in Sergei Prokofiev's brilliant, witty Piano Concerto No. 3. The composer himself was soloist in the premiere in front of an unenthusiastic Chicago audience in 1921, but in short order this sparkling, virtuosic piece became one of the most popular of 20th-century concertos. Opening the concert is the celebratory Festive Overture of Dmitri Shostakovich, who wrote this short, exciting piece for the Bolshoi Theatre to mark the 37th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution. The great orchestral showpiece Pictures at an Exhibition-Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's solo-piano impressions of a series of paintings and illustrations-closes the program. Ravel made this famous orchestration for legendary BSO conductor Serge Koussevitzky.
Join us at 5pm for a celebratory pre-concert reception and a complimentary glass of wine or champagne.
(Some emphasis added.)

The program detail page also has links to a podcast featuring Maestro Nelsons, program notes, brief audio previews of the music, and performer bios (click on the thumbnail photo).

Since this is opening night, there are no reviews to link. I don't think I've ever heard the Shostaovich overture; I'm interested to hear it. I've probably heard the Prokofiev, but I couldn't quote any of the tunes, and I'm also looking forward to hearing it as an opportunity to get to know it (better). As for the "Pictures at an Exhibition," it must be good because so many people like it and it's so often performed. IMO, apart from "The Great Gate of Kiev," it's all quite forgettable, although it may well be very good as musical representation of the pictures in question. By the time they start playing, my brother's weekly phone call from Japan will be in progress, so I won't have to listen. Of course, it's always possible that this will be a performance for the ages, and all who hear it will count themselves among the blessed of the world. So, don't miss it.

If you can't get there, you can hear it over the radio or the internet via WCRB. Within radio range, tune in 99.5 or one of the other stations listed under the Ways to Listen tab. Outside the listening area, click the Listen Live button on the home page. The show begins at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time.

For the schedule of broadcasts/webstreams for the rest of the season, see the Upcoming BSO Broadcasts page(s).

Enjoy opening night and the rest of the season.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

BSO/Classical New England — 2016/09/17

This evening's BSO rebroadcast on WCRB is the concert of February 6, 2016, the second in their Shakespeare Festival. I p/reviewed it at the time, and don't have anything particular to add. You can hear it at 8:00 p.m. this evening, Boston Time. I'll be listening until we get my brother's weekly phone call at 9:00.