Saturday, February 6, 2016

BSO — 2016/02/04-06

The Shakespeare festival continues with "Hamlet" before intermission and "Romeo and Juliet" after. The BSO performance detail page offers the following description:
Continuing the BSO's survey of Shostakovich's Stalin-era symphonic works, as well as a three-week focus on works influenced by Shakespeare, Andris Nelsons leads the composer's rarely heard, emotionally charged and evocative incidental music for Shakespeare's Hamlet. His countryman Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet score was one of that composer's most popular works. In between comes a recent work by the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen, whose wide-ranging, imaginative, and beautifully poignant let me tell you (2014) is based on Paul Griffith's atmospheric novel told from the perspective of Hamlet's Ophelia. Here making her BSO debut, soprano Barbara Hannigan premiered the piece under Andris Nelsons' direction with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2013.
(Some emphasis added.)

See the page also for the usual links to podcast, performer bios, audio previews and program notes.

I was there on Thursday evening. It was surprising to read in the program notes that the "Hamlet" for which Shostakovich composed the music being played took the play as a satire on contemporary people and events. The music makes sense when you realize the play was performed for laughs, and it's pretty enjoyable. My reaction to "let me tell you" as it was being performed was largely negative: vocal line without melody or clear relation to the text, other than at a point in Part 2 where the music appropriately evoked an operatic "mad scene." After it was finished, I realized that it had been brilliantly sung and played (especially impressive quiet playing from the brass). One nice touch was the sliding of a piece of paper over the surface of the bass drum in the third part, suggesting the sound of shuffling through snow. On further reflection, I can concede that the musical style may be what is possible at this point: baroque or romantic melody may not be possible. I'm not sure that's true, but this is music of its time. Unlike the first two pieces, the Prokofiev is fairly familiar, and it was enjoyable to hear, if nothing about it was spectacular. There was a nice bit of solo playing from the first chair strings.

The Globe review was definitely favorable. The Boston Musical Intelligencer gives much detail about the music, especially the Abrahamsen, not so much about how it was performed. Both are worth reading for their insights into the music.

WCRB will broadcast and stream the concert live on Saturday, February 6, at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, with a repeat on Monday the 15th, also at 8:00. On their BSO page there is a link to their podcast, "The Answered Question," with a lengthy interview with the soprano, Barbara Hannigan, and another with Andris Nelsons, preceded by a look back at last week's concert and followed by an interview about an opera that will be broadcast on Sunday. I think the Hannigan interview, especially, might be interesting. Surprisingly, she has exclusive rights to perform "let me tell you" for five years.

Despite my initial misgivings about "let me tell you," I think it could be interesting to hear if you can tolerate any contemporary classical music. But be sure to have the text from the program notes. I think it works best, perhaps only, when the words are associated with the music — unlike much 19th Century opera where the music is gorgeous even if you don't know what they're saying.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

BSO — 2016/01/28-02/02

The Shakespeare Festival begins this week. We have three Midsummer-Night's-Dream-y pieces on the program. First up is Weber's "Oberon" Overture. Strictly speaking, this is only tangentially Shakespearian, since — although he is a character in the play — the opera has him involved in different action. But the music is worth bringing into the festival. Next comes Symphony № 8 by Hans Werner Henze, a BSO commission first performed in 1993. After the intermission we get Mendelssohn's Incidental Music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with actors and singers dramatizing bits of the music and performing bits of the play.

In addition to the usual links to performer bios, program notes, audio previews, and podcast, the orchestra's performance detail page offers the following take on the program:
Three weeks of BSO concerts-January 28 through February 13-led by Andris Nelsons focus on music inspired by the work of William Shakespeare, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death. This program's focus is the great comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although Weber's German magical-romantic opera Oberon wasn't based specifically on Shakespeare, it shares its subject matter and sense of mystery. More explicit is Henze's Symphony No. 8, a BSO centennial commission premiered here in 1993. The symphony aims to illustrate certain moments of the play. Mendelssohn's Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream includes his youthful Overture-the play in a nutshell-as well as the familiar Wedding March, the most famous music Mendelssohn ever wrote.
(Some emphasis added.)

The show played to mixed reviews. The Globe was enthusiastic with minor unspecified reservation. The Boston Musical Intelligencer was dissatisfied with how the Weber was played, brought some astonishing associations to the music of the Henze symphony — completely disregarding the associations provided by the composer and presented in the program notes — and found the presentation of the Mendelssohn well done by some participants but flawed in concept.

I tend to agree with BMInt on the Mendelssohn. It makes sense to put music intended to accompany a play into context, but as constructed the whole seemed less than the sum of its parts. I wonder how it will all come across over radio or webstream without the action being visible. On Thursday, I was very satisfied with the Weber. James Sommerville nailed the horn solos. But I think I know what the BMInt reviewer meant. The Henze seemed to "sorta" fit the elements of the play that it was supposed to illustrate. For a modern piece, it wasn't too tough to take, but it isn't something I'd consider "must hear" music. It's unmelodic.

Listen and decide for yourself over WCRB — broadcast or webstream — at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time this evening and/or 8:00 p.m. on Monday, February 8. Also, visit their BSO page for their podcast about the current program as well as brief information about future BSO broadcasts/webstreams.

Friday, January 22, 2016

BSO — 2016/01/21-23

This week it's an all-Czech program under the baton of Ludovic Morlot, who has stepped in to replace Czech conductor Jiři Bělohlávek, who had been scheduled to conduct these concerts. First on the program is Vltava (The Moldau), by Smetana. That is followed by Martinů's Fantaisies symphoniques (Symphony № 6). After intermission, Johannes Moser is soloist in Dvořák's Cello Concerto. The orchestra's performance detail page has all the usual links to background information, which is well worth reading and listening to. It also has the following note about two of the pieces on the program (no idea why they don't mention the Dvořák):
Seattle Symphony Orchestra Music Director and former BSO Assistant Conductor Ludovic Morlot  leads an all-Czech program featuring three different generations of composers. Smetana was the first and most important Czech nationalist composer, and the tone poem The Moldau, from his large orchestral suite My Country, is by far his most familiar piece. Bohuslav Martinů studied in Paris and adopted a more cosmopolitan style, but a Czech flavor infuses much of his work. The rich and colorful, thirty-minute Fantaisies symphoniques was commissioned for the orchestra's 75th anniversary and was premiered in 1955.
I'm not familiar with the Martinů symphony, but the others are staples of the repertory and pleasant enough to listen to. The Globe's reviewer was pleased with the performances and even more pleased that the orchestra was playing the symphony they had commissioned over 60 years ago. The Boston Musical Intelligencer gives a very favorable review, including a very imaginative description if the Martinů. I had to miss the concert in order to attend a meeting I needed to be at, so I  can't add anything to the published reviews. Based on them, I'm looking forward to the broadcast on WCRB at 8:00 p.m. Saturday (to be rebroadcast on Monday, February 1, also at 8:00). It is also streamed over the web at those times.

WCRB also has their own Boston Symphony page with the broadcast/streaming schedule for the remainder of the season as well as links to their podcast, "The Answered Question," and on-demand access to a year's worth of previous BSO concerts. This week's podcast includes interviews with both the conductor and the soloist in the concert.

So I think this'll be worth hearing, although the Martinů may be a bit "advanced." Enjoy!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

BSO — 2016/01/14&16

In a desperate — but not really necessary, IMO — attempt to attract new audiences, the BSO will be giving a different program on Friday from that on Thursday and Saturday — an amalgam of last week and this week's regular programs. They'll be giving last week's Mozart and this week's Stravinsky at 8:00 p.m. They call it a "Casual Friday," which is laughable, because every concert is casual as far as acceptable dress is concerned, shirts and shoes are required for "gentlemen" but t shirts will do, and hats are permitted indoors. What is different from normal breaches of etiquette is that the use of electronic devices will be permitted, nay, encouraged, during the show. As they put it on their program description page for Friday:
This evening's concert is the first of three in our "Casual Fridays" Series. There are two more concerts this season- one in February and one in March. Tickets range between $25 to $45, include a complimentary pre-concert reception and patrons are invited to wear their favorite casual attire. This series also includes the use of tablets in a designated area in the rear of the orchestra floor where you can view customized content, designed to enhance the concert experience, to include an in-depth look at the conductors and soloists, and informative notes on the program. Then, immediately after the performance, head to Higginson Hall in Symphony Hall's adjacent Cohen Wing, where, besides enjoying live music, snacks, and a cash bar, you are invited to mingle and share what you've just experienced at the BSO concert.
For the more stodgy among the audience, the program on Thursday and Saturday, includes music by Debussy, songs by Dutilleux and Canteloube sung by Renée Fleming, and Petrushka by Stravinsky in the 1911 version — all with François-Xavier Roth on the podium. The program detail page for this concert provides the usual links to the podcast, performer bios, audio previews, and program notes, as well as the following (out of order) description of what they'll perform:
François-Xavier Roth returns for a second week of concerts at Symphony Hall with a French-leaning program. These BSO performances of Henri Dutilleux's song cycle Le Temps l'Horloge ("Time and the Clock") mark the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth. An important figure in BSO history, Dutilleux wrote these songs for Renée Fleming as a BSO co-commission for the orchestra's 125th anniversary. Fleming gave their American premiere with the BSO in 2007. She also sings selections from Canteloube's ravishing, folk-song-based Songs of the Auvergne. Opening and closing the program are ballet scores composed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes-Debussy's luminously orchestrated Jeux ("Games"), an abstract ballet about a game of tennis, and Stravinsky's Petrushka, which follows the travails of a hapless living puppet at a Shrovetide Fair in Russia.
(Emphasis added.)

The reviewer in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, being a musicologist, observed a lot in all four pieces that escaped my notice, and found it all quite satisfying. The Globe review was less detailed on musical fine points, but generally laudatory.

I was there on Thursday. I thought Ms. Fleming sang beautifully, but the songs themselves were nothing to write home about. The Canteloube, after the intermission, at least had the benefit of music that fit the text, so if you listen, it would be a good idea to read the program notes and the texts. I didn't notice any real connection between the words of the Dutilleux songs and the successions of notes to which they were sing. Petrushka is not so brutal a Rite of Spring, and it has a couple of nice tunes that keep coming back, so it's listenable. As for the Debussy ballet which opens the program, although I didn't catch all the stuff the BMInt reviewer did, it wasn't too bad, especially for Debussy.

As always, you can hear it live on January 16 (this evening) at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time (EST) over WCRB's broadcast and streaming facilities. As always there will be a "rerun" 9 days later, January 25, also at 8:00 p.m. Their BSO page includes the usual link to their Podcast, "The Answered Question." This time it's 44 minutes long and includes an interview with the conductor in which he talks about his enthusiasm for the works he's leading. I haven't heard it yet, but I think it will be well worth hearing as an introduction to the concert, as will the program notes over at the BSO site.

In summary, I found the program listenable enough. As I said to someone who hadn't been there, "I'm glad I heard the pieces, but I don't need to hear any of them again." You might like some or all of it better. So, while I wouldn't call it a "must hear," I think it's worth a listen. I'll be out this evening, but — despite what I said about not needing to hear it again — I expect to listen to the repeat, especially to see if I can get more out of the first half than I did in the hall on Thursday.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

BSO — 2016/01/07-12

It should be a very enjoyable concert when the Boston Symphony Orchestra resumes its subscription series on January 7-12. Guest conductor François-Xavier Roth opens the concert with the Symphonie à 17 parties in F by François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829), whose music has never before been played by the BSO. Then Elizabeth Rowe, flute, and Jessica Zhou, harp, are soloists in Mozart's Concerto in C for Flute and Harp. After intermission we will hear Beethoven's Symphony № 3, "Eroica." See the BSO program detail page for the usual links to performer bios, audio previews, program notes, and a podcast. Here's what they say about the program:
BSO principal flute Elizabeth Rowe and principal harp Jessica Zhou join French conductor François-Xavier Roth for Mozart's masterful Concerto in C for Flute and Harp. The Belgian-born François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829), whose music the BSO has never played, was a Haydn contemporary who outlived both Beethoven and Schubert. Active in Paris during the Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, he composed virtually nothing in the final thirty years of his life. One of two noted exceptions is the ebullient 1809 Symphony for Seventeen Parts. By contrast, Beethoven's towering Eroica Symphony, composed five years earlier, ushers in seismic changes in the form, scale, and impact of the symphonic genre.

Reviews are tepid. In the Globe, the reviewer found the Mozart well played by the soloists, the Gossec given a perfunctory performance by the players, and the Beethoven lacking overall cohesion. The BMInt reviewer was much happier with the Beethoven and liked the Gossec. He was satisfied with the playing of the Mozart, but considers the music inferior Mozart.

I found the Gossec pleasant but not extremely inspired. Maybe hearing it again on Saturday will open it up more for me. Anyway, it should be enjoyable to listen to. The other two pieces are familiar, especially the Beethoven, and I found the performances satisfying. Personally, I was happy to see a couple of the new members of the orchestra take leading roles. Clint Foreman had the first chair in the flute section for the Gossec and the Beethoven, since Elizabeth Rowe had soloist duties in the Mozart, and he carried off his solos quite well, as far as I could tell, despite apparently being bothered by a cold. Wesley Collins was given first chair in the violas for the Gossec. At a couple of points, he seemed to smile approvingly at the second chair player after they played a passage, as if to say, "Yes! you/we nailed it!"

WCRB will broadcast and stream the Saturday performance live at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time and retransmit it at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, January 18. On their Boston Symphony page, there is a link to their podcast, "The Answered Question," with a preview and discussion of the program. That page also has a synopsis of the broadcast schedule for the remainder of the season.

Despite all the reservations expressed by the reviewers, I think it is a concert that everybody can enjoy hearing. I'd even call it a "must hear," so I cordially recommend that you listen.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

BSO — December Hiatus — 2016/01/02

The "December Hiatus," as I called it, extends into the first weekend in January. The Boston Symphony returns to Symphony Hall on January 7 to resume their series of concerts. Meanwhile, WCRB gives us another "encore broadcast" and webstream of a concert from last summer's Tanglewood season. This week, the husband-wife duo of Music Director Andris Nelsons and Soprano Kristine Opolias collaborate in a concert given on August 15, 2015. Ms. Opolais sings operatic selections from Boito and Verdi, and the orchestra also plays music of Barber, Puccini, and Strauss.

Specifically, the program is Barber's Second Essay for Orchestra;  "L'altra notte in fondo al mare" from Mephistophele by Boito; the Intermezzo from Puccini's Manon Lescaut, Act III; the "Willow Song and Ave Maria" from Otello by Verdi; and Strauss's Ein Heldenleben. I forget where the intermission comes. The link to the performance detail page in my post at the time it was given is still active and gives you further links to the program notes.

This concert will be broadcast and streamed on January 2, and again on January 10, at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time.

You may also be interested in another "encore" from Tanglewood: the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra with chorus and soloists performing  Mahler's Symphony № 8 on August 8, 2015. WCRB's BSO page describes it as follows:
In an encore broadcast from the 2015 Tanglewood season, Andris Nelsons conducts the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra and TMC Alumni, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Chorus, and the American Boychoir in Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 8, the "Symphony of a Thousand," with a cast of soloists that includes soprano Erin Wall, tenor Klaus Forian Vogt, and baritone Matthias Goerne.
(Emphasis added.)

My post has a link to the BSO's performance detail page, with a more complete list of soloists. This broadcast/stream will be on Sunday, January 3, at 7:00 p.m.

On Monday, January 10, we have the usual repeat of the concert broadcast and streamed a week ago, Mozart's final three symphonies, conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi.

Note that the WCRB BSO page has links to their podcast, "The Answered Question" for background interviews about both the Mahler and Mozart concerts.

Happy listening!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

BSO — December Hiatus — 2015/12/26

This week we have another rebroadcast (and webstream) of a concert from last summer's Tanglewood season, courtesy of WCRB. It's Mozart's Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, and 41, conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi in the concert performed on July 26. Their BSO page has a link to their feature "The Answered Question" in which Maestro von Dohnányi and Principal Bassist Edwin Barker preview the program. I posted briefly on it at the time, and the BSO program detail page for the concert is still active as of this writing. This should be very enjoyable listening.

As always, the show begins on Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, with a repeat on Monday January 3. (The Monday time slot on December 28 will be devoted to the Mussorgsky, Glazunov, Berlioz concert which had been reprised already on December 12 — see my post for that date.)