Saturday, February 25, 2017

BSO — 2017/02/25

This week's concert includes the broadcast premiere of a work the BSO gave its world premiere on Thursday. After intermission comes a massive symphony from Shostakovich. The BSO performance detail page has this to say:
The Russian-born Sofia Gubaidulina, acclaimed as one of the most significant composers in the world today, was encouraged in her career early on by Dmitri Shostakovich. She wrote her Triple Concerto (a BSO co-commission receiving its world premiere at these concerts) for the unusual combination of violin, cello, and bayan, a type of accordion often employed by Gubaidulina and a mainstay of Russian folk music. Joining Latvian violinist Baiba Skride are Dutch cellist Harriet Krijgh and Swiss bayanist Elsbeth Moser, both making their BSO debuts. Shostakovich wrote his Seventh Symphony, Leningrad, as a tribute to the peoples' fortitude in the face of the German Army's long and destructive siege of that city during World War II. Serge Koussevitzky led the first U.S. concert performances of the piece with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in August 1942, following the NBC Symphony's radio broadcast premiere under Toscanini the previous month. The present performances continue Andris Nelsons' and the BSO's survey of the complete Shostakovich symphonies, which are being recorded for Deutsche Grammophon.
(Most emphasis added.)

Go to that page for links to musical previews, program notes, performer bios, and a podcast.

I was in the hall for the Thursday concert. I'm always inordinately happy to be present for a world premiere. Sometimes the work is terrible, sometimes tolerable, sometimes worthwhile and interesting, and occasionally very enjoyable. What I found very interesting in the Gubaidulina piece is how she shifted from on instrument or group of instruments. Rarely did the whole orchestra play together. One result was that the soloists didn't get drowned out by the full orchestra. And what they played sounded to me mostly like music, not noise. There wasn't a lot of development that I detected, more a series of musical bits which were ot obviously related to one another. It's not going to drive Beethoven's Triple Concerto from the repertoire, nor does it deserve to be as frequently performed, but I hope they'll perform it once in a while.

As for the Shostakovich, if I hadn't already known that it was supposedly in response to the Nazi siege of Leningrad, I don't think I'd have guessed that it was about war. Full disclosure: after the first movement I began to get drowsy, and I may have missed portions of the third and fourth (that's how riveting it was).

The reviewer for the Boston Musical Intelligencer and Mass Live were much more interested in the Shostakovich than the Gubaidulina world premiere, and they spent a lot of time describing the symphony, although the Boston Musical Intelligencer gives a fair amount about the performance also, as well as a description of the triple concerto. The Globe is more balanced. I didn't notice any complaints from the reviewers about anything, but they weren't exactly wildly enthusiastic, either.

Listen to WCRB radio or web this evening at 8:00, Boston time, and decide for yourself about the new piece and the "warhorse." If you miss it this evening or want to hear it again, they'll transmit it again at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, March 6. Note also the link to their podcast on the homepage and the other information on other pages of the site.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

BSO — 2017/02/18

You can't go wrong with Mozart and Beethoven, and the Gunther Schuller piece which precedes them in this week's Boston Symphony isn't as "advanced" as some of his stuff. Here's a synopsis from the BSO's own program description page:
Andris Nelsons and Emanuel Ax team up for one of the pianist's favorites, Mozart's gregarious, large-scale Piano Concerto in E-flat, K.482, composed in late 1785 when Mozart was also working on his comic opera The Marriage of Figaro. The American composer Gunther Schuller wrote his kaleidoscopic Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee in 1959. Each of its movements is based on a different Klee work, inspiring from the composer a wealth of styles ranging from the blues to mysterious modernism. Closing the program is Beethoven's revolutionary Symphony No. 3,Eroica, which radically expanded the boundaries of the symphonic genre.
(Some emphasis added.)

That page also has the usual links to background material.

I was there for the Thursday performance, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy to take the Schuller was; I really liked Emmanuel Ax's playing in the Mozart: and I found the Beethoven adequately performed. It will be interesting to hear it again this evening.

The reviews — Globe here, and Boston Musical Intelligencer here — are favorable, but each reviewer finds fault with some details — a good concert, maybe even very good, but not flawless, in their opinion. The BMInt reviewer makes the Schuller sound a bit less accessible than I found it, and my metaphorical eyes figuratively glazed over at his extended discussion of tempi in the Beethoven. The good acquaintance who gave me a ride to the subway garage thought Nelsons slowed things too much in the ritardandi in the Beethoven; and the man who sat across the aisle from me stormed out during the applause saying vehemently several times that he found it horrible. The rest of the audience seemed to love it.

Near me were maybe 20 B.U. students. Before the concert several of them exchanged cheerful waves with schoolmates in the opposite balcony. Some left during the intermission. I guess they were there mainly for the Schuller, but anyway it was nice to have a good sized contingent of young people in attendance.

As always you can hear it on radio or over the web through the facilities of WCRB at 8:00 p.m. this evening and rerun on Monday, February. Their website has links to other information about this and other programming, including their podcast, "The Answered Question." See what you think. It will probably help a lot if you've looked at the program note for the Schuller before the concert, and the podcasts from the orchestra and WCRB would also help explain what it's all about. At one time, the BSO had pre-concert lectures, which I found very useful, especially for new works. These podcasts are a pretty good replacement, and you don't have to be in Symphony Hall in order to hear them. The WCRB website also has a gallery of the seven paintings, which could be good to see while the associated music is being played.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

BSO — 2017/02/11

This week we get two more or less familiar works, well established in the repertoire but not overly played by the orchestra, sandwiched around a new one. The program opens with two short pieces; after intermission comes a full length symphony. Here's more information from the orchestra's program detail page, where you also can find the usual inks to program notes, audio previews, and performer bios:
Andris Nelsons is joined by countertenor Bejun Mehta and the Boston-based Lorelei Ensemble in the BSO's first performances of esteemed English composer George Benjamin's Dream of the Song, commissioned by the BSO for the 75th anniversary of the Tanglewood Music Center. Opening the program is Ravel's colorful orchestral version of his solo piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin, inspired in part by the French Baroque composer François Couperin. Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, his first masterpiece, is innovative in form, remarkably forward-thinking in its use of the orchestra, and quintessentially Romantic in its depiction of an artist's unrequited love.
(Some emphasis added.)

I had a ticket for Thursday's concert, but management, in an excess of caution, cancelled the performance because of the weather which they hardly ever do. In any case, I can't tell you anything about it. The Boston Globe has a favorable review with an interesting description of the Benjamin piece. The reviewer liked the Berlioz and notes some unusual placement of instruments. Unfortunately, the Ravel wasn't played on Friday, so even this review can't tell us how it was done. Presumably they won't ruin it tonight. So far, the Boston Musical Intelligencer hasn't published a review.

You can hear for yourself and form you own opinion. WCRB will broadcast it over 99.5 FM and stream it over the internet at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, and presumably give a rerun on February 20, also at 8:00 p.m, and then make it available for on demand listening. Their website contains other material, including a link to their podcast "The Answered Question," which has an interview about this evening's program.

Happy listening.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

BSO — 2017/02/04

This week's BSO concert is a single work, the B Minor Mass by Bach, with Andris Nelsons conducting, Unfortunately, my browser is working very slowly, and I'm afraid I won't have time to get everything lined up for a regular review. Suffice it to say, the work is a masterpiece, and the performance on Thursday satisfied me and the reviewers. Nowadays, modern symphony orchestras don't perform much baroque music: they generally leave it to the specialists. So this is something of a rarity. It's certainly a break for listeners from the usual music from Mozart to contemporary. So by all means, listen in, if you can.

When I have a chance to add links to reviews and the orchestra's page, I'll do so, but that may be after the concert is over. Meanwhile, enjoy!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

BSO — 2017/01/28

A brief new piece and by two familiar ones make up today's concert. The orchestra's program detail page gives further information.
Juanjo Mena leads the American premiere of the fine English composer Julian Anderson's Incantesimi, co-commissioned by the BSO, the Royal Philharmonic Society, and the Berlin Philharmonic, which gave the world premiere in June 2016. Incantesimi is a study in long lines, using "five musical ideas that orbit each other in ever-differing relationships." French pianist/composer Jean-Frédéric Neuburger-introduced to BSO audiences in the 2014-15 season via the world premiere of his composition Aube-makes his BSO debut as piano soloist in Robert Schumann's passionate, lyrical Piano Concerto, which began life as a single-movement work and was written for Schumann's wife Clara, one of the great pianists of the age. Franz Schubert wrote his towering orchestral masterpiece, the so-called Great C major symphony, toward the end of his short life. Its exact dates have never been established, but he composed this formally and harmonically innovative piece at around the same time Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony.

Christoph von Dohnányi, upon the advice of his physician, cannot travel at this time due to the flu and has regretfully cancelled his engagement to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra, January 26-28. Conductor Juanjo Mena will replace Mr. Dohnányi for these concerts, also featuring pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, as well as the American premiere of Julian Anderson's Incantesimi, a BSO co-commission. The program remains the same.
(Some emphasis added.)

The reviews are very favorable, both in the Globe and in the Boston Musical Intelligencer. I was there on Thursday and greatly enjoyed it. The Anderson piece is certainly modern, but with the help of the BSO podcast and the program notes, it made sense. I didn't catch all the elements that they talked about, so I'm definitely looking forward to the chance to hear it again. The Schumann was pleasant throughout. I had been afraid that the Schubert would be too much, but it never was. At some point in the fourth movement, I realized that the conductor had kept it light throughout. It kept moving, and remained interesting, never dragging. The reviewers say the same thing in their own words.

I definitely recommend listening over WCRB at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time. Check out their website for all sorts of information about their BSO programs and other features.

Friday, January 20, 2017

BSO — 2017/01/21

This week's Boston Symphony concert begins and ends with familiar works. In the middle is one that is much less well known, one that the BSO has never played before. In fact, they've never played anything by this composer. Here's how the BSO performance detail page summarizes it:
The great Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer joins Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena and the BSO for the Polish-born Soviet composer Moisey Weinberg's Violin Concerto. Weinberg-whose music has never been performed by the BSO-moved to the Soviet Union at the start of World War II, becoming a friend and protégé of Dmitri Shostakovich, who intervened with authorities when Weinberg was arrested on political grounds. Weinberg's Violin Concerto (1959) is a substantial work with a strong stylistic kinship to Shostakovich's music. Opening the program is Prokofiev's brief and delightful Classical Symphony, modeled on the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart. Tchaikovsky's emotionally intense Fourth Symphony, completed in 1878, represents the culmination of a traumatic period in the composer's life.
(Most emphases added.)

Also check out the links on that page for program notes, audio previews, performer bios (click on the thumbnail pictures), and podcasts.

This concert wasn't part of my subscription, so I can't give you any opinions of my own. The reviews in the Boston Globe and the Boston Musical Intelligencer found no fault with any of the music or the playing, except for one item mentioned by the Globe reviewer. As noted, though, the Weinberg piece inhabits the same musical universe as Shostakovich, so it could be a bit challenging, but why not give it a whirl?

You can hear the performance Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m., EST, over WCRB, radio or internet. Check out other pages on their website for further information about their programming and their podcast.I'll be out celebrating my birthday during the first part of the broadcast, and talking to my brother in Japan after I get home, so I'll have to wait for the rebroadcast on January 30 to hear how it was.


Friday, January 13, 2017

BSO — 2017/01/14

This week's Boston Symphony concert is unusual in that the two works preceding intermission feature the organ. Here's how the BSO describes it on their performance detail page:
English conductor Bramwell Tovey is joined by virtuoso American organist Cameron Carpenter, who makes his BSO subscription series debut in a work written for him, At the Royal Majestic, by the innovative American composer Terry Riley, a founding father of musical minimalism. Himself an organist, Riley created this eclectic large-scale concerto "shifting, as its title suggests, from sounds reminiscent of the Mighty Wurlitzer housed in the grand movie palaces, to fragments of Calliope, Baroque Chorales, occasional craggy dissonance of clashing pipes, and boogie." To open the concert, Carpenter is soloist in Samuel Barber's 1960 organ-and-orchestra work Toccata Festiva, by turns exuberant and lyrical. The English composer Edward Elgar's tour-de-force of orchestral and expressive imagination, the EnigmaVariations, is a series of widely varied portraits of his friends achieved via transformations of a common musical theme.
(Some emphasis added.)

See that page also for links to performer bios, program notes, and audio previews.

The reviews are favorable. The Globe describes things concisely and identifies the two! encores, each of which was spectacular in its own way, and good for giving us a chance to hear the organ unimpeded by sounds from the orchestra. Of course, if there is an encore or two on Saturday, it/they will not necessarily be the same, but I'm sure you'll recognize "Fly Me to the Moon," if he does it. The Boston Musical Intelligencer has more space available for its reviews, and this review describes the music and the performance in greater detail — including noting that Cameron Carpenter played the (optional) organ part in the Elgar.

The concert was enjoyable to listen to. Seeing the organist playing, especially watching his feet on the pedals, certainly added to the experience. He frequently changed the stops, but most of the time, I didn't notice any change in the sound of the organ. But I think it'll be worth hearing even without the added visuals. So I definitely recommend going to WCRB on air or on the internet at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time. If you miss any of it on January 14, they will rebroadcast/stream it at 8:00 p.m. on Monday January 23. Their podcast, "The Answered Question" includes a useful discussion of this week's program during the first 15 minutes.