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 two concerts and am planning to go to another September 29, which I'll blog about before 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.)

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.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

BSO/Classical New England — 2016/09/10

This week's rebroadcast over WCRB is the concert of  January 30, 2016,  conducted by Andris Nelsons. It begins with the Overture to "Oberon," by Weber and continues with the Henze Symphony No. 8. After intermission we get Incidental Music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream," by Mendelssohn. It was part of the orchestra's "Shakespeare Festival" in honor of the fourth centenary of the playwright's death. The Weber opera takes a character from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," but has him in a different story. The symphony is inspired by certain scenes in Shakespeare's play, and the Mendelssohn is also based on the play. I wrote about the concert at the time it was performed, with links to reviews and useful background information (especially the program notes for the Henze).

I like Weber's music, and enjoyed this performance. The Henze symphony isn't beautiful, but it's not horrid, and when you read the program note, it's interesting to try to see how the music fits the things in the play that inspired it. While the use of actors to perform the scenes depicted in Mendelssohn's music didn't work IMO, the music itself is popular, and that's what you get on radio. So, I'd recommend listening on September 10 at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time.

Friday, September 2, 2016

BSO/Classical New England — 2016/09/03

To fill the empty weeks between Tanglewood and the start of the BSO's Symphony Hall season, WCRB rebroadcasts and streams concerts from the previous year. This week it's the performance of Symphony No. 9 by Mahler, with Music Director Andris Nelsons conducting. The concert was performed on April 16, and I wrote about it back then, including links to background material from the BSO and published reviews. I'm looking forward to the rebroadcast, although my brother's call from Tokyo will interrupt it.

As usual, the broadcast and webstream will be on Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time. You can also get the schedule for the next two weeks of reruns as well as the upcoming season on the station's Boston Symphony page.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Tanglewood — 2016/08/26-28

This is the final weekend of the Boston Symphony's Tanglewood season. As has become customary, the Sunday concert will feature the Beethoven Ninth Symphony. I'll say more about it when we get to the description of the Sunday concert

Friday, August 26.  In the past couple of years, the BSO management has begun occasionally presenting movies with a live orchestra providing the music of the soundtrack. On Friday, the Boston Pops, conducted by Keith Lockhart, will accompany "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with John Williams' score. But it seems that WCRB won't be broadcasting or streaming it. I don't see what will fill the 8: p.m. time slot, so I guess we can only tune in, prepared to be surprised.


Saturday, August 27.  On Saturday we return to regular order. The performance detail page gives these details:
Tanglewood favorite Yo-Yo Ma joins the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conductor Michael Stern on Saturday, August 27, to open the final weekend of the BSO's 2016 Tanglewood season, performing Haydn's Cello Concerto in C and John Williams's Heartwood,for cello and orchestra, and Rosewood and Pickin', for solo cello, on a program that also includes Bernstein's Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront and Respighi's Pines of Rome.
(Some emphasis added.)

The usual background information is available on that page. It looks like a pretty full evening of music.


Sunday, August 28.  The Sunday concert, as noted above, brings the Beethoven Choral Symphony to close the season.  The performance detail page informs us:
Music Director Andris Nelsons will lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra in its traditional season-ending performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 on Sunday, August 28, at 2:30 p.m. Conductor Christoph von Dohnányi, who was scheduled to lead the Ninth Symphony, has been forced to withdraw from the concert due to recent health challenges, and advice from his doctors to avoid any long distance flights for the next four months.  
and
Bass Günther Groissböck, who was scheduled to perform Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with Andris Nelsons and the BSO on Sunday, August 28, had a bicycling accident and is unable to travel overseas at this time. Bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer, in his Tanglewood and BSO debuts, will replace Mr. Groissböck for the August 28 performance.
(Some emphasis added)

For some reason, they don't bother to tell us in the blurb that the orchestra will begin the concert with a work by Aaron Copland, "Quiet City," but the program note is included in the usual place..


The Saturday concert can be heard via WCRB radio or web at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, and the Sunday program will be aired and streamed at 7:00, p.m. (not live at 2:30). Their home page, in addition to the link for listening over the web, gives information about other special programming which may be of interest. Their BSO page, in addition to listing the works to be played, gives similar information about the broadcasts which will occupy the three following Saturdays until Opening Night of the regular Symphony Hall season on September 24. The station has chosen three concerts from last season, including two from last winter's "Shakespeare Festival" commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death. After those listings, they give the schedule of broadcasts/streams for the upcoming season.

Enjoy.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Tanglewood — 2016/08/19-21

Friday, August 19.  Here's how the BSO's performance detail page — with its usual links — describes the program:
Menahem Pressler-longtime pianist of the legendary Beaux Arts Trio-joins maestro Charles Dutoit and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Friday, August 19, at 8 p.m., for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K.488, notable for its intimate, chamber-musical character and heightened lyricism. Mr. Dutoit-Tanglewood's 2016 season Koussevitzky Artist-opens the program with Mozart's overture to The Marriage of Figaro. The second half of the program is Rossini's Stabat Mater, the most significant of the composer's late works. This performance of the 1841 choral masterpiece features soprano Simona Saturova (Tanglewood debut), mezzo-soprano Marianna Pizzolato (Tanglewood debut), tenor Pavol Breslik, bass Riccardo Zanellato (Tanglewood debut), and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
(Some emphasis added.)

You can't go wrong with one of Mozart's late piano concertos; the curtain-raiser is good; and Rossini's "Stabat Mater" is not to be missed. By all means, read the program note from the performance detaio page if you're unfamiliar with it or the "Stabat Mater" in general, and preview the text. To whet your appetite for the it, here's an excerpt from a rehearsal last year by the Paris Orchestra with tenor Paolo Fanale. Tonight's tenor was to have Metropolitan Opera star been Matthew Polenzani, but from the bio it seems that Pavol Breslik should be a more than adequate replacement. Much as I like Verdi (see tomorrow's program), if I could only hear one of this weekend's concerts, this would be it.

James Markey, who is scheduled to give the preliminary remarks for this evening's "Underscore Friday," is the orchestra's bass trombonist. He's fairly young and joined the orchestra only a few years ago.


Saturday, August 20.  Saturday the first two acts of Aida by Verdi. The performance detail page, unsurprisingly, gives additional details:
BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons returns for two performances with the orchestra August 20 and 21. For the first performance, he leads the first two acts from Verdi's magnificent opera of star-crossed love in ancient Egypt, Aida, on Saturday, August 20, at 8 p.m. Maestro Nelsons and the orchestra are joined by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and a cast of vocal soloists, including soprano Kristine Opolais in the demanding title role, mezzo-soprano Violeta Urmana (BSO and Tanglewood debuts) as Amneris, tenor Andrea Carè (BSO and Tanglewood debuts) as the male lead and love interest Radamès, baritone Franco Vassallo (BSO and Tanglewood debuts) as Amonasro, and bass Kwangchul Youn (Tanglewood debut) as Ramfis.
(Some emphasis added.)

I like the music of the first two acts of "Aida" better than that of the remainder of the opera. The biggest highlight, IMO is the Triumphal March in the second act. Strangely, the program notes suggest a different program, consisting of the chorus "Va, pensiero" from Verdi's opera Nabucco followed by the Triumphal Scene from "Aida." We'll find out on Saturday which it is. The two acts of "Aida" make for a long concert, the chorus and Triumphal scene, for a short one. Considering that the brochure printed months ago lists the longer program, it seems to me that the scaled down program represents the more recent thinking. Either way, it will be some really good music.


Sunday, August 21.  The Sunday concert is a reprise of some of the music performed during last winters "Shakespeare Festival" at Symphony Hall The performance detail page informs us:
On Sunday, August 21, at 2:30 p.m., Andris Nelsons leads the BSO in a program that includes three works inspired by Shakespeare and honors the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death. The overture to Berlioz's Béatrice et Bénédict(based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing) opens the program, followed by American composer George Tsontakis's Sonnets, a Shakespeare-inspired tone poem for English horn and orchestra commissioned by the BSO and featuring BSO English horn player Robert Sheena. The Mr. Sheena and the BSO gave the world premiere of Sonnetsearlier this year at Symphony Hall. Croatian pianist Dejan Lazić, making his BSO and Tanglewood debuts, joins Mr. Nelsons and the orchestra as soloist in Saint-Saens's Piano Concerto No. 5, Egyptian, and the program closes with a suite from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, one of the composer's most familiar and popular pieces.
Gates open at Noon.
(Some emphasis added)

Here's what I wrote about the Tsontakis "Sonnets" back in February:
The Tsontakis Sonnets at a few points made me think of bits of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, which I guess means that the musical style is fairly accessible. You won't mistake it for Haydn, but you won't run screaming from the auditorium, or wherever you radio or computer speakers are located. In each sonnet, the music is softer at the beginning, corresponding to the first quatrian, and it intensifies for the second, and more so for the third. The it calms down for the final couplet. Glancing at the texts in the program notes, I could see some connection between the music and the theme of the sonnet. The BSO has posted a video of a bit of the second sonnet. It gives as good an impression of the piece as you can in a short time.
My review also included links to other reviews, and the program notes give a full description as well as the texts of the sonnets which inspired the music. The rest of the program is decent stuff, I supppose — I especially like the Berlioz while the Prokofiev seems popular. I don't recall the piano concerto, but I'm confident it'll be okay.


The Friday and Saturday concerts can be heard via WCRB radio or web at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, and the Sunday program will be aired and streamed at 7:00, p.m. (not live at 2:30). Their home page, in addition to the link for listening over the web, gives information about other special programming which may be of interest. Their BSO page, in addition to listing the works to be played, gives similar information about the remaining Tanglewood concert broadcasts and various other interesting items and links.

Enjoy.