Saturday, April 14, 2018

BSO/Classical New England — 2018/04/14

This week the BSO is on tour to Carnegie Hall, so WCRB is giving us a "encore broadcast" and webstream of the concert given last July 16 at Tanglewood. Andris Nelsons conducts the world premiere of Markings for violin, strings, and harp by John Williams, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist, and, after intermission, Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. I posted about it at the time, but there wasn't any further information, except the links on the performance detail page.

I can't find any reviews in the Globe or the Intelligencer, and frankly, I don't have any specific recollection of the new Williams piece, but of course, the other two are standards of the repertoire, so it should be worthwhile listening, beginning this evening at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

BSO — 2018/04/07

This week the BSO is giving an all-Wagner program. The BSO performance detail page puts it like this:
Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde is a hymn to the intense spirituality that accompanies transcendent earthly love. Musically and operatically innovative, it remains a watershed in the history of music; to hear its music live is an unforgettable experience. Andris Nelsons leads an outstanding cast of singers-including the great German tenor Jonas Kaufmann (taking the role of Tristan for the very first time) and the acclaimed Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund-in Act II of the opera, in which the title characters come together under the spell of a love potion, only to be discovered by King Marke, Tristan's uncle and lord, to whom Isolde is betrothed. The concert opens with one of Wagner's few purely instrumental works still heard today, the Siegfried Idyll, which he composed in 1869 and had performed as a surprise birthday gift for his wife Cosima. The "Siegfried" of the title is the couple's son, born the previous June, though Wagner later incorporated some of the Idyll's music into the third of his Ring operas, Siegfried.
(Some emphasis added.)
See the performance detail page for the usual links to audio previews, program notes, and performer bios.

The reviews are lukewarm. The Globe likes Jonas Kaufmann's performance more than the Intelligencer does. Both praise the singers in the secondary roles of Brangäne and King Marke.

The broadcast and webstream over WCRB begin at 8:00 p.m. EDST, and the rebroadcast/stream will be at 8:00 on April 16. The rebroadcast on April 9 will be last week's concert of Mozart, Widmann (American premiere) and Strauss.)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

BSO — 2018/03/31

Check out the BSO's program detail page for links to information about the concert and performers, as well as this synopsis of the program:
Andris Nelsons leads the American premiere of Partita, a new work co-commissioned by the BSO and the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig from esteemed German composer Jörg Widmann, whose powerful Trauermarsch for piano and orchestra was performed by Maestro Nelsons and the BSO with Yefim Bronfman in the fall of 2016. To conclude this program, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and BSO principal violist Steven Ansell are spotlighted in Richard Strauss's picaresque tour-de-force Don Quixote, a tone poem whose episodes illustrate scenes from Cervantes' famous novel. Opening these concerts is Mozart's brief, rarely performed Symphony No. 23, written in 1773 when he was just seventeen.
(Much emphasis added.)

The reviews are matter-of-fact, descriptive rather than critical. The Globe offers a very nice précis of the new piece and recognizes some good solo playing in all three pieces. The Intelligencer gives more detail about the Widmann, and has more to say about Ma's playing than the brief reference in the Globe. The latter review also tells of the recognition given to three players who are retiring at the end of this season.

I was in church for Holy Thursday when this program was first given, and I'll be there again for the Easter Vigil this evening, followed by my brother's call from Japan. Maybe I'll catch a bit between the two, but mostly I'll have to wait until WCRB rebroadcasts it on April 9 at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time. You can catch the live performance this evening at 8:00. It seems the Widmann could be challenging, but the Mozart should be pleasant, and the Strauss is popular.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

BSO — 2018/03/24

This week, like last week, we get two symphonies, including one by Bernstein. The other is from the pen of Shostakovich. The following details are given on the orchestra's program detail page, where you'll also find links to program notes audio previews and performer bios (click on the thumbnail photos):
BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons continues the orchestra's season-long celebration of Leonard Bernstein's centennial with the composer's Symphony No. 2, Age of Anxiety, which features a dynamic, jazz-influenced piano part eminently suited to the style of this week's soloist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Following intermission comes Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4, which continues the BSO and Andris Nelson's multi-season survey of the composer's complete symphonies. Shostakovich completed this dark but powerfully majestic work in 1936, but fears of official Soviet condemnation following a scathing criticism of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk led him to cancel the symphony's premiere. The Fourth was first performed only in 1961.
(Some emphasis added.)

I attended the  Thursday performance and liked the Bernstein Second Symphony better than I had last week's Third. It seemed more musical. It was also easier to follow thanks to program notes which quoted the composer liberally. I wasn't really expecting to like the Shostakovich, but it turned out to be pretty good. Despite its length, I never felt that it was getting to be too much. There is enough variety, especially going from full orchestra to featuring solo instruments, and plentiful musical ideas, to keep it from getting dull. I had never heard either piece, and now I wouldn't mind seeing either on another program.

The Boston Globe gives a highly favorable review, devoting most of its attention to the Shostakovich, but laudatory of the Bernstein as well. The extensive review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer gives  plenty of detail about both works and also praises the performances, calling attention to various details.

My recommendation is that you give it all a hearing on WCRB this evening at 8:00 EDST. It will also be rebroadcast on April 2 at 8:00 p.m. (On March 26, they will give us the rebroadcast of last week's concert of Tchaikovsky and Bernstein.) Their page also has a link to, which includes a one-hour-plus video about "Religion and Spirituality in the Music of Bernstein." It could be useful to hear in advance of listening to the rebroadcast on Monday, as well as interesting in its own right.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

BSO — 2018/03/17

Top o' the evenin' and a Happy St. Patrick's Day to ye!

This week the Boston Symphony is presenting two symphonies under the baton of guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. First we'll hear Symphony№ 6, "Pathétique," by Tchaikovsky, a perennial favorite. Then, after intermission, it's Symphony № 3, "Kaddish," by Bernstein, which the BSO hasn't performed since they gave the American premiere in 1964. At the BSO's program detail page for this evening's concert, you can find the usual inks to background information and the following synopsis:
Continuing this season's centennial celebration of the great Leonard Bernstein, Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero returns to lead the BSO in Bernstein's Symphony No. 3, Kaddish, which is dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy. The Jewish "Kaddish" is the prayer chanted for the dead, a hymn of praise to God's name. Originally commissioned by the BSO for its 75th anniversary in 1955-56 but only finished in November 1963, this emotional, almost theatrical score was premiered under Bernstein's direction by the Israel Philharmonic. The BSO gave its only performances of the full score in early 1964 under Charles Munch. Opening the program is Tchaikovsky's masterful Pathétique Symphony, one of the composer's last works, full of intensely beautiful music, ending with a slow, quiet, and poignant finale.

Soprano Mary Wilson will replace Tamara Wilson for the Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts March 15-17.  Soprano Tamara Wilson is regretfully unable to perform this week due to a back injury.

I heard it on Thursday. The Tchaikovsky seemed well played, with nothing amiss or extraordinary in it. From where I sat in the second balcony near the stage, it didn't fade away at the end quite as much as I had expected. It was my first encounter with Bernstein's "Kaddish." I was curious to hear it. When I hear a work with a text, I tend to pay more attention to the words than the music, and that was the case with this symphony; so I can't say much about the music beyond that  it was loud, except when it soft, and noisy, except when it was calm. The text expressed anxiety about the state of things, blaming God for letting things get so bad. It was irreverent, and at a few points it bordered on the blasphemous; but it probably expressed honest feelings which were/are shared by many.

In what for them is a fairly lengthy review, the Globe spent a lot of time describing the Bernstein piece, with little about the performance, and just one (favorable) sentence about the Tchaikovsky. At the moment of this writing, there is no review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer.

It's all there for your listening pleasure on WCRB radio and on line at 8:00 p.m. EST, with a rebroadcast on March 26. Also check the website to see what else they're offering.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

BSO/Classical New England — 2018/03/10

The orchestra isn't performing in Symphony Hall this week, so WCRB is giving us an "encore broadcast" (and webstream). This time it's the concert given at Tanglewood last summer on Friday, August 11. I previewed it at the time. The performance detail page gave this description of the program:
Violinist Gil Shaham and cellist Alisa Weilerstein join forces on Friday, August 11, for a performance of Brahms's Double Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra, with Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and the BSO. Brahms composed the concerto-his final orchestral work-as an olive branch to his old friend and close musical collaborator Joseph Joachim, with whom he'd had a falling out over Joachim's divorce. Also on the program are Dvořák's Carnival Overture and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, the score to an intensely dramatic ballet and on its own some of the most dramatic music ever written.
(Some detail added.)

I was at Tanglewood for this concert and enjoyed the first half. Gil Shaham seemed to be having a great time. The Stravinsky had its moments, I suppose. The Boston Globe published a generally favorable review. I'll enjoy listening to what comes before my brother's call at 9:00. If you go to WCRB on line or on air at 8:00 p.m. EST, you can hear it for yourself. As you probably already know, the WCRB website also gives more information about the station's offerings.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

BSO — 2018/02/03

Two pieces from around 1900 make up the first part of this week's program. After intermission we get something from this decade. The BSO's program detail page has the usual links to background information and tells us this about the program:
Former New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert leads a recent work by California-based composer John Adams, his Scheherezade.2, a work composed for violinist Leila Josefowicz. Adams's four-movement work is a 21st-century response to the Arabian Nights paralleling Rimsky-Korsakov's 1888 symphonic score. Opening the program is Jean Siblelius's atmospheric tone poem En Saga ("A Saga"), which features many of the composer's characteristic touches of orchestration and folk-music-influenced melody. Claude Debussy's Jeux ("Games"), was enormously influential for later composers in its luminous and nuanced orchestration.
(Some emphasis added.)

My mother told me that my paternal grandmother used to say, "A little Sibelius goes a long way." Maybe it seemed so in the 1930's to someone born in the 1880's, but when I began to hear his music, I was pleasantly surprised. IMO it's quite good in the context of its own time, to say nothing of later composers' work. I found "En Saga" quite enjoyable. "Jeux," on the other hand, was unimpressive to me. Fans of Debussy might like it.

As for "Scheherazade.2," it did nothing for me. The music was a pretty good fit for the scenario — loud and soft, fast and slow, as appropriate — and it enabled the violinist to show her technical prowess. I enjoyed watching one of the percussionists playing the hanging gongs and a set of hanging polished pod-shaped pieces of wood. John C. Adams is a well known and respected composer of our time. Perhaps his best known work is the opera "Nixon in China," which is imagines the thoughts of several of the participants in Nixon's historic trip. It has some musically interesting pieces in a "minimalist" style. (I also like Nixon's explanation to his wife of why he didn't send many letters during his navy service in WWII: "The Pacific Theater was nothing to write home about.")  But "Scheherazade.2" just wasn't attractive to me as music.

The reviews are respectful, but difficult to summarize. It's fair to say they're supportive of the concept of Scheherezade.2 and admire Ms. Josefowicz's playing. They spend a fair amount of space describing the work. The Globe's reviewer was unimpressed by the playing of the Debussy but liked how they played "En Saga." The Intelligencer, with the freedom of an on line publication, has much more to say about the first two pieces, and was content with how both were performed.

The only piece on the program I really want to hear again is "En Saga." My brother's phone call will keep me from listening to "Scheherazade.2" during the live broadcast this evening, but if I'm free on March 12 I'll listen to the rebroadcast to see if it is more satisfying on a second hearing.

You can hear the whole concert this evening, starting at 8:00, Boston Time, and again on March 12 at 8:00 p.m. EST. WCRB will broadcast and stream it at both those times. Note the interviews with conductor and violinist which are linked on the page about this concert, as well as other information about programming, also linked.