Saturday, February 28, 2015

BSO — 2015/02/26-03/03

I exchanged my ticket to this week's concert for one to the concert with the Birtwistle premiere a couple of weeks ago, so I won't be able to comment on the quality of the performances this time. Here's what the BSO performance detail page says about it:
Continuing his recent multi-season "residency" with the BSO for two weeks of concerts this season, Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit leads German violinist Julia Fischer in the great Brahms Violin Concerto, composed in 1878 for Brahms's lifelong friend, the virtuoso violinist-teacher Joseph Joachim. Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks is named for the Washington, D.C., estate of its commissioners; its premiere took place there under the baton of Nadia Boulanger. This brief, objective, consummately neoclassical chamber concerto is a "concerto" in the sense that each section is treated as a solo participant. Debussy's Images is at the other end of the spectrum, a richly orchestrated, richly illustrative triptych drawing on an English jig, idealized Spanish music, and a subtle, evocative Spring Round.
(Some emphasis added.)
When they speak of the "commissioners," they mean "the people who commissioned it," not some government officials. And the Brahms comes last on the program despite its being mentioned first. The Stravinsky leads off. As usual, the performance detail page has links to interviews with the conductor and soloist, audio previews of the music, program notes, and performer bios (click on the photos).

Although I haven't heard the concert, I have heard the Stravinsky and Brahms pieces, so I can recommend it, even for people who are leery of Stravinsky. The Dumbarton Oaks Concerto was composed, as they note, in his "neoclassical period," and is nothing like "The Rite of Spring." And of course Brahms and Debussy are to the taste of most concert-goers. So I think most will find it a pretty good show.

The review in the Globe calls the program "genial," and sees similarities between the Stravinsky concerto and the Bach Brandenburg Concertos. It is a favorable review overall, if not quite a rave. On the other hand, the Boston Musical Intelligencer review is such a rave that I'm tempted to get a ticket for the Tuesday performance next week. The reviewer finds strong performances in all three pieces, as well as in the encore that was given by Julia Fischer at the end of the evening.

You can hear it all for yourself on Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m., Boston time, over WCRB; and if you miss it, there's the rebroadcast on Monday, March 9, likewise at 8:00. Their own BSO page has a link to "a preview with Julia Fischer and Charles Dutoit," as well as information about other concerts. On March 2, comes the repeat broadcast/webstream of the February 21 concert.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

BSO — 2015/02/19-21

The BSO program detail page puts it well:
French conductor Stéphane Denève returns for this program of works all premiered in Paris in the early 1920s. Canadian violinist James Ehnes is soloist in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, which begins with an amazingly long-breathed, lyrical melody, and also features a brilliantly exciting scherzo. Stravinsky's Pulcinella and Poulenc's Les Biches were both composed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Stravinsky's score reworks music mostly from the Baroque era for an effect both contemporary and out of time; Les Biches was completely au courant, a light and frothy tableau of a swank party in the south of France. Milhaud's seminal, lively ballet score Creation of the World is an important mainstream example of Paris composers' fascination with American jazz in the years after World War I.
(Some emphasis added.)
The blurb above doesn't list the works in the order they are to be performed. For the performance order, see the rest of the page. Of course, there are also links to good audio previews, program notes, and performer bios on the page as well.

The beginning of "Pulcinella" — which is the only piece on the concert I'm at all familiar with — seemed slower than what I'm used to, and I don't think that's a good thing. I think it should feel livelier than it did on Thursday. Apart from that, I have no criticism of the way any of the music was performed. The violin concerto was inoffensive. "The Creation of the World" was enjoyably jazzy; and "Les Biches" felt a bit too impressionistic for my taste and maybe a bit overlong (perhaps as a result of coming after all the rest). All in all, though, it was a pleasant concert. Unfortunately, as in the previous couple of weeks, the audience was sparse. Sections of the balconies were nearly or entirely empty. I suppose the travel conditions had something to do with it, but people who might have attended and didn't missed a nice evening at Symphony.

The Globe review provides a bit of description of how the violin concerto was played, and reminds me that there was a nice encore by the violinist — no telling whether there will be one this evening or, if so, what it will be. The Boston Musical Intelligencer review gives a fuller description of the music, including a rave for the violinist in the Prokofiev.

So tune your radio or your computer or other web listening device to WCRB this evening at 8:00  p.m. Boston Time for some pleasant listening without much heavy lifting for the listener. Their BSO page includes a link to an audio preview with the conductor and the violinist (which runs over 28 minutes). If you miss the concert this evening, there will be a rerun on March 2 at 8:00 p.m.

The rerun on Monday the 23rd will be last week's concert of Debussy, Birtwistle, Liadov, and Stravinsky.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

BSO — 2015/02/12-14

This week we have co-conductors. Vladimir Jurowski was scheduled to conduct but he "has been forced to withdraw" (by whom? — an insert in the program booklet cites visa problems), and Ken-David Masur, who conducted in place of Tugan Sokhiev two weeks ago, will be at the podium for most of the concert: works of Debussy, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; Liadov, From the Apocalypse; and Stravinsky, Suite from "The Firebird." A piece by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Responses: Of sweet disorder and the carefully careless, which is getting its American premiere, will be conducted by Stefan Asbury, who conducted the world premiere in Munich last year, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard performing the piano solo, as he did at the world premiere.

Amazingly, the BSO performance detail page doesn't include the titles of the pieces other than the Birtwistle in the little blurb I usual copy — which is why I've listed them all. But it does have the usual links to notes, audio previews, and performer bios. The interview with Harrison Birtwistle is fairly technical, but the audio preview of the concert gives some insight into the new piece. The program notes are heavy on Birtwistle's music in general, with a brief synopsis of "Responses."

I was at the concert on Thursday. My favorite piece was the Liadov, the most traditional of the evening, which opened the second half. It had elements that sounded like Russian church music as well as parts that corresponded to the apocalyptic imagery of the text the composer had in mind. The Stravinsky isn't bad. The Debussy was never one of my favorites, but it's certainly tolerable. An acquaintance said she was disappointed in the performance, calling it dry, if I recall her word correctly. She remembered a long-ago BSO principal flautist as performing the solos much better.

As for the Birtwistle, it was not unpleasant to hear, but it didn't seem to amount to much. On first hearing it didn't seem that there was much coherence. I don't mean it was start and stop. The notes kept on coming; they just didn't seem to have much to do with each other. But during intermission I encountered the composer and sincerely told him that I was looking forward to hearing the piece again during the radio broadcast. (I was thinking that maybe additional hearings will make it more accessible.) But now I remember that I have a dinner engagement on Saturday evening, so I probably won't get to hear it until the rebroadcast on February 23.

The Boston Globe review gives the reviewer's description of the piece, as well as a few words on the rest of the program, but spends a lot of space lamenting the change in conductors. Apart from a vague quibble with how the Stravinsky was played, the reviewer seemed content with the performance. The review has a link to an interview with the composer which may give additional insight into the piece. As usual, the review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, without the space constraints of the Globe, is much more detailed and useful as a preview. I thought the reviewer put it very well when he wrote that "the density of [Birtwistle's] material, the speed with which it appears, and the complexity of its evolution make for a serious listening challenge indeed." The remainder of his comments seem well put and apposite. It seems he, too would like to hear it again. I wonder if what he calls "wah-wahs" are what sounded to me like "oink-oinks."

Anyway, I'm glad I was there. In fifty years, I'll be able to tell people I was present for the American premiere of the Birtwistle. If you listen to WCRB on Saturday at 8:00, you'll be able to brag that you heard the American broadcast premiere. I hope you'll listen in on radio or internet and see what you think. The station's BSO page has a 25 minute preview with Sir Harrison and with Ken-David Masur, who conduct the other three pieces.

Friday, February 6, 2015

BSO — Repeats — 2015/02/07

This week the Boston Symphony is not giving subscription concerts. There is a series of daytime youth concerts. To fill the Saturday symphony time slot, WCRB is giving us music from two concerts from last summer's Tanglewood season. First (apparently) will be the concert conducted on July 25 by Manfred Honeck. It has music by Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn. Since Tanglewood concerts start later than those in Symphony Hall, and the rebroadcast doesn't have to include the full intermission time, they will then give us the second half of the August 9 concert conducted by Stéphane Denève: Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.

The WCRB BSO page includes a link to an interview with Maestro Honeck. It's an exploration of his approach to music more than an analysis of the pieces he'll be conducting — though there is some  discussion of his understanding of the Mendelssohn and the Beethoven. The page also has the usual broadcast schedule. You can hear the rebroadcast/webstream on February 7 at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, and again nine days later on February 16, also at 8:00, over WCRB.

And don't miss your opportunity to hear Avner Dorman's "Astrolatry" along with music of Prokofiev and Schumann in the February 9 rebroadcast/webstream of last week's concert.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

BSO — 2015/01/29-31

This week brings a guest conductor to the podium of the BSO, Asher Fisch. He's conducting three pieces: first the 2011 composition of Avner Dorman, "Astrolatry;" then Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto, with Julian Rachlin as soloist; and after intermission it's Symphony No.1, "Spring," by Schumann. "Astrolatry" is the first music by Dorman the BSO has ever performed. I hope they'll play it again, soon, and present others of his works.

I hope you'll be able to listen, and as preparation for the Dorman piece, I strongly recommend listening to Brian Bell's conversation with the composer, which is linked on the BSO's performance detail page. There you can check out links to more audio previews an program notes, as well as performer bios. They describe the program as follows:
Israeli conductor Asher Fisch makes his BSO subscription series debut with this diverse program. Opening the concert is the Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman's Astrolatry, a 2012 work inspired by the stars and constellations. These will be the first BSO performances of any music by Dorman, who is a former Tanglewood Music Center Composition Fellow. Lithuanian-born violinist Julian Rachlin returns to Symphony Hall for Serge Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2, a 1930s masterpiece with a breathtakingly beautiful slow movement. Robert Schumann's robust Symphony No. 1, composed in his so-called "symphonic year" of 1841, is one of his most energetic and optimistic scores.

It is "Astrolatry" that interests me most, although the Prokofiev is not hard to take, and the "Spring" symphony is a fine piece. The favorable Globe review, after praising the inclusion of new music in the program, spends most of its space on "Astrolatry." The Boston Musical Intelligencer has two items: an interview with Avner Dorman, and a review of the concert. Interestingly, in the interview, the composer downplays the narrative he gave in his interview with Brian Bell. But I found, as he says, that having that narrative in mind made the music easier to follow and enjoy than might have been the case without it. The review is detailed and respectful with some dissatisfaction with the playing and conducting in the Schumann.

As you can tell, I'm really enthusiastic for "Astrolatry." It is readily accessible as music, not the cacophonies which we sometimes get from contemporary composers, and, as I say, I think it's even more engaging when one is aware of the descriptions in the interview with Brian Bell or in the composer's own program note (included in the notes linked on the BSO performance detail page. If there were a repeat performance next Tuesday (as there is for about half the concerts, I'd get a ticket and go hear it again in the hall.

So if you're within range of WCRB, either by radio or on the web, I encourage you not to miss this concert, either the live performance this evening, January 31, at 8:00 p.m., or the rerun on Monday, February 9, also at 8:00 — or both. Better still, if you can get to Symphony Hall, go and hear it in person. I'm sure seats will be available: on Thursday, there were many empty seats on the sides of the balconies. On WCRB's BSO page, there is further information, including a link to an interview with the conductor about the concert (after you get through the bit about the orchestra's new gong).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

BSO — 2015/01/22-24

Ken-David Masur, the BSO's new Assistant Conductor (and son of Kurt Masur), steps in this week in place of the ailing Tugan Sokhiev, who was to have made his BSO debut. The Globe's review found no problem worth mentioning. As usual, the Boston Musical Intelligencer gives a much more detailed review, almost entirely laudatory. I liked Maestro Masur's conducting style, and found nothing in the music to dislike. In the Saint-Saëns it was distracting that the soloist spent a lot of time looking at the violins, Much more then watching the conductor. Was he taking the beat from them, or did he have a crush on one of the violinists?

Here's what the orchestra says on their performance detail page.
*This week's scheduled conductor, Tugan Sokhiev, is suffering from influenza and a sinus infection, and cannot travel to Boston. BSO assistant conductor, Ken-David Masur, will take over the performances in his place. The program remains unchanged.Ken-David Masur is joined by the German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser for Saint-Saëns's Cello Concerto No. 1, a single-movement, fantasia-like work by turns fiery and charming. Opening the program is Hector Berlioz's Le Corsaire Overture, which, as was often the composer's practice, took shape from earlier sketches. The title is an incidental reference to James Fenimore Cooper's The Red Rover ("Le Corsaire rouge"). Rimsky Korsakov's orchestral masterpiece, the "symphonic suite" Scheherezade, masterfully spins out its Arabian Nights-inspired tableaux via transformations of an immediately recognizable musical motif. The work features a major solo violin part usually played by the orchestra's concertmaster.
(Some emphasis added.)
See that page also for links to program notes, audio previews, and performer bios.

Listen over WCRB at 8:00 this evening or on February 2 for an enjoyable evening of good music-making, and see their BSO page for a preview with the conductor and other links.

Friday, January 16, 2015

BSO — 2015/01/15-17 — Updated

This week, the Boston Symphony gives us music of Mozart and Bruckner. I was in the hall on Thursday, and I definitely recommend this one. Here's how the orchestra's performance detail page describes it:
Acclaimed for his performances of the Classical repertoire, German pianist Lars Vogt returns to Symphony Hall as soloist with Andris Nelsons and the BSO in Mozart's proto-Romantic C minor piano concerto. Composed in the spring of 1786 and premiered by the composer in Vienna, the C minor is unique in its strangeness and restlessness, and features a fascinating theme-and-variations finale. Following intermission, Andris Nelsons conducts Anton Bruckner's magisterial Symphony No. 7, still probably the most popular of that composer's works. Bruckner wrote his Seventh Symphony, often likened to "a cathedral in sound," between 1881 and 1883, and it was premiered in Leipzig in 1884.
(Some emphasis added.)
Also, go to the performance detail page for links to performer bios, program notes, and audio previews.

There is a very favorable review in the Boston Globe, although I didn't notice the lack of directness or the "micro-inflections" the reviewer perceived in the Mozart. As of this writing, the Boston Musical Intelligencer hasn't weighed in yet. When they do, I'll let you know. *

My impression was that the Mozart was well done, if less angst-filled than the program notes had led me to expect. In the Bruckner, there was much beauty, much power, and never a problematic moment. There might have been one or two false notes from the horns, but nothing that interfered with enjoyment of the piece. Four members of the horn section played the Wagner tubas Bruckner called for, meaning that outsiders had to be added to cover all but two of the horn parts. Before the performance, Andris Nelsons spoke impromptu to the audience. He noted that this represents the beginning of a multi-season survey of Bruckner's work. He said many people think first of length of the works when they think of Bruckner. For him, though, he was "infected" with love of music at age five when he heard music of Wagner at a concert. From Wagner, he came to Bruckner and finds in Bruckner's music a channel to God (raising his right hand and pointing above). He hoped that he was infecting the orchestra and that we would have a similar experience to his and also become infected. (He must have mentioned the connection to God three times.) I really admire Maestro Nelsons for daring to speak of music, particularly this music, as drawing the listener to God. It reminds me of the story of Bruckner stopping his lecture and kneeling to pray when he heard the Angelus bell from a nearby church. But, talk doesn't matter if the music isn't well-played. My mistake in listening is trying to follow analytically, remembering all I can from the program notes and connecting it to what I'm hearing. Even so, this was perhaps the first time I've been at a performance of a Bruckner symphony without beginning to feel it was going on too long. The music held my interest all the way through. I wish the program were being given again on Tuesday: I'd get a ticket and go hear it again. As it is, I'm looking forward to hearing the Mozart on Saturday and the Bruckner on the January 26 rebroadcast.

Listen on radio or on line over WCRB beginning at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, Boston Time. And you can hear it also via the repeat on Monday, January 26, at 8:00 p.m. For the remaining schedule for BSO broadcasts and links to interviews about this concert (and the rebroadcast of last week's on January 19), go to the station's BSO page.

*UPDATE: The BMInt review has appeared. It was largely favorable, but the first comment was highly critical, finding that Maestro Nelsons "micromanaged" the Bruckner unhelpfully and that the brass had an off night.