Wednesday, October 13, 2010

BSO — 2010/10/14-16

On Saturday, October 16, at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, you can hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra over WCRB radio or webstream in the program which the BSO website describes as follows.

"Performances of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 continue James Levine and the BSO's Mahler anniversary season. Mahler composed the instrumental Fifth in the summers of 1901 and 1902, and is famous for its beautiful Adagietto movement. Levine and the orchestra also begin a cycle of symphonies, continuing this season and next, by the eminent American composer John Harbison. Two of Harbison's five symphonies were commissioned by the BSO, and his Sixth, another BSO commission, will be premiered next season. The Third, from 1991, is a vigorous five-movement work with Italianate sensibilities, including a musical allusion to a Genoese carillon.  "

The "pregame show" from "the Fenway Park of Music" with announcer Ron Della Chiesa begins at 7:00.

I'm planning to be there for the performance on Thursday, and if I get a chance I'll add a link to the review in the Boston Globe and maybe some comments of my own.

As noted in the website quote, the BSO is observing Mahler's 150th anniversary with performances of several of his symphonies and are, with this concert, beginning a two-year cycle of all of Harbison's symphonies, culminating next season with the world premiere of his 6th. When I went through the calendar to make sure I'd hear all of this season's Harbison, I found that one of the symphonies is not in my subscription. And I also discovered that it is paired with a Schumann symphony, and they're giving all four Schumann symphonies in a three week span. I have tickets for the other concerts in the Schumann series; but the Schumann/Harbison is in Thanksgiving week, so it won't be given Thursday evening. I'll "have to" get a ticket for the Friday afternoon show.

First, here's a link to the review in today's Boston Globe. I like what the reviewer said about the Harbison symphony. It was definitely "modern," but musical and approachable. The composer was present at the pre-concert talk, and he said some interesting things. One thing that helped to enable him to write a symphony was realizing that Haydn was able to write so many (each different and worthwhile in Harbison's opinion) because he didn't treat them as monumental statements of cosmic significance. Each was composed for a specific time and circumstance. In saying this, of course, he distanced himself from Mahler. Not only do Harbison's symphonies not attempt the creation of a world, as Mahler intended in his, but Harbison has drastically cut back on length — the third takes less than 25 minutes — and he writes in a different musical idiom.

As for the Mahler, I began to find it tedious about halfway through. There was altogether too much of it for me, at least last evening. Harbison's symphony, like Mahler's, was in five movements. Each movement had a different mood, and Harbison was able to do justice to them in under 5 minutes per movement. But Mahler went on and on and on.

So my recommendation is that you listen to as much of the pre-concert show as you can, because they may have some features previewing the Harbison. Then listen to Harbison's symphony, which is played first. If you have nothing better to do, you can stick around for the Mahler if you want to. But for once I won't be sorry that my brother will be making his weekly call from Tokyo about the time the Mahler begins.

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