Saturday, October 30, 2010

BSO — 2010/10/28-30, 11/2

This weekend's BSO concert is described as follows on their website.

American conductor David Robertson returns to the BSO podium and is joined by the remarkable English pianist Nicolas Hodges in his BSO debut. Hodges has previously performed at Tanglewood in recital and with the TMC Orchestra; here he is soloist with the BSO in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Robertson also leads a work dedicated to the conductor himself—the American composer John Adams’s Doctor Atomic Symphony, which is drawn from the composer’s 2005 opera about the building of the first atom bomb. Brahms’s dramatic Tragic Overture begins the program, and Bartók’sMiraculous Mandarin ballet suite closes it.

It's not part of my subscription series, so I haven't heard it. I'll be listening on WCRB, and I'm glad the new piece, the Doctor Atomic Symphony, comes before intermission, because that means I'll be able to hear it before my brother calls from Japan.

The Boston Globe's reviewer liked the symphony, but found the playing in the other three pieces not up to BSO standards.

I'm thinking of getting a ticket for Tuesday night.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

BSO — 2010/10/21-26; Fidelio

This week's BSO program includes Samuel Barber's Overture to The School for Scandal, Beethoven's Violin Concerto, and, after intermission, Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony. Here's what the BSO website says about it.

"Opening the program is Samuel Barber's Overture to The School for Scandal, which the American composer wrote in 1931 when he was just 21 years old and a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. His first work for full orchestra, the overture was premiered by The Philadelphia Orchestra and did much to advance Barber's reputation. Barber wrote the piece in tribute to Richard Sheridan's play of the same name.

Beethoven wrote his only violin concerto in 1806 for the great Viennese violinist, Franz Clement, who was music director of Vienna's Theater an der Wien. Written around the same time as the composer's Fifth Symphony, the Violin Concerto demonstrates Beethoven's relaxed, lyrical side, in contrast with his “heroic” style. The concerto requires a virtuosity rooted not in fireworks and bravado but in songful expression.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, like the two symphonies that surround it in number, is one of the Russian composer's most frequently performed pieces due to its immediately gripping and viscerally exciting nature. Based around a single theme that starts the first movement and appears in each of the four, the symphony has a clear sense of continuity and structure. Tchaikovsky's piece is a journey of thematic evolution as a single idea is put through an elaborate series of transformations from a forbidding opening to a wildly triumphant finale."

I had a ticket for the Thursday performance, but then a meeting of the Task Force Against Discrimination was scheduled for that evening, so I exchanged the ticket for Friday afternoon. I thought the conductor conducted well, and the others played well. So I recommend listening on WCRB. The pre-concert features beginning at 7:00 often include interesting interviews, as well as recordings of music by one or more of the evening's composers — music other than what is about to be played in the concert.

The Boston Globe reviewer gave the Thursday performance faint praise.

Friday evening I attended a performance of Beethoven's Fidelio. It was well played and sung, but the director had the idea of making the oppressive force that was persecuting Florestan, the Inquisition. So Pizzaro was dressed like a cardinal, as were several supers and the First Prisoner. That was bad enough, but for the final scene, Fernando was a bishop, and the main action of the scene was the burning of Don Pizzaro (which isn't in the scenario) while everybody is praising Leonore. And there was other foolishness, like having Marzelline take off her outer garments and pose for a portrait in her underwear in the opening scene. But when it was possible to focus on the music and the actual story, it was very enjoyable. Here's an article from the Globe that explains what the director was thinking of.

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.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

BSO — 2010/10/07-09, 12

Here's the BSO's description from their website for the first subscription series of this seasons concerts.

Levine Conducts Mahler
October 7-9 & 12 

Performance Dates: 
Thursday, October 7, 2010 8:00PM
Friday, October 8, 2010 1:30PM
Saturday, October 9, 2010 8:00PM
Tuesday, October 12, 2010 8:00PM
MAHLER Symphony No.2, Resurrection

Featured Artists:
James Levine, conductor
Layla Claire, soprano
Karen Cargill, mezzo-soprano

Mahler's Symphony No. 2, cast in five movements, is a monumental work that addresses equally weighty subjects: life, suffering, death, and the uncertainty of what comes after. Like Beethoven before him, Mahler uses sung text in his symphony to directly explore some of these ideas. Completed in 1894, the Symphony No. 2 is the first of three consecutive symphonies to contain vocal elements with text taken from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn), a collection of German folk poems that was a popular source of inspiration for musicians and artists throughout the 19th century. In the case of the Resurrection Symphony, Mahler bases the fourth movement, a brief, spellbinding number for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, on a poem called "Urlicht" ("Primeval Light"), which tells of a child's soul longing to escape earthly pain.

The fifth and final movement—at more than 30 minutes, the longest of the five—is an emotionally thrilling tour de force, both apocalyptic and serene. Finally calling upon the chorus, the finale is based on an amalgamated text, partially taken from Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock's "Resurrection Ode" and partially Mahler's own, and provides an earth-shaking conclusion to the symphony as well as a window into the composer's personal spiritual convictions. Explaining the events depicted in the final glorious moments, Mahler wrote, "Rise again, yes, rise again thou wilt ... Lo and behold: There is no judgment, no sinners, no just men, no great and no small; there is no punishment and no reward. A feeling of overwhelming love fills us with blissful knowledge and illuminates our existence."

The Thursday concert is part of my season's subscriptions, and the Saturday performance will be streamed, as usual, by WCRB.

BTW I'm sorry I forgot to alert you to the opening night concert on October 2. It was all Wagner, with orchestral pieces alternating with solos sung by Bryn Terfel. It was good. If we're lucky, WCRB will re-broadcast it in their Sunday afternoon symphony slot.