Friday, October 28, 2011

BSO — 2011/10/27-11/01; 2011/11/03-05

I'm posting about two weeks' programs because the BSO website has the same page for both. My guess is they are doing it because both have the same conductor, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.
Schumann, Strauss, Haydn and Wagner 

Schumann and Strauss 
[Rafael Fruhbeck de  Burgos]October 27- 29 & November 1
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, conductor
Gidon Kremer, violin
SCHUMANN Violin Concerto
STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben

The internationally admired Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer joins Spanish conductor and frequent BSO guest Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos in the first of the conductor’s two BSO programs this season. Kremer plays the relatively rarely heard Violin Concerto of Robert Schumann, a melodically driven, quintessentially Romantic piece written in Schumann’s last productive year of 1853 for Joseph Joachim, the outstanding violinist of the age, who unfortunately never performed it. Richard Strauss’s tone-poem Ein Heldenleben (“A Heroic Life”) is a romp through the composer’s own personal musical landscape—a multi-faceted tour-de-force culmination of his phenomenal tone poems of the 1890s.Podcasts for this series Include:
  1. Video Podcast: A Conversation with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
  2. Audio Concert Preview by Marc Mandel, narrated by Eleanor McGourty.
Haydn and Wagner 
[James Morris]November 3-5
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, conductor
James Morris, bass-baritone
Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver, Conductor
HAYDN Symphony No. 1
HAYDN Symphony No. 100,Military
WAGNER Excerpts from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos opens his second BSO program of the season with the rarely heard Haydn symphony designated as “No. 1,” written about 1757. This ten-minute, three-movement work comes very early in the history of the symphony genre. By contrast, Haydn’s Military Symphony dates from the zenith of the Classical symphony. Extended excerpts from Wagner’s humane masterpiece Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg— with bass-baritone James Morris in the role of Hans Sachs, and also featuring the Tanglewood Festival Chorus—make up the second half of the program.Podcasts for this series Include:
  1. Video Podcast: A Conversation with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

The Globe review of this week's Schumann and Strauss was generally favorable, but with some criticism both of the concerto itself and of the performances.

Although this concert was part of my subscription, I exchanged the ticket because I had a party to go to. Instead, I'll be attending the January 13 matinee presentation of Weber's Overture to Euryanthe, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.1, the Symphony No. 6 by John Harbison, and "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks" by Strauss. This will be my second time hearing the program, since I already had a ticket for the 12th, when the Harbison symphony will receive it's world premiere performance. The principal reason for going a second time is to give the Harbison a second hearing. The BSO performed his first three symphonies last season and I found them worth hearing. This season, they'll be playing the 4th and 5th in November and December, respectively, and they commissioned the 6th.

I'll be listening to Classical New England — as WCRB now calls itself since they've bought a couple of other stations — as usual, for the live broadcast/webcast on Saturday and the repeat Sunday at 1:00.

As for the Haydn and Wagner program, I have a ticket for Thursday and expect to be there. It should be good.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Mass Audience for Classical Music — contra "The Rest Is Noise"

I've been reading The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by Alex Ross. It's a wonderful book, and if you're not already familiar with it, I highly recommend it. It sets the composers of the century in their historical and cultural context and is very readable. To me, 20th Century classical music had seemed to be pretty much of a piece — lots of cacophony with occasional listenable pieces added to the mix. Ross manages to distinguish the cacophonies of Stravinsky from those of Schoenberg in a way that makes sense, and he points out a lot of euphonious music from composers who didn't mind writing things that people would enjoy. That sentence is colored by my personal opinions. Ross has helped me to understand what lies behind much of the music I've only recently begun to find tolerable.

But recently I've found something that I consider questionable. In a Chapter titled "Music for All: Music in FDR's America," Ross begins by noting that radio and records made classical music widely available, well beyond the concert hall, and WPA projects brough live performances to small towns all across the country. He notes that listeners numbered "up to ten million for Arturo Toscanini's broadcasts with the NBC Symphony, and millions more for the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts." He says that "Americans of the period [roughly the 1930's, I think] avidly sought the cultural improvement that classical music was supposed to provide."

But, says Ross, "The trouble was that Toscanini could not make classical music American." The repertoire was almost entirely European composers of the past. Although Stokowski and Koussevitsky championed contemporary works in their concerts, "radio executives and corporate heads who bought advertising" were unwilling to broadcast it. "Yet the failure to support the new led inexorably to the decline of classical music as a popular pastime, for nothing bound it to contemporary life. A venerable art form was set to become one more fad in a ravenous consumer culture."

I think he's got it wrong. I think the audience that was there for Toscanini and the Met in the 1930's is still there for the music they performed. It was there in the 1950's when I was a boy and Bell Telephone and Firestone sponsored half-hour TV programs. The music of Handel and Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn has always been accessible to a mass audience. But many people who gladly listen to these composers, or to the sextet from "Lucia di Lamermoor," will not keep listening long to Roger Sessions or Milton Babbitt. It was not the lack of contemporary music that caused the audiences to melt away; it was an overabundance of it, in my opinion.

Haydn — "The Creation"

Actually, it was "Die Schöpfung," since they performed it in German.

In this case "they" are Boston Baroque, and I attended their performance on Friday evening, October 21. The review in the Boston Globe praised conductor Martin Pearlman and the soloists and orchestra, and only faulted the chorus for unclear "diction." It's a piece with many excellent moments. I'm somewhat familiar with it from recordings, and it was good to hear it done in a very good live performance.

The decision to go was very much last-minute. I had only started to think about it on Thursday, and bough the tickets by phone on Friday afternoon. My arrival was also last-minute, as I was a bit late leaving home, and my subway connections got me to Jordan Hall at almost 8:10. The orchestra was tuning as I entered the auditorium. I had been afraid I'd miss the overture, but fortunately Maestro Pearlman had decided to wait for me. LOL

They are also recording the oratorio. I've stopped buying recordings, but if you like Haydn, I expect the recording to be worth buying.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

BSO — 2011/10/20-22

As usual, we start with the BSO website description.

All-Brahms Program 

October 20-22, Kurt Masur Leads the Orchestra in an all-Brahms Program including the Piano Concerto No. 2 with Yefim Bronfman as Soloist. 
[KurtMasur]We regret to share that Yefim Bronfman has been advised by his doctors to take one week to rest and recuperate from an injury to one of his fingers, and will not be able to perform Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2 in the Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts of October 20, 21, and 22. Nicholas Angelich has graciously agreed to join us as soloist for these performances on short notice, making his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut.
Audio Concert Preview by Robert Kirzinger, narrated by Eleanor McGourty.

Brian Bell with Michael Steinberg 
In 1996, the BSO performed the Brahms Third Symphony. At the very same time, author Michael Steinberg was in town promoting his new book, The Symphony: A Listener's Guide. WGBH's Brian Bell took this as a sign. The result? This 18-minute conversation between Bell and Steinberg about Brahms's Third.
Revered German conductor Kurt Masur returns to the BSO podium for the first of two programs with the orchestra this season. (He leads Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with the BSO in February.) In this all-Brahms program, he is joined by Nicholas Angelich for Brahms's by turns lyrical and majestic Piano Concerto No. 2, written more than twenty-five years after the First. Brahms's Symphony No. 3, the third and most classically contained of his four works in the genre, is as different from the other three as they are from each other, while at the same time matching the Piano Concerto No. 2 in its expressive intensity.

Brahms isn't my favorite composer, so I exchanged my ticket to this week's concert for November 10, when they'll play works of Weber, Barber, and Tchaikovsky. (I've been saying that they should do some Weber from time to time. Somebody must have heard me. LOL)

But the Globe liked it, and someone who was there said it was wonderful. So I'll listen on the radio tonight and again tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. You can catch the webstreams, as usual.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

I Liked It and So Did The Globe

I was at the concert on Thursday, October 13 — the one that will be broadcast/streamed live this evening (Saturday) and retransmitted Sunday afternoon. Here's the review from the Boston Globe.

Maybe the reviewer is right about the freshness of Yo-Yo Ma's interpretation of the cello concerto. I'm not familiar enough with the piece to say. What I can say is that he seemed to be really working at it, and I enjoyed it more than I had expected to. As for "The Wooden Prince," it was okay — not as jagged as a lot of Bartók. But I was ready for it to be over about 15 minutes before it stopped.

Overall, I recommend listening if you have a chance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

BSO — 2011/10/13-18

As usual, we begin with an excerpt from the BSO's website describing this weeks program.
Dvořák and Bartók

Buy Tickets

$30.00  - $110.00 
Related performances in this program
 October 13, 2011 8:00 PM
October 14, 2011 1:30 PM
October 15, 2011 8:00 PM
October 18, 2011 8:00 PM
[Yo-Yo Ma]
Boston Symphony Orchestra 
October 13, 2011 8:00 PM
Symphony Hall
Boston, Massachusetts
Share this event: [Add to Google Calendar] [Add to iCal or Outlook] [Share on Facebook] 
Buy TicketsSelect Your Own SeatsThere is a $6.25 per-ticket service fee for this event.
Featured Artists 
[Juanjo Mena] 
Juanjo Mena 
Yo-Yo Ma 
Program Notes  Audio 
DVOŘÁKCello Concertoview pdf
BARTÓKThe Wooden Prince
Audio Concert Preview by Marc Mancel, narrated by Eleanor McGourty.
About the Music

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, masterful in any repertoire, performs the powerful Cello Concerto by Antonín Dvořák, a piece the Czech composer began during his sojourn in the United States in the mid-1890s. Making his subscription series debut leading Ma and the orchestra in this program is Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena, who led works of Berg, Strauss, and Mahler in his BSO debut at Tanglewood in July 2010. He also conducts a rarity, Bartók’s score to the folk-tale ballet The Wooden Prince, one of the composer’s three great, orchestrally thrilling stage works from the 1910s.

I have tickets for the Thursday performance, and I'll probably listen on Saturday until my brother calls. Obviously, we can expect Yo-Yo Ma to do very well with the Dvořák concerto. Dvořák isn't one of my favorite composers, but he's okay. Bartók is even less of a favorite, but I don't think I've ever heard "The Wooden Prince," so it should at least be interesting as a new experience. The conductor is also unknown to me, but from what the BSO blurb says, at least he has familiarity with the era from which the pieces come.

The usual information applies with respect to concert time and pre-concert show.

There is a new development, however, with respect to availability. Not only is WCRB rebroadcasting and streaming the Saturday concert on Sunday afternoon, they're also making it available "on demand" through their website for some time (they say two weeks minimum) after the Sunday rebroadcast. The website isn't the easiest I've ever seen to navigate, but I managed to find last week's concert "on demand" and I'm sure you can too. (That reminds me, I should probably post about that concert, to encourage you to listen.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

BSO — 2011/10/06 & 08; Apology; News about WCRB

First the apology. I'm not sure it was entirely my fault, but I didn't realize that last Saturday's concert would not be broadcast live. If you were listening, they actually apologized to any who had expected the BSO live concert, so maybe they felt they had not been clear enough about their plans. I hope any of you who tuned in were not too badly disappointed. If the Globe reviews of the concerts are to be believed, you didn't miss too much. This is the review of Friday evening, and this is about Saturday. I was there on Friday, and I enjoyed it a lot — good music, well played, I thought, but nothing startling, no new insights or revelations, nothing really exciting. But you can make you own judgments, because they also said that they would broadcast (and stream, I suppose) the concertos Ms. Mutter played not only on Saturday but also on Friday which they consider broadcast-worthy. This will be on Saturday, October 8 — an evening when there will be no live BSO concert.

Now for this week's concert broadcast/streaming schedule, as I understand it. Here's what the BSO website says about this week's program.
Britten, Prokofiev and Sibelius
[Sean Newhoulse]October 6-11 
Sean Newhouse , one of the BSO’s assistant conductors, takes the helm October 6-11 for a program exploring diverse 20th-century repertoire from England, Russia, and Finland. The concerts open with Benjamin Britten’s vivid and dramatic Four Sea Interludes, a series of orchestral entr’actes from the composer’s operatic masterpiece Peter Grimes. French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzetthen joins the BSO for Prokofiev’s inventive Piano Concerto No. 3, a whirlwind for soloist and orchestra that is by turns lyrical and energetically dissonant. Closing the program is Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2, one of his most popular and immediately captivating works.
But as I mentioned earlier, there is no Saturday concert this week. (Possibly this has something to do with the fact that it is Yom Kippur.) So instead, they will broadcast the performance on Thursday, October 6, which just happens to be the 50th anniversary of the first regular broadcast of the BSO over WGBH, which now owns WCRB. So if you want to hear it, you will need to listen then. Further info about the music is available through this page of the BSO website.

Finally, here is an article about WCRB and its plans, not just for the Boston Symphony concerts but for the rest of their programming. It looks as if you'll have some good opportunities to listen not only to the BSO but to lots of other good performances of various types.