Saturday, March 31, 2012

BSO — 2012/03/27-31 Info and Reviews — Also St. Matthew Passion

BSO.  This week's Boston Symphony is unusual: before the intermission a keyboard concerto of Bach's, reworked into the supposedly "original" violin concerto which Bach wrote and then transcribed; then fast forward 200 years for something by the Polish composer Witold Lutosławski; and after intermission Beethoven's Fourth Symphony. Bach is usually the province of "early music" specialists; Lutosłaswski isn't exactly a household name; and the Fourth is not one of the more frequently performed of the Beethoven symphonies (and rightly so, IMO). Surprisingly, to me anyway, it turned out to be a good program.

First, though here's the BSO website, where you can get their information about the music. They summarize it as follows:
Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, who has appeared with the BSO as soloist, conducts the orchestra for the first time in two works and is soloist and conductor for Bach's Violin Concerto in D minor. The Polish composer Witold Lutosławski's sonorous, moving Musique funèbre was composed for the tenth anniversary of Bartók's death and was a watershed work for its composer. Beethoven's high-spirited, gregarious Symphony No. 4 closes the program.

As for reviews, the Globe was generally approving, but with reservations. IMO the Bach piece worked quite well as a violin concerto. The program note indicates the there are enough examples of how Bach transformed violin concertos into harpsichord concertos that people can make good guesses at how a hypothetical violin concerto would have looked when all they have top go on is the keyboard version. In this instance, you wouldn't know it wasn't Bach's original. The Lutosławski piece was intended to be  12-tone music. but I could hardly recognize it as such. Much of the time, the pitches he chooses out of the possible 12 actually harmonize. So it was pretty easy listening. Even the jarring dissonance in the middle was tolerable. I think for the audience in the hall, it benefited from the way the players were seated in a semicircle. You could see the music traveling from the cellos on the far right to the first violins on the left, as each section entered; you could see clearly which sections were playing; and at the end, you could see them dropping out from left (top violins) to right (second cellos) until finally there was just a solo cellist. But I think it should be worth hearing even without the visual element. I've never really liked the final two movements of the Beethoven Fourth Symphony. They seemed gruff and boisterous, without much musical value. But on Thursday in symphony hall, they finally sounded like music, not organized noise. I suppose I have to give credit to the conductor for that.

You can hear it all on Classical New England on Saturday at 8:00, with "pre-game" show at 7:00 p.m., and background interviews preceding the concert and during intermission. The repeat should be at 1:00 on Sunday, and "on demand" streaming for two weeks thereafter. As with the BSO website, there are links to background info on the concert.

St. Matthew Passion.  On Sunday afternoon at 3:00 you can hear a live performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion by he Handel and Haydn Society broadcast and streamed by Classical New England, the same folks who bring you the BSO Saturday concerts. For details and links to additional information, see this page of their website. The Globe's reviewer was quite pleased with the first performance, on Friday evening.

My brother and I have tickets to this performance, so you'll be listening along with us if you tune in or log on.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

BSO — 2012/03/21-24 — Updated March 24

This week, the BSO is performing music by Kodály, Dvořák, and Mendelssohn. Here's what their website says. You can also find links to further information on the program there.
The phenomenal German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann returns for the too rarely heard Dvořák's Violin Concerto, a powerful and beautiful Czech-flavored piece here conducted by the young Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha in his BSO debut. Opening the concert is the Hungarian Zoltán Kodály's Dances of Galánta, a 1933 orchestral masterpiece steeped in Central European folk music. Mendelssohn's always fresh Symphony No. 3,Scottish, was one of the fruits of the young genius's long trip to the British Isles in his early twenties.

It's part of my subscription, but I had another event to go to this evening (an interfaith seder), so I exchanged my ticket for Friday afternoon. Time permitting, I'll post my own thoughts and link the Boston Globe review sometime between now and the broadcast/webstream on Saturday evening over Classical New England.

Update: I found the Friday performance quite enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to rehearing it on Classical New England. The reviewer for the Boston Globe also found much to enjoy and nothing to criticize in the performance.

Friday, March 16, 2012

BSO — 2012/03/6-17

The Boston Symphony is on a hiatus from its subscription series of concerts. Last week they were performing in Carnegie Hall in New York City. This week they are giving youth concerts and family concerts in Symphony Hall.

I don't know what Classical New England will be doing to fill the time slots in which they usually present the BSO concerts. You can listen and find out, I suppose. That's what I plan to do. Maybe the website will tell. I haven't checked it out.

Next week we should be back to live concerts on Saturdays and rebroadcasts on Sundays.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

John Harbison on Bach's St. Matthew Passion

On February 29, I attended a lecture by the composer John Harbison on the "St. Matthew Passion." He acknowledged that there were many ways of viewing the work, but he chose to look at it under the aspect of abandonment — that the text suggests that the Christian feels abandoned by Jesus. Of course, on the Cross Jesus quoted the Psalm verse which asks, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" But traditionally we have been invited to sympathize with Jesus' sufferings, and feel sorrow for our responsibility for them, but until now I don't think I've ever heard that we are invited to feel as he felt, especially in that precise moment. (The "Stabat Mater" asks that we feel as Mary felt.)

Harbison played several examples. He started with the opening chorus, with its call to lament (klagen). There are lines such as "Jesus takes leave of us," (Jesus von uns Abschied nimmt) "So is my Jesus captured now," (So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen.) "Give me back my Jesus," (Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!) and the address to the faithful as "you forsaken chickens." (Ihe verlaßnen Küchlein) Finally, there is the closing recitative and chorus where the faithful bid good night to Jesus and sit weeping by the tomb.

I find it a startling take on the work as a whole. As Harbison himself pointed out, this is a Passion and therefore it does not include Easter. Furthermore, if it represents the feelings of loss those present at the actual events would have felt, it also includes notions of clinging to Jesus and being rescued by him. Certainly, it seems unlikely that Bach and his librettist Picander would have intended that the hearers should take away from the performance of the Passion an idea that they had been abandoned by Jesus. But it gave an aspect to think about, and as someone who has conducted the work on occasion, Harbison is certainly able to see aspects which are not immediately apparent.

During the question period at the end, a college-age girl asked Harbison what his name was. He responded with name and a very abbreviated bit of background. I wonder how the questioner learned of the lecture and decided to attend without knowing who the lecturer was.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

BSO — 2012/03/1-3

This week we get Berlioz and Ravel. On the BSO website (which contains the usual links to program notes and audio previews) we read:
French pianist Cédric Tiberghien makes his BSO debut with Ravel's scintillating Piano Concerto in G. German conductor Christoph Eschenbach leads these concerts, which begin and end with Berlioz. Opening the program is the fantastical overture to the composer's picaresque Italian Renaissance opera Benvenuto Cellini. Closing the program is Berlioz's most famous work, the Symphonie fantastique, which traces the evolution of an artist's feverish romantic obsession with a woman who does not respond in kind.

I wasn't there on Thursday — not part of my subscription — so I can't say anything about it, but the Globe reviewer was quite pleased.

As usual, you can listen to the live broadcast/stream, the Sunday rebroadcast/stream, and then on demand for two weeks over Classical New England.