Saturday, October 26, 2013

BSO — 2013/10/24-26

This week brings the American premiere performances of a work that was co-commissioned by the BSO — Speranza, by Mark-Anthony Turnage, who also wrote the opera "Anna Nicole." Mahler's Lied von der Erde completes the program. On the BSO performance detail page we read:
English conductor Daniel Harding makes his BSO debut in a program featuring the first of several BSO-commissioned works for the 2013-14 season, Mark-Anthony Turnage's Speranza, which the composer calls "upbeat, extrovert, and optimistic." Harding led the premiere of his compatriot's piece with the London Symphony Orchestra in February 2013. Mahler's hour-long song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth") is a group of wide-ranging settings of Chinese poetry translated into German; the composer responds with music tinged by Eastern exoticism.
As always, the page also includes links to program notes, interviews, audio previews, and performers bios.

I was there for the actual American premiere on Thursday, and although I liked the new piece initially, I'm having second thoughts. Maybe it's just a bit too unmusical and lugubrious, except in the third movement. That's not surprising, considering how the composer describes his development of the piece. Still, it is as it is, and you can listen and decide for yourself. The Mahler symphony seemed coarse and loud. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be, but it was harsher than I expected, and apart some excellent playing by Jason Snider in the lowest range of the french horn, I was generally underwhelmed. Some acquaintances I saw in the corridor afterwards were enthusiastic, so maybe it was better than I thought. The Globe reviewer was unenthusiastic, although his comments on the Turnage are similar to how I felt about it at the time, and I have to agree that the flute and english horn solos in the Mahler were impressive.

Classical New England will broadcast and stream the concert beginning at 8:00 this evening, with a retransmission on Monday, November 4, also at 8:00 p.m.. This evening there will be the usual warm-up at 7:00. Their web page devoted to the BSO has links to their own interviews with composer and conductor (and to lots else).

The CNE rebroadcast/stream on this Monday, October 28, will be last week's Wagner, Mozart, and Brahms program under the baton of Andris Nelsons.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

BSO — 2013/10/17-19

After a couple of weeks with music of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Ives, and Adès (among others), our music director designate Andris Nelsons has come to town to give us a sort of throwback concert, with Wagner, Mozart, and Brahms. On the BSO program detail page — where you get the links to performer bios, program notes, and audio previews — we read:
For his first subscription concerts since being named the BSO's next Music Director, the young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons leads music from the heart of the orchestral repertoire. The concerts begin with Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, a gentle tone poem composed for his wife Cosima's birthday. Nelsons and the orchestra are then joined by the brilliant English pianist Paul Lewis, who makes his subscription series debut with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25, one of the composer's biggest and most outgoing concertos. Brahms's robust Symphony No. 3, one of the greatest symphonies in the repertoire, closes the program.
As usual, you can listen live over the web or on radio at Classical New England. The preview starts at 7:00 and the concert broadcast/stream itself at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time. CNE's page devoted to the BSO doesn't have a lot about this week's concert, other than a clip of some playing by the piano soloist, Paul Lewis. But there are still links to other BSO related material that may be of some interest. On that page we also are reminded that on Monday evening, they'll rebroadcast last week's concert of Mendelssohn, Ives, Adès, and Franck.

I was in Symphony Hall for the first presentation of this week's program. Unlike a week earlier, when at least 1/3 of the seats were empty, this time the hall was very nearly full. In part, it might have been the music, but — given that Maestro Nelsons was greeted by a standing ovation when he came on stage for the first time — I think many patrons wanted to be at his first concert since being named the next music director.

I thought I heard a bit more in the Siegfried Idyll than I had before. Some of it may come from  being less distracted than when I listen at home, some from having just read the program note, and some from Maestro Nelsons' leading of the orchestra. The Mozart seemed to be music that matters, not just some rococo pleasantry. The Brahms performance challenged my dislike of that composer's work. Maybe the interpretation had something to do with it; maybe this is actually one of his more enjoyable pieces; maybe my taste is evolving. At any rate, it was an enjoyable, if unspectacular, evening in Symphony Hall. The Boston Globe's reviewer liked it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

BSO — 2013/10/10-12

This week's concerts are an interesting mixture of the traditional and the modern. One can read something of an "ocean" theme into the three works preceding the intermission. I'm not sure how useful that is, though. Anyway, here's how the BSO itself describes the program:
English composer-conductor-pianist Thomas Adès returns to the BSO podium with more music of his own. He composed his symphonic poem Polaris in 2010; subtitled "Voyage for Orchestra," it calls for a spatial arrangement of the brass around the auditorium. The program begins with another "voyage" piece, Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, which describes the composer's reaction to the Scottish seascape he visited on a tour of the British Isles. Charles Ives's Orchestral Set No. 2 is a series of smaller tone poems on subjects from New England and New York, featuring his inimitable use of quotation and collage of popular tunes. The Thursday and Saturday concerts also include César Franck's powerful Symphony in D minor-his most enduring orchestral work. (Emphasis supplied.)
The performance detail page, from which I copied the above, also has the usual links to performer info, program notes and audio previews. They don't mention there that the third section of the Ives piece also has an ocean connection: it is about the reaction of commuters in a train station to news of the sinking of the Lusitania.

I was at the concert on Thursday evening, and I really enjoyed it, especially the Ives and Adès. The Ives was so good (especially the brass section blaring "In the Sweet Bye and Bye") that I shouted "Bravo" as the applause was just starting. I like to think it encouraged more vigorous and sustained applause, leading to a second return to the stage for Maestro Adès — we'll see if he gets called back more than once this evening. In any event, I'm amazed that this particular piece has never been performed by the BSO before this week. I hope they'll do it again while I'm still able to get to Symphony Hall and enjoy it. The Globe reviewer also liked the concert.

It has occurred to me that my ability to enjoy the music of Ives (and other 20th and 21st century composers) owes a lot to reading program notes in advance to get an idea of what a composition is all about, how it works. So I definitely recommend following the links on the performance detail page when there's an unfamiliar piece.

You can hear it for yourself over the radio or the web on Classical New England. Their page devoted to the BSO includes, among others potentially interesting things, a link to an interview with the composer/conductor, in which he talks about all the pieces on the program. I haven't heard it yet, but I hope I'll have a chance to before tonight's broadcast.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

BSO — 2013/10/03-08

This week's program includes music of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Strauss. Here's how the BSO performance detail page summarizes it:
French conductor Stéphane Denève is joined by universally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma for one of the 20th century's great concertos, Dmitri Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1. This intense, highly personal work was composed for Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered it in 1959. Also on the program is Serge Prokofiev's Suite from his opera The Love of Three Oranges, based on an 18th-century Carlo Gozzi farce and featuring some of Prokofiev's most characterful and familiar passages. Richard Strauss's tone poem Ein Heldenleben ("A Heroic Life") quotes liberally from the composer's own earlier tone poems summing up the first phase of his musical life in a powerful orchestral tour de fource.
As always, the page contains links to audio and text background material (including performer bios if you click on the photos).

Listen on Classical New England at 8:00 p.m. Boston time (with pre-concert material at 7:00). Their BSO page has links to various related items, as well as the season schedule. The station's weekly schedule also shows Boston Symphony Orchestra on Mondays from 8:00-10:00 p.m. I've read elsewhere that this is a rebroadcast of a previous concert, but I'm not sure if it is the concert from two or nine days earlier. Sometime I'll check it out. You can too, of course.

I was at the concert on Thursday. Overall, I didn't really care very much for the Prokofiev, but it was certainly tolerable. What I did like was some nice solo viola playing at one point. The conductor gave the violist a solo bow at the end of the piece. The Shostakovich was more musical to my ears. Of course, it was an outstanding performance by Yo-Yo Ma. I was also very impressed by extended solo work in the Strauss by concertmaster Malcolm Lowe, returning this season after a couple of years' health leave. The Globe reviewer liked it.