Saturday, November 30, 2013

BSO — 2013/11/26-30

An unusual bit of scheduling in Thanksgiving week saw the first performance of the program on Tuesday and the last will be this evening, Saturday. Ordinarily, if there is a Tuesday concert, it is the last one of a program that began the previous Thursday. But this time there was no Thursday concert on Thanksgiving, just the unusual Tuesday first performance, the regular Friday matinee, and the Saturday evening to conclude. After this, the Boston Pops (with most of the Symphony musicians) takes over for a month of "Holiday Pops." The symphony concerts will resume on January 9, 2014. I'm not sure what they'll be giving us over Classical New England for the five Saturdays — probably Holiday Pops for one — but I'll try to keep an eye on it and let you know.

Anyway, the Boston Symphonic farewell to 2013, has Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos leading a second week, this time with Peter Serkin as soloist in Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2, followed after intermission by the Beethoven Symphony No. 7. Here's what the BSO publications folks blurb on the performance detail page:
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos is joined by esteemed American pianist Peter Serkin for one of the biggest and most challenging piano concertos in the repertoire, Brahms's Concerto No. 2. Composed nearly twenty-five years after the First Concerto, the Second is unusual in being a four-movement work instead of the typical three, adding what Brahms called "a tiny, tiny wisp of a scherzo." Beethoven wrote his Symphony No. 7 in 1812. Beginning in calm and ending in infectious exuberance, the Seventh was called by Richard Wagner "the apotheosis of the dance."
See that page also for the usual links to further information.

Since there was no Thursday concert, and I was otherwise occupied on Tuesday and Friday, I'll be hearing it for the first time over the radio this evening, so I can't give you my own "review." The Globe reviewer found it worth hearing.

Classical New England will broadcast over WCRB and the sister stations and stream over the internet at 8:00 p.m. Boston time (with introductory things at 7:00) and a repeat of the concert only at 8:00 p.m. on December 9. Their BSO page doesn't seem to have any background about this week's concert, but it reminds me that last week's will be rebroadcast on December 2, beginning at 8:00 p.m., as well as being available on demand over the web.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

BSO — 2013/11/21-23

This week the Boston Symphony is giving the world premiere performances of the Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra by Marc Neikrug, a work which he wrote for several bassoonists he knows on a joint commission from the BSO and three other institutions. In turn, the BSO share of the commission was supported by a grant from another agency — interesting how that works. Anyway, that opens the second half of the concert. Before the intermission we get Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, and the concert concludes with Suites 1 and 2 from"The Three-cornered Hat" by Manuel de Falla, a work that is part f the Spanish heritage of Conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. You can go to the orchestra's program detail page for the usual links to performer bios, program notes, and audio previews — including an interview with Maestro Frühbeck about the Beehoven and the Falla and an interview with bassoonist Richard Svoboda about the Neikrug. Here's their blurb about the concert.
Spanish conductor and frequent BSO guest Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos leads the second BSO-commissioned work and first world premiere of 2013-14: American composer Marc Neikrug's Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, composed for the BSO and the orchestra's principal bassoonist, Richard Svoboda. Well-known as a pianist, Neikrug is also artistic director of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, an innovative symphonic depiction of a day in the country, begins this program, and Manuel de Falla's suites from the scintillating, Spanish-flavored ballet The Three-cornered Hat, a Frühbeck specialty, concludes it.
I was there for the actual premiere, and while I thought the bassoon concerto was musical as well as interesting, I won't mind if they don't play it again. In other words, it was okay. Each of the three movements showed a different aspect of the bassoon, and it was certainly not hard to listen to, just not very engaging. Maybe I'll like it better if I listen to the interview and then hear the rebroadcast on December 2. The reviewers in the Boston Globe and the Boston Musical Intelligencer both gave positive reviews, but their descriptions seemed to be paraphrases of the description in the program notes — which I take to mean that they didn't pick up on much in the actual performance. By all means, give it a listen, and see what you think.

As for the rest of the program, the Beethoven was well-played: a fine performance of a great work which is pleasant rather than inherently exciting. I had developed a bit of a cough, and left after the Neikrug so as not to subject my neighbors to further distraction, but the reviewers liked the Falla.

As always you can hear the broadcast or webstream beginning at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time over Classical New England, with the usual "pre-game show" an hour earlier and the usual rebroadcast on the second Monday (December 2, in this case). Also, as usual, their BSO page has a link to an interview, in this case with the bassoonist, and other information about the BSO season.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

BSO — 2013/11/14-19

The music in tis week's BSO concerts is all from the standard orchestral repertoire: Mozart, Prokofiev, and Schumann. The conductor, and soloist in the Mozart, is more unusual: violinist Leonidas Kavakos. Here's how the BSO describes it on their program detail page, where, as usual, you will find links to audio previews and program notes, as well as a performer bio (available by clicking on the thumbnail photo:
Greek-born violin virtuoso and conductor Leonidas Kavakos returns in that dual role for Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4, composed in 1775 and considered a signpost of the precocious composer's high maturity. Kavakos then leads Serge Prokofiev's delightful, Mozart- and Haydn-inspired Classical Symphony, one of the last pieces he finished in Russia before leaving his homeland for more than a decade. Closing the program is Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 2, composed in 1845 after a bout of deep depression, but ultimately, even miraculously, optimistic and affirmative in character.
I was there on Thursday and found it a very satisfying concert. One of the best things, IMO, was that Kavakos' cadenzas in the Mozart were appropriate to the style of the rest of the music. Some performers like to show off their technical by doing all sorts of flashy stuff that really has nothing in common with the piece they're playing. But Kavakos kept it Mozartean. Throughout the concert, he also kept good control of the dynamics: fast wasn't loud; he never "blasted us out of our seats." For once, even the horns played softly — often they drown out the other instruments, but not this time. Somebody found the playing in the Schumann "rough-hewn." Perhaps that's the word for it. Somehow they sounded a bit different from what I'm used to, but I wouldn't know what to call it exactly. The Prokofiev and Schumann seemed vibrant, the Schumann almost earthy. All in all, I found it refreshing. I hope that comes through on the radio and the web. Apart from some quibbles about Kavakos' interpretation of the Schumann, the Globe's reviewer was very pleased also.

If you're in range of the signal, you can hear it on the radio, otherwise over the web, both from Classical New England. There are links to an interview with Kavakos and to a video in which he talks about his violin on their page devoted to the BSO. The concert program begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, with related material — mostly other music by the night's performers or composers — beginning at 7:00. There will be a rebroadcast (without the preliminary hour) on November 25 and ere long it should be available on demand over the web.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

BSO — 2013/11/7-9: Belated But Still Potentially Useful

It's embarrassing to be so late with this. It just completely slipped my mind yesterday. But there will still be opportunities to hear last night's concert via the rebroadcast on the 18th as well as the on-demand system (which I haven't said much about).

This week's concerts were the Britten War Requiem, described as follows on the performance detail page, with the usual links:

To mark the centenary of the composer's birth, Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit leads one of the greatest 20th-century works for chorus and orchestra, Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. Written in 1961-62, this moving work was commissioned for the consecration of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during a bombing raid in World War II. Britten's piece takes a firm pacifist stance, setting World War I-era poetry by Wilfred Owen-sung by the two male soloists-interleaved with his setting of the traditional Latin Mass for the dead. Following the composer's intention, the present performances bring together three soloists-one Russian, one English, and one German-from countries representing three major factions in the agonies of World War II. The Boston Symphony Orchestra gave the American premiere of this great work at Tanglewood in 1963 under Erich Leinsdorf.
As people have said, it's a work to be experienced, not enjoyed — not that the music is bad, just that the piece is very serious. The Globe gave a favorable review. I thought that it was well performed, although I thought more highly of the soprano, and somewhat less so of the baritone, whom I considered good enough but unspectacular.

In one of Owen's poems which Britten included, the poet asks if there will be a resurrection and says the replies from Age and Earth reply in the negative. In a wonderful juxtaposition, today at Mass, we had readings that proclaim that the answer in Owen's poem is wrong: there is a resurrection. 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14 and Luke 20:27-38. If you'd care for more on the topic, I like this homily. An additional comment on the piece (beyond those linked on the BSO and CNE pages, and my own in this paragraph) is this preview from the Globe.

Although the live broadcast on Classical New England is past — and I hope you might have checked it out without my telling you what was coming — there remain the rebroadcast on November 18 and the opportunity to listen "on demand," as I noted at the top. The on demand feature is also worth having in mind for all the other concerts through the season.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

BSO — 2013/10/31-11/5

Two very familiar pieces are presented this week — Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin and Elgar's "Enigma" Variations — along with the BSO's first performances of Concerto Grosso No.1 for Three Cellos and Orchestra by Krzysztof Penderecki. Wait, wait! Don't run away! This is the later, mellower, Penderecki. It's really not hard to take. The performance detail page mentions the connection between composition and conductor:
In his first of two BSO programs this season, frequent guest conductor Charles Dutoit marks the 80th birthday of Krzysztof Penderecki with performances of the great Polish composer's Concerto Grosso No. 1 for three cellos and orchestra. Dutoit, the work's dedicatee, led the premiere with the NHK Symphony Orchestra in 2001; for these BSO concerts he is joined by three of today's brightest cello soloists. Opening the program is Ravel's familiar Tombeau de Couperin, a colorful, multi-faceted work that originated as a piano suite. Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations is another work that explores a wide variety of moods and ideas, each of its movements sketching a portrait of one of Elgar's close friends.
There you also find the usual links to text, audio, and performer info. I found the program notes on the Elgar particularly interesting. Of course the notes on the Penderecki give a useful preview.

I was there for the Thursday performance, and was quite pleased overall. The Globe reviewer liked it, too. I'm not sure that I agree with his interpretation of everything — the extra-musical meanings — but I agree that it was well played. My favorite of the evening was the Elgar.

You can listen at 8:00 this evening (pre-game at 7:00) or to the rebroadcast on Nov. 11 over Classical New England. Also check out their BSO page for links to additional material.