Saturday, March 28, 2015

BSO — 2015/03/26-31

This week the Boston Symphony is giving another world premiere. It's a wonderful work for organ and orchestra titled Ascending Light, by Michael Gandolfi. The BSO commissioned it to honor their long-time organist Berj Zamkochian and to commemorate the Armenian Genocide, which began in 1915. Music Director Andris Nelsons will conduct and Olivier Latry will be the organ soloist. After intermission, we'll hear Mahler's Symphony No. 6. In addition to the usual links to program notes, audio previews, and performer bios, the orchestra's performance detail page gives the following background information on the concert:
Andris Nelsons returns for the final three of his ten enormously wide-ranging 2014-15 programs. Here he conducts the BSO's second world premiere of the season, a concerto written by Boston-based composer Michael Gandolfi for Symphony Hall's remarkable, recently restored Aeolian-Skinner organ. Gandolfi's dynamic, pattern-infused, colorful works include the earlier BSO commissions The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (premiered by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra) and Night Train to Perugia (premiered by the BSO in 2012). Gandolfi's new work shares a program with Gustav Mahler's powerful Symphony No. 6, arguably Mahler's most heartfelt symphonic statement-his wife Alma called it "the most completely personal of his works."

The Boston Musical Intelligencer published an interview with the composer which is a good preview, like the official program notes. As for the reviews, the Globe was unimpressed, while the Boston Musical Intelligencer finds it "a distinguished addition to that rara avis, the organ concerto." As for the Mahler, BMInt noted many details of the performance and had no complaints, while the Globe gave a mixed review.

My own feeling is that the new piece by Gandolfi is a masterpiece, almost overwhelming. It is true music throughout (not like way too much recent "music" which lacks coherence, recognizable melody, or harmony — this has all three in abundance), with plenty of the life force which gives the first movement its title, and lyricism when it comes to the ascending light section. The audience gave a prolonged standing ovation for conductor, organist, and composer, and I think it was fully deserved. I'm far from alone in my opinion: there are favorable comments on the BMInt's interview with Michael Gandolfi, and the following comment on their review:
Great review. Thursday evening’s concert was superb. The Gandolfi work was powerful, expressive, and moving. I’ve never seen a BSO audience roar with such a sustained standing ovation to any new work being performed. Yes, it was tonal and accessible, but more than that, it was *really good.* It’s a work I want to hear again. When was the last time any of us said that at the premiere of any new work here in Boston? 
BSO management, please take note. I think if there is a distaste for new music in Boston, it’s more a distaste for atonal, inaccessible music that virtually no one except for 3-4 academicians can remotely enjoy or take any pleasure in. Thankfully we are done hearing the Elliott Carters and Milton Babbitts of the world here in Boston now that what’s-his-name is gone. There have to be other compositional voices out there besides Michael Gandolfi who write new music that is meaningful, expressive, and engaging. 
Kudos to Michael Gandolfi for writing a tremendous, powerful, and deeply affecting new piece of music. I have to believe this is a work that will be played for many years to come.

So I'm urging you to listen to the broadcast/webstream over WCRB on Saturday evening and again on Monday, April 6, both at 8:00 Boston (Daylight Saving/Summer) Time. If you don't like Mahler, you can "leave" at intermission.  The station's BSO page also offers a link to an interview with the composer and the organist. It's not about the music itself so much as about how it got composed and about organs and organ playing in general.

Edited to add: Here's a link to a video of brief excerpts from the BSO. It gives some idea, but of course it can't match the impact of hearing the whole thing.

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