Saturday, October 31, 2015

BSO — 2015/10/29-31

This week's Boston Symphony is pleasant music throughout — nothing challenging for listeners or, I suppose, performers, with music by Tchaikovsky, Elgar, and Schubert.  We read, on their performance detail page:
Violinist/conductor Pinchas Zukerman returns to the BSO podium in both roles in two short, beautiful Tchaikovsky works for violin and orchestra [Mélodie and Sérénade Mélancolique], and to lead the composer's famous Serenade for Strings. Edward Elgar's warmhearted Chanson de nuit is one of two brief pieces originally for solo violin and piano (the other being Chanson de matin), later rescored for orchestra. Franz Schubert wrote his charming, four-movement Symphony No. 5 when he was just nineteen. Its balance of materials and control of the orchestra show the influence of Mozart and Beethoven.

Join the conversation online by using #BSOZukerman for this concert series or #BSO1516 on your social networks to discover the excitement of the season and connect with one another!
(Some emphasis added.)

See that page also for links to audio previews, program notes, their new "media center," and performer bio for Mr. Zukerman. Surprisingly, two of the five pieces are getting their first performances by the BSO — the two curtain raisers by Tchaikovsky — and the Elgar was never played by them in Symphony Hall.

As of this writing, there is no review yet in the Boston Musical Intelligencer. The Boston Globe has an unflattering review, finding the leadership of Maestro Zukerman uninspired and recalling superior performances of the main works by the orchestra in recent years. I was there on Thursday evening, and I found no fault with how anything was played. There's a lot to be said for a concert that's all "easy listening." But I was extremely annoyed by Zukerman's gesture when taking his bow at the end. He raised his hands about to shoulder level and made beckoning gestures with his fingers. The reviewer writes,
Taking his bows at the end of the night, Zukerman gestured to the crowd with his hands, as if to raise the level of the volume of the applause. There are other ways to do so.
I agree completely. The audience responded at once with cheers and much louder applause. I immediately walked out of the auditorium in disgust at the uncouth and unprofessional action. In my annoyance, I thought that Mr. Zukerman may have realized that his choice of unspectacular music didn't give the audience anything to go wild about, and maybe he thought the orchestra deserved a warmer ovation. (I later had the uncharitable thought that he chose pieces within his current capabilities as a violinist and as a conductor.) But it's an insult to the audience to tell them that they aren't applauding enough. I'm sorry many in the audience fell for it, and I wish I had had the presence of mind to boo the gesture before I left. Fortunately, if he does it again on Saturday, you won't see it over the radio or the internet.

Despite the unfortunate extraneous business at the end, I think the concert is worth listening to. You can do so over the radio and streaming facilities of WCRB — as you know by now, unless you're new to this blog. As usual, the live broadcast/webstream is on Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, with a rerun on Monday, November 9, also at 8:00. The station's BSO page includes a link to an audio piece which, after looking back to the "Elektra" of two weeks ago, includes interviews with Mr. Zukerman and, unrelated to the BSO, with the mandolinist who will take over as host of "A Prairie Home Companion," Chris Thile.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

BSO — 2015/10/24

This week it's members of the wind and string sections of the BSO performing three pieces by Dvořák. Here's what the orchestra's performance detail page has to say about it:
The BSO's wind and string families perform conductor-less in this program of three works by the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. The five-movement Serenade for Strings, is one of the composer's most familiar and popular pieces. In much the same vein of elegant entertainment is the Wind Serenade. The lesser-known but gorgeous Nocturne began life as the slow movement of a string quartet; its six-minute span is one of nearly unbroken melody.
Join the conversation online by using #BSODvorak for this concert series or #BSO1516 on your social networks to discover the excitement of the season and connect with one another!
(Some emphasis added.)

As always, that page has links to program notes, audio previews, and a podcast about the concert, but no performer bio this week: if you click on the thumbnail photo of the orchestra, you just get a larger photo. You'll note that once more the performance detail writer has taken the pieces out of the order in which they'll be performed. First it'll be the winds, then the Nocturne, and the String Serenade to conclude.

This program is only being given once, on Saturday, so there are no reviews of earlier performances since there were no earlier performances. But Dvořák isn't too tough to take, so I'm sure you'll find it enjoyable if you listen over the air or on line to WCRB at 8:00 p.m. on October 24. As usual, they will offer a rebroadcast/webstream just over a week later, on November 2. Their BSO page has a link to an interview about the concert as well as brief descriptions of what's coming up for the remainder of the BSO 2015-2016 season.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

BSO — 2015/10/15-17

This Saturday's BSO concert is Richard Strauss's opera Elektra, in a semi-staged (no costumes, very limited action) performance led by Andris Nelsons with soloists too numerous for me to list. Go to the BSO's performance detail page for a listing, along with the usual links to background information. They give the following description:
Richard Strauss's Elektra, first performed in 1909, remains one of the most powerful and influential operas in the repertory. The first collaboration between Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Elektra is an intense, modernist adaptation of the ancient Greek revenge drama, in which Electra and her brother Orestes plot to avenge their father Agamemnon's death. Building upon the mastery of the orchestra and musical form Strauss had achieved in his orchestral tone poems, Elektra, along with its predecessor Salome, broke new ground in opera as a musical investigation of human emotion and psychology.
Join the conversation online by using #BSOElektra for this concert series or #BSO1516 on your social networks to discover the excitement of the season and connect with one another!

I exchanged my subscription ticket for one for November 5. I saw Elektra on PBS a number of years ago, and that was enough. I like some of Strauss's music — the horn concertos, Ariadne auf Naxos, Metamorphosen, the clarinet concerto, and the Four Last Songs come to mind — but there's a lot, including Elektra, I can do without. On the other hand, the Boston Globe had a glowing review, focused mainly on the leading soprano, but with praise for other elements of the performance as well, and concluding with, "Nelsons and company reprise the opera on Saturday. My advice: Catch it before it’s gone." The Boston Musical Intelligencer gives a very full review which includes an analysis of the opera (which expresses misgivings similar to mine about the music itself) and then gives very high praise for the performance. (I'm beginning to regret missing it on Thursday, and to consider listening on the radio.)

As always, you can hear the live broadcast or stream over WCRB at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 17, or repeated on Monday, October 26. The station has a BSO page which describes the concert briefly
Soprano Christine Goerke sings the title role in Strauss's psycho-dramatic masterpiece Elektra, in a concert performance that also includes soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin, mezzo-soprano Jane Henschel, tenor Gerhard Siegel, and baritone James Rutherford, all conducted by Andris Nelsons.
and also includes a link to a podcast about last week's (and next Monday's rebroadcast) concert and this week's.

By the way, the BSO will also play last week's program of Currier, Beethoven, and Brahms on Tuesday, October 20, in New York's Carnegie Hall. If you're in the NYC area and can get to it, you may well want to go.

Friday, October 9, 2015

BSO — 2015/10/08-10

This week the Boston Symphony gives us one new work in its Boston premiere and two very familiar ones. Music Director Andris Nelsons will be on the podium. Here's what the BSO's performance detail page says about it, this time listing the works in the order they'll be performed:
The Grawemeyer Award-winning American composer Sebastian Currier's Divisions was co-commissioned by the BSO with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the National Orchestra of Belgium to commemorate the centennial of World War I. The title's meaning refers to both the military connotation of "divisions" as well as to its 16th-century usage as a set of instrumental variations. Two strongly contrasting 19th-century works balance the program. German pianist Lars Vogt plays Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3. Brahms's Second Symphony is one of the composer's most gracious and sunny works-but with striking formal innovations.

Join the conversation online by using #BSOBeethoven for this concert series or #BSO1516 on your social networks to discover the excitement of the season and connect with one another!
(Some emphasis added.)
As usual, there are also links on that page for the BSO media center, performer bios, program notes, and audio previews.

The Globe review summarizes it fairly well, I think. So far, there's nothing about it in the Boston Musical Intelligencer or on The Arts Fuse. Having read the program notes a day or so before the Thursday performance and again at Symphony Hall, I was pretty well prepared for "Divisions," but I found it much more listenable than I had expected. It's definitely in a 21st century idiom, which I was expecting, but it somehow seemed more coherent than a lot of recent music. The second half was even gentler that I anticipated. Even the usher who has no use for recent music found this piece not too bad. I hope I'm not raising expectations too much. I just want say even if you don't like recent music, don't be afraid to listen to this fairly short piece.

The composer was present and came out for a bow after the piece was played. He seemed uncomfortable, making awkward gestures of waving to the audience and applauding the performers; he hung back from going to the front of the stage to receive the warm applause the audience gave him, staying three feet or so back. This was the first piece of Currier's the orchestra had performed. I hope they'll do it again and play other music by him.

The Beethoven piano concerto was well played, except that in a couple of places the strings drowned out the woodwinds. From my seat, I could see that during the first movement cadenza Maestro Nelsons turned to the last two pages of his score. I thought he was studying something about the end of the concerto, but eventually I concluded that those pages gave to music for the cadenza Mr. Vogt was playing (not printed where it occurs in the first movement because the pianist could do something different). So Maestro Nelsons was just following along to be ready to cue the orchestra when they came back in.

I decided not to stay for the Brahms and got home earlier than usual.

As always, you can hear the concert broadcast live or streamed over the facilities of WCRB. The station's BSO page has, among other things, a link to a podcast in which Lars Vogt, the pianist in the Beethoven, previews the concert. The live broadcast/webstream will be Saturday, October 10, at 8:00 p.m. EDT (Boston Time), and the repeat will be at 8:00 on Monday, October 19, just over a week later.

See what you think of the Currier. I hope you'll enjoy it as well as what follows.

Friday, October 2, 2015

BSO — 2015/10/01-03 — Updated

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is back where it belongs — in Symphony Hall. This week they open the 2015-2016 season with a concert described as follows in their performance detail page:
For the first concerts of the BSO's 2015-2016 season-an all-Russian program-Andris Nelsons and the orchestra continue their survey of Stalin-era works by Dmitri Shostakovich. Composed at the end of World War II, the atypically short, five-movement Ninth Symphony was criticized as being insufficiently serious for the time. Shostakovich's older compatriot Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his final work, the vibrant, symphony-like Symphonic Dances, in 1940 while living in the United States. In between these two pieces, the marvelous Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin plays Tchaikovsky's beloved Concerto No. 1.
Join the conversation online by using #BSOKissin for this concert series or #BSO1516 on your social networks to discover the excitement of the season and connect with one another!
(Some emphasis — most, actually — added.)
That performance detail page also has a number of links. Program notes are accessible by clicking icons in the "Notes" column near the bottom of the page, audio previews by clicking those under "Audio," and performer bios by clicking on the thumbnail photos of the "Featured Performers." In addition, there is a "Media Center: Podcasts/Notes" graphic which gives links to some of the same material, as well as a brief (approximately two-minute) introduction to the music.

I enjoyed the concert, especially the Shostakovich. The program note refers to "a darker mood" in the middle of the second movement and "ominous" moments and others of "grief and desolation" in the third. Although the note had me expecting those elements, I didn't hear anything I'd have characterized that way. It wasn't all rollicking and playful, but I'd have called some parts calm, and some solemn. Shostakovich has his dissonances, but, to me at least, they aren't hard to take in this symphony. The Boston Globe, as of this writing, hasn't favored us with a review. Maybe one will become available later on the page I've linked. There is a typically lengthy review at the Boston Musical Intelligencer. The reviewer was aware of nuances in the performances which I hadn't picked up on. Maybe I'll notice them during the Saturday broadcast. One thing I would add is that in addition to the fine solos he mentioned, Clint Foreman opened the second movement of the Tchaikovsky very well on the flute.

As always, WCRB will broadcast the Saturday evening performance over 99.5 FM in Boston and stream it over the web. (The "Listen Live" button is on the right side of their homepage, near the top.) They also have a page devoted to the BSO. That page features an interview with Maestro Nelsons about this concert, as well was their complete BSO broadcast/webstream schedule for the season, and other items. The concert coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. "Boston Time" on October 3. If you miss it then, they repeat the broadcast/stream on Monday, October 12, also at 8:00.

Happy listening.

Update: The Globe has published a favorable review. While I'm at it, let me also note a somewhat critical review in the online publication, The Arts Fuse.