Saturday, November 28, 2015

BSO — 2015/11/24-28

That's right, instead of running from Thursday through Saturday (or the occasional following Tuesday) this week's program is being given, as shown by the dates in the title, from Tuesday through Saturday, because there is no concert on Thanksgiving Day. (Unlike certain retail giants, the BSO gives its people the day off.)

It's a concert I would have liked to attend in person and one I'm looking forward to hearing. I'll listen to the Haydn and Bartók live, and the Tchaikovsky during the rebroadcast December 7. The Bartók may be a bit challenging, but the rest should be pleasant. The BSO's performance detail page gives this description (reversing the order of the first two pieces):
Andris Nelsons and Yefim Bronfman collaborate with the BSO in Bartók's dazzling Piano Concerto No. 2, a formidably difficult work the composer wrote for himself to perform. Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 30, Alleluja, dating from 1765, takes its nickname from the Gregorian chant melody in its first movement. Another relative rarity is Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1, Winter Daydreams. Begun in 1866 but not premiered until 1883, the symphony is the earliest major work by the composer, and is saturated with elements of Russian folk music style.

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

That page has its usual links to Media Center, performer bios (click on the thumbnail pics), program notes, and audio previews.

The Globe's review is favorable, as is that in the Boston Musical Intelligencer; although the latter is less than completely satisfied with the sound in the Haydn.

You can listen live on air or via the web on WCRB this evening (Nov. 28) at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, and/or a rebroadcast/stream at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, December 7. The station's BSO page links their feature "The Answered Question," which this week has an interview with the conductor and a remembrance of the late Joseph Silverstein, former BSO concertmaster, by principal cellist Jules Eskin.

This is the last BSO concert in Symphony Hall until January 7. December will be taken up with Holiday Pops. WCRB will fill the usual BSO spots in their schedule with rebroadcasts of concerts given last summer at Tanglewood, plus one live broadcast and a rebroadcast of a Holiday Pops concert. Check their BSO page for specific listings. I'll also post weekly about what's coming up.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

BSO — 2015/11/19-21

I don't know how to introduce this week's concert, so I'll simply quote the BSO's performance detail page:
Andris Nelsons leads this intriguing program of seemingly disconnected works. Two of the most important works of the 20th century, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 and Alban Berg's Violin Concerto were composed within two years of one another. Shostakovich's symphony, which follows a trajectory from darkness to triumph, has long been considered his reaction to official condemnation of his music by the Soviet government, but the reality is far subtler than that.Alban Berg's Violin Concerto was composed as a memorial to eighteen-year-old Manon Gropius (daughter of Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler); the entire work is suffused with elegy. Its second movement quotes Bach's chorale Es ist genug, which has deep musical connections to Berg's piece. That brief Bach chorale from Cantata No. 60, as well as the short motet Komm, Jesu, komm!, open and set the tone for this program.

Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra are recording these performances of Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 for a release in May, 2016!

Join the conversation online by using #BSOShostakovich 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, you can find links to their Media Center, performer bios, program notes, and audio previews. What they don't tell you in the above blurb is that the violin soloist is Isabelle Faust and that the order of performance is Bach, Berg, Shostakovich. This concert is part of my subscription, but I'm really not interested in hearing either the Berg or the Shostakovich. If I'd been more alert, I'd have exchanged my ticket to this one for a ticket to either February 4th's concert of Shakespeare-related music, or to the one on March 29 which is in the series giving an American premiere; but after the attacks in Paris, I was content to be there because of the aspect of confronting tragedy and death which the program had.

The review in the Boston Globe isn't exactly glowing, but definitely favorable. The Boston Musical Intelligencer analyzes not only the music but also the performances, noting distinctive elements in Maestro Nelsons' approach.

As for me, I didn't catch most of the features that the program notes and interviews had pointed out, except when the winds repeated the "Es ist genug" theme toward the end of the Berg concerto. I'm beginning to think that I listen too hard at these concerts. Maybe I shouldn't bother to try to catch everything that's happening and just let it wash over me. Having some idea what to expect may be a good thing, but maybe I don't need to try to pick it all out as it happens.

You can hear it for yourself via WCRB's broadcast or webstream at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, on November 21, with a repeat transmission on Monday, November 30, at the same time of day. Also check out the "on demand" availability of this and other concerts from the past year — see their BSO page for information about that (in the upper right corner) as well as the podcast feature and schedule information I've mentioned every week.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

BSO — 2015/11/12-14

Another week, another premiere by the Boston Symphony. This time, it's not merely the American premiere, but the world premiere that they'll give. The work in question is titled Aube, and it's by young Jean-Frédéric Neuburger. Then we step back in time for Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. After the intermission, the orchestra and guest conductor Christoph von Dohnányi are joined by pianist Martin Helmchen for the masterful Piano Concerto № 5, "Emperor," by Beethoven. The orchestra's performance detail page adds a bit more to my description with the following:
Frequent BSO guest conductor Christoph von Dohnányi leads the world premiere of Aube ("Dawn"), a BSO-commissioned work by the celebrated 28-year-old French composer Jean-Frédéric Neuburger. Neuburger's compositional voice is rooted in the brilliant colors and energy of his French predecessors from Ravel to Boulez. An iconic 20th-century masterpiece, Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta epitomizes the composer's genius for mood and form. To close the program, German pianist Martin Helmchen plays Beethoven's majestic and high-spirited Emperor Concerto.
Join the conversation online by using #BSOEmperor for this concert series or #BSO1516 on your social networks to discover the excitement of the season and connect with one another!

As you scroll down the page, there are also the usual links to the BSO Media Center, with its podcasts, performer bios, program notes, and audio previews.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer presents a gushing review. The reviewer's analysis of the pieces in the concert could be read alongside the program notes and audio previews. His interpretation of their cosmic significance is unexpected, but not unprecedented in music reviews. The Globe has a very favorable review, devoted mostly to the new piece — which the reviewer liked — but with praise for the performance of the remaining works as well.

My take on what I heard Thursday evening is at once less analytic and less expansive. "Aube" was not unpleasant to listen to, although there were no clear, sustained "tunes" that I recall. It was clearly an organized succession of sounds (unlike some of the truly unpleasant stuff I've occasionally sat through), so it fits the definition of music. I didn't really "get it" on that first hearing. The question of whether there's anything there to get can only be answered with further hearings, so I'm looking forward to hearing it again on Saturday. The composer was warmly applauded (and applauded the orchestra), but didn't seem to want to remain on stage and bask  in it. About the Bartók I'll say I was pleasantly surprised at how listenable it was. The program note spoke at length about how the first movement takes a theme and moves it around the "circle of fifths," starting with A and ending with E flat, and then goes back to A with the theme inverted. Listening to it, I couldn't have told you that either of those things was happening, which tells you something about how untrained my ear is, and perhaps how skillfully Bartók works it.

Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto is one of my favorite pieces. When I went to college, my freshman roommate had a recording of the "Emperor," Van Cliburn I think, that he'd put on his record player every Sunday morning. The machine had a defect: when it finished playing a side, it would return the needle to a point one inch in from the edge, over and over. The result was that Sunday after Sunday I'd hear multiple repeats of the last 3/4 of the first movement. Once in a while he'd play the second side. It was wonderful to hear that great music so much. One time, when I was at the monastery, I put on a record of the "Emperor," and for some reason I found myself actually moved to tears a some point in the slow second movement. That hasn't happened again. My dad always loved the transition from the second to the third movement. When we had the record on during dinner, he'd silence us to listen to the quiet end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd and then the forte statement of the triumphant main theme — a masterful moment to be sure.

I liked the performance on Thursday. There wasn't anything truly outstanding that I noticed. One thing I liked was that the pianist varied his dynamics very well. Soft passages, in particular, were really soft. Of course the loud parts were really loud as well. Overall, it was great music, beautifully presented.

You can listen on line or on air via WCRB at 8:00 p.m. EST (Boston Time, as I call it) today, November 14, with a repeat broadcast/webstream on Monday the 23rd, also at 8:00. The station's BSO page gives a link to their audio feature "The Answered Question," which this week includes interview material with conductor and pianist.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

BSO — 2015/11/05-10

This week we have one work that is considered standard repertory but one I don't often hear, Liszt's Totentanz, one piece getting its American premiere in these concerts, Mannequin by Unsuk Chin, and an old favorite, Symphony No. 3, "Rhenish," by Schumann. Indulging their penchant for describing the pieces in an order other than that in which they'll be performed, the writers of the BSO program description page, describe the concert as follows:
BSO Assistant Conductor Ken-David Masur leads the second BSO co-commission of the season, Korean composer Unsuk Chin's Mannequin in its American premiere. Mannequin was inspired by a short story by the great 19th-century German music critic and fantasist E.T.A. Hoffmann. Opening the program is Franz Lizst's dark and virtuosic Totentanz, played by French pianist Louis Lortie. Totentanz is considered among the most difficult pieces in the standard repertoire for piano and orchestra. Closing these concerts is Robert Schumann's innovatively structured paean to the Rhine River, the composer's Symphony No. 3.
Join the conversation online by using #BSOLiszt 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, the performance detail page has links to program notes, audio previews, and performer bios (click on the thumbnail pictures), and — new this year — the BSO Media Center with its own podcasts and notes. The video excerpt from "Mannequin" gives a bit of the gentler portion of the piece, but it gives you some idea of what it's like. You get a bit more in the audio preview which follows the video.

Reviews were mixed. The Globe's was generally favorable, but found Maestro Masur's conducting in the older pieces unexciting. The Boston Musical Intelligencer really liked the "Totentanz," and found no fault with the conductor there, while joining the Globe in disappointment with his leadership in the Schumann. As for "Mannequin," the reviewer found little difference between the four movements.

I was there on Thursday and found the Liszt spectacular. The Chin piece was suitable as a depiction of a frightened frame of mind, but apart from the music-box-like elements in the first movement, there didn't seem to be much difference between the four — at least not at first hearing. I'll listen tonight over the radio and see if there's more distinction between the scenes. I wonder if the large variety of percussion, including some unconventional items, was really necessary. Still, since it was suitable as a depiction of a frightened mood, I applauded the composer enthusiastically. As for the Schumann, it's really enjoyable music to listen to, and I didn't find any fault with how it was conducted: I just liked hearing it.

So I think it worth your while to listen this evening, November 7, at 8:00, Boston Time (EST), and/or Monday, November 16, also at 8:00, over the radio or internet streaming of WCRB. As you know if you've been following my posts on the BSO, WCRB also has a BSO page of their own. This year, they embed their concert preview interview in a longer podcast called "The Answered Question." This week, the whole thing runs to 53 minutes. I haven't heard it yet, but somewhere it includes an interview with the conductor about the program — no doubt interesting, if you get a chance to hear it.

Anyway, I was glad to be at the concert, and I'm looking forward to hearing the first two pieces this evening before my kid brother's call from Tokyo and the "Rhenish" during the rebroadcast on the 16th. As is usually the case, I recommend listening to this one.