Saturday, February 6, 2016

BSO — 2016/02/04-06

The Shakespeare festival continues with "Hamlet" before intermission and "Romeo and Juliet" after. The BSO performance detail page offers the following description:
Continuing the BSO's survey of Shostakovich's Stalin-era symphonic works, as well as a three-week focus on works influenced by Shakespeare, Andris Nelsons leads the composer's rarely heard, emotionally charged and evocative incidental music for Shakespeare's Hamlet. His countryman Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet score was one of that composer's most popular works. In between comes a recent work by the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen, whose wide-ranging, imaginative, and beautifully poignant let me tell you (2014) is based on Paul Griffith's atmospheric novel told from the perspective of Hamlet's Ophelia. Here making her BSO debut, soprano Barbara Hannigan premiered the piece under Andris Nelsons' direction with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2013.
(Some emphasis added.)

See the page also for the usual links to podcast, performer bios, audio previews and program notes.

I was there on Thursday evening. It was surprising to read in the program notes that the "Hamlet" for which Shostakovich composed the music being played took the play as a satire on contemporary people and events. The music makes sense when you realize the play was performed for laughs, and it's pretty enjoyable. My reaction to "let me tell you" as it was being performed was largely negative: vocal line without melody or clear relation to the text, other than at a point in Part 2 where the music appropriately evoked an operatic "mad scene." After it was finished, I realized that it had been brilliantly sung and played (especially impressive quiet playing from the brass). One nice touch was the sliding of a piece of paper over the surface of the bass drum in the third part, suggesting the sound of shuffling through snow. On further reflection, I can concede that the musical style may be what is possible at this point: baroque or romantic melody may not be possible. I'm not sure that's true, but this is music of its time. Unlike the first two pieces, the Prokofiev is fairly familiar, and it was enjoyable to hear, if nothing about it was spectacular. There was a nice bit of solo playing from the first chair strings.

The Globe review was definitely favorable. The Boston Musical Intelligencer gives much detail about the music, especially the Abrahamsen, not so much about how it was performed. Both are worth reading for their insights into the music.

WCRB will broadcast and stream the concert live on Saturday, February 6, at 8:00 p.m., Boston Time, with a repeat on Monday the 15th, also at 8:00. On their BSO page there is a link to their podcast, "The Answered Question," with a lengthy interview with the soprano, Barbara Hannigan, and another with Andris Nelsons, preceded by a look back at last week's concert and followed by an interview about an opera that will be broadcast on Sunday. I think the Hannigan interview, especially, might be interesting. Surprisingly, she has exclusive rights to perform "let me tell you" for five years.

Despite my initial misgivings about "let me tell you," I think it could be interesting to hear if you can tolerate any contemporary classical music. But be sure to have the text from the program notes. I think it works best, perhaps only, when the words are associated with the music — unlike much 19th Century opera where the music is gorgeous even if you don't know what they're saying.

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