Saturday, November 26, 2016

BSO — 2016/11/26

The music on this week's program is all familiar enough that I didn't mind missing it since it wasn't part of my subscription — even though the piano concerto is one of my favorites. Then I realized who is the piano soloist, Menahem Pressler, a founding member of the illustrious Beaux Arts Trio. So I decided I must hear this concert. I finally stopped procrastinating on Wednesday and got one of the very few remaining tickets.

The orchestra's program detail page, along with the usual links to podcasts, program notes, audio previews, and performer bios, give this synopsis:
BSO Assistant Conductor Moritz Gnann, making his subscription series and Symphony Hall debuts, joins the eminent pianist Menahem Pressler for Mozart's autumnal Piano Concerto No. 27, his final work in the genre. Mendelssohn's restless, roiling portrait of the northern reaches of the British Isles, The Hebrides Overture, remains one of his most popular works. Dvořák's familiar New WorldSymphony takes its name from the circumstances of its composition: the Czech composer wrote it while a resident of the U.S. as director of a New York conservatory, and its themes are said to have been inspired by American folk and indigenous music.
(Some emphasis added.)

The writer really should read the program notes. Those tell us that there is nothing inherently "autumnal" in the piano concerto, and that there is no good evidence for people to say that the themes of the symphony were "inspired by American folk and indigenous music." Still, it tells you what they'll play.

The reviews in the Boston Globe and the Boston Musical Intelligencer, despite some minor concerns, were enthusiastic, especially for Menahem Pressler's handling of the Mozart concerto. Maybe it was because of heightened expectations, but I was not that enthusiastic about the playing of the Mozart — not that there was anything bad about it, but it just didn't seem lively enough. One reviewer was happy that Pressler and Gnann took it slower than what we're used to, but it didn't quite work for me. Maybe I'll be happier with it during the broadcast this evening. As for the Mendelssohn and Dvořák, my expectations were not so heightened, and I liked them. I heard some bits that hadn't come through in more routine performances. Overall, I don't mean to be negative: I'm glad I went, and I think most people will really like this concert. It was an auspicious Symphony Hall debut for Maestro Gnann.

By all means listen on air or on line over WCRB this evening at 8:00. Boston Time, repeated on December 5. Check out the other pages on their website for lots of other good stuff, including the podcast available here.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

BSO — 2016/11/19

This week's broadcast (and webstream) is the second half of the second week of the BSO's Brahms mini-festival. The curtain-raising new composition is "Everything Happens So Much," by Timo(thy) Andres. Then we get Brahms's Piano Concerto № 2 and, after intermission, Symphony № 4 (replacing the 3rd, which was played Tuesday and Thursday and is reviewed in the linked material).

The orchestra's program detail page has the usual links to program notes, audio previews, performer bios, and podcasts (including an informative interview with Timo Andres). It also has this synopsis:
The second program of the BSO's two-week Brahms mini-fest encompassing Brahms's symphonies and piano concertos opens with a brief new work commissioned from the Brooklyn-based American composer Timo Andres (the first program having included a new work by American composer Eric Nathan). Andres's new piece opens this week's programs, which feature Hélène Grimaud as soloist in Brahms's magisterial Piano Concerto No. 2. The Third Symphony concludes the concerts of November 15 and 17; the Fourth Symphony completes the concerts of November 18 and 19.
(Some emphasis added.)

I was there on Thursday and enjoyed the show. "Everything Happens So Much" was very accessible. It was easy to follow the opening theme as it was reworked through the piece. It was well received by the audience. By the way, the notes say the piece opens with arpeggios played by piccolo. It turns out they were played by two piccolos.

It seems I am mellowing in my old age: I didn't dislike the Brahms. While I've long considered much of Brahms's music to have an unpleasant "straining" quality to it, this week and last, I didn't hear it in the piano concertos or the Third Symphony. Like the reviewer, I found Martha Babcock's cello solos in the piano concerto very beautiful, and she was warmly applauded for them.

There were some things that I found interesting in my "orchestra watching." Many of the section principals did not play the Andres piece — first violin, cello, bass, horn, trumpet, possibly others — but they were there for the Brahms. Saving their energy? In the concerto and the first movement of the symphony, when just two of the four horns were playing, most of the time it was Mike Winter and Jason Snider, in the third and fourth chairs, not James Somerville and Rachel Childers, the principal and second, as one might expect. At the end of the first movement of the symphony, James Somerville half stood up, turned, and said something to the others. During the second and third movements Snider didn't play a note, and Winter only played a three or four note phrase in the second movement, and a longer phrase at the end of the third. They both did more playing in the finale. I wonder what was going on there.

So far, no review has appeared in the Boston Musical Intelligencer. The Boston Globe's reviewer liked the Andres piece, and joins me in hoping it will become popular. She liked the rest of the concert as well, except for some of the piano playing in the second movement of the concerto.

This concert is well worth listening to, from beginning to end, when WCRB broadcasts and streams it at 8:00 p.m., EST, on November 19, with a rerun on the  28th. Their website also has pages with the schedule for the rest of the season and other information about their programming, as I've noted in prior weeks.


Friday, November 11, 2016

BSO — 2016/11/12

This is an unusual week in the way it is scheduled. There are concerts on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. But instead of the Tuesday concert repeating last week's program, which is what has normally been done, it presented this week's program. Also, the Friday and Saturday programs aren't just the same as that of Thursday (and, this week, Tuesday). What we have is the first week of a "Brahms mini-festival," presenting both of his piano concertos and all four of his symphonies. They do this by giving one concerto each week, and two performances of each symphony. Each week's concerts begin with a work commissioned by the BSO for the occasion and getting its world premiere at these concerts. (I think this arrangement is more convenient for the piano soloist, who can do her performances within a two week period, rather than two and a half.)

As usual, the orchestra's performance detail page gives links to performer bios, program notes, and podcasts. I especially recommend the podcast with an interview with Eric Nathan — actually, there are two versions: one with just the composer talking, linked with the screenshot above the written synopsis; another, which I prefer, that includes Brian Bell as interviewer, accessible through the "Listen" button farther down the page. Via that button, you can also get interviews with the soloist and the conductor. And, of course, there is the usual synopsis of the program:
With these concerts, BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons opens a two-week Brahms mini-festival traversing all four of the composer's symphonies and his two piano concertos. In addition, these concerts feature the world premieres of two brief, complementary works commissioned for the occasion from the young American composers Eric Nathan and Timo Andres. Nathan's piece begins the first of these programs, which continues with the French pianist Hélène Grimaud performing the intense, craggy Piano Concerto in D minor. Brahms's First Symphony concludes the concerts of November 8 and 10; the Second Symphony completes the concerts of November 11 and 12.
(Emphasis added.)

I was there on Friday afternoon and I found "the space of a door" very engaging. Sometimes it's loud, and sometimes it's soft. Although it's definitely "modern," in ways the interview and program notes describe, I never found it unpleasantly dissonant or simply noisy. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing it again during the broadcast and the rebroadcast, so I can get a clearer view of how it all goes together.

The reviews were written after the Tuesday concert, so they tell us about the Symphony № 1, which won't be played on Saturday, as well as "the space of a door" and the First Piano Concerto, which we will hear before intermission. I don't expect review os the Second Symphony to be published, but if I see any, I'll revise this post. The Globe reviewer enjoyed the Nathan piece and loved the Brahms concerto, especially the soloist's playing. The Boston Musical Intelligencer's reviewer gives a bit more detail about "the space of a door" and was also pleased with it. He also has high praise for the pianist.

So the concert comes well recommended. As always, you can listen on air or on line over WCRB at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time on Saturday, November 12, with a rebroadcast/stream on Monday, Nov. 21, also at 8:00. On another page there is a link to their podcast, which includes interviews with conductor and soloist. Finally, you can check out the rest of the season's broadcasts (including "encore broadcasts" of concerts from earlier seasons which will be presented in December, during the period when Holiday Pops takes over Symphony Hall from the BSO) on the Upcoming BSO Broadcasts page.

Enjoy the show.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

BSO — 2016/11/05

This week the Boston Symphony gives us an early work of Benjamin Britten, a late one of Jean Sibelius, and a recent one of Thomas Adès, who also did the conducting. The BSO performance detail page provides these specifics:
British composer/conductor/pianist Thomas Adès joins the BSO family in the role of "Artistic Partner" this season, collaborating with the orchestra and its musicians in a variety of capacities. In these concerts he conducts his own 2013 Totentanz ("Dance of Death") for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and orchestra. Set to a text accompanying a 15th-century German frieze depicting Death (represented by the baritone) dancing with individuals from all strata of humanity (represented by the mezzo-soprano), the work is both macabre and funny-the Dance of Death is the one dance none of us may refuse. Opening the program is Britten's dramatic early orchestral work, Sinfonia da Requiem, premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1941 during Britten's time in the U.S. as a conscientious objector. (Its performance soon afterward by Serge Koussevitzky and the BSO led directly to Koussevitzky's commissioning Britten's opera Peter Grimes.) Also on the program is the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius's late tone poem Tapiola, which atmospherically depicts the realm of the forest spirit Tapio from the Finnish epic Kalevala.
Immediately preceding that synopsis is a link to a video made at the time of the world premiere of "Totentanz" three years ago. There is a four minute discussion of the piece with the composer/conductor, followed by the actual premiere performance. I think the discussion gives some idea of the concept of the work; while the performance itself can give a preparation no written notes can do. It can also give a nice opportunity to review the piece. There are also the usual links to performer bios, program notes, and podcasts. Fortunately, the program notes give the text this time. The English translation comes after the German original. You might want to read the German along with the video, which has English subtitles, and then follow along in English during the live performance.

The reviews in the Globe and the Boston Musical Intelligencer are limited to descriptions of the music, with almost no comments on how well it had been performed. That is natural enough, since none of the pieces is familiar. When you don't know a piece, it's hard to say whether it is being done well.

I was in the audience on Thursday and I found it all interesting. "Tapiola" was the most accessible: Sibelius composed in a "late Romantic" style. The "Sinfonia da Requiem" had clear contrasts of mood between the three parts, and while the middle section was fairly harsh, the outer parts weren't bad. All of them seemed to fit the mood of the texts that supplied their titles. "Totentanz" was difficult to appreciate simply as music, but it was interesting to get some sense of the different types of music for the different individuals. Still, it may require several hearings to be able to really "get" the music and maybe even enjoy it.

As always, you can hear it all via WCRB on Saturday, November 5 at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time, with a repeat on Monday the 14th. There is a page on their website with a link to the podcast "The Answered Question," with  a lot about this concert, including a very informative discussion with Thomas Adès over the first 19 minutes (after a brief introduction). You might also want to check out the remaining concert schedule for this season and poke around the website for other things they do.