A Far Cry rose above the calamitous times Saturday night with creativity, grace and a gift for conviviality, delivering a riveting and deeply satisfying soirée concertante prerecorded in Pickman Hall. “Dawn Breaks” is available for purchase HERE.

   [continued]

“BCMS@Home” leaves me in a conundrum. The ensemble’s recently produced 73-minute video and hour of archival audio from 2017 and 2019, albeit familiar and comforting, join a crowded marketplace of recordings.    [continued]

Boston Landmarks Orchestra under conductor Christopher Wilkins celebrated the centennial of the 19th Amendment last night with music composed by women. The narration, soloists, and prerecorded clips made for a lively online outing.    [continued]

The violin and piano duo of Augustin Hadelich and Orion Weiss played Debussy, Brahms, and Adams for the Tanglewood cameras Saturday. With talent to spare, the artistic pair gave exciting, tight, enthralling, and even transcendent readings. Available online until August 1st.    [continued]

Tanglewood-in-quarantine continued, as violist and violinist  Pinchas Zuckerman, cellist Amanda Forsyth, and pianist Bryan Wagorn, took us on a trip which, from start to finish, provided a delightful way to spend an hour on a humid Saturday night. Nicole Cabell introduced music of Glière, Kodály, Paradis, Fauré and Beethoven.    [continued]

Friday night’s pre-recorded chamber concert featuring BSO players seemed even shorter than its 50-minute runtime.The works by Loeffler, Ravel and Gabriella Lena Frank will remain on bso.org until the 24th.    [continued]

Joy at performing together radiated from the brothers Jussens’ Concertgebouw recital, recorded before a socially distanced audience of 350 two weeks prior to this airing on the 16th at the Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival –A Summer Tradition Transformed. Available online for a week.    [continued]

The Tanglewood Music Center (TMC) and the new Tanglewood Learning Institute have come up with variegated strategies to provide online substitutes for their intended tangible offerings. Viewers and listeners, though, must navigate Odyssian shoals before coming ashore on the webstream.    [continued]

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William Grant Still

The Boston Civic Symphony will begin its season with an ambitious livestreamed concert broadcast free on Sunday at 3:00 from the First Church in Cambridge [access stream HERE]. I spoke with conductor Francisco Noya about how the Symphony has put together the concert, what it has been like to rehearse with masks and social distancing, and how our moment in time influences programming. The conversation began with the usual icebreakers:

FN: I’m very, very well, thank you, though it has been a very strange year. For the first time in twenty years I find myself without having to worry about preparing a concert for the coming week, but there has been plenty to do ― I teach remotely, I have been studying scores, and I’m constantly in contact with my colleagues all over, including in Latin America and Europe, to see what they are doing and what they are able to put together.

BJS: About your Sunday concert ― I’m happy to see a large local ensemble finding a way to do something live.

Oh, we’re not large ― we’re very much smaller than usual. [continued…]

The real Alice

During its decade of existence, the self-styled “activist opera company” White Snake Projects, founded by librettist Cerise Jacobs, has provided Boston with operas based on Chinese fables (including one that went on to win the Pulitzer for music for composer Zhou Long), a combination CGI and live action videogame saga, a supremely unlikely comical extra chapter to the Book of Revelation, a heartfelt meditation on cultural dislocation and governmental cruelty, and more— BMInt’s index shows ten related reviews and articles.

Such an output of well-produced new works would exceed expectations from many larger operations, according to the publicist, yet from the its beginning the company has also insistently strained against the boundaries of the possible, tirelessly searching for a mousehole from which further White Snake Projects could roar.

As the pandemic has caused producers of live performing arts worldwide to reassess business models, Jacobs and White Snake Projects have proved fleet of foot, first presenting a digital edition of the community song laboratory Sing Out Strong: DeColonized Voices [BMInt review HERE], and then using the lessons learned therewith to vault to  the virtual opera Alice in the Pandemic, which, they say, brings new depth to Wagner’s Gesamtkunst concept. Alice’s visible and audible elements rest on a virtual Wonderland — a rabbit hole within a rabbit hole — in which a team of tech innovators has toiled for months to imagine, like the White Queen, as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Alice in the Pandemic premieres in cyberspace October 23, through October 27. [continued…]

Having known of Maynard Solomon’s failing during recent months, I am saddened but not surprised to learn of the death of this first-rate musicologist at age 90, after his long and productive life. In 1977 he published what has been widely recognized as the first modern biography of Beethoven, in which he went beyond Thayer-Forbes to explore Beethoven’s personality from the standpoint of a psychologist. This inevitably involved him in deep controversy with scholars and shrinks alike, but Solomon’s painstaking and levelheaded examination of sources, enabled him to make convincing interpretations for Beethoven’s imagined origins, his unending search for compatible women, and his troubled relationships with his younger brothers and nephew. Even without the added imprimatur of a PhD, Solomon’s thoughtful analysis of the historical and documentary circumstances of Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved” brought him to point to Antonie Brentano, to whom Beethoven had dedicated his Diabelli Variations; this interpretation has stood up over the years, despite some angry challenges. Most of the opposition that I can find comes from people who can’t recognize how well-written is Solomon’s book, a book that one can still reread for pure pleasure. There are later books, too, including two more on Beethoven and a Mozart biography, also an Otto Kinkeldey Award from the AMS and three ASCAP-Deems Taylor awards. Many still cherish a whole batch of immortal and beloved vinyl issued by Vanguard Records, the forward-looking company that Maynard Solomon and his brother, Seymour, founded in the 1950s. [continued…]

Russian sixth

The symphonic tradition came relatively late to Russia, but it blossomed rapidly, starting with works of genius like Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, an “overture-fantasy” (1868). Important symphonies soon followed. But first, let me begin with a harmony lesson, showing a harmonic basis that quickly became an emblem in Russian symphonic music:

In this succession, which I call the “Russian sixth,” a root-position major tonic (I) proceeds to a submediant triad (VI) in first inversion, with the tonic note in the bass, and with a chromatic passing tone (raised fifth degree) in between. There are many good examples: the beginning of Borodin’s D major string quartet, the Polovtsian Dances in Prince Igor, the third movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and (spectacularly) the entire Trio section of the 5/4 second movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony, in which the equilibrium between D major and B minor constantly shifts. [See my article, “The Russian Submediant in the Nineteenth Century,” Current Musicology 59 (1997), or on my website HERE] [continued…]

Oliver Caplan leads merry masked band.

Boston-based Juventas New Music Ensemble, the subject of many positive reviews on this site, has had surprising success with its free virtual programming. Devoted to the famous composers of tomorrow, the ensemble has, of late, made a virtue of necessity by growing its audience electronically. “American Mirror” [viewable HERE] inaugurated the ensemble’s 16th season in the company of more than 6,500 viewers by the end of a week. Thanks to outstanding musicians, stellar composers, and the superb sound and video from Futura Productions, Juventas seems to have found a very useful niche.

To put this achievement in context, Juventas has an annual budget of only $78,000. By contrast, the Boston Symphony has an annual budget of over $100 million and crossed that same YouTube viewership threshold only twice in the past 12 months.

The Juventas team designed the evening as a three-dimensional experience, drawing on elements that make nights in the concert hall so special. Professor Karen Ruymann of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee ran her signature pre-concert “Composer Conversation” on Zoom. Without the need to travel, all six composers joined audience members from across the country for a lively discussion. The ensemble offered a downloadable program book from its website. And team members hosted a chat room with viewers during the performance. While most classical ensembles are currently offering pre-recorded content, Juventas streamed live, unedited video as the musicians were performing. “It was a little scary for sure, but we wanted to bring our audience the thrill and authenticity of live performance,” says Caplan. As if to prove the concert was live, he even responded to messages from the YouTube chatroom live on camera. [continued…]

Andris Nelsons to continue roles.

During a virtual special announcement cum press conference transmitted from Leipzig and Symphony Hall, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra ceremoniously announced an extension of Andris Nelsons’s contract as BSO Music Director through the 2024-25 season.

Mark Volpe, BSO President and CEO and acting BSO concertmaster Elita Kang presented via live video stream from Symphony Hall, while in a studio in Leipzig, the city’s Mayor Burkhard Jung represented the GHO in announcing the simultaneous extension of Nelsons’ status as Gewandhauskapellmeister. The Boston Symphony Orchestra/Gewandhausorchester Alliance, “an unprecedented multidimensional partnership in the orchestra industry will likewise continue apace through the 2025.

This writer joined 92 watchers on YouTube this morning at 11:30. The Leipzig mise en scène felt relaxed with unmasked and un-distanced presenters willing to touch hands. While neither feed came across in full HD (only 720p), the BSO camera showed the additional disadvantage of underexposed shots with crushed blacks. Lively performances from the Gewandhaus Brass Quintet bookended the warm palaver.

In summary, Burkhard Jung, the Mayor of the City of Leipzig averred that “Everyone is delighted about contract and alliance extensions.” Mark Volpe agrees that the announcement is “very special.” He is thrilled with the continuation of the alliance and the emotional performances Andris Nelson’s leadership with “undefinable yet undeniable chemistry.” He also spoke of “watching Andris and Alice drive by on a golfcart, giving evidence of special era beginning.” [continued…]

The New England Conservatory is beginning to live-stream free Philharmonia (string ensemble) concerts this weekend from Jordan Hall. The performances will entail 20 string players under a single conductor, Hugh Wolff, Lina Gonzáles-Granados, or Christopher Wilkins, and will explore the diversity and beauty of the string ensemble repertoire. All are eager to return to live performance. (NEC has implemented low-latency technology across campus and in the homes of students and faculty, reducing latency to under 15 milliseconds, making it much more like being in the same room with other artists.)

In addition to the larger-ensemble live streams, NEC will be recording and streaming a number of other concerts, including the Balourdet String Quartet (in residence), plus the 36th year of First Mondays concerts curated by cellist Laurence Lesser. (Much more on this from a conversation with Mr. Lesser comes below.)*

A couple of nights ago NEC hosted a talk on cultural equity and diversity as part of their Perspectives Forums. Four distinguished alumni shared their vision of what NEC looks and feels like when it has lived up to its commitment of cultural equity and belonging. This series continues monthly

October Highlights

All virtual performances listed below are free and open to the public. Additional fall concerts are to be announced HERE.

NEC Philharmonia with Hugh Wolff conducting string works by Michael Abels, Chen Yi, and Antonín Dvořák from Jordan Hall.
Sat, October 3 | 7:30pm ET | streamed live from NEC’s Jordan Hall
Tickets: Free live stream HERE. [continued…]

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