…when live music returns to Boston and virus is no more. Though our stages remain dark, we are retaining listings of cancelled concerts as a memorial to Boston’s cultural life.

   [continued]

Boston Lyric Opera’s recent Norma dress rehearsal recording, sent to us wirelessly by WCRB, came up to high sonic standards, though it lacked the excitement produced by the interaction of singers and players with a live audience. The stream will be available for a month on WCRB and on the BLO website.    [continued]

Turangalîla may not be the most important piece of music composed anywhere since Le sacre du printemps, as Koussevitzky supposedly said, but it remains breathtakingly pretentious in a way that is fully refreshing even though exhausting. And, we may note that it first took life with our own orchestra.    [continued]

With piccolo’s piercing trills, trumpet’s penetrating drills, timpani’s thundering fills, orchestra’s tutti tuning, and patrons’ neglect of the intimate and considerate whisper, concert halls reach a colossal crescendo even before the downbeat.    [continued]

To a largely empty Symphony Hall (family and friends of the orchestra were admitted) the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra under Benjamin Zander took on the ambitious program of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique for live-streaming apparatus; it worked some of the time.    [continued]

Larry Thomas Bell, a longtime presence in Boston now teaching at Berklee and, quite pertinently, one of this area’s most prominent neo-tonal composers, premiered his 24 Preludes and Fugues in all the key at Jordan Hall on Sunday. A tag team of four gifted pianists did the 12 numbers.    [continued]

Last night the BSO played some scintillating music from more arctic climes. With Hannu Lintu conducting and Seong-Jin Cho as solo pianist, Symphony Hall resounded to the music of Þorvaldsdóttir, Prokofiev, and Sibelius. The concert repeats today and tomorrow.    [continued]

Bobby McFerrin, the vocalist responsible for the 1988 hit tune Don’t Worry Be Happy, appeared Sunday at Symphony Hall alongside multi-instrumentalist Louise Cato, bass vocalist Joey Blake, human percussionist David Worm, The Singing Tribe, and special guest Meredith Monk.    [continued]

The distinguished, award-winning, many-ventured Pittsburgh-born pianist and professor is not old in years, but on Tuesday at Seully Hall he gave a lesson in keyboard performance of a sort seldom heard in concerts anymore.    [continued]

Dang Thai Son returned to Jordan Hall Saturday night for his 6th performance in Boston sponsored by the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts. His salon-style concert of Debussy, Chopin, and Schubert invited us to dance.    [continued]

Masterworks Chorale programmed works from composers who, to some extent, musically begat one another, concluding with Ernest Bloch’s remarkably moving Avodath Hakodesh, at Old South Church in Boston on Sunday. Organist Ross Wood and baritone Ian Pomerantz highlighted the proceedings    [continued]

Last week’s BU Opera Institute run of the ever-popular Stravinsky-Auden-Kallman The Rake’s Progress (1951) at the new Booth Theater provided an advanced workshop show satisfying to discerning patrons and giving performers’ parents the enjoyment of seeing their tuition dollars well spent.    [continued]

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Stravinsky by Picasso

On June 25, 2020, the musical world will take note of the 110th anniversary of the premiere in Paris of Igor Stravinsky’s Zhar-ptitsa (Firebird), an event which launched an extraordinary career in Western music that continued through two world wars and three citizenships, lasted 61 years, and left a legacy of greatness that endures undiminished today.

Stravinsky had just celebrated his twenty-eighth birthday when the Firebird ballet burst on a Parisian public that had only recently learned to embrace Debussy and Ravel as the flagbearers of ultra-modernism. French Impressionism, in the visual arts, was already well established before its counterpart in music caught up with it. Debussy had been nationally recognized as the leading French composer only since Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) and La mer (1905), and only Ravel could match him on the same ground with works like Rapsodie espagnole (1908); all of these were considered the ne plus ultra of orchestral vigor and splendor on the one hand and emotional subtlety on the other.

Then with amazing suddenness Stravinsky arrived on the scene, challenging the French moderns with a violent brilliance of a Russian Impressionism that hardly anyone had even imagined. It was more than orchestral color and a strange new harmonic vocabulary — it was oriental exoticism, “For Russian Export,” as Stravinsky, weary of his Firebird achievement and its excessive popularity, later derided it. Fokine’s choreography was Russian-conventional but expertly planned, and Tamara Karsavina as the Firebird (gliding onto the stage on a wire) was both beautiful and astonishing throughout the evening, but it was the music that continues to amaze audiences today. (Odd footnote: Karsavina was succeeded in the post-season by a neophyte dancer, Lydia Lopokova, who later married John Maynard Keynes.) Debussy and Ravel, both then at the height of their careers, became Stravinsky’s close friends, “en toute sympathie artistique,” as Debussy wrote on a photograph. [continued…]

Even as our communities slowly unlock, and however tentatively the tumblers are turning, we’ve already become accustomed to the replacement of our cherished communal musical events with figurative and literal flickers reaching us via our computers, smart TVs, and mobile devices. Every once in a while, though, something may go amiss: a performance from someone’s living room, empty concert hall or patchwork ensemble winks out, sometimes entirely, sometimes for an extended period. Was that some technical glitch of recording or transmission, something in our internet connection, or an inept engineer or what? In many cases, it seems, the gremlin in the works may have been put there deliberately, and it may have had assistance of counsel.

An article recently published in the Washington Post (it’s here, but be forewarned of WaPo’s paywall) has called out the impact of recording companies’ copyright enforcement bots (software that patrols the Interwebs) seeking illicit posting or streaming of music for which the labels claim rights. While this form of artificial intelligence has a decent record of accuracy when it comes to pop and rock, where performance styles and the musical elements of performance vary considerably among recordings, it doesn’t work nearly as well with classical music, where not only is the bulk of the repertoire in the public domain, but the differences between particular performances are much more subtle. Nevertheless the principal platforms over which these streamed performances reach us, like Facebook or Google-owned YouTube, rely on these bots to tell them if a copyright claim has been asserted against a performance, leading the platform to shoot (i.e., take it down) first and let the performer ask questions later. As the WaPo article observes, and I have confirmed, the platforms offer means by which an aggrieved performer or producer can seek redress for an unjustified take-down, the process, which requires human staff to review the recordings for similarity and provenance, the process can take days or even weeks to complete, which isn’t much of a live stream, is it? [continued…]

Dedication rescinded

What do composers mean with dedications to their scores? Compare the situation when an author adds a dedicatory page right after the title page of his book, as in Melville’s dedication of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, thus: “In token of my admiration for his genius this book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.” One great writer to another.

Beethoven and Chopin peppered their piano compositions with dedications, chiefly to persons of the nobility or at least locally noteworthy, many of whom sponsored them financially. Many composers have dedicated their compositions to their own students: Mozart and his piano concertos, Beethoven and several sonatas, Chopin his Scherzo no. 3 to Adolf Gutmann (whose strength was such that he “could knock a hole in the table”, according to Huneker, who pointed to a big chord in bar 6).

A surprising number of composers offered dedications to their fellow composers, and this in itself is revealing. Beethoven dedicated his three piano sonatas, op. 2, to Haydn, his friend who to an extent was also his teacher. Schubert, at the very end of his life, dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Johann Nepomuk Hummel; but by the time these were published, in 1839, eleven years after Schubert’s death, Hummel himself had been dead for two years. Schubert’s composed his Sonata for piano four hands, D 812 (“Grand Duo”) in 1824, though not until 1837 did it see publication, and then with the publisher Diabelli’s dedication to the 18-year-old pianist Clara Wieck, three years before she married Schumann. Possibly Schubert, could he have but known, would have approved of this. Ravel dedicated his Jeux d’eau and String Quartet, mature masterpieces, to his “cher maître” Gabriel Fauré while still a student at the Conservatoire. Debussy dedicated his own “First String Quartet [there was never another] in G minor, op. 10 [his only opus number]” to Ernest Chausson, who had nominated him for membership in the Société nationale, and as a man of means may have helped him financially as well. Alban Berg, who worshiped his teacher Schoenberg, dedicated three of his largest compositions to him; but he dedicated Wozzeck to Alma Mahler, who paid for the engraving of the piano score. Another connection with Alma Mahler was an expression of love and grief: Berg’s last work, the Violin Concerto, was dedicated “to the memory of an angel,” her daughter Manon Gropius, who died of polio at age 19. [continued…]

The esteemed musicologist, who died on May 18th from cancer, was one of the Boston Musical Intelligencer’s most prolific and informative writers. She submitted her first review, of Boston Baroque’s performance of Michael Haydn’s Requiem Mass in 2009. Her last one reported on Capella Clausura’s take on the visionary-inspired music of Hildegard von Bingen’s on Feb 23rd. In 159 reviews she covered such groups as Capella Clausura, Blue Heron, the Borromeo Quartet, the Lydian Quartet, Emmanuel Music, Concerts at the Gardner, Cantata Singers, Boston Baroque, Back Bay Chorale, Cambridge Society for Early Music, the Newport Music Festival, Rockport Music, Odyssey Opera, NEC, Shakespearean Concerts, Tallis Scholars, and the Boston Chamber Music Society.

But she penned her greatest number of reviews for concerts put on by the Boston Early Music Festival, both for its biennial music orgies and for its performances during its regular seasons. Kathy Fay, executive director of BEMF, wrote today, “On behalf of the board of directors, artists, staff, and patrons of the Boston Early Music Festival, I am deeply saddened by the news. Her delightful and gentle spirit, thoughtful and illuminating reviews of our concerts, operas, and our biennial Festivals, and generous support of our programs and global work, will be sorely missed. Thanks to Virginia’s profound grasp of the classical repertoire—particularly music from centuries past and especially medieval music—we devoured her concert reviews and always emerged with a much deeper understanding of performances we attended.” 

Publisher F. Lee Eiseman noted that “she always brought tremendous seriousness of purpose and scrupulousness of research and observation to her work.” Indeed. Virginia continually educated our readers with historically accurate information. A few of examples of the wonderful cadence she brought to her reviews: of the performance by the BSO at Tanglewood on July 24, 2009: “After the opening outburst of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, we were treated to one of the composer’s beautifully flexible Andante melodies:  an English horn solo ably played by the BSO’s Robert Sheena and then heard in canon for winds and strings with rustling wind and percussion accompaniment. “She wrote of fortepianist Christian Bezuidenhout’s debut as conductor in a concert with the Handel & Haydn Society, in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Symphony in C Major, Wq. 182/3, “Beginning in a sunny and energetic C Major in forthright unison, sudden interjections on A flat and F sharp lent an air of sudden darkness to the drama.” [continued…]

Yo-Yo Ma will broadcast Bach’s immortal Six Suites for Solo Cello as a memorial to the 100,000 who have died in our ongoing plague and as a tribute to the resilience of the survivors. During the 2.5-hour tour of this monumental edifice, Ma’s only companions will be Bach himself and the station’s remote-controlled cameras and receptive microphones, though he will also surely direct his attention to our ears and eyes. The broadcast from isolation will issue forth from the WGBH Fraser Studio in Brighton this Sunday at 3 PM over a significant number of media outlets: WGBH channel 2 in Boston, and on public radio airwaves, stations across the country through the good offices of PRX, and streaming live on Yo-Yo Ma’s YouTube channel and at ClassicalWCRB.org.

Ma’s performance comes in the midst of the interrupted final segment of his “Bach Project,” in which he had intended  to bring the six suites to 36 communities on six continents, as his personal contribution to “build the world we want.”

“In times of challenge, we’ve often come together in shared experiences,” said Jon Abbott, president and CEO of WGBH. “Yo-Yo Ma has a generosity of spirit, a solemnity that the moment deserves, and a warmth that reminds us of togetherness even as we feel alone. It is the strength we draw from each other that will help move us forward, and we are honored to host and produce this memorial event at WGBH and share it with the world through our public media network.” [continued…]

Because its beloved summer festival draws approximately 350,000 people and brings more than $100 million in economic activity annually to the Berkshires region, it is with tremendous regret that the BSO has announced cessation of in-person events at Tanglewood for this plagued summer of 2020. Not since 1945 have listeners had to do almost entirely without this essential business. [According to BSO historian Brian Bell, that year, though, the orchestra managed to cut its first RCA Victor recordings on the grounds, and while the shed was dark, six rather impressive concerts took place at the Theater Concert Hall.]

Instead, the BSO will connect performers—both BSO musicians and guest artists—with audiences through the debuting “Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival,” which will disgorge both newly recorded and encoring performances. While it’s doubtful that electronic facsimiles will reach and give pleasure to the third of a million music-lovers who might otherwise have attended, BSO webcasts have attracted tens of thousands over the last few years.

We can’t get specific marketing information on the free BSO live streams, but recent YouTube concert recordings have garnered 292–4000 views, though a highly promoted show, such as the “Concert for Our City” has played to 24,293 virtual viewers so far. Individual concerts available on YouTube for six or more years record up to 51,495 views. It will be very interesting to learn whether viewers will respond to the appointment streaming opportunities, some behind moderate paywalls, that will constitute the Tanglewood experience for this summer. The BSO marketing department reports over 7mm engagements overall since BSO At Home launched, and have had over 1mm engagements specifically with audio (206,000) and video (941,000) media. [Note: Engagements or impressions refer more to server hits or opportunities to be seen, while “views” and refer to real interactions with viewers]

At press time we have not been able to get answers as to what WCRB and other broadcasters will be offering and the extent of overlap with the BSO’s own productions for the Tanglewood season. WCRB will be broadcasting six Boston Pops performances throughout the spring and early summer [continued…]

Boston Baroque subscribers heard this morning that New England Conservatory has closed Jordan Hall to outside organizations for the entire 2020-2021 concert season. This sounds draconian. But to the administration of NEC, protecting students and their tuition revenues apparently trumps the importance of hall rentals and the needs of the Boston concertgoers. We understand this. But we also hope that presenters will find venues where students’ needs won’t be factored into revenue and liability equations.

In announcing the unobtainabilty of Sanders, Harvard has told presenters more or less the same thing, although perhaps with more nuance.

The institutions’ official emails to presenters follow.

Peter Charig  NEC Director of Business Relations & Event Management sent an email to all renters on Friday, that reads in part:

The safety and wellness of our community – including students, faculty, and staff – is NEC’s first priority, and with that focus, we have determined that our performance and rehearsal venues will not be available for rentals for the 2020-2021 concert season. Specifically, the time period from September 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. This decision is one prompted by our concern for public health and implemented out of necessity. It is a decision founded in robust planning in consultation with public health agencies and officials. That said, it is also a difficult one, as we have developed many trusted relationships with our partners and friends. We hope that our providing advance notice allows your organization to make alternative arrangements for the coming season, and we hope to continue to grow our relationship, even in these most difficult times.

As the world continues to monitor the ongoing health concerns posed by COVID-19, so will NEC.  Should an opportunity arise to safely and securely re-open our performance venues to our external partners for rental purposes, please be assured that we will consider all possibilities. [continued…]

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