Monkeying Around with White Snake Projects

Last weekend in the Emerson Colonial Theater, White Snake Projects premiered its lively new opera Monkey: A Kung Fu Puppet Parable, replete with colorful hijinks and a vibrant, polystylistic score. [continued]

A Vivid Account of Samson’s Agonies and Triumph

Even absent surtitles or libretto, the smarmily smiling, cellphone toting, selfie-prone, Dagon-worshiping Philistine lounge lizards and vamps could easily be distinguished from their God-fearing, period-plausible counterparts in the worthwhile Cambridge Chamber Ensemble production of Handel’s Samson; the run continues tonight and tomorrow at First Church, Cambridge. [continued]

Conservationist Pianist Changes World

Mahani Teave became riveted by the piano when the first one arrived in her far-away childhood home, Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) when she was 9 years old, she became avid student, taking to the keyboard almost as if knowing it from some prior existence. A capacity audience at Shalin Liu that included many young people welcomed Sunday’s stop on her 3-month American-Canadian tour. [continued]

Simone Dinnerstein Joins Emmanuel Music at Tufts

With soloist Simone Dinnerstein, Emmanuel Music Orchestra dished out piano concerti by Bach, Glass, and Mozart along with a video installation at Tufts’s Distler Hall. [continued]

SFOpera: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs

Half of San Francisco turned up last night at the War Memorial Opera House for Mason Bates’s new opera. Boston listeners can view the full electro-acoustic spectacle this Wednesday when the 100-minute production is livestreamed HERE. [continued]

Fierce and Tender Schubert

Pianist Sergey Schepkin launched the sixth season of Glissando at First Church Boston last night with Schubert’s Eight Impromptus, nicely introduced by the short Allegretto in C Minor, D.915, which Schubert composed in 1827, a month after Beethoven’s death. [continued]

Roger Tapping’s Legacy Feted

The twinkling intelligence and grace of Roger Tapping pervaded Jordan Hall with much love. While the sounds evaporated, memorial commissions in his honor will enrich the viola repertoire for many years. [continued]

A Dreary Midnight with Webs of Nitre

Webs of nitre chillingly surrounded us at Nightingale Vocal Ensemble’s fascinating mashup of Poe and Gesualdo; it repeats tomorrow night at Old North Church. [continued]

Robust Reimaginings From A Far Cry

With fine musicianship and precise ensemble A Far Cry’s compelling “Reimagined” opened its season last night at Jordan Hall. [continued]

Saving Butterfly ?

Boston Lyric Opera’s well-sung and very-well-played up-to-date production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly continues at the Colonial Theater through next weekend. [continued]

Quartet Met “Latin Voices” Mandate

Pianist Ursula Oppens joined the Cassatt String Quartet in Sunday’s concert of Tania León, Mozart and Shostakovich which closed the Maverick season. [continued]

VALIS at MIT: Potent Ambiguity

Jay Sheib’s dense and difficult new production of Tod Machover’s 1987 VALIS interestingly blurred fantasy and reality at MIT last weekend. [continued]

A Guerilla Impromptu

Composer and sound designer Elisabet Curbelo, Urban Jazz Dance Company, poetry of Federico García Lorca, and American Sign Language (ASL) met at Mosesian Center for the Arts Sunday in “Ululations and Gurgles of the Invisible,” a fairytale music-making and dance along with artistic sign language, projections, motion sensor technology, and sound engineering that went by timelessly. [continued]

Grecian Formula Gins Up Historic Church

The Freisinger Chamber Orchestra opened the Boston concert season with a pleasing, mostly NEC student contingent on Saturday afternoon at Old South Church. [continued]

Masterworks by Hometown Hero and Others

The Ames Piano Quartet took the stage with familiar masterworks that we don’t hear often enough, and a newer example by George Tsontakis. [continued]

Romancing the Walcker

The renowned summer series of organ recitals at Methuen Memorial Music Hall concluded on Wednesday with Crista Miller’s accomplished program based on plainsong and hymntunes. [continued]

Opulent and Elegant

With rigor, the Borromeo String Quartet brought two important and indispensable pieces to the Maverick on Sunday. [continued]

Maverick Chamber Orchestra’s Revelations

Saturday afternoon’s concert, a gift from Simone Dinnerstein and the Caroga Arts Ensemble, dazzled with works rarely head at the Maverick. [continued]

Glamorous Mercury and Li

2023 Fou-Ts’ong International Competition winner, pianist Che Li, a Chinese-born recent graduate from New England Conservatory of Music, joined conductor Channing Yu and the Mercury Orchestra at Jordan Hall for the 1879 version of the Tchaikovsky’s First Piano concerto Saturday night in the stimulating final concert of the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts’s 2023 summer festival. [continued]

Charming Chelsea Guo Sings and Plays

… but what about this poised artist who self-partnered in Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben for the Foundation of Chinese Performing Arts at Williams Hall last night? [continued]

Wagner in Vermont

Tundi Productions’ Walküre in Brattleboro last night at the 750-seat, zodiacally classical Latchis Theater missed nothing essential and often hit its marks. [continued]

Monkey, A Kung Fu Puppet Parable Previewed

“The family friendly transmedia opera combining Bunraku puppetry, computer generated images, and live opera. MONKEY is based on the Chinese quest saga, “Journey to the West,” rewritten to reflect contemporary issues from the multicultural mosaic of American life. Besides the two fundamental operatic elements of text and music, the three main characters — Monkey, Pig (Zhu), and Sandwoman (Sha) — are life sized Bunraku puppets. MONKEY delves into the world of computer generated technology through the use of CGI environs and avatars. Live singers on stage will be the voices of the puppets and avatars.” Continues tonight and tomorrow afternoon at the Emerson Paramount Center. Kathy Wittman’s rehearsal pictures appear below the break.  Tickets HERE. Our review is HERE. [continued]


Just Arrived on the Shelves

“Robert Craft: The Complete Columbia Album Collection,” a handsomely produced set of 44 CDs issued by Sony Classical, includes a 123-page accompanying booklet beginning with my six-page essay, “A Tireless Worker for the Music of Our Time,” along with photographs and a comprehensive listing of performers and recording data. You can get the whole thing HERE for $5.45 per disc.

Much of this set brings back to an eager audience a recorded legacy of historic importance. It reissues on remastered CDs what many of us have still treasured in our collections of vinyl LPs for many decades, beginning with the pathbreaking four-LP set of the complete works of Anton Webern, opp. 1-31. Many of these pieces were known for years, but previously unrecorded, and in some cases unpublished in score. The legend is that all of Webern’s works for orchestra, from the Passacaglia, op. 1, through the Six Pieces, op. 6, to the final Cantatas opp. 29 and 31, were recorded in just two hours of leftover time from Stravinsky recording sessions. Webern’s many songs (opp. 3, 4, 8, 12-19, 23, and 25) were divvied up by sopranos Grace-Lynne Martin and Marni Nixon* (suppressed as and later famous as the singing voices of Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, Jeanne Crain and Marilyn Monroe), whose pitch accuracy Craft once described as “better than violin.” Another essential part of the Webern legend is that Craft’s four-LP set was the best-selling multiple-disc classical album ever, though it hardly seemed credible even in the early 1960s, when I heard the story from Milton Babbitt. [continued]


Business Mentality in the Arts? Unkind Cuts?

From many sources we learn that Brandeis University proposes to place its PhD programs in composition and musicology on hiatus “until financial conditions improve,” according to Assistant Professor Emily Frey Giansiracusa’s account in Slipped Disc of Provost Carol Fierke’s pronouncement. Current candidates will be able to complete their work, and no faculty will be let go. Will the University’s bottom line take the slightest notice of this? Will the Lydian Quartet be shrunk to a trio? Is this what the President Liebowitz called “a lean into science”? Will science studies actually benefit? Our correspondents think not. Is this the beginning of an assault on the Arts?

The directors of beloved institutions don’t always make the best decisions. Community hue and cry did not save Boston’s magnificent Opera House from Northeastern University’s wrecking ball, though powerful artistic opinion-makers managed to reverse Emerson College’s intention to morph Clarence Blackall’s stunning and historic Colonial Theater into a college dining hall. In 2009, when Brandeis University president Jehuda Reinharz promulgated plans to close the school’s Rose Museum of Arts and plunder its collection, it took a successful lawsuit to prevent that philistinism. One has to wonder why the arts are the first to be cut and the last to be restored these days. It was not so at the formation of Brandeis. The founders would be very displeased by the announced plans to demolish the Musicology and Composition PhD programs there. Perhaps this is not an impending catastrophe on the level of the aforementioned episodes; the number of injured individuals is small, and at least 50 universities offer similar programs, nevertheless, this proposal indicates diminishing valuation for the liberal arts, and bureaucratic management of cultural institutions. Many aggrieved parties have weighed in; BMInt has not received an official response from the office of provost Carol Fierke or the office of the president. [continued]


Machover’s VALIS This Way Comes

Tod Machover’s first opera, VALIS, garnered rave reviews at its 1987 Paris Premiere. The CD — still available on Bridge Records — earned a  “Best of the Year” from The New York Times. Thirty years later, a brand-new Jay Scheib production, starring Davóne Tines and Anaïs Reno, debuts at the MIT Theater Arts Performance Space (345 Vassar Street, Cambridge) on September 8th and 9th at 7:30 pm and on the 10th, at 3:00 pm. MIT Theater Arts Performance Space, 345 Vassar Street,  Free tickets are  HERE. For more on the production click HERE.

“Based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, VALIS is perhaps even more relevant today—in a world coming to grips with “deep fakes” and the rapid development of AI technology—than when it was first presented. It tells the story of Horselover Fat—the author’s alter ego—who has a devastating-yet-enlightening “pink light” experience. Fat explores the blurred boundaries between reality and AI technology and considers the possibility of hope in a world where all knowledge is available but little of it is verifiable.” The soprano from 1987, our own Anne Azéma, joined me in interviewing Tod Machover.

Lee Eiseman: Tod, did you write the part of Sophia for our Anne Azéma? [continued]


BPYO Toured to South Africa? Tell us More

The impressive and impressionable players of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO) became enraptured by the South African people and their country over an extraordinary six-concert tour in mid June; South Africans responded in kind to these remarkable young musicians. Pretoria, Cape Town, and Makhanda witnessed Beethoven 5th and Ein Heldenleben; Mahler’s Second Symphony came to Johannesburg, Soweto, and Cape Town, where BPYO shared the stage with Gauteng Choristers, directed by Sidwell Mhlongo; soprano Andiswa Makana, and mezzo-soprano Bongiwe Nakani Mcetywa—South African musicians singing Mahler for the first time. The SA Daily Maverick recounted:

On his first trip to South Africa years ago, Zander fell in love with the country, the people and the way everybody seemed absorbed and fascinated by South Africa. “Every conversation, it seemed, was about the country, its future, its problems and the solutions.” Zander met Nelson Mandela on that trip. He said to him: “It is a great honour to meet you, for you are the first leader of Symphonia.” “Oh?” said Mandela. “What is that?” Zander explained: “Sym-phonia: Sounding together. You didn’t lead one party against another. You listened to all the voices and conducted the whole ‘orchestra’.”

Madiba beamed from ear to ear. “I like that.”

On that occasion  Zander promised Mandela that one day he would bring his youth orchestra to South Africa. He wanted them to experience the country and mould their lives around Mandela’s vision.

Twenty-five years later it happened. [continued]


Music Remembers Wartime Trauma

Yet it is not only we who remember music. Music also remembers us.

For myriad reasons, Jeremy Eichler’s “Time’s Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust, and The Music of Remembrance” makes for an unusually important and continuously compelling read. His dual passions as music critic and cultural historian fuse to offer extraordinary ways of reconsidering and hearing four of the 20th century’s most significant musical works: Eichler places these works Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar), and Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem and their composers within a richly detailed historical and cultural context. “Witness to history and a carrier of memory … they stood at four different windows overlooking the same catastrophe. Each responded to the rupture through intensely charged memorials in sound.”

Even those who feel conversant with the biographies of these composers will learn much from the extravagance of historical detail surrounding their lives and music, their friends, their countries, their times and their religious and political choices. A huge swath of European, Russian, and American luminaries made indelible appearances and alliances. Little seems to end well for most of these walk-ons—particularly writers and librettists—who paid a huge price for describing the “murderous contradictions” of their worlds. [continued]


Landmark Journeys: Dances from Beethoven to Gottschalk

Christopher Wilkins (file photo)

BMInt shares with pleasure Landmarks Orchestra’s “podium note” from Artistic Director Christopher Wilkins for the Dance Night beginning on Wednesday night at 7:00 in the Hatch Shell.

On any given night, you’re likely to see young dancers at Landmarks concerts moving to the music. They’ll dance wherever the spirit moves them: on the lawn, along the walkways, or in front of the stage. Their motion becomes more directed when they enter the Maestro Zone, where tonight they will receive conducting lessons from Sheila del Bosque, multi-award-wining flutist, composer, and conductor. Originally from Cuba, she recently graduated from the Berklee College of Music, with a dual degree in Performance and Film Scoring, and a minor in Orchestral Conducting.

Dance Night has become an annual Landmarks tradition. It amplifies the natural move-to-the-music inclinations of our audience. But it also provides an opportunity to showcase the depth of talent that runs through Boston’s diverse cultural communities. In recent seasons, dance collaborations have represented traditions from Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela, West Africa, Ireland, Armenia, Syria, and Korea.

Hector Berlioz stitched his Roman Carnival Overture together using two themes composed in 1837 for Benvenuto Cellini. In his Mémoirs, he wrote about the disastrous premiere of that opera: “I had been greatly struck by certain episodes in the life of Benvenuto Cellini. I had the misfortune to believe they would make an interesting and dramatic subject for an opera.” The overture’s opening flourish contains the seeds of the work’s second main theme, which arrives later with the carnival music. The first theme—introduced by the English horn—comes from a love duet between the opera’s artist-protagonist Benvenuto Cellini and the woman he loves, Teresa. Violas repeat the tune, then the full orchestra, with invigorating accompaniment in the trumpets and percussion. A sweetly sung cadence in the strings runs into a swirling gust, stirred up by woodwinds and percussion. Suddenly, we’re swept off our feet and into an Italian street scene—already in progress—amid the exuberant chaos of a Roman carnival. [continued]


Hearing Atonality, or Not Quite

Most of the music we know is full of tonality, which we experience and understand without being fully capable of defining in words what “tonality” is — what we mean by it. We can even usually find the tonic, by listening and looking at the score, though from time to time perhaps we aren’t certain about what it is or where it is. And we also recognize that there are times when the tonality is temporarily suspended, as in all those passages with multiple successions of diminished-seventh chords in Chopin, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky (not to forget Bach and Mozart), or those rapid modulations with each new tonic coming from the dominant of the previous key (same composers just mentioned, among others) — in one door and out another, so to speak.

Come to the end of the 19th century, and with the chromatic Germans and the modal French, and our perception of “tonality” is stretched to wider-than-ever limits. There’s that wonderfully crazy passage in Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel (1895), where the wildest murky assortment of chords goes on for several bars, with no possibility of finding a tonic, before being wrenched into a climactic D major six-four (you know where I mean, just before the death-roll snare drums). And there’s Debussy’s Nuages (1899), in which the tonic triad is B diminished (B> D> F>), and at the very end the palpable tonic is represented by just a single pitch. But we unmistakably recognize these well-unified works as tonal music, i.e., full of tonality, whatever else there may be in the equation. [continued]


Paganini Laureate Returns to NEC

by Annie Kim

Violinist Inmo Yang will return to NEC Williams Hall where he appeared a year ago in a recital celebrated on these pages with much enthusiasm. “Yang made the [music] come alive by varying the colors on his soulful Guadagnini, he also demonstrated remarkable expressiveness and control of his bow made by Boston-area McArthur Genius Grant winner Benoit Roland. [He] left us with a stage picture of handsomely distilled and gorgeous inflected romance.” Information on the August 6th at 3:00pm sonata recital with pianist Yun Janice Lu, tickets and details can be found at the Korean Cultural Society of Boston.

Proceeding in reverse chronological order of composition, the recital begins with two sonatas written within the contexts of World War I. The Debussy Violin Sonata, though but 13-minutes in length, foregrounds Debussy’s signature use of wide-ranging timbres and harmonic colors combined with his motive-driven, fragmented, late compositional style. The violin sonata was part of what Debussy envisioned to be a set of six sonatas, but this remains the third and final work of the unfinished cycle. [continued]


A Full, Round Tone: Schubert’s Trombones

The trombone (Italian, “big trumpet”) is well known as a band instrument (e.g., 76 of them in The Music Man) or part of a jazz combo (Jack Teagarden and friends), and, since Wagner, as a regular member of the symphony orchestra, normally in groups of three. Before Wagner trombones were only occasionally used in symphonies, appearing suddenly and spectacularly (alto, tenor and bass) in the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth. Prior to that splendid moment, trombones were used as choral doublers (including in several Bach cantatas and regularly in contrapuntal sections of the Viennese classical Mass), or less often, as a coloristic group in opera — think of the graveyard scene in Don Giovanni or even all the way back to Monteverdi’s Orfeo, when the trombones were sackbuts. Beethoven, apart from one or two instances, seems to have been reluctant to use the trombone as a solo instrument, or in a non-doubling choir of three; by the time of the Fifth Symphony (1808), he was already quite deaf, and may have only guessed at the trombone’s coloristic utility, although one day in 1812 he did write three Equale for a quartet of trombones (WoO 30). [continued]