in: Reviews

January 7, 2009

Commentary on a Concert: Reflections on Our Musical Wealth

by

The musical scene in Boston is well served by our superb Boston Symphony Orchestra. But it is not the only game in town, the sole chance to hear estimable classical music played well. We are also fortunate to have many smaller groups that provide music in various guises: baroque, modern, orchestral, chamber, vocal, wind, strings, …

The Big Question has been, does Boston have a community to support these groups? The answer is a resounding “YES” – when they are given adequate publicity. This point has been lost on the main print media in recent years but was  evident at the concert put on by the Music Committee of the Friends of the Weston Public Library on January 6.

The Boston Globe not only mentioned the concert by Rafael Popper-Keiser, cello, and Esther Ning Yau, piano, but had a large color photo of Popper-Keiser, playing. An informal survey by this attendee and a statement of one of the organizers suggested that the publicity accounted for half the audience at the concert. That is, people from Boston, Brookline, Somerville, Winchester, brave enough to venture to Weston under threat of snow. The overflow crowd was seated in an ante-room.

The concerts are about an hour long, with no intermission. Opting not to play little bits of chestnuts we all know well, the players chose compositions by lesser-known to the previously unknown, to illustrate music from different countries.  A few audience members found the repertoire daunting -but most did not. So music literacy received one more shot in the arm.

Impressionism was well served by Chausson’s Pièce by (representing French music) and Frank Bridge’s Mélodie by (English); Romanticism by Mendelssohn’s Variations concertantes (German) and Granados’s Madrigal (Spanish); and late Classical by Rossini’s Allegro agitato (Italian). But the gems of the evening were the three 20th-century pieces: Martinu’s Variations sur un Theme slovaque (Czech), Taktakishvilis Allegro (Georgian), and Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Dedication (Estonian).

Tüür, previously unknown to this attendee, is in some ways a minimalist, influenced most (and not surprisingly), by the music of a compatriot, Arvo Pärt. according to Popper-Keiser. Yet another modern composer who calls for plucking the piano strings, and not notes, for specific emphasis, Tuur calls for a sonorous, sustained pluck, then pause, to announce each melodic passage, often abruptly alternating between piano and fortissimo.

Weston’s Music Committee of the Friends of the library began in 1999 with a fund-raising effort by Inge and Lee Engler, to buy a good piano.  Their mission “to present a variety of musical programs …open to the public” is realized with a full concert schedule throughout the academic year.

A further note: the concerts are free, accounting, undoubtedly, for the journeys traveled to attend last night’s offering. Would that our society could find its way to subsidize more.

The publicity given by the Boston Globe to this off-the-beaten-track concert well illustrates its importance. But it is uncommon. The Boston Musical Intelligencer was founded to bolster the classical music scene in Boston, not only by providing a central location for information on upcoming concerts in the area, but by providing reviews of concerts, many of which that do not fall within the allowed scope of our local newspapers.

Justification for our approach has been apparent since we began, three months ago.

Bettina A. Norton is a retired museum professional. She has published widely in her field, American historical prints, and in later years, was editor and publisher of The Beacon Hill Chronicle. She lives in the house in which she grew up, in Boston, and has been attending classical music concerts “since the waning years of World War II.”

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