in: News & Features

February 23, 2012

Another Conductor Cancels at BSO


Citing illness, Kurt Masur has withdrawn from the leadership of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis  for the three scheduled concerts in Boston (February 23, 24, and 25) as well as the one in new York on March 6th. John Oliver, conductor of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, will preside over all of the performances. According to the BSO press office, Mr. Masur will nevertheless be “proceeding with his plans to lead concerts with the Israel Philharmonic in Israel, the Bayerische Staatskapelle in Munich, Germany, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in Shanghai, China and the Orchestre National de France in Paris in March and April.”

John Oliver last led members of the BSO in concert on July 29, 2010, in Bach’s “Jesu, Meine Freude,” BWV 227. Since he stepped in for Seiji Ozawa during the second half of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion on August 16, 1985, Mr. Oliver has led the BSO in a number of performances, including Bach’s Mass in B minor on December 12-14, 1985; Martino’s The White Island on April 8 and October 2, 3, and 6, 1987; Mozart’s Kyrie in D minor, K.341 and Ave verum corpus, K.618, during the Tanglewood Festival Chorus 25th anniversary celebration at Tanglewood on July 9, 1995; and Beethoven’s Mass in C at Tanglewood on July 5, 1998.

Oliver founded the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in 1970 and has since prepared the TFC for more than 900 performances, including appearances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Tanglewood, Carnegie Hall, and on tour in Europe and the Far East, as well as with visiting orchestras and as a solo ensemble. He has had a major impact on musical life in Boston and beyond through his work with countless TFC members, former students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where he taught for thirty-two years), and Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center who now perform with distinguished musical institutions throughout the world. Mr. Oliver’s affiliation with the Boston Symphony began in 1964 when, at twenty-four, he prepared the Sacred Heart Boychoir of Roslindale for the BSO’s perform­ances and recording of excerpts from Berg’s Wozzeck led by Erich Leinsdorf. In 1966 he pre­pared the choir for the BSO’s performances and recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, also with Leinsdorf, soon after which Leinsdorf asked him to assist with the choral and vocal music program at the Tanglewood Music Center. In 1970, Mr. Oliver was named Director of Vocal and Choral Activities at the Tanglewood Music Center and founded the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. He has since prepared the chorus in more than 200 works for chorus and orchestra, as well as dozens more a cappella pieces, and for more than forty commercial releases with James Levine, Seiji Ozawa, Bernard Haitink, Sir Colin Davis, Leonard Bernstein, Keith Lockhart, and John Williams. He made his Boston Symphony conducting debut at Tanglewood in August 1985, led subscription concerts for the first time in December 1985, conducted the orchestra most recently in July 1998, and returned to the BSO podium to open the BSO’s final Tanglewood concert of 2010 with a TFC performance of Bach’s motet, Jesu, meine Freude.

In addition to his work with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and Tanglewood Music Center, Mr. Oliver has held posts as conductor of the Framingham Choral Society, as a member of the faculty and director of the chorus at Boston University, and for many years on the faculty of MIT, where he was lecturer and then senior lecturer in music. While at MIT, he conducted the MIT Glee Club, Choral Society, Chamber Chorus, and Concert Choir. In 1977 he founded the John Oliver Chorale, which performed a wide-ranging repertoire encompassing masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Stravinsky, as well as seldom heard works by Carissimi, Bruckner, Ives, Martin, and Dallapiccola. With the Chorale he recorded two albums for Koch International: the first of works by Martin Amlin, Elliott Carter, William Thomas McKinley, and Bright Sheng, the second of works by Amlin, Carter, and Vincent Persichetti. He and the Chorale also recorded Charles Ives’s The Celestial Country and Charles Loeffler’s Psalm 137 for Northeastern Records, and Donald Martino’s Seven Pious Pieces for New World Records. Mr. Oliver’s appearances as a guest conductor have included Mozart’s Requiem with the New Japan Philharmonic and Shinsei Chorus, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony with the Berkshire Choral Institute. In May 1999 he prepared the chorus and children’s choir for André Previn’s performances of Benjamin Britten’s Spring Symphony with the NHK Symphony in Japan; in 2001-02 he conducted the Carnegie Hall Choral Workshop in preparation for Previn’s Carnegie performance of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem. John Oliver made his Montreal Symphony Orchestra debut in December 2011 conducting performances of Handel’s Messiah. This past October he received the 2011 Alfred Nash Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Choral Arts New England in recognition of his outstanding contributions to choral music.



  1. I heard Masur’s performance with the NY Philharmonic, on the radio a decade ago, of the “Missa” and found it disappointing.  Fast, not reflective, totally lacking in the fervor, gravitas and powerfully controlled expansion of Toscanini’s remarkable performances.  So, this is no great loss.  I can only hope that John Oliver knows what I am talking about.  And if he does, New York should hear his interpretation, not just Boston.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — February 23, 2012 at 10:08 am

  2. This season I downgraded my 25 Saturday subscription from the most expensive seat to the least expensive seat.  Next year it will be single tickets only with the purchase made with the knowledge that the designated artists will be performing.  Sorry to hear that Mr. Masur is ill, but like so many cancellations in the last two years he will performing shortly after he was to have conducted his BSO performances.  Another notable example is Sir Colin Davis who conducted last year in Europe immediately after his concerts were mysteriously cancelled with the BSO.  There are numerous other similar situations.  

    The BSO first of all needs a strong management team which it now lacks.  The search for a new music director seems to be lagging; the BSO should as quickly as possible hire a music director that will provide leadership and cohesiveness.  The following are my candidates for the job:  Stéphane Denève,Thomas Adès, and, Susanna Mälkki.  

    This great orchestra will continue to flounder unless a new administrative team and music director are in place.

    Comment by Robert Summers — February 23, 2012 at 10:21 am

  3. Sure it is wonderful that John Oliver will lead the concert and it might be a very unique opportunity for Bostonians to see/hear the truly Boston treasures in action on the Symphony Hall podium.  I however very much question the title of the article. “Another Conductor Cancels at BSO“, what does it mean?  Do we have a chain of conductors that cancels on us because we gave to the country Mitt Romney or Dunkin Donald? I do not think so. We had one guy cancels because he had child and another because he is sick (wish is respected in his age). So, there is noBSO Cancelation Syndrome and I do not think that the tile of “Another Conductor Cancels…” is warranted.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 23, 2012 at 10:22 am

  4. I was looking forward to the Missa Solemnis this evening. Now I’m also looking forward to seeing John Oliver conduct.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 23, 2012 at 11:36 am

  5. What evidence is there that the BSO lacks a strong management team? Considering the problems that have arisen becaused of and since Levine’s illness they have not done badly at all. But I live in NJ far from the gossip, a distant lover who first heard the orchestra under Koussevitsky and has never forgotten that sound. As wonderful and brilliant as Levine was he did not have the commitment to the orchestra or to Boston that I think is needed. Of course you could say the same of the glorious Munch who lived at the Ritz and left town when conducting. And ironically Ozawa, the least of the four  by far, lived in Brookline.

    I don’t think, as almost suggested here, that the management should hire someone fast. Is the search lagging? Is there someone out there like Luisi who  made a commitment to the Met at the cost of angering agents and orchestras in Europe; in other words someone dying to lead the BSO with passion, intellect, and charisma and commitment?  Is there a current version of Guido Cantelli out there?  I could ranat on, but I have to get into NYC to hear the Berlin this evening.

    Comment by Ed Robbins — February 23, 2012 at 11:54 am

  6. The headline would also have done a better job if it told us the news. Like “John Oliver in for Masur at BSO”

    As for cancellations, management needs to stop courting them.  Nelsons only had a week free for the BSO because he had blocked out time for his newborn’s arrival. When that occurred at the latest possible moment he cancelled. BSO managment shouldn’t be taking that kind of risk. All too foreseeable.

    Comment by Bill — February 23, 2012 at 2:33 pm

  7. I’m going to the concert tomorrow night, excited to hear Oliver conduct.  I heard Masur in Washington DC a couple of years ago and I think the orchestra was conducting HIM.  As for the search for a music director, I don’t keep up with the latest gossip.  But I do remember being bummed out when Ozawa was hired instead of Tilson-Thomas.  Maybe he could be coaxed back?

    Comment by Bob — February 23, 2012 at 7:40 pm

  8. Well, with all understandable excitement about John Oliver let do not discard the great legacy of Kurt Masur and do not forget that the only reasons why resent years he is a bit loosing as conductor is his age, which is a respectable reason.  I have to remind that even the last couple years that Masur lead BSO it was not so non-notable.  His Brahms Third was very questionable in October 2011. His Beethoven 9 during the closing of 2010 summer season was horrible. His Til Eulenspiegel from the same concert was boring, to say the least.  However, he took an assault to Schumann symphonies.  In July of last year, in Tanglewood, and it was OK, nothing spectacular, just nice firm play.  However, there was a concert in November of 2010 where Masur took Schumann 1 and 4. In my view it was the one of the best symphonic Schumann I even heard – they were truly super performances! So, Masur was able to deliver not only 10 years back, even though still I do feel that Beethoven never was his horse to ride…. BTW, taking about the last week’s butchered concert of Shostakovich. No further than 2 days back I re-listened my absolutely the most beloved, truly hair-raising take on the Shostakovich 5 by Kurt Masur and Chicago from 87. You can’t believe what Kurt Masur did with orchestra during that Shostakovich!

    Comment by Romy the Cat — February 23, 2012 at 8:43 pm

  9. For the record, while he was Music Director Charles Munch had a home (a nice one) in Milton.
    During his 13 seasons as Music Director he conducted nearly 70 per cent of the concerts. Of the remaining 30 per cent a significant
    number were led by just 3 individuals, Pierre Monteux, Richard Burgin and Ernest Ansermet (during Munch’s recovery from his 1952
    heart attack).
    The era of the “on the road” music director did not begin until Solti signed his deal with the Chicago Symphony in 1968, and after
    Erich Leinsdorf left the BSO in 1969.

    Comment by Brian Bell — February 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm

  10. His Brahms Third was very questionable in October 2011.
    However, there was a concert in November of 2010 where Masur took Schumann 1 and 4. In my view it was the one of the best symphonic Schumann I even heard – they were truly super performances!

    I am with Romy.

    I just came back from to Symphony hall. Masur could have been well worse than John Oliver tonite.

    Comment by Thorsten Zhu — February 23, 2012 at 11:08 pm

  11. Just returned from the Berlin Phil concert in Carnegie. Afternoon of a Faun came across as as an old  goat slogging through a dense thicket. The sound was so unlike the French sound that we still have in our ears that I was shocked. But Verklarte Nacht was stunning on every front. Elgar Variations supberb too and not done just as a showcase item. Dvorak’s Golden Spinning-Wheel also done magnificently, but the heavy string sound of the orchestra could have done with some lightening up. Is it not the mark of a great orchestra to be able to adjust to the tonal requirements of a piece however loud or soft, fast or slow, or uses of rubato a conductor asks for? Maybe Rattle wanted a heavy “Faun”.  The playing itself was remarakable in all departments including a stunning virtuoso go at the timpani part in the Elgar that looked too easy to be believed.

    Comment by Ed Robbins — February 24, 2012 at 12:35 am

  12. Fwiw, a veteran member of the chorus (very veteran, as in decades) told me that, while fragile, Masur was doing a good job prepping them and showing ‘good instincts’.

    Comment by david moran — February 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm

  13. I really question whether there is more to this story than we have been told.  In the email that the BSO sent to patrons, they indicated that Masur cancelled, but is going to be traveling to several continents over the next 1-2 months to uphold engagements in China, Israel, Europe, and elsewhere.  It was clearly putting a finger in his eye, and rather surprising coming from the BSO that they were taking a snipe at Masur.  I think something else may be going on, and I’ll speculate.
    Last night’s concert was terrible.  I mean, really the worst BSO concert I have heard in a very very long time.  The problem?  The Tanglewood Festival Chorus.  What was once a glorious crack ensemble that you could take to the bank, has steadily deteriorated over the last 7 years or so.  Their current state can only be called “dreadful.”  The sopranos are by far the worst, screechy and out of tune above a high G.  The overall sound is coarse and unrefined, and you can only call it “harsh” and anything but elegant, which was the appropriate word for them before they started deteriorating.  I can’t believe how bad they have gotten.  Hearing Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise in January made me fearful for this upcoming concert (last night), but the Missa Solemnis was far worse.  The soloists, with the exception of Eric Owens, were also having bad nights (particularly the normally-reliable Christine Brewer, and the tenor was beyond criticism because he was so far off the mark; Michelle DeYoung was uncharacteristically warbling rather than singing).  John Oliver is to be commended for standing in at the last minute, but you have to hold him responsible for the current state of the chorus, which is atrocious.  Maybe he can’t hear how bad it has gotten, but I think it’s time for him to receive a glorious send-off, and to bring in some new blood to overhaul the chorus.  They are so far from where they need to be, it’s sad.  Because not so long ago, they were consistently outstanding and as good as it gets.
    I am wondering if Masur’s departure has to do with him hearing the same thing we heard–a chorus that was woefully substandard and in fact painful to listen to.  Might he have said, I want no part of this, I’m out of here?  I don’t know…but Carlo Maria Giulini did the same thing when he showed up at the Vienna Philharmonic in the 1970s, heard the deteriorated state of the Vienna Singverein who were supposed to perform Verdi’s Requiem, and then quickly cancelled his participation due to “illness.”  But as he explained to everyone involved, he could not compromise his artistic standards by performing with a chorus that was so off the mark.  And he didn’t.

    Comment by Dave — February 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm

  14. I agree with Dave. The concert was execrable. Not only were the formerly crack Tanglewooders off the mark; its leader was barely alive on the podium. I do wonder about the circumstances behind Oliver’s taking the stand last night. Did Masur call in a few days ago to simply say he wasn’t feeling up to it; the BSO turns to Oliver and asks, “John, do you think you can handle this?”, and Oliver, who has been rehearsing the chorus anyway, strokes his chin, stares at the floor, and lets drool a serpentine “Ye-e-s-s-s-s-I think so-o.” Case settled. Or, the call could have come in at 3:30 or just before the email was rushed out to subscribers, signaling a sudden tinge of interstitial nephritis. Who knows? If Masur was suffering somewhere in the world, it was Beethoven who suffered in extremis on Huntington Avenue.  The BSO has remained decapitated long enough. At times surely they can bounce back regally. When Chailly cancelled due to illness a few weeks ago, the orchestra grabbed a Costa Rican off the beach to administer Stravinsky’s vernal rites that RC had programmed (considerately zapped in mid whoop by a faulty fire alarm system that evacuated the hall), while more creatively reinventing the first half with the individual brass, winds, and string choirs walking out on stage to play works scored respectively for themselves. What a way to thumb one’s nose at fate and rise to the occasion! 

    Unfortunately, no such resourcefulness graced last night. Maybe though, not all was lost in the hour and forty minutes of our bondage. However maligned, it was the Mass itself that had the last word. Actually, it was not one word but two, and the first uttered, here gently, consolingly laid by the hem of the BSO, as others rolled their eyes to the heavens: Kyrie eleison!

    Comment by Henry Hoover — February 24, 2012 at 6:11 pm

  15. I would like to bring another angle to the subject.

    I think the situation that unfolds this week at BSO is a perfect storm that only highlights that incredible foolishness that we had in Boston 2 years back: the cancelation of Friday matinee BSO broadcasts.   

    With all my respect to Missa Solemnis I did not plan to go to concert as BSO did not play Beethoven interestingly since 40s. With current state of Masur conducting it was no way for me to go, and I have some friends that had more or less similar sentiments, probably inspired by my badmouthing, and did not plan to go to concert. As John Oliver was announced the tide shifted and this week at BSO become to look attractive. I am sick this week, so I am out but some friends of mine went on-line and got the best sits in house in open sale – a clear indication that the Hall is not sold out.

    Now the rumors about the last nigh concert begun to spread. The Dave’s comment about and two other comments I heard privately suggest that it was very bad. It means very little and there are zillion reasons for it. I do not know how much time, if any, they had to prepare and if John Oliver is accustom to lead orchestra. Russians says that a first pancake is always wrinkled and it was most likely was the first pancake…

    For us, the concert-goers this week, like never before, there is one things that is absolutely essential – the Friday matinee live BSO broadcast – when we would be able to preview what is going on. I do feel that John Oliver might turn the Saturday concert into a very memorable event, but each of us, (individually and not based upon somebody opinion) needs to see the signs of it. The Friday broadcast might me the medium that deliver these signs but broadcast is not there. The Friday broadcasts were canceled by the former WCRB administration – by the Morons who understand classical music as much as I understand English spelling. The current WCRB administration is very different but the Friday broadcasts are still conspicuously not there.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 24, 2012 at 6:15 pm

  16. Unfortunately I have to agree with Dave’s assessment of the chorus.  I went on Thursday night and was beginning to really get into the Kyrie when nearly half of the soprano section made an incorrect cutoff.  I have no idea why, whether it was an unclear gesture from Oliver, or a memory issue, but it was jarring, and most unfortunately continued to occur throughout the work.  [ why does the TFC insist on doing everything from memory?  This is not a piece that should be done that way and it was painfully evident the entire night] 
    In fairness I generally like the quality of sound that the chorus makes, and I thought the Mendelssohn back in January was quite splendid, but I do find it odd that a orchestra like the BSO isn’t able or willing to hire a professional chorus, or at least a professional core that is supplemented with volunteers.

    Comment by Joe Turbessi — February 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm

  17. Regarding the announcement of Masur’s cancellation, is it clear whether the BSO or Masur’s management mentioned his forthcoming appearances?  It would make a difference.

    Comment by Martin Cohn — February 24, 2012 at 7:54 pm

  18. Time will tell what really happened with the Missa Solemnis, whether Masur cancelled for the stated reasons, or if it was something else.  But there’s one other thing which horrified me in Thursday night’s concert, which I forgot to mention in my review:  The response of the audience.  While at first the applause was polite (and mostly seated), before not too long, the audience was on their feet giving a loud standing ovation. 
    Holy mackerel!
    I’ve never seen a greater disconnect between what we heard, and how the audience responded to it, in my many years of going to BSO concerts.  Yes, I understand some of the response may have had to do with applauding everyone for performing under difficult circumstances.  But what I wondered was, how could the three of us who attended all have heard something that could only charitably be called “awful,” and the people in the audience heard something that to their ears was at least satisfactory (or better)?  I mean, I really don’t think it required a seasoned listener to know how far off the mark that performance was–it was beyond redemption.  And then the Boston Globe critic gave it a rave review this morning–can you believe it?  One of the three of us called me at work this morning and said, “Did we even go to the same concert as that Globe reviewer?”
    I’m shaking my head at all of this.  My only concern is, where people don’t realize there is a problem, they aren’t going to do anything about fixing it.  Does the BSO management have any idea how bad the chorus has become?  Yes, they have their hands full, but it’s important that they understand that this is a serious problem that needs immediate attention.  I’m certainly going to send a letter to Mark Volpe myself.

    Comment by Dave — February 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm

  19. Martin, it was the BSO email to the patrons which snubbed their nose at Masur, noting that while he was cancelling, he was still maintaining his schedule in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.  I am reasonably sure that that was not written by Masur’s people.  It was surely intended as an insult to Masur–which says to me there is a lot more to this story than we have been told.  As I said earlier, I’m willing to speculate that Masur withdrew when he understood the deplorable state of the chorus, and refused to participate.  And the BSO was pissed off at him for doing so.

    Comment by Dave — February 24, 2012 at 8:04 pm

  20. Man, the impugning and paranoia that go on here! Unbelievable. And execrable? Seriously? As if Weininger cannot hear?

    Masur is reported to have told the chorus, repeatedly, how pleased he was with what and how they were doing. By the final rehearsal he concluded, and announced, that he wasn’t going to be able to manage the conducting of so complicated a work.

    So unless you’re certain he was lying or something, and ooh, maybe there’s some plot going on, maybe involving management too (and why not add the Globe?) …. It feels like presidential politics web discussions here sometimes. 

    Comment by david moran — February 24, 2012 at 10:08 pm

  21. oh, and the announcing of such things is almost invariably tightly coordinated w artists’ agents and PR types on all sides — meaning you hasten to assure future gig stakeholders that all is going to be well going forward. Not an insult campaign, I would bet.

    Comment by david moran — February 24, 2012 at 10:10 pm

  22. I saw Masur at back stage last year after the terrible Brahms PC2 and not so great Sym3. He even had trouble moving his feet. In such poor condition, I would not expect him to do anything spectacular. I tend to agree that “he wasn’t going to be able to manage the conducting of so complicated a work.”

    Comment by Thorsten Zhu — February 24, 2012 at 10:47 pm

  23. As the old saying goes, “Those who speak don’t know; Those who know don’t speak.” There’s a lot of fanciful speculation flying around here and none of you know what the hell you’re talking about.

    Comment by NL — February 25, 2012 at 12:52 am

  24. Here’s a little more fodder for the discussion….I attended tonight (Friday night).  The Missa Solemnis was performed without an intermission.  An usher told me that the original schedule for the concert had an intermission after the second section because Masur insisted that he needed a break.  Since Masur was not conducting, the intermission was eliminated.  This supports david moran’s theory. 

    Comment by Bob — February 25, 2012 at 1:04 am

  25. To David Moran and NL,
    I never claimed that I knew if there are anything going on with Masur’s cancellation, and made it clear I was simply speculating.  But I was not speculating on the abysmal state of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.  They were not just having a bad night on Thursday, what we heard is consistent with how they have been singing in the last 2 years in particular.  They’ve gone from being “as good as it gets” to being substandard and an embarrassment to the BSO and themselves.  That was all I was saying.  And I think a discussion around the state of the TFC would be a more interesting discussion anyway than whether or not Kurt Masur withdrew due to illness or an unacceptable chorus.

    Comment by Dave — February 25, 2012 at 6:17 am

  26. You can read Kurt Masur’s statement own his web site:
    He indicates he intends to maintain his other commitments in the same language the BSO used. So much for the silly talk about anyone at the BSO “putting a finger in his eye.” He cites the physical demands of the “Missa” and I’d say his planned intermission shows that he was at least aware that getting through it would be a challenge, even if he did not acknowledge he was not up to the task until Wednesday afternoon.
    By skipping these concerts and the Carnegie Hall repeat, he can husband his resources until his next commitment, a full week beginning March 12 in Israel. That will be a challenge. His other commitments involve a great deal of travel, but less onerous duties than the announcement would make it appear. Just two concerts in Munich in late March and one night in Shanghai in April, followed later that month by 2 nights in Paris a week apart. Surely he’s taking on more than he should at this point, but there are facts readily available to provide some perspective. Let’s try living in a fact-based world.

    Comment by Bill — February 25, 2012 at 10:41 am

  27. I was there Thursday night and have to agree with those who found the performance lacking.  About the standing O, I joined out of politeness.
    Sitting near the front towards the right, I couldn’t sense the balance properly but could tell that the strings were not together, particularly on the pizzicato’s.  That the BSO and TFC muddled through it is putting it mildly. Oliver’s near complete lack of expression at the podium made for a leadership void and various parts of the orchestra and chorus tried their best to fill it, and this is what we got.  Oliver had some “problem” that I don’t want to expand upon out of respect, but it was indicative of the lack of cohesion and continuity experienced that evening.  

    That said, I have heard several inspiring performances in the past couple years and anticipate that this is a one-off. I will continue to subscribe and support the BSO as I absolutely love it!

    Comment by Eric — February 25, 2012 at 12:37 pm

  28. Just heard the Missa over WCRB-FM. I am not sure why people were complaining so much. It was good performance, sometime very good, sometimes something I would like to see done different but it was very fine concert nevertheless. I did not “get” what happened during the most of the first part. I felt that in beginning the parts of the “ploy” did not work together and everyone were not themselves but sort of cardboard cutoffs of themselves. However, as they were submerging into the work they all eventually melted together and closer to the end it was truly wonderful play together.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 25, 2012 at 9:30 pm

  29. If what  Thorsten says above about Masur’s frailty is true then it is the management’s fault for expecting so frail a fellow a year later to conduct the most challenging orchestral work that Beethoven wrote. Age may confer wisdom and insight, but age also taketh away. I’m going to the Carnegie Hall performance. Anyone want to bet that Oliver conducts it?   Who would want to conduct it there unless several rehearsals were allowed?

    Comment by Ed Robbins — February 26, 2012 at 2:08 am

  30. I was excited about attending the Missa Solemnis on Friday evening.

    While John Oliver may be a gifted choral director, he is sadly lacking as
    an orchestra conductor. The BSO musicians did not respond to Oliver’s
    metronomic, time beating.

    The chorus, except for the Sopranos, sang fairly well  The soloists were a mixed bag.

    The highlight to me was Malcolm Lowe’s breathtakingly beautiful solo violin passages.

    Symphony Hall was almost full: the audience was attentive and enthusiastic.

    Generally the Friday evening series has no intermission..often there is one piece omitted except if a single work is scheduled.  it’s always noted in advance and listed in the future BSO concerts at the back of the program book for those who care to investigate.

    Unfortunately there are far too many rumors of the he said, they said variety.

    The hideous, unsightly, enormous speaker system was gone on Tuesday night.  I thought
    finally the management had realized that Symphony Hall’s superb acoustics did not need augmentation.  Alas.. the speakers are back!

    Comment by Ed Burke — February 26, 2012 at 4:23 pm

  31. Speaker system??? from where by whose order? that’s like putting lipstick on the Mona Lisa!!! What would you do to someone who
    did that?  it must be a proof that the management is deaf or dumb or both and in some metaphoric way has sucked the acoustic glory
    out of the hall. they should put plastic chairs on stage and plastic pink pipes in the organ loft while they’re at it and re-edit Mozart
    and Beethoven since they are so bored!!!!

    Comment by Ed Robbins — February 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm

  32. I like John Oliver. He’s hilarious on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

    Comment by Matthew B. Tepper — February 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm

  33. If you can’t tell the difference between SEEING speakers and HEARING from speakers, maybe you’re just wasting money paying for live music.

    Comment by Bill — February 26, 2012 at 10:14 pm

  34. **** Bill: If you can’t tell the difference between SEEING speakers and HEARING from speakers, maybe you’re just wasting money paying for live music.

    Well, wasting money paying for live music has many, another then audiology, reasons behind it. However, Bill, the subject of hearing from speakers vs. hearing from life orchestra is incredibly complex. I’m not willing to talk about it here but I would like just to point out that treating the subject of sound reinforcement with superficiality and neglect we only comfort ourselves with superficial and ignorant results.  If BSO acoustic system customary has dreadful sound it does not mean that whole idea of properly implemented sound reinforcement is faulty.

    Comment by Romy the Cat — February 26, 2012 at 11:20 pm

  35. Romy, you can’t be serious! 

    “it does not mean that whole idea of properly implemented sound reinforcement is faulty.”
    I assume then that you must be extremely critical of Symphony Hall’s acoustics?

    No concert hall anywhere has perfect acoustics.. A great deal depends upon many variables:
    where one sits, how full or empty the hall is and the arrangement of the orchestra on stage etc.

    The ugly speaker system is only used at BSO concerts for announcements… today few people know how to
    project their speaking voice… luckly on rare occasions in recent years when a speaker chose not to use mikes
    one could hear every word perfectly!  The old speakers on the pillars work perfectly as was the case @ last
    Tuesday’s BSO concert.  Yes, there are pieces of contemporary music in which the composer specifies the use of

    The fact that classical music performances are virtually the only place where one can experience natural sound is the main reason for
    attending concerts…  I can stay home and listen to my cds, lps, FM radio or live broadcasts but, as many will agree,, this is not as
    satisfying or real.

    Comment by Ed Burke — February 27, 2012 at 1:58 am

  36. Romy —

    Are you suggesting that they are actually using the eyesore speaker system during BSO concerts? If so, it would make a complete mockery of all the boasting that has gone on for as long as I can remember about the outstanding acoustics of Symphony Hall. (It might explain why the concert a couple of weeks ago when the speakers weren’t there was the best-sounding one this year. I thought it was the way the conductor controlled the dynamics of the orchestra.)

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 27, 2012 at 2:01 am

  37. I believe the speakers are also used for pops concert soloists and for general reinforcement for certain rental events, but never for BSO music. The columns replace an earlier central overhead multi-horn array. which had been in place for 50 years.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 27, 2012 at 8:18 am

  38. Ed Burke, it has nothing to do with real or not real and no one, at least I am not one of them, who would propose to use amplified sound in Symphony Hole. In fact I would be violently opposed. Still, the fact of my opposition is not some kind of religious opposition but simple recognition of empirical horrible results that people achieve and discard the results as something absolutely unacceptable. Years back there were methodologies and people who were able implement sound reinforcement for symphonic orchestra that made musicians and conductors do not detect the electronic presents. This is very complex subject and from many perspectives it is more complex than playing music itself. Unfortunately the technologies and the people that able to operate at required level are practically not existing nowadays and the contemporary Morons with headphone and diplomas of electricians are absolutely out the game. So, even I despise amplified sound during concerts but I do admit that despise result  but not concept.
    Joe Whipple, I do not support their foolish boasting about outstanding acoustics of Symphony Hall. I do not feel that our Symphony Hall has too interesting acoustics. I do not know how BSO use and if they use the speaker system. I hope they do not.  The idea of speaker system presented or not presented on stage during BSO play is an interesting subject. With some speaker topology only the presence of the speakers on stage do create a cause for sound change.

    Comment by Romy the Cat — February 27, 2012 at 9:57 am

  39. Joe, Romy… How many times must it be stated: except for the examples I gave previously: BSO concerts are not amplified. Just because
    the big ugly speakers are there doesn’t mean they are used. 

    Lee, you stated that “The columns replace an earlier central overhead multi-horn array. which had been in place for 50 years.”
    You are off by about 20+ years… that system was used for several years during the last years of the Ozawa regime.  Previously
    permanent eakers were on the proscenium columns: dating from the 1930’s the sound quality was primative.  Those speakers were replaced in the same location about a decade ago and have superior sound compared to the big ugly black monsters.

    I should have mentioned the use of speakers @ Pops during the time that pop + jazz groups perform.  When the orchestra plays Classical or lighter pieces the sound is not amplified.

    One notices a big difference in the acoustics between Symphony and Pops concerts.  The tables on the floor and the lack of risers create
    a more reverberant sound which is too bright.

    Comment by Ed Burke — February 27, 2012 at 10:52 am

  40. Ed Burke writes: “The ugly speaker system is only used at BSO concerts for announcements… today few people know how to
    project their speaking voice… luckly on rare occasions in recent years when a speaker chose not to use mikes
    one could hear every word perfectly!  The old speakers on the pillars work perfectly as was the case @ last
    Tuesday’s BSO concert.”
    That’s what I remember from a trip to Boston a few years ago — they wheeled in a portable CD/PA system to use in their pre-concert talk, and plugged it into the gold-painted speakers mounted on the columns framing the stage.  They then carted it off, but failed to turn off those speakers from the booth at the top rear of the hall, so there was a faint hiss throughout the concert I attended.  As an audio/video technician at a community college in Schenectady, I knew exactly their problem.  They simply forgot to turn off those speakers.
    I’m listening to the WCRB stream of it now, and am getting tired of Ron Della Chiesa de la Boston’s endless Department-of-Redundancy-Department of talking, endlessly, and failing to carefully edit and pre-read his script.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — February 27, 2012 at 2:43 pm

  41. Usually people don’t have much too say about the music (I know it is hard), then they would talk about clapping hands in between the movements, cell phone ringtone disturbing the performance  balhblahblah

    So now, it is time to talk about the ugly speakers.

    Comment by Thorsten Zhu — February 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm

  42. *** ….  I knew exactly their problem.  They simply forgot to turn off those speakers. I’m listening to the WCRB stream of it now….

    It has very little to do with speakers but with incompetence of people who mix sound at BSO. As I understand the WCRB people have limited control over the BSO mixing board and I can testify that the people behind that board are nothing short of sonic terrorists.  Over the years they overlay the semi-mono feed fromRon Della Chiesa’s mikes over the BSO composite feed and as the Ron’s announcement stops they defeat the Ron’s microphones but did not defeat the Ron’s line. Ron’s line runs in opposite phase (!) to BSO ambiance and as result the “silent” Ron’s feed subtract the whole center image from BSO presentation. Over 4 years BSO’s concertos with leading pianos, cellos or violins are played in ridicules manner with leading instruments are coming from extreme left and extreme right, like the R and L channels are in contra-phase. The whole stage region around conductor is pretty much bleached out. It is not too hard to fix it and they do sometimes when they are sober they do fix it but in general most of the broadcasts are coming through quite vandalized imaging-wise. You can’t complain to them: they believe that they are “BSO” and they feel that they are a belly button of universes. Well, I believe that they are senseless idiots and I wish BSO get rid of those fools who vandalize sound that we, the customers, and the WCRB are getting.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 27, 2012 at 6:44 pm

  43. Name calling is not productive, I never review a concert that is broadcast on radio or TV because it does not represent a true representation of the performance  Even people sitting in different seats have different perspectives of a performance.  Like many of the people commenting here, I hope those grotesque large speakers are gone for good.  Let Symphony Hall stand on it’s own, it is a fantastic instrument!

    Kurt Masur is one of the great conductors and humanitarians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  If he was unable to perform the Missa Solemnis it was without a doubt not due to any extraneous factors other than his health.  What at first confused me was the BSO e-mail announcing the cancellation that emphasized at the end that Mr. Mazur would be able to conduct his previous commitments in in March with no dates given.  It looks like the BSO public relations department did a cut and paste job from Mr. Mazur’s web site assuring his admirers that he would be able to perform in March.

    Still there have been too many cancellations this year and last that did not even relate to Mr. Levine’s absences.  Management should have been more sensitive to the members of its audience regarding future cancellations and have been pro active in a timely way to eliminate schedule conflicts and obtain the services of artists at the highest international standards.  

    Comment by Robert Summers — February 28, 2012 at 2:06 pm

  44. Robert Summers: … I never review a concert that is broadcast on radio or TV because it does not represent a true representation of the performance.  Even people sitting in different seats have different perspectives of a performance….

    True representation of the performance? What is the hell it? You do review films, plays, paintings and book and you do not particularly care they are not true representation of Reality. I however do know a person who absolutely seriously insisted that file “Independence day” was lie because US Present, being for many year politicians, would not remember how to operate a jet fighter. I think that person and you do lose a proper perspective of what constitutes a performance event. Broadcast on radio or TV, sure is not the same as live event and has multiple negative sides in comparing but it also has multiple positive sides. You are perfectly within your constitutional rights to review radio or TV broadcasts but it is an indication that you are not tuned to the core of substance but rather addicted to the presentation medium. I wonder – those great artists who are dead and left after themselves only recordings – are they something that you discard as well? Anyhow, Rober, I juts remind you that if you read the Sviatoslav Richter’s dairies then in the end of them he has hundreds pages with his notes and reviews of all musical even he attended. So, Richter does not differentiate if the performance he hear was live, broadcasts, tape, TV or records, Sometime he mentioned that is was live, juts become he referred to the sound of halls, the sits he was or the meeting of the artists back-stage, Sometimes did does not. I think if Richter was able to not to be too cocky about radio broadcast than you might try to do the same. On another hand I can only assure you that if broadcasts are done properly (something that we do not have in Boston) then with proper mentality infrastructure in place the broadcasts are able deliver even more then live events.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 28, 2012 at 2:51 pm

  45. Upon receipt of the following news from the BSO Press Office, I amended the opening paragraph of this article to indicate that John Oliver would be conditioning all of the performances- New York as well as Boston.

    “John Oliver, founder and conductor of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, will lead the upcoming Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis at Carnegie Hall on March 6, filling in for Kurt Masur,* who had to withdraw from his New York and Boston (February 24, 25, and 26) performances due to his current physical condition and the great demands of this particular piece.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 28, 2012 at 3:13 pm

  46. How many readers of this blog agree with Mr Romy The Cat, that “broadcasts are able to deliver even more then live events”?  There is no doubt that hearing a live performance is far superior to hearing a broadcast or a recording.  After all, it is the job of the recording engineer and broadcast technicians to come as close as possible to the sound of the live performance.  It is not their job to enhance or in any other way manipulate the performance.

    Comment by Robert Summers — February 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm

  47. Robert Summers… You said it all!

    A broadcast is not a true representation of a live performance and the engineers are constantly tampering with

    Comment by Ed Burke — February 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm

  48. Robert, for sure I insist that broadcasts are able to deliver much more then live events, significantly more. But you will be losing a perspective is you see me arguing live sound vs. playback or something above the similar lines. You live in Boston and tell me how much great concerts you attended during the last let say 10 years? If you lucky you have 3-5 good concerts per season, among which is 0-2 truly remarkable. It is if you lucky… So, for the last 10 year you hear live let say 7 truly remarkable events, multiply it by 2 if you do travel around the world. Multiply it by 3-4 and you have the whole amount of spectacular musical events that you ever experience in your life.  I would like to note that in order to experience those exceptional live concerts you need to spend a LOT of time in concert halls and participate in incredible amount of truly boring events. Here is where the broadcasts come to save our buts…

    With broadcasts you have an opportunity to be highly selective to what you listen and you have no travel, location or time wasting problems as you get ONLY what you want. Broadcasts are ultimate exploration tool and if the performance was bad then the broadcasts gone from human memory but if the performance was great then it is possible to be experience not only 2000 lucky freaks in that hall during that evening but it become the subject of public consciousness. There is zillion reasons why even being there you might not get the full glory of the concert. You might be in wrong sit, you might be with wrong person, you might had too cold drink before the concert or ate too un-fresh chicken night before. One of the many powers of broadcasts is that you are in position to re-instate the power of performing even in the conditions that you control and when you feel ready for it. Having many broadcasts from around the world I assure you Robert that   you would need 10000 lifes to experience live this condensed definition of artistic quality.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm

  49. Fortunately, we do not have to choose. We can move in and out of both worlds like rapturous amphibians. Is there anything more intimate than Bach’s cello suites live, breathy and mortal? Or more exquisite than, say, Mark Kroll playing the live clavichord in a perfectly hushed room – could that have been “broadcast”? But yes, how lucky we are, also, to be able to hear far and wide while staying in our attics, for example the radio broadcast of Gutierrez playing Rachmaninoff 3 at Tanglewood comes to mind, more intense, more concentrated, in many ways, than in the open air, and, yes, instant, magic, without traffic..

    Comment by Ashley — February 28, 2012 at 8:13 pm

  50. Excellent point Ashley…well said!

    Yes, I love my cds + live broadcasts but prefer being present in the concert hall or opera house much more.
    Enough Said! 

    No one is going to win this argument!

    Comment by Ed Burke — February 29, 2012 at 12:19 am

  51. Joe T. wrote: “Unfortunately I have to agree with Dave’s assessment of the chorus.  I went on Thursday night and was beginning to really get into the Kyrie when nearly half of the soprano section made an incorrect cutoff.  I have no idea why, whether it was an unclear gesture from Oliver, or a memory issue, but it was jarring, and most unfortunately continued to occur throughout the work.”
    I just listened to the streamed recording and the chorus sounded secure to me, as did the BSO.  Unfortunately, Oliver had to go with Masur’s tempi, so the performance was as plain and faceless as the one he did in NY a decade ago.  Good, but nothing outstanding, certainly not on the level of Toscanini BBC/May 1939 or NBC/December 1940 (with the famous lineup of Milanov/Bjoerling/Castagna/Kipnis).

    Comment by Don Drewecki — February 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm

  52. Regarding loudspeakers the BSO’s  Director of Public Relations responded thus:

    While we respect the feelings of our Boston Symphony patrons about the speakers that were installed in the hall this past year, we have to balance those concerns with the need to provide effective amplification for events that include speaking from the stage. Our goal is to remove the equipment for as many BSO concerts as possible throughout the season, though they are needed for the orchestra’s Underscore Friday series as those concerts feature people speaking from the stage.  Since the equipment also needs to be in place for a few other non-BSO concerts during the season, such as the Boston Speaker Series, there are also times when the speakers need to remain in place because of the time involved in removal and re-installation between events, as well as the cost involved in doing so.  

    Comment by Bernadette Horgan — March 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm

  53. The BSO could save both money and inconvenience by using the fine quality speakers located on the proscenium columns.
    There have been occasions during the past two seasons when they were used for announcements and no one had trouble hearing.
    At two underscore Friday concerts, maestros Tovey weeks ago and Sir Mark Elder (last season) turned off the microphone and thus used no amplification.. there was a good deal of humor in the talk and the audience laughter showed that their voices projected perfectly.

    Comment by Ed Burke — March 3, 2012 at 9:22 am

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