in: News & Features

November 17, 2012

BU Takes Orchestra and Chorus to Symphony Hall


Edgard Varèse

BMInt has hundreds of  listings for future concerts in the Boston area, but because of the Thanksgiving lull, there is merely one in our “Upcoming Events” for Monday, and that concert is one that should interest our readers. Boston University Symphony Orchestra & Symphonic Chorus will be appearing at 8:00 in Symphony Hall with the Boston Children’s Chorus and three excellent soloists in a quite unusually assorted program. All seats for the November 19th program are $25.

Sixty years after Leopold Stokowski led the BU Orchestra in the East coast premiere of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at Symphony Hall in Boston, conductor David Hoose will be reprising it there. The program begins with Edgard Varèse’s “austerely violent” Hyperprism, of which Hoose has also said, “This wild music still strikes me as fresh as anything I’ve ever heard.” Of the other piece on the program Hoose tells us, “The Warriors is thrilling, unpredictable music, jumping freely from the goofy to the touching, (occasionally) violent, and (often) giddily chaotic. Were its harmonic language much more chromatic, the music would invoke the controlled pandemonium of Charles Ives. BMInt’s email interview with David Hoose follows:

 BMInt: Why is an orchestra of BU students performing at Symphony Hall?

David Hoose: While Boston University can boast an excellent music school, it cannot claim to have good performing facilities. Performing—and rehearsing—in a space that is acoustically favorable to hearing each other and to creating a healthy, coherent sound plays an essential role in the education of any young musician; absent that, and it is as if you had a terrible instrument to practice on. So, at least twice a year, we present concerts in Symphony Hall, something the School of Music has supported for numbers of years now. Performing in Symphony Hall has the added benefit, of course, of letting the listeners realize how marvelous this orchestra actually is, something not really discernible in our performing spaces.

We’ve been performing at Symphony Hall for numbers of years now. A couple of years ago, the orchestra performed at the Kennedy Center, and a couple of years before that, at Carnegie Hall. But Symphony Hall is, for lots of reasons (the bus fare is low and the hall is, after all, rather fine), is our preferred venue. The BU Symphony, along with the Symphonic Chorus, has given performances of Mahler 2, Beethoven 9, Brahms Requiem, Verdi Requiem, Schoenberg Orchestra Variations and the Five Pieces for Orchestra, Shostakovich 13 and (last year) 11, The Rite of Spring, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, a complete Daphnis, John Adams’ Fearful Symmetry, and a bunch of other works that I can’t remember right now. You’ll see that many of these really require a large acoustical space, so performing at Symphony Hall lets us present works that we couldn’t otherwise explore.

That’s certainly the case with the program on Monday night. There’s no way Percy Grainger’s The Warriors (in only the second Boston performance, the last one being in 1925, by the People’s Symphony Orchestra of Boston!) would fit in our performing spaces. Even fitting it on Symphony Hall stage is a bit of a squeeze, since it calls for a humongous orchestra, with many (space hungry) keyboard percussion instruments and three pianos. Oh yes, and off-stage brass and three conductors. But in this space, the gamelan sound of this amazing piece will ring beautifully!


Percy Grainger (file photo)

The program is certainly varied—I’ve never seen Grainger and Orff paired before—is there a theme?
Well, yes, it’s varied! But there’s something in the unfolding of the concert that makes sense—to me, anyway! The austere violence of Varèse’s Hyperprism, with eighteen instrumentalists (two woodwind, seven brass, nine percussion) standing alone on the stage of Symphony Hall, seems to invite the extravagance of The Warriors, a 20-minute romp that suggests everyone from Gershwin to Ives, but mostly the incredibly inventive and free-spirited voice of Percy Grainger. After that, what could up the ante but Carmina Burana, the ultimate intersection of the carnal and the mechanistic, music of extravagant excitement, so cold it sears. So, no, not really a theme, but a feast for sure, and one that I think will be a wild experience for anyone there on Monday.

Will the audience be really happy to hear Grainger after Varese?

I’m not sure how to take the question! If you’re implying that the audience will be relieved after the Varèse, well I’m not the right person to ask, because I adore almost everything Varèse composed. I have since I was an undergraduate at music school. Hyperprism, in this program, is kind of like an overture, one that’s no longer than the Marriage of Figaro Overture. But its five minutes pack a wallop, and Grainger’s whacky giddiness may give the unprepared listener the bends! It’s a roller coaster ride not to be missed!

Who are the soloists in Carmina Burana? The baritone has high G’s, I remember—is it supposed to sound strained?

Carmina, of course, brings a chorus (the music school’s Symphonic Chorus), a children’s choir (The Boston Children’s Chorus), and three very unusual vocal solos. The soprano (Lynn Eustis, new member of our faculty) sails impossibly high, the tenor (Christopher MacCrae, one of our amazing DMA students) launches at a high altitude and goes up from there—singing about roasting swans, and the baritone (James Demler, also a faculty member) reaches for the highest registers. Yes, any strain one might hear in the baritone or tenor is entirely intentional on Carl Orff’s part, a kind of supra-human sound. The baritone, in fact, is asked to sing a long passage in falsetto, which is still a rather creepy sounding thing.

Do you think of Nurnberg rallies when you hear Carmina Burana?

Egad, no. I wrote a program note about the piece and about Orff’s highly questionable politics and ethics, but when you get right down to it, the music is the music, and we as listeners bring to our hearing of any music more of ourselves than anything else. You can hear what the Nazi’s liked about Orff’s music–the simple clarity, the ‘perfection,’ the ancient roots. But you also can’t miss what they also hated—hints of Asian music, the taste of Stravinsky’s music, and its blatant eroticism.

See related review here.

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