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BLO By the River Again


Christopher Wilkins (file photo)
Christopher Wilkins (file photo)

Note: The concert is available in a live recorded stream here.

The Boston Pops Fourth of July Concert may herald the arrival of summer, but the subsequent seven free Boston Landmarks Orchestra concerts at the Hatch Shell sustain it. BLO inaugurates its series this coming Wednesday at 7PM and continues through the last Wednesday before Labor Day. The programming is eclectic, with a mixture of standard classics and the new and unusual. The thousands who gather by the river on opening night will hear At the River (premiere) by Larry Bell, On the Waterfront by Leonard Bernstein, and Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

According to BLO Music Director Christopher Wilkins, all of this information and more is available through BLO’s new iPhone and Android apps. Program notes for every concert, artist bios and photos, and information about the concert experience, including push notices about weather. Upon occasion there will be videos of the musicians as they perform, and of the ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters, as well real time program notes for selected works.

BMInt: You’ve said in the past that BLO focuses more on classical music than on pops. I recently heard an all-Mendelssohn concert which I deemed pops. What’s your definition?

C. W.: We do. And that preference was made clear right from the start by our founder Charles Ansbacher. But I also celebrate the fact that we don’t draw a sharp line between “serious” music and “popular” music. We are as happy performing music derived from Latin jazz as we are Sibelius symphonies. The point is to bring everything we have to every piece we play, and only to perform music that’s worth that effort.

Is there a difference between pops and classical? I suppose there still is. Sometimes the differences are subtle, and sometimes they’re blindingly obvious, as in “I know it when I hear it.” I think of the difference principally as a matter of intention. Pops repertoire is intended to be a diversion from the everyday, whereas “concert music” is designed to bring one into a deeper experience of life.

The Landmarks Orchestra has something of an unusual mission, doesn’t it?

Yes. I would say today it has three components: the enlivening of public spaces (this is built into our name); the removal of barriers to access (this is most apparent in the fact that all our concerts are free); and third, the idea of including all Bostonians in the experience. This comes about largely through the collaborative nature of our programming. Every week brings about a major collaboration.

It looks like you have some serious firepower planned for opening night.

Yes, Carmina Burana certainly packs a punch. Carmina gives us the chance to bring together our One City Choir again, in which singers from all 20 Boston neighborhoods and surrounding communities are invited to participate. We’ll also have the Back Bay Chorale with us. They are so professional, and have become favorite collaborators. And our solo trio is exceptional: Teresa Wakim, Aaron Engebreth and Joshua Reynolds. It should be quite a night for sonic display.

I’ve always felt that On the Waterfront,Bernstein’s powerful score to the 1954 film, makes a great pairing with Carmina. They’re both highly charged rhythmically, and the instrumentation is very similar. Lots of timpani, reportedly Orff’s favorite instrument!

As we have over the past two years, we begin the season with a setting of the American spiritual, At the River. This will be the second of our commissioned settings of this beautiful hymn. This year it’s Larry Bell of the New England Conservatory who has made a new setting, to be sung by our soprano soloist, Teresa Wakim.

Another tradition you’re repeating is a Latin American program.

That’s right, this is the third year for Fiesta sinfónica. This year we’ve built an especially large-scale collaboration around some thrilling music. Young musicians from the Conservatory Lab Charter School will join us for Revueltas’s La noche de los Mayas (The Night of the Mayas). This is a remarkable film score by Mexico’s greatest composer. And then a number of school-aged drummers and percussionists will play in the final movement. The sounds are spectacular, representing the composer’s idea of what Mayan ceremonial music might have sounded like.

The work calls for dozens of native percussion instruments, or their modern equivalents. That’s where we need extra help from the kids. We’ll have log drums, Indian drums, shakers and scrapers, and the all-important blowing of the conch. Additional drummers will come from the Yawkey Club, Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, and the Boston Public Schools.

For the second half of the program, we’ll bring together some of the leading performers of Latin jazz in the entire region. They will perform a newly augmented version of Viaje, Gonzalo Grau’s brilliant traversal of Afro-Latin and popular music from the Caribbean and beyond. It’s great fun for us to step into their world for a night, and I know it stretches them in a good way too! This program is presented in partnership with IBA, the largely Puerto-Rican community housed in the South End.

There are certain partnerships that you’ve done for several years. I’m thinking of the Boston Lyric Opera, for example. I see you intend to continue those.

Yes, the Lyric Opera has been a favorite on our series for many years. And it’s quite extraordinary to hear the Landmarks Orchestra performing with some of their stars, and a privilege to have their music director participate in that performance each summer.
We also love having the Longwood Symphony with us.  I believe they’ve been on our Hatch Shell series every year without exception. They usually attract a large crowd of supporters to the Esplanade.

And then the eclecticism continues through August

It will. We begin with a program I’ve wanted to do for some years. We’ve performed a couple of times with the New England Spiritual Ensemble, who have become favorite musical partners. For them we’ve commissioned a new work by composer Trevor Weston based on four different African American spirituals. The piece features the Spiritual Ensemble, but also a choir we’ve developed of young people. This is our One City Youth Choir, an extension of the adult One City Choir.

blo-green-001We will also perform a remarkable setting of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot by mid-20th century composer Nathaniel Dett. And then the Ninth Symphony of Dvořák (“From the New World”) in which he followed his own advice to American composers to employ American folk material.

On August 20th, we have our annual Green Concert. We have invited onto the oval representatives of city, state, and national parks, and advocates for the preservation and protection of natural resources. The main work on that program is the Sibelius second symphony.

And finally, the last week falls during the 200th commemoration of the War of 1812. On August 27th, 1814, the British had just burned Washington and were on their way back to the Chesapeake Bay. The Battle of Baltimore lay about 20 days off. It was during that battle that Francis Scott Key penned The Star-Spangled Banner. Michael Gandolfi, chair of the music department at the New England Conservatory of Music, has, together with writer Dana Bonstrom, written a fascinating work that frames the history in a powerful way. People will learn a great deal about the song and that period of history, and will be very moved in the process.

In terms of security and access, please visit to learn how best to plan your experience at the Hatch Shell.

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