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Something Old, Something New To Fill Hatch Shell

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The late Robert Honeysucker singing “At the River” in 2012.

Every Wednesday night, beginning July 10th, and continuing for seven weeks, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, made up of many of the area’s finest professional musicians, will offer free concerts at the Hatch Memorial Shell on Boston’s Esplanade. All concerts begin at 7 pm; the Season Tune-Up Party on July 10th begins at 6 pm.

In case of rain, most concerts are rescheduled for Thursday (though not all). If it rains on Thursday as well, concerts take place at an alternate venue (in most cases). Check the Boston Landmarks Orchestra website for rain plans, as they vary from week to week.

We use great music to bring together people from diverse backgrounds, and to address issues of vital importance to our community. Community involvement is the starting point in our planning process, not an added element. We offer concerts in a spirit of informality and fun. Children dance in front of the stage. A Maestro Zone is available where people of all ages can look at a conductor’s score, wave a baton, and receive a conducting lesson. Best of all—to certain people—we encourage you to bring your dog to any of our concerts.

Something Old, Something New

Most Landmarks concerts center on classical repertoire. This summer, the orchestra performs symphonies by Dvořák and Vaughan Williams, tone poems by Mussorgsky and Strauss, and shorter works by Brahms and Barber, all of which could be termed “greatest hits.” We also feature works by two elder statesmen of American music, John Adams and Philip Glass.

But in order to engage people of different interests and backgrounds, the programming is also eclectic. So this year, along with tried-and-true classics, comes a healthy mix of other styles: Haitian folk music, Negro spirituals, flamenco-inspired dance music, a hip-hop influenced work, music from Broadway and the American songbook, and several shorter works associated with Arthur Fiedler.

As we have always done, we give special attention to creative women, from Florence Price—an authentic voice of mid-20th century America who drew often on African-American traditions—to Amy Beach, whose First Symphony receives a complete performance by Channing Yu and the Mercury Orchestra.

A Season-Long Tribute to Arthur Fiedler:
90 Years of Free Orchestral Concerts on the Esplanade

The Hatch Shell is associated in the memories of many Bostonians with Arthur Fiedler, whose giant bust stares out just a few steps away from the oval. Fiedler started the tradition of free orchestral concerts on the Esplanade in 1929, when he conducted an ensemble made up of members of the Boston Symphony, dubbed the Boston Sinfonietta. All his programs can be seen at the website of the Boston Symphony‘s archives, Henry. Just as interesting is the large collection of his papers, photographs, files, and personal memorabilia housed at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. A fine representation of the collection is on permanent display, expertly curated by the Center’s staff.

Throughout the 2019 season, we feature works championed by Maestro Fiedler, including Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance from El amor brujo, Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda by Ponchielli, showpieces by Leroy Anderson, and excerpts from Show Boat—music that Fiedler included in his very first season on the Esplanade, just a year and a half after Show Boat opened on Broadway in December of 1927.

2019 Series at a Glance

The Landmarks Orchestra’s 2019 series includes seven weeks of programming:

Family Event: Season Tune-Up Party

Four Landmarks Orchestra Concerts:
Symphonic Space Odyssey
Deep River
Annual Green Concert
Landmarks Dance Night

Two Guest Orchestra Concerts:
Longwood Symphony Orchestra
Mercury Orchestra

July 10: Season Tune-Up Party

The Season Tune-Up Party includes many of the orchestra’s longtime partners, who provide a range of family activities. The event starts at 6 pm, one hour earlier than the concerts do. Participating organizations include:

Aashka Company, ArtsBoston, Beacon Hill Village, Berkshire Partners Blue Hills Boys and Girls Club, Boston Arts Academy, Boston Children’s Museum, Boston Ballet II, Boston University Tanglewood Institute, Cambridge Youth Dance Program, Charles River Conservancy, Community Boating, The Dance Complex, The Esplanade Association, Everett High School Band, Hill House, Johnson Strings, Knucklebones, Longwood Symphony Orchestra, Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities, Mayor’s Office for Arts and Culture, Museum of Science, Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, NEMPAC, OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center, Pao Arts Center, St. Columbkille Partnership School, Urbanity Dance

July 17: Symphonic Space Odyssey

Museum of Science’s Hayden Planetarium
Chuck Wilcox, Lead Animator and Artistic Director
Jason Fletcher, Associate Producer
Sirgourney Cook, soprano
featuring Michael Andrew

We are thrilled to partner with the Museum of Science, under the guidance of Wayne Bouchard, the Museum’s Interim President and CEO, and the Charles Hayden Planetarium, led by their Director, Danielle Khoury LeBlanc. The concert commemorates the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969. The program explores aspects of the Apollo mission, space travel, and the wonders of the universe.

Large screens on either side of the stage will display videos synchronized to the orchestra’s performance. The videos have been created by the animation team at the Hayden Planetarium: Chuck Wilcox, Lead Animator and Artistic Director, and Jason Fletcher, Associate Producer. Their creations will accompany three pieces of music: John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Joaquín Rodrigo’s In Search of the Beyond (excerpts), and Phillip Glass’s Icarus at the Edge of Time (excerpts).

The program also includes a complete performance of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra. The first two minutes of this score are among the most famous in all orchestral music. Stanley Kubrick used it in the opening of his iconic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, where it accompanies a sunrise as seen from space. According to conductor Norman del Mar, Strauss’s tone poem depicts “the evolution of Man.” Kubrick was drawn to Strauss’s score—and to Nietzsche’s philosophical novel on which both picture and music were based—because his film also dealt with “the evolution of man.”

Christopher Wilkins, conductor

The multi-talented soprano Sirgourney Cook sings Dvořák’s haunting “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, in which the water nymph Rusalka pleads with the moon to intervene on her behalf in the interest of love. Ms. Cook will rejoin the orchestra later in the summer to perform excerpts from Show Boat on July 31. The Boston-trained singer is a student of the late Robert Honeysucker. We remember Bob’s many performances with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra with great fondness, and we miss his kind support and friendship every day.

The concert concludes with soaring, “moonlit” hits from the American songbook, performed by Michael Andrew. Michael was for two years the headliner and bandleader at the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center in New York. He is a brilliantly gifted and charismatic performer, described by Merv Griffin as “one of the great singers of all time.”

July 24: Longwood Symphony

Ronald Feldman, Music Director

We host two favorite guest orchestras this season: the Longwood Symphony and the Mercury Orchestra. The Longwood Symphony is Boston‘s medical community orchestra. They do much more than give concerts: the orchestra raises money and awareness for important causes associated with the medical field, and they often perform musical programs related to those efforts.

Music Director Ronald Feldman has programmed three works, all of which are perennial favorites on the Esplanade. Hardly any music is more closely associated with Arthur Fielder than the William Tell Overture, which opens the concert. As a rule, Fiedler included excerpts from substantial classical pieces on his programs along with lighter works; Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony was one of his favorites, and the Longwood Symphony performs it complete. John Williams—Fiedler’s successor as Music Director of the Boston Pops—also conducted every year at the Hatch Shell. His Cowboys Overture is a perfect ten-minute overture, evoking the American West while paying homage to the great orchestral overtures of the past.

July 31: Deep River

One City Choir, David F. Coleman, Director
Coro Allegro, David Hodgkins, Artistic Director
Sirgourney Cook, Jennifer Ellis, sopranos
Myran Parker-Brass, mezzo-soprano; Davron S. Monroe, tenor
Matthew DiBattista, tenor; Alvy Powell, bass-baritone; Milton Wright, bass

Show Boat, which opened on Broadway in 1927, is “perhaps the most successful and influential Broadway musical play ever written,” according to the New Grove Dictionary of Music. Musicologist Geoffrey Block writes that the work has “long since earned its coveted historical position as the foundation of the modern American musical.” Jerome Kern’s music demonstrated the range of musical styles that could be effective in musical theater, and Oscar Hammerstein II’s book encompassed serious subjects, such as miscegenation, in a way no American musical ever had.

But the most historically significant aspect of the work was the way in which it portrayed race, and made racial identity a central element of the drama. It was the first major musical to present black and white performers side-by-side in the same scene. And more than that, Hammerstein’s plot was intended to demonstrate—largely to white audiences—that black artistry lies at the roots of American popular music.

While Show Boat provided a substantial amount of professional work for gifted African American performers at the time, it also continued hurtful racial conventions. For years, some of the black roles were played by white performers in blackface. Several of the characters in the show have been marked by critics as representing negative racial stereotypes. And the language of Edna Ferber’s book and the lyrics has been a target of constant criticism, from its original use of the “n” word to the dialect it employs for black characters.

Yet, for all of that, Show Boat has been a mainstay on Broadway for 92 years. It is the most revived musical of all time, having enjoyed nine New York revivals to date. It has been made into three feature-length films. And because it has been in the repertoire for so long, one can trace contemporary attitudes about race relations, cultural appropriation, and the black-white color line by examining the history of productions of Show Boat. Decisions that actors and directors have made about casting, staging, character, dialect and lyrics… all of these have changed as societal attitudes about what is acceptable and unacceptable have shifted drastically over time.

Show Boat’s signature tune, “Ol’ Man River,” is often described as a pseudo-spiritual. Kern intended it as such. He wrote it for one of the great musical stars of the day, Paul Robeson. In fact, Robeson’s singing of the Negro spiritual “Deep River” served as a model for how Show Boat’s creators hoped Robeson would sound performing the character of Joe. But Robeson turned down the offer to appear in the premiere production, though he changed his mind about Show Boat soon thereafter. It wasn’t long before he was unable to conclude any solo vocal performance until he had satisfied audience demands for “Ol’ Man River.”

James Whale adapted the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II Broadway musical for Universal with such loving care that he bankrupted the studio and forced out owners Carl Laemmle and Jr. Laemmle. Whale depicted the stereotyped characters without caricature, and in the number below, “I Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine,” gave us deep insight into the complicated emotions of the players: Irene Dunne as Magnolia Hawks, Paul Robeson as Joe, Helen Morgan as Julie LaVerne, Hattie McDaniel as Queenie. FLE

 

On the first half of our program, we explore roads into and out of Show Boat. The spirituals are represented in a variety of forms, including solo renditions by Sirgourney Cook and Alvy Powell, and Nathaniel Dett’s choral adaptation of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”—The Chariot Jubilee—featuring tenor soloist Davron S. Monroe. We perform works by William Grant Still and George Walker, two revered African American composers of the 20th century. Walker’s Lyric for Strings is a moving musical meditation that began its life as a movement of a string quartet, just as Barber’s Adagio for Strings did. Still’s Festive Overture is so spirited and so skillfully orchestrated that one wonders if the work would be far better known if its composer were known to have been Aaron Copland instead. Or if its author simply had been white.

For the past eight seasons, the Landmarks Orchestra’s One City Choir has drawn committed and passionate singers from Boston’s twenty-three neighborhoods and surrounding communities. The choir takes its name from the words of Boston civic leader Hubie Jones, who has advocated that “Boston can be one city through arts and culture.” Our Choir Director this year is David F. Coleman, Director of Choral Music at the Dana Hall School, and Director of Tufts University’s Third Day Gospel Choir. A musician of deep and varied talents, David was rehearsal pianist for the 2012 Tony Award-winning production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.

This year, the One City Choir is joined by Coro Allegro and their Music Director David Hodgkins. I was deeply inspired by a performance they gave at Sanders Theatre in March called America: We Need to Talk. It featured a choral work by William Grant Still and two works they commissioned by St. Louis-based composer Fred Onovwerosuoke. In that concert, Coro Allegro gave the world premiere of Onovwerosuoke’s A Triptych of American Voices: A Cantata of the People, described as a “kaleidoscopic work by an immigrant composer [that] shines light on race relations in America through the prism of three great poems.” Under the direction of David Hodgkins, Coro Allegro and the Landmarks Orchestra perform the finale of that work, part of a setting of Michael Castro’s “We Need to Talk.” Now in an expanded orchestration, it features countertenor Tai Oney and tenor Jonathan Budris.

July 23: Community Discussion: Who Should Sing Ol’ Man River?

The Landmarks Orchestra has never shied away from controversial subjects. Programs have addressed issues related to the environment, climate change, endangered species, race, gender, and social justice. A feature of the 2019 season is a program offering music composed by and for black performers, as well as excerpts from the 1927 Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II classic, Show Boat.

Because Show Boat has both a storied past and a controversial history, we present a one-time Community Conversation at WBUR’s new CitySpace at 6 pm on July 23. The discussion, Who Should Sing Ol’ Man River?, explores how issues of race have been portrayed during the past century on American musical and theatrical stages. I am thrilled that a highly distinguished panel joins me to address these issues:

Emmett G. Price III, Dean and Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary

Todd Decker, Chair of Music and Professor of Musicology and American Culture Studies, Washington University in St. Louis; Author of Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical, and, Who Should Sing “Ol’ Man River”?: The Lives of an American Song

David F. Coleman, Director of the Landmarks Orchestra’s 2019 One City Choir; Director of Choral Music, Dana Hall School; Director, Tufts University Third Day Gospel Choir

Alvy Powell, American bass-baritone and former member of the U.S. Army Chorus. Known for his performances at presidential events and for performing the role of Porgy in the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess throughout the world. Mr. Powell performed as Joe in Show Boat at Carnegie Hall in 2008, and has sung Ol’ Man River in the White House for the last seven sitting U.S. presidents in a row.

Ashleigh Gordon, Violist; Artistic and Executive Director, Castle of Our Skins; Member, Boston Landmarks Orchestra

Channing Yu

August 7 Mercury Orchestra, Channing Yu, Music Director
New World Chorale,  Holly MacEwan Krafka, Artistic Director

The Mercury Orchestra is an accomplished volunteer orchestra, delivering performances that are always at a high level and enthusiastically received. Music Director Channing Yu is known for his interesting and compelling programming. The Mercury Orchestra was selected as the national winner of the 2010 American Prize in Orchestral Performance, community orchestra division, in a competition including orchestras from twenty-six states and the District of Columbia.

This summer the Mercury Orchestra explores Celtic and Gaelic stories and song. In the words of Channing Yu, “Phaudrig Crohoore—a popular ballad by the Irish novelist J. Sheridan Le Fanu, set to music by the Irish composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford—tells the tale of a bold, roughhewn Irishman with a heart of gold, against a backdrop of family feuding and romance. American composer Amy Beach decidedly chose simple old English, Irish, and Scottish melodies as the building blocks to build a masterful symphonic work, her Gaelic Symphony.” The Boston Symphony gave the premiere of the work in 1896.

The New World Chorale, a longtime collaborator on our series, joins the Mercury Orchestra in Phaudrig Crohoore. The Chorale’s Founder and Artistic Director has been a friend and colleague to the Landmarks Orchestra for many years, the conductor Holly MacEwen Krafka.

August 14 Annual Green Concert with New England Aquarium
Photographic Essay by David Arnold
Cassandra Extavour, soprano

This one really should be called our Annual Blue Concert, as it’s the third time we have collaborated with the New England Aquarium. The program features superb visual content for two of the four works, displayed on large video screens on either side of the stage. During the other two works, the screens will show live shots of the orchestra in performance.

In 1947, Vaughan Williams created a film score to accompany a dramatized documentary, Scott of the Antarctic, about the fateful Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1912. British explorer Robert Falcon Scott lost the race to become the first to reach the South Pole when the Norwegian Roald Amundsen beat him there by less than five weeks. All five members of Scott’s polar party subsequently died before they were able to return to camp, under circumstances that are still not altogether clear.

In 1952, Vaughan Williams refashioned parts of his film score to create Sinfonia Antartica (sic: Italian spelling). For an otherworldly effect, the music at times features a solo soprano (Cassandra Extavour in our performance) accompanied by wordless women’s choir. In 2002, Natural History New Zealand—a company specializing in nature documentaries—created a film to accompany the entire thirty-four minutes of the symphony. Footage of Antarctica includes mountains, glaciers, ice floes, sea life, penguins, the South Pole, the Scott Memorial nearby, and historic footage. The combination of music and film is arrestingly beautiful.

Following intermission, we offer one of the most stunning photographic essays I have ever seen. David Arnold, former writer for the Boston Globe, has created a photographic sequence he calls Then and Now: Changes from Above and Below. It comes in two parts: the first deals with glaciers, and the second with coral reefs. For the glaciers, David uses historic photographs taken by Bradford Washburn (founder of the Museum of Science) and re-creates those same shots today. Then David takes decades-old images of coral reefs and shows how those sites have changed dramatically since. All of this is set to Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Never has that American masterwork been put to more powerful effect, with results that are at once awe-inspiring and absolutely devastating.

Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 concludes the evening with music associated with nature, as so much of his work is. But, appropriate to a program about climate change, this symphony is also filled with solemnity and grief. The concert opens with another Fiedler favorite, Mussorgky’s Night on Bald Mountain.

August 24 Landmarks Dance Night

Ann McMahon Quintero, mezzo-soprano; Yosi Karahashi, flamenco dancer; Castle of our Skins, Conservatory Lab Charter School, Jean Appolon Expressions, Camp Harbor View, Boston Ballet II

Finally, another concert that has become an annual tradition for us, and for good reason. Programs featuring dance groups give us an opportunity to showcase the range and diversity of Boston’s artistic cultures. For this performance, we extend a large thrust stage out toward the lawn, giving the audience a dramatic and close-up view of the dancers. Over the years, our collaborators have represented traditions from Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, West Africa, Syria, Armenia, and Korea, among others.

This year we collaborate with: flamenco dancer Yosi Karahashi and her company in a performance of Falla’s El amor brujo, which also features mezzo-soprano Ann McMahon Quintero; young people from Camp Harbor View—in a newly created work by Devin Ferreira and Jake Gunnar Walsh; and Jean Appolon Expressions, Boston’s professional Haitian dance company. Gonzalo Grau has created a new arrangement of a Haitian folk song, “Papa Loko.” And in other music inspired by Haiti, we create our first-ever four-way collaboration, adding Castle of our Skins and the Conservatory Lab Charter School to the mix, and featuring a new work by composer Anthony Green.

To cap off our season in grand style, we are thrilled to put to use a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to collaborate with “career-musician-for-dancers” Ryan Edwards and Masari Studios. Ryan and friends create “choreography” using light—and projection mapping—as accompaniment to the music and dance. Ryan has been an enthusiastic collaborator with the Landmarks Orchestra for many years, especially in recent partnerships with Camp Harbor View.

Landmarks Dance Night concludes with the brilliant young professional dancers of Boston Ballet II, in choreography created by Associate Director, Peter Stark. The company performs to an Arthur Fiedler favorite, Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda. It’s one of those pieces everyone knows, even though most have no idea how they know it.

Christopher Wilkins was appointed Music Director of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra in the spring of 2011. Since then the orchestra has helped reaffirm founder Charles Ansbacher’s vision of making great music accessible to the whole community.

 
The Hatch Shell debuted in 1940.

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