Among the BMInt staff, many writers have intact memories. Within that subset, several have submitted lists of their favorite concerts of the last season. We thank them for their reflections. Some have chosen to nominate concerts they have reviewed while others have chosen from concerts which they merely attended. This exercise reminds us of how much to be grateful for the musical life of Boston and its environs, which last season, once again, witnessed more than 2,500 concerts. Is that too many? Certainly not every auditorium operated at capacity. Should players do the Trojan Women thing and limit intercourse with audience until halls fill? We’re not worried about shrinking audiences. The Boston Globe famously wondered about the future of classical music in Boston since the average age at BSO concerts hovered at something over 60…but that was in 1908!
We salute all of our players, writers and presenters. We thank our loyal and sizable audience, as many as 7,000 in a single day, for having read and commented upon upwards of 5,404 reviews since our founding in 2009. Once again, we find a musical community writing about itself with rapt interest. Many follow our decree: If you hear something, write something. And so we say Happy New Year to all.
And 2 and ONE…
Not that most of us need to sit through another Beethoven 5, but if you did last February, Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic celebrated their 40th with a properly propelled rendition which got the opening right rhythmically and proceeded powerfully from there:
Everyone (horns! winds! above all the basses!) got more than one workout over the remaining three movements, including the last with its 41 measures of tonic-dominant including 29 C-major chords. If not always perfect technically, it rocked, it rolled, it unrolled, the ensemble ablaze. Each movement struck with the new force of this work as here structured and paced. … [If] musicality of phrasing, shapeliness of line and section, dynamic range, beauty of tone, purity and precision of play were all on the low side … it doesn’t matter. For propulsion like this, none of that is paramount: letting first-decade-1800s Beethoven be Beethoven rules. … More than once during the concert I wished I had brought my children and grandchildren. Get the CD of Zander’s Fifth, study his sermons, relearn this piece as fully as you can stand — as you already know, but as will be the more impressed upon you, this is Beethoven in peak “grab you by the lapels” mode.
’Tis a Gift
At the risk of scanting pianist Peter Fang’s unusually rounded and lovely Brahms in August, and a private recital soon after which showed Pavel Kolesnikov’s pianism to be more than unusually rounded and lovely, I must recall the pianistic simplicity of Han Chen.
Chen’s Chinese Performing Arts Foundation summer festival recital featured the Steven Stuckey Sonata, Schubert’s A-major sonata D.664, Prokofiev 8, and Ravel’s Une Barque sur l’Ocean. Very different pieces, each one dispatched in a kind of refined directness. This doesn’t mean the late-20s Chen lacks inflection or personality or viewpoint, not at all, just that he presents, more than many other young keyboardists today, as matter of fact and calmly plainspoken whether unspooling a Schubert tune or blowing up a Prokofiev Vivace. Harder than it sounds to be so simple, and not to be lost as a young pianist advances in his career.
Performances that melted my generally receptive heart included a private one by the very special pianist Pavel Kolesnikov. His “Dusk to Dawn” high-concept recital went attaca from the “Raindrop Prelude” into the “Moonlight” Sonata. The Guardian agreed.
Two chorale concerts delivered rewarding discoveries — BSO’s Dvořák’s Stabat Mater and 200-voice choral outpourings from the combined Chorus pro Musica and the Metropolitan Chorale in Leoš Janáček’s 1898 cantata Amarus.
The Boston University Opera Institute-Glimmerglass co-production of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the Emerson-Cutler Majestic Theater impressed this writer as the most consistently satisfying opera he has seen in 2019. HERE
Pace David Allen’s November New York Times critique of Andris Nelsons and the BSO, I thoroughly enjoyed 2019 at Symphony Hall. Although my two favorite concerts were led by guest conductors, Nelsons’s presentations of three Shostakovich symphonies — Nos. 2, 12, and 15 — were right up there. (Mr. Allen referred to an unspecified number of Shostakovich symphonies as “clunkers,” but none of these are in my book.)
The highlight of John Storgårds’s January BSO program was Sibelius’s Sixth Symphony, followed closely by his Seventh. Kaija Saariaho’s Ciel d’hiver and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22, with Martin Helmchen, rounded out the bill.
In April, Gustavo Dudamel led the BSO in a “Spring” program: Schumann’s Spring Symphony and Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps. There was nothing terribly original about his interpretations, but both seemed to find their way back to what their composers intended.
In looking over my list of the best concerts I’ve reviewed this year, I’m struck by the realization that one was not even by a professional organization, and that two were events that took place on the Ashmont Hill Chamber Music series at the “other” end of the Red Line. All of which goes to show that 1) there’s a lot of high-level musicianship to be found outside the usual suspects in this area, and 2) it’s worthwhile to look outside downtown and Cambridge for high-quality performances.
Post Marination, Violinist Randall Goosby Impresses
Young cellist, Ifetayo Ali, enchanted a sold-out Calderwood Hall in Boston debut
Alisa Weilerstein’s “heronineiac” Celebrity Series traversal of all six Bach Cello Suites
Bell-Isserlis-Denk Trio: Chamber music as an intimate conversation among kindred spirits
Violinist Soovin Kim and pianist Gloria Chien exceed high expectations
Jerusalem String Quartet Amazed for Celebrity Series. Rapturous traversals.
JCT Trio Fabulous at Shalin Liu
Sō Percussion Phases Reich left me hypnotized…to this day! This was a truly memorable minimalistic journey; quite a contrast to its relatively extravagant Sanders Theater setting.
There is no doubt that the BSO-GHO Collaboration was one of the most important musical events that I was honored to be a part of within Boston 2019’s classical milieu.
Blue Heron: Cipriano da Rore, Five-voice madrigals.
Boston Musica Viva. 11/23, Tsai Performance Center, Boston University. Soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbonsang in a stunning new work by Shirish Korde. Also works by Henry Brant, Chou Wen-Chung, and Bernard Hoffer.