Light Streams From Blomstedt and BSO

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Boston Symphony  illuminated our Saturday night with important music, providing us with a glimpse of another cosmic plane, above and beyond vile aggression and conflict. [continued]

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Blomstedt Expounds on Bruckner 4

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With the lamentable departure of the beloved Bernard Haitink from this sphere, Herbert Blomstedt, whether or not the fact interests him, (and he is no doubt tired of being interviewed on the subject) has assumed the elder-statesman mantle among the world’s great conductors. So, our recent interview with him entirely avoided the longevity topic and instead focused on his thoughts on repertoire for his upcoming BSO concerts on Thursday through Saturday.

But we cannot resist sharing an anecdote from Alex Ross’s New Yorker feature from last summer about the American-born Swedish maestro:

After the performance, I went backstage for what I assumed would be a brief chat with Blomstedt. He had the mien of a bookish village pastor, his face free of sweat. I had resolved not to ask the obvious, dumb question: How can he still be so vigorous at his age? Some have credited his pious, abstemious habits: raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he has never had a drink or eaten meat. But, as he told Michael Cooper, of the Times, in 2017, “That’s not the reason. It’s a gift.” Blomstedt added wryly, “Churchill drank lots of whiskey and smoked enormous big cigars, and he lived to be ninety or so.

[continued]

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Blomstedt and BSO: Lofty Brahms

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Herbert Blomstedt, a renowned Swedish conductor who has worked in Denmark, Germany, and San Francisco, is a 91-year-old Massachusetts native in superb condition. He demonstrated artistry, vigor, and wisdom with total assurance in Friday’s Boston Symphony concert. [continued]

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Nelsons Coaches, Conducts TMCO Twice

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The July 12th and 19th concerts of the TMC Orchestra featured conducting fellows who prepared pieces under the direction of Andris Nelsons, who directed major work(s) each time. [continued]

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Welcome Mat To Reappear at Symphony Hall

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This morning, Boston Symphony Orchestra announces its coming season, September 30th – April 30th, and the reopening of Symphony Hall to concertgoers, enthusiastically welcoming audiences back for the first time since March 2020. Click HERE for the calendar.

In the opener, Nelsons shares the podium with John Williams, and the spotlight with Anne-Sophie Mutter, the soloist in Williams’s Violin Concerto no. 2, Beethoven’s Consecration of the House overture, and the BSO signature work, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra will fill out the concert.

Nelsons, the Ray And Maria Stata music director, had this to say: 

“The BSO’s 2021-’22 season at Symphony Hall will be a great celebration, marking the return to concert life and the reunion with our beloved music community. We have all been waiting for this moment for a very long time. [continued]

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Tanglewood Details Announced

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BMInt alerted readers HERE a couple of weeks ago to the salutary fact that Tanglewood is planning to operate this summer, albeit for half its usual run. Now we’re pleased to go straight to the lede: Click HERE for the just-released calendar in easy-to-read form.

Once again BMInt’s resident curmudgeon rants on rep. But first comes Andris Nelsons’s edited welcome. [continued]

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A Friendship Triptych

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Apo Hsu, influential as a conductor and teacher of conductors, met this writer a couple of weeks ago during her visits to the BSO for the rehearsals and performances of Formosa Triptych, by her friend and colleague Chihchun Chi-sun Lee. Her former student and current mentee BSO Assistant Conductor Yu-An Chang presided at the podium. Our conversation after the first rehearsal intrigued me.

FLE: Let’s begin with a summary of your connections.

AH: I’ve known Chihchun Chi-sun Lee for many years, and her husband Michael Timpson composed a piece I have premiered in Taipei; we have been in touch and supporting each other. Yu-An Chang started his conducting studies during his junior year and continued over a few years to earn his master’s degree in conducting with me at the National Taiwan Normal University before he went on to Berlin for further studies.

How did you recognize his abilities, especially in someone who doesn’t play a Western instrument?

He plays a Chinese bamboo flute like a virtuoso. In undergrad that was his major instrument; his playing resonated in the NTNU music building, and it projected incredibly well. You can hear it from 100 feet away, and he was always practicing diligently. He was often the first one who entered and the last one to leave the music building.

So, what was the notation that was used for that instrument?

Way back it was with Arabic numerals, but gradually within the last 25 years or so it is often transferred to Western notation. When he started in his teens, much of the sheet music was with “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7”, as translated to do re mi fa so la si.

And were the numbers on lines with bars?

They would be written with numbers horizontally on a line, with vertical bar lines. If you write a 1 with a dot, that means a beat and a half. A whole note would be written in 1- – – . There is a system of dots and dashes in the notation that indicates rhythm and octaves.

So, a full score with all those numbers must look pretty messy. [continued]

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Symphony Announces 2018–19 Season

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Because the Boston Symphony includes three “brands”—the BSO, the Boston Pops, and Tanglewood—for which tickets and subscriptions are sold in the spring, they traditionally space out the three announcements and ticket sales. This year they’re providing the full details a week earlier than usual. [HERE].

The orchestra begins the fall with a two-week tour of European cities and festivals (September 2–17), including Leipzig, whose orchestra shares Music Director Andris Nelsons with the BSO. The Boston season thus begins later than usual (October 11), and without an opening-night gala. Andris Nelsons will lead 13 of the standard 25 weeks of concerts, which is a larger number than he’s done in the past. Eleven conductors will preside over the remaining 12: only Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be here for two weeks.

No single theme shapes the season, but some anniversaries will be celebrated, including Boston composer John Harbison’s 80th birthday and the centennial of Latvian independence.

Symphony management received a letter this season from subscribers and members of the local musical community, urging greater diversity in programming and performers, and it appears that they have made some efforts in both areas. Since the BSO’s press release doesn’t brag about it, here is a brief list: [continued]

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Tanglewood Is Icumen in

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The coming Tanglewood season is full of the usual suspects, regulars, and warhorses, but more than anything else it is organized around the centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. The number of performances, events, and celebrations for Lenny is large, and if the abundance seems overemphasized, we should remember that Bernstein gave his heart and soul to Tanglewood, was one of its founders, and essentially established and directed the conducting program, and so much else. The performances include nearly all of his major efforts in whole or in part. Of the stage works, there are excerpts from Mass and a live West Side Story with film, and complete performances of Trouble in Tahiti (a masterpiece that is almost a work of genius), On the Town, Candide, A Quiet Place (sequel to Trouble), and the ballet Fancy Free. The only major one I don’t see on the schedule are the three symphonies (Jeremiah, Age of Anxiety, Kaddish). There are plenty of other important cross-sections of Bernstein’s remarkably large output (though not nearly as large as it could have been if he hadn’t wasted so much time conducting orchestras; Mahler had to learn that same lesson), including the important and seldom heard Serenade for violin and orchestra (with Baiba Skride). August 25 sees a Bernstein Centennial gala, with the BSO plus a star-studded roster, Nelsons and four other conductors, “joined by members of the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Pacific Music Festival, and Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival,” all groups with which LB was long associated. The gala will conclude with the finale of Mahler’s Second Symphony. The schedule doesn’t say where this will happen, and the question arises whether the Shed is big enough to hold it all. There will also be a Bernstein Memorial Concert on August 19 that will also include Copland’s Outdoor Overture, a new work by John Williams, and the perennially favorite Concerto for Orchestra by Bartók, the only work of his to be heard this summer. Complete calendar HERE. [continued]

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Bruckner: Lofty Soul or Bumpkin?

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On the series of BSO subscription concerts beginning Thursday April 13th is included Bruckner’s seldom heard Symphony No. 6, written between 1879 and 1881 (following pianist Mitsuko Uchida’s performance of Mozart’s mysterious, stormy D-minor piano concerto K.466). According to Tony Fogg, Nelsons intends to do a Bruckner symphony each season. He announced this publicly in Symphony Hall in June 2013, and has kept his word, evincing his affinity with that composer. He’s also recording the entire cycle for DG, with the Gewandhausorchester

Austrian composer Anton Bruckner was of the generation before Mahler and died just a year before Brahms did. BSO publications director Marc Mandel writes, “And though his approach to symphonic composition is rooted in the Viennese tradition of Beethoven and Schubert, Bruckner in his symphonies expanded the four-movement form to a size his Classical predecessors never envisioned with regard to scale, conception, and instrumentation. Completed in 1881, Bruckner’s seldom heard Symphony No. 6 was the one he apparently considered his boldest. At about 50 minutes in length—about the length of Beethoven’s Eroica—it is his shortest mature symphony, and never suffered the sort of confounding alterations inflicted upon several of the others. [continued]

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BSO Subscription Series Announced

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Next year’s Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017-2018 Season contains a few real surprises. Once again there is a tendency toward the theater, the most radical choice being the complete Act II of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Definitely a good choice, and preceded by the lovely Siegfried Idyll for chamber ensemble. Grieg’s familiar Peer Gynt music shares a program with Beethoven’s unfamiliar but excellent Egmont music in what is perhaps billed as a staged performance; these should be interesting. And Berlioz’s complete Damnation of Faust conducted by Charles Dutoit (I still remember the performance at Tanglewood in 1960 with Martial Singher as Mephistopheles; at one point Munch gave such a sweeping sidewise beat that Singher had to jump out of the way, to the laughter of the audience).

Leonard Bernstein’s centenary is being celebrated with four works on opening night (September 22, including the very fine Serenade) and two series in March, with Symphony No. 2 (Age of Anxiety), a fine, exciting work, and No. 3 (Kaddish), another theatrical piece which I remember only as pretentious and rather uninteresting.

Much of the remaining repertory is standard, even conventional, with a handful of always welcome new works. Mahler is represented by Symphonies 1 and 3 (maybe, just maybe, Andris Nelsons will choose the 1893 version of Mahler’s First, the five-movement version for a Brahms-sized orchestra; very worthy and very rarely heard, although the Tufts Orchestra did it last November). Stravinsky is present with the complete Firebird (welcome in any year even though we heard it two years ago; much better than any suite) and the Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss, another good choice, seldom heard. Bruckner: the Fourth Symphony, and that’s enough of him for one year. [continued]

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Cloth Hall Players No Strangers to Symphony Hall

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When conductor Kurt Masur brought the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra to Boston from East Germany in 1974, it was a really big deal. Travel was difficult from the East, and no one had yet heard of glasnost or perestroika. We looked forward to hearing a very old and famous orchestra which had been insulated from performance trends in the West. Fifteen years later, the Berlin Wall fell. And now, 25 years after that historic moment, the GO is back in Boston to bring its special sound, style, and history once again. The Boston Celebrity Series concert will offer Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides (Overture), Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony. The orchestra’s leader, Riccardo Chailly will conduct and Nikolaj Znaider will be the violin soloist.

BMInt interviewed Andreas Schulz, the orchestra’s intendant. [continued]

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Three More Summer Festivals

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Tanglewood and the Newport Music Festival are well known; Mohawk Trails Concerts is new to us. Tanglewood, founded in 1940, and Newport, founded in 1968, offer many concerts, not only in the evenings, but throughout the day, with a variety of times, programs, and venues.  Mohawk Trails Concerts, located in Charlemont, MA, offers a far smaller series but very high-quality, unusual programming. All three venues lend themselves to a one-day trip — albeit some of them for those hardy enough to drive back to the Hub “after hours.” [continued]

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Two Delights and One Disappointment

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Thursday evening, March 12, Herbert Blomstedt conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in performances of the Nielsen’s “Helios” overture, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat, with pianist Richard Goode, and Brahm’s Symphony No 4. The first two pieces were new to me, and welcome.

Nielsen manages to pack the glory of a sun-filled day into 10 minutes of music, and the orchestra played with verve – clearly excited by the piece. The Mozart was an equal pleasure; the smaller orchestra played with precision and attention to detail The second movement in G minor was the heart of the piece, a lament for times and loves lost. Richard Goode played with great expressiveness, sometimes barely audible over the orchestra. The Brahms was well played – but ultimately disappointing. The performance rose to the heights of this music, but mostly failed to probe the depths. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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