Boston Musical Intelligencer

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In Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s innovative semi-staged concert production of the complex, rich and fanciful two-act opera, Haroun and the Sea of Stories last night at Jordan Hall, Gil Rose brought forth electricity, eerie sounds, fright, joy and fancy to go along with bright costumes, mechanical birds, water genies and beautifully bizarre beasts.

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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.

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In celebration of John Harbison’s 80th-birthday year, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players offered a half-century spectrum of his chamber music at Jordan Hall on Sunday, topping off the afternoon with a Bach cantata in honor of Harbison’s lifelong dedication to that repertory.

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In the auspicious year of 1812, some 76 years after its premiere in Dublin, and 51 years after the composer’s death, the Handel and Haydn Society introduced Handel’s Messiah to America. This weekend, Boston Baroque brings its 38th-annual HIP version to Jordan Hall.

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All the compositions on Aaron Larget-Caplan’s Saturday night concert at Arlington Street Church  came from the pen of the thorny master between 1933 and 1948. The eponymous Stone Records CD release party-concert included guest artists Sharan Leventhal, violin; and Adam Levin, guitar.

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Félicien David (1810-’76) was widely known in the 19th century for Le désert (The Desert), a most unusual work that was performed throughout Europe and the Americas, including under Carl Bergmann in Boston’s fabled Music Hall, the 3000-seat auditorium on Winter Place built by  Harvard Musical Association members in 1852 that would serve as home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1887 until the opening of Symphony Hall, in 1900. First heard in Paris in 1844, Le désert is a highly descriptive work for tenor (or two tenors in different movements), chorus, orchestra, and narrator. In a famous review, Berlioz hailed the work in detail, clearly relishing the chance to show that he was not alone among French composers in trying to expand the scope of concert music to include extensive description and even narration. Le désert now exists in two CD recordings, very communicative and appealing [HERE]. Two of David’s operas have also been recorded—again in fine performances—in recent years: the comic opera Lalla-Roukh and the grand opera Herculanum, which pits ascetic early Christians against luxury-drenched Romans and pitting all of them against a wily, shape-shifting Satan. (More on these operas below. Note: Félicien David should not be confused with Ferdinand David, for whom Mendelssohn wrote his violin concerto.)

The most frigid of times, January can also be the most florid of times for new opera in the Northeast. Hot on the heels of New York City’s PROTOTYPE Festival of new music-theater pieces, Boston Opera Collaborative is preparing to open its production of The Scarlet Ibis by David Cote and Stefan Weisman. This adaptation of a popular 1960 short story by James Hurst, a staple of many Minnesotan English curricula, taught in high schools from Rochester to Farmington to Mankato, also runs from Thursday through Sunday at Longy in Cambridge. Tickets HERE.

A tragic story of childhood and illness, The Scarlet Ibis has long fascinated readers. The operatic adaptation by Cote and Weisman first appeared at the 2015 PROTOTYPE Festival, and this year will be staged by both Boston Opera Collaborative and Chicago Opera Theater. Basil Considine spoke with librettist David Cote about adapting The Scarlet Ibis for the stage and walking the line between theater criticism and opera writing.

BC: How did your partnership first conceive of adapting James Hurst’s The Scarlet Ibis as an opera?

The Boston premiere of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Charles Wuorinen’s “an over-flowing feast of witty, inventive music-theater,” will take place Saturday night at Jordan Hall in the third installment of the Boston Modern Opera Project’s season as Gil Rose leads a semi-staged production featuring guest soprano Heather Buck. James Fenton derived his libretto from Salman Rushdie namesake novel. The result is a sophisticated, adult fantasy-opera based on an equivalently sophisticated children’s novel written by a man under a death sentence. “For those who want an opera of widely diverse dramatic character and complex music, this is for you,” says Gil Rose.

Bombay-born Salman Rushdie completed his first children’s novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, in 1990, while in hiding in England under an intentional assassination-sentence by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for blasphemy to Islam in the author’s previous book.

Pamela Frank (file photo)

In advance of the Criers’ concert at Jordan Hall this Friday, violinist Jesse Irons reflects on a program that encompasses Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile, Vivaldi’s: Concerto for 4 Violins in B minor, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, and Haydn: Symphony No. 44.

Some years ago, my dear Peabody Conservatory violin teacher Shirley Givens was excited that her star pupil Pamela Frank was coming to perform as soloist with the Baltimore Symphony. Givens had her ways, and she finagled the entire studio to attend a dress rehearsal where Pam performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto, followed by a chat. The stunning performance showcased Pam’s incredible ability to weave in and out of the orchestral textures: to soar above when needed, and to almost embed and strengthen the orchestra when the part called for it. It was an entirely egoless performance, all about Beethoven’s intention, and the music was fully alive and moving.

About a year later, Givens, planning to be away for the week, had arranged for a special guest teacher for her studio. I was extremely nervous for what would be my first lesson with Pam, but I pulled out Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D Major No. Four. I remember playing through the first movement and being out of breath. Pam asked, with a smile, “how do you feel?” Tired, I said. Pam looked at me and said, “You better not be tired, you have two more movements to play!” I was instantly smitten. After the lesson, I bought her recording of the Mozart violin concertos and I’ve probably listened to her recording of the fourth 100 times. In fact, I used to tune my violin to it!

Helen of Troy by Rossetti

Odyssey Opera continues its sixth season next month at the Huntington Theater with the Boston premiere of Gluck’s (1770) Paride ed Elena to Ranieri de’ Calzabigi’s libretto. This marks the first of three works to be performed in Winter/Spring 2019 inspired by one of the most enigmatic figures in ancient history, Helen of Troy. The company tells us that Paride ed Elena (Paris and Helen) will feature three leading female roles performed by Mireille Asselin (Elena), Meghan Lindsay (Paride), and Erica Schuller (Amor), with orchestra and chorus conducted by Gil Rose, and stage direction by Crystal Manich (Pittsburgh Opera, Utah Opera).  The fully-staged, five-act production will be sung in Italian with English subtitles.

Paride ed Elena was the third and last of the so-called “reform” operas on which Gluck collaborated with the librettist Ranieri de’ Calzabigi. According to Gil Rose, Odyssey Opera’s Artistic and General Director, “Paride ed Elena is yet another operatic gem that has disappeared from the canon. The ‘why’ remains a mystery as this opera has something for everyone: a passionate love story, glorious orchestral textures, sensual ballets, and the sumptuous melodies that we’ve come to expect from Gluck’s masterful vocal writing. Odyssey Opera is thrilled to revive this neglected work and introduce it to Boston audiences.”

Last year in this space [HERE] I offered an overview of more than a dozen fascinating new CD releases of opera recordings, ending with detailed reviews of two additional operas: by Bellini and by English composer John Joubert. My feature stirred up some lively comments.

During 2018 the harvest has been even more astounding. Whether you are new to the world of opera listening or have great familiarity with the repertoire, you are bound to find something for your taste, or to give as a gift to someone who loves music, theater, or the singing voice.

I divide the pile of discs into several rough categories, for convenience: 1) relatively well-known works that have been recorded many times; 2) a handful of valuable Mozart recordings from different points in his career; 3) lesser-known works by well-known composers; 4) Baroque and Classic-era works done in some version of Historically Informed Performance style; 5) forgotten French works from the 19th century that have now been given first recordings, in superb performances; and 6) other forgotten works that turn out to be quite interesting, most of them, too, in expert performances that play to a work’s strengths.

Well-Known Works, Often Seen in a New Light

The Green Mountain Man

Ever ready to assist in the marketing activities of our literate and resourceful presenters, we herewith take note of the potential Gloire, Sororité and Fraternité in Boston Camerata’s five forthcoming holiday concerts.

Artistic Director Anne  announces that she is pleased this year, to be unveiling a brand-new production, full of color and sweep. “Gloria: An Italian Christmas” will feature six vocal soloists, harp, lutes, gambas, organ, cornetto, sackbuts, and choir, performing some of the hottest music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque. Some cast members, like bass singer-lutenist Joel Frederiksen, and the legendary cornettist Bruce Dickey, are coming over from Europe to participate. We are also happy to welcome students from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. Such an adventure for us…

FLE:  Yes, there are performers and hot music involved, but what about composers?

We’ll be featuring the titanic Gabrieli and Monteverdi along with a plethora from the Renaissance A-list: Marenzio, Cipriano, Willaert, and others. And, to keep the Camerata tradition alive, there will be Christmas songs from country chapels and popular sources. We found a cache of these simple, beautiful carol melodies in a Florentine print of the 17th century, transcribed some of them, and will be premiering them for modern audiences, alongside the magnificent sound structures meant for San Marco in Venice, and other major-league places.

The Camerata has also an extensive repertory book of Christmas concerts, and you are continuing to share it with the public. When did this all begin for you?

In 2010, following his retirement after 32 years as Director of Choral Activities at Harvard University, Jameson (Jim) Marvin founded the Jameson Singers, an SATB choir of some 70 voices, which draws  experienced amateur singers across Boston (and includes many of Marvin’s former Harvard students). The ensemble’s 9th season will be Marvin’s final one. Exuberant and witty, Marvin discusses, among other things, the season to come: “Wondrous Light” holiday concerts on December 1st and 8th featuring works from early Renaissance to the present day (including some of Marvin’s own compositions and arrangements) and next May’s performance of the mighty German Requiem by Brahms.

GL: In your forthcoming book “Emotion in Choral Singing: Reading Between the Notes” (which will be released December 12th!) you write I believe choral music has the power to draw us into a spiritual realm, a transcendence that allows a fleeting moment of peace.” This is quite the statement!

JM It seems to me there’s a reason for choral music, a real purpose. And, simply put, it is easier to express emotion with text and singing. Of course instrumental music also has the great power to express emotion, but I find that the inclusion of text and the use of the human voice allows choral music to lift us out of our everyday experience. I believe strongly in that mission – an experience so momentary and yet so valuable. We are singing to inspire and also, to an extent, to educate. We are blessed as human beings to have the capacity to express emotion through singing or through music period. And I think humanity needs that.

Singing to educate…do you see yourself primarily as an educator?

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