The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced the unprecedented cancellation of next season’s concerts from September to the end of November because of Covid’s continuing spread. This goes far beyond the two-week season-opening delay occasioned by the flu pandemic of 102 years ago [see BMInt’s story HERE]; the Second World War, though, brought about shortened and eliminated Tanglewood seasons.

Management will announce decisions about the winter and spring periods by the year’s end. Patrons and subscribers will be contacted in September about refunds, credits, and donations. The BSO expects to lose $30M for the fiscal year ending in August.

In September, the Orchestra will announce online content for the season, following the apparent success since the end of March of the BSO at Home and ongoing Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival offerings. [continued…]

The violin and piano duo of Augustin Hadelich and Orion Weiss played Debussy, Brahms, and Adams for the Tanglewood cameras Saturday. With talent to spare, the artistic pair gave exciting, tight, enthralling, and even transcendent readings. Available online until August 1st.    [continued]

Tanglewood-in-quarantine continued, as violist and violinist  Pinchas Zuckerman, cellist Amanda Forsyth, and pianist Bryan Wagorn, took us on a trip which, from start to finish, provided a delightful way to spend an hour on a humid Saturday night. Nicole Cabell introduced music of Glière, Kodály, Paradis, Fauré and Beethoven.    [continued]

Friday night’s pre-recorded chamber concert featuring BSO players seemed even shorter than its 50-minute runtime.The works by Loeffler, Ravel and Gabriella Lena Frank will remain on bso.org until the 24th.    [continued]

Joy at performing together radiated from the brothers Jussens’ Concertgebouw recital, recorded before a socially distanced audience of 350 two weeks prior to this airing on the 16th at the Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival –A Summer Tradition Transformed. Available online for a week.    [continued]

Alban Berg

An invitation to present a research paper at the International Alban Berg Symposion led to my first-ever trip to the European continent in May 1980. The symposium proved especially fortunate because Berg’s papers, formerly stored at his apartment at Trauttmansdorffgasse 27 in Vienna under the supervision of his widow Helene, had been transferred to the Nationalbibliothek downtown, and had only just then, four years after Helene Berg’s death and 45 years after Berg’s, been opened to scholars. The well-funded Symposion took place over a period of two weeks during the Wiener Festwochen, with presentations lasting up to 45 minutes. Researchers from Germany, England, and the USA, including several younger workers like me, met each other and schmoozed. One of the big-shot attendees was Carl Dahlhaus (1928-89), a hugely prolific and wide-ranging scholar, though not widely known for work on Berg; I did discover when this veteran managed to get any sleep — during other scholars’ presentations. One whom everybody liked was Erich Alban Berg, nephew of the composer, then 75 years old and very convivial (for those who like me had only a very limited command of German, he was especially helpful; he had been an interpreter for the British occupation forces after WWII and spoke excellent English).

During those two weeks I found myself in the music collection at the Nationalbibliothek during most of its open hours. Berg’s papers, musical and otherwise, were a mess, but a librarian’s efforts had sorted them into at least a temporary classification, in folders which had been preliminarily catalogued. I was fascinated to see music by Berg that almost no one else had looked at for nearly 80 years. I found a single page of a Waltz in A Minor: “Mein erster Walzer. Meiner lieben Mama gewidmet.” If you know the A minor waltz (op. 12, no. 2) in Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, you can imagine this little piece by the 15-year-old Berg; today, it is published, and you can smile at the fff in the seventh bar. [continued…]

The Tanglewood Music Center (TMC) and the new Tanglewood Learning Institute have come up with variegated strategies to provide online substitutes for their intended tangible offerings. Viewers and listeners, though, must navigate Odyssian shoals before coming ashore on the webstream.    [continued]

Janet Wu to co-host

This summer Boston Landmarks Orchestra moves from the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade to the (e)splendid confines of the Futura Studio in Roslindale to record and stream two small-ensemble concerts dedicated to reminding us of its social and aesthetic missions while also giving us license to tap our toes while watching on our phones, tablets, and computers.

Under the direction of music director Christopher Wilkins and co-executive directors Mary Deissler and Arthur Rishi, socially distanced and masked players will begin with Simple Gifts on July 15th at 7pm (1), while Dances and Delights follows on July 29th (2) at 7pm with Castle of our Skins. “While we will certainly miss the Esplanade, everyone will have a front row seat for these streamed concerts, and we won’t need to worry about the weather or the sound of passing motorcycles.”

FLE: Streaming a chamber music concert from an exclusive and inaccessible former Masonic Temple seems to distance you from the goals of embracing a large and varied audience. How will your internet broadcasts differentiate themselves from the content that’s already on the web, and how satisfying will they be to you and your colleagues? 

CW: It’s a great question. Normally we’re all about finding ways to include as much community as possible, with layers of collaboration and partnerships, kids from camps, working with other Boston institutions — the Gardner Museum, the Aquarium or Museum of Science — but none of that is possible now. Maybe down the road.

We can do some things that we don’t normally do, such as making video content that right now is the coin of the realm. Landmarks hasn’t developed a whole lot of video over the years, so that will be good to have. And people will also have a look at us in a more intimate way than usual. They’ll get to see the musicmaking in lots of detail, something that isn’t possible on the Esplanade because of its enormous size. [continued…]

Mark DeVoto ca 1990

What do musicologists do during the Lockdown? Well, some of them write memoirs. A friend of mine, a composer, told me that whenever he talked with strangers in northern Minnesota and mentioned that he was a musician by profession, they would say to him, “You’re a musician? I wonder if you could tell me what to do for my sore throat?” My friend thus learned that in Fargo-Moorhead, “musician” means “singer.” Around New England, when people ask me what is my profession, I say “music professor,” although now retired. Sometimes I say “musician.” “What kind of musician?” “Professor of music.” “Oh.”

But because of my know-it-all personality, which often radiates smartass, I’ve been called “professor” ever since I was ten. Within my own trade I am known as a musicologist, supposedly a specialist in Musikwissenschaft, musical science. There are various kinds of musicologists. I’ve been a member of the American Musicological Society since 1964, when the society was essentially an academic society for historical musicologists. My graduate training included historical musicology, music theory, and composition, all areas in which I taught at the college level for 36 years. I claim to be principally an analytical musicologist, in an area which sometimes dips into music theory and history of musical style. Another area in which I have worked extensively is documentary musicology, in which I have had little training but a lot of experience, and this is what I want to discuss today.

In 1955, at age 15, I spent a summer taking piano lessons with an excellent teacher, Gregory Tucker, a well-known pianist in the Boston area who taught at the Longy School and Bennington College, and later was a professor at MIT. I last saw him in 1962 when, recognizing me among those assembled for a memorial, he drafted me to turn pages for him in the concert that followed the ceremony. In 1983, when I was teaching at Tufts University, one of my colleagues asked me if I could help one of her friends, a piano teacher, in examining several large cartons of papers that she had been given by Tucker’s children, who after his death didn’t know what to do with them. I said I’d be happy to look over the papers. These included a batch of books and printed music but also a number of musical autographs. [continued…]

It’s July 4th weekend… are you missing the fireworks over the Charles and the sounds of the Boston Pops over the Esplanade?

Here are a ten links and suggestions to help you get your patriotic musical “fix” in early July:

The 2020 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular broadcast, under the direction Keith Lockhart, will present A Boston Pops Salute to Our Heroes, featuring both new content (the fantastic newly released video of John Williams’ Summon the Heroes) and favorites from past celebrations, including (in order) Broadway legend Brian Stokes Mitchell singing “America the Beautiful” and “Wheels of a Dream”; Amanda Mena, America’s Got Talent semi-finalist from Lynn, MA, sings Pink’s What About US and the national anthem with the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters; Melissa Etheridge (“I Wanna Come Over”); Amanda Gorman, first-ever Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, performs a new take on the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” entitled “Believer’s Hymn for the Republic,” Broadway star Leslie Odom, Jr, singing “Sarah” from The Civil War, and “Without You” from Rent; Rhiannon Giddens (“Pretty Little Girl” and “She’s Got You”); Rita Moreno narrating excerpts from Ellis Island: The Dream of America; Arlo Guthrie & The Texas Tenors singing “This Land Is Your Land;” Queen Latifah,  (“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”); Andy Grammer (“Give Love”); and The U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus and the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes & Drum (Lexington, MA) joining the Pops for Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” [continued…]

Roland Hayes

Music and poetry can be means of resistance, and they also play a role in uniting diverse groups. Boston’s early heritage of African American scholars, writers, and musicians make the city an interesting subject for artistic and historical inquiry in these challenging times.

THE LEGACY OF PHYLLIS WHEATLEY

The first Africans arrived in Boston in 1638, and the city became very active in the slave trade. By 1700 there were more than 400 enslaved African Americans in Boston, with the beginnings of a free Black community in the North End. At mid-century, the British mainland American colonies had a population of approximately 1.5 million. Each year 3,500 captives arrived from Africa and the Caribbean, so nearly one in five Americans, or 300,000 people, were enslaved.

Lucy Terry Prince (c1730-1821) was a gifted speaker and the first recorded African American author of a poem (“Bars Fight,” see the full poem HERE), describing the last Indian massacre in Deerfield, MA in 1746, where she worked as a household slave in from 1735-1756. The poem became part of local oral tradition and was finally published in 1855 in Josiah Gilbert Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts. Prince later moved to Vermont, where she became the first woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (winning a land dispute); two of her sons enlisted in the Continental army in Massachusetts, and the Vermont Heritage Songbook includes a children’s song about her life. [continued…]

Toward the new post-normal: A baby step for audiences, a leap for performance.

Who misses live music more than the audiences? Musicians, that’s who.

Now that summer has arrived, the chamber organization Mistral Music will be joined, this Saturday at 6pm in Brookline’s Knyvet Square, by three BSO players to play the Ravel Duo, the Schubert Rosamunde Quartet, and a Beethoven String Trio.

North of the city, as part of its Summer Music on the Hill series, the Church of St. Andrew in Marblehead presents “On the Street Where You Live,” an outdoor concert featuring area star vocalists Holly Cameron and Matt Arnold accompanied by church music director Mary Jodice, on Sunday July 12, at 7pm. The rain date is July 18.

[continued…]

Gate to Ashton Villa

Four years ago, Liane Curtis, President of Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy, wrote a review for BMInt entitled “Black Composers Matter,”  highlighting the work of Boston’s concert and educational series Castle of Our Skins, named for a line from celebrated poet Nikki Giovanni’s Poem (for Nina). You can hear the original, read by the author, HERE.

After this month’s tragic events, peaceful protest, riots, and renewed calls for unity, Giovanni’s words ring loudly in my ears (“for we spirit to spirit will embrace this world”). Castle of Our Skins has begun to present community-based, multi-disciplinary projects (Ain’t I a Woman?) [reviewed HERE],  “I Am a Man,” 2019), and concerts featuring the works of local African American composers such as Trevor Weston, [reviewed HERE], but they make me want to hear more, to listen more deeply, and to explore Boston’s rich, local heritage of African American music.

Anthony R. Green, the director of Boston’s Castle of Our Skins, has presented new works in Boston almost every year since 2004: he has been commissioned by Make Music Boston, Celebrity Series Boston, and the Landmarks Orchestra. Excerpts of nine of his works can be heard HERE. His recent arrangement of Chouconne – Haitian Folk Song (for string quartet and orchestra) premiered at the Hatch Shell on Boston’s Esplanade in August 2019, and his recent youth orchestra commission Catto’s Courage premiered online in April 2020. Green’s prescient article on representation in the New Music community is available at NewMusicBox HERE. [continued…]

How to listen this summer.

Tanglewood announces what’s up and what’s new:

Last fall, before the time of plague, we published the upcoming Tanglewood season announcement, and then a month ago followed up with the BSO’s new plans for the online Tanglewood festival, called a Summer Tradition Transformed. Now, management has announced program details for the upcoming summer’s content both free and paid, the latter going on sale Monday, June 15th, through www.tanglewood.org. The audio and video streams will include material newly created and recorded at Tanglewood’s Linde Center this month and next, featuring artists and programs of the announced season. In addition to the free offerings, online programs range from $5 to $12 for a single stream to $15 to $90 for multiple-stream packages.

New content includes Saturday evening great performers in recital — video streams recorded at the Linde Center — spotlighting some who were to appear in the Shed as well as additional guests: Gil Shaham (7/3); Emanuel Ax (7/11); Pinchas Zukerman, Amanda Forsyth, and Bryan Wagorn (7/18); Augustin Hadelich and Orion Weiss (7/25); Yo-Yo Ma (8/1); Daniil Trifonov (8/8); Conrad Tao (8/15); and Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk (8/22).

BSO musicians in recital features 40 orchestra members in a Friday evening online series of new programs programs to be recorded at the Linde Center starting next week through July 11th.

But wait, there’s more. [continued…]

Juventas New Music Ensemble designed its season finale “Alone Together” with the current human assemblage restrictions in mind, attempting both to simulate the experience of live performance and to capitalize on the unique potentialities of a Futura Studios as a digital performance space.    [continued]

Juventas New Music Ensemble’s 15th-anniversary season “Emergence” will conclude with a livestreamed concert that will safely bring ensemble musicians back together for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ensemble bills its YouTube appearance in Alone Together [HERE] as, “…one of the first concerts of its kind in America.”

While social distancing live at Futura Productions in Roslindale, Julia Carey, piano; Minjin Chung, cello; Wolcott Humphrey, clarinet; Kelley Hollis, soprano; and Olga Patramanska-Bell, violin; will essay audience favorites by Emma Wine, Michael Gandolfi and Wei-Chieh Hu, plus Aaron Copland’s “Laurie’s Song” and the world premiere of Juventas Artistic Director Oliver Caplan’s Alone Together. An interactive pre-concert Composer Conversation moderated by horn player Anne Howarth begins at 7:00pm on Zoom [HERE].

Caplan wrote the program’s title piece Alone during the Massachusetts stay home advisory this spring. It reflects on the paradox of caring for each other by staying apart, and offers a hopeful vision of the day “the sun will shine again… somewhere beyond the bend.” [continued…]

Jon Vickers as Florestan

As everybody, including musicologists, begin celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s  birth, I throw in few observations on Fidelio, which I heard for the first time only in graduate school; it certainly opened my understanding to all of the rest of his work.

It is said by some that the technique of the leitmotive (my preferred English spelling, without italics, which would imply actual German: Leitmotiv, singular, or Leitmotive, plural) in opera originated with the 18th-century melodrama — instrumental accompaniment to interspersed or overlaid spoken dialogue. A 19th-century melodrama illustrates the type: the second scene of Act II of Fidelio, immediately after Florestan, chained to the dungeon wall, has heroically exerted himself in a hallucinatory aria and collapsed in utter exhaustion. Leonore (still disguised as the boy Fidelio) and Rocco, the jailer, descend into the dungeon and exchange spoken dialogue in whispers between short bursts of indistinct orchestration. [continued…]

Stravinsky by Picasso

On June 25, 2020, the musical world will take note of the 110th anniversary of the premiere in Paris of Igor Stravinsky’s Zhar-ptitsa (Firebird), an event which launched an extraordinary career in Western music that continued through two world wars and three citizenships, lasted 61 years, and left a legacy of greatness that endures undiminished today.

Stravinsky had just celebrated his twenty-eighth birthday when the Firebird ballet burst on a Parisian public that had only recently learned to embrace Debussy and Ravel as the flagbearers of ultra-modernism. French Impressionism, in the visual arts, was already well established before its counterpart in music caught up with it. Debussy had been nationally recognized as the leading French composer only since Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) and La mer (1905), and only Ravel could match him on the same ground with works like Rapsodie espagnole (1908); all of these were considered the ne plus ultra of orchestral vigor and splendor on the one hand and emotional subtlety on the other.

Then with amazing suddenness Stravinsky arrived on the scene, challenging the French moderns with a violent brilliance of a Russian Impressionism that hardly anyone had even imagined. It was more than orchestral color and a strange new harmonic vocabulary — it was oriental exoticism, “For Russian Export,” as Stravinsky, weary of his Firebird achievement and its excessive popularity, later derided it. Fokine’s choreography was Russian-conventional but expertly planned, and Tamara Karsavina as the Firebird (gliding onto the stage on a wire) was both beautiful and astonishing throughout the evening, but it was the music that continues to amaze audiences today. (Odd footnote: Karsavina was succeeded in the post-season by a neophyte dancer, Lydia Lopokova, who later married John Maynard Keynes.) Debussy and Ravel, both then at the height of their careers, became Stravinsky’s close friends, “en toute sympathie artistique,” as Debussy wrote on a photograph. [continued…]

Even as our communities slowly unlock, and however tentatively the tumblers are turning, we’ve already become accustomed to the replacement of our cherished communal musical events with figurative and literal flickers reaching us via our computers, smart TVs, and mobile devices. Every once in a while, though, something may go amiss: a performance from someone’s living room, empty concert hall or patchwork ensemble winks out, sometimes entirely, sometimes for an extended period. Was that some technical glitch of recording or transmission, something in our internet connection, or an inept engineer or what? In many cases, it seems, the gremlin in the works may have been put there deliberately, and it may have had assistance of counsel.

An article recently published in the Washington Post (it’s here, but be forewarned of WaPo’s paywall) has called out the impact of recording companies’ copyright enforcement bots (software that patrols the Interwebs) seeking illicit posting or streaming of music for which the labels claim rights. While this form of artificial intelligence has a decent record of accuracy when it comes to pop and rock, where performance styles and the musical elements of performance vary considerably among recordings, it doesn’t work nearly as well with classical music, where not only is the bulk of the repertoire in the public domain, but the differences between particular performances are much more subtle. Nevertheless the principal platforms over which these streamed performances reach us, like Facebook or Google-owned YouTube, rely on these bots to tell them if a copyright claim has been asserted against a performance, leading the platform to shoot (i.e., take it down) first and let the performer ask questions later. As the WaPo article observes, and I have confirmed, the platforms offer means by which an aggrieved performer or producer can seek redress for an unjustified take-down, the process, which requires human staff to review the recordings for similarity and provenance, the process can take days or even weeks to complete, which isn’t much of a live stream, is it? [continued…]

Dedication rescinded

What do composers mean with dedications to their scores? Compare the situation when an author adds a dedicatory page right after the title page of his book, as in Melville’s dedication of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, thus: “In token of my admiration for his genius this book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.” One great writer to another.

Beethoven and Chopin peppered their piano compositions with dedications, chiefly to persons of the nobility or at least locally noteworthy, many of whom sponsored them financially. Many composers have dedicated their compositions to their own students: Mozart and his piano concertos, Beethoven and several sonatas, Chopin his Scherzo no. 3 to Adolf Gutmann (whose strength was such that he “could knock a hole in the table”, according to Huneker, who pointed to a big chord in bar 6).

A surprising number of composers offered dedications to their fellow composers, and this in itself is revealing. Beethoven dedicated his three piano sonatas, op. 2, to Haydn, his friend who to an extent was also his teacher. Schubert, at the very end of his life, dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Johann Nepomuk Hummel; but by the time these were published, in 1839, eleven years after Schubert’s death, Hummel himself had been dead for two years. Schubert’s composed his Sonata for piano four hands, D 812 (“Grand Duo”) in 1824, though not until 1837 did it see publication, and then with the publisher Diabelli’s dedication to the 18-year-old pianist Clara Wieck, three years before she married Schumann. Possibly Schubert, could he have but known, would have approved of this. Ravel dedicated his Jeux d’eau and String Quartet, mature masterpieces, to his “cher maître” Gabriel Fauré while still a student at the Conservatoire. Debussy dedicated his own “First String Quartet [there was never another] in G minor, op. 10 [his only opus number]” to Ernest Chausson, who had nominated him for membership in the Société nationale, and as a man of means may have helped him financially as well. Alban Berg, who worshiped his teacher Schoenberg, dedicated three of his largest compositions to him; but he dedicated Wozzeck to Alma Mahler, who paid for the engraving of the piano score. Another connection with Alma Mahler was an expression of love and grief: Berg’s last work, the Violin Concerto, was dedicated “to the memory of an angel,” her daughter Manon Gropius, who died of polio at age 19. [continued…]

The esteemed musicologist, who died on May 18th from cancer, was one of the Boston Musical Intelligencer’s most prolific and informative writers. She submitted her first review, of Boston Baroque’s performance of Michael Haydn’s Requiem Mass in 2009. Her last one reported on Capella Clausura’s take on the visionary-inspired music of Hildegard von Bingen’s on Feb 23rd. In 159 reviews she covered such groups as Capella Clausura, Blue Heron, the Borromeo Quartet, the Lydian Quartet, Emmanuel Music, Concerts at the Gardner, Cantata Singers, Boston Baroque, Back Bay Chorale, Cambridge Society for Early Music, the Newport Music Festival, Rockport Music, Odyssey Opera, NEC, Shakespearean Concerts, Tallis Scholars, and the Boston Chamber Music Society.

But she penned her greatest number of reviews for concerts put on by the Boston Early Music Festival, both for its biennial music orgies and for its performances during its regular seasons. Kathy Fay, executive director of BEMF, wrote today, “On behalf of the board of directors, artists, staff, and patrons of the Boston Early Music Festival, I am deeply saddened by the news. Her delightful and gentle spirit, thoughtful and illuminating reviews of our concerts, operas, and our biennial Festivals, and generous support of our programs and global work, will be sorely missed. Thanks to Virginia’s profound grasp of the classical repertoire—particularly music from centuries past and especially medieval music—we devoured her concert reviews and always emerged with a much deeper understanding of performances we attended.” 

Publisher F. Lee Eiseman noted that “she always brought tremendous seriousness of purpose and scrupulousness of research and observation to her work.” Indeed. Virginia continually educated our readers with historically accurate information. A few of examples of the wonderful cadence she brought to her reviews: of the performance by the BSO at Tanglewood on July 24, 2009: “After the opening outburst of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, we were treated to one of the composer’s beautifully flexible Andante melodies:  an English horn solo ably played by the BSO’s Robert Sheena and then heard in canon for winds and strings with rustling wind and percussion accompaniment. “She wrote of fortepianist Christian Bezuidenhout’s debut as conductor in a concert with the Handel & Haydn Society, in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Symphony in C Major, Wq. 182/3, “Beginning in a sunny and energetic C Major in forthright unison, sudden interjections on A flat and F sharp lent an air of sudden darkness to the drama.” [continued…]