Boston area favorite-son composer Matthew Aucoin reached a pinnacle of recognition in November of 2021 at the Metropolitan Opera, where his opera Eurydice (book and libretto by Sarah Ruhl) vividly and artfully retold the Orpheus-plus myth from the tragedienne’s perspective. The underworld has never since been the same.
“It’s not surprising that a tale about the greatest musician in history, a man who could make the very stones weep when he performed, keeps appealing to his descendants. The scenario offers composers a wedding party, a tragic death, an evocation of what lies beyond, an attempt at resurrection, a plangent lament — opportunities to shine, and to place themselves in a grand tradition.” NYT 2021
For the Boston Lyric Opera’s production, Aucoin reduced the orchestration demands considerably, but according to our interview subject, award-winning bass-baritone Mark S. Doss*, who plays the newly added role of Eurydice’s father, “…the sound is quite incredible.”
The show runs March 1st through the 10th at the Huntington Theater. Tickets HERE.
FLE: Mark, I didn’t know there was a father in this legend.
New England Philharmonic’s “New Music New England” [tickets HERE] celebrates our region and features Grammy-winning organ soloist Paul Jacobs Boston on Sunday March 3rd at 3:00 pm at the Boston University Tsai Performance Center. In a concert which also includes, Wang Lu’s Surge (2022), Ives’s Three Places in New England (1935), David Sanford’s Thy Book of Toil (2014), a pair of works by composers we know, Kati Agócs and John Harbison, particularly piqued our interest.
John Harbison’s What Do We Make of Bach? for orchestra with organ obligatto premiered in October 2018 with the Minnesota Orchestra, conductor Osmo Vänskä, and organist Paul Jacobs, organist. Agócs summarizes her Perpetual Summer (2010) for BMInt readers below, and our interviews with Perpetual Summer with Harbison and Jacobs follow.
What barriers bar the uninitiated from classical concerts? Could the BSO maintain its Big Five prestige and remain accessible to new audiences? To investigate, I attended all three of the BSO’s January concerts: a sold-out presentation of León, Ravel, and Stravinsky; a concert production of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mitsensk District; and a “Casual Friday” concert of Stravinsky. I found dwindling audiences entirely enraptured by the music of one of the world’s best orchestras.
Covid had placed performing arts in freefall. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, said this week that “For most people, the pandemic is over. For arts institutions, we’re still in it,” reporting the need to “withdraw $40 million in additional emergency funds” due to a capacity rate of around “73%.” The New York Philharmonic’s audience is 62% over 55. During the pandemic, these attendance rates plummeted—in 2019, the Pittsburgh Symphony sold around 70% of tickets; in 2022, that fell to 37%. The Cleveland Orchestra still hovered between 54% sales in the fall of 2022 and 67% in 2023. These data suggest that not only are classical music audiences often older, but they are also, in large numbers, not returning to the concert hall after Covid.
Dame Ethel Smyth (1854-1944) said, “I want women to turn their minds to big and difficult jobs, not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea.”
This is the story of a woman — in the long history of women stifled by important or influential men in their lives or eras — who did the big and difficult job over and over. Ethel Smyth, a strong-minded musician, fought against her father’s pontifical noise and ‘put out to sea’ (or at least crossed the channel) in 1877 at age 19 to study at the Conservatorium in Leipzig. One of the top Smyth scholars, Amy Zigler, has a brief biography available HERE. BMInt is happy to publish this preview in the context of a Cappella Clausura’s performance of Smyth’s Mass in D at Emmanuel Church at 4pm on March 3rd. Tickets HERE.
Smyth characterized herself as making “on average 12 intimate friends per annum” (letter to Henry Brewster, 1892). Her first core in Leipzig was the Herzogenbergs, a musical family whose young matriarch, Lisl (only 11 years her senior), took a maternal interest in Ethel, and a deep, life-changing relationship began. Lisl’s brother-in-law was Henry Brewster, who was also to become a deep and romantic partner, although married. Brewster, a poet, was the librettist for many of her operas. On her many trips to Germany, her friends introduced her to more friends, many of them the glitterati of the late 1800s: Brahms (her musical hero, along with Beethoven), Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Clara Schumann, Dvorak, and more.
On a Saturday evening some 70 years ago I heard the Boston Symphony Orchestra live for the first time. Melville Smith, then director of the Longy School, had given me two tickets he couldn’t use. Charles Munch conducted. Before the intermission came Honegger’s Symphony no. 1; the program notes mentioned harmony that “trends toward C major,” which amused me and my 9th-grade classmate George Nelson — it must have meant that the symphony was “modern.” After the intermission we heard Schubert’s “Great” Symphony in C Major, a work I had never heard before, but George knew it well. “This symphony begins with a solo horn,” he said. (Actually it turned out to be two in unison.) I was deeply impressed by the experience, and especially by the slow movement, but never imagined that I would write a book about this symphony a few years later (2011).
The renowned Takács Quartet has a zest for new music and unconventional partnerships. They’ve collaborated with bandoneon standout Julien Labro, composer and The National vocalist Bryce Dessner, vocalist Clarice Assad, and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. For its February 16th Celebrity Series concert at Jordan Hall [tickets HERE], the foursome offers Nokuthula Ngwenyama’s Flow sandwiched between Haydn’s “Sunrise” quartet and the second of Beethoven’s Razumovskys.
In Flow, Harvard Divinity School graduate Ngwenyama embraces the cosmos…or lets it embrace her. BMInt spoke with her and and Takács violinist Harumi Rhodes.
FLE: We first met in 1999 when you gave a super viola recital at Harvard Musical Association. You probably don’t remember the event, but surely the baked beans, Welsh rabbit and ale must have traumatized you.
Seiji Ozawa just died in Tokyo at the age of 88. His durable career with the Boston Symphony, where he spent a major portion of his years as music director, spanned 1973 to 2002, the longest such term in the orchestra’s history. The BSO’s press release is HERE. And we embed a video tribute within.
A free concert resulting from the research of this writer along with the efforts of the Harvard Musical Association Library Committee takes place on March 3rd at 3:00, at St. John’s Church, 27 Devens Street, in Charlestown. Just show up (entry is free). Leave a comment below if you have questions.
Winsome duo-pianists Chi-Wei Lo and Xiaopei Xu, collectively known as Psychopomp Ensemble (guide of souls), who have been reinventing the recital, once brilliantly interpolated the Beatles’ “Imagine” into the Gottschalk’s “The Union” HERE at 52:40; they will preside in an acoustically warm sanctuary on a restored 1870 Chickering concert grand. A light reception will follow.
The Germania Musical Society deserves to emerge from the cocoon of writings by musicological specialists and reclaim the interest of a larger public.