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No Bah! Humbug for Vienna Choir Boys at Celebrity Series Concert

A number of bright moments lifted the afternoon out from a somewhat lackluster sound and sometimes tentative singing and foggy entrances at the Vienna Boys Choir Boys’ Holiday Program put on by the Celebrity Series at Jordan Hall on December 12. Conductor Manolo Cagnin directed with arms fully extended, clearly making contact with every one of the young singers. A fabulous arrangement and performance of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with smooth countrapuntal transitions, an astounding “Christmas” in glorious pop harmony, the melody note high up to climax the song, and perfect diction and ensemble singing would melt away any “Bah! Humbug.” [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Richard Stoltzman and Borromeo String Quartet Premiere Imbrie, Honor Schuller

The Borromeo Quartet collaborated with famed clarinetist Richard Stoltzman in an exceptional concert on December 11 at Harvard Musical Association. Gunther Schuller, in his String Quartet #4, a piece of elegiac lyricism, carries a single held note past the end of a phrase, particularly in the finale; one could regard this gesture as a synecdoche for the operative structure of the whole piece. The remarkable sostenuto in the cello part was beautifully conveyed by Yeesun Kim. Andrew Imbrie, in his final illness during composition of the Clarinet Quintet on a commission from the HMA, finished writing all the notes but not elements like dynamics, articulation and phrasing. Hi Kyung Kim and her clarinetist husband John Sackett worked with Stoltzman and the Borromeo to put the work in final shape. Although valedictory in the literal sense, this work sounds anything but the work of a dying man: it is light, lively, engaging, and snappy. Even on “off” occasions, the performers can, and did, deliver a solid reading of Mozart’s beloved Clarinet Quintet K.581. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Lively Messiah from Boston Baroque

Boston Baroque’s choir of twenty-one voices was nothing short of spectacular in a lively performance of Handel’s Messiah at Jordan Hall on Friday, December 11. The four soloists — tenor Lawrence Wiliford, bass-baritone Timothy Jones, soprano Amanda Forsythe, and mezzo-soprano Ann McMahon Quintero — were outstanding in their ability to navigate between lyrical, narrative, and declamatory styles. Boston Baroque’s virtuoso string band, playing on period instruments, was reinforced by a pair of oboes and, where called for, trumpets and timpani. Peter Sykes provided the organ continuo, with Martin Pearlman conducting from the harpsichord. Pearlman’s tempi, which pushed the capabilities of singers and players to their limits, was literally breathtaking, and he showed careful attention to articulation and dynamics of the dance measures that underlie so much of this music. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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WGBH to Discontinue BSO Friday Afternoon Broadcasts

According to officials at WGBH, the station has always looked at opportunities to expand and extend its programming, so when it learned that WCRB was going to be for sale, it became the successful bidder. As radio listeners now know, WGBH has become a news station and spawned WCRB (now at 99.5 FM) as its all-classical arm. This is the first of two articles that will deal with the arrangements between the two stations.

Boston Musical Intelligencer learned this morning that the broadcast schedule for Boston Symphony Orchestra live broadcasts was to be cut in half with the dropping of the Friday afternoon concerts; however, the Saturday evening live broadcast will continue with the same personnel that has been bringing it to the radio audience on Friday afternoons since October, 1991. The Friday afternoon broadcasts were part of the original format of the station and have been running continuously for 58 years. Indeed, the stations’s first broadcast was the Saturday night BSO concert on October 6, 1951, followed by broadcast of the concert the next Friday afternoon. The relationship was even stronger; for the first two years, WGBH’s office and studios were actually located in Symphony Hall, and the symphony programs listed the station’s complete programming. The voice of no less a figure than American composer Aaron Copland was heard during intermission of that first historic broadcast on October 6 (published in the program book for the following week): “It is particularly heartening to be able to take part in the first broadcast of WGBH. I wish I had known about the plan to establish it when I was in Europe for the first six months of this year, because whenever the question [of American radio broadcasts of classical music] came up, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sheepish.It is particularly heartening that there is a station of great interest to an adult mind. The field is wide open and I cannot think of an area better equipped than Boston for the carrying out of an adventurous project of this kind. “As a composer, I am particularly pleased that listeners to WGBH will be able to listen to live broadcasts of BSO concerts. Since each Friday afternoon program will be repeated on Saturday night, listeners will have the opportunity of hearing a new work twice. We contemporary composers like that idea. For the second hearing often tells more about a work than the first. When second impression of a new work may be more or less favorable, it is seldom is exactly the same.” [continued]
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BU Symphony Revelatory in Harbison, Schumann

Boston University Symphony Orchestra concerts are as appropriate a place as any to hear the premiere of a major work by a composer of John Harbison’s eminence. That, of course, is just what happened on December 8 at the Tsai Performance Center, along with several other goodies. Harbison’s Concerto for bass viol and orchestra The program opened with the overture to Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, conducted by BU DMA student Tiffany Chang in a fairly straightforward, down-the-middle reading. Edwin Barker, since 1976 the principal contrabassist (to use its other common name) of the Boston Symphony, was at the top of his form. Music Director David Hoose gave the Schumann Second Symphony a high-concept performance from beginning to end: taut, driving, and clipped, with undiminished tension in the first movement, demonic energy in the scherzo, a lyric respite in the slow movement that nevertheless kept tension mounting, and a finale brimming with qualified triumph. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Bass Notes, Legato Tones at Boston Conservatory

Boston Conservatory’s Seully Hall was filled to bursting Tuesday evening, 8 December, for a solo recital given as part of the Conservatory’s Piano Masters Series by faculty member Jonathan Bass. Bass’s tempi in J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in c minor were generally somewhat relaxed, and he did have a predilection for a very legato sound that occasionally resulted in a slight muddying of brisk passages, though this was somewhat offset by his extremely clear and exacting voicing. His propensity for a legato sound and his “emotionally intellectual” approach were both more effective and more apropos in his realization of Claude Debussy’s Estampes. The hands-down highlight of the evening for this listener was the final piece, Samuel Barber’s Sonata, op. 26. The heavily syncopated final Fuga was especially electrifying, and Bass tossed it off with aplomb. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Jazz Propelled into Mainstream Conservatory Education: Gunther Schuller at The Helm of NEC

The BMInt staff’s interview on November 22 with Gunther Schuller lasted two hours. Part 1 was a cut-and-paste of discussions related to two then-upcoming performances of his music. This excerpt deals with Mr. Schuller’s role as president of New England Conservatory (from 1967 until 1977) and his founding of the jazz curriculum.

BMInt: Larry Phillips [Boston organist and reviewer for the Intelligencer] says he went to the Conservatory just because of you.  One day he saw you in the corridor, mopping, and he said, ‘Is this what the conservatory has come to’?

 

GS: (Laughing) I did that because there were so many problems in the building and there wasn’t enough cleaning up and all of that.  So I just did it myself just to show, Here’s the president, sweeping the stairs…

‘If I can do it, you can do it’?

<p>Commemorating Premiere of Schuler's "Where the World Ends"</p>

 

 

Yes. I had to do a lot of that. … Most of the Board thought it was sinful to give money. They are sitting on the Board and they didn’t want to support it financially. Ant they were very wealthy people, most of them. I just got up in the middle of the meeting and said ‘$5,000! Here! Here it is! Now, listen!’… I shamed them into it. And you know, I’m just a poor musician.

Did the composition of the Board change a  lot when you were president?

No, no!  it didn’t change at all. This was the Board that I inherited. By the way, there were no Jews, no Blacks, no, no anything.

Just WASPs — I mean, at the end of your tenure?

 

It had changed slightly, including the chairman, and that got a little bit worse, not better. But look, never mind. The two people and I, the three of us who saved the Conservatory, were David Scudder and Jim Terry, who were both young on the Board. The three of us got the Ford Foundation grant, 2.5 million dollars, to be matched, and that’s what saved the school.

Was it going to collapse?

 

OH! It was bankrupt!  It was financially… they had $220,000 in the bank!  And enrollment, which were supposed to be 715, was 215, the padlock was gonna come on the door, with the sheriff. And I rescued the school — with these two guys. [continued]

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Schumann’s Second Symphony and the Legacy of Beethoven and Schubert

“From this listener’s perspective it is as perfect a symphony as exists — by anyone. Intellectually compelling, emotionally searing, kinetically irresistible, gorgeous in detail and large sweep, and a thrilling convergence of all his gifts, the Second Symphony is Schumann living his most determined struggle.” (David Hoose, program note for a performance by the Boston University Symphony Orchestra, Dec. 8, 2009) Schumann’s other symphonies, no. 1 (“Spring”, 1841), no. 3 (“Rhenish”, 1851), and the troublesome No. 4 in D minor which underwent much revision (1841, 1851), can all be regarded as his attempts to expand the boundaries of the symphony beyond what had been bequeathed by Beethoven. Beethoven and Schubert, after all, had inherited the classical symphony from Mozart and especially Haydn, and expanded its boundaries in their own works so that it became the romantic symphony in dimension, form, and use of the evolving modern orchestra. But, for any 19th-century composer living after Beethoven, the problem of the orchestral symphony is simple to ask: what can possibly be done in the symphony after the example of Beethoven’s Ninth? [continued]
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NESE and Cortese: From Tour de Force to Didactic

Spontaneous applause throughout the hall accompanied voiced exclamations immediately following only the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, with conductor Federico Cortese, at New England String Ensemble‘s concert in Jordan Hall on December 6. This was musicianship and musicality at the highest level — live! For Toru Takemitsu’s Nostalgia, guest violin soloist Haldan Martinson’s controlled range of timbres and vibrato, as well as his bell-like clarity of sound (often reminding me of the Cardinal’s birdcalls), played poetically into the Takemitsu lament. Martinson and NESE countered each other beautifully with restraint and expressiveness. A few upbeat notes in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in d minor, also with Martinson, came with a bit of biting bow, but these became curiosities rather than timbral variances enriching the soundscape. Elsewhere, clean cut violinism prevailed, although some fast violin passage work felt uncomfortable against accompanying strings. Gunther Schuller describes his short Adagio for strings: Ode to the minor 2nd and major 7th as purposely didactic. It was. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Pleasing But Not Moving Messiah from H & H

Good cheer prevailed for this 156th annual traversal on December 4 at the Handel and Haydn tradition with Messiah. It was extremely pleasing but not — despite Christophers’ well-reasoned arguing in the program that he put together an edition of the work to maximize drama — particularly moving. The four soloists were all accomplished and fluent in Handelian style, though most trills were suggested rather than executed. There does seem the sense that H and H favors British “Commonwealth” or at least British-based singers in programming. The orchestra, with the signal and unfortunately very exposed exception of the trumpet soloist, turned in excellent work, particularly in some of the swifter-tempo movements [Click title for full review.]

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Emerson Offers Decorous Ives, Balanced Janácek, Old-Friend Shostakovich

The Emerson Quartet visited Jordan Hall on December 4. Their playing of the Ives From the Salvation Army was decorous, but what always excites about Ives is that there’s dirt on the floor when he reaches for the heavens. The reading of Janácek’s First Quartet brought out in equal parts the music’s romanticism and its modernity, its passion and its weirdness. The group seemed most at home in the finale: Shostakovich’s 9th Quartet. Their stance to the piece was that of old friends catching up. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Fine Central Europe Repertoire from Dohnányi, Zimmerman, and BSO

Christoph von Dohnányi, one of the best living conductors and well known to Boston audiences, brought a fine program from central Europe to the Boston Symphony this week. Dohnányi obviously loved the Bartók Divertimento for String Orchestra, and his expressive style permitted a lot of expressive shaping. Much of the string writing involved solo groups, nicely balanced against a ripieno of the full ensemble. The soloist for Martinu’s Violin Concerto No. 2 was Frank Peter Zimmermann, who clearly seemed to be enjoying the work even though there were times when he was at odds with the orchestra. The third movement definitely got down to real virtuosic display, and very successfully. Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8’s orchestral richness is memorable throughout, from the divided violas and cellos at the beginning of the first movement to the brilliant tutti in the finale. One can go home cheerfully singing and whistling all the melodies. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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NEC’s Magical Hansel and Gretel Now Playing at Cutler Majestic

The New England Conservatory Opera Theater is presenting an abbreviated  English production of Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel the weekend of December 4, 5 and 6 at the Cutler Majestic Theater. The tale is less terrifying and more magical in the libretto prepared by Humperdinck’s sister Adelheid Wette, than is The Grimm Brothers’ version. Guest conductor Christopher Larkin led the NEC Opera Orchestra, and there were many felicities in Patricia-Maria Weinmann’s direction. As the witch, mezzo soprano Oriana Dunlop came across as a slightly scary Annie Oakley. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Chiara Quartet Scales Mt. Beethoven

The Chiara Quartet embarked on their ascent of Mt. Beethoven on December 2 at Paine Hall before a packed house with selected works from all three of Beethoven’s creative periods, starting with his final effort in this medium, the op. 135, followed by the op. 18 no. 4 and ending with the epochal first Razumovsky quartet, op. 59 no. 1. Of the Chiara’s performances on this occasion it can be said that they are on track not only to reach the summit of this particular range, but to establish themselves in due but not-too-distant course at or near the top of the list of eminent quartets. While their interpretive and ensemble playing were of exceptionally high quality, the Chiara still has a few hurdles to clear. The biggest issue this correspondent noted was dynamic balance, as distinct from dynamic structure. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Madsen and New 17th-century-style Harpsichord Celebrate Hamburg Legacy

Back Bay’s musically active First Lutheran Church presented the first of its traditional free Candlelight Advent Concerts, an unusual recital by gifted harpsichordist, organist, and improvisor, Andrus Madsen on December 2. Mr. Madsen is no stammering academic. He engages his audience with an entertaining verbal anchoring of the music in its time and place, showing a familiarity with the historical, linguistic, and cultural milieu that is unusual for an American musician. Though he adeptly draws his listeners in, he is clearly speaking from the point of view of an experienced performer-researcher, and he does not shy away from peppering general remarks with the technically specific minutiæ that deepen experienced listeners’ relish of seldom encountered or, as with this program, heretofore unheard scores. The mid-17th century steeped itself in the strong, new stock of the Baroque, yet late-Renaissance keyboard runs in either hand and brilliant or pensive toccata-esque passages still permeated the nascent forms with an olden flavor. Mr. Madsen demonstrated this first on a spanking new 17th-c. Italian harpsichord by builder Robert Hicks. The pungent, rich sound truly filled First Lutheran’s intimate, resonant nave. The small, attentive audience drank in this fresh, unfamiliar repertoire. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Borromeo Champions “Old” and New Masters

It’s hard to believe that the Borromeo String Quartet is now 20 years old, although the current roster, with founders Nicholas Kitchen, first violin, and Yeesun Kim, cello, joined by second violin Kristopher Tong and violist Mai Motobuchi, has been in place long enough to ensure the continuity of the Borromeo’s group personality. Their Jordan Hall performance on Monday, November 30, continued their longstanding commitment to stretching the repertoire to include “old” masters of the 20th century and freshly minted works. This evening brought to its large and highly appreciative audience one relative newcomer to watch and two Old Masters, of whom one, Gunther Schuller, was on hand to accept the plaudits that were his due. Lamentation and Satire by Mohammed Fairouz, an Egyptian-born 24-year-old composer who was also in the audience, has been recorded for Schuller’s own GM label. The segue from keening to kidding is quite subtle, involving, it would seem, more a matter of introducing compositional and sonic techniques of earlier periods—rigorous counterpoint, Bartókian glissandi, a touch of Shostakovich here and there—than overt jocularity. Schuller’s Fourth String Quartet is a seemingly elegiac work, with two outer slow movements framing an electrically charged central sort-of-scherzo, from which the Borromeo unleashed crackling energy. Bartók’s Fourth Quartet, from 1928, remains one of the freshest-sounding works ever created for this medium; still crazy after all these years. The Borromeo dug right in and unleashed the passion and energy that any perfect performance requires, to show off the quicksilver muted first scherzo, the reed-organ accompaniment to Kim’s gorgeous solos in the central slow movement, and the mock-zither pizzicato of the second scherzo. The opening movement was taken slightly more slowly than other versions I’ve heard, but the savage intensity of the finale was all there and then some. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Amazing Grace, Amazing Prodigy at Winsor Series

The Winsor Music Chamber Series, under the musical direction of Peggy Pearson, presented a well-crafted program on November 28 at Lexington’s Follen Church. At the concert’s center was a moving performance of John Harbison’s Chorale Cantata. The solo troika of violinist Gabriela Diaz, soprano Kendra Colton, and oboist Peggy Pearson, with the support of a quintet of strings, gave a reflective and committed performance. The concluding work featured the appearance of a supremely gifted violin prodigy, twelve-year-old Yuki Beppu, in a performance of J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Oboe, Violin and Strings in c minor. This girl is the real thing. Technical qualities she has in abundance. But beyond that she has a natural musicality and singing line which augur for a major career. Each time the oboist Peggy Pearson tossed her a well-turned phrase, Miss Beppu answered with such amazing grace that one felt quite transported. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Daring Programming, Promising Young Soloists Reward at Pro Arte Concert

To go to a concert (in this case, Pro Arte at Sanders Theater, this afternoon, November 29) and hear two local youngsters who play as well or better than some touring pros, is quite a testament. Not to mention the imaginative, beautifully conceived program put together by conductor Gunther Schuller. Pianist Daniel Kim played the first movement (Allegro con brio) of Beethoven’s Piano Concert No. 3 in C minor with lyricism that was plainly unbelievable from a 12-year-old. Cellist Jonas Ellsworth, playing the Allegretto from Shostakovich’s Cello Concert No. 1 in E Flat Major, shows unusually profound musicality. The second half of the program consisted of two pieces for string orchestra, Dvorak’s beautifully calm, lonely, gentle, Notturno in B Major, and Honneger’s Symphony No. 2 in D. Both served as perfect examples of two of Mr. Schuller’s theses: the proper range of dynamics, and the beauty of so-called dissonance. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Baroque Re-enactment at Its Very Best: BEMF’s “Acis and Galatea”

Boston Early Music Festival brought us a superlative production of Handel’s much-loved Acis and Galatea at Jordan Hall on Saturday night, November 28. All five singers more than lived up to the standards we have come to expect from BEMF productions. Handel’s magnificently characteristic arias were graced with improvised and beautifully executed ornamentation in da capo repeats, and outstanding diction and tonal clarity enlivened the ensemble numbers. Standing in for the ailing Amanda Forsythe, soprano Teresa Wakim carried off the role of Galatea with aplomb, eloquently shadowed by dancer Melinda Sullivan. As Polyphemus, Douglas Williams displayed a stylistically convincing Handelian bass of wide range and flexibility. Slyly humorous without ever becoming arch, coy, or condescending, stylistically true without being precious, this was baroque re-enactment at its very best. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Tortelier’s “Showmanship” Became Conductorial Restraint in Collaboration with Bell

Brahms was on the menu at the Boston Symphony last night (November 24), played with forthright vigor and splash, and also fine sensitivity, by Joshua Bell. But Debussy got in the first word, with the first orchestral masterpiece of his maturity, the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune of 1894. The conductor was Yan Pascal Tortelier, one of those “showmanship” conductors whose gestural time-beating I find extremely distracting. In Faune it is often necessary to conduct each eighth-note beat in the constant changes, especially at the end where triplets and duplets occur at the same time, but in this delicate music conductorial restraint is called for, not sweeping arcs, fast chopping, or pushing the tempo, where so often every beat looks like a downbeat. Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements (1945) was scheduled for the original program, but the second amplified version of the Firebird ballet suite from that year was substituted. We heard several impressively wrong notes, and I am sure these resulted from printer’s errors in the score and parts; blowing the dust off these orchestra parts last read in 1946 doubtless entailed some perils. In the outstanding performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto that followed the intermission, I forgave Yan Pascal Tortelier for everything that had preceded. Tortelier remained calm on the podium, controlling the orchestral dynamics with close attention and a fine hand. The result was a balance between soloist and conductor that highlighted the purely symphonic ambience of this mostly un-virtuosic and espressivo cantabile concerto. Joshua Bell seemed genuinely to enjoy the collaboration. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Upcoming Schuller Performances Provoke His Ruminations on 12-Tone Music

Noting that two concerts featuring works by Gunther Schuller are being performed at Jordan Hall in the next ten days, first by the Borromeo String Quartet on November 30, then by New England String Ensemble on December 6, BMInt staff interviewed a hale and hearty Schuller on November 24, the day after his 84th birthday. The stereo was playing Sibelius’ 1st Symphony when they arrived. Mr. Schuller was immediately didactic: “Do you know who’s conducting? Look. Who are the two greatest conductors today?” (It turned out to be Osmo Antero Vänskä.) “Most interpretations are so slow and draggy. This guy makes it like an operatic drama, the way Sibelius wrote it.” With pieces of his birthday cake, brought by BMInt staff, the interview began. Listen to an excerpt here.

Happy 84th Birthday! (BMInt Staff Photo)
Happy 84th Birthday! (BMInt Staff Photo)

How did the Borromeo Quartet come to be playing your fourth quartet in a few days, then recording all four quartets soon after?

Ah, I have almost nothing to do with that. First of all, they did play my third quartet three or four years ago, and I think they played it something like 20 times, including what I consider the best performance of the third quartet that ever happened — in Jordan Hall. They played it beautifully. The Borromeo is one of the two or three best quartets in the United States— just marvelous. Nicholas [Kitchen, first violinist of the Borromeo] and a young composer who was at the Conservatory, his name is Mohammed Fairouz — he’s very talented he’s only 24 years old, and he’s written already an immense amount of music and happens to be a fan of mine — he and Nicholas are good friends, and he once mentioned my upcoming birthdays — this is only eighty-four — but the next one will really be the big one. So they came up with this scheme of doing all four of my quartets, and not just once, but several times. So that’s how it started.

Fairouz has a piece on the November 30 Borromeo program, too?

 

Yes, they are playing his Lamentations and Satire, along with both Bartok’s and my fourth string quartets.

Your quartets are not exactly new music; over what period were they written?

The fourth is only, well now, it’s actually six years old! It was written for the Julliard Quartet.

When was the first written?

The first was written in 1957.

 

Stylistically, do they change very much?

 

No. No! I don’t change stylistically. My music is  virtually the same stylistically, linguistically, as it was when I was 19 years old.  It’s of course, I’d like to think, more mature, better organized, and so on, and of course it’s more complex. It’s become more complex over the years. But stylistically? No. No. The thing, is I am so proud of these four quartets partly because each one of ’em is totally different in character. But not in style.

By style, do you mean tonal language?

I mean, yeah, well no. My language is always atonal, 12-tone, most of the time. So I just mean that; that’s what we mean by style. C major or tonal music is a style, right? But Beethoven wrote 32 different string quartets. None of ’em sound alike, and that’s my model. In everything. Mozart and those guys.

When you write in this very complex modern language that we have — I prefer to call it a language, rather than a style — and when you work with certain techniques like 12-tone,  there is certainly the danger that successive pieces could sound alike, just because you’re dealing with so  many sort-of rules of behavior. Although you work with rules in classical music, too —  Boy! were they strict. My goodness, they were more strict than what we have  — but anyway, there’s always this danger that you will repeat yourself, you know.

The first quartet, as I said, was written in 1957. The next was 1965.  I wrote the second quartet in seven days on a transatlantic trip on the Europa — oh, no! The New Amsterdam. The third quartet was dedicated to Louis Krasner, who was retiring from his teaching at the Conservatory and other things, and then the last quartet was for the Julliard. They are all, they are in my language, this is what I am proud of, and yet they are distinct animals. Different breeds. [continued]

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Convincing Dramatic Fodder in Ward’s Crucible

Boston Opera Collaborative mounted a strong production of Robert Ward’s The Crucible, its sizable ensemble cast showing both strong musicianship and solid acting chops. The orchestra and chorus colorfully illustrated the dispute with an irregular, jazzy rhythm (2+2+2+3: think of Dave Brubaker’s Blue Rondo à la Turk), an interesting choice by Mr. Ward for a scene in colonial Salem, but undeniably memorable. The orchestra, led by Adam Kerry Boyles, played with precision and cohesion. The dramatic personae were convincingly realized, in particular characters who made transitions: Rev. Parris (James Onstad), Rev. Hale (Matthew Wight), John Proctor (Sepp Hammer), Elizabeth Proctor (Julia Teitel) and perhaps Judge Danforth (Sean Malkus), whose character may not have changed but our perception of him did. Christina Calamaio lent Rebecca’s character admirable purity of heart and voice. Giles Corey was passionately sung by Adrian Jones. Jodie-Marie Fernandes (Tituba) delivered the moving jailhouse lament. And Holly Cameron made a marvelous femme fatale as Abby, her considerable vocal resources carrying her without strain over the greatest dramatic climaxes of the opera. Boston Opera Collaborative would be heard to better advantage in a more conventional venue. In the rather cavernous acoustic of Boston‘s Church of the Covenant, the turn of a singer’s head could suddenly render the text incomprehensible; at moments of high dramatic tension this became frustrating. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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A Legend Returns

Joseph Silverstein is a truly legendary violinist, and his recital on Sunday afternoon, November 22, at Seully Hall of the Boston Conservatory was a special event.  The pianist Max Levinson proved to be an ideal partner in the Sonata for Violin and Piano in d minor, op. 108 of Johannes Brahms, making it seem as though he and Silverstein had played together for years. Although perhaps not as “historically informed” as might now be customary, his playing of Sonata for Solo Violin in a minor, BWV 1003 by J.S. Bach conveyed a sophisticated understanding in its attention to the contrapuntal writing that ordinarily makes it so difficult to perform Bach’s solo sonatas. Kol Nidre and V’hakohanim from Yehudi Wyner’s Dances of Atonement (1976) received a passionate performance by both performers. And now the real fun began — six virtuoso violin works by Fritz Kreisler, masterpieces that gave Silverstein further opportunity to show off his unique bow-arm: from Kreisler’s Allegretto in the Style of Boccherini to his transcription of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance, Silverstein’s flying, up-bow staccato was breathtaking. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Trio Medieval Not So Medieval after All

The Trio Medieval, founded in Oslo in 1997, were last heard here in 2007 with a concert of 13th-century French and Italian music. On Sunday afternoon (Nov. 22), at the Gardner Museum, the group presented Scandinavian traditional songs and anonymous 13th- and 14th-century Latin motets from England. The Trio prefers to “re-contextualize” this music into the 21st century. Their chosen context is subsumed in the atmosphere they create for Scandinavian traditional music, including composed introductions and reprises. All this is a bit unsettling for the Boston of early music fame, but leaving all that aside nevertheless resulted in a charming afternoon in the Tapestry Room. The women’s voices are incredibly matched in both range and texture, to the point where they often switch parts with each other. Their singing ranges from loud, nasal, calling songs (greetings or sheep) to lullabies and songs of longing with the softest pianissimos that miraculously whispered their resolutions. Sometimes those resolutions deliberately ended on a dissonance and then tuned up with breathtaking daring and effect, and at others (at least once) purposefully did not. The character of most of the songs was quietly contemplative. So the singers used dramatic effects to provide both visual and sonic variety. They moved to the back of the room to sing the calling song; they dispersed to the sides of the room or used three aisles to surround the audience with their ringing vocal timbres; they used melody chimes in the motets to elaborate those timbres (and, I suppose, to suggest church bells—if so, a bit over the top). [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Spectrum Singers in Joyous Program of Baroque Christmas Music

The Spectrum Singers, directed by John W. Ehrlich, presented a program at First Church Congregational, Cambridge, on Saturday, November 21, of Baroque Christmas choral repertoire featuring familiar though not over-performed works that proceeded chronologically. The chorus sang the a cappella Sweelinck Hodie Christus Natus Est and Schütz Cantate Domino and Deutsches Magnificat with vigor and joy and admirable attention to the give-and-take of the frequent imitative counterpoint. The Spectrum Singers and Mr. Ehrlich gave a satisfying performance, dramatic and forceful on the one hand, tender and comforting on the other. Bach’s Magnificat is one of his most demanding choral pieces. There was noticeably less eye-contact between chorus and conductor than in the previous pieces, leading regrettably to occasionally varying ideas of tempo. Ensemble issues aside, though, the orchestra played with beautiful tone and elegant Baroque style without fetishizing the latter. The trumpeters deserve particular kudos. Soprano Kendra Colton spun out a lovely legato line with elegant flourishes in her famous aria. Mezzo-soprano Thea Lobo used her limpidly beautiful tone as a means to an expressive end. Tenor Charles Blandy, whose voice is especially well suited to Bach, provided a lesson in the use of consonants to enhance the power of musical accents. The bass aria is notable for its large jumps from one vocal register to another; Donald Wilkinson is to be commended for making the quite awkward seem thoroughly natural. The two cantatas chosen were No. 3, Third Day of Christmas, and No. 6, Feast of the Epiphany, from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio are less demanding than the Magnificat, and the chorus seemed to have a greater comfort level with them. The same quartet of soloists was featured here, displaying the same virtues heard before intermission. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Boston Conservatory String Orchestra and Udagawa: Intriguing Repertoire Played with Verve

On Saturday evening, Nov. 21, the Boston Conservatory’s able String Orchestra presented a thoroughly prepared quartet of works. In six Rumanian Folk Dances by Béla Bartók, each of the five string sections acquitted itself most honorably in solo statements, clearly relishing the fine state polish to which conductor Yoichi Udagawa had brought them. Concertmaster Thomas Hoffmann brought off his sunlit solo with a centered and wonderfully dark tone, never succumbing to the nervous vibrato that squeezes the beauty out of such orchestral writing, even in professional bands. The best playing of the evening was Franz Schreker’s haunting Intermezzo, Op. 8 (1900). The evening’s première is one of 38 or so orchestral sketches currently being written by Boston Conservatory faculty member Andy Vores in comfortable tonality, its pleasant few dissonances dabbing mustard onto the neatly browned surface of this string lagniappe. The string students played Respighi’s Third Suite of Ancient Airs and Dances whimsically and tastefully with tempi, voicing, and some nicely judged dynamic contrasts. Northeastern University’s Fenway Center, a defrocked Protestant church a block from Symphony and Jordan Halls, is a pleasing venue for large ensemble music. The room flatters chamber music with piano nicely, as well. There were no program notes, a real shame. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Boston Music Viva: Remarkable Variety, Abundant Cleverness

For Boston Musica Viva, the Pierrot-ensemble format has never been a limitation, and certainly not a compromise. On Friday, November 20, at the Tsai Performance Center, conductor Richard Pittman offered a remarkable variety, with many reference points and abundant cleverness. Joseph Schwantner’s Elixir, from 1974, is lovely; the focus of the piece is the flute, played beautifully by Ann Bobo. Mikronomicon, a new David Rakowski work written for Geoffrey Burleson on commission from BMV, takes a left turn into jazzy funky noir; both Rakowski and Burleson bring to bear abundant vocabulary from Piazzola and Prokofiev that flies by with great effect. For the Ives songs, Pittman devised clever and evocative instrumentation: the Circus Band entered raucously from the lobby, but Down East wore the delicate cotton dress of a Stephen Foster heroine. Pamela Dellal sang beautifully. At times, the band’s kazoos and chorus were lively but perhaps too polite: Ives himself singing and crashing through “They Are There” in 1943 set a high standard for rowdiness. Chris Arrell’s Narcissus/echo from 2006, receiving its first Boston performance, is a sonic prism, the piece steadily drains itself of color. “Blues” from Bernard Hoffer’s A Boston Cinderella, written as well for BMV, rounded out the evening with familiar music. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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BSO Musicians Excel in Haitink Program

Two birthdays, the 80th of Conductor Emeritus Bernard Haitink and the 70th of flutist Sir James Galway, were celebrated by the Boston Symphony on Friday, November 21, with colorful and evocative performances of Debussy’s Nocturnes, Ibert’s Flute Concerto, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. The Debussy opened with the dark, haunting voice of the English horn, played so beautifully by Robert Sheena. Other orchestral voices were the nuanced, velvet viola solo of Steven Ansell and the eerie harp and flute (Elizabeth Rowe and Jessica Zhou), so perfectly entwined they sounded like one never-before-imagined instrument. The final movement, “Sirenes,” seemed a little out of balance because the women’s chorus was off-stage and sometimes covered by the orchestra. The Ibert flute concerto followed, a piece of great virtuosity, humor and energy. Sir James Galway delivered all these qualities with unflappable aplomb. The orchestra seemed to have a hard time keeping up at certain points, and clearly what was virtuosic for the flute was heroic when attempted by the strings. In the first movement of the Brahms 1st Symphony, there seemed to be a different orchestra playing entirely, one that didn’t bend phrases, but instead brought out the massive contrapuntal building blocks of the music. There was wonderful solo playing, the beautiful, rich sonority and expressivity of the oboe (John Ferrillo); Malcolm Lowe’s splendid violin solos; the whole horn section; the achingly pure flute in the beginning of the last movement (Elizabeth Rowe)…. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Soprano de la Guardia’s First Dirty Paloma

The inaugural concert on November 19 of Dirty Paloma, the brainchild of soprano and actor Aliana de la Guardia, certainly lived up to the mission. Ranging from Handel, Brahms, to Barber and Berg, the program at St. Paul’s Church, Brookline included three world premieres from composers who were in the audience: Masaki Hasebi’s Mi-da-re-ga-mi, drawn from a set of Tanka poems with uniform syllabification by Akiko Yosano; Rudolph Rojahn’s Dodo as Avian Christ, based on five eyewitness accounts of the slaughter of the Dodo; and John Murphee’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s Her Final Summer. Marti Epstein’s Lenz, based on three poems by the painter Wassily Kandinsky, was also on the program. Baritone Jonathan Nussman began with four Brahms songs, and De la Guardia gave a fine rendition of Alban Berg’s “Seven Early Songs.” After intermission, Nussman returned with a stunning Handel opera aria, Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto from Rinaldo. Navigating the baroque treacheries with aplomb, he varied the da capo repeat while underlining the affect of “hissing serpents.” [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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The North Shore’s Symphony by the Sea presents Beethoven

One of the North Shore’s treasures was highlighted on Saturday, November 14, 2009, at First Universalist Church of Salem with an all-Beethoven program presented by Symphony by the Sea. Under the baton of Donald Palma, the group (about 35 players) was just right for the music. Immediately, the entrance of the horns in the 12 Contradances signaled some fine music-making, to the clarinet solos in the graceful, on-your-toes dance of the final piece. At the close of the five pieces from The Creatures of Prometheus, the trumpets and brass, and percussion really came into their own. The passing of fragments back and forth between the horns and clarinets was simply delicious. The dissonances in the Third Symphony were stunningly wrought. The addition of a third bass in the symphony produced a richer and deeper weight that exemplified the ear that Palma brings to his work. The program was also carefully constructed; one kept hearing fragments and gestures that seemed familiar, but from a different piece by Beethoven. This listener left the concert contemplating Beethoven’s inventiveness and willingness to try things out first this way and then that. [Click title for full review.] [continued]