Lee Eiseman, program chair of Harvard Musical Association, conceived of this publication, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, as the reincarnation of Dwight’s Musical Journal, published by John Sullivan Dwight with the support of HMA for 35 years -from 1852 until 1881.
Robert D. Levin, a world-wide acclaimed classical performer, composer, and musicologist, is Dwight P. Robinson Professor of Humanities in the Music Department of Harvard University. At a recent meeting with Eiseman, executive editor Bettina A. Norton, and musicologist and composer Mark DeVoto, Levin commented on the role of the Intelligencer.
When I once visited a high school in Laguna Beach to talk about music education, I met a Chinese gentleman, a Mr. Chang I think was his name, and he ran a band program at the school. But they had abolished the string program!
Eiseman: Well, the bands are for marching with the football team.
Levin: Of course. So, they had abolished the string program, and I got up there in front of everybody and I said, “The string program is the soul of the place. The brass players who play in the band love to play in the band, but, BOY! do they love to play Wagner – and they love to play these big romantic symphonies, the Dvorak symphonies, and Tchaikovsky, and stuff like that. If you really want to see fire in their eyes, that’s what you gotta have, but you can’t do that without wind players and especially string players… this is the essence of the whole thing.” I left the next morning and went up to Northern California to address another school. Then I flew home, and about three days later, I got a call from the superintendent. He said, “You know something? The next morning, a couple came in to my office and gave me a check for $10,000 for a string program.” There is a saying that all politics are local. It made me think that maybe it would be more important to go around to these high schools than to play with the great orchestras of the world.
When I was in high school I played in the band…. Anyway, these things can be done. I believe the educators want to do this. The problem is they do not have funding for anything.
Eiseman: In that sense, it’s a luxury, because it happens only if a private donor comes in and offers to pay for it.
Levin: That’s what has happens in our free enterprise non-regulated system gone mad. People are starting to talk about the fact that the American infrastructure is going to hell. You go to China and everything is new. You go to East Germany, whose infrastructure was neglected under Communism and but totally rebuilt after reunification, with gleaming highways and high-speed rail and a brand new telecommunications system, whereas the overpass at Sullivan Square was torn down because it had rusted to pieces, and a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. And we’ve got the still-unaddressed consequences of Katrina.
The Boston University Symphony Orchestra, appearing on November 24 in Symphony Hall under the direction of David Hoose, gave one of the best performances I have ever heard from a student orchestra, well worthy of comparison with any of the semi-professional orchestras in the Boston area, and a fair challenge for America’s most renowned ensembles. John Adams’s Fearful Symmetries — the title is from William Blake’s “Tiger, tiger!” — was a work entirely new to me. Adams has regularly revealed a greater interest in harmony than either Steve Reich or Philip Glass, and this work from 1988 is a brilliant example of harmony that evolves by unconventional but clearly perceptible connection from one sonority to the next. Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, the complete ballet of 1912, made up the second half of the program. In all the really excellent playing that was constantly and seemingly effortlessly demonstrated, there were some particularly outstanding examples. But the flawless string sound, with even tone over the entire divisi range, was just as impressive throughout the work, including all the numerous solos. [Click title for full review.]
Too rarely are true oddities mixed into the standard fare that characterize a “classical orchestra.” In the case of the Boston Classical Orchestra’s latest offering, on November 23, the mix was impressively odd —starting with the serpent. Gordon Bowie ‘s Old Dances in New Shoes for serpent and strings was billed as a neo-Baroque suite, but had more often the flavor of a set from the 1930s Dance-band Era. Anachronism continued after the intermission when Yeo returned to show off an early 19th-century brass instrument called the ophicleide in an aria from G.F. Handel’s early 18th-century masque Acis and Galatea. The concert opened with the three-movement Symphony No. 10 by F.J. Haydn. It seemed, however, that music director Steven Lipsitt decided to smooth out most of the musical dips and turns in favor of a general “gallantness” that at times sold the music short. This issue became even more apparent in the work that closed the concert, W.A. Mozart’s Symphony No. 29. In addition to the programmed works, the audience was treated to two unexpected gems: a cleverly written fugue by Lipsitt on the initials H.E.D. (for BCO founder Harry Ellis Dickson); and an arrangement of “Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?” for clarinet (played by Lipsitt) and strings, offered as the most convincing fundraising appeal I’ve ever encountered. [Click on title for full review.]