Explicating Boston GuitarFest XVIII


We live in “interesting” times. Fundamental “truths” we once held to be “self-evident” are now under attack from all sides while a pitiless, monster of our own invention called “AI” looms over us, not “slouching its way towards Bethlehem waiting to be born” (like the beast in Yeats’s prophetic poem The Second Coming) but already here!

For Co-Director Zaira Meneses and me, Boston GuitarFest has been part of a very personal answer to the challenges of 21st-century existence, one of the ways we try to make a difference. Since 2022 we have run “BGFest” under the auspices of the Eliot Fisk Guitar Academy (“EFGA”). Events take place in East Cambridge from June 27th – July 2nd. Details HERE and below.

Started in 2006 on a shoestring, Boston GuitarFest has become an important annual event in the always-bustling Boston cultural calendar. Its inter-disciplinary, internationalist approach and educational focus mixing live performances by master artists in multiple musical idioms and educational opportunities for all ages and levels of skill, have attracted generous support from a wide variety of foundations and individuals. [continued]

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Schubertiade for Aston Magna


The Aston Magna Festival and Foundation will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this  summer. In the meantime, a special Schubertiade celebrating the 30th anniversary of Daniel Stepner’s ascension to Artistic Directorship will offer feature the master’s String Trio in B Flat, D. 471, Moments Musicaux, D. 780,nos. 2 and 5, Sonata (“Arpeggione”), D. 821, Quintet in A Major (“The Trout”), D. 667 on May 2oth at Newton’s Allen Center and on May 21st at 3:00 at Saint James Place Great Barrington. Tickets HERE.

Stepner  shared his thoughts with the Intelligencer last December.

BMInt: Congratulations Dan on your 30 years directing Aston Magna! Wonderful to hear that Aston Magna will celebrate its 50th next summer!

Thank you! Time flies when you’re having fun, and it is hardly believable to me that it’s been 30 years.

Were you involved in the birth of Aston Magna? [continued]

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Be She Alive or Be She Dead


Emily Koh’s HER | alive.un.dead will run from May 12th to May 14th in Guerilla  Opera’s world premiere production at Pao Arts Center. The concert-length media opera concerns itself with three generations of Asian women in a single family. The opera focuses on the specific experiences of being an Asian woman in a largely Western society and upbringing. This clash between East and West is interpreted differently between three generations of women in a single family, and changes drastically from character to character due to each character’s background and upbringing.

The creative team for this original production includes composer and librettist Emily Koh, stage direction by Mo Zhou, and video projection design by Nuozhou Wang. The opera runs approximately 90 minutes and is sung in English, Mandarin and Teochew with supertitles. BMInt asked stage director Mo Zhou, whose recent work with Boston Baroque we praised HERE, and composer and librettist Emily Koh, to picture the show for us.

MZ: Emily and I are immigrants to United States, and we both have experienced clashes between the eastern patriarchal system and our later-found, liberty and new identity, as independent women living in western society. [continued]

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Menahem Pressler, 1923-2023


It saddened me to read about the death two days ago of Menahem Pressler, founding pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio. With such illustrious partners as Isidore Cohen, violin; and Bernard Greenhouse, cello; Pressler performed all over the world, making many recordings of the best trio literature that remain unsurpassed for the ages. He appeared frequently as a solo pianist as well, including a short residency at my own Tufts University, and I remember that he made the first recording ever of Debussy’s ballet, La boîte à joujoux, at least 30 years before the Boston Symphony finally performed it in its orchestral version. The NYTimes obituary contains Pressler’s harrowing recollection of Kristallnacht from his 14th year. We remember him with wistful admiration; this noble artist lived so long and so well, until six months short of his 100th birthday. He appeared many times in Boston, including for the Celebrity Series and the BSO. Of his 2016 visit to the BSO, Georgia Luikens wrote for BMInt: [continued]

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Mayor Wu Leads City on a Hill From Keyboard


For one inspiring afternoon, Boston returned to its elevated Athenian stature, as Mayor Michelle Wu, resplendent in an intensely blue evening gown (how often has anyone so described a mayor?) filled two movingly essential roles on the Symphony Hall stage. To begin with, she welcomed a young full house many of whom have never been in the Hall before to the BSO’s free “Concert for the City,” but that was not all, she later showed off her musical chops by playing the Andante from the Elvira Madigan Concerto (Mozart’s 21st) with poetic engagement. To witness an articulate, intellectual, and artistic child of immigrants show so much compassion for her diverse citizenry, moved this writer to intense pride in having such a woman represent him in City Hall.

The BSO outdid itself for this event, filling the lobbies and lounges with assorted young players, dancers, and singers in a variety of genres in the hour before the main event. Though the mantra for the afternoon was music is for everyone, the BSO hardly pandered or condescended. We got the Boston Pops A team, including all the BSO principal players and maestros Andris Nelsons and Keith Lockhart for a program that never failed to interest and excite.

If Michele Wu’s concerto stint reached into realms sublime and elicited a grateful acknowledgement of the rarity of such an encounter, it occupied but one slot (briefly outside time and place) within an hourlong traversal of short works with strong Boston connections. The alternating conductors led us through a variety of stylish performances that seemed idiomatic time after time, advocating for composers across genres, doing justice and more to George Whitefield Chadwick, Chick Corea, Florence Price, Roberto Sierra, John Williams, Duke Ellington, Valerie Coleman, and Dropkick Murphy’s punk Irish band as well as Mozart. Will anything banish the memory of Lockhart’s Irish jig? Well maybe his later do-si-do with an astonished but amused Andris Nelsons while Mayor Wu and the entire cast, including brilliant Ellington narrator Charlotte Blake Alston, sang and swayed in the encore “Sweet Caroline.” [continued]


Abels and Ingram on BLO Opera Omar


Michael Ellis Ingram

The Boston Lyric Opera debuts the New England premiere of Omar, an opera co-composed by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels, on May 4th at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater. Additional performances will be on May 6th and 7th. Omar, which premiered in May 2022 at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina, has received widespread critical acclaim with the New York Times listing the premiere among the best classical music performances of 2022, and describing the opera as “moving, joyous and in its final moments intensely spiritual.”

Omar tells the story of Fula Islamic scholar Omar Ibn Said, who in 1807 was captured and forced to leave his West Africa home on a ship bound for Charleston, South Carolina, where he was sold into slavery. The opera is inspired by Said’s 1831 autobiography, noteworthy for being written in Arabic while he was enslaved. Get tickets for Omar HERE.

The Intelligencer recently spoke with Michael Ellis Ingram, conductor of the BLO’s production of Omar, and Michael Abels, co-composer of Omar and notable composer of films such as Get Out, Us, and Nope.

Michael Ellis Ingram

MW: Omar showcases many genres of music from gospel to blues to Senegalese music and Ragtime. How do you approach integrating all these styles into one opera? [continued]


Klezmerizing the BPO


Szymon Goldberg

The mighty Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has, over the years, included and featured many Jewish conductors and soloists. Many superb instrumentalists of Jewish origin, including current concertmaster, the American Noah Bendix-Balgley, have graced the orchestra’s ranks. And Jewish composers, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Gershwin, Weill, and others, appear very frequently on the orchestra’s concert programs. Just recently, the Berliner’s Boston appearance [my review HERE] was led by a Jewish conductor, Kiril Petrenko, with Bendix-Balgley as featured soloist in a Mozart concerto, and a symphony by a Jewish composer, Eric Korngold, as the evening’s centerpiece.

Last weekend’s late-night concert in Berlin, however, streamed live on the orchestra’s digital concert hall (soon as an archive recording on the same site HERE) broke new ground, as a chamber orchestra, with Bendix-Balgley as director and dazzling violin soloist, delved directly into Yiddish folklore-derived material, playing up a storm, and sending a large audience into joyful ecstasy in the process.

Klezmer music, the basis for most of the evening’s performances, is a distinct musical dialect of Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe, perpetuated in earlier decades via oral tradition of a minstrel class (the Klezmorim). The repertoire is, at its center, celebratory, incorporating elements of Central European popular music (waltzes, mazurkas, polkas) into an earlier, modal language related to Turkish, Greek, and Arabic scales and maqam. A most typical klezmer mode, the freylich (fröhlich, happy) incorporates the augmented second (A – G sharp – F natural – E, for a tune based on E), similar to the hejaz mode in Turkish and Arabic music. (Think “Hava Nagila” if this discussion is a bissel too technical for you…). Similarly, the rich repertoire of klezmer ornaments, melodic bends and squeezes evokes, and is probably derived from, Turkish and Middle Eastern practice. [continued]

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Blair Tindall: 1960 – 2023


Today’s papers announce the death of Blair Tindall, oboist, memoirist, and sociologist of classical music, at the age of 63, too young.  I will miss her.  Her book, “Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music,” is still a good, witty read, despite that it will raise eyebrows no longer. It is an honest [continued]


Praise God and Dance!—Ellington at Trinity


The choir of Trinity Church, Copley Square, in collaboration with Berklee College of Music, presents Duke Ellington’s “A Sacred Concert,” on Sunday, April 30, at 5 pm, free and open to all. Featuring the Greg Hopkins Jazz Orchestra, soprano Dominique Eade, alto Renese King, baritone Daon Drisdom, and tap dancer Thomas DeFranz, led by Colin Lynch, Director of Music. Given the extensive resources it requires, the piece has remained a concert rarity since Ellington’s death in 1974.

Fusing jazz and classical styles, spirituals, gospel, blues, and dance, this bold and sprawling work serves as a culmination to Ellington’s long and incomparable career. Commissioned in 1965 as part of the consecration of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral during the turbulence of the Civil Rights movement and the war in Việt Nam, these sacred works resounded many times over the last decade of his life. For subsequent performances at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in 1968 and at Westminster Abbey in 1973, Ellington reworked the score to accommodate other venues and performers, as well as his evolving artistic and spiritual vision.

This music is the most important thing I’ve ever done or am ever likely to do. This is personal, not career. Now I can say out loud to all the world what I’ve been saying to myself for years on my knees. [continued]

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Unearthing Graupner


For over three decades, the Musicians of the Old Post Road ensemble has uncovered overlooked works from the Baroque to early Romantic eras that have been lost to audiences for centuries and performed same on period instruments.

On April 29th (4 pm, Worcester Historical Museum [Tickets HERE]) and April 30th (4 pm, Old South Church, Boston, [Tickets HERE] and online HERE), the group will offer “Into The Light: Unearthed Treasures by Christoph Graupner,” the prolific and gifted German composer and harpsichordist who, in his time, was as highly regarded as his contemporaries Bach, Telemann, and Handel. The following comes from MOPR copy submitted by Joanna Boyle.

Born in 1683 in Kirchberg, Graupner received musical instruction from local musicians, including the organist Nikolaus Küster. At age 11, he followed Küster to Reichenbach, where he remained until he was admitted into the Thomasschule in Leipzig in 1696, where he lived for 10 years, studying with Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau. [continued]

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NEC Crosses the Avenue of the Arts


New England Conservatory (NEC) returns to Symphony Hall for the first time since 2018 in a wide-reaching program of orchestral and choral works. NEC Philharmonia and Symphonic Choir give the New England premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s Conquest Requiem with vocal soloists soprano YeonJae Cho ’24 AD and baritone Libang Wang ’23 MM. Lutoslawski’s demanding Concerto for Orchestra, and Brahms’ Tragic Overture also feature in the April 26th concert at 7:30pm at Symphony Hall. Tickets HERE

According to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Director of Orchestras Chair, Hugh Wolff, Brahms’s Tragic Overture sets the tone for Gabriela Lena Frank’s Conquest Requiem. The composer, whose works have been performed worldwide, is interested in the intersection of many cultures, reflecting her own Peruvian, Chinese, and Lithuanian Jewish heritage. This work for full orchestra, chorus, and soprano and baritone soloists mixes the Latin Requiem Mass with indigenous Nahuatl poetry and Spanish texts to explore the complex story of the Spanish conquest of Central America. Witold Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra – music that showcases every section – promises a rousing conclusion.

FLE: Though we love hearing NEC orchestras in Jordan Hall, it is a somewhat rare treat for players and listeners when the NEC Philharmonia crosses Huntington Avenue and gives a concert in Symphony Hall. NEC made much of the  Philharmonia first visit to Symphony Hall in 2010.  In 2014  NEC’s visited there again as part of its very well remembered “Music: Truth to Power” season. Can you remind us of other  visits? [continued]

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Tone Poems and Occasional Concerts Elbow Symphonies


The Boston Symphony has provisioned next season with programs of significant interest; eclectic choices include premieres of new works, some beloved warhorses, a lot of rarely heard 20th-century works, and observations of significant occasions. There’s really very little same-old-same-old during this big, fresh, and even exciting season. The complete calendar is HERE.

And yes, among the great classics we have no Beethoven symphonies — but all five of his piano concertos, with Paul Lewis, and one overture (Consecration); no Bach, some Mozart (Symphony no. 33, Piano Concerto K. 488), and Haydn (Symphony no. 22 — one of his greatest — and Cello Concerto), but also the Schubert “Great” C major, D 944 (in November; this symphony has had several BSO performances in recent years, and maybe someone will reprint my book on it). The great Romantic era includes some heavy masterworks: Berlioz Romeo and Juliet (this was a favorite of Charles Munch), Wagner Tristan Prelude and Transfiguration, Mendelssohn Reformation, Schumann Fourth, Liszt Préludes and Prometheus, Dvořák Seventh, and Tchaikovsky Fourth; two favorite violin concertos, Bruch and Brahms, that I have always regretted as boring despite a few nice moments; and two favorite piano concertos, Tchaikovsky First and Rachmaninoff Third. But there are also some Romantic rarities to be especially cheered: Chausson’s Symphony in B-flat major, Franck’s Le chasseur maudit (to be noted for the wonderfully beastly sound of a melody for tuba and low clarinet), a “staged performance of Grieg’s Peer Gynt,” which remains to be explained (see “Midnight Sun Festival,” below), and a real exotic, Overture to The Wreckers by Dame Ethel Smyth (1906). [continued]


Celebrating Three Boston Women


The bronze statues of Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley have come down from their Commonwealth Avenue plinths; the women appear to be using their granite pedestals as a writing desk, something to dream on, or something to lean against. They are actively participating in their own memorials. Their words, remarkable for their timelessness, still need to be said and heard.

On May 7th at Emmanuel Church in Boston, Cappella Clausura will debut three pieces commissioned from female composers of differing cultural backgrounds, all with strong ties to the Boston area: Inès Velasco, Melika M. Fitzhugh, and Emily Lau.

Cappella Clausura has partnered with the artist, Meredith Bergmann, Susan Wilson, Omni Parker House Historian, Suffrage100MA, Fredie Kay, founding director, and the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, Mary Smoyer, board member. Wilson and Bergmann will give presentations, and there will be talks by selected members of our remarkably female leadership. [continued]

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Let Fifteen Organs Bloom


Groton Hill Music Center’s astonishing facility [see my accounts HERE and HERE] includes a fascinating Meta Organworks “organ of organs, “a collection of 15 significant historical instruments sampled to a fare-the-well by Hauptwerk. Last Thursday titulaire organist Randy Steere led us through the power and charms of the virtual St. Etienne Cavaille-Coll, French romantic organ (and four other) teleported to Groton through digital magic and the brute force of 48 massive loudspeakers transmitting nearly 50,000 watts of undistorted power last Thursday. We lard this interview with video snippets from that encounter. In the fullness of time Steere promises to reveal the charms of the other 14 examples the four-manual console comprises in its memory banks. A review of the instrument’s debut with the Vista Philharmonic Orchestra is HERE. An executive slide show is HERE

FLE: So I am standing before an organ of organs.

The builder took the name Meta Organworks partly because it can encompass an almost limitless number of complete sampled instruments. So among our 15 instruments we have all of the major organ styles: Italian Renaissance; German, French and Spanish Baroque; French, English, American Romantic/Cathedral/Symphonic. We have a theater organ here.  We have American eclectic, Rosales, Casavant, Æolian-Skinner, and an E.M. Skinner. So a wide variety to play all kinds of music.

RS: And what you said that interests me is that you can only use stops that belong to a particular organ at any one time.

The whole point of this, which is what makes it a virtual pipe organ, is when you load the organ you are loading just that entire instrument. I can’t take a stop from the French organ and mix it with the German organ. Because the whole design is for you to play it authentically as the organ builder intended. It is possible to have a consultant (only those that Hauptwerk has licensed) “extend” an organ.  Much like we do all the time with electronic extensions to pipe organs, a consultant could take a 16’ stop and create a 32’ stop from it.  They could take a trumpet, copy it and voice it into an en Chamade or Tuba.  They might take the clarinet from the swell and “borrow” it to the choir.  But this is still using the original sounds with the original ambiance.  Some sample sets allow that, others are encrypted and locked down so that is not possible. With electronic organs it’s not that way. I could pick the French version of this flute with the German version of this reed or even pick from a generic laundry list of stops. It’s not a specific instrument, so there’s no integrity. [continued]

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Bach Might Have Played This Piano


Artem Belogurov at the Cristofori

First Lutheran Church of Boston’s fabulous free Boston Bach Birthday concert begins at 8:45 AM on Saturday.  A German lunch comes at noon and the concluding Vespers Service begins at 5:00.

Amongst the nonstop early music making in between comes a piano, albeit a reproduction of an early one that Bach might have played. At 2:10 Pianist/harpsichordist Artem Belogurov, visiting from Haarlem, NL, will present a core solo recital of remarkable breadth and interest for the Boston début of builder Kerstin Schwarz’s acclaimed “Red Cristofori,” her replica of the 1726 original in the Grassi Museum, Leipzig.Brilliant Florentine keyboard instrument builder Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) worked for the final generation of the Medici, that tumultuous Tuscan ruling family. The security of a good workshop, access to select materials, and a protected existence allowed him a rare degree of freedom. We know little of his first harpsichords-with-hammers, but three 1720s pianos, each configured somewhat differently, exist in New York, Rome, and Leipzig. Exact modern copies by builder Kerstin Schwarz stand next to two of them.

Many Crisotoforis were or are agreed to have been exported to Würzburg, London, Dresden, and other mainland European centers. When Domenico Scarlatti left Naples for the Lisbon court, his interest in the new cembalo col pian’ e forte led to the importation of many Florentine pianos to Portugal. Sparked by his and his royal employer’s move to Madrid, a rich heyday of the new piano and its older plucked sibling ignited waves of new music in Iberia. Iberian instrument makers soon copied Cristofori’s elegant Florentine design, some with excellent innovations. A precious few of these early Iberian pianos survive. [continued]

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Afghan Master Musicians to Perform in Cambridge


A rubab (Marcus Yam photo)

Bostonians are about to have a rare chance to hear traditional Afghan music performed by some of its most-skilled masters. They will be gathering to perform along with Afghan musicians who were schooled in western classical music in Kabul but who now live in exile in the U.S. Billed as a Concert in Solidarity with Afghan Musicians, it takes place on March 20th at 7:00 PM at the First Church, 11 Garden Street, Cambridge. Produced in association with the Longy School of Music, the concert is happening on the Persian New Year, Nawroz, which is widely celebrated in Afghanistan. The participating musicians aim to direct attention to “the Taliban’s inhumane ban on music and persecution of Afghan musicians.”

The concert has been organized by Arson Fahim, who though only 22, has already had successes as a pianist, composer and conductor. Two weeks before the Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021, Arson left his home there to start studies at the Longy School of Music. It was an unexpected destination for someone born in a refugee camp in Pakistan, and who had not started playing piano until he was 12. Arson tells how a few months after returning to Kabul, he was at a children’s learning center. “From behind a closed door came this wonderful sound. Someone was playing a beautiful piece of music on the piano,” he remembers. “I knew I should not go in uninvited, but couldn’t help myself.” The teacher was giving a lesson, but he let Arson walk up to the piano.

I gently touched it and pressed every single key, for the first time in my life. From that moment, I knew I had to learn piano. I had to become a musician.

He says he took his first piano lesson that day. [continued]

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“Yiddish Dreams & Futures”


A portrait concert of composer Derek David will feature new vocal and chamber works that reflect upon Jewish identity and Yiddish culture in a contemporary landscape. The Boston Festival of New Jewish Music event, hosted by MIT Music & Theater Arts in Kresge Auditorium, on Saturday, March 18th at 7:00pm will feature the full premiere of Derek’s Clarinet Quintet Oh World, Goodnight  by Del Sol Quartet with Andrew Friedman (and a surprise appearance by Carduus Choir), and the premiere of String Quartet No. 4 Kaddish with Verona Quartet. Vocal works will include Four Yiddish Folksongs from members of Ezekiel’s Wheels (Nat Seelen and Abigale Reisman), pianist Renana Gutman, and soprano Megan Jones; and choral works with A Besere Velt, the world’s largest Yiddish chorus.

David Stevens interviewed Derek David:

DS: The Boston Festival of New Jewish Music (BFNJM) is a young organization, only in its second season. How did your involvement with this festival come about and how does your project participate in their theme? [continued]

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Vocalizing Women’s Fight for Equality in America


Composer Julia Wolfe

Vocal ensemble  Lorelei Ensemble, celebrated for inventive programs that champion the virtuosity of the human voice, will give the Northeast premiere of Julia Wolfe’s Her Story with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a subscription-series concert led by Giancarlo Guerrero on Thursday, March 16, 2023 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, March 17, 2023 at 1:30 p.m.; and Saturday, March 18, 2023 at 8:00 p.m. at Symphony Hall that also includes Góreki’s Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The New York Times described Her Story as having “a ferocity that is literally written into the score, but also an absence of resolution as it looks back to suffrage with one wary eye toward the future steps this country still needs to take for something resembling true equality.”

Written for Lorelei Ensemble and co-commissioned by the BSO, Her Story invokes the words of historical figures and the spirit of pivotal moments to pay tribute to the centuries of ongoing struggle for equal rights for women in America. The 30-minute piece for orchestra and women’s vocal ensemble incorporates text from throughout the history of women’s fight for equality, ranging from a letter written by Abigail Adams, to words attributed to Sojourner Truth, to public attacks directed at women protesting for the right to vote, to political satire, and is the latest in a series of Wolfe’s compositions highlighting monumental and turbulent moments in American history and culture, and the people—both real and imagined, celebrated and forgotten—that defined them. A siren for our times, Lorelei’s Artisic Director Beth Willer answered a few questions for BMInt.

FLE: How did Lorelei put together the commissioning group of the Boston, Chicago, and Nashville symphonies for Julia Wolfe’s Her Story ? Apparently you know the composer and had proposed the concept of commemorating the 19th amendment. [continued]

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More on Men, Women, and Pianos


BMInt’s Chi Wei Lo, a DMA candidate in Contemporary Improvisation at NEC had an interesting discussion with Bruce Brubaker, co-chair of the piano department at NEC, about the curation of “A Fine Balance: Piano Music by Women and Men,” and developments in the department.

CWL: How did the idea to include such a highly unusual selection of repertoire, with some pieces rarely performed, come about?

BB: The idea for the concert began with the realization that both Fanny Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky had written sets of 12 pieces for the piano, with each piece representing a different month. I was intrigued by the idea of bringing together these two monumental works from the 19th century and thought it would make for an interesting concert. This was part one of the series. The exploration of Fanny Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky’s works led us to consider how women were often excluded from the musical world of Europe during that era. I then started to think about other examples of pieces by women and men that could be juxtaposed on the same subject, material, or formal basis.

How do you see the link between pairs?

Some of the pairings were quite obvious, like Clara Schumann’s variations on Robert Schumann’s Bunte Blätter, which were intended to be published together with Brahms’s variations on the same theme. Other pairings were more thematic, like Joan Tower and Alkan’s “train” pieces. [continued]


Musicians of the Old Post Road Unveil “Baroque Diva”


For over three decades, Musicians of the Old Post Road have delighted in their mission of uncovering and performing works by historically overlooked individuals and communities. Based in the Greater Boston area, the ensemble specializes in the period instrument performance of dynamic, diverse, and little-known music from the Baroque to early Romantic eras.

In March, the group returns for the second half of its 34th season with more live performances for both in-person and online audiences. On March 11th and 12th, the ensemble pays homage to one of the original superstar prima donnas, Faustina Bordoni. Born to an aristocratic family in Venice in 1697, she studied with Michelangelo Gasparini under the patronage of brother composers Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello. She made her operatic debut in Venice in 1716 in Carlo Francesco Pollarolo’s Ariodante and continued singing in her home city for 10 more years, performing in operas by Albinoni, the Gasparini brothers, Giacomelli, Leonardo Leo, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, the Pollarolos (father and son), and Leonardo Vinci, among others. It was during this time she met soprano Francesca Cuzzoni, who would become her greatest rival. [continued]

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Bach Is 338 Years Old


The Boston Bach Birthday is back! First Lutheran Church of Boston will hold its annual celebration of Johann Sebastian Bach and his music on Saturday, March 25th to honor the 338th anniversary of Sebastian’s birth. All musical events are free, with donations gratefully accepted. Tickets are only required for the famous, not-to-be-missed German lunch ($15 at the door), presented by the FLC Young Adults.

This year’s program returns to the BBB’s roots as an organ-centric event, featuring heavily “Boston’s Bach Organ,” built in 2000 by Richards, Fowkes & Co. FLC’s Kantor Jonathan Wessler will play a two-part program (8:30am and 1:10pm) featuring all six of Bach’s demanding trio sonatas, interspersed with lesser-known trio-texture chorale preludes. At 11am local organist Rosalind Mohnsen will play a program of music by Bach and friends, and at 4pm Heejin Kim, the most recent Yuko Hayashi Memorial First Prize winner of the Boston Bach International Organ Competition, will play a program of music in the keys of Bach’s name: B-flat, A, C, and H (B).

The BBB traditionally features programs for children of all ages, and this year is no exception. At 10am silent film accompanist Peter Krasinski will present “Peter and the Pipes,” a multimedia presentation as to the many parts that make up FLC’s brilliant pipe organ, and provide an improvised organ accompaniment to the famous French film The Red Balloon. Prior to Peter’s program, the Young People’s Concert at 9:30 will feature young instrumentalists playing Bach’s music, demonstrating that Bach truly speaks to all ages. [continued]

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Friedrich Cerha   1926-2023


Cerha in 1977

Today’s New York Times gives a half-page notice of the death on February 14th of Viennese composer Friedrich Cerha three days short of his 97th birthday. Noted for music for the stage and the concert hall, he was well associated with postwar Viennese modernism and avant-garde. He directed the new-music ensemble “Die Reihe,”after the short-lived, very German-oriented new-music periodical of the same name. When I met him at an Empfang (reception) in Vienna in 1986, I enjoyed hearing his nicely Viennesesounding Gschwandtner Tänze for chamber ensemble.

As the Times obit by David Allen says, “… at least outside of Austria, Mr. Cerha was known less for his own work than for his celebrated contribution to another composer’s masterpiece,” namely his completion of the orchestration of Alban Berg’s second opera, Lulu, which had been left unfinished at the time of Berg’s death in 1935. Lulu was performed as a two-act torso, with a third-act unsung fragment, in Switzerland in 1937, and this makeshift remained the rule for performance for the next 42 years. Berg’s widow Helene, for reasons of her own, decreed a permanent ban on all attempts to reconstitute Berg’s third act as he wrote it, and prohibited access to his manuscript materials even for study; these prohibitions were included in her own last will and testament as well as into the articles of incorporation of the Alban Berg Foundation, which went into effect upon her own death in 1976. Helene’s successors in the foundation, including the president, the composer Gottfried von Einem, adhered strictly to her testamentary wishes, and these were also supported by Berg’s self-chosen biographer, Willi Reich. Nevertheless, Berg’s publisher, Universal Edition, retained possession of the manuscripts, and having contracted with Berg for a complete three-act opera, did not feel bound by Helene’s prohibitions. In 1963, Universal engaged Friedrich Cerha to complete the score of the opera, but their agreement was kept secret so as to avoid provoking a legal dispute with Berg’s widow. [continued]

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Motivic Harmony — Some Examples


We think of motives as short melodic units that are capable of development, always less than a phrase — often less than half a phrase. Beethoven’s da-da-da-DA in the Fifth Symphony is certainly a motive that comes to mind immediately — it is identified by its rhythm first of all (Morse Code letter V: ••• ), next by its three repeated notes, and then, flexibly, by its melodic shape; the motive appears three times in the first phrase, three times in the second phrase, and so forth. The development of this motive resides in its flexibility — it can be moved around everywhere and repeated as often as necessary, and you can even do it in your head if you know the symphony — even when, near the end of the Development section, the motive is shortened to two notes, and then to just one.

Less often do we look for harmony when we think of motives in music. But the 19th century introduced recurring individual harmonies as motives, without necessary connection to melodies. A succession of chords can be motivic if it is distinctive. An elegant harmonic leitmotive is found in Wagner’s Meistersinger, where the proud knight Walther speaks of his “wonderful dream” in Scene 3 of Act III. This begins with a deceptive cadence from C major to E major, then to A-flat major and finally (IV-I) to E-flat major: [EX. 1]. [continued]


Getting Beethoven’s 9th “Right” This Time?


After decades of wrestling with the master’s metronome markings and learning from “successes and errors” in performances and recordings, Benjamin Zander told BMInt that he thinks he has found a way of reconciling the two contrary ways of interpreting the work – the Romantic and the more historically informed approach. Thus, in the Boston Philharmonic performances at Symphony Hall on February 24th and at Carnegie Hall on February 26th (replacements for planned performances in the anniversary year) audiences will learn how Zander has decided that adherence to the tempo markings needs to be leavened with flexibility and rubato, (which Beethoven himself certainly practiced in his piano playing), so that the thrilling and driven tempi he indicates with his metronome marks are interspersed with more lyrical and “romantic” passages. In this way,  he can reconcile dueling maestros―descended from Wagner on one side, and from the more classical Mendelssohn on the other―into a single interpretation. [continued]

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Dashing from Sanders to Jordan Hall


Matthew Aucoin, an American composer, conductor, writer, pianist,  MacArthur Fellowship winner, Artist-in-Residence at Los Angeles Opera and co-artistic director of the American Modern Opera Company, also has strong Boston connections. He will be in town to witness performances of two of his works virtually at the same time on February 18th when the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra includes an orchestral suite from his opera Eurydice in its Sanders Theater concert and the New England Philharmonic plays his Two Dances. Complete information at the end.

FLE: The hook for this story is your peregrination from Sanders, where the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra is playing a suite from your opera Eurydice, to Jordan Hall, where the New England Philharmonic will be including Two Dances in its program. Is the timing is going to work? [continued]

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