The Volpe Era at the BSO To Conclude

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Photo: Marco Borggreve

Thirteen months from now, one of the most esteemed orchestra managers in the world will retire from his post of 23 years. BSO President and CEO Mark Volpe has supervised a significant increase in the orchestra’s assets in an ever-changing economic environment while furthering its artistic mission of musical excellence and bringing the BSO to the widest possible audience through live performances, recordings, national and international touring, and traditional and new media, including the very successful bso.org. According to the press release,  the orchestra has expanded its reach through a wide variety of social media platforms, discounted ticket programs for students and young professionals, and education and community engagement programs in Boston and the Berkshires, as well as through national and international major broadcast activities during Volpe’s tenure.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve as the CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Twenty-three years ago, the first people to call me about the BSO position were Yo-Yo Ma and Isaac Stern. Of course, I had no idea of the adventure I was about to undertake. I will be forever grateful to the Trustees for their wisdom and support, to the incredible staff who made everything possible, but most of all to Andris and the BSO musicians, who grace the stages of Symphony Hall, Tanglewood, and many of the world’s finest concert halls, and make magic happen virtually every time they play. Throughout the next year, I will remain dedicated to the institution’s mission and tradition of excellence, and look forward to working with the board, Andris Nelsons, Keith Lockhart, the orchestra, and staff as we continue to contemplate the future of the BSO.”

“All of us at the BSO share deep gratitude for Mark’s unceasing commitment to the organization as our leader for the past two decades, and we are thankful to Mark for his leadership, and his generous commitment to stay on for the next year and continue the BSO’s important work,” said Susan W. Paine, Chair, Board of Trustees. Respected civic leader Barbara W. Hostetter will succeed her for a three-year term on March 1, 2021. [continued…]

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Musical Landslide for Taiwan

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Formosan Ocean Drum

Chihchun Chi-sun Lee’s BSO-commissioned Formosan Triptych takes wing on Thursday as part of subscription concerts which will also feature pianist Till Fellner in Mozart’s second-to-last piano concerto (no. 25) and Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony, “Polish.” BMInt talked with the Taiwanese composer and her husband, composer Michael Timpson.

FLE: The BSO apparently gave its new young assistant conductor Yu-An Chang quite an honor in encouraging him to make a commission in honor of his native Taiwan. What did he tell you that he heard in your music that made him want to commission you? Please give us some background on how it came about.

CCL: Conductor Chang and I did not know each other prior this encounter. He had opened a call on Facebook for people to submit orchestra pieces to him for consideration, especially looking for women-composers’ works. Chang had gone through hundreds of pieces, eventually choosing my Fan-Jen: The Poem of Formosa (1995) to propose to BSO for programming. He found my musical language intriguing. Later Tony Fogg and Chang decided to commission a new work instead. Working with a world-renowned orchestra gives me a great opportunity to share my native cultures of Taiwan which are not actually well-known, especially due to political suppression. [continued…]

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Mozart, Movies, and Media According to Fellner

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During a hiatus between playing Beethoven’s Emperor for the Cliburn-sponsored celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday in Fort Worth, and his forthcoming BSO appearances with conductor Yu-An Chang on January 16th, 17th, 18th, and 21st, the celebrated Viennese pianist Till Fellner found some time to talk.

FLE: As in your previous appearance at Symphony Hall with Bernard Haitink in 2012 [our review HERE], you chose one of Mozart’s 12 great Viennese concertos. This time, it will be No. 25, K. 503, the last of the series, which he debuted in 1786.

TF: Yes, but as I have learned from William Kinderman’s book on Mozart’s piano music, he had started composing this concerto some time earlier.

Was Kinderman there?

[Laughter] We know more today because of the examination of the various staff-papers Mozart used. Around 1785, he sketched the opening tutti and wrote the first piano entrance; then he put the piece aside. This wasn’t unusual for Mozart—he kept a certain reservoir of fragments which he could take out and complete in a relatively short span of time.

It’s interesting, that when Mozart took up K. 503 again at the end of 1786, he reworked the first piano entrance (using ink in a different color). He made it much more convincing in itself, but also in the way it connects back to the reassertion of the main theme played by the orchestra. Even a genius like Mozart felt the need to correct and improve parts of his works.

What else can you say to sell K. 503 to readers?
[continued…]

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Critics’ Faves From Passing Year

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Among the BMInt staff, many writers have intact memories. Within that subset, several have submitted lists of their favorite concerts of the last season. We thank them for their reflections. Some have chosen to nominate concerts they have reviewed while others have chosen from concerts which they merely attended. This exercise reminds us of how much to be grateful for the musical life of Boston and its environs, which last season, once again,  witnessed more than 2,500 concerts. Is that too many? Certainly not every auditorium operated at capacity. Should players do the Trojan Women thing and limit intercourse with audience until halls fill? We’re not worried about shrinking audiences. The Boston Globe famously wondered about the future of classical music in Boston since the average age at BSO concerts hovered at something over 60…but that was in 1908!

We salute all of our players, writers and presenters. We thank our loyal and sizable audience, as many as 7,000 in a single day, for having read and commented upon upwards of 5,404 reviews since our founding in 2009. Once again, we find a musical community writing about itself with rapt interest. Many follow our decree: If you hear something, write something. And so we say Happy New Year to all.

 

David Moran

And 2 and ONE…

Not that most of us need to sit through another Beethoven 5, but if you did last February, Benjamin  Zander and the Boston Philharmonic celebrated their 40th with a properly propelled rendition which got the opening right rhythmically and proceeded powerfully from there: [continued…]

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Locke’s List: Best Opera and Vocal Music of 2019

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2019 has proved to be a splendid year for French works and some splendid stuff from elsewhere. The bumper crop of wonderful recordings includes unusual operas—and one unusual recording of a repertory staple: Gounod’s Faust,  some books I’d like to mention, and a performance that I was really glad I attended. (My two previous years’ opera round-ups for BMInt can be found by clicking [2017] and [2018].)

We finally got a recording—a splendid one—of Donizetti’s L’ange de Nisida (Opera Rara 58), a work that never got performed during the composer’s lifetime, and that he plundered for sections to use in his (now relatively familiar) La favorite. See a fascinating three-minute trailer about the recording, and the scholarly effort that was needed to reconstruct this startlingly bold work. The performance, under Mark Elder, is magnificent, not least the singing of Joyce El-Khoury and David Junghoon Kim as the two lovers. The entire recording can be heard for free on YouTube (broken down into 56 segments). I reviewed it for the Boston-based online magazine The ArtsFuse here.

Le tribut de Zamora, Gounod’s last opera (1881), likewise got its first recording, marvelously performed under Hervé Niquet (Bru Zane 1033). I reviewed it for The Arts Fuse. This is one of 22 rarely performed (and often previously unrecorded) French operas that, over the past ten years, have been released on CD by the Center for French Romantic Music, an organization whose offices are located in the Palazzetto Bru Zane (in Venice). Excerpts from Le tribut can be seen and heard in this video. [continued…]

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Berlioz Invited Wagner To Share a Pineapple

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Should music criticism only be written by people who observe the music scene impartially and with a certain “objective” distance? Or can a critic offer something special if he or she is quite the opposite: a deeply committed and even polemically inclined participant in the musical community? That question was raised frankly and confidently by Berlioz in a letter that has just been published for the first time, in the volume reviewed below.

The question will surely resonate with readers of BMInt. After all, one of this site’s great strengths has been its inclusion of the voices of people who are active in musical life and of others who have been involved with composition or performance at some earlier point in their development. Readers of BMInt thus may (we hope) have come to agree with Berlioz’s position that intimate knowledge can enable a critic to write with conviction and special insight.

Nouvelles lettres de Berlioz, de sa famille, de ses contemporains, edited by Peter Bloom, et. al., contains numerous revelations, large and small, about Berlioz and the musical life of his era. My review below (reprinted, with kind permission, from a recent issue of Music Library Association Notes, and lightly revised) explains the features of the book as a whole, but also draws attention to some lively and informative passages from the letters, including (toward the end) the declaration alluded to above, which comes from a letter that Berlioz wrote to his sister Nanci Pal early in 1845.

In 1860, Richard Wagner was in Paris, trying to arrange for the Opéra to give the world premiere of the revised version of Tannhäuser. In a letter probably written in May of that year, Hector Berlioz invited him to come over to dine. The various guests that evening, he promised, will share “a very lovely pineapple” direct from Brazil. And, after everyone else leaves, he and Wagner “will have the freedom to spend time together in my study.” Presumably he meant that the two would talk about topics of common interest, such as the Parisian musical world or the recent activities of their mutual friend Franz Liszt. Berlioz’s pineapple letter has now been published for the first time, in the book under review (pp. 548–49). It was apparently written later than any other that survives between Berlioz and Wagner. (They did meet again two months later at the home of Pauline Viardot—the renowned mezzo-soprano and composer—for an advance hearing of parts of Tristan und Isolde.) [continued…]

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Tanglewood 2020 Announced

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Now that the publication embargo has lifted, it can be told. The BSO will present concerts, lectures, and performances of astonishing variety once again at its summer home of some 84 years. Readers can skip the commentary and go directly to the June 19th to August 30th season calendar HERE.  A lot is also going on the Tanglewood Learning Institute too. Click HERE to find out what to think. Then take your time savoring, since tickets don’t go on sale until February 9th.

Ringo Star opens the popular offerings on June 19th, but the classical good news begins with BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons’s commitment to 12 appearances.  Many predictable favorite artists and conductors return, and 22 make Tanglewood debuts.

According to the press release, the season highlights include an Andris Nelsons-led Act III of Tannhäuser, Paul Lewis performing all five Beethoven piano concertos, a weekend-long celebration of Isaac Stern on the 100th anniversary of his birth, a Boston Pops presentation of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back under the direction of Keith Lockhart, Film Night hosted by John Williams, Thomas Adès directing the 2020 Festival of Contemporary Music, and a Popular Artist series with Ringo Starr, Trey Anastasio, and Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie. Alongside these programs taking place in the Koussevitzky Music Shed will be intimate chamber music and recital concerts in Ozawa Hall and engaging and thought-provoking activities in the Linde Center, which opened to great popular and critical acclaim in 2019 (see separate press release for 2020 Tanglewood Learning Institute programs here). Giants of the classical music field and beloved Tanglewood guest artists Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Pamela Frank, Susan Graham, Leonidas Kavakos, Midori, Yo-Yo Ma, and Gil Shaham, as well as the talented musicians of the Tanglewood Music Center, the BSO’s famed summer music academy, which presents free and discounted concerts all summer long. [continued…]

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Operatic Hollywood Horror via Mirowitz

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Berklee Silent Film Orchestra (BSFO) will perform its powerhouse score to the definitive, digital restoration of the 1925 silent movie The Phantom of the Opera at The Cabot in Beverly on Saturday, December 14, at 7:30 pm, following by a week its West-Coast premiere of this new pairing live at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival Day of Silents.  

BSFO’s director Sheldon Mirowitz assigned a “reel” of the movie to each of seven of his top students after creating themes and motifs for characters and situations which all the composers will employ. In the new score, a soprano will sing Marguerite’s “Ballad” from Gounod’s Faust in direct sync with actress in the film; the “Jewel Song” as well as other portions of the opera will resound at the appropriate moments on the stage of the Paris Opera. Mirowitz’s breakthrough concept of letting the silent faces speak and sing led to the acclaimed BFSO scoring of Dreyer’s Passion of Jeanne d’Arc, which BMInt reviewed and discussed at length HERE and HERE. Imagine hiring lipreaders to transcribe the actors’ French, German, and Latin.

For tickets to see and hear Phantom in the beautiful, jazz-age Cabot click HERE.

Directed by Rupert Julian, The Phantom of the Opera stars Lon Chaney, Hollywood’s “Man of 1,000 Faces” as Erik, the horribly disfigured phantom who leads a menacing existence in the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera House. When Erik falls in love with a beautiful prima donna, the master musician kidnaps her and holds her hostage in his lair. One of the most discussed — and unnerving — films of all time, Phantom gets a turbocharged, new life from the 12-member Berklee Silent Film Orchestra’s spectacular, modern score. Click HERE to see a short clip from a version Mirowitz (and BSFO alumni Eren Başbuğ) directed last year in Istanbul, Turkey with a local orchestra. [continued…]

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Richard Conrad To Be Memorialized

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How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

The dynamic performer, insightful voice teacher, and brilliant operatic interpreter ranged from Monteverdi to Brel, touching countless lives with his singing gifts and distinctive ability to teach his craft to others. His friends and colleagues will commemorate Richard Conrad in words and song at the Eliot Church of Newton, 474 Centre Street in Newton Corner, on Saturday, November 16th at 7:00.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music, his paean to 16 of his favorite singers, will highlight musical selections from Schumann, Rossini, Sullivan, Bellini, Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi, Weill, Gershwin, and Henry Bishop from a great number of musicians from his circle. [continued…]

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Wyner and Stepner Step Up for Aston Magna

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Pulitzer Prize winning composer, eminent Bostonian elder statesman, and celebrated pianist Yehudi Wyner will be playing his Concert Duo for Violin and Piano with violinist Daniel Stepner at the 14th-Annual Scholarship Benefit Concert for the Aston Magna/Brandeis Unaccompaied Bach Workshop at the Brandeis University Slosberg Music Center, Sunday, November 10 at 3pm. Founded in 1972 by Lee Elman and Albert Fuller, the Aston Magna Festival (Daniel Stepner, Artistic Director) is the oldest annual summer festival in America devoted to music performed on period instruments.

Wyner received us in his studio, through a garden of asters, among musical scores, books, photographs and memories.  

Anne Davenport and Leon Golub: The relationship of a composer to his own work is a bit mysterious. A couple of weeks ago, you felt prompted to re-commune personally with your 14-minute piano solo Refrain of 2011. Did you uncover intentions, nuances or details that had remained latent to you when composing it? How transparent is a work to the composer from the start?

YW: That’s a profound question. The process of going back and really learning how to play it as I think it should be played was an arduous one. I had to work really hard to master a lot of the accuracy and technical detail, especially in the fast parts. In doing that, I really, I must say, I found myself feeling more and more convinced of its legitimacy and rightness. The other thing I discovered is that there were all kinds of small emendations, edits, revisions, details, notes here and there, a phrase here and there — but not much. [continued…]

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Early Songs of Resistance and Rebellion

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OK, Anne, you need to come clean. Boston Camerata’s November 8th Americana concert and CD celebration at Faneuil Hall seems to have a strange French accent on its Harmonia Mundi label. Do I detect foreign collusion?

Anne Azéma: (laughs) It’s certainly significant that there is so much interest abroad in a collection of very old American broadside ballads, fife and drum tunes, and patriotic calls to resistance of autocratic rulers. When we performed “Free America” at the invitation of Strasbourg, Boston’s sister city, three weeks ago, there wasn’t an empty seat to be seen in the Palais de la Musique et des Congrès. And the audience, including plenty of younger people, joined in loudly on the saucy refrain to “Yankee Doodle.”

I think that here at home we underestimate to what extent people in other countries celebrate and cherish that lofty “American Dream.” Right now people want to know if it still exists. Are we still n exceptional a role model for other lands? When we sing American songs of resistance and rebellion to a foreign audience, we are sending a message of reassurance about our beliefs in our homeland. Strasbourg is Boston’s sister city, thanks in large part to Charles Munch, and we continue to share something mutually important with its citizens.

Will you be singing and protesting about current events the way patriots have for two centuries at Faneuil Hall?

Well, yes and no. These beautiful, historical musical works make direct references to events that took place centuries ago, in Boston, New England, and elsewhere, roughly from the battle of Bunker Hill to the Abolitionist movement. What is amazing, however, is the constancy of certain themes or leitmotifs throughout our American history. Our forebears resisted, with all their being, tyranny and arbitrary abuse of power. So many of them struggled for inclusion and for racial justice – “All kindred, all colors…no nation or sect are rejected at all,” as the Shakers were singing, circa 1840. Americans were deeply allergic to the interference of foreign powers into our affairs, as Thomas Paine’s brilliant song text, “Liberty Tree,” underscores. And they constantly reaffirmed their birthright to freedom: “So guard your rights, Americans,” as the title song to the program exhorts us. [continued…]

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No Valkyries in this Opera Ride

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Lidiya Yankovskaya

MassOpera’s concert performance of  Dan Shore’s opera Freedom Ride, presented in collaboration with the Chicago Opera Theater (COT) this Sunday at 3:00 at the Strand Theater in Dorchester, sets the show in motion for its staged premiere production in February. Freedom Ride tells the story of one young black woman’s decision to join the civil rights movement as a freedom rider. COT Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya will conduct an orchestra of 26, and NAACP Award-winner Tazewell Thompson will direct.

MassOpera’s cast includes Alicia Russell, Imani Francis, Fred C. VanNess, Ron Williams, Steven D. Myles, and Melynda Davis. General admission tickets of $20, are available through MassOpera.

Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor for both MassOpera’s New Opera Workshop performance and the premiere of Freedom Ride with Chicago Opera Theater, sat down to interview composer, Dan Shore about the creation of his opera.

LY: Dan—I’ve known about Freedom Ride for about 5 years, but the opera has been in development for a long time. Could you speak about how this project came to be? [continued…]

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Unforgotten Songs

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Gamin Hyosung Kang

“this is our song; we still have to remember her songs and pray for her” From East Asia – Unforgotten Song  November 16, 2019 | 8 p.m. Brandeis

Curated by a remarkable and visionary Korean musician named gamin, the upcoming concert will be as much ritual as it is performance. This evening will invite us to remember and honor the comfort women of occupied countries in East Asia who were forced into sexual slavery between 1932 and 1945. The Lydian String Quartet and skakuhachi player Adam Robinson will join gamin, and the video art of New York-based Chang-Jin Lee will add to the soundscape. At its heart, the concert will transform archived songs sung by survivors into tales of resilience, courage and strength in the face of suffering and injustice.  In poignant irony, the music-making results in a beautiful yet heart-breaking paean not only for victims in the past, but also for all people who are suffering from injustice in the world.

I am an admirer of Korean gugak, both the elegant court music, and the deeply expressive folk genre.  Over the years I have had the honor of listening to, learning from, and collaborating with a number of performers of this tradition. One of the most virtuosic, versatile and visionary is Gamin Kang, whose stage name is simply, gamin. She is a yisuja (master) of South Korea’s Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 46 (piri and daechita), as well as one of the most celebrated contemporary performers on piri (a tiny, yet enormously powerful bamboo reed instrument), taepyeongso (another reed instrument, with a trumpet-like voice), and saengwhang (reed mouth organ). [continued…]

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The Versatile Kevin Rhodes and PACO

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Conductor-pianist Kevin Rhodes

Kevin Rhodes, for ten years the principal conductor of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, projects joy and excitement in every sentence he utters. His orchestra’s 42nd season opener, “The Art of Jazz,” jives by at the First Baptist Church in Newton this Saturday in company with a group of important 20th-century jazz-based works. Rhodes has inked himself for the solo spot in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

“I first came to Rhapsody in Blue as a young child. “My parents owned and ran a 24-hour trucker diner in southern Indiana where I grew up, so (what they knew of the) piano came from the man who serviced the pinball machines and the jukebox. For them, my learning Rhapsody in Blue was something to which they could relate and kept saying to my teacher, ‘I want him to learn that piece.’ ”

“When I finally heard a recording of Rhapsody in its symphonic formalwear, so to speak, I was surprised because it didn’t sound as much like Joplin as I had imagined. Many years later I discovered a recording of Gershwin’s piano roll of it in the Paul Whiteman version we’ll be doing with Pro Arte. Now THAT was the ragtime feel I was dreaming of. I don’t base my own performance on the idea of a recreation of Gershwin’s exact performance, but I have always tried to inhabit that somewhat carefree, or devil-may-care attitude of musicians hanging out jamming on a piece together, rather than trying to re-sculpt something we did in rehearsal without coloring outside the lines. [continued…]

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Ensemble Not Just Engrossing and Stimulating

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Eric Alatorre (Lisa Kohler)

Skylark Vocal Ensemble, founded in 2011 in Atlanta and Boston, and led by Artistic Director Matthew Guard, has produced programs that have been described as “engrossing” by WQXR FM in New York and “original, stimulating, and beautiful” by BBC Radio 3. However, the group’s upcoming 4 concerts portend to create not only “engrossing and stimulating” events but also a rather rare kind of musical experience.

With two Grammy® nominations under its belt, Skylark Vocal Ensemble is bringing performances of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil to the Simon Center for the Arts Thursday in Falmouth on October 24th, in Newburyport at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Friday, October 25th, in Chestnut Hill at Church of the Redeemer on Saturday, October 26th and in Harvard Square at St. Paul Parish on Sunday afternoon, October 27th. Details and tickets HERE. [The BSO will be programming the work in April to mark the 50th anniversary of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and BMInt has accounts of recent previous performances HERE, HERE and HERE]

Composed in 1915, Rachmaninoff’s 15-movement, 60-plus-minute “Vespers” consists numerous ancient Russian religious chants, some of which are over 1000 years old and when the piece was written, it was contingent on having the most powerful bass singers available. Their deep, deep tones alongside Rachmaninoff’s uniquely ethereal harmonies, can create a transcendental listening experience. [continued…]

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Trio Outs Damn Spot in Scottish Play

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To convey the mind of Lady Macbeth just in time for the sainted eve at the end of the month, the resourceful Merz [piano] Trio will lard excerpts and arrangements of Brahms, Charlotte Bray, Schumann, Johannes Maria Staud, and Verdi, along with dance and text from Macbeth, into an immersive cauldron. “Those Secret Eyes,” on October 26 at 8pm in New England Conservatory’s Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theater, will boil over the confines of the chamber music recital.

Winners of the 2019 Concert Artists Guild Competition and gold medalists of the 2019 Fischoff and 2018 Chesapeake Chamber Music Competitions, the Merz is the current professional trio in residence at NEC, and their interdisciplinary approach involves readings, visual arts, and artisanal mélanges of music, wine, and food.

Taking its name from the early 20th-century “Merz pictures” of the German artist Kurt Schwitters, the Trio draws inspiration from his unique style of found-object collage. In keeping with Schwitters’s aesthetic of piecing together fragments, Merz projects link disparate musics, texts, artifacts, visual arts as well as dance, theater, and culinary arts to standard trio repertoire.

[continued…]

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Richard Ortner: 1948 – 2019

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The retired president of Boston Conservatory at Berklee, former Administrator of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Music Center at Tanglewood, and mentor and advocate for exceptionally talented performing artists and faculty died Thursday, October 10th after having lived with cancer for a long time. Ortner shared his lifelong passion for music and advanced training in the performing arts with the most renowned senior professionals of his time, the best and brightest young artists and students, and the widest possible audiences.

Born in Great Neck, New York, on May 28, 1948, Ortner began piano studies at age five and were reinforced by an excellent public school music program. He accompanied choruses both in junior and senior high school, and became the choir director of the Long Island Federation of Temple Youth. Following high school, he attended The Cooper Union, where he studied architecture while continuing to pursue his interest in music with piano studies (with Richard Faber of the Juilliard faculty) and by producing and hosting two classical music programs for WNYU (New York University) radio. He returned to studying music full time when he transferred to NYU, earning a B.A. in music in 1971. Ortner then began what he refers to as his “real musical education,”  three years as an usher at Carnegie Hall. (This also marked the start of his activities as a concert producer: after persuading the management of Carnegie Hall to turn over the Recital Hall, free of charge, he organized the very first Carnegie Hall Ushers Recital, which the New York Times reviewed enthusiastically. Later, he organized the first concert of the Washington Square Chamber Music Society at NYU.) [continued…]

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Dudochkin Pays Homage to Clara

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My tribute to the 200-year-old Clara Schumann comes to Jordan Hall next Sunday as the 29th Composer Celebration since I founded the series in 1990 with “A Salute to Prokofiev on his Centennial.” My collaborators and I then performed his music of all instrumentations with such success that my every subsequent year centered on the celebration of another composer.

Clara Schumann occupies a special part of my life. I am thrilled to present the music of this amazing woman who composed beautiful romantic music. A mother of eight with an incredibly successful career as a top pianist for 60 years, Clara had a tragic life, not only the decline and death of her beloved husband but also the deaths of four of her children.

Usually I go to the birth-countries of the composers in order to learn all about them and perhaps find new scores hidden in archives. I’ve been able to uncover music of Debussy, Massenet from the Paris Conservatory, Villa Lobos from his museum in Rio de Janeiro, some from Joaquín Rodrigo’s daughter in Madrid, (who later gave a lot of it to our NEC library), Puccini from Italy (his granddaughter Cimonetta even flew to our celebration at NEC), and Maxim Shostakovich came from St. Petersburg to celebrate his father’s 100 years, meeting with the NEC college orchestra and talking about Dmitri to the young musicians. [continued…]

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BPO Introduces Italian Pianist in BPC2

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Alessandro Deljavan plays Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Boston Philharmonic under Benjamin Zander in Sanders Theater on October 17th and 20th (matinee) and in Jordan Hall on October 19th. The program also includes the Overture to Mozart’s ‘Die Zauberflöte’ (The Magic Flute) and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.

A few years ago, after a piano competition jury failed to advance Alessandro Deljavan from the semifinals to the finals, a prominent teacher and musician approached the young Italian and attempted to buoy him up. “You should come back for the next competition,” she said. “If you play like a normal pianist, it is absolutely certain that you will win.”

Deljavan says he really didn’t know how to respond to such a remark beyond saying that the way he plays is normal to him. “To do anything else is just not possible.”

To today’s audiences Deljavan — who pronounces his name with the accent on the second syllable, del-JA-van — is certainly unusual, but what he does would have seemed perfectly normal to audiences of a century ago, when the public expected an instrumentalist to exhibit as much individual personality as a singer, to have an unmistakable voice, sound, and approach to music. He does boast a colossal and comprehensive technique, but he also has something to say with it. [continued…]

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Who’s on First?

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The 35th season of Laurence Lesser’s First Mondays at Jordan Hall takes as its thematic glue the connections of composers with each other and their friends and inspirers. Every concert includes voice; every concert includes NEC faculty and alums. Each program connects one “standard” piece with others to make some historical or musical point. The three fall concerts are all interrelated. Clara (b. 1819) and Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Joseph Joachim and Johannes Brahms, hence “Friendship.”

Works of Robert and Clara Schumann open the series on October 7th. Bach and his crucial admirer Felix Mendelssohn supply the vital stuff of the November 4th show. For the December 2nd, Lesser will bring out examples of Brahms’s connections with Johann Strauss II, Schumann, Schoenberg and Joachim. Skipping January, and February, the series continues in March, April, and May with “American Sonorities” and more “Friendship.” The complete program is HERE. Lesser talks to BMInt below:

FLE: Do programmatic concerts really work or is it a marketing gimmick?

LL: After 34 years, I have developed a philosophy that says that there are a lot of very faithful listeners at First Monday concerts who trust me to stretch their listening ears. I imagine I have earned their loyalty by giving them something that they know already or that they feel comfortable with and then building into that things that they never have thought about or that would be interesting to them in terms of the background of what we’re presenting. I have the audience very much in mind, but I also have my vision in mind and to find the right balance between those two things has always been my motivation.

Does it make the compositions that appear on a particular program more satisfying to this audience after they’ve heard your talk about how the pieces are connected? [continued…]

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Alexander Borovsky Did WTC on Piano in 1958

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The sometime-Bostonian piano great Alexander Borovsky appeals to me. As one of his “grand-pupils,” I have always taken note of any references to him. My piano teacher JoAnn La Torra had studied with Borovsky and frequently mentioned him and his approaches in our lessons. Borovsky was born in Latvia in 1889 and died in Waban MA in 1968. His generally successful career in the U.S., included the distinction of having made the most appearances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra of any pianist. One was of the Roussel Piano Concerto, which he had premiered in Paris in 1927. It can now be heard on a CD from Yves St.-Laurent HERE.

Borovsky made some 78s, and a number of LPs for Vox in the early 1950s, all Bach and Liszt. The Bach included the 2 and 3 Part Inventions and all the French and English Suites. His Liszt sets were all the Transcendental Etudes and all 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies (the present program notes get that wrong, stating he did only the first 13) coupled with the Rhapsodie Espagnole. None of these has been reissued on CD except for one Hungarian Rhapsody in a VAI Audio anthology, although some excerpts may be heard on YouTube. An obscure label called Melo Classics issued a CD of a 1953 Paris recital including Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Liszt. Amazon says it’s out of print but it can be bought through the Melo Classics website. It’s in quite respectable sound and the playing is very attractive.

Now we can hear Borovsky playing the complete Bach Well-Tempered Clavier. He taped the recording in 1958, for some unknown purpose, and it has survived quite well, the mono sound being quite respectable for its vintage. I presume these were studio sessions with the tapes edited at least somewhat, since there are no detectable errors in the playing. [continued…]

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Dreaming and Singing About Immigrants

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In our diverse city, one local opera company is taking innovative steps to reflect on and consciously explore immigration and longing for cultural identity.

Cerise Lim Jacobs’s ambitious production company, White Snake Projects, is producing a brand new NEA-supported opera this weekend at Emerson Paramount Theater. (Tickets HERE).  Three selections from a 10-part song cycle created by ten composers through community engagement and a talkback with the creators will frame the show. As producer and librettist, Singapore-born Jacobs is taking on an unusually topical subject for opera: current immigration policies in America. For I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams, which premieres on September 20-22, Jacobs teams up with Mexican-born, New York-based composer Jorge Sosa to explore immigration, dislocation, and transformation in America.

Dreamer features a cast mirroring the ethnicities of the characters and bringing their own personal varieties of perspectives on the immigrant experience. The production team is “intentionally diverse” and mostly female, reflecting the ambition of Jacobs and White Snake Projects to integrate original opera with social activism. In the story, Rosa, an undocumented Mexican immigrant and a “dreamer” develops a  relationship with her court-appointed attorney Singa, an ethnically Chinese immigrant from Indonesia, while waiting in jail before being deported. [continued…]

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Concordant Chamber Music Starts Third Decade

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A score of years ago, a small number of dedicated volunteers joined forces with me to create a series chamber music concerts and do educational outreach in Concord. It all began, when newly tenured as a violinist in the BSO, I was relaxing over a dinner with perhaps an abundance of wine, when my then neighbor cellist Andrés Díaz and I began to muse about bringing some of our colleagues to Concord.

No one imagined what the Concord Chamber Music Society would become. Since 2000, some of the world’s most celebrated artists, including Gil Shaham, Lynn Harrell, Peter Serkin, David Finckel and Wu Han, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, the Borromeo Quartet, have played with us and for us; several will return for this celebratory season. And the wonderful musicologist Steven Ledbetter will once again be preparing us with very informative lectures.

I hope that many BMInt readers and their friends will join us. Specifics follow:

The 20th-anniversary season opened last Sunday with The Nightingale’s Sonata, a special multimedia event at the Concord Free Public Library. Tom Wolf read from his new book before, pianist Vytas Baksys and I offered Franck’s passionate Violin Sonata. A book signing and reception followed.

Acclaimed pianist Marc-Ande Hamélin, violinist Glenn Dicterow, former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic; viola soloist, recitalist and chamber musician Karen Dreyfus; cellist Andrés Díaz, winner of the prestigious Naumburg International Competition and Avery Fisher Career Grant; and I will play works by Kodály, Paul Chihara and Dvořák on September 29th for the opener. [continued…]

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Ave Atque Vale: Symphony Hall To Lose Lowe’s Signature Sound

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Since 1984, when Seiji Ozawa invited Malcolm Lowe to become the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 10th concertmaster, his glorious, impeccable musicality has inspired audiences and fellow players. Today, the orchestra announced the end of Lowe’s 35-year tenure in one of the most important positions in the classical firmament.

The second-longest-serving concertmaster in the orchestra’s 138-year history (after Richard Burgin, whose 42-year tenure started in 1920), Lowe succeeded the esteemed Joseph Silverstein, who served from 1962 to 1984.

Click HERE for a list of concertos he played at Symphony Hall. And HERE to hear him speak with WGBH’s Brian Bell about his work with the orchestra. Lowe writes:

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank my orchestra colleagues and Andris Nelsons for their dedication and their ability to delve deeply into the music and ask the unanswerable questions—to find the voice that lifts music from the ordinary to an extraordinary living poetry. I will cherish forever the shared moments of everyday work, moments striving in our artistic search, practicing, trying to perfect, to contribute, to give meaning to our efforts, the music, our team, and our orchestra. I am also forever grateful to our generous audiences and donors for their incredible passion and support year after year, concert after concert—their enthusiasm never wanes.”

FLE: Do you have any recollection of your audition? Burton Fine, then senior principal in the BSO strings, recently told me about how he set up the audition in which you spectacularly triumphed. He recalled that there had been absolutely no doubt that you were the winner. You excelled beyond everyone else who auditioned, and you had shown leadership qualities as well as beauty of tone and refined musicality. He was so pleased to be involved. Were you as brilliant all that? [continued…]

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Odyssey’s Tudor Season Spans Six Neglected Operas

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A reliable denizen of the second tier of composers, Camille Saint-Saëns lacked, according to one wag, but one quality: inexperience. Musical facility and reliability aside, his wideranging intellect and long life elevated him to cult status in his day, though rarely without controversy. He sided with Dreyfus during that infamous affair and was driven from the Schola Cantorum by D’Indy for his (incorrectly) supposed Jewishness. The Nazis banned his music.

His Carnival of the Animals, Second Piano Concerto, Organ Symphony, Danse macabre, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Requiem, Christmas Oratorio, ballet Javotte, Piano Quartet, and Septet retain places in the standard repertoire, or ought to. This writer thinks highly of his chamber music for harmonium and piano. Among his 13 operas, can Samson et Dalila be the only hit?

Gil Rose, the resourceful leader of BMOP and Odyssey Opera, believes otherwise. Having discovered 51 minutes excised from the debut performance in Paris, on September 21st Rose will lead in concert form what he believes to be the US premiere of the uncut Henry VIII (1883) at Jordan Hall. Leon Botstein of Bard and the American Symphony Orchestra also set great store by this opera and revived it in concert form seven years ago, taking some judicious cuts.

The plot unfolds as Henry attempts to divorce Catherine of Aragon for the favors of Anne Boleyn. Eager for verisimilitude, Saint-Saëns researched manuscripts of Tudor music and incorporated English, Scottish, and Irish folk melodies as well as a William Byrd air collected in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (published only six years later) into Henry VIII. At the same time he embraced French grand opera expectations. [continued…]

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