Monkey, A Kung Fu Puppet Parable Previewed


“The family friendly transmedia opera combining Bunraku puppetry, computer generated images, and live opera. MONKEY is based on the Chinese quest saga, “Journey to the West,” rewritten to reflect contemporary issues from the multicultural mosaic of American life. Besides the two fundamental operatic elements of text and music, the three main characters — Monkey, Pig (Zhu), and Sandwoman (Sha) — are life sized Bunraku puppets. MONKEY delves into the world of computer generated technology through the use of CGI environs and avatars. Live singers on stage will be the voices of the puppets and avatars.” Continues tonight and tomorrow afternoon at the Emerson Paramount Center. Kathy Wittman’s rehearsal pictures appear below the break.  Tickets HERE. Our review is HERE. [continued]

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Just Arrived on the Shelves


“Robert Craft: The Complete Columbia Album Collection,” a handsomely produced set of 44 CDs issued by Sony Classical, includes a 123-page accompanying booklet beginning with my six-page essay, “A Tireless Worker for the Music of Our Time,” along with photographs and a comprehensive listing of performers and recording data. You can get the whole thing HERE for $5.45 per disc.

Much of this set brings back to an eager audience a recorded legacy of historic importance. It reissues on remastered CDs what many of us have still treasured in our collections of vinyl LPs for many decades, beginning with the pathbreaking four-LP set of the complete works of Anton Webern, opp. 1-31. Many of these pieces were known for years, but previously unrecorded, and in some cases unpublished in score. The legend is that all of Webern’s works for orchestra, from the Passacaglia, op. 1, through the Six Pieces, op. 6, to the final Cantatas opp. 29 and 31, were recorded in just two hours of leftover time from Stravinsky recording sessions. Webern’s many songs (opp. 3, 4, 8, 12-19, 23, and 25) were divvied up by sopranos Grace-Lynne Martin and Marni Nixon* (suppressed as and later famous as the singing voices of Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, Jeanne Crain and Marilyn Monroe), whose pitch accuracy Craft once described as “better than violin.” Another essential part of the Webern legend is that Craft’s four-LP set was the best-selling multiple-disc classical album ever, though it hardly seemed credible even in the early 1960s, when I heard the story from Milton Babbitt. [continued]


Business Mentality in the Arts? Unkind Cuts?


From many sources we learn that Brandeis University proposes to place its PhD programs in composition and musicology on hiatus “until financial conditions improve,” according to Assistant Professor Emily Frey Giansiracusa’s account in Slipped Disc of Provost Carol Fierke’s pronouncement. Current candidates will be able to complete their work, and no faculty will be let go. Will the University’s bottom line take the slightest notice of this? Will the Lydian Quartet be shrunk to a trio? Is this what the President Liebowitz called “a lean into science”? Will science studies actually benefit? Our correspondents think not. Is this the beginning of an assault on the Arts?

The directors of beloved institutions don’t always make the best decisions. Community hue and cry did not save Boston’s magnificent Opera House from Northeastern University’s wrecking ball, though powerful artistic opinion-makers managed to reverse Emerson College’s intention to morph Clarence Blackall’s stunning and historic Colonial Theater into a college dining hall. In 2009, when Brandeis University president Jehuda Reinharz promulgated plans to close the school’s Rose Museum of Arts and plunder its collection, it took a successful lawsuit to prevent that philistinism. One has to wonder why the arts are the first to be cut and the last to be restored these days. It was not so at the formation of Brandeis. The founders would be very displeased by the announced plans to demolish the Musicology and Composition PhD programs there. Perhaps this is not an impending catastrophe on the level of the aforementioned episodes; the number of injured individuals is small, and at least 50 universities offer similar programs, nevertheless, this proposal indicates diminishing valuation for the liberal arts, and bureaucratic management of cultural institutions. Many aggrieved parties have weighed in; BMInt has not received an official response from the office of provost Carol Fierke or the office of the president. [continued]


Machover’s VALIS This Way Comes


Tod Machover’s first opera, VALIS, garnered rave reviews at its 1987 Paris Premiere. The CD — still available on Bridge Records — earned a  “Best of the Year” from The New York Times. Thirty years later, a brand-new Jay Scheib production, starring Davóne Tines and Anaïs Reno, debuts at the MIT Theater Arts Performance Space (345 Vassar Street, Cambridge) on September 8th and 9th at 7:30 pm and on the 10th, at 3:00 pm. MIT Theater Arts Performance Space, 345 Vassar Street,  Free tickets are  HERE. For more on the production click HERE.

“Based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, VALIS is perhaps even more relevant today—in a world coming to grips with “deep fakes” and the rapid development of AI technology—than when it was first presented. It tells the story of Horselover Fat—the author’s alter ego—who has a devastating-yet-enlightening “pink light” experience. Fat explores the blurred boundaries between reality and AI technology and considers the possibility of hope in a world where all knowledge is available but little of it is verifiable.” The soprano from 1987, our own Anne Azéma, joined me in interviewing Tod Machover.

Lee Eiseman: Tod, did you write the part of Sophia for our Anne Azéma? [continued]

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BPYO Toured to South Africa? Tell us More


The impressive and impressionable players of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO) became enraptured by the South African people and their country over an extraordinary six-concert tour in mid June; South Africans responded in kind to these remarkable young musicians. Pretoria, Cape Town, and Makhanda witnessed Beethoven 5th and Ein Heldenleben; Mahler’s Second Symphony came to Johannesburg, Soweto, and Cape Town, where BPYO shared the stage with Gauteng Choristers, directed by Sidwell Mhlongo; soprano Andiswa Makana, and mezzo-soprano Bongiwe Nakani Mcetywa—South African musicians singing Mahler for the first time. The SA Daily Maverick recounted:

On his first trip to South Africa years ago, Zander fell in love with the country, the people and the way everybody seemed absorbed and fascinated by South Africa. “Every conversation, it seemed, was about the country, its future, its problems and the solutions.” Zander met Nelson Mandela on that trip. He said to him: “It is a great honour to meet you, for you are the first leader of Symphonia.” “Oh?” said Mandela. “What is that?” Zander explained: “Sym-phonia: Sounding together. You didn’t lead one party against another. You listened to all the voices and conducted the whole ‘orchestra’.”

Madiba beamed from ear to ear. “I like that.”

On that occasion  Zander promised Mandela that one day he would bring his youth orchestra to South Africa. He wanted them to experience the country and mould their lives around Mandela’s vision.

Twenty-five years later it happened. [continued]

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Music Remembers Wartime Trauma


Yet it is not only we who remember music. Music also remembers us.

For myriad reasons, Jeremy Eichler’s “Time’s Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust, and The Music of Remembrance” makes for an unusually important and continuously compelling read. His dual passions as music critic and cultural historian fuse to offer extraordinary ways of reconsidering and hearing four of the 20th century’s most significant musical works: Eichler places these works Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar), and Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem and their composers within a richly detailed historical and cultural context. “Witness to history and a carrier of memory … they stood at four different windows overlooking the same catastrophe. Each responded to the rupture through intensely charged memorials in sound.”

Even those who feel conversant with the biographies of these composers will learn much from the extravagance of historical detail surrounding their lives and music, their friends, their countries, their times and their religious and political choices. A huge swath of European, Russian, and American luminaries made indelible appearances and alliances. Little seems to end well for most of these walk-ons—particularly writers and librettists—who paid a huge price for describing the “murderous contradictions” of their worlds. [continued]


Landmark Journeys: Dances from Beethoven to Gottschalk


Christopher Wilkins (file photo)

BMInt shares with pleasure Landmarks Orchestra’s “podium note” from Artistic Director Christopher Wilkins for the Dance Night beginning on Wednesday night at 7:00 in the Hatch Shell.

On any given night, you’re likely to see young dancers at Landmarks concerts moving to the music. They’ll dance wherever the spirit moves them: on the lawn, along the walkways, or in front of the stage. Their motion becomes more directed when they enter the Maestro Zone, where tonight they will receive conducting lessons from Sheila del Bosque, multi-award-wining flutist, composer, and conductor. Originally from Cuba, she recently graduated from the Berklee College of Music, with a dual degree in Performance and Film Scoring, and a minor in Orchestral Conducting.

Dance Night has become an annual Landmarks tradition. It amplifies the natural move-to-the-music inclinations of our audience. But it also provides an opportunity to showcase the depth of talent that runs through Boston’s diverse cultural communities. In recent seasons, dance collaborations have represented traditions from Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela, West Africa, Ireland, Armenia, Syria, and Korea.

Hector Berlioz stitched his Roman Carnival Overture together using two themes composed in 1837 for Benvenuto Cellini. In his Mémoirs, he wrote about the disastrous premiere of that opera: “I had been greatly struck by certain episodes in the life of Benvenuto Cellini. I had the misfortune to believe they would make an interesting and dramatic subject for an opera.” The overture’s opening flourish contains the seeds of the work’s second main theme, which arrives later with the carnival music. The first theme—introduced by the English horn—comes from a love duet between the opera’s artist-protagonist Benvenuto Cellini and the woman he loves, Teresa. Violas repeat the tune, then the full orchestra, with invigorating accompaniment in the trumpets and percussion. A sweetly sung cadence in the strings runs into a swirling gust, stirred up by woodwinds and percussion. Suddenly, we’re swept off our feet and into an Italian street scene—already in progress—amid the exuberant chaos of a Roman carnival. [continued]

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Hearing Atonality, or Not Quite


Most of the music we know is full of tonality, which we experience and understand without being fully capable of defining in words what “tonality” is — what we mean by it. We can even usually find the tonic, by listening and looking at the score, though from time to time perhaps we aren’t certain about what it is or where it is. And we also recognize that there are times when the tonality is temporarily suspended, as in all those passages with multiple successions of diminished-seventh chords in Chopin, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky (not to forget Bach and Mozart), or those rapid modulations with each new tonic coming from the dominant of the previous key (same composers just mentioned, among others) — in one door and out another, so to speak.

Come to the end of the 19th century, and with the chromatic Germans and the modal French, and our perception of “tonality” is stretched to wider-than-ever limits. There’s that wonderfully crazy passage in Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel (1895), where the wildest murky assortment of chords goes on for several bars, with no possibility of finding a tonic, before being wrenched into a climactic D major six-four (you know where I mean, just before the death-roll snare drums). And there’s Debussy’s Nuages (1899), in which the tonic triad is B diminished (B> D> F>), and at the very end the palpable tonic is represented by just a single pitch. But we unmistakably recognize these well-unified works as tonal music, i.e., full of tonality, whatever else there may be in the equation. [continued]

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Paganini Laureate Returns to NEC


by Annie Kim

Violinist Inmo Yang will return to NEC Williams Hall where he appeared a year ago in a recital celebrated on these pages with much enthusiasm. “Yang made the [music] come alive by varying the colors on his soulful Guadagnini, he also demonstrated remarkable expressiveness and control of his bow made by Boston-area McArthur Genius Grant winner Benoit Roland. [He] left us with a stage picture of handsomely distilled and gorgeous inflected romance.” Information on the August 6th at 3:00pm sonata recital with pianist Yun Janice Lu, tickets and details can be found at the Korean Cultural Society of Boston.

Proceeding in reverse chronological order of composition, the recital begins with two sonatas written within the contexts of World War I. The Debussy Violin Sonata, though but 13-minutes in length, foregrounds Debussy’s signature use of wide-ranging timbres and harmonic colors combined with his motive-driven, fragmented, late compositional style. The violin sonata was part of what Debussy envisioned to be a set of six sonatas, but this remains the third and final work of the unfinished cycle. [continued]

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A Full, Round Tone: Schubert’s Trombones


The trombone (Italian, “big trumpet”) is well known as a band instrument (e.g., 76 of them in The Music Man) or part of a jazz combo (Jack Teagarden and friends), and, since Wagner, as a regular member of the symphony orchestra, normally in groups of three. Before Wagner trombones were only occasionally used in symphonies, appearing suddenly and spectacularly (alto, tenor and bass) in the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth. Prior to that splendid moment, trombones were used as choral doublers (including in several Bach cantatas and regularly in contrapuntal sections of the Viennese classical Mass), or less often, as a coloristic group in opera — think of the graveyard scene in Don Giovanni or even all the way back to Monteverdi’s Orfeo, when the trombones were sackbuts. Beethoven, apart from one or two instances, seems to have been reluctant to use the trombone as a solo instrument, or in a non-doubling choir of three; by the time of the Fifth Symphony (1808), he was already quite deaf, and may have only guessed at the trombone’s coloristic utility, although one day in 1812 he did write three Equale for a quartet of trombones (WoO 30). [continued]


Worthy Summer Series Takes Off


The Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts will soon be mounting another exuberant summer concert series. From August 10th to August 26th, 27 distinguished violinists, violists, cellists, pianists, and various chamber configurations across at last a couple of generations will excite the intimate Williams Hall at a time when little else is going on musically in the City. Also, Channing Yu’s Mercury Orchestra will showcase the winner of the related 2023 Fou Ts’ong International Concerto Competition at the orchestra’s Jordan Hall Concert on August 26th. The calendar can be found HERE. Founding President Catherine Chan is “so proud of all the artists presented” and wishes “these magnificent artists to be heard more on the world stage.”

Since 1989, the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts has been promoting Asian musicians and the Eastern musical heritage through performing arts and has presented over 151 concerts in Boston’s Symphony Hall, Jordan Hall, Harvard’s Sanders Theater, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Calderwood Hall, and New York’s Carnegie Hall featuring renowned Asian musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, Fou Ts’ong, Tan Dun, Hung-Kuan Chen, Bion Tsang, Nai-Yuan Hu, Dang Thai-Son, The Shanghai Quartet, Ning An, and Haochen Zhang… to critical acclaim. For 28 years, the FCPA had also hosted its Annual Music Festival at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, attracting students from all over the world and had included students like Lang Lang, George Li, Yeol Eun Son, Eric Lu and Kate Liu. The summer series at NEC also welcomes artists from the west. [continued]

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Erin Morley’s Master Class


Witnessing a master class, in which a distinguished musical artist works closely with several advanced young musicians, giving them suggestions for improvement and ripening insights into the work at hand, is almost always a satisfying experience in several ways. For one thing, of course, it gives an audience an early look at the quality of musicians who are close to entering the ranks of professional singing or playing, allowing us to take note of performers we want to watch out for in the future. But another interesting element of master classes is the opportunity to get a close look at the teacher, someone who has already reached a high point in the musical world, gaining the opportunity to learn from his or her approach to the younger artist a precise look at just what the teacher-coach considers most significant in the art.

On Wednesday, July 12th, the coloratura soprano Erin Morley offered just such an experience to five singers who are attending the Tanglewood Music Center’s vocal program this summer. Though she is a world-famous coloratura, Morley did not limit the class to singers who would offer arias she herself might sing. Rather she worked with five singers in varied vocal ranges, singing arias that she would never undertake herself. She spent roughly a half hour with each one, taking a range of different approaches. She clearly had the measure of each aria and the operatic scene in which it occurred. [continued]

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Jane Eaglen: Miss Isolde Talks Shop


“Miss Isolde,” thus the legendary Sir Reginald Goodall addressed the young Jane Eaglen 37 years ago at the first rehearsal of the “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde for one of the very last concerts he would conduct. During our recent lunch, “Miss Isolde” (Eaglen) said that Sir Reginald never called singers by their proper names, instead using the names of the characters they were studying, rehearsing or performing.

“That is way too loud. Look at the score; there are only two ff’s, Wagner never asks for more than that.” Eaglen still has vivid memories of that rehearsal and that concert ― among other things Prince Charles and Princess Diana were in the audience and she got to meet them. The ovations were tremendous and Sir Reginald was reluctant to reappear. “No Miss Isolde,” he said, “it’s all for you.”

It was a decade before Eaglen was ready to sing her first complete performance of Tristan, but she was mindful of Goodall’s advice then and in the subsequent years when she was one of the world’s major Wagner singers. One of the remarkable things about her during her prime years was that she always sang within her voice, unlike others who were pushing far beyond their instruments. Now that she is training young singers, she is bringing her extensive knowledge of Wagner to new generations. [continued]


Who’s on Second at Boston Baroque?


In anticipation of its 50th season, Boston Baroque has announced the appointment of Filippo Ciabatti as the ensemble’s first assistant conductor. The Director of Orchestral and Choral Programs at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College as well as the Artistic Director of the Upper Valley Baroque Ensemble, Ciabatti won the 2020 American Prize in Conducting (college/university division). He trained in Italy and at the University of Illinois Urbana / Champaign, and he has also conducted opera companies and orchestras in South America and Europe. BMInt’s interviewer Mark Dirksen Zoomed with Ciabatti and Boston Baroques’ leader Martin Pearlman about what’s ahead for Boston Baroque.  

MD: Filippo, I know you’ve been on the East Coast for several years now directing the orchestra and choirs at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College, but it will be great to have you in Boston on a regular basis. Tell us a bit about your upbringing in Florence and training in Italy.

FC: I was born in Florence where I actually am in this moment. I began my career studying piano when I was young and then began to conduct choirs as well. Most importantly, I always loved playing for singers and also found it was a fabulous experience as a conductor for what you learn about listening and about being flexible.

The music scene in Florence was very vibrant. The Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini had a wonderful early music program led by Alfonso Fedi, an organist and harpsichordist who was a student of Gustave Leonhardt and I had a chance to observe and study there. My own teacher Fabio Lombardo has an early music ensemble in Florence called L’Homme Armé and that was one of my first experiences as well.

Great name!

Yes, exactly. Then there was an opportunity for me to move to the United States to further my studies and that brought me then to the University of Illinois where continued my studies in conducting and from there started my American life and career.

Indeed. Martin, how did you how did you get connected with Filippo? Where did you hear about him? [continued]

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Kelley Tells a Tale


The Aston Magna Music Festival celebrates its 50th season this summer, running every weekend from June 22nd  to July 22nd. Opening night will be at Slosberg Music Center at Brandeis University. Our earlier feature with a Dan Stepner interview is HERE. Tickets can be found HERE.

The festival’s opening weekend revives last year’s well-received program, The Devil’s in the Tales, pairing Scarlatti’s Humanità e Lucifero with Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat. The Intelligencer recently spoke to renowned tenor Frank Kelley, who both stage directs and plays the narrator in L’Histoire du soldat and plays the devil in Humanità e Lucifero.

MW: How similar will this year’s production be to last year’s?

FK: It’s a remount of last year’s production! We would love for more people to have a chance to see it. It is an appropriately minimalist production, which I feel is in the spirit of how Stravinsky and Ramuz wanted it to be. I was looking recently at some historic pictures of the first performance, and uncannily, the stage is set up exactly the way that I had the stage set up in the production! Yes—it’s exactly how I saw it.

In addition to stage directing, you also play the narrator in L’Histoire du soldat. What’s it been like being your own director and reprising the role? [continued]

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A Boisterous Little Wedding


June 23rd marks the centenary of the premiere of one of the greatest masterpieces of the past 100 years: Stravinsky’s Svádebka, better known by its French title, Les noces, or (in England) The Wedding. Stravinsky said that the Russian diminutive really should be “Peasant Wedding” rather than “Little Wedding,” but that’s what Les noces is: a boisterous occasion for bride, groom, parents, and friends. When you hear Les noces, you may feel as though you were right there, and you never forget it.

Some references call it a “dance cantata,” others call it “Russian choreographic scenes,” but we know Les noces today as 20 uninterrupted, motoric minutes of singing, shouting, pounding, wailing, and rejoicing, for four vocal soloists, SATB chorus, four pianos, and 16 percussion instruments. Stravinsky wrote about it (in “Expositions and Developments,” 1962): “Les noces is a suite of typical wedding episodes told through quotations of typical talk. The latter, whether the bride’s, the groom’s, the parents,’ or the guests,’ is always ritualistic. As a collection of clichés and quotations of typical wedding sayings it might be compared to one of those scenes in Ulysses in which the reader seems to be overhearing scraps of conversation without the connecting thread of discourse. But Les noces might also be compared to Ulysses in the larger sense that both works are trying to present rather than to describe.” Which is why the choral portions especially of Les noces are a constant meet-and-greet succession of motivic ideas, rhythmic, melodic, and percussive, one after the other; the soli (the bride’s tresses, the sorrowing mothers) are more like a 19th-century Russian folksong, with one melodic idea repeated and varied. [continued]

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YouTube Celebrity to Debut at Methuen


Since its incorporation in 1946, the Methuen Memorial Music Hall has each year presented eminent and emerging European organists as part of its annual summer organ series. Covid interrupted this practice, but the tradition resumes this year on Wednesday, June 14th, at 7:30 P.M. when Paul Fey, a 25-year-old organist and composer from Leipzig, Germany, will make his North American debut. His “Music from Leipzig,” will champion composers who lived and worked there. Eleven concerts follow in the Wednesday evening series. Details HERE.

The program will open with a spirited piece by Leipzig’s best-known composer, J. S. Bach’s Prelude in D-Major, BWV 532. The next selection, by Johann Kuhnau (1660-1749), who was Bach’s predecessor as Kantor at the Thomaskirche, is Biblical Sonata 1: The Battle of David and Goliath. The piece, with spoken narration from the First Book of Samuel, uses a variety of musical devices to portray the events of that famous confrontation. [continued]

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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]