Sentences on Passing Out

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An impresario possessing equal measures of morbid sensitivity, unassailable taste, and gallows humor, I have over the last 30 years given myself three opportunities to witness my own funeral. At my advancing age in a plague year may, luck may abandon me. Then how could I invite my grieving survivors to the real thing? Recollections of these determinedly downer concerts, secretly reflecting fantasies of my own demise, now return as a distinct balm.

Permit me then, at this interval when time is passing more slowly than usual, to share my choices of the saddest musical stuff, noting that this New Orleans-born Huck Finn-manque ends the celebration of his life with a decidedly upbeat march.

Opening the order of service to page one, one sees that mourners process in as brass and drums intone the march from Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary. The funeral sentences follow with the Purcell’s pungent chromatic solemnity well writ in John Eliot Gardner’s emotionally and historically informed recording HERE.  

Then Jessye Norman laments for all time HERE.  

Nothing could transcend earthly realms more than Robert Honeysucker’s total embrace of folornity. His immortal spiritual set, from Palm Sunday 2016 in Charlestown pours out to us HERE.

Nevertheless,  Bryn Terfel’s Elijah moment HERE and John Tomilson’s desperate vagabond HERE can share the stage of suffering and redemption.

Bach gets the last word in the church, as Claudius Tanski plays the Busoni transcription of Ich ruf zu dirHERE. [continued…]

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Home Desert Island Beethoven Anyone?

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A BMInt reviewer on temporary hiatus, I got my start in music criticism in the classical music department at WHRB as an undergraduate, and loved my experience there enough to have returned occasionally to do broadcasts.

The upcoming 250th Beethoven birthday almost demands a WHRB Orgy© of the composer’s 32 published piano sonatas and his 33 Diabelli Variations featuring recordings by 33 different pianists―all masters at the top of their game. I’d also ideally like to have a range of performance eras, from the very first sonata recordings of the 1920’s to the most recent issues. It’s a daunting task to listen to the broad  available range, but crowdsourcing could simplify.

So, BMInt critics and readers, what are your desert island Beethoven piano sonata recording nominations? Please cite as many specifics as you can (Claudio Arrau, Alfred Brendel, Wilhelm Kempff, and Daniel Barenboim each did more than one complete cycle, for example). Bonus points will accrue if you can provide a link to audio available through YouTube, Spotify, or some other streaming service, and especially if you can provide some specific thoughts about what’s vital about that performance.
[continued…]

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My Last Concert for a While

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Dear Readers, I wish to share with much pride and pleasure links to the last concert I attended and recorded. The 15 violinists and their pianist-partners in Miriam Fried’s New England Conservatory Studio played at Harvard Musical Association on March 12th before an audience consisting of a single of a camera and a few mutual friends, At my suggestion, they gave “An Evening of Romances” transcendentally, knowing it would be the last live gig for a while… The first half is HERE and the second half HERE. Please darken your room, gather round a big screen and enjoy.

The names of the players appear as one attends this virtual concert, and the players also introduce themselves. Content creators and providers are doing our best to keep the sounds and words coming.

Your Publisher, Lee Eiseman [continued…]

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Doriot Anthony Dwyer, 1922 – 2020

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“Become a musician only if you have to” was a half-serious quip from Doriot Anthony Dwyer, who died yesterday in Kansas age 98.

Born in Illinois in 1922 and a distant relative of suffragette Susan B. Anthony, Dwyer served as principal flute in the Boston Symphony Orchestra for almost 40 years. Having learned flute from her mother — “she used the instrument to sing, and had a huge, beautiful sound,” Dwyer attended Eastman, earning a bachelor’s degree and performer certificate. (Color details herein are drawn from online accounts by former Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer, local musician and music historian Susan Fleet, British music commentator and blogger Norman Lebrecht and his readers, scholar K.E Kean, and more.) Precocious at 12, Doriot began studying with Ernest Liegl, traveling five hours to Chicago twice each month for five years. At his recommendation Dwyer applied to Curtis, but she was rejected. At Interlochen that summer, Eastman head Howard Hanson offered her a scholarship. At Eastman she developed sufficient skills to win second flute with the National Symphony. After two years with the National Symphony, Doriot studied with William Kincaid, principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1945 she moved to New York to freelance, among other gigs playing in a jazz band behind Frank Sinatra. “Sinatra was really an artist,” she said. “Good jazz singers are true artists: they never do the same thing twice.” The next year she played in an orchestra for a ballet troupe, but the tour folded in Dallas. She took a train to Los Angeles. Six months later she was playing lucrative jobs in recording studios, being a fine sightreader. She auditioned for second flute in the LA Philharmonic and held the position from 1946 until 1952. Bruno Walter named her principal of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, a radio orchestra similar to the NBC Symphony, whose repertoire was difficult and schedule demanding.

In 1952 the BSO announced auditions to replace retiring principal flutist George Laurent. To avoid any confusion about her gender Doriot signed her application “Miss” Doriot Anthony. BSO conductor Charles Munch decided to hold a “ladies’ day” audition. Doriot described her invitation to audition for the BSO as “the greatest thrill of my life.” She went into heavy training. The audition lasted more than three hours. Arthur Fiedler asked for the flute solo from Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Doriot played it from memory. After a while, she played everything from memory. “What do you want to hear?” she asked, “I’ll just play it. …  They were knocked out by that,” she later said. [continued…]

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Feasting Vicariously on Walton

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Sir William Turner Walton

The stellar Yale Schola Cantorum (founded 2003 by Simon Carrington at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music) was to have visited Boston’s Symphony Hall today on a quick tour of New England, accompanied by the Yale Philharmonia, an orchestra made up of graduate students at the Yale School of Music. But that event is not to be.

The Yale Philharmonia is the largest performing ensemble at the YSM, founded in 1894 by composition professor Horatio Parker. During my and my husband’s time in New Haven, it was led by Otto Werner Mueller (1973-1987) and Eleazar di Carvahlo (1987-1994); since 2015, Peter Oundjian has directed it.

The New Haven groups of (mostly) graduate music students were to be joined by the world-renowned London Bach Choir in a program including William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, and the lavish motets Song to the Soul by Stanford and Mater ora filium by Bax. The soloist for the Walton was to be David Pershall (MM’10, AD’11), who made his Boston Lyric Opera debut as Count Almaviva in the recent 2018 Marriage of Figaro reviewed HERE.

But you can nevertheless hear them…

For those who have not had the chance to hear the Yale Schola Cantorum recently under their new director David Hill, the choir of two dozen voices has just released two choral CDs on Hyperion. “Schütz: The Christmas Story” recreates part of a 1660 Christmas day vespers in Dresden. It includes the fully orchestrated Historia der Geburt Christi, a Magnificat, and other motets. Soloists with local connections include ISM and YSM graduates Emilia Donato (MM’19, who studied for a year at NEC); mezzo-soprano Ashley Mulcahy (MM’19, who nows sings in Marsh Chapel and works at BU); and baritone Edward Vogel (MM’19, soloist at the Tanglewood Music Center during summer 2018). You can listen and read more HERE. [continued…]

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Emotion and Stage Presence Meet Bel Canto Technique

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In Boston Lyric Opera’s first production in nearly 40 years of Vincenzo Bellini’s 1831 masterwork, Norma, Elena Stikhina will attempt to summit this soprano Everest, playing a powerful Druid priestess whose affair with Pollione, the general of a warring Roman faction [spoiler alert] ends at the stake. The Russian-born soprano made her American debut in BLO’s 2017 production of Tosca. Her subsequent national and international acclaim includes a lauded 2018 Metropolitan Opera debut in Puccini’s Il Trittico. Best known for its star-making aria “Casta Diva,” BLO presents Bellini’s dramatic bel canto opera for five performances from March 13-22 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater.

Sandra Piques-Eddy (BLO’s Werther, 2016 and Katya Kabanova, 2015) plays Norma’s priestess/confidante Adalgisa. Jonathan Burton, who had taken the role of Cavaradossi opposite Stikhina’s in BLO’s Tosca, returns as Pollione. Alfred Walker (who recently performed to critical acclaim as Crown in the Metropolitan Opera’s acclaimed Porgy and Bess, and sang in BLO’s 2013 The Flying Dutchman) is Oroveso. 

Stephanie Havey makes her directorial debut at BLO, and David Angus conducts the BLO Orchestra. Shura Baryshnikov, recognized for her work on BLO’s The Handmaid’s Tale last season, serves as Movement Director. 

BMInt conversed at some length with Elena Stikhina and Jonathan Burton

FLE: I gather BLO immediately invited the two of you back after a successful Tosca pairing. [continued…]

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Singing an Audible Spectrum

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John Ehrlich 40 years ago

The gala “Spectrum Singers at 40!” will comprise chorus and audience favorites, embodying the mission that has made the ensemble unique from the start: performing the spectrum of great choral music while often focusing on works worthy but rarely heard.

The repertoire on March 14th at 8pm in First Church Congregational in Harvard Square ranges from the Renaissance through the 21st century, including both sacred and secular works in various languages and musical styles. Guest artists include Mark Andrew Cleveland, baritone; Heinrich Christensen, organ; and Richard Kelley, trumpet. James Barkovic, piano, will accompany several works, including some with piano duet featuring guest pianist Terry Halco. In addition, former members have been invited to sing a couple of selections with the chorus; the audience will also be invited to join in.

How could we distill 40 years of repertoire into one program without its being just a parade of greatest hits? The first order of business was to review all that we have performed over the decades. (That list will be viewable during the reception.) I then picked a large group of pieces most emblematic of our mission, in a variety of languages and musical styles. The choices had as well to be those we’d performed to acclaim from our audience; after all, this is your celebration too! The chorus then voted on those works they most wanted to sing. The final and most challenging stage has been organizing the results into a compelling program that creates a dramatic and musical arc both within the halves of the concert and throughout the evening. It’s always been my belief that a program’s pieces must resonate with one another, forming connections in musical style and structure, language and/or textual themes. [continued…]

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Friendly and Gnarly “Sonorities” Arrive Monday

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Here’s a secret of great artistry: no one does it alone. This season, First Monday at NEC has been exploring connections and friendships among composers and musicians who inspired each other. Sage impresario and performer Laurence Lesser welcomes all to the latest in the 35-year run of First Mondays in a few days. His assortments of well-loved classics and new compositions, performed by some of the finest chamber musicians in the world, are, as ever, free to all. Lesser goes on to say:

Last December marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leon Kirchner.  I couldn’t figure out how to get his Piano Trio No. 1 onstage in time, so next Monday we’re presenting it. Masuko Ushioda (my late wife) and I played it with Leon in First Monday’s inaugural season.  He was a great composer and a vital part of Boston musical life.  That led me to create an  “American” program that I call “Sonorities,” which will include music by Varèse (French but a longtime resident of NYC), a new piece by Ken Ueno commissioned by Marlboro for Kim Kashkashian, a group of Leonard Bernstein songs and a sizzling work for 5 percussionists by Joan Tower.

FLE: So I get it that Leon Kirchner is on the program because of his friendship with you and Masuko…how do bonds of friendship inform the rest of Monday’s show?

LL: He also was friendly with Lennie.  Ken Ueno (I know it’s a stretch) is Harvard doctorate, and Marlboro commissioned it for Kim K., where Leon hung out a lot.Not really much else on that moniker.  See my thought about “sonorities” below.  To be honest, friendship is how I worked to create the season and this is the only program that needed a reach on the theme.

Anything we can hear has “Sonorities.” Please strengthen this dab of thematic glue. [continued…]

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Debarguments and Debarcations with Lucas

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The 29-year-old French pianist Lucas Debargue plays Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra under Ben Zander Thursday and Saturday (Sanders Theater and Jordan Hall, 7pm and 8pm) and Sunday (Sanders at 3pm) in concerts that also include Kodály’s Dances of Galanta and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7. Following his fourth-place finish five years ago at the Tchaikovsky Competition, Debargue is establishing his reputation as a notably independent-minded musician who apparently appeals especially to the Russian market. He took part yesterday in an extended discussion with this USSR-born reporter.

VK: Moscow, Tchaikovsky 2015. You arrived at the competition with only  three to four years of piano lessons under your belt, stole the hearts of Moscow audiences, and received the prize of the audience and the music critics. The locals reported enthusiasm comparable to Van Cliburn’s triumph, of 1958. But before that came the underground period of your career. What was happening before you started your lessons with Rena Shereshevskaya?

LD: I started to get to know more about classical music when I was around 10, and I had my first shock: listening to a Mozart concerto. And then it never left me. I started with my first pedagogue when I was 11-12 and I stayed with her until age 15. She was very kind and very permissive; in Russia it would be considered too permissive. But I am very glad of what she offered me, because she let me explore the piano repertoire and make up my own ideas with my limited means of that moment. It made me conscious of many obstacles, but also it made me develop a global vision of wholeness, so it was not useless at all. [continued…]

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Shave and a Haircut, with Pie

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Stephen Sondheim

A few music-lovers might still not appreciate how the history of opera is a long continuum that includes, some might say concludes with, musicals. Perhaps a visit to a demonic barber at Harvard from March 27 through April 4 would help set them straight, as Lowell House Opera is presenting a musical for the first time, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, with a 19-person cast comprising young local opera professionals alongside Harvard undergraduates and students from the classical and musical theater voice programs of BoCo-Berklee. Presented in the newly renovated Lowell House dining hall, the production will also feature a full 27-piece orchestra.

Most will know the Victorian suspense thriller yarn telling of the unjustly Australia-banished barber who eventually returns to take bloody revenge on customers whose corpses become destined for a meat-pie shop. Director Adrienne Boris notes that the company’s staging of this “musical about cannibalism in a space where hundreds of people dine every day is undoubtedly creepy, but a dining hall can also be a place of community gathering and positive change. Alongside all of the humor and heart embedded in the piece, our production has an important message to deliver to our community about the cyclical nature of violence and the danger inherent in a society that increasingly lacks compassion for its less privileged citizens.” [continued…]

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“Nevertheless, She Persisted”

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The title of Seraphim Singers’ next outing can be taken on so many levels that a conventional lede and intro would serve woefully as a précis. Thus we go straight to an insightful conversation music aficionado and historian Anne Davenport had with Boston College philosopher Eileen Sweeney into the content and meaning of the chorus’s concerts in Cambridge and Newton at the end of this month.

Anne Davenport: With its persistent commissions, its commitment to programming rare gems and its emphasis on sacred transcendence, the Seraphim Singers exemplifies the magic combination of deep groundedness and fresh sound that makes Boston, at least music-wise, so Athenian. You boldly and unequivocally dedicate your concert to Feminism. It features a combative raised fist on the flyer! Is this a new departure? What does your director Jennifer Lester have in mind? 

Eileen Sweeney: Jennifer has been doing very creative ‘thematic’ programming since she founded the group 22 years ago. We don’t sing the big warhorses, but rather, a great deal of new music and lesser-known examples from all periods. Jennifer takes months working on and expanding her ideas for the season’s concerts. We have had concerts entitled “Visions of War, Peace, and Paradise,” “Oppression, Exile and Solidarity” and our fall concert this year was “Winter is Coming.” We have also done concerts around music of different periods and regions, and religious figures/symbols, like Mary, Jerusalem, and themes like creation and light. We did a concert called “Women’s Perspectives” last year which highlighted women composers but also settings of women’s poetry and stories. In this centenary year of women’s suffrage in the United States — and an election year in the era of #Me too — Jennifer wanted to showcase more women composers. Given her commitment to such a broad range of works, even two concerts is but a drop in the bucket for this repertoire. It’s true that recently Jennifer has engaged a bit more directly with issues of social justice. Our tag line, “A window on the divine” doesn’t mean a focus on the divine only as beyond, but also in the world. [continued…]

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Sharing Music Instead of Germs

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Sterling Elliott, cellist

Having canceled its East Asia tour due to the coronavirus epidemic, the BSO has substituted a series of free local musical offerings that will culminate in a Boston Symphony Orchestra community concert under the direction of Thomas Wilkins, BSO Youth and Family Conductor, on Sunday, February 16th, at 3 p.m., at Symphony Hall in Boston. Leading up to this concert will be a series of free pop-up concerts featuring members of the BSO that will take place throughout Greater Boston, February 9–14.

The Thomas Wilkins-led February 16th BSO performance, Concert for Our City, will feature a wide-ranging program including works by Tchaikovsky, Ginastera, and Brahms. The program will also include Chinese composer Huang Ruo’s Folksongs for Orchestra, George Walker’s Lyric for String Orchestra, and the finale of Dvorák’s Cello Concerto with cellist Sterling Elliott, the 2014 winner of the Sphinx Competition. Complimentary general admission tickets can be reserved HERE or by calling Symphony Charge at 617-266-1200.

Prior to the BSO event above, 28 members of the orchestra, along with Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, will participate in pop-up concerts as a way of thanking the orchestra’s neighbors. These are described below.  Bank of America, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Commonwealth Worldwide Executive Transportation, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, and Takeda Pharmaceutical International Co. have provided generous support. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Chamber Music Neighborhood Tour is supported with a generous gift from the family of Eleanor L. Campbell in her memory. [continued…]

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A Friendship Triptych

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Apo Hsu, influential as a conductor and teacher of conductors, met this writer a couple of weeks ago during her visits to the BSO for the rehearsals and performances of Formosa Triptych, by her friend and colleague Chihchun Chi-sun Lee. Her former student and current mentee BSO Assistant Conductor Yu-An Chang presided at the podium. Our conversation after the first rehearsal intrigued me.

FLE: Let’s begin with a summary of your connections.

AH: I’ve known Chihchun Chi-sun Lee for many years, and her husband Michael Timpson composed a piece I have premiered in Taipei; we have been in touch and supporting each other. Yu-An Chang started his conducting studies during his junior year and continued over a few years to earn his master’s degree in conducting with me at the National Taiwan Normal University before he went on to Berlin for further studies.

How did you recognize his abilities, especially in someone who doesn’t play a Western instrument?

He plays a Chinese bamboo flute like a virtuoso. In undergrad that was his major instrument; his playing resonated in the NTNU music building, and it projected incredibly well. You can hear it from 100 feet away, and he was always practicing diligently. He was often the first one who entered and the last one to leave the music building.

So, what was the notation that was used for that instrument?

Way back it was with Arabic numerals, but gradually within the last 25 years or so it is often transferred to Western notation. When he started in his teens, much of the sheet music was with “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7”, as translated to do re mi fa so la si.

And were the numbers on lines with bars?

They would be written with numbers horizontally on a line, with vertical bar lines. If you write a 1 with a dot, that means a beat and a half. A whole note would be written in 1- – – . There is a system of dots and dashes in the notation that indicates rhythm and octaves.

So, a full score with all those numbers must look pretty messy. [continued…]

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Concerns Over Coronavirus Cancel BSO Tour

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Increasing concerns over widely documented official news and government agency reports assessing the spread of the new coronavirus have led the Boston Symphony Orchestra to cancel its February 6th – 16th tour to East Asia with Andris Nelsons. “On behalf of Andris Nelsons and the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, we are all deeply disappointed that we will not be able to perform for the wonderful audiences in Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Shanghai,” said BSO President and CEO Mark Volpe.    [continued]

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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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