Fair Use of Flickers

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Even as our communities slowly unlock, and however tentatively the tumblers are turning, we’ve already become accustomed to the replacement of our cherished communal musical events with figurative and literal flickers reaching us via our computers, smart TVs, and mobile devices. Every once in a while, though, something may go amiss: a performance from someone’s living room, empty concert hall or patchwork ensemble winks out, sometimes entirely, sometimes for an extended period. Was that some technical glitch of recording or transmission, something in our internet connection, or an inept engineer or what? In many cases, it seems, the gremlin in the works may have been put there deliberately, and it may have had assistance of counsel.

An article recently published in the Washington Post (it’s here, but be forewarned of WaPo’s paywall) has called out the impact of recording companies’ copyright enforcement bots (software that patrols the Interwebs) seeking illicit posting or streaming of music for which the labels claim rights. While this form of artificial intelligence has a decent record of accuracy when it comes to pop and rock, where performance styles and the musical elements of performance vary considerably among recordings, it doesn’t work nearly as well with classical music, where not only is the bulk of the repertoire in the public domain, but the differences between particular performances are much more subtle. Nevertheless the principal platforms over which these streamed performances reach us, like Facebook or Google-owned YouTube, rely on these bots to tell them if a copyright claim has been asserted against a performance, leading the platform to shoot (i.e., take it down) first and let the performer ask questions later. As the WaPo article observes, and I have confirmed, the platforms offer means by which an aggrieved performer or producer can seek redress for an unjustified take-down, the process, which requires human staff to review the recordings for similarity and provenance, the process can take days or even weeks to complete, which isn’t much of a live stream, is it? [continued…]

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Wassup With Dedications?

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Dedication rescinded

What do composers mean with dedications to their scores? Compare the situation when an author adds a dedicatory page right after the title page of his book, as in Melville’s dedication of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, thus: “In token of my admiration for his genius this book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.” One great writer to another.

Beethoven and Chopin peppered their piano compositions with dedications, chiefly to persons of the nobility or at least locally noteworthy, many of whom sponsored them financially. Many composers have dedicated their compositions to their own students: Mozart and his piano concertos, Beethoven and several sonatas, Chopin his Scherzo no. 3 to Adolf Gutmann (whose strength was such that he “could knock a hole in the table”, according to Huneker, who pointed to a big chord in bar 6).

A surprising number of composers offered dedications to their fellow composers, and this in itself is revealing. Beethoven dedicated his three piano sonatas, op. 2, to Haydn, his friend who to an extent was also his teacher. Schubert, at the very end of his life, dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Johann Nepomuk Hummel; but by the time these were published, in 1839, eleven years after Schubert’s death, Hummel himself had been dead for two years. Schubert’s composed his Sonata for piano four hands, D 812 (“Grand Duo”) in 1824, though not until 1837 did it see publication, and then with the publisher Diabelli’s dedication to the 18-year-old pianist Clara Wieck, three years before she married Schumann. Possibly Schubert, could he have but known, would have approved of this. Ravel dedicated his Jeux d’eau and String Quartet, mature masterpieces, to his “cher maître” Gabriel Fauré while still a student at the Conservatoire. Debussy dedicated his own “First String Quartet [there was never another] in G minor, op. 10 [his only opus number]” to Ernest Chausson, who had nominated him for membership in the Société nationale, and as a man of means may have helped him financially as well. Alban Berg, who worshiped his teacher Schoenberg, dedicated three of his largest compositions to him; but he dedicated Wozzeck to Alma Mahler, who paid for the engraving of the piano score. Another connection with Alma Mahler was an expression of love and grief: Berg’s last work, the Violin Concerto, was dedicated “to the memory of an angel,” her daughter Manon Gropius, who died of polio at age 19. [continued…]

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Virginia Newes 1929 – 2020

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The esteemed musicologist, who died on May 18th from cancer, was one of the Boston Musical Intelligencer’s most prolific and informative writers. She submitted her first review, of Boston Baroque’s performance of Michael Haydn’s Requiem Mass in 2009. Her last one reported on Capella Clausura’s take on the visionary-inspired music of Hildegard von Bingen’s on Feb 23rd. In 159 reviews she covered such groups as Capella Clausura, Blue Heron, the Borromeo Quartet, the Lydian Quartet, Emmanuel Music, Concerts at the Gardner, Cantata Singers, Boston Baroque, Back Bay Chorale, Cambridge Society for Early Music, the Newport Music Festival, Rockport Music, Odyssey Opera, NEC, Shakespearean Concerts, Tallis Scholars, and the Boston Chamber Music Society.

But she penned her greatest number of reviews for concerts put on by the Boston Early Music Festival, both for its biennial music orgies and for its performances during its regular seasons. Kathy Fay, executive director of BEMF, wrote today, “On behalf of the board of directors, artists, staff, and patrons of the Boston Early Music Festival, I am deeply saddened by the news. Her delightful and gentle spirit, thoughtful and illuminating reviews of our concerts, operas, and our biennial Festivals, and generous support of our programs and global work, will be sorely missed. Thanks to Virginia’s profound grasp of the classical repertoire—particularly music from centuries past and especially medieval music—we devoured her concert reviews and always emerged with a much deeper understanding of performances we attended.” 

Publisher F. Lee Eiseman noted that “she always brought tremendous seriousness of purpose and scrupulousness of research and observation to her work.” Indeed. Virginia continually educated our readers with historically accurate information. A few of examples of the wonderful cadence she brought to her reviews: of the performance by the BSO at Tanglewood on July 24, 2009: “After the opening outburst of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, we were treated to one of the composer’s beautifully flexible Andante melodies:  an English horn solo ably played by the BSO’s Robert Sheena and then heard in canon for winds and strings with rustling wind and percussion accompaniment. “She wrote of fortepianist Christian Bezuidenhout’s debut as conductor in a concert with the Handel & Haydn Society, in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Symphony in C Major, Wq. 182/3, “Beginning in a sunny and energetic C Major in forthright unison, sudden interjections on A flat and F sharp lent an air of sudden darkness to the drama.” [continued…]

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From His Desert Island Direct to Ours

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Yo-Yo Ma will broadcast Bach’s immortal Six Suites for Solo Cello as a memorial to the 100,000 who have died in our ongoing plague and as a tribute to the resilience of the survivors. During the 2.5-hour tour of this monumental edifice, Ma’s only companions will be Bach himself and the station’s remote-controlled cameras and receptive microphones, though he will also surely direct his attention to our ears and eyes. The broadcast from isolation will issue forth from the WGBH Fraser Studio in Brighton this Sunday at 3 PM over a significant number of media outlets: WGBH channel 2 in Boston, and on public radio airwaves, stations across the country through the good offices of PRX, and streaming live on Yo-Yo Ma’s YouTube channel and at ClassicalWCRB.org.

Ma’s performance comes in the midst of the interrupted final segment of his “Bach Project,” in which he had intended  to bring the six suites to 36 communities on six continents, as his personal contribution to “build the world we want.”

“In times of challenge, we’ve often come together in shared experiences,” said Jon Abbott, president and CEO of WGBH. “Yo-Yo Ma has a generosity of spirit, a solemnity that the moment deserves, and a warmth that reminds us of togetherness even as we feel alone. It is the strength we draw from each other that will help move us forward, and we are honored to host and produce this memorial event at WGBH and share it with the world through our public media network.” [continued…]

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Tanglewood, Too, Goes Virtual

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Because its beloved summer festival draws approximately 350,000 people and brings more than $100 million in economic activity annually to the Berkshires region, it is with tremendous regret that the BSO has announced cessation of in-person events at Tanglewood for this plagued summer of 2020. Not since 1945 have listeners had to do almost entirely without this essential business. [According to BSO historian Brian Bell, that year, though, the orchestra managed to cut its first RCA Victor recordings on the grounds, and while the shed was dark, six rather impressive concerts took place at the Theater Concert Hall.]

Instead, the BSO will connect performers—both BSO musicians and guest artists—with audiences through the debuting “Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival,” which will disgorge both newly recorded and encoring performances. While it’s doubtful that electronic facsimiles will reach and give pleasure to the third of a million music-lovers who might otherwise have attended, BSO webcasts have attracted tens of thousands over the last few years.

We can’t get specific marketing information on the free BSO live streams, but recent YouTube concert recordings have garnered 292–4000 views, though a highly promoted show, such as the “Concert for Our City” has played to 24,293 virtual viewers so far. Individual concerts available on YouTube for six or more years record up to 51,495 views. It will be very interesting to learn whether viewers will respond to the appointment streaming opportunities, some behind moderate paywalls, that will constitute the Tanglewood experience for this summer. The BSO marketing department reports over 7mm engagements overall since BSO At Home launched, and have had over 1mm engagements specifically with audio (206,000) and video (941,000) media. [Note: Engagements or impressions refer more to server hits or opportunities to be seen, while “views” and refer to real interactions with viewers]

At press time we have not been able to get answers as to what WCRB and other broadcasters will be offering and the extent of overlap with the BSO’s own productions for the Tanglewood season. WCRB will be broadcasting six Boston Pops performances throughout the spring and early summer [continued…]

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Jordan Hall and Sanders Theater Extend Closures

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Boston Baroque subscribers heard this morning that New England Conservatory has closed Jordan Hall to outside organizations for the entire 2020-2021 concert season. This sounds draconian. But to the administration of NEC, protecting students and their tuition revenues apparently trumps the importance of hall rentals and the needs of the Boston concertgoers. We understand this. But we also hope that presenters will find venues where students’ needs won’t be factored into revenue and liability equations.

In announcing the unobtainabilty of Sanders, Harvard has told presenters more or less the same thing, although perhaps with more nuance.

The institutions’ official emails to presenters follow.

Peter Charig  NEC Director of Business Relations & Event Management sent an email to all renters on Friday, that reads in part:

The safety and wellness of our community – including students, faculty, and staff – is NEC’s first priority, and with that focus, we have determined that our performance and rehearsal venues will not be available for rentals for the 2020-2021 concert season. Specifically, the time period from September 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. This decision is one prompted by our concern for public health and implemented out of necessity. It is a decision founded in robust planning in consultation with public health agencies and officials. That said, it is also a difficult one, as we have developed many trusted relationships with our partners and friends. We hope that our providing advance notice allows your organization to make alternative arrangements for the coming season, and we hope to continue to grow our relationship, even in these most difficult times.

As the world continues to monitor the ongoing health concerns posed by COVID-19, so will NEC.  Should an opportunity arise to safely and securely re-open our performance venues to our external partners for rental purposes, please be assured that we will consider all possibilities. [continued…]

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Phrasing the Full Glass

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Ludwig Vinthoven

A phrase is a unit of musical time. The term applies to melody, or to a total texture; whether we are listening to Gregorian chant or a Beethoven symphony or a hunk of rock ‘n’ roll, we are hearing a procession of phrases. Most of us think of melody in terms of phrases: “…structurally, a unit approximating to what one could sing in a single breath,” as Arnold Schoenberg wrote in Fundamentals of Musical Composition.  Douglass Green’s Form in Tonal Music is coy: “Writers on music seem to agree only that the phrase: 1) exhibits some degree of completeness; and 2) comes to a point of relative repose.” Whether you look for a musical definition of “phrase” in Webster’s or in different musical dictionaries and encyclopedias, you will find a lot of confusing answers; yet musicians use the term every day. Here, it is easiest to say that the phrase is the basic practical quantity of melody. To make an analogy that isn’t perfect: sometimes it is convenient or necessary to measure wine by drops or milliliters, or by bottles or barrels; but the basic familiar quantity of wine, as we experience it, is the full glass.

Most of the music we know best proceeds in regular phrases: whatever the meter or rhythm, we sense the regular phrase as a fourfold grouping: four bars, eight bars in moderate tempo, sometimes two bars in slow tempo, sixteen bars in fast tempo.  Regular phrases often come in pairs, and these pairs often constitute a small form by themselves, or regular part of a larger form.  One familiar type of paired phrases is parallel phrases: two phrases that are identical except for their endings.  (^1 means the tonic note, first degree of the scale; ^2 the supertonic or second degree, etc.)

It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was || dry,   [ending on ^2]
So hot last night, I froze to death, Susannah, || don’t you cry.   [ends on ^1]

Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus E- || lysium,    [ending on ^2}
Wir betreten, feuertrunken, himmlische, dein || Heiligtum.     [ends on ^1]  [continued…]

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Short Lessons [Readings] and Idle Considerations

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It’s convenient to consider all Western music as employing either closed or open forms. Closed forms typically are songs, measured by regular phrase structure and the boundaries of associated text. Dances are in the same category, sometimes overlapping with songs; they are bounded by the patterns of dance steps and regular phrases. In open forms, which are longer pieces like sonatas and symphonies, one doesn’t know how far or how long they will go, and there is always something to listen forward to; yet the many different open forms often have regular phrases as part of their stable structure.

Songs show a great variety of musical types. Folksongs are normally regular in form, with texts in stanzas of rhymed verse; as sung by different singers, they are subject to every kind of melodic variation, variable accompaniment with many different harmonies (“chord changes”), or no accompaniment at all; and almost never is there an identified composer. Popular songs are more stable, with identifiable composers even if their names are lost, and they tend to be published in sheet music, with standardized accompaniments even if others improvise on them.  Art songs are generally in the classical realm, often by famous composers, to be sung note-for-note precisely, with practiced accompaniments, often but by no means always strophic in form, and in a language we don’t know. [continued…]

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Tiny Works Take Center Stage During Quarantine

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Music is hurting right now. With our concerts cancelled, performers stuck at home making due with lessons over Zoom, and Mayor Marty Walsh suggesting that concerts may not return to Boston until 2021, the future admittedly looks very, very bleak. And new music’s place in the mix looks even bleaker. Already four premieres of my newest compositions and three revivals have been cancelled just through June, with seemingly more to be cut.

Yet some intrepid performers continue to make music through at-home internet projects. One of these that has really been helping the new music scene comes from soprano Stephanie Lamprea, who has taken to Facebook in a new series of premiers of what she has coined “tiny-works” for solo voice. Running around a maximum of two minutes they give concise looks into each composer’s identity and musical interests, highly controlled miniatures usually with a text that run the gamut from narrative works about wishing impatiently for plants to grow to Neo-Gregorian chant to highly avant-garde syllabic stuttering. Every few days, Lamprea posts a new video of her performing one of these tiny-works from the corner of her practice room, performing for the camera with the same energy as if she were playing to a full audience. It’s a rather refreshing series to watch, given how, right now, we hear nothing but continued postponement or cancellation of our concerts and extended stay-at-home orders.

Even more exciting is that Lamprea has begun releasing these tiny-works as albums. Recently on Bandcamp, a distribution platform where performing artists can sell their recordings for their own prices on their own terms, Lamprea released the first volume in a series of albums called Unaccompanied: Tiny Works for Quarantine. Volume I of the series represents some of the first examples written for her, including the one that started the project, “I. Boston, MA” from Matthew Kennedy’s Miniatures for One. Other composers represented on this first release include James Banner, Anthony Donofrio, and Caitlin Cawley, among many others. More volumes in this series are expected in the future representing even more pieces from this series, including my own, I Am, I Was.

I had the pleasure of asking Lamprea several questions regarding her endeavor. [continued…]

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Time To Play

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Michael Monroe, le Penseur

In a time with no place to go and not much to hear live, I thought I’d share some of the musical diversions I’ve been creating online for the past 13-plus years. I started mmmusing.blogspot.com/ back before blogging was cool, thinking I would write mostly words to unravel the mysteries of how and why music interacts with our minds. But in short order I discovered it was at least as much fun to create multimedia that do the talking for me. Michael Monroe, music musing, mind and meaning, multimedia mashups, it just started happening, not only alliteratively, and now there are hundreds of thousands of words and also hundreds of creations including videos, mashups, interactive pages, computer programs, and even poems, all interconnected in a way that could never resemble a normal book, even if there are books’ worth of material. If you’re looking for something to read, read on.

This article will be full of links, but first I’ll say a few words about playfulness. It will be clear from following just a few links that I love playing, sometimes irreverently, with music that is loved and generally taken very seriously. A lot I’ve done is just silly, but it still comes from serious affection for music and the way its ideas interact with us. We often talk of “playing music,” but the free-spirited, childlike associations of the word “play” can get lost in a high-stakes world of getting things right, getting to the next gig, getting reviewed. I sometimes smile at the intensely felt arguments about musical performances that appear regularly on this site, both pleased that people care so much about music and amused that they care so much about play.

I’ve come to realize that what I love most about music is its conversational quality — the multidirectional interaction of listening, memory, expectation, and response. For example, the way I hear something like the beginning of The Rite of Spring and it awakens in my mind a memory of Appalachian Spring and out comes The Rite of Appalachian Spring. That’s partly just a musical pun based on a verbal pun, but it’s also articulating an awareness of similarities in the styles of Stravinsky and Copland (something I’d been reading about in Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise at the time this came to mind). Most important, the intricate work that goes into combining these works is a wonderful way to encounter the music of both composers. I’ve never actually played The Rite of Spring, but I’ve played with it many different ways, always inspired by things it has said to me. [continued…]

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BSO Survived Earlier Strokes of Fate

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BSO had enemies visible and invisible

Must one look at the current situation in classical music, indeed in all the arts, as a catastrophe never before seen in our longest lifetimes? A century ago, the Boston Symphony was reeling from a series of disasters that called into question its very survival.

In 1917, when the United States entered World War One, the Boston Symphony was generally accepted as the finest orchestra in the world. Its 110 performances (including 48 in Boston, 15 in New York and Brooklyn, and another 15 in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC) of the 1916-17 season made it, without question, the busiest orchestra in the world. That’s 30 more concerts than both the New York Philharmonic and the New York Symphony combined that same period. Should we even need to account for the 60 concerts by the Boston Pops in 1917?

The orchestra’s first major disaster occurred the following season. The players of the Boston Symphony had come from all over the world (a key difference at this point, since the BSO was not unionized at this juncture, thus management had no obligation to hire players from within the Boston local). A large majority, in fact, had come from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Even before the United States declared war against Germany, in April 1917, Americans had come to fear and hate all things German. Hamburgers became “liberty burgers.” Sauerkraut took on the moniker of “liberty cabbage.” The Metropolitan Opera dropped all works from the German repertoire. Schools banned German as a foreign language study. So it was no surprise that the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with its many members and conductor German-born, was not above suspicion. [continued…]

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An American Scriabin?

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Now is a great time to luxuriate in thinking about little-known but worthy individuals and subjects which had escaped our attention in normal times. More than 60 years after her death, Marion Bauer’s moment may be coming. In some respects, she is an American Hindemith—dare I suggest Scriabin? But a woman!

In the book review I wrote for the Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy 2015, I spoke of Bauer’s intrepid personality and the obstacles she faced.  Years ago, Harrison Potter a pianist and intimate of Bauer, died in Holyoke, Mass.  Judith Tick and I drove to the rest home where he had lived, and scooped up unpublished Bauer manuscripts. She wrote for woodwinds and in small ensemble forms; maybe with the new pared down music scene, we can hear these works. My review of “Marion and Emilie Frances Bauer: From the Wild West to American Musical Modernism” by Susan E. Pickett,  published by Lulu.com, in 2014, follows.

This book is a wonderful read! It tells the story of two of America’s outstanding musical women, Marion Eugénie Bauer (1885-1955) and her sister, Emilie Francis Bauer (1865-1926). It also paints a vivid picture of the musical culture of their times, roughly 1860 to 1955. It begins with a man named Jacques Bauer, a Jewish immigrant who moved to Walla Walla in the State of Washington, far away from the known cultural centers. He married Julia Heyman, and they raised seven children, four girls and three boys.

The family’s story is a tutorial in tenacity and creative solutions. When Mr. Bauer’s store was destroyed by an opium fire from a nearby building, he rebuilt and started all over again. His wife Julia, though not enamored of where they were living, made the best of it. Fluent in several languages, she taught at Whitman College in Walla Walla and imparted culture to her family as well as to the community. [continued…]

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Types of Melody and Their Uses

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During the current performance drought, your publisher asked me to dust off the manuscript of my book, “Melody and Musical Texture.” Four years after I wrote it, it is still unpublished, mainly because it’s addressed to a limited but widely distributed audience of interested students and amateurs, rather than to conservatories or universities, because departments of music don’t offer courses on melody. Furthermore, textbook publishing everywhere today has turned into a racket.) Let’s begin with the opening paragraph from Chapter 1 (which I might yet revise):

Melody is the wellspring of the human musical mind and feeling. All musicality proceeds from melody, from the most elementary and unformed to the most cultivated and sophisticated. Melody organizes musical sound, and the musical idea behind the sound, as speech organizes thought and statement. Melody is the completeness of song; beyond that, it is the Ariadne’s thread that traces musical time and makes it real, from the smallest musical thought to the largest, from the one-second motive or the five-second phrase to the 70-minute symphony. Melody is the spontaneous and prime manifestation of the composer’s imagination, and it remains the essence of musical substance when all technique and artifice are cleared away. Melody is the first thing we think about when we think of any piece of music; we can identify virtually any familiar piece of music from just a fragment of its melody; in following through the melodic line mentally in real time, we can recreate the entire musical superstructure in our own mind, even without uttering a sound. Every composer begins the compositional process with melody, renewing it every day. [continued…]

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BSO Copes

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Spanish flu closed BSO in 1918

In consequence of the cancellation of more than 130 events between March 12th and mid-June, including the last seven weeks of its 2019-20 subscription season, and the 2020 Pops season,  BSO management has furloughed personnel and reduced musician and staff salaries to remediate for $10 million in forgone revenues. These numbers do not include the possible effect to the bottom line of a complete Tanglewood cancellation. That decision comes in the middle of May.

BSO musicians have unanimously agreed to take a 25% pay reduction through the end of August, to restructure their vacation time allotment over the next two years, and to allow expanded digital performance sharing during the live performance hiatus. According to the BSO PLayers’ Committee, “There’s no doubt that this is an unprecedented time in the history of the BSO. The changes that we’ve needed to undertake across the organization have affected (and will affect) so many people: musicians, staff and board alike. As we continue to foster and grow our relationship with our audiences in an online-only format, our hearts go out to our many colleagues involved in all facets of our work, whether concert production or elsewhere in our organization, who find themselves furloughed. We look forward to the time when we can get back to performing live, working together again to bring music to life.”

Management also announced the furlough of 70 of the organization’s 200 full-time employees as of April 20th.  Furloughs and salary reductions will strike 80% of the BSO’s full-time employees. More than 400 part-time personnel had previously been furloughed in connection with the concert cancellations. Workers will retain healthcare coverage and can apply for unemployment insurance and supplemental income under the terms of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Employees who are enrolled in health, dental, life, Long Term Disability (LTD), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HAS), will maintain these benefits during the period of their furloughs.

The organization has also implemented a 5%-15% sliding scale salary reduction policy for a significant portion of the staff; depending on salary level, some employees will not experience any reduction in their compensation.

Mark Volpe, BSO President and CEO, will take a 50% reduction in his base salary. BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons will not receive compensation for all canceled performances. Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart will also take a substantial cut in his compensation. Volpe writes: [continued…]

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Rabelaisian Musical Optimism Cut Short

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About this time every year I like to put in a plug for one of my favorite unknown French composers, Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-94). “Unknown” isn’t quite exact, but in fact in America he is recognized, if at all, only for the brilliant orchestral rhapsody España (still so much of a concert favorite that it has been handily besmirched in a Perry Como song, “Hot diggity, dog ziggity, boom, whatcha do to me”). In his native France, and almost equally in England, Chabrier is respected and cherished as the most original and most instinctively Gallic of all the composers between Berlioz and Debussy. His mature appearance on the Parisian scene was relatively brief but of surpassing brilliance, and every French composer since has joyfully acknowledged his influence. The composer Jean Françaix, citing Roland-Manuel, said: “Let’s stop rediscovering Chabrier every twenty years. Let’s put him once and for all at his true place, right at the top.” Chabrier was a leading figure in the arts and salons of the belle époque, a close friend of writers, poets, and painters as well as musicians; Manet painted his portrait twice, and Chabrier himself was the owner of Manet’s last masterpiece Un bar aux Folies-bergère (although the shadowy figure in the mirror is probably not Chabrier). A photograph by Nadar shows Chabrier’s huge frame that matched his booming, profane, generous personality, one that was noted for breaking strings when he sat down at the piano.

A native of Ambert, Puy-de-Dôme, in the Auvergne, Chabrier showed early talent and got some training, but at his family’s insistence became a lawyer for the French government, where, he said later, “I lost 15 years.” The years weren’t entirely lost, because he began to write operettas, one of which, l’Étoile (1877), was successful (Opera Boston mounted a delightful production about fifteen years ago). An encounter with Wagner’s music shook Chabrier to the core. In 1880 he signed out for a long weekend in order to hear Tristan und Isolde in Munich. A well-known story has Chabrier fainting from expectant emotion even before the curtain rose; he never returned to his civil service job, resigning to become a full-time composer at age 39.  

The first significant result was Dix pièces pittoresques for piano, four of which Chabrier later orchestrated as a Suite pastorale. Hearing a performance, César Franck remarked, “These pieces are a bridge between our own time and that of Couperin and Rameau.” In addition to a remarkable pianistic inventiveness, the ten Pièces pittoresques marked a point of departure in harmonic originality comparable to that of Chabrier’s slightly younger contemporary, Fauré; both composers would point the way to Debussy’s flowering a decade later. España, appearing with the Lamoureux Orchestra in 1883, made Chabrier instantly famous; its bright orchestral color was irresistible, and its brash harmony is still refreshing today. [continued…]

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Society Gives Musicians 100%

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Historic H&H graphic

Unlike many if not most presenters, the Handel and Haydn Society has announced it will be paying musicians for the concerts canceled in its 2019-20 season, to wit, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, which was scheduled for April 3rd and 5th , and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, set for May 1st and 3rd.

The H+H Executive Committee has pledged to pay 88 orchestra and chorus members more than $350,000, which is 100% of their expected salaries for these performances. “The society, like all arts organizations, is feeling the impact of these incredibly trying times,” said David Snead, president and CEO. “The board felt we needed to stand by our musicians as we all navigate the economic uncertainty ahead. H+H is thankful for the many patrons who donated back their tickets, the generous donors to the Musicians’ Relief Fund, and we welcome all additional support through the donation page on our website.”

FLE: How is Boston’s oldest music society doing?

DS: Fortunately, we were already set up to work remotely when the pandemic hit; everyone has laptops and VPNs. Our Vonage phone system transfers calls so that somebody answers it in their kitchen instead of the office. So the organization is getting along fine from that point of view.

Except the most important thing you want to be doing, giving concerts, you’re not going to be able to do for a while, and when you have the word “society” in your name, it must be hard when you can’t be social.

What are trying to find other ways serve people’s needs for music. [continued…]

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What’s It Called, or What’s in a Name?

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Mark DeVoto ca. 2000

The composers of the earliest written music, like chant and medieval polyphony, identified their works by the incipit of a text. Thus Pérotin’s 20-minute-long Sederunt principes, even in a 12th-century manuscript, didn’t have a title page or a heading at the top of the first page of score: “Sederunt principes, organum in 4 parts,” but would be known by the text of its cantus firmus, even though the successive syllables of the tenor might be several pages apart.

Two centuries or so later, Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1383) left chansons to posterity—his music with his own verses. We know these songs by the first line of text. He also left a complete Ordinary of the Mass, with an actual title: Messe de Nostre Dame. Within another century, dozens of Mass compositions would become well known in church use, and these would be identified by title and usually by composer as well: Josquin des Prez left a Missa Pange lingua (based on a chant, a Good Friday hymn), a Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae (on a “hidden subject”), and of course a Missa l’Homme armé (on a popular song), as did a dozen or more other composers.

During the High Renaissance (16th century) titles begin to emerge that indicated specific formal types independent of texts; these tell the prospective listener at least something of what to expect. The title Diferencias sobre Guardame las vacas refers to the popular song that is the theme, but otherwise indicates diferencias as a formal type, one variation followed by another. The chaconne, and later the passacaglia, arose as a continuous-variation form. In this period, dance forms generate musical titles, and these multiply in the Baroque era: sarabande, passepied, galliard, allemande, gigue, bourrée, all imply stylized group dances, and these usually have identifiable musical properties, such as specific meters (sarabande in slow triple meter, gigue in fast 6/8, etc.). From the middle 16th century, some titles suggest more style than form: prelude (praeludium), fantasia, toccata, etc., imply non-sectional extended pieces with a mixture of styles, and this tendency continued through Bach and Mozart into the 19th century and even beyond; a fantasia might be paired with a contrasting fugue, identifiable as to form but more uniform in style. In opera, another product of the 16th century, a title could mean a principal character or characters, or a main subject, but essentially functioned just like the title of an Elizabethan play, a name on a rural mailbox, or a coat of arms over the door of a shop. That’s also true of big titles like The Well-tempered Clavier, like the gold lettering on the binding of a multi-volume set, even though by itself it tells you almost nothing of what’s inside. [continued…]

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Boston Camerata’s Bank Punked Them

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Machaut pens extended appeal.

Back in medieval France, the great poet-musician Guillaume de Machaut wrote his greatest novel (about his affair, with a young poetess) and composed some of his most hauntingly beautiful songs during the plague years. Inspired by his example, Anne Azéma, the Camerata staff, and its board, have decided to continue planning and creating music and musical projects, undaunted in will and energy by the current health crisis. The great Machaut exhibited similar fortitude during the Black Death. We want to be like him.

On the other hand, Guillaume de Machaut never had to deal with the American banking system.

Yesterday, Friday April 3, our Boston Camerata business manager, Peter Smith, filed the online application for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the newly authorized, emergency small business provider. That was, supposedly, the first day the funds were made available, and we wanted to be as rapid as possible in our request. The online form went to Bank of America, Camerata’s bank. This is the answer Peter, and we, received:

“Based on our records, your account doesn’t qualify to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program Loan through Bank of America. To apply for a Paycheck Protection Program Loan through Bank of America, you must have an existing Small Business relationship with the following: Small business checking account open no later than 02/15/2020, Small business lending relationship, inclusive of credit card, open no later than 02/15/2020, Online banking username and password.”

Condition number two was the killer. We are required by this bank, in an unannounced twist, to have a “Small business lending relationship, inclusive of credit card.” Whoa, Nelly! There is no such requirement in the recent law passed by Congress. This tells us, very clearly, that BOA is in violation of the intent of the law, and perhaps of the letter of the law as well. (And, by the way, Camerata has no record of debt with our bank because we have a conservative and cautious board that runs an admirably tight ship. So we are being punished for our good management!) [continued…]

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Commonwealth Avenue’s Musical History

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As location is to real estate, so provenance is to objects. Think Einstein’s violin, “no Stradivarius” according to Strings Magazine, which sold at auction in 2018 for $516,500. But what if you combine location and provenance, applied to, say, certain brick mansions lining Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay. Their appearance may be strangely unprepossessing, even reticent in an Old Boston kind of way, yet their value is incalculable.

On a recent unseasonably warm day I found myself going for a stroll scoping out a few specific residences, suggested by David Feltner, a resident of Comm Ave., who very much enhances the musical life of Boston, first as a violist performing with Boston’s elite groups, such as the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, Emmanuel Music, the Boston Lyric Opera and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and also as a composer and the conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of Boston, an organization he founded. I had told him about a virtually unheard of piano teacher, Madame Margaret Chaloff (more about her later) who had lived and taught for many years at 249 Comm Ave, and he mentioned to me homes marked by historic plaques that had been the residences of BSO founder Major Henry Lee Higginson and the composer/pianist Amy Beach. Quite a tone-y neighborhood, I thought.

A short while later and quite by chance, I located a remarkable website, BackBayHouses.org, established and carefully tended by Tom High and his wife. They describe all the layers of history for each address on each street: who built the home, who lived there over the course of years, what they did in their lives. According to High, the site “attempst to provide a genealogical history of the houses.” He quickly provided me with several other relevant names of those who had called Comm Ave home. As he did so, I began to glimpse the fundamental elements needed to sustain Boston’s musical life.

Early on in its history Boston seemed to have designated music as the bedrock of its claim to an educated and civilized society. Shortly after the Civil War, both the New England Conservatory and Boston Conservatory were founded in 1867, just as the country was trying to regain its bearings after the Civil War. New York City in contrast had to wait until the early years of the 20thcentury before it could turn to the resources of the Juilliard School of Music or the Mannes School of Music founded in 1905 and 1915 respectively. [continued…]

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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 my, 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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