Julia Perry Fêted

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The Julia Perry Centenary Celebration and Festival in New York City,  running March 13th-16th, reveals a significant composer who has been known by only a very small fragment of her creative output, although she had a recognized period of success in the 1950s and early ‘60s and kept writing through a prolonged illness. It’s a [continued]

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Celebrating Lutheran Master’s 339th Birthday

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Boston’s annual celebration of all things Bach returns to First Lutheran Church of Boston on Saturday, March 23rd. Founded 17 years ago and occurring every year since (excepting only the unfortunate cancellation of the event at the last minute during the initial COVID-19 quarantine), the annual Boston Bach Birthday draws hundreds each year in celebration of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contributions to music. Held on the Saturday nearest Bach’s March 21st birthday, it is an all-day festival of concerts featuring the music of Bach, those who influenced him, and those who were influenced by him. All musical events are free and open to the public.

Begun in 2008 as a celebration of “Boston’s Bach Organ,” the Richards, Fowkes & Co. opus 10 pipe organ traditionally features prominently at the Bach Birthday, and 2024 is no exception. Three organists will play recitals, beginning with FLC Kantor Jonathan Wessler at 9:00am. Continuing his series of “sets” of organ works by Bach (the Great Eighteen organ chorales in 2021, the Orgel-Büchlein in 2022, and the Six Trio Sonatas in 2023), this year FLC Kantor Jonathan Wessler starts off the day with the complete chorale partitas of Bach. The four authentic Bach partitas will be preceded by three earlier partitas attributed to Bach. Wessler returns to the bench for the prelude to Vespers begins at 4:15pm, offering chorale preludes by Bach, Sweelinck, and Reincken on Lutheran chorales for Lent. At 11:25 Fred MacArthur will play smaller-scale Bach organ favorites. Fred is one of Boston’s most revered organists, having studied with the legendary Boston organist and pedagogue George Faxon. And finally, organist Jerrick Cavagnaro is a new face to the Boston organ scene, albeit one with a deep résumé: not only is he the new associate director of music at Trinity Church, but he was also a competitor in the most recent Boston Bach International Organ Competition, and has just been announced as a semifinalist in the National Young Artists Competition in Organ Performance. His 1:30 program features music in the keys of E, F, and G. [continued]

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Visiting Aucoin’s Underworld

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Boston area favorite-son composer Matthew Aucoin reached a pinnacle of recognition in November of 2021 at the Metropolitan Opera, where his opera Eurydice (book and libretto by Sarah Ruhl) vividly and artfully retold the Orpheus-plus myth from the tragedienne’s perspective. The underworld has never since been the same.

“It’s not surprising that a tale about the greatest musician in history, a man who could make the very stones weep when he performed, keeps appealing to his descendants. The scenario offers composers a wedding party, a tragic death, an evocation of what lies beyond, an attempt at resurrection, a plangent lament — opportunities to shine, and to place themselves in a grand tradition.”  NYT 2021

For the Boston Lyric Opera’s production, Aucoin reduced the orchestration demands considerably, but according to our interview subject, award-winning bass-baritone Mark S. Doss*, who plays the newly added role of Eurydice’s father, “…the sound is quite incredible.”

The show runs March 1st through the 10th at the Huntington Theater. Tickets HERE.

FLE: Mark, I didn’t know there was a father in this legend. [continued]

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NEP Piques Our Interest

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New England Philharmonic’s “New Music New England” [tickets HERE] celebrates our region and features Grammy-winning organ soloist Paul Jacobs on Sunday March 3rd at 3:00 pm at the Boston University Tsai Performance Center. In a concert which also includes, Wang Lu’s Surge (2022), Ives’s Three Places in New England (1935), David Sanford’s Thy Book of Toil (2014), a pair of works by composers we know, Kati Agócs and John Harbison, particularly piqued our interest.

John Harbison’s What Do We Make of Bach? for orchestra with organ obbligato  premiered in October 2018 with the Minnesota Orchestra, conductor Osmo Vänskä, and organist Paul Jacobs.  Agócs summarizes her Perpetual Summer (2010) for BMInt readers below, and our interviews with Perpetual Summer with Harbison and Jacobs follow. [continued]

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Will Symphonies Survive?

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 Jared Hackworth

What barriers bar the uninitiated from classical concerts? Could the BSO maintain its Big Five prestige and remain accessible to new audiences? To investigate, I attended all three of the BSO’s January concerts: a sold-out presentation of León, Ravel, and Stravinsky; a concert production of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mitsensk District; and a “Casual Friday” concert of Stravinsky. I found dwindling audiences entirely enraptured by the music of one of the world’s best orchestras.

Covid had placed performing arts in freefall. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, said this week that “For most people, the pandemic is over. For arts institutions, we’re still in it,” reporting the need to “withdraw $40 million in additional emergency funds” due to a capacity rate of around “73%.” The New York Philharmonic’s audience is 62% over 55. During the pandemic, these attendance rates plummeted—in 2019, the Pittsburgh Symphony sold around 70% of tickets; in 2022, that fell to 37%. The Cleveland Orchestra still hovered between 54% sales in the fall of 2022 and 67% in 2023. These data suggest that not only are classical music audiences often older, but they are also, in large numbers, not returning to the concert hall after Covid. [continued]

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Lookouts Aloft! A Composer Puts Out to Sea

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Smyth in 1901 by Sargent

Dame Ethel Smyth (1854-1944) said, “I want women to turn their minds to big and difficult jobs, not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea.”

This is the story of a woman — in the long history of women stifled by important or influential men in their lives or eras — who did the big and difficult job over and over. Ethel Smyth, a strong-minded musician, fought against her father’s pontifical noise and ‘put out to sea’ (or at least crossed the channel) in 1877 at age 19 to study at the Conservatorium in Leipzig. One of the top Smyth scholars, Amy Zigler, has a brief biography available HERE. BMInt is happy to publish this preview in the context of a Cappella Clausura’s performance of Smyth’s Mass in D at Emmanuel Church at 4pm on March 3rd. Tickets HERE.

Smyth characterized herself as making “on average 12 intimate friends per annum” (letter to Henry Brewster, 1892). Her first core in Leipzig was the Herzogenbergs, a musical family whose young matriarch, Lisl (only 11 years her senior), took a maternal interest in Ethel, and a deep, life-changing relationship began. Lisl’s brother-in-law was Henry Brewster, who was also to become a deep and romantic partner, although married. Brewster, a poet, was the librettist for many of her operas. On her many trips to Germany, her friends introduced her to more friends, many of them the glitterati of the late 1800s: Brahms (her musical hero, along with Beethoven), Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Clara Schumann, Dvorak, and more. [continued]

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Chausson and Charles Munch: In Brief

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On a Saturday evening some 70 years ago I heard the Boston Symphony Orchestra live for the first time. Melville Smith, then director of the Longy School, had given me two tickets he couldn’t use. Charles Munch conducted. Before the intermission came Honegger’s Symphony no. 1; the program notes mentioned harmony that “trends toward C major,” which amused me and my 9th-grade classmate George Nelson — it must have meant that the symphony was “modern.” After the intermission we heard Schubert’s “Great” Symphony in C Major, a work I had never heard before, but George knew it well. “This symphony begins with a solo horn,” he said. (Actually it turned out to be two in unison.) I was deeply impressed by the experience, and especially by the slow movement, but never imagined that I would write a book about this symphony a few years later (2011). [continued]

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Takács Quartet To Debut Flow

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The renowned Takács Quartet has a zest for new music and unconventional partnerships. They’ve collaborated with bandoneon standout Julien Labro, composer and The National vocalist Bryce Dessner, vocalist Clarice Assad, and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. For its February 16th Celebrity Series concert at Jordan Hall [tickets HERE], the foursome offers Nokuthula Ngwenyama’s Flow sandwiched between Haydn’s “Sunrise” quartet and the second of Beethoven’s Razumovskys.

In Flow, Harvard Divinity School graduate Ngwenyama embraces the cosmos…or lets it embrace her. BMInt spoke with her and and Takács violinist Harumi Rhodes.

FLE: We first met in 1999 when you gave a super viola recital at Harvard Musical Association. You probably don’t remember the event, but surely the baked beans, Welsh rabbit and ale must have traumatized you. [continued]

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A Beloved Genius Departed This Sphere

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Seiji Ozawa just died in Tokyo at the age of 88. His durable career with the Boston Symphony, where he spent a major portion of his years as music director, spanned 1973 to 2002, the longest such term in the orchestra’s history. The BSO’s press release is HERE. And we embed a video tribute within. [continued]

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Dance Music of the Germania Musical Society

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A free concert resulting from the research of this writer along with the efforts of the Harvard Musical Association Library Committee takes place on March 3rd at 3:00, at St. John’s Church, 27 Devens Street, in Charlestown. Just show up (entry is free). Leave a comment below if you have questions.

Winsome duo-pianists Chi-Wei Lo and Xiaopei Xu, collectively known as Psychopomp Ensemble (guide of souls), who have been reinventing the recital, once brilliantly interpolated the Beatles’ “Imagine” into the Gottschalk’s “The Union” HERE at 52:40; they will preside in an acoustically warm sanctuary on a restored 1870 Chickering concert grand. A light reception will follow.

The Germania Musical Society deserves to emerge from the cocoon of writings by musicological specialists and reclaim the interest of a larger public. [continued]

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Bodies and Souls To Inhabit Sanders

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Benjamin T. Rossen’s The Unknowable: An Operatic Ballet in Two Acts follows a young woman’s journey towards sincere curiosity in the face of a demoralizing reality, exploring themes of empathy, frustration, compassion, and inquisitiveness. Interweaving dancers and singers, the narrative is centered on the powerful musical experiences of ‘Les nuits d’été’ by Berlioz and ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’ by Mahler, carefully chosen for their rich soundworlds and allegorical relevance to the characters’ personal journeys. The Lowell House Opera production runs on February 10th and 11th in Sanders Theater at Harvard University. Tickets HERE.

“We believe that The Unknowable offers a relatable and relevant experience for a 21st-century audience, addressing universal themes of challenging decisions and the internal struggle to attain unequivocal answers.” Our Q and A with the composer follows. [continued]

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Tanglewood 2024 Looks Good

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This summer’s two months at Tanglewood offer a more varied and richer schedule than ever, on the fully equipped campus in Lenox that has abundances for every taste. The Boston Symphony shares the Shed and other halls with several other orchestras; recitals and chamber music abound, beginning with a String Quartet Marathon of three concerts on June 30th. The calendar is HERE. Tickets go on sale March 19th .

The listing that I received has some gaps (programs not yet determined), but Beethoven’s orchestral music appears on no fewer than six dates (July 5 and 21, August 4, 18, 24, and 25), including four symphonies (of course the 9th) and three concerti. Stravinsky appears on four dates (July 12 and 15, August 9 and 10). There’s an entire evening of Richard Strauss (July 7). Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony will be performed twice, by the TMC Orchestra on July 8 with Nelsons, and the National Children’s Symphony of Venezuela on August 8 with Dudamel. [continued]

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Chaos instead of music?

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BMInt presents a not-so-short history of Shostakovich’s The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District in connection with the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of the complete opera on January 25th and 27th. Tickets HERE

On January 26, 1936, Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District was presented in Moscow. This was not breaking news. Lady Macbeth had enjoyed almost simultaneous premieres in 1934, at the Maly Opera Theatre in Leningrad on January 22 and then at the Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre in Moscow two days later. The piece had elicited high praise from the February 1st edition of Soviet Art: [continued]

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Peter Schickele Dies at 88

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Peter Schickele died on January 16th, after increasing health problems that confined him to his home in Woodstock, New York. He was 88 years old. He had a long parallel career as a serious composer and a musical comedian, in which he was known all over as P. D. Q. Bach and made memorable recordings still in print. His parodies of learned styles and burlesques of well-known masterpieces endure for their educational value as much as for their unerring drollery — as in the Concerto for Horn and Hardart in which a quasi-Mozart appoggiatura is drawn out for 30 seconds before gasping to a resolution, and in the Quodlibet with tonic-dominant melodies from all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies accumulating, followed by a combination of Schoenberg’s Little Piano Piece, op. 19, no. 2, and Puccini’s Un bel di vedremo (who would have thought that one could work?). You can’t forget his Beethoven Fifth first movement as a down-on-the-farm sportscast, or the mini-opera The Abduction of Figaro. The NYTimes obit is HERE. [continued]

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Dreading the Augmented Sixth

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The augmented sixth chord tends to be a dreaded subject in harmony courses, because it comes near the end of the textbook (e.g., Chapter 27 of Piston-DeVoto Harmony, 5th edition) but it really isn’t that complicated. There are maybe six or seven different kinds in regular use, some with geographic names: the Italian, German, and French sixths are well known, and some writers recognize Swiss or even Polish sixths. (You might wonder about the famous Neapolitan sixth, as well as the Russian sixth that I have puffed about in these pages, but these are not augmented sixth chords.). All of them have in common the interval of augmented sixth, typically in the upper voice and bass: [continued]

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Unnamed String Trio To Open 2024 for Chinese Foundation

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In their second season as an as-yet-unnamed partnership, the well-known soloists Stella Chen, violin; Matthew Lipman, viola; and Brannon Cho, cello will make mark an intriguing Boston debut recital at Jordan Hall Saturday night for the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts with Leo Weiner’s String Trio in G minor, Op. 6, Emmy Frensel Wegener’s Suite for Violin, Viola, and Cello; Gideon Klein’s String Trio, and Mozart’s Divertimento in E-flat Major, K. 563. More details on the concert and ticketing can be found HERE . The players reponded collectively to our questions.

This program is one we absolutely adore. It would be impossible to deny that one of the biggest draws of forming a string trio is getting to truly live with the Mozart Divertimento ― a piece so grand, loved, and profound. We’ve paired it with three seldom played works that are full of spirit, character, and every bit as lovable. [continued]

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Texts Meet Tones: Origins and Meanings

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by Elias Dagher

Although we started working on the Boston Text and Tone Festival last summer, the four days of concerts running from January 18th-21st will reflect and celebrate years of close professional relationships, new encounters, old friendships, and diverse musical perspectives. The concerts will feature 12 performers, 21 composers, and 25 poets. Details and tickets HERE.

Our friendship began while we were studying solo piano repertoire during our time at NEC. As we started working more and more with singers in text-based music making, we experienced a new kind of expressive mixture, the wild world where openness and directness meet. The “abstract” world of music itself (open-ended, suggestive, spiritual) met the “literal” world of words (direct, structured, narrative). Or is it the other way around? Perhaps music is more literal and poetry more abstract! Whatever the case, there are infinite possibilities whenever these universes collide. And thanks to countless poets and composers over the past several hundred years, they have collided over and over again. [continued]

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“No Choice but Love: Songs of the LGBTQ+ Community”

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A two-CD song recital that I set aside last year because it didn’t have program notes or the sung texts just surfaced in my pile. This time I noticed a QR code that gets me the program notes on my cellphone, and I finally figured out that they’re also on the record company’s website. I read them—they’re by the much-published writer on music Roger Pines—and was immediately intrigued.

Eric Ferring, a marvelous young tenor who has been doing lyric and coloratura roles at the Met recently (e.g., Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Pong in Puccini’s Turandot) made his debut recording in this album with pianist Madeline Slettedahl.

No Choice but Love: Songs of the LGBTQ+ Community is an imaginative compilation of songs by gay and lesbian composers (seven men, two women) plus a “Mexican American transgender composer”, Mari Esabel Valverde. The more recent songs often address the challenges of being different (or being thought “different”) in mainstream society, and these are the ones that held my attention most. [continued]

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Locke’s List for 2023: Notable Operatic Recordings Plus

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This past year has seen an outpouring of fascinating and important recordings of operatic and other vocal works. I have been fortunate to receive copies of many of them for review in this and several other venues (notably in American Record Guide and at the Boston-based arts magazine The Arts Fuse). I’m happy, once again, to be presenting here at the Boston Musical Intelligencer my personal selection of some of the most notable and engaging of the lot.

Baroque era: I was delighted to get to know John Frederick Lampe’s The Dragon of Wantley (1737), in a highly accomplished and spirited recording. The work feels a bit like a successor to The Beggar’s Opera, not least in its pointed satire of social norms. (The work was just performed by the Boston Early Music Festival, though with a different cast and orchestra; the Boston Globe called the result “spellbinding.” Virtual tickets to watch the videorecording are available through December 23, 2023.)

A recording of a serious English opera of the period, Matthew Locke’s Psyche, was musically marvelous but utterly undone for me by the mispronunciations of the libretto by the all-Francophone cast. No such problems occurred with Jean-Marie Leclair’s Scylla et Glaucus, gorgeously performed and exquisitely pronounced. The work has the further advantage of reminding us that Leclair, though long known primarily for his violin works, was a fine all-around composer. Much the same can be said of Marin Marais’s Ariane et Bacchus, since that composer, too, is normally known for his instrumental music (and/or as the character played by Gérard Depardieu in the beloved film Tous les matins du monde). [continued]

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Schumann Got It Right the First Time

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I wrote earlier in these pages about Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, which before it was revised had a successful but heavily criticized premiere. The original version has now been recorded and published, and can be appraised alongside the revised version, which has been performed exclusively for 182 years. I now move on to extend my remarks after Jeremy Denk’s fine recital on December 9th.

Critical opinion has never weighed in very much about the various revisions to Schumann’s major compositions for piano, and this is as regrettable as it is incomprehensible. I think especially of the Davidsbündlertänze,, op. 6; Symphonic Etudes in the form of Variations, op. 13; Kreisleriana, op. 16; and most recently the three-movement-long Phantasie, op. 17. All of these have been available in many publications for a hundred years or more. On my own shelves are the Kalmus reprint of the Breitkopf edition in seven volumes of Schumann’s “Complete Works for solo piano…edited according to manuscripts and from her personal recollections by Clara Schumann,” a “second edition,” which has become standard for more than a century and includes the texts of the first editions of Schumann’s lifetime in ossias and smaller type. The Symphonic Etudes on my mother’s piano were a Schirmer edition by Max Vogrich; five extra variations, excluded by Schumann from the initial edition but published separately after his death, were added in this printing as an Appendix. [continued]

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The Last Transcendentalist

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Bill Faucett’s delightful, sober, and beautifully researched “John Sullivan Dwight: The Life and Writings of Boston’s Musical Transcendentalist” has the merit of a good portrait. The subject comes vividly to life through careful contextualization but is not reduced to context or explained by context. The more we gaze, the more we are struck by the sitter’s personal idiosyncrasy and free agency. Take, for example, the portrait of the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck by Duplessis, painted in Paris in 1775, a copy of which hung in Dwight’s living room in the late years of his life. Gluck is firmly located in time and space by his clothes and harpsichord, but he gazes freely upward to heaven in a moment of timeless inspiration. Gluck’s soul seems to transcend circumstances, irreducibly personal and noumenal. Faucett does something analogous with John Sullivan Dwight. He provides abundant details that anchor Dwight solidly in his generation and in XIXth -century Boston, but he emphasizes the transcendent spirit that inspired him to act and the moral sense that guided him.

Like Duplessis with Gluck, Faucett coaxes Dwight to reveal himself. Consequently, we have a rich, full-bodied human story that grabs our attention without dulling our interest. Dwight’s very real importance as a key player in shaping the culture of classical music in Boston for a brief but decisive time frames Faucett’s narrative, but never overshadows the deeper story of a fellow human being grappling with life and death, beauty and meaning, passion and finitude. Mon semblable, mon frère – not in turpitude and guilt, as Baudelaire meant it, where we find a sort of perverse safety, but in spiritual yearning and idealism, where we are vertiginously exposed, vulnerable. “I simply preached the faith that was in me” Dwight declared. Faucett paints Dwight for us as uniquely combining self-drive and modesty — driven equally by his uncompromising love of music and distaste for all that dazzles without enlightening. The fact that so few of us know his name and must discover his ideas from scratch is subtly part and parcel of who he was. [continued]

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David Del Tredici, 1937-2023

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A uniquely gifted American composer, David Del Tredici left us some remarkably rich music. “An experimentalist who leaned into New Romanticism,” an NY Times sidebar reads, referring to the frank and unabashed tonal lyricism of several of his works inspired by Lewis Carroll. He was the first West Coast composer I ever knew in person, a California native who had started out as a concert pianist. [continued]

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Saxophone Highlights Next BSO Concerts

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Adolphus Sax

In the usually very popular post-thanksgiving subscriptions concerts (Friday afternoon and Saturday night), an instrument more associated with big bands takes pride of place on the Symphony Hall stage as BSO Assistant Conductor Earl Lee leads the sultry, atmospheric 1949 Saxophone Concerto by French composer Henri Tomasi; as soloist Steven Banks makes his BSO debut. The show opens with a very French symphonic poem, César Franck’s Le Chasseur maudit — “The Cursed Hunter” —based on a ballad about a man who commits the grave sin of hunting on the Sabbath and is doomed to be chased eternally by demons. The closer, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, opens with the famous “fate” motif, before composer’s great gift for beautiful melody sweetens it. Tickets HERE. Our brief discussion with Earl Lee follows.

FLE: Franck’s Le Chasseur maudit (Accursed Huntsman) surprisingly isn’t actually a BSO rarity. Starting with Gericke in 1901, it was done every ten years or so up through Monteux in 1920. Since then it’s been revived every 20-30 years or so. What accounts for its minor durability among the Franck symphonic poems? [continued]

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In Memory: John Heiss

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Words cannot do justice to the long-time NEC composer-flautist-teacher-conductor-theorist-historian who died last July. The breadth of his experience and career far outweighs what I can put into words, even as someone who had the luxury of being so closely involved in his orbit. It is fitting, then, that New England Conservatory will be hosting a memorial concert for him on October 23rd, 2023, what would have been his 85th birthday, at 4 PM in Jordan Hall. Among the speeches, many of his works will be performed, including the poignant Serenade for flute and harp that he composed after the death of his beloved wife Arlene and several songs from his cycle Five Songs from James Joyce for mezzo-soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (of which I will be conducting). His other composer interests, Ives, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky will be well-represented, too, along with other pieces of note that Mr. Heiss commented on at length at different times. This event promises to be NEC’s proper moving tribute to one of the most important and highly regarded professors to have ever graced the hall of Jordan Hall building. I am forever grateful, John Heiss. Know that, wherever you are. [continued]

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Will You Be There?

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Early American music has been a part of The Boston Camerata’s repertoire since the beginning of its recording history. It is with a vivid interest and joy that we have, over the years, included our own North American musical heritage in our concerts and recordings. A recent Harmonia Mundi recording, Free America! Songs of Resistance and Rebellion, appeared in 2019. We’ll Be There, their newest Americana program, featuring Black- and White- American spirituals from 1800-1900, comes to Trinity Church in Copley Square on October 21st at 5:00 and to the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury on October 22nd at 4:00. Information and tickets HERE.

We’ll Be There moves chronologically and focuses most intensely on the African American presence in the repertoire. The rewards of such work are great, but the challenges are mighty. Because of terrible social inequities and injustices, early written musical sources of Black songs, prior to the choir arrangements of the late 19th century, are far too few. Thus the few precious written songbooks, as well as the collaborative memory and ongoing oral tradition of the Black community provided sources of some of the deepest regenerative forces in American musical life.  A program essay follows. [continued]

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