A Return Engagement of an Adversary


CEO Volpe has a lot on his mind.

A BSO insider muses on plagues, players, and pay in the context of management’s recent staff reductions and Tuesday’s upcoming vote on player salary givebacks.

Like every other American symphony orchestra, the Boston Symphony is challenged to find an artistic and financial path forward through the labyrinth of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An invisible quasi-living microorganism, relentlessly infectious, spreads fear and death among vast populations. Lockdowns, self-isolation, quarantines, contact tracing, and facemasks prove controversial and only partially effective. Social dislocation, anxiety, staggering loss of life, and massive economic downturn threaten to bring a major power to its knees as it struggles to retain its international preeminence. The US in 2020? How about Venice in the 17th century?        

The other day, I was practicing the dazzling finale of the Vivaldi Violin Sonata in F Minor, Op. 2, No. 10. Though in the score Vivaldi refers to the movement as a Giga, it has all the frenetic fever of a traditional Italian whirling tarantella. I like to think he opted to call it a Giga, a more acceptable designation than the pagan tarantella, in deference to the sensitivities of his Catholic employers at the Ospedale della Pietà, who nevertheless found reason to fire him on more than one occasion.   [continued…]


Borrowed Light: Thoughts on a Reprise


Wandering singers and dancers will re-emerge from the proscenium in a 2012 production that BMInt featured HERE.

Sixteen years after its première, at Le Havre, France, in 2004, and after more than 70 performances in Europe, North America, and Australasia, “Borrowed Light,” an ambitious music-and-dance extravaganza, based on original Shaker songs I gleaned mainly from years of original research at the Shaker Library in Sabbathday Lake Maine, and performed, each time, live by Boston Camerata soloists and dancers, has yet, despite all those  many international touring events (and a bulging pressbook with clippings from all over), to be heard and seen in Boston. And yet, we learned just the other day, in a zoom-y conversation with the production’s brilliant choreographer, Tero Saarinen, that his Helsinki-based company plans to revive it a couple of seasons forward from now. Will the show then manage, somehow, to cross the ocean and be presented, finally, in our own hometown?

Meanwhile, we revel in an upcoming streaming representation thereof. On August 20th, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival will be streaming (HERE) a “Borrowed Light” performance from its 2012 festival, in which Camerata and the Saarinen Company had been invited for the second time to sing and dance this work at the oldest American summer dance festival, in its historic performance hall. We hope our many Boston friends and supporters (as well as music and dance lovers from everywhere) will enjoy witnessing that extraordinary  interaction among singers and dancers mingling onstage.

I’d like, also, to express a large measure of personal satisfaction from this announced reprise by Jacob’s Pillow. The festival’s Becket, Massachusetts venue is situated only a few miles from the most important historic Shaker settlements. There is a rightness to performing their songs in their part of the world, just as there was a rightness to the many hours of archival library work Anne Azéma and I did at the Sabbathday Lake community in the 1990’s, bring forgotten songs written down in Shaker letteral notation back into today’s world.  In these current days of confusion and turmoil, we all want to choose “something like a star/To stay our minds on and be staid” (Robert Frost). [continued…]

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Remembering Leon Fleisher


We all heard, and still remember, his early recordings. Nobody played the Brahms D-minor Concerto more mightily or expressively, nor with more persuasive understanding of the music. I first heard him live at Tanglewood in summer 1959 or 1960, playing the Beethoven Third Concerto. Two years later he played in Princeton and I was drafted to turn pages when he played Leon Kirchner’s Sonata. Backstage I mentioned that I had heard him playing the Beethoven at Tanglewood a couple of years before, and he groaned, as if remembering that he hadn’t played so well then, and maybe that was true. “You’re not going to hear me play so well tonight, either,” he said. But he was wrong; if he was tired, it never showed. The Kirchner Sonata came forth with total strength and conviction, as did Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, a superb performance. As a page-turner I had a vivid sense of what Schoenberg had once said to Berg: “If you ever have the opportunity to see the way Mahler ties his necktie, you can learn more counterpoint from this than in two years at the conservatory.”

It was only a few years later that Fleisher’s career became cruelly vitiated by the dystonia that crippled his right hand, again as we all know. But we also know how well he carried on, bringing new energy and interest to the Paul Wittgenstein lefthand repertory, and making LH recordings. Eventually a good part of his RH capability returned; I remember reading about a performance of Franck’s Variations symphoniques that marked his return to the two-handed stage. My last view of him was at George Perle’s memorial in 2009, when he played Bach’s Chaconne in Brahms’s lefthand arrangement. [continued…]


Symphony Hall Silenced for the Fall


The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced the unprecedented cancellation of next season’s concerts from September to the end of November because of Covid’s continuing spread. This goes far beyond the two-week season-opening delay occasioned by the flu pandemic of 102 years ago [see BMInt’s story HERE]; the Second World War, though, brought about shortened and eliminated Tanglewood seasons.

Management will announce decisions about the winter and spring periods by the year’s end. Patrons and subscribers will be contacted in September about refunds, credits, and donations. The BSO expects to lose $30M for the fiscal year ending in August.

In September, the Orchestra will announce online content for the season, following the apparent success since the end of March of the BSO at Home and ongoing Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival offerings. [continued…]

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Working with Manuscripts, Part 2


Alban Berg

An invitation to present a research paper at the International Alban Berg Symposion led to my first-ever trip to the European continent in May 1980. The symposium proved especially fortunate because Berg’s papers, formerly stored at his apartment at Trauttmansdorffgasse 27 in Vienna under the supervision of his widow Helene, had been transferred to the Nationalbibliothek downtown, and had only just then, four years after Helene Berg’s death and 45 years after Berg’s, been opened to scholars. The well-funded Symposion took place over a period of two weeks during the Wiener Festwochen, with presentations lasting up to 45 minutes. Researchers from Germany, England, and the USA, including several younger workers like me, met each other and schmoozed. One of the big-shot attendees was Carl Dahlhaus (1928-89), a hugely prolific and wide-ranging scholar, though not widely known for work on Berg; I did discover when this veteran managed to get any sleep — during other scholars’ presentations. One whom everybody liked was Erich Alban Berg, nephew of the composer, then 75 years old and very convivial (for those who like me had only a very limited command of German, he was especially helpful; he had been an interpreter for the British occupation forces after WWII and spoke excellent English).

During those two weeks I found myself in the music collection at the Nationalbibliothek during most of its open hours. Berg’s papers, musical and otherwise, were a mess, but a librarian’s efforts had sorted them into at least a temporary classification, in folders which had been preliminarily catalogued. I was fascinated to see music by Berg that almost no one else had looked at for nearly 80 years. I found a single page of a Waltz in A Minor: “Mein erster Walzer. Meiner lieben Mama gewidmet.” If you know the A minor waltz (op. 12, no. 2) in Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, you can imagine this little piece by the 15-year-old Berg; today, it is published, and you can smile at the fff in the seventh bar. [continued…]

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Musical Americas: LO Casts Broadly


Janet Wu to co-host

This summer Boston Landmarks Orchestra moves from the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade to the (e)splendid confines of the Futura Studio in Roslindale to record and stream two small-ensemble concerts dedicated to reminding us of its social and aesthetic missions while also giving us license to tap our toes while watching on our phones, tablets, and computers.

Under the direction of music director Christopher Wilkins and co-executive directors Mary Deissler and Arthur Rishi, socially distanced and masked players will begin with Simple Gifts on July 15th at 7pm (1), while Dances and Delights follows on July 29th (2) at 7pm with Castle of our Skins. “While we will certainly miss the Esplanade, everyone will have a front row seat for these streamed concerts, and we won’t need to worry about the weather or the sound of passing motorcycles.”

FLE: Streaming a chamber music concert from an exclusive and inaccessible former Masonic Temple seems to distance you from the goals of embracing a large and varied audience. How will your internet broadcasts differentiate themselves from the content that’s already on the web, and how satisfying will they be to you and your colleagues? 

CW: It’s a great question. Normally we’re all about finding ways to include as much community as possible, with layers of collaboration and partnerships, kids from camps, working with other Boston institutions — the Gardner Museum, the Aquarium or Museum of Science — but none of that is possible now. Maybe down the road.

We can do some things that we don’t normally do, such as making video content that right now is the coin of the realm. Landmarks hasn’t developed a whole lot of video over the years, so that will be good to have. And people will also have a look at us in a more intimate way than usual. They’ll get to see the musicmaking in lots of detail, something that isn’t possible on the Esplanade because of its enormous size. [continued…]

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Documentary Musicology — Working with Manuscripts


Mark DeVoto ca 1990

What do musicologists do during the Lockdown? Well, some of them write memoirs. A friend of mine, a composer, told me that whenever he talked with strangers in northern Minnesota and mentioned that he was a musician by profession, they would say to him, “You’re a musician? I wonder if you could tell me what to do for my sore throat?” My friend thus learned that in Fargo-Moorhead, “musician” means “singer.” Around New England, when people ask me what is my profession, I say “music professor,” although now retired. Sometimes I say “musician.” “What kind of musician?” “Professor of music.” “Oh.”

But because of my know-it-all personality, which often radiates smartass, I’ve been called “professor” ever since I was ten. Within my own trade I am known as a musicologist, supposedly a specialist in Musikwissenschaft, musical science. There are various kinds of musicologists. I’ve been a member of the American Musicological Society since 1964, when the society was essentially an academic society for historical musicologists. My graduate training included historical musicology, music theory, and composition, all areas in which I taught at the college level for 36 years. I claim to be principally an analytical musicologist, in an area which sometimes dips into music theory and history of musical style. Another area in which I have worked extensively is documentary musicology, in which I have had little training but a lot of experience, and this is what I want to discuss today.

In 1955, at age 15, I spent a summer taking piano lessons with an excellent teacher, Gregory Tucker, a well-known pianist in the Boston area who taught at the Longy School and Bennington College, and later was a professor at MIT. I last saw him in 1962 when, recognizing me among those assembled for a memorial, he drafted me to turn pages for him in the concert that followed the ceremony. In 1983, when I was teaching at Tufts University, one of my colleagues asked me if I could help one of her friends, a piano teacher, in examining several large cartons of papers that she had been given by Tucker’s children, who after his death didn’t know what to do with them. I said I’d be happy to look over the papers. These included a batch of books and printed music but also a number of musical autographs. [continued…]


Patriotic Sounds 2020


It’s July 4th weekend… are you missing the fireworks over the Charles and the sounds of the Boston Pops over the Esplanade?

Here are a ten links and suggestions to help you get your patriotic musical “fix” in early July:

The 2020 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular broadcast, under the direction Keith Lockhart, will present A Boston Pops Salute to Our Heroes, featuring both new content (the fantastic newly released video of John Williams’ Summon the Heroes) and favorites from past celebrations, including (in order) Broadway legend Brian Stokes Mitchell singing “America the Beautiful” and “Wheels of a Dream”; Amanda Mena, America’s Got Talent semi-finalist from Lynn, MA, sings Pink’s What About US and the national anthem with the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters; Melissa Etheridge (“I Wanna Come Over”); Amanda Gorman, first-ever Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, performs a new take on the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” entitled “Believer’s Hymn for the Republic,” Broadway star Leslie Odom, Jr, singing “Sarah” from The Civil War, and “Without You” from Rent; Rhiannon Giddens (“Pretty Little Girl” and “She’s Got You”); Rita Moreno narrating excerpts from Ellis Island: The Dream of America; Arlo Guthrie & The Texas Tenors singing “This Land Is Your Land;” Queen Latifah,  (“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”); Andy Grammer (“Give Love”); and The U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus and the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes & Drum (Lexington, MA) joining the Pops for Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” [continued…]

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African American Voices in Early Boston


Roland Hayes

Music and poetry can be means of resistance, and they also play a role in uniting diverse groups. Boston’s early heritage of African American scholars, writers, and musicians make the city an interesting subject for artistic and historical inquiry in these challenging times.


The first Africans arrived in Boston in 1638, and the city became very active in the slave trade. By 1700 there were more than 400 enslaved African Americans in Boston, with the beginnings of a free Black community in the North End. At mid-century, the British mainland American colonies had a population of approximately 1.5 million. Each year 3,500 captives arrived from Africa and the Caribbean, so nearly one in five Americans, or 300,000 people, were enslaved.

Lucy Terry Prince (c1730-1821) was a gifted speaker and the first recorded African American author of a poem (“Bars Fight,” see the full poem HERE), describing the last Indian massacre in Deerfield, MA in 1746, where she worked as a household slave in from 1735-1756. The poem became part of local oral tradition and was finally published in 1855 in Josiah Gilbert Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts. Prince later moved to Vermont, where she became the first woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (winning a land dispute); two of her sons enlisted in the Continental army in Massachusetts, and the Vermont Heritage Songbook includes a children’s song about her life. [continued…]


In-Person Music To Resume


Toward the new post-normal: A baby step for audiences, a leap for performance.

Who misses live music more than the audiences? Musicians, that’s who.

Now that summer has arrived, the chamber organization Mistral Music will be joined, this Saturday at 6pm in Brookline’s Knyvet Square, by three BSO players to play the Ravel Duo, the Schubert Rosamunde Quartet, and a Beethoven String Trio.

North of the city, as part of its Summer Music on the Hill series, the Church of St. Andrew in Marblehead presents “On the Street Where You Live,” an outdoor concert featuring area star vocalists Holly Cameron and Matt Arnold accompanied by church music director Mary Jodice, on Sunday July 12, at 7pm. The rain date is July 18.


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Juneteenth Thoughts on Boston & Current African American Composers


Gate to Ashton Villa

Four years ago, Liane Curtis, President of Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy, wrote a review for BMInt entitled “Black Composers Matter,”  highlighting the work of Boston’s concert and educational series Castle of Our Skins, named for a line from celebrated poet Nikki Giovanni’s Poem (for Nina). You can hear the original, read by the author, HERE.

After this month’s tragic events, peaceful protest, riots, and renewed calls for unity, Giovanni’s words ring loudly in my ears (“for we spirit to spirit will embrace this world”). Castle of Our Skins has begun to present community-based, multi-disciplinary projects (Ain’t I a Woman?) [reviewed HERE],  “I Am a Man,” 2019), and concerts featuring the works of local African American composers such as Trevor Weston, [reviewed HERE], but they make me want to hear more, to listen more deeply, and to explore Boston’s rich, local heritage of African American music.

Anthony R. Green, the director of Boston’s Castle of Our Skins, has presented new works in Boston almost every year since 2004: he has been commissioned by Make Music Boston, Celebrity Series Boston, and the Landmarks Orchestra. Excerpts of nine of his works can be heard HERE. His recent arrangement of Chouconne – Haitian Folk Song (for string quartet and orchestra) premiered at the Hatch Shell on Boston’s Esplanade in August 2019, and his recent youth orchestra commission Catto’s Courage premiered online in April 2020. Green’s prescient article on representation in the New Music community is available at NewMusicBox HERE. [continued…]


From the New World — of Online Summer Music


How to listen this summer.

Tanglewood announces what’s up and what’s new:

Last fall, before the time of plague, we published the upcoming Tanglewood season announcement, and then a month ago followed up with the BSO’s new plans for the online Tanglewood festival, called a Summer Tradition Transformed. Now, management has announced program details for the upcoming summer’s content both free and paid, the latter going on sale Monday, June 15th, through www.tanglewood.org. The audio and video streams will include material newly created and recorded at Tanglewood’s Linde Center this month and next, featuring artists and programs of the announced season. In addition to the free offerings, online programs range from $5 to $12 for a single stream to $15 to $90 for multiple-stream packages.

New content includes Saturday evening great performers in recital — video streams recorded at the Linde Center — spotlighting some who were to appear in the Shed as well as additional guests: Gil Shaham (7/3); Emanuel Ax (7/11); Pinchas Zukerman, Amanda Forsyth, and Bryan Wagorn (7/18); Augustin Hadelich and Orion Weiss (7/25); Yo-Yo Ma (8/1); Daniil Trifonov (8/8); Conrad Tao (8/15); and Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk (8/22).

BSO musicians in recital features 40 orchestra members in a Friday evening online series of new programs programs to be recorded at the Linde Center starting next week through July 11th.

But wait, there’s more. [continued…]

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Alone Together Streams Saturday at 8:00


Juventas New Music Ensemble’s 15th-anniversary season “Emergence” will conclude with a livestreamed concert that will safely bring ensemble musicians back together for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ensemble bills its YouTube appearance in Alone Together [HERE] as, “…one of the first concerts of its kind in America.”

While social distancing live at Futura Productions in Roslindale, Julia Carey, piano; Minjin Chung, cello; Wolcott Humphrey, clarinet; Kelley Hollis, soprano; and Olga Patramanska-Bell, violin; will essay audience favorites by Emma Wine, Michael Gandolfi and Wei-Chieh Hu, plus Aaron Copland’s “Laurie’s Song” and the world premiere of Juventas Artistic Director Oliver Caplan’s Alone Together. An interactive pre-concert Composer Conversation moderated by horn player Anne Howarth begins at 7:00pm on Zoom [HERE].

Caplan wrote the program’s title piece Alone during the Massachusetts stay home advisory this spring. It reflects on the paradox of caring for each other by staying apart, and offers a hopeful vision of the day “the sun will shine again… somewhere beyond the bend.” [continued…]

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Beethoven and the Leitmotive


Jon Vickers as Florestan

As everybody, including musicologists, begin celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s  birth, I throw in few observations on Fidelio, which I heard for the first time only in graduate school; it certainly opened my understanding to all of the rest of his work.

It is said by some that the technique of the leitmotive (my preferred English spelling, without italics, which would imply actual German: Leitmotiv, singular, or Leitmotive, plural) in opera originated with the 18th-century melodrama — instrumental accompaniment to interspersed or overlaid spoken dialogue. A 19th-century melodrama illustrates the type: the second scene of Act II of Fidelio, immediately after Florestan, chained to the dungeon wall, has heroically exerted himself in a hallucinatory aria and collapsed in utter exhaustion. Leonore (still disguised as the boy Fidelio) and Rocco, the jailer, descend into the dungeon and exchange spoken dialogue in whispers between short bursts of indistinct orchestration. [continued…]


A Firebird Anniversary


Stravinsky by Picasso

On June 25, 2020, the musical world will take note of the 110th anniversary of the premiere in Paris of Igor Stravinsky’s Zhar-ptitsa (Firebird), an event which launched an extraordinary career in Western music that continued through two world wars and three citizenships, lasted 61 years, and left a legacy of greatness that endures undiminished today.

Stravinsky had just celebrated his twenty-eighth birthday when the Firebird ballet burst on a Parisian public that had only recently learned to embrace Debussy and Ravel as the flagbearers of ultra-modernism. French Impressionism, in the visual arts, was already well established before its counterpart in music caught up with it. Debussy had been nationally recognized as the leading French composer only since Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) and La mer (1905), and only Ravel could match him on the same ground with works like Rapsodie espagnole (1908); all of these were considered the ne plus ultra of orchestral vigor and splendor on the one hand and emotional subtlety on the other.

Then with amazing suddenness Stravinsky arrived on the scene, challenging the French moderns with a violent brilliance of a Russian Impressionism that hardly anyone had even imagined. It was more than orchestral color and a strange new harmonic vocabulary — it was oriental exoticism, “For Russian Export,” as Stravinsky, weary of his Firebird achievement and its excessive popularity, later derided it. Fokine’s choreography was Russian-conventional but expertly planned, and Tamara Karsavina as the Firebird (gliding onto the stage on a wire) was both beautiful and astonishing throughout the evening, but it was the music that continues to amaze audiences today. (Odd footnote: Karsavina was succeeded in the post-season by a neophyte dancer, Lydia Lopokova, who later married John Maynard Keynes.) Debussy and Ravel, both then at the height of their careers, became Stravinsky’s close friends, “en toute sympathie artistique,” as Debussy wrote on a photograph. [continued…]

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Fair Use of Flickers


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?


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


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…]


From His Desert Island Direct to Ours


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


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…]


Jordan Hall and Sanders Theater Extend Closures


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…]


Phrasing the Full Glass


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


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


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


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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