Lorelei Sirens in Full and Far Cry

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Two groups that do things just a little differently team up for a collaboration that’s going to be, well, just a little bit different. Lorelei Ensemble’s artistic director Beth Willer, and Sarah Darling, A Far Cry’s program curator for Friday’s Jordan Hall show, get to relate the scoop.

What drew your two groups to collaborate with each other, and what do you hope comes out of this musical meeting? 

Beth: I have long admired the work of A Far Cry, its collaborative energy, and ability to bring both standard and forward-thinking repertoire to life. Lorelei and A Far Cry seem like a natural pairing. We are both committed to co-creative work, and contemporary programming which can shed new light on existing repertoire, and both groups love to incorporate new works that push the boundaries of classical music. Of course, we look forward to learning from each other in the rehearsal process and premiering an entire program of repertoire that exceeds either group’s independent possibilities.

Sarah: I’ve been obsessed with Lorelei’s sound and energy for years. I remember everything about my first experiences hearing the group — which, incidentally, I can also say about A Far Cry! My ears perk up whenever I hear a group listening deeply and interacting with the degree of passion that classical music needs and frankly, deserves. Individuals didn’t vanish in Lorelei’s group sound; instead, you heard the full expression of what they could do when they were at their best. So I’ve been dreaming about putting these two groups on a single stage to see what happens for a long time.

What was the process of putting this program together? [continued…]

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Chorus Reaches Half-Century Mark

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Josh Jacobson, conductor

How do we celebrate such a milestone? According to a recent article in Chorus America’s journal, The Voice, “anniversary observances become most meaningful when they reinforce a chorus’s reason for being, when they inspire self-examination, and when they help to lay a foundation for the future.” For Zamir Chorale of Boston’s 50th Anniversary Concert, we will offer choral music from Jewish traditions, not just by Jewish choirs, but by all choirs across America—high school, college, conservatory, community, professional choruses, even church choirs. Most conductors know very little about our repertoire beyond a dreidel song or two. They are unaware of the significant repertoire that Zamir promotes: secular and sacred; Baroque, classical, romantic, modern, contemporary; classic compositions as well as arrangements of folksongs, popular songs, theater songs; music in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, German, English; a cappella and accompanied.

On Tuesday, June 4, at 7:30 pm, at Sanders, the ensemble will showcase some of its best repertoire and premiere commissioned works from Jeremiah Klarman, Ken Lampl, Jonathan Leshnoff, Charles Osborne, Nick Page, and Benjie Ellen Schiller. [continued…]

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Castle of Our Skins Wins George Henschel Award

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How many BMInt readers know anything of the history of one of our sponsors, the Harvard Musical Association? The private charitable organization founded by Harvard College graduates in 1837 maintains a longstanding tradition of commissioning new works, supporting local nonprofit musical organizations, and giving prizes and awards to young performers.

The Association announced one such award last week, a grant of $5,000 to Castle of Our Skins for a concert honoring the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffragist movement and celebrating the power of women’s voices. According to COOS president Ashleigh Gordon, “Fiber art and spoken word poetry showcases will be woven into the concert experience. Black women poets, quilters, musicians, and composers will all be elevated and celebrated.” Click HERE for the details.

The worthies of the Association encourage organizations dedicated not only to the performance and composition of serious music, especially chamber music, but also to the development of steady, attentive audiences appreciative of this kind of musical experience to apply for the annual Harvard Musical Association’s George Henschel Community Awards HERE.

More on all of HMA’s awards and grants can be found HERE.

[continued…]

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Harvard Sets Sails Friday for A Sea Symphony

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Ralph Vaughan Williams ca 1900

Behold! the sea itself!
And on its limitless, heaving breast, thy ships:
See! where their white sails, bellying in the wind, speckle the green and blue!

Ralph Vaughan Williams, an aspiring English composer, first became aware of the poetry of Walt Whitman in 1892. Whitman, whose bicentennial is being celebrated across America in 2019, became a touchstone for Williams, who carried a pocket volume of Leaves of Grass through the trenches of World War I. Whitman beautiful verses became a touchstone for Vaughan Williams, who helped usher in a new era of British choral music after a century of compositions dominated by German influence. Each man was a powerful disruptor, a breath of fresh air for their respective forms of poetry and choral composition. In short, few pairs of artists are better suited to one another. Vaughan Williams created two choral works from Leaves of Grass, both premiered at the Leeds Festival in 1910: “Toward the Unknown Region and A Sea Symphony.”

Humanist and metaphysical, the sections of Whitman that make up A Sea Symphony describe travel across the ocean as a metaphor for the soul’s journey into the infinite. To capture the majesty of the poetry and “the sea itself,” Vaughan Williams created a massive work, ringing with the mighty sounds of a symphonic chorus and orchestra. Few truly choral symphonies had been attempted before. The seventy-minute, four-movement piece begins with a fast-paced, booming introduction that immediately situates the audience in the power of the waves. It continues at a variety of tempos and dynamics, incorporating semi-choruses and two soloists — a baritone and a soprano — as it plunges into themes of life, death, and shared humanity. [continued…]

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Andrea Kalyn Installed as NEC’s 17th President

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The scene could have transpired predictably—an academic procession with the requisite stoles and speeches from worthies—but Friday’s ceremony, inaugurating the first female president of New England Conservatory, unfolded unconventionally. Wisdom, and optimism as well as self-deprecatory humor won the day for Music.

We heard no stodgy (if wonderful) Academic Festival Overture or Pomp and Circumstance. Instead the interleaved great performances of NEC faculty, students, and alumns gave evidence of the success of this most essential institution. Processional trombone fanfares (undergraduate quartet) from the balcony gave way after Board Chairman Kennett Burnes’s welcome, to three most excellent movements from Handel’s Water Music as interpreted by the subtle but brilliant NEC Faculty Brass Quintet, whose members all play in the BSO.

Then, Mark Volpe greeted us with a very funny and self-deprecatory account of how flunking Music History was a prerequisite for his office as BSO CEO. He told us about an exam in which he was asked to identify examples of 20 Phrygi’n modes. He got none.

NEC stepped up production values for this event, giving us theatrical lighting and even teleprompters. But Denyce Graves (NEC 1988) didn’t need an applied spotlight; she radiated her own. Her two songs with faculty pianist Cameron Stowe wowed us with jaw dropping and heart-rending theatricality and engagement. Her account of Michael Tilson Thomas’s Grace bestowed that quality on us like manna. [continued…]

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Noted by the Conductor

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Boston Philharmonic’s encampment at Symphony Hall on April 26th at 8:00 will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ensemble with an unusual pairing: Ives’s Third with Mahler’s Fifth.

Lying on a table, when Mahler visited a New York publisher early in 1911, was an unpublished score of a symphony by a composer he had never heard of — Charles Ives. After a quick perusal he slipped it into his briefcase with the intention of studying it on his way back to Europe and performing it the following season. However, Mahler did not return to his post as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. What Mahler must have recognized in that brief encounter with the younger American composer’s Third Symphony was a kindred spirit. He saw a composer who used the humble elements of popular culture — hymn tunes, folk songs — in the hallowed context of the European symphonic form, thereby giving renewed energy to both. An innocent Yankee sensibility resonated with his own penchant for using old Austrian folk songs and dances. [continued…]

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WordSong Channels Blake

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In “Tyger Circus,” mezzo-soprano Krista River, baritone Keith Phares and pianist Linda Osborn will offer 18 musical settings of William Blake’s eponymous poem. WordSong, Boston’s singular interactive concert organization, will be marking its 10th anniversary at First Church Boston on Friday, April 26th at 8pm.

We co-founding composers [Howard Frazin and Tom Schnauber] have spent the last 10 years exploring the idea that all listeners have an intuitive musical understanding. The unique concert format presents a collection of new settings of the same poem, usually something well-known to the general public, and performs each piece in tandem with a conversation that has the audience telling musicians and composers what they hear. In the past decade, what audiences heard from us and what we heard from audiences has been the inspiration for more than 70 concerts featuring 12 different programs presented in Boston and throughout New England, as well as in New York, Washington, Minneapolis, and as far away as Vancouver and Bulgaria.

Now we present 18 musical interpretations of the same poem. Is this really a good idea? Well is it a good idea for a trapeze artist to walk a tightrope without a net? It’s certainly not safe, but it’s almost always memorable one way or another. [continued…]

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Theodore Antoniou To Be Celebrated

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The friends and colleagues of the late composer, conductor, educator and ALEA III founder (1979) will memorialize him with performances of his works, a slide show, displays of photos, music scores and other memorabilia. Theodore Antoniou embodied a selfless commitment to promoting the future of music. He contributed in extraordinary and unprecedented ways to the training of thousands of composers and performers worldwide. Gifted, charismatic and always kind, he touched and changed the lives of everyone who had the good fortune to meet and work with him.

On Saturday at 1:00 at  Annunciation Cathedral, 514 Parker Street, His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios will preside over the memorial service. Yehudi Wyner, composer, pianist, professor emeritus Brandeis University; Samuel Headrick, composer, associate professor, Boston University; Apostolos Paraskevas, composer, guitarist, professor, Berklee College of Music will offer eulogies. Then some of Antoniou’s signature works will be heard: Aria from the 1986 film “The Girl from Mani,The Forgotten, suite for guitar (excerpts); Octet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and string quartet.

The following will be performing: Maria La Vita, soprano, Julie Scolnik, flute; Peggy Pearson, oboe; Diane Heffner, clarinet; Janet Underhill, bassoon; John McDonald, piano; Apostolos Paraskevas, guitar; Aija Reke, violin; Jessica Amidon, violin; Scott Woolweaver, viola; Karen Kaderavek, violoncello; Tiffany Chang, conductor. Reception to follow.

ATHENS – Well-known composer and conductor Theodore Antoniou passed away on December 26th  after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 84. [continued…]

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Concert-Meditation To Join Spirituals with Bach

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Bach is the greatest, even in China

Across the ages, the genius of Bach and the authentic mournfulness of the African American spiritual can speak together to the agony and triumph of Jesus. On Sunday, April 14th at 3:00 PM, an unusual free Palm Sunday Meditation-Concert at St. Mary’s Church in Charlestown will interleave deeply affecting songs such as “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” with Bach-Busoni piano meditations on texts such as “Ich ruf zu Dir” (I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ,… lead me from despair.) Bach’s Passion music will also figure at the meditative center of this amalgam. Peter Sykes will take the helm of the restored  1892 Woodberry and Harris tracker organ and Daniel Sauceda will direct soprano, organ and Charlestown Community chorus in the rousing closer, “Regina Coeli” from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

Born in Chicago, soprano Sirgourney Cook toured internationally with singer-actress Jennifer Hudson for three years. Recently, she was featured as a soloist in Duke Ellington’s “Concerts of Sacred Music.” She continues to use music as an avenue to inspire, educate and advocate for underprivileged youth. Last year she dedicated her songs to the memory of her late teacher Robert Honeysucker, once the most profoundly moving spiritual singer hereabouts. This year she looks forward to a collaboration with the pianist Claudius Tanski.

A student of Alfred Brendel, Tanksi withdrew from the concert stage to embark on a spiritual quest at St. Peters Monastery in Salzburg. His appearance here coincides with his seminar on religious encodings in the Liszt Sonata to be delivered at the New England Conservatory on April 19th at 10:00 AM at Williams Hall. New England Conservatory’s piano department invites the public to join NEC students in exploring the challenges and complexities that pianists face in the world today, through presentations and masterclasses by guest artists and NEC faculty. [continued…]

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It All Started With a T-shirt

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What do Emmanuel Music, Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, and UMass, Amherst have in common? Well, as it turns out, the music of Bach.  So say a couple of participants in the UMass Amherst Bach Festival and Symposium, which begins on April 13th.

In March 2014, Amanda Stenroos, a UMass graduate student in the violin studio of Elizabeth Chang, came to a lesson wearing a t-shirt from the Bach Festival at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. When she explained to Chang how much the venerable tradition of that festival, the oldest collegiate Bach festival in the nation, meant to her, it piqued Chang’s interest. Could this be a model for an event at UMass? A series of conversations ensued, first with Chang’s colleagues William Hite and Chris Krueger, who have devoted much of their careers to Bach’s music–both have significant and deep ties with Emmanuel Music’s renowned Sunday morning Bach cantata series as well as with Emmanuel’s founder Craig Smith. Later, Tony Thornton, director of choral studies at UMass, and musicology faculty members Ernest May and Erinn Knyt joined the conversation, and the 2015 UMass Bach Festival and Symposium was conceived. The team decided that the biennial event would be a music festival taking place concurrently with a scholarly symposium. This format, which is novel in the collegiate landscape, proved to be very successful. It included a symposium of scholars of international reputation (Richard Taruskin and Christoph Wolff among them) and a remarkable performance of the St. John Passion conducted by Julian Wachner featuring students, faculty, alumni, and guest artists in front of a sold-out audience. [continued…]

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Lyds Past and Present Unite for a Cause

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The late Mary Ruth Ray

First among first violinists of the Lydian String Quartet, Wilma Smith has come from halfway around the world to join with her former colleagues and successors. Born in Suva, Fiji and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, the former concertmaster of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra will play her 1761 Guadagnini violin here for one performance only, Sunday, March 31, at 3 p.m. in an ad hoc Lydian Octet paying tribute to the memory of Mary Ruth Ray, the beloved Brandeis faculty member and founding violist of the Lydian String Quartet who died in 2013. [Click HERE for images of the ensemble through the years]. All proceeds from the Slosberg Music Center event will benefit the Mary Ruth Ray Scholarship Fund, which supports Brandeis undergraduate instrumentalists. Adults: $20; Seniors & Brandeis Community: $15; Students: $5, available in advance at brandeis.edu/tickets or (781) 736-3400; or at the door starting one hour prior to the performance.

The concert will open with Bach’s “Fugue” from Sonata No. 3 for Solo Violin, BWV 1005, arranged for nine violas by Mark Berger, featuring guest artists and former students of Ray. Described by music critic Conrad Wilson as “one of the miracles of nineteenth-century music,” Mendelssohn’s beloved masterpiece, String Octet, reunites current Lydian String Quartet members Andrea Segar (violin), Judith Eissenberg (violin), Mark Berger (viola) and Joshua Gordon (cello) with past members Wilma Smith (violin), Daniel Stepner (violin)and Rhonda Rider (cello), plus special guest violist Gillian Ansell of New Zealand. [continued…]

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Home Team’s Next Season Announced

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Telling of his excitement at the prospects of leading 15 concerts and participating in the planning for the entirety of the 139th season [complete listing  HERE], BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons sums up his retrospective and forward-looking fifth term thus:

“The list of composers, soloists, and guest conductors for 2019–20 is so impressive and extensive that I could never acknowledge them all adequately in this short message. We are very happy with the balance we have achieved between presenting many artists in their first appearances with the BSO and honoring some of our most beloved relationships with return appearances.

“An absolute dream come true is the chance to bring my two orchestras together for joint performances as part of the Boston Symphony/Gewandhausorchester Leipzig Alliance. In addition to sharing a deep musical heritage and co-commissioning several new works that speak to the future of our field, next season both orchestras are collaborating on stage for three performances, representing an absolutely unique event in the classical music world.

“I could not be prouder of my beautiful BSO and the talented engineering team who have received four Grammys in the last four years since the start of our Shostakovich cycle on the Deutsche Grammophon label. We’re thrilled to continue that cycle in the coming season with Symphonies Nos. 2 and 12. For another season highlight, we are especially fortunate to have Jonas Kaufmann with us again, and Emily Magee in her BSO debut, for concert performances of Act III from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.” [continued…]

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H+H To Turbocharge Deities with Bliss

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Detail of Dido (Nathaniel Dace-Holland)

Handel and Haydn artistic director Harry Christophers will bring Henry Purcell’s deeply moving Dido and Aeneas to Jordan Hall on Friday March 29th at 7:30pm and Sunday March 31st at 3pm, and to the Metropolitan Museum of New York’s Temple of Dendur on Saturday March 30th.

Thanks a $45,000 NEA grant, H+H could expand this concert beyond its typical production values, allowing them to bring in Aidan Lang as director of the staging enhancements, to secure a cast of unsurpassed talent, and to bring the event to the Metropolitan Museum. “We are deeply appreciative of the turbocharge that the NEA grant gave to our production,” said H+H president and CEO David Snead.

Purcell’s only true opera and one of the earliest-known English ones, Dido and Aeneas recounts the love of the Queen of Carthage for the Trojan hero and her despair when he abandons her. Lang, who currently is general director of the Seattle Opera and future leader of the Welsh National Opera, will direct “concert staging.” Lang and Christophers have worked together over many years, with Christophers particularly recalling “an amazing Monteverdi Ulisse in the Teatro San Carlos in Lisbon, Handel’s Hercules in Buxton and numerous ‘enhanced concert experiences’ of Handel oratorio for the Covent Garden Festival in London.”

Award-winning mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley and acclaimed baritone David McFerrin will take the title roles. Gramophone Award-winning bass-baritone Matthew Brook will appear as the Sorceress/Sailor, countertenor Reginald Mobley as the Spirit, soprano Sarah Yanovitch as Belinda, soprano Sonja DuToit Tengblad as the Second Woman, soprano Margot Rood as the First Witch, and soprano Sarah Brailey as the Second Witch. [continued…]

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A Missing But Remembered Uncle

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In 1942, 18-year-old Bruno Gawlick of East Prussia marched off in the Wehrmacht’s attack on Stalingrad, the largest and bloodiest battle in history. He was never heard from again except in a pair of posthumous letters.

Now his nephew Ralf, a 49-year-old composer who teaches at Boston College and has his DMA from NEC, has written a 52-minute tribute to his “never known but never forgotten” young uncle. Conceived from the last two letters the young soldier wrote, the electroacoustic composition is titled Herzliche Grüße Bruno ~ Briefe aus Stalingrad (Best regards, Bruno ~ Letters from Stalingrad). Scored for baritone, two pianos, and archival sound montage, it will première March 30th in the First Baptist Church in Newton.

Listeners will move through time and space via a soundscape that integrates archival recordings with live spoken word, two piano parts, and the prophecy of sung voice. The work combines profound reflection with an unusual intimacy as a fiercely anti-war memorial. The composition and its première have been sponsored through an initiative between the US and Germany called Wunderbar Together.

We wanted to hear more. [continued…]

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“Music in the Time of Cholera: Fanny’s Cantatas”

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Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

Following the birth of her first child, Sebastien Felix, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel determined to revive her Sunday concert series. In his recent biography of Fanny, The Other Mendelssohn, R. Larry Todd describes how in 1831, brother Felix wrote enthusiastically to her: “Pray, give your traveling brother a commission to write something new for you.…” He’d just sent her his new setting of Psalm 115 and was keen to have her perform other of his works at her salons. Fanny herself had composed Lieder and piano pieces for the events, but after recovering from the difficult childbirth, she had an explosion of creativity that produced four large works for chorus, soloists, and orchestra including trombones.

Cappella Clausura will present “Fanny’s Cantatas” on March 30th at Emmanuel Church in Boston and March 31st at Eliot Church in Newton; ticket information here. [continued…]

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“Heroes and Angels” Set to Inspire

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Composer Nan Schwartz

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s concert Sunday, March 17th at Kresge at 4:00, steps away from the traditional to speak to challenges such as gender equality and an unnerving and sharp rise in hate crimes. In addition to Sibeliuss Symphony No. 5; and Joseph Schwantner’s New Morning for the World Daybreak of Freedom.” The event will also see the first live concert performance of Nan Schwartz’s trumpet tone poem Angels Among Us with noted jazz and classical trumpeter Joseph Foley as soloist.

Schwartz’s music has great line, beautiful colors, and a wonderfully elegant merging of styles. When I heard Angels Among Us I knew right away I had found a wonderful fit for the CSO and am very honored that she has entrusted us with the first public performance of it.

Narrating is a tricky thing; I knew that we needed someone who could live and feel the words of Dr. King, not just simply read them in New Morning for the World. Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond, like Dr. King, has a deep and ongoing commitment to serve, not just his church, but the broader community as well.

When one performs new works or works by living composers, it’s on your shoulders to capture its essence and communicate to listeners why this music has such great value. Without new music and innovation no art form can thrive and evolve. [continued…]

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Boston Musicians Support Immigrant Legal Aid

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Anne Azéma

Boston-area musicians are coming together to support the plight of refugees in greater Boston and at the United States border with Mexico. “Help the Children” will use music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, choral song, as well as traditional music of South America and the Middle East, and American spirituals to make its multicultural case. Sponsors Camerata Mediterranea and the Memorial Church of Harvard University, and performers The Boston Camerata, Blue Heron, the Choral Fellows of Harvard University, Dünya, cast members of Black Nativity and others hope that their efforts will inspire donations to be administered by the Memorial Church and distributed among the Cambridge Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).

Joel Cohen, director of Camerata Mediterranea and director emeritus of the Boston Camerata will be hosting. Camila Parais, Anne Azéma, and Mehmet Sanlikol, and instrumentalists Fabian Gallon (tiple) and Eduardo Bettencourt (harp) will solo in a segment dedicated to Spanish, Latino and Hispanic music. A tremendous assortment of music will be forthcoming from the decidedly various performers, and the compositional times span stretches from the 12th century to last week.

According to Cohen, “We will be playing our hearts out for these kids and their parents, and we will also be requesting donations from members of the audience.”

Camerata Mediterranea and the Memorial Church of Harvard University present “Help the Children” at Memorial Church, Harvard University, 3pm on Saturday, March 9th. Click HERE or HERE for more information. [continued…]

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Bashing Bach in a Good Way

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Bach is the greatest, even in China

Every year since 2009, the First Lutheran Church of Boston has presented the Boston Bach Birthday, a day-long celebration of the Johann Sebastian Bach and his music. On Saturday March 23rd, beginning at 8am and continuing through the end of the 5pm Vespers, we recognize his 334th with solo and chamber performances by organists, instrumentalists, and one singer. Apart from the German lunch and balcony seating ($15 and $20 respectively at the door), admission is free (though donations are gratefully accepted). While some listeners stay for the whole day, and others attend one or two events, all invariably experience musical and spiritual satisfaction.

This year’s slate features First Lutheran’s world-class Baroque organ, built by Richards, Fowkes & Co. in 2000. The only organ in the Boston area built uncompromisingly in the North German Baroque style, it renders the music of Bach and Baroque composers with the sounds they themselves heard. Organists and organ aficionados come to Boston from all corners of the globe to experience what is known colloquially as “Boston’s Bach Organ,” and last year it was the centerpiece of the Boston Bach International Organ Competition (BBIOC). This year four programs will feature the organ: Lorraine Mihaliak (8am), Robert August (11am), Bálint Karosi (1:15pm, along with soprano Audrey Fernandez-Fraser) and Dutch organist Adriaan Hoek (3:15pm), who won the inaugural BBIOC this past year. [continued…]

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Remembering Karl Dan Sorensen, 1927-2018

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Karl Dan Sorensen died a little over a year ago, and obviously it has taken a while to produce a proper obituary. Bostonians who go back decades as choral and voice aficionados will recall him as a shining gold standard for local tenors, particularly in Bach.

Dan, as he was called by old acquaintances, was born in northern Illinois into a community of Danish immigrants. After a short stint in the navy at 18, Dan pursued music as a possible vocation, studying at the Chicago Conservatory and in Copenhagen with Aksel Schiøtz and Alice von duLong. But the prospect of life as a fulltime performer seemed too self-centered to him. He was drawn more to helping others, and came to Boston University to study psychology, eventually earning a degree in clinical counseling. He had particular interest in the problems of children and teens, leading him to do some music-related work at the Hampshire Country School in Rindge NH in the mid-’50s.

Dan’s pre-Cantata Singers Boston musical life seems to have been centered at King’s Chapel, in composer and conductor Daniel Pinkham’s circle. He recalled a striking story from that time: The venerable Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod had been engaged to sing a work, but as the scheduled performance date approached the tenor alerted Pinkham that he was ill and might be unable to sing. Pinkham recruited Dan to cover the piece. By the appointed date, Cuénod had recovered. Pinkham presumed Cuénod would do the performance, but Cuénod said of Dan, “He learned it. He should sing it.” [continued…]

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Du Bois Back in Harvard

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W. E. B. DuBois

Through all the sorrow of the Sorrow Songs there breathes a hope—a faith in the ultimate justice of things. The minor cadences of despair change often to triumph and calm confidence. Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins. Is such a hope justified? Do the Sorrow Songs sing true?   — W.E.B. DuBois

The Harvard Glee Club will celebrate the legacy of  W.E.B. Du Bois in a free concert on Saturday March 2nd at Harvard Memorial Church at 8pm with organ improvisations, overtures, arias, recitatives and a culminating chorus with audience participation to “make the circle wider.”

In Harvard, but not of it

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of the American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, author, writer, editor, and Harvard alumnus (AB 1890) W.E.B. Du Bois. After completing an undergraduate degree from Fisk College in 1888, DuBois matriculated at Harvard, where he would become the first black recipient of a PhD. Although Du Bois was extremely successful in the academic realm and enjoyed close relationships with several teachers, he felt alienated among his peers, saying that he was “in Harvard, but not of it.” Elaborating on this aspect of his experiences over 70 years later, DuBois wrote the following:

“I sought no friendships among my white fellow students, nor even acquaintanceships. Of course I wanted friends, but I could not seek them… Only one organization did I try to enter, and I ought to have known better than to make this attempt. But I did have a good singing voice and loved music, so I entered the competition for the Glee Club. I ought to have known that Harvard could not afford to have a Negro on its Glee Club traveling about the country. Quite naturally I was rejected.” [continued…]

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Organist Katelyn Emerson’s Gratitude

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The rapidly up-and-coming concert artist plays solo recitals Friday, February 22nd at 7:30 pm at Park Street Church in Boston (free) and on Friday, March 22nd at 7:30 pm Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Providence.

Not yet 30, Katelyn Emerson already possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of some of the world’s greatest organs and the architecture and cultures around them, and she has played them and photographed them for her extensive website and blog. After graduating with degrees from Oberlin in organ performance and French with a minor in fortepiano, she took advantage of a Fulbright to study in Toulouse for the French equivalent of an Artist’s Diploma, and is now working on a Masters’ degree in Stuttgart, Germany thanks to winning the German equivalent of a Fulbright. She has already studied with some of the organ world’s greatest luminaries. Besides all this, she possesses appealing groundedness. When not riding in a plane, train or automobile, she’s bound to be found riding horses, flying in gliders, jogging the local terrain, attending community suppers for the under-privileged or just simply sitting in a concert enjoying the talents of friends old and new. She is the real-deal as a person and as an artist with a seemingly inexhaustible energy for life and for learning. I managed to catch up with her after several reschedules and squeezed in a delightful chat on a cold morning in Boston. She had just flown in from Germany to spend a month concertizing here in the US. To speak with her and to hear her speak makes you smile. It is this attitude of gratitude and how she embodies her own personal space that makes her unique.

In Maine, Emerson’s birthplace, her hands-on parents dedicated themselves to helping her: find the best teachers, have the best chance at developing a good technique, and seeing the world, and music through a well-informed mind. When I asked her how she has the energy to do all she does and to also document it so thoroughly on her blog, she admits it was originally for her grandmother and her family in Maine so they could keep up with her and enjoy her experiences along with her. She said that people seemed to like it, so she continued. Indeed, she cares more about experiences and less about career markers and building a list of successes. [continued…]

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Dolores Claiborne To Slay in New Booth Theater

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a frightful moment in the theater

The BU Opera Institute presents an original production of a new version of the Tobias Picker opera Dolores Claiborne in its New England premiere as the first opera in the state-of-the-art Joan & Edgar Booth Theater, February 21st–24th.

Based on Stephen King’s 1992 realistic novel comprising the testimony of a 65-year-old Maine island housekeeper accused of murdering her wealthy employer, “It’s about humanity at its most challenged, and I don’t want to say depraved, but certainly its most raw,” says director Jim Petosa, College of Fine Arts professor of directing and dramatic criticism and School of Theater director. Suspected of killing Vera Donovan, Dolores Claiborne tells police the story of her life, harking back to her disintegrating marriage and the suspicious death 30 years earlier of her violent husband, Joe St. George.

Picker’s operas have been produced to critical acclaim by such respected companies as the Metropolitan Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, and the San Francisco Opera. But the Opera Institute remains at the top of Picker’s list. “They’ve done some of the best productions of my operas that have ever been done,” Picker says. “The Thérèse Raquin they did is, I think, the most extraordinary production of any opera of mine that I’ve ever seen, anywhere.” [continued…]

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Musician-Scientist Dies

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Manfred Eigen (Ingrid von Kruse photo)

Manfred Eigen, renowned German biochemist, who won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for his elucidation of ultrafast chemical reactions, died on February 6th. I never read much about Eigen’s kinetics research, but I do remember a surprisingly readable and fascinating article that he wrote on “viral quasispecies” in Scientific American. I also remember the CD “Musikalische Spezialitäten 1991”that has Mozart’s Piano Concertos in A major, K. 414, and G major, K. 453, with the New Orchestra of Boston conducted by David Epstein, with Manfred Eigen the scientist as the piano soloist; the performances are very good indeed. Eigen’s own liner notes for the record include this: “Mozart himself would probably have had no objection to the fact that the solo part was played by a dilettante since he wrote so many of his works for his own pupils. One day when I accompanied Rudolf Serkin at a rehearsal, I mentioned that I was only a dilettante at playing the piano. He paused for a moment and then said gravely: ‘But we are all dilettantes!’”

Eigen’s recording testifies not only to the ability of amateur musicians to rise to professional proficiency, but also, and more so, to the priceless value to our art of the amateur musician’s role; amateur musicians keep alive the musical art just as surely as do the professionals, whether in community orchestras and choruses or theater groups, church choirs, chamber musicians who play one concert a year instead of 40, and record collectors who can remember and sing more themes from more 19th-century symphonies than can most professional violinists or pianists.  [continued…]

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Lost Baroque Jewish Oratorio Found

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Rembrandt’s wife modeled Esther

A month before Purim, the rattlingly joyful holiday celebrating a Jewish queen’s triumph over evil shegetz Haman, the ensemble MIRYAM, founded three years ago to bring Jewish early music to New England audiences, will debut the rarely heard Baroque oratorio Esther by Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti. Rediscovered two decades ago and performed only a handful of times since (never on the East Coast), the Hebrew-language oratorio, written for the Jewish community of Amsterdam in 1774, is unique in a number of ways. An Austrian Christian of Italian descent composed it to a commission from a community of Portuguese Jews, employing a Venetian rabbi’s translation of Handel’s Esther libretto into Hebrew. It is the only complete oratorio surviving from the Baroque  with an entirely Hebrew text.

Aside from possessing historical and cultural significance, the oratorio also contains gorgeous music, with striking arias, beautiful choruses, and rich orchestration. MIRYAM’s roster, based mostly in Boston, draws also from Connecticut and NY. The ensemble will present the Boston and East Coast premiere on Saturday, March 2nd at 7:00 PM at Emmanuel Church in Boston and Sunday, March 3rd at 4:00 PM at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley; harpsichordist and conductor Dylan Sauerwald will direct an ensemble of five soloists, nine choristers, and 14 instrumentalists, while soprano Alicia DePaolo, director and co-founder of MIRYAM, will sing the role of Esther. Visit miryamensemble.org to reserve tickets or call 781-832-0968; further details are below and at article end. [continued…]

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On the Diseased State of Opera and Suggested Cure

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Veteran opera critic Conrad L. Osborne delivers a lifetime’s worth of keen perceptions, stern judgements, and personal angles in a quirky yet compulsively readable 827-page compilation on the state of opera today; his Opera as Opera: The State of the Art should be required reading for all operamanes.

Over the course of the past four centuries, opera—grand or intimate, tragic or satirical, moralizing or wacky, colorful and often rather “extreme” form of art (and/or entertainment)—has spawned legions of devoted fans and merciless critics.

Among the many intensely readable book-length essays on this complex, sometimes problematic genre, Joseph Kerman’s Opera as Drama [HERE] stands as perhaps the single most famous example (at least in English). Operagoers can also consult wonderful, thought-provoking histories full of insight and imagination: for example, Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker’s A History of Opera [HERE] or James Parakilas’s The Story of Opera [HERE]. Numerous richly informative books treat a narrower swath of repertory: e.g., Tim Carter’s Understanding Italian Opera [HERE] and Stephen Meyer’s Carl Maria von Weber and the Search for German Opera [HERE]. And there are authoritative books on individual opera composers, such as Hugh Macdonald’s recent, subtly witty Bizet [HERE]. [continued…]

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