“Heroes and Angels” Set to Inspire


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


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


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


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…]


Du Bois Back in Harvard


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


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


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


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


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…]


On the Diseased State of Opera and Suggested Cure


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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New Institute Broadens and Brightens Summer Spectrum


The Boston Symphony Orchestra herein announces the opening this summer of its Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI), an in-depth initiative of cross-cultural activities, at the orchestra’s summer campus in Lenox. This center will be housed at a multipurpose complex of four buildings called the Linde Center for Music and Learning, designed by architect William Rawn (who also designed Ozawa Hall), which will be the first all-season facility at Tanglewood. In coordination with the BSO’s regular Tanglewood season, TLI will present programs that connect the music being performed to broader social and artistic contexts. Centering on four TLI Weekends, the offerings include (in a program called “The Big Idea”) talks by the likes of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on nation-building (keyed to the BSO’s performance of Verdi’s Requiem), historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on leadership (anent Wagner’s Die Walküre), and Harvard psychology professor and conflict-resolution expert Daniel L. Shapiro on issues of freedom and peace (suggested by Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony).

The programming has traditional musical components as well, such as master classes, experimental offerings, composer and performer talks, a program on the music-cinema interface, an intensive eight-day session with the Juilliard String Quartet and members of the Tanglewood Music Center faculty and students, and other extended-learning programs. Details on all of these are available starting February 6th at TLI’s new web site, www.tli.org. You can also get a glimpse of the Linde Center, as conceptual drawings and as live work-in-progress, at the fundraising site for the project, [HERE]. The opening weekend for TLI and the Linde Center (with ribbon-cutting!) will be June 28th to July 1st. The BSO envisages that TLI programming will continue, at Tanglewood, in Boston, and online, during the non-summer seasons, though details of these programs were not yet provided. Tickets for all TLI summer programs will go on sale beginning February 10th through the regular Tanglewood channels. Excerpts from the complete BSO press release larded with some images run below the interview after the break.

BMInt has some questions for the Judith and Stewart Colton Tanglewood Learning Institute Director Sue Elliott. [continued…]

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No Goldbricking for these Forces


Bach is the greatest,even in China

The self-led orchestra A Far Cry, normally artistically home at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Jordan Hall, and St. John’s Church JP, does a runout to Ithaca this week to kickstart a 3-day, 3-performance tour with the celebrated pianist Simone Dinnerstein built on an arrangement for piano and chamber orchestra of J. S. Bach’s keyboard classic Goldberg Variations by Sarah Darling, Alex Fortes, and Dinnerstein. The show comes to Jordan Hall on Feb. 8th, and to Mechanics Hall in Worcester on Feb. 9th.

Longtime collaborators A Far Cry and Simone Dinnerstein both came to prominence in 2007, as part of a burst of musical energy that erupted in the Northeast Corridor as the Great Recession started to upend traditional arts structures. The 17-member A Far Cry formed with a countervailing idea: that the ensemble should have no fixed conductor, working as a self-conducted chamber orchestra whose players shared leadership. Dinnerstein took a then-novel approach with self-funding her own professional recording debut recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which propelled her to national acclaim as critics praised as “an utterly distinctive voice” (New York Times) and “a timeless, meditative, utterly audacious solo debut” (O, The Oprah Magazine). Although Dinnerstein now plays concerts and concertos across the world, the Goldberg Variations remains central for the pianist, with much-praised collaborations adding choreography (with Pam Tanowitz) and the re-imagined arrangement that Cornell and Boston will hear.

Basil Considine of the Twin Cities Arts Reader spoke with Alex Fortes and Sarah Darling of A Far Cry on the Goldberg arrangement, the dynamics of playing in A Far Cry, and the joys of collaborating with Simone Dinnerstein.

Basil: Why the Goldbergs? [continued…]

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Favorite Memories of Sandy


Wendy Maeda photo

Baritone Sanford Sylvan had so many great operatic roles, it’s hard and maybe even silly to single out any of them. The wise and sinister Chou En-lai opposite James Maddalena’s enthusiastic and oddly innocent Nixon in the original cast of John Adams’s Nixon in China. The exuberant Figaro jumping up and down on a bed with Jeanne Ommerle in the famous Peter Sellars/Craig Smith “Trump Tower” production of The Marriage of Figaro. Or as Orlando, in his mad scene, being wheeled across the stage on a gurney, in the Sellars/Smith production of Handel’s Orlando at the Loeb Drama Center in the days when the A.R.T. was run by Robert Brustein. Sylvan, with the music transposed for his mellow baritone, was singing the title role in the “second” cast, when there weren’t enough countertenors to alternate with Jeffrey Gall in the first cast.

Sylvan provided another extraordinary moment in another almost forgotten Sellars/Smith production, at Harvard’s Agassiz Theatre in 1983—a double bill of the Brecht-Weil Kleine Mahagonny followed by a staged version of excerpts from Bach cantatas under the title “Conversations with Fear and Hope after Death.” In the Weill, Sylvan was part of a male quartet singing “Oh moon of Alabama!” (that moon hanging overhead like a big Swiss cheese); in the Bach, crouching on all-fours, he sang a heart-rending aria, “How frightened, trembling are my footsteps,” to the obbligato accompaniment of Kenneth Radnofsky’s more-Weill-than-Bach saxophone (one of Smith’s most inspired decisions), as he crawled backwards under a kitchen table. He finally emerged with his arms stretched out against the table in the pose of a crucifixion—a visual and vocal image of total spiritual agony.  [continued…]


Sanford Sylvan Leaves Us


Known to Bostonians as frequent collaborator in director Peter Sellars’s and conductor Craig Smith’s re-imaginings of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro (which also appeared in PBS’s “Great Performances”), for his work as a member of Emmanuel Music, for his longtime collaboration with pianist David Breitman in such works as Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, and with the Lydian String Quartet in Fauré’s La bonne chanson, the beloved baritone Sanford Sylvan died yesterday.

Over the years in the Boston Globe, Richard Dyer has often been touched by Sylvan’s accomplishments, once describing how he had:

“…arrived at an accomplishment denied to most professional singers, the art of delivering American English in a completely natural, unaffected and expressive way… without a trace of the opera singer’s…orotund recital delivery; instead there is a confidential, communicative, and even at times imposingly public statement of private feelings. Over the years Sylvan has simplified his performances as his understanding has deepened, and today he is one of America’s master singers.” [continued…]


Only Baritones Need Apply


Brand-name baritone Thomas Hampson returns for his fourth Celebrity Series appearance alongside his son-in-law, bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni, with operatic and Broadway favorites in “No Tenors Allowed!” Resonance, pathos, and comedy will reign in selections by Mozart, Verdi, Rodgers & Hammerstein this Friday at Jordan Hall with Kevin Murphy presiding at the piano.

Hampson boasts an opera repertoire of more than 80 roles sung in all the major opera houses of the world; his discography comprises more than 170 albums, which include multiple nominations and winners of the Grammy Award, Edison Award and the Grand Prix du Disque. he was appointed the New York Philharmonic’s first Artist-in-Residence. In 2010, he was honored with a Living Legend Award by the Library of Congress. Hampson was made honorary professor at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Heidelberg. Italian bass-baritoneLuca Pisaroni is celebrated for charisma and versatility since his debut at age 26 with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival, led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

If you want to learn which (if either) of the two will channel Ethel Merman in “Anything you can do…” from Annie Get Your Gun, read below the break. [continued…]

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Currier & Viva & Lives & Ives?


The local musical cosmos will presently be aligning for the eminent and much-awarded American composer Sebastian Currier. He answers our interviewer’s question, “are you getting rather cosmic?” below the break.

Next Saturday, Boston Musica Viva, Currier in attendance, delivers a musical program calling sharp attention to the challenges facing all of us citizens of Earth and featuring the world premiere of his Eleven Moons. Commissioned for BMV and soprano Zorana Sadiq by Chamber Music America, Currier’s work incorporates perspectives from moon-related texts from science, poetry, fiction, religion, and fable. Other pieces at the February 2 BMV concert include Deborah and Richard Cornell’s Wind Driven, a stunning multimedia work on climate change; Brian Robison’s Bonfire of the Civil Liberties, a sardonic look at xenophobia in the name of patriotism and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib; Michael Gandolfi’s Budget Cuts, “a septet for three players and conductor” which takes the arts fiscal squeeze from diminishing public funding to a comical and poignant extreme; and the premiere of Viva!, a bagatelle by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich in honor of BMV’s 50th anniversary. [continued…]

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Félicien David Revived Digitally


Félicien David (1810-’76) was widely known in the 19th century for Le désert (The Desert), a most unusual work that was performed throughout Europe and the Americas, including under Carl Bergmann in Boston’s fabled Music Hall, the 3000-seat auditorium on Winter Place built by  Harvard Musical Association members in 1852 that would serve as home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1887 until the opening of Symphony Hall, in 1900.

First heard in Paris in 1844, Le désert is a highly descriptive work for tenor (or two tenors in different movements), chorus, orchestra, and narrator. In a famous review, Berlioz hailed the work in detail, clearly relishing the chance to show that he was not alone among French composers in trying to expand the scope of concert music to include extensive description and even narration. Le désert now exists in two CD recordings, very communicative and appealing [HERE]. Two of David’s operas have also been recorded—again in fine performances—in recent years: the comic opera Lalla-Roukh and the grand opera Herculanum, which pits ascetic early Christians against luxury-drenched Romans and pitting all of them against a wily, shape-shifting Satan. (More on these operas below. Note: Félicien David should not be confused with Ferdinand David, for whom Mendelssohn wrote his violin concerto.)


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On Adapting The Scarlet Ibis


The most frigid of times, January can also be the most florid of times for new opera in the Northeast. Hot on the heels of New York City’s PROTOTYPE Festival of new music-theater pieces, Boston Opera Collaborative is preparing to open its production of The Scarlet Ibis by David Cote and Stefan Weisman. This adaptation of a popular 1960 short story by James Hurst, a staple of many Minnesotan English curricula, taught in high schools from Rochester to Farmington to Mankato, also runs from Thursday through Sunday at Longy in Cambridge. Tickets HERE.

A tragic story of childhood and illness, The Scarlet Ibis has long fascinated readers. The operatic adaptation by Cote and Weisman first appeared at the 2015 PROTOTYPE Festival, and this year will be staged by both Boston Opera Collaborative and Chicago Opera Theater. Basil Considine spoke with librettist David Cote about adapting The Scarlet Ibis for the stage and walking the line between theater criticism and opera writing.

BC: How did your partnership first conceive of adapting James Hurst’s The Scarlet Ibis as an opera? [continued…]

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BMOP Mounts 12-Tone Take on Children’s Book


The Boston premiere of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Charles Wuorinen’s “an over-flowing feast of witty, inventive music-theater,” will take place Saturday night at Jordan Hall in the third installment of the Boston Modern Opera Project’s season as Gil Rose leads a semi-staged production featuring guest soprano Heather Buck. James Fenton derived his libretto from Salman Rushdie namesake novel. The result is a sophisticated, adult fantasy-opera based on an equivalently sophisticated children’s novel written by a man under a death sentence. “For those who want an opera of widely diverse dramatic character and complex music, this is for you,” says Gil Rose.

Bombay-born Salman Rushdie completed his first children’s novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, in 1990, while in hiding in England under an intentional assassination-sentence by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for blasphemy to Islam in the author’s previous book. [continued…]

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A Far Cry Reflects on a Legacy


Pamela Frank (file photo)

In advance of the Criers’ concert at Jordan Hall this Friday, violinist Jesse Irons reflects on a program that encompasses Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile, Vivaldi’s: Concerto for 4 Violins in B minor, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, and Haydn: Symphony No. 44.

Some years ago, my dear Peabody Conservatory violin teacher Shirley Givens was excited that her star pupil Pamela Frank was coming to perform as soloist with the Baltimore Symphony. Givens had her ways, and she finagled the entire studio to attend a dress rehearsal where Pam performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto, followed by a chat. The stunning performance showcased Pam’s incredible ability to weave in and out of the orchestral textures: to soar above when needed, and to almost embed and strengthen the orchestra when the part called for it. It was an entirely egoless performance, all about Beethoven’s intention, and the music was fully alive and moving.

About a year later, Givens, planning to be away for the week, had arranged for a special guest teacher for her studio. I was extremely nervous for what would be my first lesson with Pam, but I pulled out Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D Major No. Four. I remember playing through the first movement and being out of breath. Pam asked, with a smile, “how do you feel?” Tired, I said. Pam looked at me and said, “You better not be tired, you have two more movements to play!” I was instantly smitten. After the lesson, I bought her recording of the Mozart violin concertos and I’ve probably listened to her recording of the fourth 100 times. In fact, I used to tune my violin to it! [continued…]

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Helen, thy beauty is to me….


Helen of Troy by Rossetti

Odyssey Opera continues its sixth season next month at the Huntington Theater with the Boston premiere of Gluck’s (1770) Paride ed Elena to Ranieri de’ Calzabigi’s libretto. This marks the first of three works to be performed in Winter/Spring 2019 inspired by one of the most enigmatic figures in ancient history, Helen of Troy. The company tells us that Paride ed Elena (Paris and Helen) will feature three leading female roles performed by Mireille Asselin (Elena), Meghan Lindsay (Paride), and Erica Schuller (Amor), with orchestra and chorus conducted by Gil Rose, and stage direction by Crystal Manich (Pittsburgh Opera, Utah Opera).  The fully-staged, five-act production will be sung in Italian with English subtitles.

Paride ed Elena was the third and last of the so-called “reform” operas on which Gluck collaborated with the librettist Ranieri de’ Calzabigi. According to Gil Rose, Odyssey Opera’s Artistic and General Director, “Paride ed Elena is yet another operatic gem that has disappeared from the canon. The ‘why’ remains a mystery as this opera has something for everyone: a passionate love story, glorious orchestral textures, sensual ballets, and the sumptuous melodies that we’ve come to expect from Gluck’s masterful vocal writing. Odyssey Opera is thrilled to revive this neglected work and introduce it to Boston audiences.” [continued…]

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Interesting and Unusual Opera CD Suggestions


Last year in this space [HERE] I offered an overview of more than a dozen fascinating new CD releases of opera recordings, ending with detailed reviews of two additional operas: by Bellini and by English composer John Joubert. My feature stirred up some lively comments.

During 2018 the harvest has been even more astounding. Whether you are new to the world of opera listening or have great familiarity with the repertoire, you are bound to find something for your taste, or to give as a gift to someone who loves music, theater, or the singing voice.

I divide the pile of discs into several rough categories, for convenience: 1) relatively well-known works that have been recorded many times; 2) a handful of valuable Mozart recordings from different points in his career; 3) lesser-known works by well-known composers; 4) Baroque and Classic-era works done in some version of Historically Informed Performance style; 5) forgotten French works from the 19th century that have now been given first recordings, in superb performances; and 6) other forgotten works that turn out to be quite interesting, most of them, too, in expert performances that play to a work’s strengths.

Well-Known Works, Often Seen in a New Light [continued…]

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Camerata Seasonal Renaissance Music: Legendary & Hot


The Green Mountain Man

Ever ready to assist in the marketing activities of our literate and resourceful presenters, we herewith take note of the potential Gloire, Sororité and Fraternité in Boston Camerata’s five forthcoming holiday concerts.

Artistic Director Anne  announces that she is pleased this year, to be unveiling a brand-new production, full of color and sweep. “Gloria: An Italian Christmas” will feature six vocal soloists, harp, lutes, gambas, organ, cornetto, sackbuts, and choir, performing some of the hottest music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque. Some cast members, like bass singer-lutenist Joel Frederiksen, and the legendary cornettist Bruce Dickey, are coming over from Europe to participate. We are also happy to welcome students from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. Such an adventure for us…

FLE:  Yes, there are performers and hot music involved, but what about composers?

We’ll be featuring the titanic Gabrieli and Monteverdi along with a plethora from the Renaissance A-list: Marenzio, Cipriano, Willaert, and others. And, to keep the Camerata tradition alive, there will be Christmas songs from country chapels and popular sources. We found a cache of these simple, beautiful carol melodies in a Florentine print of the 17th century, transcribed some of them, and will be premiering them for modern audiences, alongside the magnificent sound structures meant for San Marco in Venice, and other major-league places.

The Camerata has also an extensive repertory book of Christmas concerts, and you are continuing to share it with the public. When did this all begin for you? [continued…]

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Marvin’s Ninth Inning


In 2010, following his retirement after 32 years as Director of Choral Activities at Harvard University, Jameson (Jim) Marvin founded the Jameson Singers, an SATB choir of some 70 voices, which draws  experienced amateur singers across Boston (and includes many of Marvin’s former Harvard students). The ensemble’s 9th season will be Marvin’s final one. Exuberant and witty, Marvin discusses, among other things, the season to come: “Wondrous Light” holiday concerts on December 1st and 8th featuring works from early Renaissance to the present day (including some of Marvin’s own compositions and arrangements) and next May’s performance of the mighty German Requiem by Brahms.

GL: In your forthcoming book “Emotion in Choral Singing: Reading Between the Notes” (which will be released December 12th!) you write I believe choral music has the power to draw us into a spiritual realm, a transcendence that allows a fleeting moment of peace.” This is quite the statement!

JM It seems to me there’s a reason for choral music, a real purpose. And, simply put, it is easier to express emotion with text and singing. Of course instrumental music also has the great power to express emotion, but I find that the inclusion of text and the use of the human voice allows choral music to lift us out of our everyday experience. I believe strongly in that mission – an experience so momentary and yet so valuable. We are singing to inspire and also, to an extent, to educate. We are blessed as human beings to have the capacity to express emotion through singing or through music period. And I think humanity needs that.

Singing to educate…do you see yourself primarily as an educator? [continued…]

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MIT Announces Major Gift for Music Facility


Will Frank Gehry be invited back?

Finding the money and the will to build a major building for the musical arts at Massachusetts’s most famous technical institute has been bruited about for more than 50 years. With the announcement that Joyce Linde, a longtime supporter of MIT and the arts, has made a “cornerstone gift” to enable building a new “state-of-the-art” music facility, that hurdle now seems overcome. The yet-to-be designed building must accommodate the current and future needs of the considerable and growing program. That there is such popular support of musical arts in various forms will come as a surprise to many, and the Joyce Linde commitment represents the beginning of an unfolding story.

The new building will stand between two illustrious neighbors. The Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto drew plans for the serpentine red-brick Baker House Dormitory when he was a professor in residence at the Institute in 1948, as one of but a few structures he built in America after the Finish Pavilion at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair. Eero Saarinen’s 1955 Kresge complex made a radical statement of form and material. A building committee will eventually name a signature architect worthy of this prime location.

“Our campus hums with MIT people making music, from formal lessons, recitals, and performances, to the beautiful surprise of stumbling on an impromptu rehearsal in the Main Lobby after hours,” says L. Rafael Reif, president of MIT. “Now, through a wonderful act of vision and generosity, Joyce Linde has given us the power to create a central home for faculty and students who make and study music at MIT — a first-class venue worthy of their incredible talent and aspirations. As a champion of the arts, Joyce knows the incomparable power of music to inspire, provoke, challenge, delight, console, and unify. I have no doubt the new building she has made possible will amplify the positive power of music in the life of MIT.” [continued…]

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