Journeys from Judaism and Persecution in Mendelssohn and Mahler

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Gustav Mahler, born into a Jewish family, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1896 in order to preserve his career as a conductor, at a time when anti-Semitism became the norm of Germanic cultural identity and law. (1)

Felix Mendelssohn’s father Abraham, son of the Enlightment philosopher and Jewish sage, Moses Mendelssohn, converted to Lutheranism and added the hyphenation of Bartholdy, the name of a piece of land purchased by his brother-in-law to buffer his Jewish surname.  He angrily rebuked his son for calling himself “Felix Mendelssohn” in concert programs in the 1820s:

A name is like a garment; it has to be appropriate for the time, the use, and the rank, if it is not to become a hindrance and a laughing-stock. … There can no more be a Christian Mendelssohn than there can be a Jewish Confucius.  If Mendelssohn is your name, you are ipso facto a Jew.

[continued]

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Classical Violinist/Fiddler to Play at Cape Cod Festival Concert

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Those of us who frequent Cape Cod have long been grateful for the presence of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, which brings first-class artists to our summer haunts. Currently under the artistic leadership of pianist Jon Nakamatsu and clarinetist Jon Manasse, this organization appears to be flourishing. Among the concerts this summer is one in Provincetown on Monday, August 9, 2010, (and again on Thursday, August, 12 at the Dennis Union Church) by the Fry Street String Quartet. I am looking forward to this concert not just for the program (see below) but also because I have heard this young quartet mature and gel over the past several years into a distinct musical presence.

The group was organized in Chicago where the address of their first practice venue gave the quartet its name; since 2002 they have been in residence at the Caine School for the Arts at Utah State University in Logan. However, they have local roots, and even roots in the Cape. First violinist William Fedkenheuer is familiar to Bostonians from his tenure as second violin with the Borromeo Quartet, and the Fry Street Quartet has over the past two years made pilgrimages to Wellfleet on the Cape to have coaching with celebrated cellist Bernard Greenhouse. I spoke with Fedkenheuer, a native of Calgary and a former Canadian fiddling champion, about the upcoming concert.

Boston Musical Intelligencer: You were a fiddling champion in Canada; how does that relate to your career as a classical musician?

William Fedkenheuer: I began the violin at age four and was not as excited about the instrument as most loving parents would hope! However, I had a very special teacher who started me on fiddle tunes, and this turned into one of the greatest gifts I’ve received as a violinist. I loved fiddling, and so a deal was struck that I could fiddle as long as I wanted, but the classical building and technical exercises had to be completed first. [continued]

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What should we expect from Summer Festivals?

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A lot has been said in this rag about the superlative qualities of Rockport Music’s new Shalin Liu Center. But how does it compare with what we expect from a summer music venue? For those of us not attending the likes of the Salzburg Festival in our mothball-infused finery, summer festivals mean mosquitoes, moths, straight [continued]

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Three More Summer Festivals

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Charlemont Federated Church
Charlemont Federated Church

Tanglewood and the Newport Music Festival are well known; Mohawk Trails Concerts is new to us. Tanglewood, founded in 1940, and Newport, founded in 1968, offer many concerts, not only in the evenings, but throughout the day, with a variety of times, programs, and venues.  Mohawk Trails Concerts, located in Charlemont, MA, offers a far smaller series but very high-quality, unusual programming. All three venues lend themselves to a one-day trip — albeit some of them for those hardy enough to drive back to the Hub “after hours.” [continued]

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Two in Two: Summer Concerts in Maine and New Hampshire

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Now that summer is officially underway, four more summer music festivals are starting their seasons — two in Maine and two in New Hampshire. All commence on July 1. A number feature performers not heard often, if at all, in Boston, but these festivals also provide opportunities for summer outings to areas filled with treasures that are beyond the Basin. In this installment, BMInt brings to your attention summer concerts from the Bowdoin Music Festival in Brunswick, Maine; the Bay Chamber in mid-coast Maine; the Heifitz Institute in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire; and Monadnock Music in the Monadnock Region of southern New Hampshire. [continued]

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Thanks for What? Musing on Praise and Blame

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Every so often, a performer or composer expresses gratitude for a good review or indignance at a bad one. Max Reger’s famous response to a bad review, expressed in a letter to the reviewer, was: “I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. Soon it will be behind me.” We can sympathize with the wounded pride of anyone who has just been publicly impaled in print, and just as easily we can vicariously bask in the warmth of high praise. As a composer, I, like Richard Nixon, prefer winning to losing the critics’ votes. But is it right to give thanks or to spray acid? Is it right for a reviewer to accept thanks — in which case, wouldn’t he or she have to bathe in the acid? [continued]

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Summer Delights Begin in Western Mass, Eastern New York, and Coastal Maine

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The end of June brings on three summer music Festivals: the Kneisel in coastal Maine, Tanglewood in the Berkshires, and Maverick in nearby eastern New York State. Our esteemed publisher, F. Lee Eiseman, assisted by this editor, recruited reviewers from these respective neighborhoods to complement our own fine roster. BMInt urges our readers to find any excuse to make their way to these festivals; each offers at least one or two irresistible concerts. [continued]

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The Amazing Sound in Rockport

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Gorgeous Shalin Liu Performance Center Reveals That Dry & Exciting Tops  Muddy & Reverberant for Chamber Music

For the concert by the Parthenia Consort of viols with guest tenor and actor at the new Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport on June 13, I chose a seat in row M, just three rows from the back of the stalls, because I wanted to hear the clarity of the sound in an average seat, not a seat reserved for critics. The verdict: Larry Kirkegaard deserves high praise for his work in this hall. It is not easy to create a shoebox hall of this size where the music can be heard clearly in a large majority of seats. [continued]

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Chopin Symposium Features Historic Re-enactment, Newly-Recovered Piece

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For years, pianist and pedagogue Roberto Poli has found himself intrigued by — if not obsessed with — the music of Frederic Chopin and is now five CDs into his recording project of all of this composer’s music for piano. Poli’s fascination with Chopin, many pianists’ favorite composer for their instrument, has recently resulted in two symposia, a two-day event last June and a much more involved Chopin Symposium this June 18-20 at the Rivers School Conservatory in Weston, Massachusetts where he teaches and co-chairs the piano department (with Angel Ramon Rivera).

This weekend-long event, like its predecessor which drew about 300 people, was to be scheduled every other year, but because 2010 was the bicentenary of Chopin’s birth, he forged ahead and asked a stellar cast — music historians and scholars, pianists and highly regarded local piano pedagogues and performers, to help celebrate the composer again this June. [continued]

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Moving About in their Respective Areas: Aston Magna and Music at Eden’s Edge

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BMInt is offering a series of notices on the summer concert series and festivals in attractive sites that we believe will be of interest to our readers. The concert schedules are listed in our Upcoming Events. In the interview below we present Music at Eden’s Edge, which starts its season on June 13 in various locations in the North Shore of Massachusetts, and Aston Magna, which starts on July 18 at two locations, the Berkshires and the Hudson River Valley.

Aston Magna presents each of its four concerts at Bard College in Annandale-on-the-Hudson, NY, and then at Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington, MA. (However, the first two also can be heard a day earlier (June 17, June 24) at Brandeis University in Waltham.)

Music at Eden’s Edge, under Artistic Director Maria Benotti, plays three performances of each of its four concerts at various historic buildings on the North Shore: Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church in Danvers, Community House of Hamilton and Wenham in Hamilton, North Shore Arts Association in Gloucester, Peabody Institute Library, Willowdale Estate in Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield, and one at the private home of John Archer, in Danvers. The performances on Tuesday afternoons at the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church in Danvers, the Senior/Family Series, are free. [continued]

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Newport Music Festival Loses Charismatic Artistic Director in Automobile Accident

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BMInt is saddened to report the death of Mark P. Malkovich III, founder and long-time artistic director of the Newport Music Festival in an automobile accident last Saturday in Minnesota. Dr. Malkovich’s son, Mark Malkovich IV, assures the festival’s fans that the 42nd season will go on as scheduled from July 9 through July 25, including the special concert and Champagne reception on July 10 for what would have been Dr. Malkovich’s 80th birthday. [continued]

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Rockport Music Starts Season in New Hall on June 10th

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BMInt is offering a series of notices on the summer concert series and festivals in attractive sites that we believe will be of interest to our readers. The concert schedules are listed in our Calendar of Events. In the interview below Rockport Music Artistic Director David Deveau responds to some questions from BMInt staff.

Michael Lutch photo
Michael Lutch photo

We’re all very excited about the opening of the Shalin Liu Performance Center. This must have been a stretch financially for a entity like RCMF. Tell us how you did it.
Of course, this enormous project presented a major challenge to Rockport Music. We changed the organization’s name from Rockport Chamber Music Festival to Rockport Music in 2009 to encompass our status as a year-round presenting organization, whose signature offering remains the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. It is now spread over six weeks in June and July, with 20 programs.

The original budget for the center was considerably less, but after some fairly predictable litigation resulted in very high legal expenses, our overall costs rose to $20 million. To date we have raised over $16.4 million and have secured interim financing to complete the construction without delay. Much of the money has been raised from individual and family foundations, with some support from corporate and business sources. Needless to say, when we began the campaign, the economy was in a far different state than it is now. But we have great confidence that, as people experience the sound and beauty of the space, the campaign will be completed in due course.

The exterior architecture seems extremely sensitive to its 19th– century context. Did you have a lot of meetings with historical associations and commissions? [continued]

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Tannery Pond Concerts Commence on May 29

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<p>The Tannery (Leslie Techoltz photo)</p>
The Tannery (Leslie Teicholtz photo)

BMInt is offering a series of notices on the summer concert series and festivals in attractive sites that we believe will be of interest to our readers. The concert schedules are listed in our Calendar of Events.

Twenty years ago, Tannery Pond Concerts in New Lebanon, New York, had its inaugural season in the beautiful wooden post-and-beam 19th-century Shaker building that once was a tannery. The concert series has been there ever since.

Tannery Pond Concerts presents a season of six to seven chamber concerts between May and October on the grounds of the former Mount Lebanon Shaker community and Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY, just over the border from Pittsfield, MA. Concert-goers to Tanglewood could easily include a side trip to Tannery Pond. [continued]

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WGBH Audience Plummets

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UPDATE: A knowledgeable source in the broadcast industry recently forwarded detailed rating data which should help BMInt readers understand how classical listeners are reacting to the WGBH changes. The anomalous gain the in the March WGBH’s ratings referred to in the article below was apparently due to listeners’ deserting WBUR during its fund-raising period and [continued]

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Bringing The Kennedy Words to Life in Music: A Profound Occasion for the Boston Pops

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When Robert De Niro started to talk on his relationship with the Kennedy family at the press conference this noon for tonight’s  Boston Pops performance, “the Dream Lives on: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers,” he broke down. He had known the Kennedys for years, “John John as a little boy,” he recalled, “then,..” and  was unable to continue

That emotional reaction is symbolic of the seriousness of the performance tonight, albeit coming from the Boston Pops. And it is the reason that Boston Musical Intelligencer decided to cover an event not normally within our scope.

”It is bigger than anything I have ever done,” explained Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart. [continued]

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The Dream Lives On, Through Words with Music

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The Boston Pops division of the Boston Symphony Orchestra has pulled all stops for its presentation of The Dream Lives On, a world premiere performance  tomorrow night at Symphony Hall honoring the legacy of three of Massachusetts’s most famous native sons, the Kennedy brothers.

To bring them to life with their own words, three of America’s most prominent actors are to be on stage: Robert De Niro, who will narrate quotes from speeches of John Kennedy; Ed Harris, those of Robert Kennedy; and Morgan Freeman , those of Edward Kennedy. Cherry Jones is to be narrator, and Keith Lockhart will lead the Boston Pops Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus. The concert is to be repeated on Wednesday evening. [continued]

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Harvard’s Historic, Controversial Fisk Organ: Last Local Utterances

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C. B Fisk (company archive)
C. B Fisk (company archive)

When Harvard University Organist, Christian Lane, lifts his hands from the four well used manuals of the 1967 C. B. Fisk opus 46 organ in Appleton Chapel for the final time, at 7:30 P.M., on Monday, May 3, [reviewed here] staff from the firm that built the instrument will be ready with tools, crating, and pipe trays. Dismantling and preparing it for a second stage of life in a reverberant new Presbyterian church in Austin, Texas, will be a brief interim chapter in a remarkable, and at times briskly controversial, experiment begun by the University in the 1960s.

A beautiful D.A. Flentrop organ across the way, in what was then Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum for Germanic art, had been dedicated in 1958 and was immediately propelled into national fame by organist E. Power Biggs and his high-profile series of recitals, Columbia LPs, and radio broadcasts. This Dutch organ benefited from the supportive, clear acoustic of a massive masonry structure with neither carpeting nor permanent furniture. The questing, experiment-ready University, encouraged by the Flentrop’s musical and social success, was next interested in seeking an American solution to its local acoustical challenge. All resoundingly agreed that providing a new organ for Memorial Church would present potent technical and æsthetic hurdles along the way. They entrusted the design, construction, and voicing to one of their own, Charles Brenton Fisk, ‘45. [continued]

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Thoughts on Hearing Maurizio Pollini’s Hamburg Steinway-Fabbrini in Concert

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Maurizio Pollini’s touring Hamburg Steinway-Fabbrini concert grand exhibits  exceptionally ravishing tonal and technical characteristics. The fact that this is a piano well outside our modern norm begs a number of questions, among which is, “Why don’t we regularly hear instruments of this subtlety and beauty?”

But first, what goes into the production of a Hamburg Steinway-Fabbrini concert grand? Italian piano technician and entrepreneur Angelo Fabbrini, from Pescara, Abruzzo, purchases new Steinways from that firm’s celebrated Hamburg atelier and subjects them to minute technical fine-tuning, replaces or substantially rebuilds numerous crucial action components, and reworks the interaction between strings, bridges, and soundboard. The sound of the rebuilt instruments reminds one of the finest surviving pre-1912 Blüthner concert grands (from Leipzig) and of 19th-century concert instruments by Mason & Hamlin, the 19th-century Boston firm whose pianos were, by a comfortable margin, the highest-priced in this country.

The Fabbrini design does not sustain tone for quite as long as these older pianos and the treble is gleamingly dark rather than the ethereal shimmering silver of the Blüthner Aliquot design. Unlike a standard New York Steinway, in which shadings under mezzo-forte can be difficult to control, sometimes even to produce, the Fabbrini Steinways offer the easy, wide dynamic range typical of pre-1920 pianos by the great German, American, and Austrian builders. The Fabbrini fortissimo is magnificent, but it is not as loud as the brash New York roar. Its top dynamic reaches are capable of considerable variation, and the tone production can be built up to near-orchestral volume without strain. In the course of the Celebrity Series of Boston concert at Symphony Hall on April 25, [reviewed here] Maurizio Pollini time and again called forth ppp and fff trills in the bottom two octaves, as effortlessly and clearly as at middle dynamic levels. Forte in the right hand against piano and mezzo-piano in the left became part of this recital’s wide dynamic vocabulary. [continued]

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A Call for Action: BMInt readers who care about the BPL are asked to stand up for it.

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Ed. Note: Footnote updated

On April 14, the Boston City Council begins to take up the budget for FY 2011. Amidst the crisis of pending cuts are those for the Boston Public Library. Given these ominous prospects and leaving the concern over branch closings to others, BMInt has investigated what will happen specifically to the Music Department — whether there are to be cuts in staff and hours, curtailment of use of current collections and future acquisitions, cessation of  digitizing the card catalog, questionable  de-acquisitions, and further ill effects on the morale of department personnel.

Of course the BPL should assume its share of the budgetary crunches on local, state and national levels. But the BPL has taken an inordinate hit over the past seven years and should be somewhat spared at this juncture. The table, given to us through the courtesy of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau and analyzed by our leader, F. Lee Eiseman, shows:

First, the total City of Boston budget has increased 69% from 1995 to 2010, but that of the Boston Public Library has increased only 34% in the same period. That’s half as much.

Second, the percentage of the total City of Boston spending apportioned to the BPL was .8% in 2009 and .9% in 2010. The standard in the 1980s (and before and for some period after) was that the expenditures for the Boston Public Library not fall below 3% of the entire City expenditures. Extenuating facts are that more city departments have been formed in this period, and the funding to the library from one state source since 2001 goes directly to the library and is therefore not shown in the city’s budget figures. Nonetheless, as is evident, the library’s share of City funds is about one-quarter of what it had been.

How has the library been affected so far?* [continued]

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A Force for Music Education Wears His Other Hat: Cortese and New England String Ensemble to Perform Tippett, Vivaldi, Purcell, Benjamin, Britten.

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Conductor Federico Cortese is very well known and valued for one niche in classical-music Boston — teaching serious music students; but he is not adequately recognized in another, as Music Director of New England String Ensemble. His upcoming NESE concert on April 17 at Jordan Hall should help rectify that. The program includes Sir Michael Tippett, Concerto for Double String Orchestra; Antonio Vivaldi Stabat Mater; Henry Purcell, “When I am Laid in Earth” from Dido and Aeneas; George Benjamin, Upon Silence; and Benjamin Britten, Simple Symphony. Mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims is soloist in the Vivaldi, Purcell, and Benjamin.

For the program notes Cortese wrote, “Choosing a concert program is a rather enjoyable process that often results in some unforeseen fruits. The connections among the pieces of tonight ended up being, on many levels, even closer than I had imagined.  Like some other programs we performed this season, this program is a little journey around the baroque style. The other clearly noticeable common element in today’s varied repertory is that it is an almost entirely British concert, featuring mostly music written by very young English composers. … To break this British monopoly I inserted one of Vivaldi’s most beautiful sacred pieces. … A certain meditative depth and sadness are common to all the vocal pieces in the program and, I think, create a vibrant contrast with the rhythmic energy and liveliness of both Tippett’s and Britten’s music that frames them. After all, concerts, as all musical compositions, are built on the dialectics between affinity and contrast.”

Catherine Weiskel, executive director of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, when asked for her opinion of Cortese as music director of that organization, responded immediately, “That’s pretty easy. I have enormous respect and admiration for him. He transformed this institution in the last 10 years. We now have by far the largest budget and one of the most comprehensive programs in the United States. The orchestra now is at a completely different level than when he took it over. The kids adore him. I don’t think they would give him the level of commitment they do if they didn’t admire him. He identifies with the kids because that’s the kind of kid he was.” [continued]

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The “New” in NEC: The Buzz from New Faculty, New Programs, New Events

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On April 7, New England Conservatory Philharmonia Orchestra is putting on a concert for what is believed to be the first time in Symphony Hall. Conducted by Chair of Orchestral Conducting Hugh Wolff, the concert features NEC’s Artist Diploma candidate cellist Narek Hakhnazarian in Schumann’s Cello Concerto, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10. In light of the upcoming historic concert, BMInt conducted interviews with Wolff and then New England Conservatory President Tony Woodcock.

Interview with President Tony Woodcock:

BMInt: We have done two interviews with Gunther Schuller. He had interesting things to say about the institution, 20 to 40 years ago. Link here.

Woodcock: Gunther arrived at a period of existential crisis and left it a much better place.

Were there were any surprises when you came?

 There are always surprises. I think the greatest surprise was an organization unfettered by any type of creative restrictions, where you could have an idea …

 A pleasant surprise? [continued]

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Ghostwriter Honors Intelligencer

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worthies-001cTo the esteemed editorial staff of the Boston Musical Intelligencer,

In the more than a century since my passing, not in my wildest dreams would I have contemplated a musical world that you now have in Boston. Some issues I do not comprehend, some fill me with great pride, some I note with concern. But overall, I must convey my deepest and heartfelt congratulations on Boston truly becoming what I sincerely hoped it would be, one of the most musical cities in the world.

From my distant place, far removed in space and time, I’m duly impressed by the passion and spirit of the auditors, the audiences of Boston. They are not enriched by the spectacle, by the cheap display, by the event that is poisoned by the desire of great remuneration. That this is so, even in your day where you have such access to music by so many means other than going to concert performances, speaks so well of how you have benefited from the many efforts of my and later generations.

Perhaps it is good that all of you don’t realize what it meant for even a good performance during my days on earth. We had orchestra concerts at the Boston Music Hall when there was only a single violoncello. Oh, how I wondered if we would ever see the day when a concert presented not just one, but two bassoons. By the same token, I continue to wonder about your historic ensembles of today; we wouldn’t think of presenting the great oratorios of Handel, Mendelssohn and Haydn with anything less than 200 voices, and didn’t do so after 1840. That, we saw as progress.

But I digress. What you routinely expect from your so-called Youth Orchestras would have driven my pen to declare a concert not unlike what I had heard in my lifetime. Add to this the wonderful renditions put forth by the many choruses, chamber ensembles and the like is something my colleagues during my day would have regarded as heaven.
[continued]

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WGBH to BMInt, “We decline to respond.”

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Just released monthly (February) Arbitron ratings, respected indicators that track radio listenership, show that since the November changes, audience at the new all-talk WGBH has remained flat and at the new all-classical WCRB has declined. It seems timely therefore to revisit the issue of what is going on at these stations. BMInt recognizes WGBH management’s commitment to providing classical music broadcasting in Greater Lowell, Nantucket and Southern New Hampshire. BMInt also concurs with WGBH management that the programming on Lowell’s WCRB has continued to improve since the purchase by the WGBH Educational Foundation. There are some in the geographically diminished classical audience who agree, especially those who contributed the recent WCRB all-day-fundraiser which, according to our sources, set records for such an event.

But BMInt continues to have major misgivings about current operations at WCRB:

  • Large parts of Boston and South cannot receive the signal.
  • There’s too much airtime devoted to banal and relentless promercials
  • The music selection is still rather limited except during Cathy Fuller’s approximately 20 hours per week (12% of airtime)
  • But our major bugbear remains the cancellation of the 18 Friday afternoon BSO concerts.

Assuming the figures supplied by WGBH Radio General Manager John Voci at the BMInt sponsored panel discussion on January 5th are correct, the cost of producing the live Friday afternoon Boston Symphony broadcasts — which were suddenly discontinued after some 58 years — amounted to a minuscule fraction of the station’s budget. To be exact, $25,000 against some $13,000,000 or 0.2%.

Therefore Mr. Voci’s rationalization based on budgetary constraints begs the question: What is WGBH Radio doing with that $13,000,000? BMInt has been trying to find out what is the fiscal situation at WGBH/WCRB. It is, after all, a publicly-supported entity. And supporters should know how their contributions are used. [continued]

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