Rapture and Despair at BSO

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On Saturday, November 29th, the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Seiji Ozawa delivered two French masterpieces of orchestral sound-color. Olivier Messiaen’s Trois Petites Liturgies (1944) for women’s choir, strings, percussion, and assorted keyboards is a three-part sonic realization of cosmic time inhabited by divine joy and brilliantly speckled with crystalline birdsong. Pianist Peter Serkin’s intensely tactile command of the part created a palpable energy, allowing him to almost literally take flight. Hector Berlioz conceived a very detailed narrative for his Symphonie Fantastique (1832). In this piece for large orchestra, sound-color plays an important role. The dreamy waltz was a bit hobbled, the rustling trees a little damp, and the nimble witches a tad overweight. Still, the conductor’s energy was high and the orchestra played solidly—especially the brass, which delivered a powerful, perfectly balanced sound that shook the hall and resonated to the core of one’s body. [Click on title for full review.]    [continued]

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BU’s Excellent Orchestra Assures Future of Classical Music

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The Boston University Symphony Orchestra, appearing on November 24 in Symphony Hall under the direction of David Hoose, gave one of the best performances I have ever heard from a student orchestra, well worthy of comparison with any of the semi-professional orchestras in the Boston area, and a fair challenge for America’s most renowned ensembles. John Adams’s Fearful Symmetries — the title is from William Blake’s “Tiger, tiger!” — was a work entirely new to me. Adams has regularly revealed a greater interest in harmony than either Steve Reich or Philip Glass, and this work from 1988 is a brilliant example of harmony that evolves by unconventional but clearly perceptible connection from one sonority to the next. Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, the complete ballet of 1912, made up the second half of the program. In all the really excellent playing that was constantly and seemingly effortlessly demonstrated, there were some particularly outstanding examples. But the flawless string sound, with even tone over the entire divisi range, was just as impressive throughout the work, including all the numerous solos. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Spectrum Singers Offers Tribute to St. Cecilia

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The Spectrum Singers, under the direction of John Ehrlich, delivered an outstanding performance at the First Congregational Church in Cambridge on Saturday, November 22. The program, entitled “A Christmas Prelude Celebrating St. Cecilia” offered a wide range of music from the late Renaissance and the 20th Century. The true highlight of the evening was Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia, an extremely difficult piece sung with the utmost regard for contrast, shifting with seamless control from the most delicate to powerful passages. Multiple soloists were featured, but soprano Robyn Sanderson and bass Dana Whiteside truly stood out. Two pieces by Daniel Pinkham were featured on the second half. The first, A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, was a bit disorienting. Though sung with accuracy and sensitivity, the piece shifted between a generally modern sounding form of extended-tonality supported by the organ, and a completely different idiom of more “choir-friendly” music. The result was much like listening to a conversation in two different languages. Norman Dello Joio’s To Saint Cecilia, was largely a setting of the same text as the first (and later composed) Daniel Pinkham piece A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day. The Dello Joio, both intriguing and impressive, closed the concert with pertinent and powerful lines: “The dead shall live, the living die, And Music shall untune the sky.” [click on title for full review.]    [continued]

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Standards Bookended Anachronisms

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Too rarely are true oddities mixed into the standard fare that characterize a “classical orchestra.” In the case of the Boston Classical Orchestra’s latest offering, on November 23, the mix was impressively odd —starting with the serpent. Gordon Bowie ‘s Old Dances in New Shoes for serpent and strings was billed as a neo-Baroque suite, but had more often the flavor of a set from the 1930s Dance-band Era. Anachronism continued after the intermission when Yeo returned to show off an early 19th-century brass instrument called the ophicleide in an aria from G.F. Handel’s early 18th-century masque Acis and Galatea. The concert opened with the three-movement Symphony No. 10 by F.J. Haydn. It seemed, however, that music director Steven Lipsitt decided to smooth out most of the musical dips and turns in favor of a general “gallantness” that at times sold the music short. This issue became even more apparent in the work that closed the concert, W.A. Mozart’s Symphony No. 29. In addition to the programmed works, the audience was treated to two unexpected gems: a cleverly written fugue by Lipsitt on the initials H.E.D. (for BCO founder Harry Ellis Dickson); and an arrangement of “Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?” for clarinet (played by Lipsitt) and strings, offered as the most convincing fundraising appeal I’ve ever encountered. [Click on title for full review.]    [continued]

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A Participant’s Reflections on a Recent Percussion Concert

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How often does one hear a percussion ensemble in concert? Not very often. The NEC Percussion Ensemble, directed by Frank Epstein, first percussionist of the Boston Symphony, gave a fine demonstration of rich possibilities on Sunday night, November 16. Sunday’s program led off with the slow movement of Saint-Saëns’s Third (“Organ”) Symphony – abbreviated by about two-thirds – played on five marimbas, alto, tenor and bass, by eight players. All that warbling tremolo aside, the sound achieved some fine depth,… My own contribution was of the third piece from Debussy’s En blanc et noir for two pianos, which I arranged for six mallet instruments – glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, bass marimba, and tubular bells. I was delighted with the performance but after hearing it would want to make some changes, which shows at least how this composer has more to learn about percussion. A new piece by Joan Huang followed, Orphan San Mao, composed last year for solo violin with four percussionists variously playing mallet instruments and drums, augmented by toys and sound effects. A palette of unorthodox objects is employed, such as chopsticks, porcelain plates, steel bowls, bottles, automobile horns and police whistle.” Fred Lerdahl’s The First Voices, a recent commission, was the heavyweight piece on the program, one in which different kinds of drums — bongos, conga drums, tenor drums, tomtoms, tambourines, bass drums — were most prominently featured. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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The Pacifica Quartet takes on Beethoven, Carter, and Crumb

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How often does one hear a percussion ensemble in concert? Not very often. The NEC Percussion Ensemble, directed by Frank Epstein, first percussionist of the Boston Symphony, gave a fine demonstration of rich possibilities on Sunday night, November 16. Sunday’s program led off with the slow movement of Saint-Saëns’s Third (“Organ”) Symphony – abbreviated by about two-thirds – played on five marimbas, alto, tenor and bass, by eight players. All that warbling tremolo aside, the sound achieved some fine depth,… My own contribution was of the third piece from Debussy’s En blanc et noir for two pianos, which I arranged for six mallet instruments – glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, bass marimba, and tubular bells. I was delighted with the performance but after hearing it would want to make some changes, which shows at least how this composer has more to learn about percussion. A new piece by Joan Huang followed, Orphan San Mao, composed last year for solo violin with four percussionists variously playing mallet instruments and drums, augmented by toys and sound effects. A palette of unorthodox objects is employed, such as chopsticks, porcelain plates, steel bowls, bottles, automobile horns and police whistle.” Fred Lerdahl’s The First Voices, a recent commission, was the heavyweight piece on the program, one in which different kinds of drums — bongos, conga drums, tenor drums, tomtoms, tambourines, bass drums — were most prominently featured. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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Inspired Music Lesson from Takács Quartet and Muzsikás

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The experience with Takács Quartet, Muzsikás, Sebestyén, and Bartók was long overdue. Not a graduate seminar by any means, their program led to summits of discovery through the act of showing rather than telling—as Bartók well might have had it. One of the earliest folk music archivists as well as one of the most original composers of the 20th century, Béla Bartók considered the folk melodies of his country’s villages as equal to the greatest works of music coming out of the tradition of Bach and Beethoven. For Bartók, folk music is not merely dressed up in art music; rather, the two breeds bond in a new, distinct voice to capture, on a very real and personal level, the feelings, atmospheres, and rituals of Hungarian life, those of the peasant in particular, the pure, which so appealed to him. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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Mixing of Timbres, Fantastical Variations, and Mozart Gem

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The scheduled reviewer for the Radius Ensemble concert on Nov. 15 was unable to attend, at the last minute, but the concert was too good to leave unmentioned. So your editor, who was there, is tackling it. The program, which seems to be standard for Radius Ensemble, contained both earlier (18th- to 20th-century) and contemporary pieces. Listening to a performance of this quality testifies to the wisdom of a site like The Boston Musical Intelligencer. With it, the classical-music public can learn more about the superb musician pool we have in greater Boston and, it is hoped, be inspired to attend future concerts by them. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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Ueno’s Memorable Talus, Boykan’s Engaging Concerto, Erikson’s Eclectic Fantasy, and Schwartz’s Chamber Concerto

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Elliot Schwartz’s Chamber Concerto VI: Mr. Jefferson was filled with quotes of Revolutionary War marches and classical pieces from Jefferson’s personal collection. Most of these references, however, were too overt to be effective, so the result was less like creative integration and more like a game of “name that tune.” And then there was a blood-curdling scream. Ken Ueno’s Talus, featuring violist Wendy Richman, received a few laughs after its over-the-top, horror-flick beginning but quickly demanded complete silence as the piece slowly unfolded from pitch-less textures to rich atmospheres of complex and beautiful sounds. It would be safe to assume Erickson would have been nothing short of thrilled with Popper-Keizer’s performance of Robert Erikson’s Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra. Boykan’s Concerto remained engaging from beginning to end. But the Shoenberg Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra was generally disappointing. [Click on title for full review.]    [continued]

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Stimulating Presentation of Underplayed Repertoire

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Despite a dubious use of the word “contemporary” (the newest piece dated from 1972), the recent program at the Goethe-Institut on November 13 was a stimulating presentation of underplayed repertoire. Surprising as it may sound, Floyd’s piece was the truly the most peculiar on the program. The passage of time has placed us in a world where Webern sounds like Schubert and avant-garde shock tactics are met with delight. Who in their right mind today would set out to write an extended soliloquy on the hardships of being Queen? [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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BLO’s Tales of Hoffman: Offenbach would have been pleased

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The voices were glorious, the sets and costumes sumptuous, the choreography in perfect step with the action and the music, and the stage direction finely balanced between the comic and the serious. The opera has undergone a number of transformations. Stage director and choreographer Renaud Doucet, set and costume designer André Barbe, and conductor Keith Lockhart freely based their current production on the fine edition of Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck, with the goal of remaining as faithful as possible to Offenbach’s original intentions. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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Camerata’s “American Program”

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Camerata’s most recent concert, “Land of Pure Delight: In Search of the American Soul” plumbed the depths of repertoire rarely heard in a full concert. Consistency was a hallmark of the program, and if it was sometimes difficult to follow the program and text, the charm, simplicity and excellent contrasts made it more than interesting and engaging at every moment. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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A welcome visitor to Boston: Tokyo String Quartet has lost none of its clarity, precision

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We were fortunate to hear some of Haydn’s best movements for string quartet, as well as equally good ones by Beethoven and Mendelssohn, performed by the Tokyo String Quartet at Jordan Hall on November 1. In opus 76, no. 1, we find Haydn in full command of his genius and abilities, and the Tokyo String Quartet rose to the occasion. The quartet’s performance of the Beethoven was energetic and powerful, although a bit too straight-ahead for my tastes. The program concluded with a spirited performance of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in D major, op. 44, no. 1, written in 1838. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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Musical Diaspora and Exile: The Convulsion of Two World Wars. HMA Commission among Musical Presentations at CrossCurrrents.

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A three-day conference at Harvard on any subject is bound to be a fruitful occasion, unless, perhaps, the subject is economics. The one just concluded, CrossCurrents: American and European Music in Interaction, 1900-2000, Part 1 (1900-1950), on October 30 through November 1, was one of the best within recent memory. The exilic theme carried over into the two evening concerts. Thursday evening featured a fine saturation of two pianos, with a special premiere, Teletalks by American-French composer Betsy Jolas, who was jointly commissioned by the Crosscurrents conference and the Harvard Musical Association. The final event of Crosscurrents was a piano recital by Bruce Brubaker, head of the Piano Department at the New England Conservatory; he was assisted by two Harvard undergraduates, Konrad Binienda and Kenric Tam. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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An Evening of the French Avant-Garde at Symphony Hall

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Once the diabolus in musica (the devil in music) during the late Middle Ages, the “tritone” takes on an entirely different meaning for the devout Catholic mystic, Messiaen. For him, it is the musical equivalent of the luminous multi-colored stained-glass windows in the great French churches. [Click on title for full review.]    [continued]

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Opera Boston opened its season with Carl Maria von Weber’s “Der Freischütz”

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Opera Boston opened its season opened at the Cutler Majestic Theatre with Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz, locally absent for two dozen years. On the last night (October 21) Gil Rose led a rendition musically compelling enough to overlook some orchestral untidiness – though the key instrumental soloists all delivered – and to withstand director Sam Helfrich’s rather smirky staging. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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A Heroically Ambitious Program by the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra

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Times, tastes, and training have all changed, of course; yet the notion that an orchestra comprising almost entirely underage players would attempt either the “Eroica” Symphony (No. 3) of Ludwig van Beethoven or the Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky is still remarkable. The Boston Youth Symphony under the baton of Federico Cortese chose to present both these pieces on the same program. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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“Discovery” concert by Boston Philharmonic demonstrated its high quality.

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It hardly needs saying, to a Boston audience that knows them so well, that the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra under Benjamin Zander is much more than a simple alternative to the Boston Symphony under James Levine. In 30 years it has proved itself to be a first-rate ensemble worthy of comparison, in discipline and cohesiveness, to any professional orchestra in America…[Click title for full review]    [continued]

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Radiant, sonorous, full-hearted, vigorously alive performance of Mahler’s Sixth at BSO

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Will the Mahler revival ever ever end? Fifty years on, the music has become (and stayed) more than just popular: it’s inescapable, so always-with-us, such a cultural “given” that, some will say, that none of us can hear – that is, really hear – his music any more. [Click title for full review]    [continued]

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“Transcendent music I have heard” by Chameleon Arts Ensemble

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Today, concerts more often than not come with program titles which are meant to inform and even pique the curiosity of the concertgoer. The Chameleon Arts Ensemble’s program title, “transcendent music I have heard,” puzzled me. [Click title for full review]    [continued]

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A Concert to “Create Memories” Russell Sherman, piano

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Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes represent some of the most technically challenging works in the repertory. It is always an event to hear just a few of them, and a tour-de-force for any pianist to play all in a single evening. Russell Sherman did just that in Jordan Hall last Thursday, and he brought with him his formidable arsenal of fingers and probing musicianship for the occasion. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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A Benefit on the Eve of the Autumnal Equinox

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The Concord Orchestra, Alan Yost, conductor, plays the Mozart Horn Concerto No. 2, Kathryn Denney soloist; Debussy’s Syrinx for solo flute with Susan Jackson and Sacred and Profane Dances for Harp and String Orchestra with Emily Halpern Lewis; 3 Poems of Mallarmé with soprano Sarah Telford; and Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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Glimmerglass Opera Festival

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Reviews of four operas: Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Wagner’s Liebesverbot, Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Cole Porter’s Kiss me Kate. [Click on title for full review]    [continued]

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