Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The English musician Thomas Adès, esteemed composer, pianist, and conductor who this season becomes the BSO’s first Artistic Partner, looks to be settling into a large role as contributor to the local classical scene. On October 28th he performs Schubert’s Winterreise at Jordan Hall with the acclaimed tenor Ian Bostridge, in a joint presentation of the BSO and the Celebrity Series. Two days later, October 30th, Adès joins the BSO Chamber Players and mezzo Kelley O’Connor as pianist and conductor to open the ensemble’s with his own own Court Studies from the Tempest, the Trout Quintet, Britten’s Sinfonietta for Winds and Strings, plus chamber arrangements of Shakespeare-oriented songs by Brahms, Stravinsky, and Purcell. Wednesday November 2 at the Goethe-Institut, he will participate in a free “conversations with creators”; student composers from Boston-area music schools will also attend Adès’s BSO rehearsal the next day and participate in a conductor / composer Q&A afterward. That day and the next two, the new Artistic Partner leads the orchestra and soloists Christianne Stotijn and Mark Stone in his own acclaimed Totentanz for mezzo, baritone, and orchestra, Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, and Sibelius’s Tapiola. Premiered in 2013 at the BBC Proms, Totentanz sets a 15th-century text telling of a charismatic and gleefully macabre Grim Reaper and the procession of his many victims, whom the audience meets in descending order of social standing. Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem is dramatically expressive, while Sibelius’s atmospheric final orchestral poem, Tapiola, is one of the composer’s many works based on Finnish legend; the BSO hasn’t performed it for 40 years. Adès’s rich commitment to the BSO as Deborah and Philip Edmundson Artistic Partner will span over the next three years a range of activities reflecting his gifts as one of the great musical minds of the 21st century. Britten’s dramatic early orchestral work was written in 1940 for a commission from Japan to celebrate its 2600th anniversary. But the government found its Christian underpinnings, Latin movement titles, and contemplative mood unacceptable. By the time it was premiered, by the New York Philharmonic in 1941, Pearl Harbor had been attacked and Britten had taken up residence in the US as a conscientious objector. “I’m making it just as anti-war as possible,” wrote the pacifist composer. I don’t believe you can express social or political or economic theories in music, but by coupling new music with well-known musical phrases, I think it’s possible to get over certain ideas.” Tapiola was written in 1926, its subject the frigid, forbidding Finnish pine forests and Tapio, their ﬁerce god-spirit, who rules over the trees and wildlife. After a blustery opening, all sense of time is suspended, and for nearly 20 minutes the music creates a remarkable picture of the stark landscape via the composer’s archetypical orchestration: breezy sighs and freezing gusts from the strings and high winds rustling leaves on branches and on the forest ﬂoor, brasses and timpani creating a shifting sense of three-dimensional space. Thomas Adès’s Dance of Death was composed in 2013 and sets a text that accompanied a 15th-century German frieze depicting Death (the baritone) dancing with individuals from all strata of humanity (the mezzo), from pope and cardinal to maiden and child. The work is both macabre and funny and reminds the listener that totentanz is the one dance none of us may refuse—“one we all have to join in,” the composer points out. “[The music] is supposed to be at the same time terrifying, leveling, and funny—absurd … the thing that makes it comic is the total powerlessness of everybody, no matter who they are.” Thomas Ades leads the Boston Symphony (Stu Rosner photo) Adès joins frequent collaborator the English tenor Ian Bostridge for a performance of Schubert’s song cycle for voice and piano set to 24 poems by the poet Wilhelm Müller depicting the journey of a lonesome, griefstricken traveler who leaves love behind and contemplates his mortality on a frozen winter road. Six excerpts from the composer’s 2004 opera the Tempest make up Court Studies, for violin, cello, clarinet, and piano. Three other Shakespeare-inspired works are included: Brahms’s Ophelia-Lieder, arranged by John Woolrich for voice and chamber ensemble; Stravinsky’s Three Shakespeare Songs; and Two Songs from Purcell’s Tempest arranged by Adès for voice and piano. All three feature mezzo Kelley O’Connor. To open the BSCP program, the musicians perform music by another groundbreaking English composer, Britten’s three-movement Sinfonietta, written in 1932. Occupying the second half of the program is Schubert’s surpassingly tuneful Trout Quintet for piano and strings, which the composer completed when he was just 22. The Boston Symphony Chamber Players feature first-desk string, woodwind, and brass players from the BSO, and the October 30th concert features Malcolm Lowe, violin; Haldan Martinson, violin; Steven Ansell, viola; Mihail Jojatu, cello; Edwin Barker, bass; Elizabeth Rowe, flute; John Ferrillo, oboe; William R. Hudgins, clarinet; Michael Wayne, clarinet; Richard Svoboda, bassoon; and James Sommerville, horn. The post Thomas Adès Now: Present and Peripatetic appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
Composer Lera Auerbach Last night’s sold out Boston Philharmonic concert in Jordan Hall contrasted two audience favorites conducted by founding director Benjamin Zander with the Boston premiere of Lera Auerbach’s ten-minute tone poem Icarus, under the direction of BPO Assistant Conductor Benjamin Vickers. This is an orchestra that excels in crystal clear intonation (crucial to the many variations of Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini, op. 43) and features notable execution from within every section (most notably, the slower wind solos in Auerbach’s Icarus and the string unisons throughout the program). Each BPO program this year will begin with a weeknight Discovery Series concert (this week’s was held in Sanders Theater, Cambridge on Thursday, October 20), in which Zander weaves his commentary on the music into the orchestra’s presentation of the music. Video summaries of his thoughts on this program as a whole and on collaborating with pianist Ya-Fei Chuang (on Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody) are available here . Zander’s thoughtful, impassioned 45-minute remarks preceding this weekend’s concerts provided a verbal tour through major themes of the evening’s three works, including short excerpts played from a keyboard. His remarks on Tchaikovsky and his Symphony No. 6 telegraphed what he would bring out the most in his own interpretation: “moments of radiance … without consolation” created by “escaping into the ballet” through Tchaikovsky’s “limping, broken waltz in 5/4, stuck in two-bar units,” followed by “fifty-five bars of D [as a bass pedal] in the trio as “the melody pleading against the beat of fate.” He considers the third movement march to be “frigid and full of tension, reaching the limit of human experience,” and called attention to the European orchestral seating plans typical of Tchaikovsky’s time in which the first and second violins were placed on opposite sides of the stage, allowing the composer to develop melodies that must be passed back and forth across the stage to be completely realized (trading notes between the two violin sections). The acoustics of Jordan Hall certainly gave precedence to the violin sound throughout the evening, and led to balance problems in the Rachmaninoff, as they often overpowered the piano soloist. Conductor Benjamin Vickers Lera Auerbach is making her name as a ballet composer, having achieved recent successes with choreographer John Neumeier, the Netherlands Dance Theater, and almost a dozen other ballet companies (largely in Europe). Her two requiems, two operas (Gogol, and The Blind) and 2012 oratorio In Praise of Peace, written for the 20th anniversary of the Verbier Festival show her developing interest in large-scale forms. Her ten-minute tone poem Icarus opened the concert, featuring a large ensemble including two harps, four very busy percussionists, ten cellos and seven basses. Throughout the quickly shifting episodic structure, conductor Benjamin Vickers held the ensemble tightly in check, excelling in creating a transparent, muted sound underneath the many solos and presentations of high harmonics. Standout soloists included concertmaster Jae Lee, bass clarinetist Hunter Bennett, timpanist Edward Meltzer (who seemed to be called on to sustain a ppp timpani roll throughout most of the fluttering contrasts), and guest theremin player Thorwald Jørgensen. Auerbach’s music is conceived abstractly, with titles added later, and the theremin’s tone emerged like a choral voice from the high strings in many sections of the piece (it might remind listeners of the use of wordless chorus so popular in the early 20th century with composers such as Vaughan Williams, Holst, and Debussy). It is structured roughly as a rondo (the refrain being a pulsing section full of Bartók pizzicato attacks from all sections of the strings), followed by a long, gradual ascending section led by the theremin. Since Auerbach is also a published poet, Zander included her writeup, which was more autobiographical than descriptive of the work. [Program notes here ] While it was well written, I would have appreciated a trigger warning at the beginning of her article, as it plunges into programmatic detail and tone painting references, only to say at the very end, that her “evocative title” was chosen after the she finished it, and that “It is fine not to have any images at all, but simply experience the sound” while listening: almost a complete impossibility after being distracted with a retelling of the entire Icarus myth and its relevance to her childhood in Soviet Russia. Ya-Fei Chuang (file photo) Ya Fei Chuang’s playing in the flashy Rhapsody Rachmaninoff wrote for himself warmed and blossomed gradually throughout this popular 15-minute variation set for solo piano and orchestra. At first, her light touch was completely dwarfed by the ensemble, so the first half came across more as chamber music, with the piano in an accompanying role, rather than a concerto-style showpiece. Michael Steinberg’s program notes emphasized the structure and development of the work, [link here ] inviting the audience to listen for contrasts between traditional variation structure and Rachmaninoff’s modernist innovations. Some of the syncopated and offbeat playing fell out of time, and a speed which stymied the flutes (who have passages calling for every note to be tongued), but the beautiful series of legato solos from the winds and the perfectly in tune playing of disparate unison countermelodies made this a performance to remember. Chuang shone in an increasingly virtuosic series of cadenzas, bringing Jordan Hall’s Steinway to life with big, spicy flourishes that would have been at home in Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and Gershwin’s rhapsodies. Zander seemed to prefer the blurred, impressionistic parts, relaxing the tempo significantly at many points and taking a long time to build up to the famous climax of Rachmaninoff’s “original” D-flat tune in the seventeenth variation. This was a light-hearted, jazzy interpretation, and it provided a much-needed respite from the heavier pillars of Auerbach and Tchaikovsky framing the concert. Tchaikovsky’s last symphony was the musical highlight of the evening, and lived up to Zander’s characterization of Tchaikovsky as the “most precise and romantic of composers.” The Boston Philharmonic achieved its greatest contrasts and emotional intensity this evening by playing up the changes of tempo (with dozens of tempo markings per movement in some places, this can make or break a performance) and by surging to heights of ffff and depths of pppppp. Both in his footnotes on Michael Steinberg’s program notes [here ] and in his pre-concert remarks in Jordan Hall, Zander emphasized specific moments of unusual orchestration (choosing to retain a famously quiet bassoon solo, rather than replacing it with bass clarinet, as most since Hans Richter have done). A five-minute video of the conductor’s thoughts as shared in an interview with Brian Bell, [here ] Zander introduced the symphony as “the highpoint of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic career,” and talked about issues during its creation such as emotional stress brought on by an unfortunate marriage and the composer’s rumored suicide. He painted a picture of its second performance, asking us to imagine a “hall draped in black crepe.” But Zander also prefaced Steinberg’s footnotes (now also found in his published collection The Symphony) with a summary of his own: Tchaikovsky wrote this, his last symphony, between February and the end of August 1893 and conducted the first performance in the Hall of Nobles, Saint Petersburg, on 28 October, nine days before his death. The second performance, under Eduard Nápravník, took place twenty days later in the same hall as part of a memorial concert. The work is dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s nephew Vladimir (Bob) Davidov. Thorwald Jørgensen plays theremin By choosing to print Steinberg’s extensive essay on the piece, which famously chronicles/debunks the myth of Tchaikovsky’s suicide (in three long paragraphs), and then details the history of the subtitle “Pathétique” (in three paragraphs), Zander was able to present the symphony as a summary of Tchaikovsky’s personal struggles at the close of his career. His conducting engaged the audience in contemplations of melodic, structural, harmonic, and dynamic ways the composer might be trying to represent “suffering, despair, and uplift.” The BPOs playing of the final movement brought the most emotion of the evening, expressing Zander’s interpretation of the movement as “a dreadful, almost unbearable despair” with a fascinating theme split between the two violin sections, “leading to hysteria and despair” but then, in the unusually quiet ending “defying gravity, pushing himself up.” Zander asks us to hear Tchaikovsky’s music as “humane and noble,” and he paid attention to the silences (both shocking and gently despairing) in order to create an honest and heartbreaking performance. Although few symphonies before this ended quietly (notable exceptions that Tchaikovsky probably never heard being Brahms third symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Kitezh, and some of Strauss’ tone poems), the symphony closed with a not-famous, well-balanced coda of strings playing ff with mutes on, evoking “human voices, Russian voices of a choir,” and the gong punctuating the dying heartbeats of Tchaikovsky’s last, and greatest symphony. The post Boston Phil Delivers appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
By Jacob Stockinger Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud plays beautifully, even flawlessly, but always expressively. You can hear that for yourself tonight, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon when he solos in the popular Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor by Max Bruch with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John DeMain . (The famous Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” by Ludwig van Beethoven is also on the program.) Here is a link to more about the MSO concerts: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/classical-music-madison-symphony-orchestra-and-violinist-henning-kraggerud-perform-music-by-beethoven-bruch-elgar-and-kraggerud-this-weekend/ But Kraggerud is also a serious thinker about music and musicians. He recently appeared in a blog posting. There he praised the use of improvising and composing as ways to explore and expand one’s musicality. And he practices what he preaches: three of his own compositions are on the MSO program this weekend. (You can hear more about his own training in the YouTube interview with Henning Kraggerud at the bottom.) He also improved Thursday afternoon on The Midday program of Wisconsin Public Radio . Kraggerud laments the loss of well-rounded musicians who know more about the world than music. He puts the use of metronome markings in a subjective perspective by quoting famous composers like Johannes Brahms and Claude Debussy . He believes that expression, rather than precision, should be the ultimate goal. And he condemned various practices, including teaching methods, recordings and competitions, that place technical perfection above personal, subjective interpretation as a goal. He praises the use of informed interpretative freedom from Johann Sebastian Bach onwards. Here is a link to Kraggerud’s remarks and observations, which take on added interest and relevance from his appearances in Madison this weekend: http://www.classical-music.com/blog/problem-perfection?source=techstories.org Tagged: Artistic director , Arts , Baroque , Beethoven , Chamber music , Classical music , Compact Disc , Competition , compose , concerto , Debussy , Edward Elgar , expression , freedom , Henning Kraggerud , improvisation , improvise , interpretation , interview , Jacob Stockinger , Johann Sebastian Bach , Johannes Brahms , John DeMain , Ludwig van Beethoven , Madison , Madison Symphony Orchestra , Max Bruch , metronome , Music , Norway , Norwegian , Ole Bull , Orchestra , Overture Center , pastoral , Pastorale , precision , recording , symphony , teaching , United States , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , Viola , Violin , Wisconsin , wisconsin public radio , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , YouTube
Here's something I've never seen before: a concert by the SF Opera Chorus, and hoorah for that. They're a great group that has made immense contributions to many, many performances. Their role in Les Troyens was unforgettable, for instance. I will be out of town on the 19th and can't go to this program, but I hope there's a good turnout. Those Debussy songs are gorgeous, which I know because I sang them many years ago. Note the early start time of 7 p.m. OUT OF THE SHADOWSConcert featuring the San Francisco Opera Chorus November 19 at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 pm)Taube Atrium Theater, Wilsey Center for OperaVeterans Building (4th floor), 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA Approximate running time: 60 minutes (no intermission)Tickets: $30 general admission Chorus Director Ian RobertsonFabrizio Corona, piano Program (subject to change) Johannes Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem: IV “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen”Claude Debussy: Chansons de Charles d’Orléans1. “Dieu! Qu’il la fait bon regarder!”2. “Quand j’ay ouy le tabourin”3. “Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain”Leos Janáček: The Wild DuckIgor Stravinsky: Ave MariaArvo Pärt: Bogorditse Dyevo (Ave Maria)Franz Biebl: Ave MariaHector Berlioz: Le Ballet des Ombres H 37Sergei Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil, Op. 37, VIII: Praise the name of the Lord,Traditional: “Ride on King Jesus” (arranged by Moses Hogan)Traditional: “Deep River” (arranged by Moses Hogan)Charles Alfred Tindley: The Storm is Passing Over (arranged by Barbara W. Baker)Eric Whitacre: Water NightRichard Wagner: Tannhäuser: “Freudig begrüssen wir die edle Halle” (“Entrance of the Guests”)Jerome Kern: Show Boat: “Hey! Fellah!”
By Jacob Stockinger By any measure the opening concert last Friday night of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director Andrew Sewell was a complete and compelling success. It left The Ear with several big lessons: The same piece played by a chamber orchestra and a symphony orchestra is not the same piece. The Ear remembers hearing one of the first Compact Discs commercially available: a recording of the famous “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the popular chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under its recently deceased founder and longtime conductor Sir Neville Marriner . Was it going to be Beethoven Lite after all the versions from the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan ? Not at all. It turned out that symphony orchestras are about power while chamber orchestras are about subtlety. The same work sounds very different when performed by the two different kinds of ensembles. So it was with the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky with Russian prize-winning soloist Ilya Kaler and conductor Andrew Sewell. The WCO players performed beautifully, and with the chamber orchestra you felt a balance and an intimacy between the soloist, the orchestra and conductor Sewell (below). You could hear with more clarity or transparency the structure of the concerto and the dialogue of the violin with various orchestral sections – the flutes and clarinet stood out – that often get drowned out by bigger accompanying forces. So when you see the same work programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, do not think of them as duplications you have to choose between. Go hear both. Listen for the differences. You will not be disappointed. That’s what The Ear did and he came away enthralled and enchanted with this smaller-scale Tchaikovsky. There are many great and more affordable soloists whose names we do not recognize. But don’t underestimate them just because you haven’t heard of them. The world has more first-rate musical talent than ever. Ilya Kaler (below), the only violinist ever to win gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Paganini and Sibelius competitions, is a case in point. We owe a big thanks to the WCO for finding and booking him. He is right up there with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman, whom the WCO booked last season. Kaler’s playing was first-rate and world-class: virtuosic, both lyrical and dramatic, but also nuanced. His tone was beautiful and his volume impressive – and all this was done on a contemporary American violin made in Ann Arbor, Michigan . (You can hear Kaler play in the YouTube video at the bottom.) The Ear says: Bring Kaler back – the sooner, the better. The Ear wants to hear him in violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach , Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters like Francesco Geminiani and Arcangelo Corelli. Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be wonderful. More Romantic concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Nicolo Paganini , Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann would also be great. And how about the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev and the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Igor Stravinsky? But anything will do. Kaler is a violinist – he records for the Naxos label — we should hear more often. These days, we need fewer big stars and more fine talent that makes attendance affordable. The Ear will take young and talented cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Joshua Roman over such an overpriced celebrity as Yo-Yo Ma, great as he is. Second-tier composers can teach you about great composers. The WCO opened with a rarely heard eight-minute work, the Symphony No. 5 in D Major, by Baroque English composer William Boyce (below top). It was enjoyable and The Ear is happy he heard it. True, it comes off as second-rate Handel (below bottom). Why? Because as composer John Harbison explained so succinctly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival he co-directs here every summer, the music by George Frideric Handel has a hard-to-explain “heft.” Just a few notes by Handel make memorable music that somehow sticks in your memory. So The Ear heard the pleasantness of Boyce and ended up appreciating even more the greatness of Handel. What a two-fer! Concerts should end on a high note, even if they also start on a high note. The rarely played Symphony No. 4 “Tragic” by Franz Schubert received an outstanding reading. But it ended the concert and left the audience sitting in its seats. The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, by contrast, got an immediate standing ovation and an encore – a wonderful rendition of an unaccompanied Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach — and they ended the first half triumphantly. Maybe the Schubert and Tchaikovsky should have been reversed in order. Or else, what about programming a really energetic symphony by Mozart or Beethoven to end the concert on an upbeat note. Just a thought. If you went to the season-opener by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, what thoughts and impressions did you have? Do you agree or disagree with The Ear? The Ear wants to hear. Tagged: Alisa Weilerstein , Antonio Vivaldi , Arcangelo Corelli , Artistic director , Arts , Bach , Baroque , Beethoven , Boyce , Chamber music , Classical music , Compact Disc , concerto , Franz Schubert , Gavotte , Geminiani , Georg Philipp Telemann , George Frideric Handel , Igor Stravinsky , Jacob Stockinger , Johann Sebastian Bach , Johannes Brahms , John Harbison , Joshua Roman , Ludwig van Beethoven , Madison , Madison Symphony Orchestra , Mendelssohn , Mozart , Music , Niccolo Paganini , Orchestra , Sergei Prokofiev , solo , symphony , unaccompanied , United States , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , Violin , Violin concerto , Wisconsin , Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra , Yo-Yo Ma , YouTube
Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 - 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene. In his lifetime, Brahms' popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the Three Bs. Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works; he also worked with some of the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed many of his works and left some of them unpublished. Brahms is often considered both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined method of composition for which Bach is famous, and also of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Brahms aimed to honour the "purity" of these venerable "German" structures and advance them into a Romantic idiom, in the process creating bold new approaches to harmony and melody. While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as the progressive Arnold Schoenberg and the conservative Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers.
Great composers of classical music